Salesforce pushes into customer service staff management with Service Cloud Workforce Engagement

With Workforce Engagement, Salesforce is expanding its Service Cloud offering to include AI-based service call prediction, personnel capacity planning and staff training.

Salesforce Workforce Engagement brings capacity planning and staff training tools Service Cloud

Salesforce launched Service Cloud Workforce Engagement Wednesday as part of the company's Dreamforce 2020 event, which is being held completely virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Workforce Engagement is a new product within the software company's Service Cloud suite that is designed to help businesses manage their customer service personnel resources and improve support experiences for customers.

"Companies have quickly realized that great customer service is a competitive advantage," said Bill Patterson, EVP and General Manager, CRM Applications at Salesforce, in a press release. "Service Cloud Workforce Engagement will provide service leaders and agents with the tools needed to deliver trusted service experiences, no matter what demand shifts or workforce disruptions might arise."

Workforce Engagement is just the latest addition to Salesforce's Service Cloud platform. At Dreamforce 2018, the company announced Service Cloud Einstein , which integrated Salesforce's AI platform into its customer service offering. At Dreamforce 2019, it announced Service Cloud Voice , which added telephony support to the platform. With Workforce Engagement, Salesforce is adding tools to help companies forecast service requests, perform capacity planning, and provide staff training.

TechRepublic spoke with Melissa Matross, SVP of Product Management at Salesforce, about the announcement in a video interview. "Workforce Engagement is a new workforce planning technology that helps service leaders in the contact center ensure the right agent, at the right time, with the right skills is ready to deliver the best customer service," said Matross. A full transcript of that interview, edited for readability, is provided below.

Salesforce Service Cloud Workforce Engagement - Forecasting

Salesforce Service Cloud Workforce Engagement - Intelligent Dyanmic Forecasting

Image: Salesforce

Workforce Engagement has three main features:

  • Intelligent Dynamic Forecasting: Workforce Engagement will ingest data from a company's other Salesforce solutions and third-party systems (thanks to Mulesoft APIs) and then use AI to predict future levels of service requests. Within a single dashboard, service organization leaders can see projected trends for customer requests either in total or segmented by characters such as, channel (phone, chat, email, etc.), skill level, priority and geographic region.
  • Omnichannel Capacity Planning: Workforce Engagement lets managers turn the system's service level forecasts into capacity plans directly from within the tool. Matross said the system is designed to answer three questions, "how many agents are needed, when they are needed, and what skills they should have."
  • Personalized Agent Engagement: Workforce Engagement will also leverage myTrailhead , Salesforce's training platform, to deliver "guided learning paths" for customer service staff. Manager can assign training materials to specific staff members, and agents can access those training modules directly from within the system. This can be used both for onboarding new employees or up-skilling existing staff.

During the Workforce Engagement launch, Salesforce highlighted three companies already use the platform, German-based Canyon Bicycles GmbH, Fisher & Paykel (a New Zealand-based appliance manufacturer owned by Haier) and Xero (a maker of cloud-based accounting software also based in New Zealand).

"Due to our continuous global growth, and as people find more value in outdoor activities and exercise amid the pandemic, we have seen a huge global increase in customer demand across our channels over the last few months," said Thomas Kohl, Head of Customer Service at Canyon Bicycles GmbH, in a release. "While this is great for our business, it is really challenging our ability to plan, staff and optimally cover this demand. With Service Cloud Workforce Engagement, we can leave spreadsheets behind and automate this process on the Salesforce Platform with great accuracy, which means a great benefit for our staff as well as our customers."

Salesforce's customer service 'workforce planning technology'

Bill Detwiler: So at Dreamforce, 2020 this year, Salesforce is announcing a new product. Salesforce Service Cloud Workforce Engagement. Tell me what it is.

Melissa Matross: So Workforce Engagement is a new workforce planning technology that helps service leaders in the contact center ensure the right agent, at the right time, with the right skills is ready to deliver the best customer service.

Bill Detwiler: And how does this fit into the existing Service Cloud offering?

Melissa Matross: Well, it completes our Service Cloud suite. So with the introduction of Workforce Engagement, we have customer service CRM, which is where the agents live and work. And we have all of the communication channels to communicate with customers, like digital engagement, self-service, chat, chatbots, voice with our new cloud-based telephony offering. We have field service for mobile agents that are out in the field to do home visits or big equipment repairs. And now with Service Cloud Workforce Engagement, we have the planning and operational aspects to create a highly functioning service center.

Bill Detwiler: So this is really to help call centers, to help customer service team leaders, managers, schedulers plan the work day. Make sure they have enough agents on staff at any one given time. Talk about how that works.

Melissa Matross: Yeah, so there's a few different aspects to it. First is forecasting, and this is really about the work. What is the work coming into the contact center, and projecting what that work is across all channels. Then there is capacity planning, and this is where the forecast is leveraged to identify the staffing needs across every channel. And it answers three questions, which is really how many agents are needed, when they are needed, and what skills they should have. And it's with this that the planner can set up the service center with the right agent, at the right time, and the right skills to deliver on that promise of great service.

Salesforce Service Cloud Workforce Engagement - Capacity Planning

Salesforce Service Cloud Workforce Engagement - Capacity Planning

Image: Salesforce

And then there's the personalized agent engagement. This is really where we start to differentiate from workforce systems of the past and agents really need real-time in-app employee learning so that agents can learn on the job, any time, and anywhere. So by integrating Salesforce's learning platform, myTrailhead, companies can quickly onboard and train agents, and deliver guided learning paths directly in the agent workspace during their shift. And this is what closes the skill gaps that are needed in the contact center, but it also gives agents career development opportunities while increasing their engagement.

Bill Detwiler: So if I'm hearing you correctly, what you've got is planners, schedulers, the team leaders, managers, they're going to be able to see a dashboard that pulls in data in real time, and historically about what types of calls, what types of contacts are coming into their customer service centers, whether it's IM, or whether it's email, or whether it's phone calls, however they're used to connecting with customers, and then they will be able to do capacity planning to know whether they have enough agents scheduled for predicted activity based on sort of past activity, or maybe there's even a big event that happens that they might need to plan for. The system can look at that and help them plan for or at least recognize that, right?

Melissa Matross: Yes. Yes. So we're able to bring this all together on the platform and it's for the modern service center that handles all of the different channels that customers want to communicate on today. And because it's on the platform, we can do this in real time. So we can give contact centers, the agility to be able to adjust to changing trends that may occur. And we've seen a lot of those over the last year with the pandemic. And it helps prepare agents for their day of service to set them up for success. So that way they are not only staffed appropriately. So they're not feeling rushed, they're not feeling overworked, but they're also prepared with the skills that they need to be successful in delivering that great service.

Bill Detwiler: And I'm assuming the system was able to ingest all different types of data from all different types of systems. So, whatever ACD system that the call center has set up with their agents or whatever those platforms are that they use to communicate with customers, you can pull that all into a Workforce Engagement.

Melissa Matross: That's right. One of the benefits of leveraging Mulesoft is to connect third-party systems, and we have a streamlined process to bring that data into a service called Workforce Engagement.

Bill Detwiler: Okay. And what about integrating, obviously with other Salesforce products and services. So if you're already using CRM solutions, or if you're already using other processing services, this now can integrate with those as well, correct?

Melissa Matross: That's correct. So especially with the customer 360, we're able to bring in sales data and marketing data that may impact the demand in the contact center for that complete picture.

Bill Detwiler: Okay. So let's go back to what you said earlier, and talk a little bit about the agent, the benefits, because we're talking about the benefits to the org as a whole.

Melissa Matross: Right.

Workforce Engagement: Supporting the service agent

Bill Detwiler: We're talking about the benefits to team planning and hopefully that makes things smoother for the customers so that they aren't having to make 15 different calls to five different people, or that they can't get through to somebody. I started my career a long time ago in IT, worked the help desk. So I know what it's like to be on both sides of that equation. And as someone who was an agent, you mentioned training, you mentioned some tools that the platform is giving, not just to the managers, and the trainers, and supervisors, and the schedulers, but also the agent.

Melissa Matross: Yes.

Bill Detwiler: Expand on that a little bit. How the platform is making it better for the agent. 

Melissa Matross: Yeah. So there's a couple of things that we're doing to better support the agent, and help them not only deliver great service and be prepared to deliver that service, but also help them grow their careers. Through Salesforce's learning platform, myTrailhead, we are directly integrating that in their service cloud console. So in the agent's workspace, they can be routed training modules that are relevant to the cases they're taking, that are relevant to what's coming into the contact center. So they can continue to learn and grow while meeting the business demands that their contact center is charged with.

Salesforce Service Cloud Workforce Engagement - Agent Home

Salesforce Service Cloud Workforce Engagement - Agent Home

Image: Salesforce

Also, we are creating a new view in agent home, where they have a complete picture of all of the skills they're developing, and what the impact is of those training courses and skills on the KPIs that matter to that organization. And they also have control over things like their schedules and all of that other stuff that matters to them. So we are trying to empower the agent to be successful in delivering great service, because that's what they ultimately want to do is help customers, and we can do that while helping them grow their careers.

Bill Detwiler: Can you give me an example of maybe how that would work in realtime? Like what would that look like for the manager? What would that process look like for the agent?

Salesforce Service Cloud Workforce Engagement - Supervisor Service Console

Salesforce Service Cloud Workforce Engagement - Supervisor Service Console

Image: Salesforce

Melissa Matross: Yeah. So through the capacity planning exercise, a planner would identify what cases are coming into the contact center and where they may be a skill gap. So the supervisor can actually take that information about where there's a gap in skills, and they can actually, through omni-channel supervisor, where they have a complete picture of what their team and all of the agents are doing. They can actually route relevant training modules through the system to the agent. That would then come through omni-channel routing. So right within the service console, an agent may take case after case, and then up comes their next training module. And this is really advantageous as well for managers to leverage, because if an agent's having a tough day and is taking a lot of difficult cases, it may be a welcome break for that agent to have a little bit of space so that they can focus on their own skill development in between tough cases.

Bill Detwiler: That's a really good example. So I'm really interested about what Salesforce is hearing from its customers about the challenges that they're facing around customer service in the age of COVID.

Melissa Matross: Yeah.

Bill Detwiler: So I think one of the things that you and I have chatted about is that everyone's working from home.

Melissa Matross: Yeah.

Bill Detwiler: Call center agents for months have been accustomed to being in large open office, usually sort of floor plans where they can quickly sort of share information, and talk to each other while maybe wearing a headset and being on a call to help resolve those issues. Managers are used to be able to walk out into this kind of noisy environment sometimes and talk to people. All that's gone away, not just for call centers, not just for customer service reps and agents and managers, but for all of us, or a lot of us. And so that presents some unique challenges for organizations to be able to still provide really good customer service. What is Salesforce hearing from its customers about those challenges that they're dealing with, and maybe tie that back to how you believe this will help them, are you incorporated that feedback from them into Workforce Engagement.

Melissa Matross: Yeah. So I would say the challenges are two-sided. One is on the side of customer demands. So companies are seeing a huge flood of customers contacting the service center. And a lot of this is because if they're say a retailer, their physical location may be closed, or they have limited hours, and customers still have issues that they need to have resolved. And so they have to resolve them in some means. And that usually means contacting customer service. So the numbers have increased in terms of the caseload, and the demands, and they aren't consistent with how they used to be. So it's very difficult for service centers to be able to predict like they used to, because COVID changed that.

Secondly, customers continue to expect exceptional customer service on any channel that's most convenient to them. And so they're reaching out to customer service on phone, like they used to, but also chat, or SMS, or social or any of the other means that are convenient to them in any moment. And a lot of these patterns have become disrupted with COVID.

So that's the first side of what contact centers are dealing with. The other side is on their people side and their operations side. So we are all now living in this digital work from home world, and the agents are too, as you mentioned. And it's the customer service agents are distributed and they're working from home, often from their kitchen tables, and they're dealing with the demands of balancing work and family. And they may be distracted, or need more flexibility. And service leaders used to walk the floors to have clear visibility of what was going on in the contact center. And they can't do that now. And they're using old tooling and often disconnected systems, which makes it very hard to have a clear picture, from a technology perspective of what's happening in today's environment when everybody is distributed all over the place.

So it's very challenging. You can't turn to the person next to you anymore to ask for help. You can't raise your hand and flag down your manager. So it's really important that there are technology and tools to help support the service centers and support the leaders to plan better and support the agents to have the tools that they need to be successful in delivering that service and meet the customers where they are. And that's where Service Cloud Workforce Engagement comes in.

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By Bill Detwiler

Bill Detwiler is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the ...