The way technology innovation is happening, it seems that disruption is the only future of the field service industry. Blame it on the pandemic or the increased use of smartphones in the consumer segment, the wave of disruption is right here, and it is totally unstoppable.
Most of the companies with field service operations are under its grasp. However, it has been easier for those who have made an early adoption. At least they know the direction and are clear about what works and what would not. For those who are yet to taste the success with field service technologies, here is what the future holds for you.
The field service future is dominated by technologies like AI, ML, IoT, AR and VR, and Cloud and mobility solutions. These technologies will give rise to new work trends and will force companies to make a change in their work ways to get an edge. Take a look in detail below:
- Predictive maintenance
Predictive maintenance is a pragmatic shift from preventive maintenance, also referred to as 'scheduled maintenance' or 'break-fix’ maintenance. At present, most of the maintenance service providers either run to fix a problem, when the outage has already happened, or in a better attempt to keep their customers happy, they try to offer preventive maintenance on a scheduled frequency. These regular services are expected to avoid major outages in equipment or appliances. But this costs a lot for the service providers as well as the customers.
IoT and AI-enabled predictive maintenance are here to provide customers what they want - maximum equipment uptime with fewer maintenance visits. A customer is not much concerned about the frequency of services. If fewer maintenance services can guarantee maximum uptime for his equipment or appliances, then he will be more than happy because that saves his time and money.
- AI-driven flexible data models
The 'One size fits all' approach in data consumption and analytics is not healthy, and it is getting replaced by the new trend of AI-driven flexible data models. These data consumption models are AI-powered enterprise intelligence and adaptable to different use cases. By incorporating AI data distribution mechanisms, flexible data models facilitate democratized access to data across the enterprise and support multiple consumption patterns of different business users.
Why do flexible data models need to be AI-driven?
To facilitate multiple consumption patterns, there is a need to create separate layers in the data lake. This is critical for keeping the data organized and managed when new data flows into the data lake, and also for categorizing and executing the user access, security, control, and data management policies. It also ensures data is easy to find, use and re-use, it avoids duplication and ensures data integrity.
Designing, developing, and deploying so many aspects of data management and making data sets relevant for specific use cases is not realistic if done manually. This is what makes AI-driven flexible data models so critical for field service businesses because these models automate and streamline access to data across the enterprise.
AI flexible data models also future-proof the whole of data-engineering pipelines by making them more tolerant to changes i.e technology upgrades; adding new consumption patterns on top of existing ones gets seamless.
- Mobile app technology
Mobile apps facilitate adoption of new digital approaches that enable consumers to conveniently connect with the service providers or consume the services more easily. Gartner's ‘Magic Quadrant for Field Service Management, in its analytics report, stated that by 2020 more than 75% of field service organizations with over 50 employees will deploy mobile apps to optimize capabilities that help their technicians succeed.’
Customer-connect apps, field service management apps, work order management apps, customized apps are gaining popularity among service providers. Field service management apps facilitate mobility for the field workforce by enabling them with on-the-move capacities like:
- view service history of customers
- receive push notifications
- access service reports
- receive and update work orders
- capture customer signatures
- route planning on-field data collection and sharing
- data collaboration
Even customers demand the convenience facilitated by these apps, such as online booking of services, ticket raising, on-site invoicing and billing, customer account management, etc. Field service dispatch apps are soon to become, if not already, indispensable digital tools necessary for automating field workflow and standardizing the processes so that operational cost can be reduced and deliveries can be improved.
- Location technologies
Location technologies like GPS, WiFi, Cellular, QR Codes, RFID, etc, provide real-time geo data that are functional in field operations in a lot many ways, such as:
- Store locators: the field technicians can use location-based intelligence to locate the nearby stores where the equipment parts and tools are available.
- Proximity-based work scheduling and dispatch: service managers can use the location technology to identify which technician is in the nearest proximity of the job site. This facilitates early delivery
- Route planning: Field technicians can have real-time traffic updates and weather reports. The navigation system assists traveling with the optimal, shortest, and safest route to the job site.
- Asset tracking: Businesses can have real-time field visibility into where their assets are located with the help of asset management software. This facilitates asset safety and easy recovery in case of loss.
- Mobile workforce management: Location technologies allow field employees to check-in at a location using their mobile devices. Thus, the supervisor can always have a birds-eye view regarding the whereabouts of his mobile workforce, their travel history, and their live field movements
The future of location-based services is poised to witness improved accuracy and further innovation with emerging technologies like 5G networks, WiFi 6, Ultra-Wideband (UWB), augmented and virtual reality, advanced LiDAR imaging solutions, machine intelligence systems, and voice assistants like Apple’s Siri.
- Digital assistants
Most businesses are already using chatbots in their websites, apps or customer connect centers. As a successor to chatbots, the digital assistant is the next big thing capable of delivering an improved customer experience. It functions as a single, convenient point of contact between customers and businesses.
Digital assistants are advanced types of chatbots that have grown more smart, functional, and accurate with advances in AI(artificial intelligence), NLP(natural language processing), and machine learning.
Advanced NLP understanding gives digital assistants the ability to access multiple data sources and process what a customer is saying or typing with much accuracy. They can understand complex sentences and generate accurate answers. By using AI and machine learning, they are capable of better predicting the customers' preferences based on their past actions and thus can deliver a personalized experience to them.
Apart from being used as a customer connect-connect tool, digital assistants are increasingly gaining popularity in the space of employee self-service. They are capable of automating employee services and enhance the service management experience. Instead of spending their time on tedious manual processes related to self-services, employees can use the digital assistant to handle tasks like:
- checking their schedules,
- route navigation to the job site,
- check their travel expenses for making reimbursement claims,
- update their profiles on the organizational database,
- access troubleshooting tutorials or the reports and do much more.
Field employees love the convenience facilitated by a digital assistant. It is an influential mobility solution through which employees can access unified information from multiple systems across the company- such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), human capital management (HCM), and customer relationship management (CRM).
- Customer service portals
In field service businesses, average response time is critical and this requires effective management of customers’ service requests, especially during the business's crucial growth phase when customer service requests are also on the rise. As solutions, CTI-based contact centers and telephony-based customer support systems have been in the industry for quite a time, but scalability of these systems is a challenge, especially if you want to keep your costs down.
As you look for a scalable solution to meet needs like service request management, customer engagement, customer account management, etc, a customer-service portal is your way out. These portals are gaining popularity as a perfect complement to existing contact center systems, and also as a web traffic booster.
“State of Service,” Salesforce Research, 2019 states that customer self-service constitutes a major part of the service strategy for 69% of decision-makers at service organizations. Nowadays customers' decisions are information-driven.
A customer portal is a unified platform through which a business can win customers trust and preference in ways such as:
- Provide them a knowledge base with a collection of blogs, videos, FAQs, how-to troubleshooting guides, etc, so that they can conveniently access the information they want.
- Provide them an online platform to seamlessly manage their service requests like logging a service request, rising tickets, checking the service status, resetting the password, managing their service accounts, etc.
- Give them a collaborative community forum to connect with other peers to discuss products, services, and functionalities
For businesses, one of the major advantages of a customer service portal is that it allows the service agents to focus on bigger issues. Using the portals, customers can self-reliantly find resolutions for common and routine questions and concerns, so the service agents can devote their time to customers with complex issues.
- Data-driven personalization
As mentioned above, the current core trend in the service industry is customer-centricity. When the goal is to deliver better experiences to the customers, then a data-driven personalization strategy is one of the top favorites among the marketing departments, and it will continue to grow in its effectiveness. This strategy is all about knowing the customers so well that they can be delivered with the right kind of content at the right moment so that it hits the right cord of customers' interest.
Ascend2, a research-based marketing agency conducted a “Data-Driven Personalization Survey” to understand the usage of data-driven personalization strategy among marketers. 251 marketers participated in the survey, and it came out that marketing professionals rely on data-personalization strategies for improving customer experience(64%), increase visitor engagement (44%), increase conversion rates(43%, improve product offering and pricing (26%), and others.
Data personalization is not just about collecting data as much as possible, but it also requires having a proper system to make that raw data functional. Field service management software suites, customer portal, digital assistants, CRMs, ERPs, mobile apps, social media engagement, all these are effective ways to capture customer data.
The final words
Technology is here to stay. The purpose and the method of technology adoption will transform the field service industry in the coming 10 years. They will be the driving force of businesses that will succeed in the market.
Avee Mittal is the Product Manager at FieldCircle. He manages all aspects of FieldCircle to bring a unique and all-in-one technology solution for field service organizations. Avee is also extremely active in the blogging community, writing articles and blogs to promote next-generation technology in the service sector.