Service Council 2021 kick off session: Planning & investing in field technology

Discover important field service trends for 2021 covered in The Service Council's January IdeaShare.

Here we are deep into the first quarter of 2021. Many of us are still reeling from a year of monumental change with looming uncertainty. A late-January IdeaShare session we co-hosted with The Service Council pulled together a panel of industry experts to discuss where field service is today and where it needs to be in the future. Keynote speaker Dr. Mahesh Subramony of Northern Illinois University College of Business, and panelists Karen Hamel of Schneider Electric, Aly Mawani of ProntoForms, and Chris Westlake of Medtronic disclosed first-hand insights and actionable takeaways around future-proofing organizations. Spoiler: it all comes down to is planning and smart investment in people-centric digital transformation strategies.

What are the 2021 field service trends?

According to findings from The Service Council’s recent 2021 Field Service Engineer Benchmark Study and 2021 Service Leader Agenda Survey, CEO John Carroll highlighted four distinct trends.

Customer needs and expectations are changing: The bar has been raised for business relationships. Think of how Amazon, Uber, and Domino’s Pizza give customers real-time visibility and are continuously improving the digital customer experience every step of the journey. This kind of consumerization experience is placing pressure on service in terms of customer delivery, immediacy of response, demands for predictive service environments. There is a marked shift to independent self-serve action.

Service work is changing. Transformation is happening due to Personal Protective Equipment that’s required for service workers to be on-site, the need to remotely support customers via video, and the ability to append information at the point of work, among other fast-evolving changes.

Service workers are changing Hybrid service models are becoming more prevalent with independent contractors, dealers, partners, and distributors all impacting brand experience. The importance of engaging that extended network and creating a consistent and efficient process couldn’t be greater. With the emergence of the new millennial worker and the aging, retiring worker rapidly leaving the industry – how do you capture exiting knowledge and empower the new worker?  Leaders are confounded by the hard skills and knowledge gap and are trending toward hiring for soft skills and later bringing new hires up to speed with relevant skill-based training.

What’s telling from the data is that while field service delivery agents love the work and love the collaboration with clients and peers, what they like least is administrative paperwork. They’re challenged by increasing product complexities, the levels of technical knowledge required, and the pressure of rising customer expectations.

To complicate matters, service worker engagement levels are low. Some 33% of front line survey respondents say they would not recommend their company as a great place to work. In addition, 11% indicate they’re not proud of their company (and we all know how employee disengagement can impact customer engagement).

Revenue and commercial transformation is afoot. Typically, the first two priorities of service leaders are customer experience and cost. But revenue is surfacing as a top priority. As a result, the top investment planned by executives over the next three to five years is tied between customer experience initiatives and expansion of the service portfolio, the commercial model.

Where the industry needs to head: Empowering customers with technology

As overseer of Schneider Electric’s digital buildings business with its 400 field service techs and over 1,000 active service agreements, Karen Hamel is convinced that “whatever can be done to reduce paperwork” demonstrates that technicians’ concerns are being heard and addressed. This, in turn, increases employee engagement. And an engaged employee resonates with and shapes a happy customer. Two of the most essential technology tools Hamel uses to achieve this outcome include automating processes and introducing voice to text and mobile device app solutions to capture and share information in the field.

As the process owner for global service at Medtronic, the world’s leading healthcare technology company, Chris Westlake’s approach to customer empowerment is to develop strategies and then wrap systems and technology and automation around them. Technology drivers such as IoT (Internet of things), AI (artificial intelligence), AR/VR (augmented and virtual reality), and remote diagnostics and fixes, he’s found, allow field service companies to become more predictive and deliver faster solutions. Customer business models are evolving, Westlake stressed, noting that remote support and self-help service are becoming table stakes: “customers that were hesitant have grown to highly value the technology.”

What all of this boils down to is information. Amazon tells us where our package is and when it will arrive. We can see it along the way. Can’t we do that for the more sophisticated asset-intensive industries we serve?

Aly Mawani says yes and points to ProntoForms’ technologies that make the most of real-time analytics solutions. “It’s about putting the customer at the center with mobile technologies that provide telemetry of information, that deliver the ability to see what goes on in the diagnostic process, and that draw in and allow for more engagement between the field tech and the customer. Visibility into their service contracts, upcoming maintenance, self-service options, age of their equipment – that’s often hard to manage. The field service industry needs to be able to give customers visibility of that data.”

How technology creates new customer satisfaction and service opportunities

To retain a competitive advantage, give customers the flexibility and agility to schedule service visits. Making changes in real-time while the technician is potentially on route, for example, is ultimately going to drive efficiency in the technician’s workday while giving customers greater control.

  • Self-service options To get customers engaged with self-service options, it’s essential to understand who is asking the question, what they’re looking for, what’s needed, and how. People are different, and there are multiple ways to receive or access information. Understand what they want. Have good content. Produce documentation that’s easy to access and that uses AI to map out and get to the right information faster. It’s about being proactive to address all the touchpoints you have with your customers and reinforcing self-service wherever it makes sense. 
  • Resolving service events remotely is the new way forward Having placed a huge focus on remote connections with customers, Schneider Electric has seen an exponential increase of 125% in less than a year, and only sees this trend continuing. Medtronic notices similar results with marked shifts in installation, training, and other non-traditional remote ways of helping customers.
  • The value of offline data capture capabilities Connectivity issues can be a problem when it comes to seamless workorder completion and reporting. Offline capabilities like those built into ProntoForms’ platform offer easy data capture and accessibility. Whether it’s from a hospital basement or an isolated site in the middle of nowhere, field service personnel can complete and document work (with text, audio, video/photographs and handwritten note options) while disconnected from the internet. When back in range, details are instantaneously submitted. And with automated workflow processes in place, data can be distributed to internal contacts—and customers—keeping everyone up to date and in the loop. This is a huge consideration to factor into information-sharing strategies as it relates to real-time tracking for customers.

We invite you to watch the January IdeaShare session in its entirety to get a full sense of where field service is headed in 2021. Trust us, you’ll enjoy all of the meaningful discussion that awaits you.

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