Published in Field Service Connect – 2021
The field service industry is one which is rapidly evolving. Those responsible for running field service organizations must constantly strive to ensure they are providing their customers with the fast, efficient, and effective service modern businesses demand. Failure to meet these expectations can lead to serious problems for clients, as failed machines and equipment lead to loss of productivity and revenue.
A great deal of work goes on in both the customer-facing parts of a field service operation and behind the scenes, and providers need to be tireless in their search for new ways to streamline processes without sacrificing effectiveness.
The global field service market is growing rapidly as well. In 2016, the market size was estimated to be $1.78 billion, and that number is predicted to more than double to hit $4.45 billion by 2022 – an estimated GAGR of 16.5 percent. With this increased business, there will be an even more profound need for field service brands to differentiate themselves from the crowd.
With that in mind, here are the six biggest trends affecting field service today – the mastery of which could mean the difference between success and failure for providers.
#1 Backend Process Automation
With so much going on behind the scenes at large-scale field service operations, businesses can often become bogged down in laborious and outdated manual processes. This means either more administrative staff are required to handle the workload, or employees have less time to spend on other more critical tasks – such as engaging directly with customers.
In the modern field service management arena, no two days are the same. Backroom operations can rapidly become a plate-spinning exercise with new challenges and variables constantly being thrown at your hard-working staff. They have to manage customers, engineers, parts inventory, scheduling, appointments, invoicing, and more, each and every day. And, of course, it’s impossible to know when a last-minute emergency appointment request from a high-value client is going to come along and throw all their careful planning out the window.
Thankfully, the rise of automation and advanced field service management software is offering a salve for these woes. Field service management software is helping backroom staff automate many of their everyday tasks and create a more efficient and effective operation.
Jobs can be automatically scheduled and assigned to technicians – ensuring each is given the most optimal set of tasks for the day and cutting down on any unnecessary travel time between appointments. When a last-minute callout comes in, the AI contained within the software can deduce the most convenient point on the most appropriate engineer’s schedule to slot the appointment into – avoiding excessive disruption to their existing commitments while still ensuring the emergency is dealt with in good time.
“Automation enables service reps to be more efficient, to work more productively, and to drive revenue with instant access to key customer information and inventory data,” reports WBR Insights. “Technologies like knowledge management automation enable service reps to provide more personal service, establish themselves as valuable resources to customers, and ultimately allow them to generate more revenue.”
The software can also handle inventory management. This ensures stock levels of core components are kept at appropriate levels and out-of-stock situations are avoided. Invoicing can also be processed and delivered automatically, with instant payment facilitated at the same time.
The topic of mobility in field service has been hotly discussed for some time now. Access to mobile technology and other similar devices is now considered an essential component of the modern arena, rather than a helpful optional extra.
Around 75 percent of field service organizations with 50 or more users have deployed or plan to deploy mobile apps in the future – and 60 percent allow employees to bring their own devices to work with them. However, only one fifth are currently using mobile devices in the field – with the vast majority of field service organizations stating increasing mobility as a top or growing investment priority.
Mobile technology is creating a faster and more efficient field service industry. Engineers can boost productivity by accessing live information about their jobs, including customer data, machinery installed, access to schematics, and more. They can receive job specs, view asset information, make parts requests, fill in service reports, scan barcodes, add photos and external documents to jobs, and capture customer signatures. Field service mobility also enables engineers to collaborate more easily with their colleagues in the field and the back office.
Mobility drives efficiency and proactivity in a manner which just isn’t possible with archaic manual and paper-based systems. Also, new employees are likely to gravitate towards organizations which can offer flexible or remote working.
#3 Predictive Maintenance
Here in 2019, it’s not enough for engineers to sit around and wait for customers to call in with repairs or service requests. In fact, thanks to connected Internet of Things (IoT) technology, even preventative maintenance has become a thing of the past.
With IoT, field service providers can switch to a model of predictive maintenance and act to repair faults before they become an issue. Connected sensors installed inside machines are able to detect when components fall even slightly outside of acceptable parameters and alert the company’s contracted field service provider to attend.
The component can then be repaired or replaced before it causes a large-scale shutdown of the whole machine. Shutdowns such as these can have a huge impact on productivity and a company’s ability to maintain generation of revenue. Anything that can be done to avoid a shutdown will be greatly welcomed by clients.
When the engineer arrives on site, they are already armed with all the information they require to fix the problem. Traditionally, engineers would have had to make a visit to diagnose the problem, then leave to retrieve the tools and parts they need to fix it, before returning to the customer once more to carry out the repair. With predictive maintenance and IoT, engineers can arrive on site with everything they need to get the job done – the first time.
IoT devices responsible for predictive maintenance can also serve a secondary function as well. If a certain component is shown to be failing in much the same way over and over again, the data gathered and stored by the connected sensors can be analyzed automatically to identify these patterns. Field service providers can then decide if they want to replace the component with a more reliable brand or address the issue in some other way.
Training is one of the most important aspects of any field service operation. Engineers are expected to possess detailed knowledge of the machines and other devices they’ll be expected to service and repair during their careers.
Not only this, but recent years have seen organizations shift more emphasis to the teaching of soft skills – leadership skills, teamwork, communication skills, problem-solving skills, work ethic, flexibility and adaptability, interpersonal skills, etc. – to help facilitate better customer service. In fact, some argue that in 2019, these soft skills are more important than in-depth technical knowledge as digital technology can help engineers access any of the information they need – schematics, wiring information, etc. – at any time.
“Personalization calls for more than providing the right information and support,” continues WBR Insights. “According to the experts, training technicians in soft skills – those personal skills that enable us to interact effectively with other people – rank as a high priority, if not the highest priority for 50 percent of field service companies. That’s because adopting training and management techniques that utilize soft skills leads to more revenue during customer interactions.”
Digital technology is also helping brands deliver better training programs. Online portals enable employees to access training materials anywhere and at any time, helping them move at their own pace. Mobile technology is also enabling trainees to connect with seasoned professionals to help facilitate learning and have their questions answered in real time.
#5 Augmented and Virtual Reality (AR and VR)
These technologies have gone from being simple novelties or the stuff of science fiction to important devices able to provide both entertainment value and great benefits to global business.
AR-powered devices can overlay schematics and other critical information onto actual machines to help engineers carry out their role. Trainees can be guided by off-site experienced technicians who can draw on companion screens and have their instructions appear in the AR display in real time.
“Remote and on-demand trainings are becoming a primary method of delivering technical training content for many companies,” writes WBR Insights. “As digital natives, younger employees are more capable of utilizing these technologies and capitalizing on connected technologies while on a service visit or during a customer interaction.”
AR technology can also help customers carry out smaller repairs by themselves – often eliminating the need for an engineer to be called out at all.
Similarly, virtual reality can help trainees carry out repairs in a risk-free environment and hone their skills in a 100 percent digitized setting. The software can be set to add various challenges to the training program, helping users practice adapting to emerging situations.
At the core of almost all these innovations is data. Data and the intelligent analysis thereof can help field service providers constantly reassess their understanding of customer needs and the equipment they deploy.
Through data, the effectiveness of training programs can be deduced. Materials can be adjusted and adapted to boost engagement and success rates. More detailed buyer personas can be developed, helping field service providers better understand their market. New opportunities for revenue generation can be identified and leveraged, and inefficiencies at every level of the business can be ironed out.
Data helps field service providers become more agile and engaged, so they can deliver better and more effective services across all touchpoints – both physical and digital.
Digital technology and all the trends discussed above are helping field service providers become more proactive in the way they deliver their offerings. It’s those companies which can successfully incorporate all these developments into their operations which have the greatest chance of success in the future.
“It’s not technologies but customers who are reshaping field services, demanding more from the companies and the technicians with whom they interact on a regular basis,” concludes WBR Insights. “In meeting these new demands, the best and brightest in the business will seize upon new opportunities to increase customer loyalty, retention, and revenue. Now, those companies need to invest in the right technologies and a new workforce that will be flexible and responsive enough to handle it.”
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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.