Will AI Remove The Human Touch?

Mar 13, 2019 • FeaturesArtificial intelligenceFuture of FIeld ServiceGig EconomyKPIsclick softwareEmployee SatisfactionCustomer Focus

Click Software’s Hilla Karni sat down with Field Service News’ Deputy Editor Mark Glover at Field Service Europe 2018 in Amsterdam, sharing thoughts on Augmented Reality, the gig economy and the importance of employee wellbeing.

Ten years is a long time in field service. Trends come thick and fast with some trends thicker than others, attaching like coral onto the industry and becoming an integral part of service progress. The worldwide web and mobile technology are probably the two best examples of this; both have been essential in pushing the industry forward. Would we cope without them today?

It’s fair to label these movements as revolutions; their impact has been immense but smaller changes while not as monumental are just as significant. Today though, focus is swinging from technology enablers and back to customer service.

“Mobile was many years ago, everyone expects to have it,” says Hilla Karni, VP of Product and Customer Marketing at Click Software. Karni has just finished hosting a roundtable at Field Service Europe and we’ve managed to find a quiet dining room post-lunch to talk. I settle my dictaphone among skewed butter knives and bread crumbs. Sipping coffee, Karli continues: “In recent years, the shift has moved from a service operation that is a cost-centre, to a service operation that is an opportunity to impact customer service.”

The roundtable titled: The Science Behind Service: Metrics that Matter, centred on KPIs affecting customer service. The fact such a round table was taking place affirms how the industry is focusing on the end-user. “Before you would never hear of this,” she says. “KPIs were always around productivity, travel cost, overtime; it was always cost.”

But what about those enablers such as AI, IoT or specifically Augmented Reality (AR)? What role does AR play in the new customer focus? “Everyone talks about AR. But why are they using it?” She asks, pausing slightly. “It’s for the remote diagnostics which enables a better first-time fix. A first-time fix rate is the metric that combines efficiency, productivity with customer experience.”

In order to achieve customer focus KPIs, Karni tells me, smaller trends such as employee wellbeing are taking on a greater significance. “There is a very clear correlation between employee engagement and customer satisfaction,” she
says. “When an employer is happy with his or her job then he or she will deliver excellent service. Now we are seeing different investments around making your employees happier. There is a very clear correlation between happy and engaged employees with customer satisfaction.”

This, refreshingly, ties in with a general shift in occupational wellbeing and a positive approach to mental health in general. From a business point of view, work-related stress affects staff absenteeism; in turn affecting productivity. One thread of wellbeing, prevalent in field service is the time an engineer might spend on the road. Tools around scheduling play an important part in employee engagement and buy-in. Some firms, Karni says are handing autonomy to their engineers to create their own timetable. “Some of our
customers like their technicians to make more decisions by themselves.” The increase in wellbeing can be loosely attributed to the flexible nature of the modern workforce.

“When an employer is happy with his or her job then he or she will deliver excellent service..."

Today, freelancers choose their workdays and hours to fit their lifestyle. The typical nine-to-five day still exists but the gig
economy – so-called as each piece of work being akin to a ‘gig’ - represents another shift in efficiency and cost. Karni suggests large contractors, with their large overheads, can fail to deliver the required standard of customer service, paving the way for freelancers. “This is where the workforce trend is to have more freelancers, the uber-like model, offering a better service but it must be connected, ultimately, to a better customer service.”

So, if customer focus is the new trends in field service what technology revolution does Karni see to compliment it? Firstly, she is keen to re-label the progress. “I think the next evolution – and it is an evolution, not a revolution – is more focused around prediction,” she affirms. “Having prediction within the service delivery life cycle changes a lot of things because it makes for more
accuracy and real-time decision making.

“Previously, we still made decisions, many decisions. Then we got mobile so were able to streamline the process. Then we had more optimisation and got artificial intelligence to improve productivity and efficiency. Now we are taking it to the next level and saying, ‘Okay, how can I predict better to ensure I make faster, smarter decisions on the day of service, on the minute of service?’”

Despite the influx of new disruptive technologies – such as AR – Karni is aware that the main beneficiary has to be the end-user, the customer. “Everyone talks about the current trend in field service, which is AR. But if you ask ‘why are we using this remote technology’, it is ultimately to create a better first-time fix. A first-time fix rate is the metric that combines efficiency and productivity with customer experience. “You’re not adopting something for the sake of the technology. You need to have a very strong business case with savings. This is what is unique about field service management applications is that it needs to find the balance between time and cost savings while creating better customer service. If it was only a one-way thing it would not be such a valuable asset,” she says.

I push Karni on the role of the asset: the wind turbine, the air conditioning unit, the washing machine. When does it become more important than the engineer? “There is no replacement for the human touch,” she pauses again. “There is, however, a replacement for the process.

“If you can fix something remotely and it’s not a problem and it will smoothly recover, then I don’t see why the customer wouldn’t be happy because the washing machine is fixed. Having said that, if you fix something sophisticated and there is a break-down, I believe there is no replacement for human experience.”

Finally, as waiters circle impatiently around us to prepare the table for the next coffee break, I ask Karni, who has been with Click Software over ten years, why she enjoys working in the field service sector. “As I said, everyone talks about machine learning and AR but,” she says. “But when it comes to field service it’s real. It’s actual technology that serves a use-case and a business value.”

She finishes her cappuccino. “We make a difference I think, and this is what I like about what I do.”