Why digitilization has increased the importance of the field service call and is this still true in a post-pandemic world?
In a world of digitilization in which it is fully possible to engage with customers without human interaction at all, the field service call has become increasingly rare – it is an opportunity to deal with your customers face to face and in person.
The importance of ‘face-time’ has long been acknowledge within business and so this opportunity to build deeper levels of customer engagement should not be ignored. However, in 2020 the rules have all changed – we now exist in a world of zoom calls and remote service delivery. As we begin to build a new normal there has been much discussion about whether we should be moving to a remote first by default approach. The arguments for doing so are powerful, reduced costs for service delivery against a backdrop of an increasing requirement for zero touch service calls. But could we be throwing out the baby with the bath water in doing so?
As we look towards building the recovery from COVID-19 we spoke to a number of leading field service management experts to ask if field service engineers can and should be still be harnessed to cut through the digital noise and re-introduce the human touch. Now we reflect on those views to reiterate the importance of the human-to-human interaction that the field service visit offers, that perhaps cannot be replaced by a digital alternative.
Mark Brewer, Global Industry Director for Service Management at IFS
“Digitalization can streamline and improve the customer experience in many ways, but it will never replace the need for human connection. As digital experiences become more ubiquitous, field service becomes a critical tool in communicating your customer commitment, company culture, and brand identity.
“While customers expect digitalization as a means to simplify their desires to self-schedule, stay informed, and communicate; the more digital our world becomes, the more the face-to-face experience a field technician provides becomes a strategic differentiator.
“COVID-19 has put an even greater emphasis on the importance of human connection, and as recovery ramps the ability to deliver a memorable service interaction will serve as a competitive advantage.”
Sumair Dutta, Director of Digital Transformation at ServiceMax
“Human operators become even more vital in an automated environment, not less important. While automation helps shoulder the burden of lower level jobs that don’t generate any added value to the service function – such as locating, moving and loading of stock – it’s the people that often do the best work, innovating, problem solving and understanding customer requirements.
“The human element is essential, as it always has been. And for service teams, this means not losing sight of customers despite increased remote maintenance capabilities. Easier said than done? Not really.
“Predictive service is one element of a proactive customer management strategy. As Roland Berger identified in its paper Predictive Maintenance: From Data Collection to Value Creation, predictive and not reactive service is essential for any organisation that wants to move forward and embrace digital transformation. By accessing sensor data through IoT networks, machine learning algorithms can analyse and predict in real time, alerting service teams to potential issues before they become serious problems.
"It’s so important for service teams to get in front of customers, highlighting potential issues and resolving them..."
- Sumair Dutta, ServiceMax
“It shouldn’t stop there. It’s so important for service teams to get in front of customers, highlighting potential issues and resolving them. Cutting through the digital noise requires communication, even if current working practices will limit face-to-face meetings. Using the data and understanding customer equipment status will be increasingly important given cost constraints and everyone wanting to get more bang for their buck. For example, are customers retiring equipment too early? According to a Forrester report commissioned by ServiceMax, From Grease to code: What drives digital transformation, forty one percent of firms don’t know if they’re retiring equipment prematurely due to lack of service data insight, an area where service teams can be proactive in helping customers optimise their equipment use.
“Customer success delivered with the combination of both a human and digital touch should be a strategic priority for service teams. Through analysing service data, teams can provide visible, proactive suggestions to customers (with recommendations delivered by human technicians), on how they can improve. This can lead, where appropriate, to upgrades, new machines or increased maintenance deals but ultimately this is about demonstrating value and building a stronger bond, something which an account rep calling up three months before a renewal can rarely achieve.
“So, while automation is both the present and future of field service provision, with predictive maintenance the bedrock of modern servitization, organisations cannot afford to sit back and rely on automation alone to illustrate value to customers. As the economy tries to find its feet, demonstrating customer value and keeping the ‘human touch’ front and centre is more important than ever. Service maintenance data is the ammunition for proactive customer engagement, but it will be different skillsets that take this forward, such as softer skills by technicians. Communication is key and human interaction is essential to ensure organisations are not out of sight and mind of their customers.
Mark Tatarsky – VP Marketing, FieldAware
"Throughout the service lifecycle, customers continually assess a service company’s value and brand. As the world works to limit human interaction while keeping assets installed, maintained, and repaired, technology creates a duality to decrease “unnecessary” interactions and improve the quality of “necessary” interactions. Field Service Automation enables organizations to schedule and execute on-site jobs while managing social distancing effectively.
"Workforce management and rules-based scheduling systems decrease the number of unnecessary visits by dispatching the right technician with the correct skillset and tools/equipment to complete the job. Points of contact are further reduced via technician location tracking and arrival notifications so customers can meet technicians at the point-of-service at a specific time.
"Once the service engineer leaves the site, technology simplifies a digital survey process to close the loop enabling customers to provide feedback and service organizations to react quickly..."
- Marc Tatarsky, FieldAware
"Field techs are the face of the brand during the critical moment of service delivery. Investing in technology with innovative customer-centric communications and management capabilities ensures necessary site visits meet the customer’s requirements, SLA commitments, and provide ample time for essential on-site relationship management.
"Digitizing the process to include workforce management, mobile tech enablement, knowledge tools, work instructions, diagnostics, or remote expert advice increases the vital first-time fix rate and customer satisfaction. Ensuring estimated job durations automatically include time for engineers to spend with customers on necessary site visits to discuss their business requirements and identify areas to extend value improves the customer relationship experience. Once the service engineer leaves the site, technology simplifies a digital survey process to close the loop enabling customers to provide feedback and service organizations to react quickly to problems or take steps to solidify a robust user experience."
Ashok Kartham, CEO and Founder, Mize
“Digitization of Field Service has brought new meaning to the concept of providing the “Warm and Fuzzies”. In the past, we may have taken it for granted that courteous and friendly service is the foundation of a good customer experience. Now, when a field service visit is required, technicians can arrive onsite with the knowledge, skills, and resources to fix both the problem and the customer. After all, end-customers expect their technician to be experts. The better the technician can communicate his knowledge about the customer, the customer’s install base, the customer’s experiences, preferences, history, etc. they more valuable they become and the better the experience they provide. Ultimately, this is the human touch they desire, and digitization makes his possible.”
"Customers trust field service technicians because of their product knowledge and solution approach. Customers are more willing to accept advice from a person they trust..."
- Ashok Kartham, Mize
“Customers trust field service technicians because of their product knowledge and solution approach. Customers are more willing to accept advice from a person they trust. The Field service technician is in the best position to establish that trusted relation with the customers. “
“By being the main or only direct contact with the customers, field service technicians can help increase the attach rates of service contracts, consumables, and related products and services. Technicians need to be enabled to access customer history, provide quotes, and complete transactions while with the customer.”
Michael Maoz, Senior Vice President, Innovation Strategy, Salesforce
“Advances in embedded intelligence in all devices and structures means that in the near future any on-site presence of a field technician is either for initial installation, or a complex repair. To play Devil’s Advocate, in some ways this will lessen the importance of the technician visit, as an ever-greater percentage of the customer relationship, and therefore customer satisfaction, will be cultivated and maintained remotely, through self service, in-store, or within customer communities.
"Shifts in customer priorities in some countries, brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, increasingly will mean that face-to-face engagement will happen on a screen. Remote video diagnostic sessions done in collaboration with the customer will become the preferred approach. The quality of remote video sessions will explode with the introduction of 5G over the coming three years. It will allow a feeling of genuine presence, due to high fidelity augmented reality in the form of the virtual presence of the technicians, overlaid video instructions, and voice-driven instructions from AI sources.
"To prevent the process change and the culture change from overwhelming their field service organizations, tight planning is necessary, and an integrated set of processes across marketing, sales and service..."
- Michael Maoz, Salesforce
"This sense of a shared business and customer effort at service resolution will leave the customer feeling a deeper connection with the enterprise. Connections foster trust, and trust fosters loyalty. Loyal customers buy more often and recommend to their friends that they do the same.
“There will be more thorough remote preparation for the arrival of the technician in the cases where this is necessary or a best practice (Such as relationship building, demonstrating new products and services, and marketing new offers). Digitization will simplify the job of the technician onsite. This will give the technician the time and the tools to better engage the customer from a position of empathy, and with a focus on developing business opportunities
“Organizations are already discovering that embracing the enhanced role of the field service engineer requires a new set of criteria and practices to attract talent, train and motivate and compensate talent, and to measure the business outcomes (for example: costs, upselling, retention, churn).
“To prevent the process change and the culture change from overwhelming their field service organizations, tight planning is necessary, and an integrated set of processes across marketing, sales and service. An ability to capture and analyse a constant stream of customer feedback will be vital in helping the enterprise keep such a program on track. The challenges will be great, and the rewards will be even greater.”