Salesforce.com continues to expand the capabilities and reach of its cloud applications with the March 15 announcement of a new offering for Service Cloud customers.
The CRM giant says Field Service Lightning is designed to bring repair personnel, service representatives and other field workers into the mobile era by giving them real-time access to the latest customer data on their mobile phones or tablets.
Field Service Lightning also could expand the role of the repair technician or other service employees to a sales function because they are armed with the most current information on the client, including their order history.
For example, a technician dispatched to help a cable customer with a repair issue would see that the customer had inquired earlier about the option of getting a faster Internet connection. The cable company could authorize the technician to offer a discounted package on the spot during the repair visit.
"The service rep can become an extension of the sales force," Bobby Amezaga, Senior Director of Product Marketing for Salesforce Service Cloud, told eWEEK.
As part of Service Cloud, Field Service Lightning connects to the entire service organization, including call centers and dispatchers. This allows scheduling to be automated based on skills, availability and location to optimize on-site service.
Salesforce says the system can be customized to automatically assign senior field employees to complex service issues and junior field employees to more routine service calls. By automating routine scheduling, dispatchers can focus on trouble spots reassigning, for example, a technician to an appointment because the one scheduled to handle it is running late on a repair in progress.
Perhaps the biggest change Field Service Lightning brings is the move away from managing service calls with paper documents to mobile applications. According to a Saleforce study, 65 percent of field service workers still print out their service tickets and bring them in their vehicles, slowing down the service process. Assuming a service agent doesn't need to go to headquarters to pick up a vehicle, moving to mobile eliminates the need for the assigned worker to first report to the office to get printed work orders.
Instead of relying on administrative staff to produce written work order forms, the field service worker can create new work orders and update them at any point up to job completion, which gets the latest customer information back into Service Cloud far quicker than an end-of-day reconciliation.
Available starting March 15, Field Service Lightning is priced starting at $135 for organizations that have at least one Enterprise Edition or Unlimited Edition Service Cloud license.
While there are other products and systems with some of the features Field Service offers, Forrester Senior Analyst Ian Jacobs says this new release gives Salesforce an edge over its biggest rivals.
He notes Oracle acquired cloud-based field service provider TOA Technologies and Microsoft acquired FieldOne. "But Salesforce has a chance to build something that's more tightly integrated with Service Cloud that could provide a real additive benefit," Jacobs told eWEEK. "That's not something Microsoft or Oracle is going to have right away."
While Salesforce itself used acquisitions to help build Lightning Field Service, Jacobs gives them credit for focusing on making it a mobile first experience for consumers. He says mobile offers some subtle advantages when it's part of a larger system, such as the ability to push a quick survey to customers right after service call completion to get feedback while it's still fresh in their minds.
As for replacing the clipboard, Jacobs said there should be minimal training involved because even clipboard-toting service reps already carry a smartphone. "If this was a new tool they had to learn how to use then I'd say there was a training curve or cost, but these are simple apps that can be used on the device they already own," said Jacobs.
Whatever training time or expense is involved in adopting Lightning Field Service, he says that's more than offset by the benefits including a much better customer experience. "And as these service firms hire a younger generation they won't want to deal with paper at all," he says.