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Salesforce Field Service spring release adds map features

Salesforce dubs pandemic and post-pandemic times 'the appointment economy' for field service operations and builds mobile app features to accommodate it.

The COVID-19 pandemic rewired field service management as service contracts, repairs and deliveries took on more touchless modalities. Add to that a move to remote work and mobile apps suddenly were expected to do more of the communications heavy lifting among managers, field service workers and customers.

Over the past six months, Salesforce has rolled out a number of features for pandemic-driven field service demands. The Spring '21 release includes appointment system functionality, point-to-point predictive travel for scheduling and routing capabilities to give users precise planning of their field service routes.

In this Q&A, Eric Jacobson, Salesforce vice president of Field Service product management, discusses why field service plays a far bigger role than logistics and how Salesforce is responding to ongoing changes in field service.

When we hear about Field Service mapping features, we think of Salesforce President and COO Bret Taylor, the co-creator Google Maps. To this day, he loves telling stories about its development. Did he influence some of the new Salesforce Field Service features?

Eric Jacobson: He certainly has a passion for maps. We've got some other great talents as well that we've brought through our acquisitions of ClickSoftware and MapAnything, both in 2019. They really bring a great level of expertise around mapping and GIS [geographic information systems] capabilities we've been able to integrate into our field service organization and think about how we can help businesses get their employees to the right place at the right time.

Eric JacobsonEric Jacobson

Field service used to be a mostly B2B domain. Is that changing, looking at examples such as CarMax, which uses Salesforce Field Service to offer home delivery of used vehicles consumers purchase over the web?

Jacobson: Field service as a domain was really born at utilities and telcos where, if a service is down, customers are immediately impacted. Now, instead of thinking of field service as B2B or B2C, think about it as the industries that you would consider field service to be mission-critical. At Salesforce, we're thinking of it as 'the appointment economy.' We're seeing a variety of wholesale, nontraditional industries like retail and consumer goods' desire to extend the delivery of that service experience and that customer experience to that last mile.

Communications and energy providers have not always been the most customer-centric industry. Yet, there's pressure on them to put the customer back at the center of what they do, because as consumers, we're more empowered than ever before. Our expectation of the experience has evolved.

I think we're setting the stage for the next normal; we're not going back to 2019.
Eric JacobsonVice president of Field Service product management, Salesforce

CarMax is a great transformation story here on this journey, even before the pandemic. COVID-19 accelerated that journey for them. It's not a question of a nice-to-have, but essential to how they are able to truly transform their business. Being able now, all of a sudden, to schedule test drives and deliver vehicles is changing the nature of the car-buying experience.

After the pandemic, do you think consumers will continue to buy cars over the web, sight unseen, or will we go back to the old ways where we go to a dealer, haggle over price, scowl at the tires and do all the other things we used to do?

Jacobson: I think we're setting the stage for the next normal; we're not going back to 2019. The way we interact with businesses and services has changed. Does that mean the model we're in right now is forever? No, but I don't think it just reverts back and we forget everything of this past year, because there have been positives that have come from it.

I sold a car this year. They came and picked it up from the curb in front of my house. It was amazing. That's the way we as consumers are going to expect services to be delivered. We've all probably ordered more food to be delivered to us in the last year than we had in the previous five. We're not going to give that up.

We're also going to demand more of other businesses. Those that can deliver us an experience that is positive, well obviously, that would be a reinforcing behavior.

Field service management, traditionally, was the realm of internal scheduling and logistics and ERP, and had little to do with the customer end user. Yet, in the last few years, companies like Salesforce and Oracle tied field service to their customer service platforms. What is the advantage?

Jacobson: Tying field service to the CRM as opposed to the ERP is a change in perspective. The legacy view of field service is that it's a cost center -- your goal was to minimize your cost. But the reality is field service really is an opportunity. It's about the connection to that customer experience. More and more, we're seeing is a shift toward outcome-driven services. You'll move away from buying physical items, effectively paying for the maintenance of them and subscribing to the capability you need.

We've been in conversation with some major HVAC companies in the B2B space. Imagine that, instead of selling big industrial chillers and air handlers, what they actually want is to offer temperature as a service. For example, if I was a data center, I don't really want to care about how many chiller units I need to keep my data center operating. What I really want is assurance that my data center operates at 55 degrees, 24/7/365. To do this, HVAC companies really need to turn their business model on its head.

What else is on the horizon for Salesforce for Field Service?

Jacobson: We entered a partnership [with TechSee] to offer a 'visual remote assistant' so we can deliver field service, sometimes without even going into the field. The visual remote assistant capability is augmented reality video diagnostics, connecting a customer and a technician to have a video session. It can also enable a field technician in the field to collaborate with an expert who might not be on site. It can create efficiencies both in terms of avoiding truck rolls in the first place, and improving the likelihood of first-time fixes when somebody does come on site and, thus, avoid follow-up visits.

Editor's note: This Q&A was edited for brevity and clarity.

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