Salesforce's new Service Cloud CEO on helping businesses pivot to the Vaccine Economy

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright April 21, 2021
We speak to Clara Shih, new CEO of Service Cloud, as Salesforce introduces a new release of the platform designed to help businesses pivot to the Vaccine Economy.

Salesforce Service Cloud virtual remote assistant desktop screenshot
Virtual Remote Assistant desktop (Salesforce Service Cloud)

A new release of Salesforce Service Cloud debuts today, tuned to support new customer expectations for personalized service from anywhere, as the world reopens in the Vaccine Economy. Fronting the launch, Service Cloud has a new CEO, Clara Shih, whose appointment reinforces the message that digital engagement is now the core focus for the platform — more on that in a moment. On today's product news, Shih says the experience of the past year has accelerated the acceptance of digital channels by consumers and businesses are obliged to adapt to those changed expectations. She comments:

It took a pandemic to make omni-channel a thing. We aren’t going to forget the convenience ... There is no going back to this offline-only world ...

Digital behaviors we learned and grew accustomed to during the pandemic are here to stay.

Today's release of Service Cloud 360 highlights features that speak to these emerging trends in customer service, such as delivery of customer service from anywhere, the need to support interactions across a mix of channels, the rise of digital audio and video, and the use of AI to speed and automate service delivery. The announcements in brief:

  • Service Cloud Workforce Engagement — a new workforce planning product designed to enable greater agility in sourcing and deploying resources to respond to customer requests, set for general availability in June. It uses AI to help predict how many requests will come into the contact center, and on what mix of channels, whether phone, email, web chat, text and social. It then suggests agent assignments based on factors such as skills, availability and shift preference. The agent workspace provides further support for individual agents, integrating data along with real-time coaching and on-demand training from myTrailhead.
  • Visual Remote Assistant — allows technicians and agents to see what the customer sees through video support, as an alternative to site visits. This feature is now generally available.
  • Service Cloud Voice — offers phone, digital channels and CRM data in one central view, along with real-time call transcription and AI-powered guidance on recommended next steps. Now for the first time there's an option allowing integration of existing phone systems, planned for availability in June.
  • Einstein Bots — not a new announcement, but use of this beta service has surged in the past year, with both customers and service teams looking to resolve issues faster at time of high demand. Pre-built bot templates allow for rapid deployment with low-code tooling. Einstein Bots will be generally available in October.

A focus on relationships

I spoke to Shih a few days ago, ahead of today's launch. She took up her new role in January, returning to Salesforce after a near 12-year absence during which she co-founded and led Hearsay Social, now a leading provider of AI-assisted social media listening and content creation that targets sales teams in the financial services industry. Previously, as a high-flying Salesforce product manager for the AppExchange, she had developed the first app that linked Facebook content into Salesforce, and published the first of two books on the use of social media in business. In 2011 she joined the board of Starbucks, where she continues to serve today.

Those 12 years have confirmed her early insight that CRM would evolve to use digital technology to move from a purely transactional process to focus much more on the ongoing customer relationship. At the same time, Service Cloud has grown from a standing start to become a $5 billion-a-year line of business. She rejoins at a time when the experience of the past year has racheted up the demands on companies to engage more effectively with customers, and their performance now comes under scrutiny as sectors start to open up. She comments:

The question that should be on every leader's mind is, how are you going to show up for this reopening?

Among the trends she cited in customer service the following stood out from our conversation:

  • A shift in the power dynamic. Whereas companies were previously in control of customer service, customers now want to own their experience and expect businesses to invest in the technology to meet their expectations.
  • Service becomes more central. Front-office staff, janitorial teams, field maintenance and support centers are all part of co-ordinating the customer experience.
  • Call centers need automation. As demand reawakens, there are surges in customer contact and to lighten the load there's a need for automation to help resolve issues quickly or to bring in chatbots to deal with routine questions.
  • Audio is now a digital channel. Being able to have real-time transcription and analysis of conversations brings digital capabilities to voice communications.
  • Business context elevates AI. All of the contextual information in a platform like Salesforce makes machine learning much more powerful.
  • Internal teams must collaborate. In complex B2B engagements, businesses need to be able to automate processes and workflow to fuel co-ordination across multiple people and domains.
  • Digital is inherently omnichannel. For example, the most efficient way to schedule a service call is to use an app to select the appointment and then confirm it with the customer via a digital channel.

At such a momentous time for Service Cloud, Shih believes her entrepreneurial experience is the right fit to steer the organization and its customers through the change ahead. It's also a coming home for her to a company that she believes shaped much of her management style.

My take

A recording glitch prevented me from reproducing Shih's comments here at length, but her background in building engagement at scale via AI-powered digital channels is well chosen to steer Service Cloud through the rapid change that the pandemic has set in train. We look forward to hearing more from her and from Service Cloud customers as they negotiate the next phase in the evolution of customer service.

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