Managing Field Services During the Pandemic and in the New Normal

Written in ProntoForms Blog- April 2022

It’s a safe bet that when 2020 strategies and key deliverables were being drafted, few if any field service professionals anticipated or planned to deal with a global pandemic. The question facing us all now is: How should you respond today and prepare for the “new normal?”

In order to respond during a global pandemic, it’s more critical than ever to review processes and seek digital solutions that keep field technicians safe and asset performance optimal. Below are a few key priorities—based on field service leaders’ insight and experience—that are shifting in the wake of the pandemic.

Technician Safety First

Field technician safety is the most important deliverable to ensure business continuity as organizations wrestle with managing the pandemic. Granted, the issue of workforce safety and injured workforce has always been an issue, especially in field service-related industries. According to the U.S. National Safety Council (NSC) it’s estimated that every seven seconds a worker is injured. That’s 540 per hour, 12,900 per day, or nearly 5 million occurring in an annual period – which amount to nearly 100 million production days lost as a result of workforce injuries.

Now image that magnified by a pandemic.

“What’s happening as a result of COVID-19 is that processes are being amended to supplement newfound safety precautionary measures as a way to eliminate exposure and contain the pandemic,” says John Carroll, CEO and founder of Service Council.

From an employee safety perspective, GOJO, the multinational manufacturer of Purell hand sanitizer, uses custom field apps to ensure health and safety processes both nationally and on a hospital-by-hospital basis are up-to-date and embedded into technicians’ workflows. Tools that let you mandate health and safety are incredibly important, especially when servicing hot zones like GOJO’s technicians do.

As the pandemic continues its course, Carroll believes that safety, health, and wellness are going to continue to rise up the priority ladder and could supersede efficiency, revenue gains, and cost reductions. After all, without healthy technicians to administer important service like ventilator repair, the rest become moot points.

Beyond even the ever-important health and safety of technicians, the inability to keep technicians safe not only impacts the wellness and availability of your workforce, but given that engineers and technicians interact with customers, that employee sentiment has the potential to negatively impact customer sentiment, which is particularly sensitive during a crisis.

Redefine Labor Models

To compound matters, another challenge tied to the pandemic is the issue of workforce demographics. The aging workforce has been an issue for field service leaders for years and we’re seeing this exacerbated with COVID-19.

The unavailability of the more experienced technician demographic is starting to drive new decisions in terms of labor models. Pre-pandemic, organizations and service leaders were looking at stratifying knowledge across their technicians and their workforces with a combination of specialists and generalists. Now it’s fast becoming an all-hands-on-deck methodology where technicians of any tenure require the tools to access the same knowledge and guided processes.

Service Council’s research into technology-related trends and industry best practices — both at the strategic level for service leaders and executives, and at the tactical level for field service engineers and technicians — indicates it’s going to be important to embrace a methodology whereby the older, more experienced workforce is able to support technicians and workforce still in the field. Many organizations are establishing alumni networks so that this seasoned workforce can mentor newer technicians, virtually, in a digital setting through the use of live video and collaboration tools.

From a technology standpoint, this is leading to heightened field service activities built around assisted service and self-service. Research data points indicate 57% of surveyed field service leaders want to be able to connect remotely, automatically trigger maintenance alarms, and predictively schedule maintenance. All these new channels of service delivery are accelerating digital transformation.

Field Data to Drive Decision-Making

Carroll forecasts that there will be an increasing emphasis on triage, data collection, and diagnosis, “to make sure that when you’re dispatching someone against an issue, that it is appropriately diagnosed and you can achieve first-time fix rates, enabled by service parts accessibility and accurate diagnosis prior to visiting the customer location.”

During any crisis, whether it’s a hurricane response or pandemic, having data allows organizations to make decisions based on hard facts instead of guesses is critical. When resources are already being stretched thin and when processes need to be streamlined to a razor’s edge, having the means to not only collect the data but then the tools to harness it is invaluable.

GOJO is a great example of business technology in action.  The company has been working hard to ensure that all experiences in the field, all the knowledge, and all the learnings are captured. The data then feeds back into their CRM system as well as an analytics platform. The information gathered helps inform the next-generation dispenser that’s made. Data is being used by their supply chain to better understand throughput.

In Conclusion

COVID-19 has impacted us all, personally and professionally. However, the digital journey that we’ve been forced to take right now is an opportunity for a more honest look at the way our processes work. Gaps in safety procedures, preparations for new forms of labor, and the way technicians collect and share data in the field are coming to a head.

From Carroll’s vantage point, “you need to re-look at your priorities in terms of how you’re going to keep your technicians safe, how you’re going to keep operations running, and how you’re going to continue to provide services to your customers. There are very agile, nimble ways to rapidly respond now, and then over time you can decide which ways you want to integrate that data into your systems of record or systems of execution.”

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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.