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Digital Transformation

Thriving in the New Appointment Economy with Salesforce’s Clara Shih


Scheduling appointments isn’t exactly an innovative business strategy. But over the past year, appointments have taken on new importance as industries of every stripe strive to deliver safe and engaging digital-first experiences. Appointments not only help companies keep people safe, but also allow teams to spread out their workload throughout the day and offer customers convenience, control and predictability. 

The pandemic has accelerated the rise of the “appointment economy,” but its benefits ensure that digital-first engagement will remain a feature of service models going forward. 

After an early stint as a product manager at Salesforce and 11 years as an entrepreneur, Clara Shih came aboard as the CEO of Salesforce Service Cloud in January. She shared her thoughts on what the appointment economy means for service and how technology can help companies provide customers with the digital-first experiences they expect.

Q. How do you envision your new role as CEO of Service Cloud?

In the context of the pandemic, serving customers and employees well has never been more important. From ordering food and getting your internet fixed to grocery shopping with curbside pickup or safely repairing medical equipment in hospitals, service has been a critical part of getting us all through the past year. Going forward, organizations will continue to adapt to a digital-first, work-from-anywhere world. That means delivering meaningful experiences, harnessing artificial intelligence and automation, and preparing for the remote, hybrid and mobile workforce of the future.

Q. Why have we seen the rise of the appointment economy, and why should companies care about it? 

In a time of social distancing and deliveries, we’ve had to be more thoughtful about planning our lives for safety reasons. Appointments have been a logical response. Recent Salesforce research found that more than 80% of consumers said they’d be more willing to visit a business in person if they had an appointment, and 70% still prefer in-person service appointments over other options.  

Appointments also have the benefit of providing a more streamlined, personalized experience. Customers’ time is valuable, and experts’ time is valuable, whether that’s a doctor or field service technician. In the past, I’ve waited hours to talk with a design professional at a furniture store. These days, I can schedule a virtual appointment to receive tailor-made advice, then schedule another appointment for a visit to the store. The appointments help companies enforce social distancing protocols. At the same time, team members are able to spread their work throughout the day instead of dealing with sudden spikes in traffic, and customers like me get convenience, control and predictability. 

Finally, the appointment economy gives companies a crystal ball into the future. If managers see bookings surging next month, they can bring on more people; if they’re dropping, they may wish to reduce capacity. That kind of insight is critical for companies across a variety of industries, and it benefits employees who want more predictability in their schedules.  

Q. How do you look at automation in the context of the appointment economy?

Experts have always been in short supply. We have typically been routed through a frontline representative doing “triage” in order to get to the right person, whether in stores or virtually. Thanks to improvements in automation, self-service channels and chatbots will handle a growing share of this triage step. Automated tools can help collect and unify important context from the customer, eliminating bottlenecks and arming human agents with the information they need to solve problems. 

Appointments are key as we move to tailored interactions with knowledgeable experts. For years, we’ve done this with doctors and dentists. Now the same concept is expanding to experts of all kinds — mobile phone repair technicians, furniture design professionals or customer product specialists. 

Q. What advice do you have for companies that want to thrive in the appointment economy? 

First, invest in the capacity for real-time scheduling and analytics. If you overstaff, you end up wasting resources; if you underestimate how much staff you need, you get backed up, stress out your team and make your customers wait. Having an optimization algorithm is crucial to meeting customer expectations while fully harnessing the power of your team. 

Second, allow for easy self-service when it comes to scheduling, rescheduling and canceling appointments. Calling in to schedule is inefficient for both customers and organizations. That’s why our Lightning Scheduler allows customers to schedule and edit their own appointments across a variety of channels. 

Third, make appointments part of a unified experience for customers, with digital at the core. The companies that are going to thrive are those that bring value to every customer engagement seamlessly, from online to curbside to in-person. Technology that facilitates connected data and collaborative teams is the key to orchestrating this at scale. 

Q. How is Salesforce helping companies be successful in this landscape?

Our Service Cloud platform helps companies deliver seamless, unified service experiences across digital channels and in the field. We allow businesses to engage their customers on whatever channels they prefer, whether self-service, voice, chat, text, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. 

With Salesforce Field Service, we’re helping our clients serve customers safely on site while optimizing resources. Our Workforce Engagement platform is helping businesses intelligently forecast demand and assign the right agents to the right channel at the right time. 

Recently, we launched Salesforce Appointment Assistant, a mobile app that allows customers to view the location of field service technicians in real time and get personalized notifications. We built the tool while thinking deeply about the privacy concerns of mobile workers. We’re working on other exciting new features, including video conferencing options and tools that help customers bypass “triage” and connect with the right representative, right away.

We’ve been impressed to see how our customers have adapted to the “new normal.” For example, CarMax has been reimagining the car-buying experience by accelerating the rollout of online car buying, offering home delivery and launching contactless curbside pickup. 

Q. What is the future of the appointment economy?

The pandemic has forced businesses to rethink traditional modes of doing business, putting the consumer front and center. As we move past survival mode and into the future, customers and companies are unlikely to give up the convenience, control and enhanced digital-first experiences they’ve grown accustomed to. The rise of easy-to-schedule convenience is one of those critical experiences they’ll be expecting more of in years to come.


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