Salesforce on Tuesday revealed a series of upgrades to its field service solution to meet the demands of mobile technicians during an unprecedented global health crisis.
The latest version of Salesforce Field Service deploys artificial intelligence to make sure field visits go as quickly and safely as possible in the time of COVID-19 and schedules prioritize the most-pressing cases. It also improves on real-time messaging with customers and management of expensive and complex physical assets.
“This year certainly isn’t the year that anyone of us could have anticipated,” Eric Jacobson, vice president for product management for Field Service Lightning, told CRN. But, though COVID-19 has forced so many interactions into digital formats, “the physical world still exists.”
By April, soon after the novel coronavirus became a pandemic, Salesforce saw a precipitous slump in usage of its field service solution. But activity recovered to pre-COVID levels by June, and has grown another 20 percent in recent months, Jacobson said.
“Work still has to happen. We just have to find safe ways to do it and adjust for that. We may not have all of our staff, so businesses need to pivot,” he told CRN.
The CRM leader introduced Salesforce Field Service four years ago to enable companies to better manage remote workforces visiting homes or commercial facilities.
The product became a huge hit with customers, Jacobson said, because of its ability to support roaming technicians—at least up until they were almost face-to-face with a customer.
“We were doing an amazing job with our customers till we got to that last mile of service delivery,” Jacobson said.
To close that gap, Salesforce partnered with ClickSoftware, an Israeli vendor specializing in helping companies intelligently schedule and optimize field service work.
Last year, in a deal largely overshadowed by the monster $15.7 billion purchase of Tableau that preceded it, Salesforce bought ClickSoftware for $1.35 billion. Now the ClickSoftware capabilities are entirely integrated into the Salesforce platform, as are the product and sales teams.
In a second-quarter earnings call one year ago, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff remarked on the potential of that deal.
“Field service is incredibly strategic to a number of industries, such as utilities, telecommunications, equipment manufacturers,” he said. “And the combination of Field Service Lightening which grew a 100 percent by the way, year-over-year in the quarter, and ClickSoftware is very, very compelling.”
While the pandemic initially slowed companies sending technicians out for face-to-face encounters, it was inevitable those visits would resume in greater number, Jacobson said.
“We’re all at home. We’re putting a lot more wear-and-tear on things. Things break,” he said. And those demands of repair and maintenance are even more prevalent in essential public facilities, such as hospitals.
In an outbreak environment, however, it’s even more essential that a job is done right the first time—a return visit isn’t just an annoyance, but another risk of transmission.
The new solution leverages AI from Salesforce’s Einstein Recommendation Builder to anticipate, based on similar previous jobs, the parts a technician needs in their van to make sure the job gets done on the first call.
“AI is smarter than the dispatcher,” Jacobson said.
Dynamic priority is another new feature that delivers intelligent scheduling to prioritize jobs of the greatest importance, such as those where a failure is imminent or a warranty will soon expire.
And through joint work with ServiceMax, a longtime Salesforce partner, a new feature called Asset 360 gives total visibility into an install base, service contracts and the performance of assets like manufacturing machines and medical equipment.
Salesforce also added Appointment Assistant, a feature that keeps customers informed about arrival times up-to-the-minute, so they can prepare their homes and facilities for a save visit.
Brett Chisholm, CEO and co-founder of NeuraFlash, a Salesforce consulting and ISV partner that schedules over 200,000 deliveries and service appointments a day through Salesforce Field Service, said the new AI-powered innovations will further improve interactions with those customers.
The Appointment Assistant feature is particularly a “game changer,” he said, as it allows brands to provide white-glove customer experience during the COVID-19 epidemic, and once it passes.
One of NeuraFlash’s fastest-growing customers is a direct-to-consumer lifestyle equipment company that delivers thousands of high-end products each day around the world.
“After new members make a purchase with this brand, they are eagerly anticipating delivery and this feature will allow far-more-advanced insight and preparation in their upcoming delivery and setup process, Chisholm said.
NeuraFlash has been implementing Salesforce Field Service since the product’s inception in 2016, Jason Kitchen, NeuraFlash’s field service practice leader, told CRN.
“In and beyond the COVID-19 world of today, it’s more important than ever for companies to prioritize work,” Kitchen said.
Whether they’re ensuring adherence to customer SLAs or scheduling emergency services, the new dynamic priority feature will allow NeuraFlash customers to prioritize specific jobs using Salesforce Field Service’s scheduling optimization engine.
“It’s paramount to ensure the right resource, with the right skills, the right parts, arrives at the customer’s location safely and within the expected/promised time frame,” Kitchen told CRN.
The platform, upgraded with its new features, “enables our customers to ensure this happens during each customer interaction with the ability and flexibility to dynamically react to unexpected in-day changes.”