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The Art and Science Behind a Robust, Scalable Salesforce Case Categorization Model

This blog post was written by Luke Kotowski, Senior Salesforce Solution Architect here at Catalyst. Luke discusses how to implement an impactful case categorization model that accurately describes records housed within a Salesforce CRM. He underscores the importance of such a model as it can heighten employee morale, minimize manual labor, improve data quality, and lead to time savings that translate into higher quality customer service.

Any Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application worth having should illuminate trends in your data that inform how to improve your business processes. After all, why collect reams of data in a CRM if not to help your organization do better work? The categorization model used to describe your data is paramount–it must equip end users with digestible, clear verbiage that describe their day-to-day responsibilities accurately.

Designing a categorization model requires deliberate and careful thought— you need to make sure the available options are varied enough that they can describe all possible scenarios, but not so many that the model becomes challenging to use. Identifying this point of diminishing returns is key to striking the correct balance.

Below, we detail how Catalyst navigated these considerations with Salesforce Service Cloud as we stood up a categorization model for a customer service organization within a major international airport in the Pacific Northwest.

We’ve found success by infusing new life into traditional picklists by soliciting end user feedback on the values available in reference records, as well as tapping into artificial intelligence to make the categorization process easier.

Picklists Need a Pick-Me-Up

Yikes, look at all these picklists.

The standard CRM categorization system is the picklist — a drop-down list of pre-selected values that allow users to assign data to a defined category. Picklists are helpful because they standardize data entry and improve data quality while supplying guardrails against inconsistent formatting.

While picklists are integral to data collection, the experience of using them is decidedly uninspiring.

Nothing makes an end user decide to take an early lunch like seeing a wall of required drop-down fields staring back at them from their screen. It’s time-consuming and feels antiquated, not to mention that the process of filling out a series of picklists, arranged in a pre-determined order, does not accommodate how people naturally want to discuss the phenomena around them.

Think about it. If you were to sit two people down and ask them to describe a customer interaction, the first might begin by discussing the overarching theme of the interaction, while the second might remark on the location the customer visited to prompt the outreach.

If we can create a model that allows our users to describe their work on their own terms, then we can create an intuitive user experience that does not compromise the value or accuracy of categorization.

While we want to make sure to offer users the necessary latitude to categorize their work accurately and efficiently, it’s equally important to make sure that the organization uses a consistent language that scales with the enterprise. For our client in the Pacific Northwest, the answer to creating this shared language lay in using reference data.

A Data Model by the People, for the People

We are reference data evangelists here at Catalyst. Correctly implemented, reference data has a broad range of uses that can be used to control many different types of system behavior without actually changing any Salesforce configuration. For example, reference data records might inform the physical locations in an airport that a representative can associate with a Case, as they do for our client in the PNW.

We always advise that a select group of business superusers – not an administrator – create and maintain reference data records. That way, the solution empowers users to create the language they themselves use to describe their work, while also lessening the burden of maintenance on the administrator.

We also recommend that there be a proposal process for new reference data values. Even though most users should not be able to insert reference records on their own, it’s imperative to keep the entire user base engaged in the work of designing the model. Allowing them to propose new reference records can help ensure that their ideas are heard while ensuring that they are properly vetted out.

We saw this democratic method at play with our client as we implemented their solution; their team brainstormed values to describe cases related to COVID-19 and selected the options viewed most favorably by most stakeholders. As we move into 2021, we’re confident their users will be able to leverage the reference data framework we created to accommodate the ever-broadening topics of conversation that customers reach out about.

Easy as AI

Let’s say our picklists – and the values available within them – are agreed upon. There’s one more step to take before we can get to work serving customers: machine learning.

Applying standards consistently across cases can be difficult, and the variance in data quality will scale with the size of a service organization, as enforcing categorization standards becomes difficult due to the subjectivity that each newly onboarded resource introduces.

To minimize the possibility of human error as part of our implementation, we used Salesforce’s Einstein Case Classification (ECC) product. ECC uses the power of Salesforce’s artificial intelligence technology to predict case field values based on historical data.

By comparing the subject and description values of past cases against their user-selected field values, Einstein develops a sense of the commonalities between cases with the same values. ECC then uses this information to make predictions as to what field values should be on incoming cases without introducing any additional subjectivity into the equation, saving users time and allowing for a consistent application of your categorization model.

Setting up an ECC model is straightforward—there’s no need for code.

ECC is a relatively new product, having first arrived as part of Salesforce’s Winter ’20 Release.

Standing up an ECC prediction model is simple and accomplishable entirely through configuration. But given its position towards the left of the maturity curve, we set the expectation with our client that ECC is intended to augment the human aspect of the categorization process rather than replace it entirely.

We see ECC-recommended values as suggestions—they provide a solid starting point for the categorization process rather than acting as its be-all and end-all. As the Einstein suite of products matures, it may become possible to defer to ECC more definitively. But especially for now, we knew it was important to offer a flexible user interface so that users can focus on the work of accurate categorization.

We at Catalyst have built out a custom categorization interface using Salesforce’s Lightning Web Component framework. The component is broken out into two parts: Selected Categories and Potential Categories. As the names suggest, the Selected Categories section holds values that the user (or Einstein) has selected, while the Potential Categories section holds search results returned by a text search.

Take a look at the seamless value search and selection process made possible with a custom interface. Much better than a wall of picklists!

What Comes Next

Stay tuned for more material about reference data models from us.

And in the meantime, if you like what you see here, let us know! We’d be happy to sit down and unpack how Catalyst can help make your organization more efficient with a powerful CRM.

Eric Talwar

And our celebration of our Customer Success team continues! As a natural follow-up to last week’s Meet the Team, we’re pleased to share more about another Customer Success Manager here at Catalyst, Eric Talwar. 

Eric has been with Catalyst for over five years now. During this time, he’s been responsible for managing our responses to different competitive solicitations and making the case that Catalyst is the best team to do the job. Eric is intimately familiar with the different pain points our clients in state and local government, aviation, utilities, non-profit, higher ed, and healthcare face when navigating outdated legacy applications, and he is eager to bring our team into their workspaces to modernize their IT environments and streamline business processes for a more productive workplace overall. Eric warmly notes there’s never a dull day at Catalyst! 

Outside of the office, you can find Eric cooking, volunteering at a local cat shelter, and finding any excuse to spend time in the great outdoors. 

Todd Smith

We’re taking you to Colorado to celebrate this week’s Meet the Team! Say hello to our Denver-based Customer Success Manager, Todd Smith.

Todd’s work is focused on helping our clients in the public sector, aviation and utility industries leverage technology to serve their customers and constituents better. Todd brings an extensive background working in marketing and has channeled this background as Catalyst expands its footprint along the West Coast. 

Todd joined our team over the summer, and as he reflected on his first few months here he noted how inspirational it is to see his “engaged and bright” colleagues transform organizations using technology and the Catalyst “creed” to client success.  

After work and on weekends, you can find Todd snowboarding, attending live music at Red Rocks, and coaching youth basketball.  

Building a Better 311

Modernizing the Chicago 311 system has far-reaching benefits for the City and its residents. A new public-facing website and mobile application allows residents to submit and track service requests on a completely digital platform, like most are accustomed to. More importantly, City departments are operating on a fully-digital platform that allows them to keep tabs on the full lifecycle of a resident’s service request.

As a result, departments are working more efficiently. Take a look at our infographic that shows the decrease in resolution time for five of the city’s most popular service requests. You can also see metrics on the new external platforms available to residents and how this has likely attributed to a decrease in call volume to the 311 call center.

Through cloud solutions, we can help you build a better 311 from the ground up.

Eric Podlin

We’re celebrating this week’s Meet the Team with another one of our designers, Eric Podlin!

Eric’s work encompasses any sort of design and UI/UX work as well as some front-end development. Eric’s creativity took the front seat as he contributed to the designs of the CHI311 Community Portal and the CHI311 mobile app for iOS and Android. As such, he warmly mentions that his most memorable experience as a Catalyst team member has been playing a role in the implementation of CHI311.  

Eric first discovered his love for design in his high school years but decided to pursue it as a career after a profound conversation with a college professor. Eric has been with Catalyst for over a year now and notes he loves the profession so much because it’s constantly changing – and therefore easy to not get bored!  

Outside of work, you can find Eric playing video games, diving into a great read, and enjoying a night out at the movies, a concert, and the theatre.  

Crafting Impactful Design in the Public Sector

Five years ago it may have been fair to say that state, local and federal government were far behind the curve in terms of their approach to design. City websites and sites for government services often got a bad rep for being overloaded with information and difficult to navigate. Recently though, government bodies have placed more importance on design, understanding that the image they portray to their constituents is important.

Impactful design has always been an art, especially when trying to evoke a certain emotion or attempting to get something from your customer. It’s also always come with its own set of standards and challenges. When designing for the public sector, those challenges are often compounded. Since GovTech is our jam, we’ve dealt with a lot of the unique challenges that come with designing for the public sector.

Take a look at some of the things we’ve learned while designing city websites, mobile apps and overall branding.


Massive Pool of End-Users

Designing for the public sector often means that your end users are extremely diverse, spanning wide age, cultural and tech experience ranges. When you design a city website you must design for the entire city. That means accounting for different accessibility needs (more on that later), language barriers, and age gaps. When we designed the web portal for CHI311, the website for the Chicago Department of Aviation, and the payment site for the Department of Finance Utility Billing and Customer Service we designed for the entire city.

Doing so came down to ensuring the sites were developed with strong UI/UX standards. One of the most important aspects of a good UI is providing for your user’s expectations. For CHI311, submitting a service request is the primary action. When we developed the public-facing website, these are some of the steps we took to make the most desired action easily accessible:

  • Ensure it’s very clear how to submit a service request with a main navigation item as well as a large section directly on the homepage
  • Include “submit request” buttons throughout the site when appropriate
  • Grant multiple methods of finding the desired request: users can use a keyword search or manually search through the categories to find their request
  • Simple iconography to quickly convey the meaning of each service category
  • The service request form is guided and broken up into step-by-step sections with minimal required fields and clear instructions to avoid burdening the user

Accessible Design Doesn’t Mean Boring Design
While all design initiatives should adhere to the accessibility guidelines set by the American Disabilities Act (ADA), city and state website must always adhere to them. Especially if your site is offering a public service or important information. Accessible designs allow people with disabilities to navigate, understand, interact with and contribute to the web. Disabilities that need to be considered when designing for the public sector include decreased mobility, color blindness, and varying degrees of vision loss. Thankfully the World Wide Web Consortium has already set standards called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG).

Following these guidelines though should never restrict your creativity, and they never need to compromise your design. On the contrary, they often force designers to be more creative. This article does an amazing job of outlining what all designers should know about accessible design. It’s always more rewarding knowing that you’re crafting a product that can truly be used by ALL.


Design That Builds Trust

Did you know that most Americans tend to trust their local government more than their state government? According to Gallop, 72% of U.S. adults say they have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in their local government, compared with 63% who say the same about their state government. That’s a small win for local government but even still, public sector agencies must work harder to develop trust with their constituents to make them feel secure in using their site or service.

This means that the user interfaces (UI) for public sector accounts, payments or information requests must be smooth. All interactions with the site must translate as secure and cannot be disjointed or janky in any way. Here are some of the guidelines we follow to achieve this:

  1. Never request user information for an unclear purpose.
    People need to know that their information is being handled with care and that it won’t be abused.
  2. When possible, do not require users to create an account.
    In tandem with the first point, you don’t want to block users from using your service by hiding it behind an account creation process. That is especially true for government services.
  3. Keep your users up to date:
    For CHI311, we provide status updates for all service requests which proves users are being heard and that the city is not wasting their time.
  4. Do not make users commit to unclear actions.
    Every action a user takes must provide some form of reaction either with confirmation information or changing UI states. When an action is taken and there is no immediate response users will often be confused or worse, believe your product is broken.When an action is taken and there is no immediate response users will often be confused or worse, believe your product is broken.


Willingness to Teach

The public sector must often find ways to do more with less. Funding is not always readily available like it is in the private sector. However, the importance of design is not lost on state and local government, and now more than ever they are setting time and resources aside to develop meaningful digital experiences, consistent branding, and impactful design. Doing more with less may mean that managers in the public sector who are tasked with spearheading a new web initiative may not always be experienced designers or even be familiar with web development.

Consulting designers must possess a willingness to teach their clients about design standards and exercise patience when working with people who may not yet know the ins and outs of design. They must often inform their clients of design best practices and why it’s best to do things one way over another, making a strong understanding of design principles a requirement. This can make design in the public sector more challenging but also more rewarding in the end.


Focus Groups Are Imperative

Testing your site, service or functional design is extremely important when designing for the public sector. If you’re developing a new website for city residents, you want to have buy-in from the actual end-users. When we designed the portal and mobile app for CHI311, resident focus groups helped us decide the names of service categories as well as the icons we used. They also validated the service request submission process. This ensured that the design decisions we made were in the user’s best interest.

Designing for the public sector can be a major undertaking. With so many variables and complexities, it’s not unusual to find yourself feeling a bit lost or overwhelmed. That is why it’s incredibly important to use all the tools available to have a solid grasp of the goals and requirements of the project. Through preparation, careful planning and a solid foundation of fundamentals, success is always within reach.

Here are some examples of sites we’ve developed for the public sector:

Kevin Porter

Let’s give a warm ‘Meet the Team’ hello to Kevin Porter, a Web Developer here at Catalyst. Kevin’s work encompasses front-end development and website design, and he also contributes to various graphic design and video editing projects for clients and internal purposes.   

Kevin started working at Catalyst after being notified of a job opening by one of his best friends, who just so happens to work here as well. 

Kevin recently celebrated his one-year Catalyst anniversary and notes he’s learned so much that, though it wasn’t directly UI/UX-related, has still proven to be extremely useful in his day-to-day work and life.  

After work, you can often find Kevin playing Super Smash Bros with coworkers. Talk about team bonding! Thanks for sharing, Kevin.  

Anthony Lungaro

Say hello to Anthony Lungaro for our first Meet the Team of October. Anthony is a Junior Geospatial Analyst at Catalyst responsible for validating location data updates for the CHI311 solution we implemented for the City of Chicago, working with Salesforce’s Field Service Lightning, and QA testing.

Anthony enjoys working at Catalyst because he has a hand in the technological advancements that are moving local government and the public sector forward. He is particularly enthusiastic about working with a client as large as the City of Chicago and notes that his work with the City’s 311 implementation has been his most memorable experience at Catalyst thus far.  

Outside of work, you can find Anthony looking for any way to be active, from playing basketball to attending concerts to skydiving. Thanks for sharing, Anthony!  

Alex Devries

Today, we’re excited to share more about one of our Enterprise Architects, Alex Devries. As an Enterprise Architect, Alex is responsible for designing and implementing solutions that optimize business processes while remaining focused on performance, scalability, and data integrity. 

Alex recently celebrated his ten-year anniversary at Catalyst; he credits his high school AP Computer Science course, as well as his college curriculum, with opening the door to the world of software engineering and the career possibilities that stem from it. In his 10 years here, Alex notes that his most memorable experience has been being part of the team that launched #CHI311. 

Outside of work, you can find Alex seeking out a live concert or adding to his LP collection. In fact, Alex has curated a playlist to accompany his feature this week! Listen here: [Math and Shoegaze].