Are Field Service Companies at Risk of Undervaluing Social Media as a Tool within the Industry?

Written by: Chris Raddats, Severina Cartwright, Katharina Streater and Kris Oldland

Is social media being woefully underused in our industry, or is it a saturated mass communication tool that lacks the nuance required for effective customer interactions that drive service excellence amongst field service companies? Kris Oldland, Editor-in-Chief, Field Service News writes…

Social media has perhaps had a more significant impact on human society than any other technology in our history. It has evolved rapidly from sharing pictures of cute cats to becoming an integral; some may even say insidious aspect of twenty-first-century living.

Rightly or wrongly, almost every aspect of our lives is touched by some form of social media. Regardless of whether you wish we had all just quit at the cat videos or if you’ve developed turbo-speed thumbs as a Facebook superuser, there is no denying the prevalence of social media.

And yes, social media advertising and PR are now a standard part of any communications strategy. We can confidently say that field service companies are all using social media.

The question is, can we, or indeed, should we be using it more?

In a recent session online discussion group hosted by Field Service News, Drs Severina Cartwright and Chris Raddats of University gave an excellent presentation based on a paper the two had co-authored with Dr Hongfei Liu of Southampton University. The paper outlined the strategic use of social media within business to business marketing.

In her presentation, Dr Cartwright outlined the findings of the paper, which was a review of the current academic literature, and she outlined three key areas that are prevalent in terms of how business-to-business organizations are leveraging social media.

These were:

Social Media as a sales facilitation tool:

  • Moving away from the dyadic face-to-face relationships
  • Introducing the early processes of a sale before a salesperson even initiates contact
  • The emerging phenomena of social selling

Social media as an integrated communication tool:

  • Creation of timely and valuable content
  • The creation of both corporate and personal personas
  • Influencing customers’ reactions and engagement via the linguistic style of corporate content

Social media as an employee engagement tool:

  • Empowering and driving employee citizenship and allowing them to develop a personal brand in line with the parameters of the corporate guidelines
  • Positioning the organization and the employees as thought leaders

Dr Cartwright’s presentation gave those in attendance an excellent viewpoint into the broad trends of social media use amongst business-to-business focused organizations, which offered plenty of food for thought for those on the session and led me to the question – are we underestimating the power of social media within the field service sector?

For example, would social media prove to be an effective tool for fault reporting or even triage, particularly as we continue to see the demographic shift within the workplace as millennials replace baby boomers and more modern forms of interaction become the preference?

To dig a little deeper into this hypothesis, we spoke to Katharina Streater, Senior Product Marketing Manager, ServiceMax.

When it comes to triage, however, Streater believes that social media doesn’t offer enough depth of insight to provide meaningful value.

“While social media serves as a powerful tool to generate brand awareness and connect companies directly with their users, I don’t believe it is an appropriate tool for service triage at B2Bs who manage a large installed base,” Streater explains.

“Therefore, I don’t think field service organizations are underestimating social media; rather, they are choosing to leverage it only in the places that drive value.

“For asset-centric service organizations, a support case requires more than a brief rundown of the problem by a user whose social media profile is not associated with their business, or even their full name. To properly handle a case, the agent needs to authenticate the user, identify the asset that needs service and the company they’re associated with. Then they need to find the correct information on the customer contracts and the service level agreements before tackling the issue.”

“Using social channels for support requires several manual steps until a case is resolved, and most often ends with taking the service request offline—often because it contains details that are proprietary or are a matter of data privacy…”
– Katharina Streater, Senior Product Marketing Manager
These are all, of course, highly valid points that would suggest that the power of social media is an ill-fit with triage. However, perhaps the most critical issue of adopting such an approach wouldn’t necessarily be in the triage, but in providing step-by-step issue resolution and giving the customer the clear understanding that their issue is being taken seriously and there is someone at the other end that is taking personal responsibility to ensure resolution – something that can be diluted by both social media and even many support ticket solutions if poorly implemented.

As Streater adds, “Social media is focused on communication, not providing a 360-degree view into a customer’s SLA and asset data–information necessary to resolve a case.

“Using social channels for support requires several manual steps until a case is resolved, and most often ends with taking the service request offline—often because it contains details that are proprietary or are a matter of data privacy.

“What’s more, communicating the wrong entitlement coverage puts service organizations at risk of revenue leakage.”

This doesn’t mean that social media doesn’t have its place amongst the tools deployed by field service companies. As per Dr Cartwright’s presentation, the role of social media in terms of employee engagement can be a significant positive.

“Our customers do see the value in connecting directly with end customers on social media, keeping an eye on customer sentiment, and responding when necessary…”

Such use wouldn’t necessarily need to be on an external social media platform either, instantly thoughts go to the use of internal systems to help drive knowledge bases for engineers and technicians. The same gamification aspects common across social media (such as badges, for example) can be used to drive additions to a knowledge base from a pool of end-users. Similarly, upvoting and downvoting can drive the best solutions within the knowledge base to the top of a search – assisting in the surfacing and identification of the best potential resolution to any specific issue.

In terms of customer interaction, social media can play a considerable part in measuring broader customer sentiment analysis.

Indeed, in a recent study by Field Service News Research that focused on technology and customer satisfaction, we saw that those companies who monitored more sophisticated metrics such as social media and sentiment analysis were more than two times as likely to state that they believed their CSAT metrics offered a highly accurate reflection of their customer service standards.

This is something Streater also sees within their customer base.

“Our customers do see the value in connecting directly with end customers on social media, keeping an eye on customer sentiment, and responding when necessary,” she comments.

However, the removal of the dyadic relationship that Dr Cartwright reflects is a trend within the use of social media as a sales-facilitation tool, is the exact aspect we want to avoid in the role of service triage and continuing resolution.

“Instead of relying on social media for service triage,” Streater explains, “our customers prefer to manage and control the process end-to-end from a secure, compliant app or portal experience. As opposed to social media, these tools give customers full visibility into their assets and service history and allow them to connect directly with a support agent who has all the information on hand to resolve the case.”

Social media is indeed a powerful and prevalent tool. There is undoubtedly more we can do with it as an industry; however, as with every technology, it is essential to understand its limitations and strengths to use it appropriately.

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About TimeLinx
TimeLinx delivers innovative project & service management software as a complete solution that perfects the sell-track-manage-support-bill cycle that services organizations must have to delight their customers; TimeLinx brings the cycle together in a single application that offers less frustration, better project management, complete reporting, and improved profitability – all specially designed for Infor and Sage.