By Katy Flatt
It’s not new news.
In the dynamic landscape of field service, technology, and innovation are pivotal.
But let’s focus less on the direct benefit technology adoption has on your pocketbook and more on how these operational advancements can improve relationships with your customers and leverage opportunities to gain new customers.
Field service companies are evolving, keeping pace with industry demands. It's about foreseeing changes and being ready for them. Incorporating advanced platforms and automation into operations is more than just smart. It's crucial to deliver top-notch customer service.
What does the future hold? It's a mix of innovative strategies, emerging tech, and an unyielding focus on customer needs. As we explore this fast-paced industry, we'll unpack the challenges, highlight the opportunities, and discuss how to leverage tech for an enhanced field service experience.
The Dynamics Of The Field Service Industry
Like many industries, field service is undergoing significant transformation, spurred by a wave of digitalization (such as the adoption of cloud-based solutions) and technological advancements (like AI-powered predictive analytics and IoT-enabled devices).
Automation is also a key driver of change. It streamlines processes, optimizes resources, and reshapes how service providers interact with their customers. However, these advancements also pose challenges. The pace of change is rapid, requiring businesses to adapt and evolve to stay ahead.
Contemporary Technology Trends In The Industry:
According to one study, nearly half of all surveyed field service companies said automation was their greatest revenue growth driver, and it’s easy to see why. Your technician and field service management team can be bogged down with laborious tasks that, in today’s world, can be done far more quickly and efficiently with automation.
For example, consider your invoicing process.
When your field service company is getting started, managing invoices is a breeze. You might set aside a few hours on a Friday to settle up. But as your business scales, so do the complexities of managing resources, software, supplies, and fleets. Manual invoicing is no longer an option. It's time-consuming and prone to errors like lost invoices or late payments, disrupting your operations and customer relationships.
Implementing a tool for invoice processing lightens the workload, freeing you to focus on other crucial aspects of your business.
In addition to automation, field service companies are adopting more mobile technology to assist their technicians in the field. Using mobile technology allows technicians to be connected to the main office and address issues in real time. Many routing and dispatching solutions have a mobile app feature, which means the dispatchers can communicate async with technicians instead of calling them with updates or changes to their day, taking that time away from the customer.
Vendors and manufacturers have started leveraging mobile applications to streamline processes and communication. These apps help eliminate the traditional barriers of phone calls, hold times, and emails, enabling real-time, on-the-go solutions.
- Field service reps can put a client’s orders through from their phones.
- Field service technicians can get on-demand service repair information from mobile tech portals.
- Customer service representatives can access customer history and equipment data remotely, allowing them to address customer queries or concerns instantly.
- Field auditors can use apps to capture data, photos, and notes directly into the system during site inspections, saving time and reducing the risk of data loss or errors.
- Training managers can leverage AR-enabled mobile apps for on-site training of new technicians, improving the learning experience by providing immediate, hands-on practice.
- Field sales reps can utilize real-time pricing and quote generation apps to close deals efficiently during client meetings.
- Quality assurance teams can use mobile apps to remotely monitor and review the quality of fieldwork, ensuring standards are met across different locations and teams.
AR And VR
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have become crucial in the field service sector, offering innovative training and problem-solving solutions. These technologies transform training, replacing hefty manuals with immersive virtual worlds.
Technicians can access repair guides or 3D models overlayed onto actual equipment, speeding up troubleshooting and resolution times – a win for your business and customers.
AR and VR also can create 'digital twins ' (or virtual replicas of complex systems) for practice. This ability boosts technician confidence and efficiency, minimizing mistakes, and allows new techs to test skills in-house before facing real customer situations. It's a safer, smarter approach to training and service delivery.
The Challenges Of Rapid Change
Automation may allow for faster growth, but that influx of new acquisitions can have some challenges.
Adapting to these changes requires effort and a shift in company culture. More technology means more data which requires more consideration of how your company is securing that data – from customer interactions to service requests. Having solid systems in place to manage and secure this data is vital for customer experience and your business's integrity.
Good data governance helps protect you, your customers, and your reputation while ensuring the accuracy of information guiding your customer interactions.
The rise of digital solutions has increased customer expectations. They want faster, more responsive services. Tools like AI chatbots can meet these needs, handling immediate responses and scheduling.
Though these challenges may seem daunting, they're essential to staying competitive. By addressing these challenges, field service companies can create new opportunities for customer satisfaction, paving the way for a future where tech and service excellence unite.
Understanding Customer Expectations
The Changing Needs Of Field Service Companies
As customers' wants and needs have changed, so has the field service industry. Technology is a major part of our lives, and our expectations for that tech are high. Think about what happens to your business when your inventory management software or dispatch system encounters downtime. The disruption reverberates across operations, often to the customer, causing delays and frustration. We have come to expect 24-hour service from our technology, and when it falls short, the discontent is palpable.
But the need to maintain our technology goes beyond wanting to keep up with customer sentiment.
The Role Of Customer Feedback
As a people-centric industry, it’s crucial to listen to your customers. Understanding their needs and preferences is often the catalyst for innovation and improvement. The more organized your back-of-the-house is, the better service your front-of-house (customers, clients, etc.) will receive.
Many trends in the field service industry came from desires learned through customer feedback:
- Flexible scheduling: What’s the biggest complaint you get about 9-5 time slots? “I can’t be home then; I have a job.” So, companies have begun adding after-hours, weekends, and even on-call services.
- Real-time updates: Customers voiced frustration over delayed responses and lack of visibility into part orders, wait times, and scheduling. Several systems now have features that enhance a customer’s visibility, such as GPS tracking when someone is on their way or automated email updates with tracking information.
- Self-service portals: Similarly, customers wanted more control over setting and tracking their appointments or the option to make a payment online.
- Eco-friendly practices: As customers become more conscious of environmental sustainability, businesses have responded by implementing eco-friendly practices like optimizing routes, reducing return trips, or using more sustainable materials.
Implement a systematic approach to gathering and analyzing customer insights. You may use service satisfaction surveys or open-ended conversations to capture qualitative and quantitative data. This information can guide strategic decisions, helping you customize your offerings to your unique customer base.
But you should pay attention to what your clients want beyond listening to emerging trends. Collect and organize customer feedback to help you decide on your company’s offerings. What works for your customers may differ from overall trends due to location, financial status, and other factors.
Innovating Field Service Solutions
Aligning Solutions With Industry Changes
Keeping up with the pace of industry changes can take time and effort, but integrating the right solutions for your company and your customers streamlines processes and keeps you at a competitive advantage when adopting future advancements.
One of the most popular advancements of 2023 is the seemingly endless use cases for AI.
But how can you apply these technologies to your business?
- Scheduling: Traditional appointment scheduling methods involve manual processes, such as answering calls and checking calendars. AI-enabled scheduling tools can automate these tasks, improving efficiency and aligning with customers' expectations for seamless, contactless solutions.
- Predictive maintenance: Generative AI models can analyze historical maintenance data and predict potential failures before they occur. (Then you could have your AI-enabled scheduling tool schedule maintenance for you).
- Customer service: We can’t always be available to customers, but they’d like us to be. Chatbots can help with customer queries, estimates, and basic troubleshooting when a human is unavailable.
- Route optimization: Using real-time traffic data, generative AI can develop optimal routing schedules saving time, resources, gas, and vehicle wear.
- Tedious office tasks: Generative AI tools can help you write or optimize job descriptions, create training materials or an employee handbook, or even help you with creative marketing material.
When introducing new products or services, it's vital to devise a robust go-to-market (GTM) strategy. Being successful with this strategy means maintaining accurate customer data to communicate your offerings effectively.
For example, if you're launching enhanced remote service options, your existing customers should be among the first to know. A well-executed GTM strategy ensures you reach the right audience, helping both to attract new customers and to show existing ones that their feedback matters and is driving your innovation.
Leveraging Emerging Technologies
Navigating new technologies is crucial for streamlining your field service operations and enhancing customer experience. With tools like IoT, you can get ahead of problems before they impact your business and customers. Conversely, automation can simplify processes like invoice management, preventing mistakes and saving you time.
However, more is needed to adopt these technologies. The real work lies in integrating them seamlessly into your operations and making them a part of your overall strategy. It's about shaping a business environment ready for change and primed for growth.
The first step? Start by examining your current operations. Identify areas where technology can bring improvements. Involve your team in this process. Their buy-in will be critical for successful adoption.
In the end, it's about providing exceptional service to your customers. And there's no better way to do it than by leveraging technology. So, step into the future of field service, armed with the right tools and a readiness to adapt.
About The Author
Katy Flatt is an operations consultant helping business owners streamline their processes, optimize resource allocation, and implement innovative strategies that drive sustainable growth. She spent four years in the appliance repair industry, creating systems from scratch, overseeing parts and pre-screens, submitting claims, and just about everything else. She keeps one foot in the field service world by helping a friend with some light operations. When she isn’t passionately restructuring processes, you can find her fostering random animals or swimming.