Research conducted by US based technology consultancy Software Advice has revealed that many field service companies—especially small to midsize residential service providers, such as cleaning services, pest control and plumbers are falling behind other business when it comes to the technology they deploy to run their operations on a day to day basis.
The research, which had well over 8,000 responses from random adults who have used residential services within the United States, identified that despite a wide range of software solutions designed specifically for field service being available, many companies have yet to adopt such modern systems.
Indeed a 2014 Software Advice field service BuyerView report indicated that 54 per cent of field service companies, that could be potential software buyers, are still using manual methods for managing their business. Similarly a Field Service News research report identified 48 per cent of companies were using manual tools.
The benefits of moving towards a digital workflow for field service companies are well documented (not least amongst these pages) however, the benefits for the customers of field service are also great and it is in this area that the Software Advice research focussed.
Here we explore some of the key findings of the research...
1. Customers are more likely to select a provider that can track their field service technicians.
The first area the survey addressed was how much more likely customers were to select a field service company based on the types of technology they use. The results showed that there was a positive correlation between the technology being implemented and the likelihood of gaining new business.
Well over half (58 per cent) of the respondents stated the use of technician tracking technology would “somewhat increase likelihood” to hire a field service company whilst over a quarter (28 per cent) stated it would “greatly increase likelihood” to hire that company.
Of course one of the main benefits of implementing this type of technology is that field service companies are able to provide far more accurate timeframes for the arrival of their field service operatives. In today’s busy world the difference between an accurate time slot or the traditional ‘some point between 8am and 6pm’ can be a huge benefit for customers.
According to Sam Pillar, CEO and co-founder at Jobber, one beneficial technician-tracking capability field service software may offer is geofencing. This technology acts quite literally like a digital “fence,” enabling businesses to set boundaries for service, create alerts upon entry and exit to and from these boundaries and automatically notify customers when their technician is nearby.
As Pillar explains, “If you're scheduled to do a job at 2 p.m., but at five minutes to 2 p.m., you’re still 10 miles away, you’d be able to automatically send a text message to a customer saying you’re going to be a little late."
In addition to improving customer experience and satisfaction, there are organizational benefits of integrating this tracking technology. “If [the technician says] that they were at a job and the customer says they weren’t, you can verify this; or, if they get in an accident, you can see exactly where they were,” Pillar explains.
2. Customer portals in field service are something we must get right
One of the most polarising sections of the research was the responses around customer portals.
Whilst access to an online portal for self-service tasks such as scheduling and bill paying had the second-strongest positive impact on respondents’ likelihood to hire a field service company the data also indicated that an online portal could have the most negative impact in customers eyes.
Access to an online portal for self-service tasks such as scheduling and bill paying had the second-strongest positive impact on respondents’ likelihood to hire a field service company
Of those respondents who indicated a preference for customer portals, 55 per cent stated that they would use “online bill pay” more than any of the other functions listed. Another popular function was ‘online scheduling’ which exactly half of respondents indicated they would use.
3. Customer perception of technology in field service
The next section of the research focussed on consumers’ perception of how well field service companies were deploying technology and how this impacted on the customer experience.
41 per cent of respondents indicated that the companies they have hired previously had done an “average” job of using technology to improve the customer experience they deliver. 39 per cent stated their provider uses technology to improve their service offering either “somewhat” or “very well”. Leaving a minority who say in their experience field service providers leverages technology “poorly” to some degree.
It's clear that more customers have a positive experience with a field service provider's software than a negative one. Pillar elaborates on what a positive experience with field service software should look like.
The end consumer shouldn’t really notice. There shouldn’t be a situation where a field service technician is fumbling with an iPad or an Smart phone to try and get a bit of information recorded
If the proper use of software is invisible, it’s probably very apparent when a provider is not using software properly: Processes tend to be slower and more inconvenient for customers. As Pillar says, the right software offers real, operational improvements that benefit the business owner. And the end result of these improvements is better customer service.
“The end consumer sees the benefits in more efficient work; an industry that is, overall, faster and more competitive; and, ultimately, they should start seeing greater price competitiveness as a result, because [providers] are able to do more with less,” he adds.