Guest Column | October 6, 2023

Tech Upgrades Or Downfalls? When Tool Changes Disrupt Field Service Operations

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Software platforms take note: Unexpected upgrades can cause chaos in field service operations.

Technology has drastically improved how field service companies operate. Chaotic schedules have been tamed, communication is faster and more efficient, algorithms predict maintenance requirements, and customers are happier thanks to easier scheduling and payment options.

The entire industry has been digitally transformed into an efficient, productive machine.

But, as field service businesses rely more and more on technology, abrupt upgrades (or downgrades?) can throw entire teams into a tailspin and cost companies thousands in lost productivity and customer satisfaction.

Updates are inevitable. It's how these updates get rolled out that matters.

The Role Of Technology In Field Service Operations

If you've been in the field service industry for over a decade, you likely remember the pre-tech days — manual scheduling, cumbersome coordination between office staff, technicians, and customers, and giant spreadsheets housing every detail of the business.

Thank your techy stars if you're lucky enough to have missed those incredibly laborious days. Although the sheer volume of technology available to run every minor aspect of your business can feel overwhelming, the introduction of cloud-based software has been a game changer for the field service industry.

Technology has allowed field service businesses to automate tasks, reducing manual work for technicians and office staff, and improving productivity. Communication tools have made sharing information easier and facilitate better collaboration between field teams, headquarters, and customers.

And access to real-time data enables technicians to obtain critical information instantly while on location. This up-to-the-minute data provides technicians the autonomy to problem-solve and make informed decisions, which can significantly expedite service delivery.

However, since most field service businesses have burned their paper calendars, ditched their Excel spreadsheets, and turned to cloud-based software, they need reliable platforms. They run busy, dynamic businesses and can't afford to live through server crashes or unplanned software updates.

Tech Updates In Field Service Operations

The thing with tech is that it requires routine updating. Anyone who owns an Apple product can attest to this! Weekly updates feel like the norm nowadays.

Most regular updates usually happen quietly in the background. Engineers and programmers keep busy behind the scenes so that everything is status quo when you log in each morning.

Regular updates keep glitches at bay and may even periodically include a new feature to enhance user experience.

One morning, you might log in and be pleasantly surprised to discover that getting to your main dashboard is more straightforward, and there's now a faster way to look up customer data. These are often minor tweaks that improve your experience and integrate seamlessly into the current iteration of the software.

But B2B SaaS companies feel enormous pressure to always be iterating: adding new features, more integrations, and improving their product user interface (UI). It’s these abrupt rollouts that can throw off a company’s groove (anyone learning to navigate the most recent Slack update can attest).

These more extensive changes could be to address the following:

  • Expanded services or new features that solve a bigger problem for field service operators.
  • Adapting to new regulations their current tech stack can't keep up with.
  • Security concerns — in an age of increasing cyber threats, staying up-to-date with security features and protocols is essential to protect sensitive data and maintain trust.
  • A complete redesign to improve user experience.

Whatever the reason for the update, planning is critical. If significant changes are coming, the transition needs to be as smooth as possible to minimize disruptions to field service operations — looking at you, ServicePower!

The Impact Of Tech Upgrades

Field service companies that have embraced digital technology rely on their software platform to run most, if not all, of their business. It coordinates everything, from dispatching technicians to managing work orders.

Their customers also count on the ease of booking appointments, checking arrival times, and paying invoices.

This means that when software platform upgrades occur without proper training and planning, it can wreak all sorts of havoc.

Confusion And Frustration Among Field Service Teams

Imagine logging on one morning only to discover your entire interface has changed to the point that you can't even find your daily calendar. You're essentially looking at an entirely new platform.

Because that’s the panicked email I received from an independent appliance repair company a few months ago.

ServicePower updated their whole UI and the office team didn’t know where to find their work order information. Worse, they changed the login URL and only added the redirect after you’ve logged in. (A redirect automatically guides you from one URL to another. So, if you clicked on the login URL from your bookmarks, you’d automatically be redirected to the new login. Thus, saving you from trying to figure out where to go).

Instead, you had to enter your username and password, hit enter, and then you’d be taken to the new login page. At this point, you’d expect to just enter your username and password again and log in. Nope. Now you have to enter your email and a new password. Great.

After investing hours over several months into training, onboarding, and walkthrough videos to help this particular office locate dispatches, update work orders, and submit payment claims, we were back to square one.

Because this is what happens with these abrupt full product updates.

Technicians and office staff who were confident with the software yesterday may suddenly feel stressed and anxious with an unfamiliar interface or workflow. This confusion can affect their ability to perform their job efficiently and even erode morale.

Why? Because everyone is already trying to keep up with their regular job. Now they have to find a few hours every day to relearn their trusted platform.

Decreased Efficiency And Productivity

As recently demonstrated by ServicePower's interface upgrades, productivity can come to a screeching halt.

This is why the appliance repair service reached out to me.

They simply needed someone to reach out to ServicePower and let them know that their work orders weren’t coming in correctly – all the customer information was showing a blank. They did not have the workforce to devote to reaching out to get the answers they needed.

When I tried to reach out to their customer service team via the chat app, I got a message that it could take hours for someone to help me. When they finally responded I had finally moved on to other tasks and had to start all over again the next day.

Negative Customer Experiences And Reputation Damage

Happy customers are vital to the success of field service businesses. Their customers depend on them when issues arise. And when software platform upgrades hinder these teams, customers often bear the brunt of the impact.

Scheduling a simple service call that would normally take minutes can take hours because “business as usual” takes precedence over learning a new tool. And field service managers who count on their software are stuck in damage control, assuring the staff it’ll get figured out and fielding calls from upset customers who get lost in a scheduling frenzy.

As a customer, when you think you have a technician coming to fix your refrigerator on Wednesday morning and you get a call that they actually can’t make it until next Monday, you’ve got one upset customer. And guess what? They do not care if it’s because your dispatching software is malfunctioning. They don’t have time to understand your field service operations, they just want their fridge to keep their milk cold.

Negative experiences like this can degrade a company's reputation. Customers may perceive the company as unreliable and seek alternatives, leading to customer turnover.

Revenue Loss Due To Service Disruptions

For many businesses, service disruptions equate to more than a damaged reputation.

Unplanned downtime can halt production lines, disrupt services, and lead to financial setbacks.

In industries like manufacturing, every minute of downtime can cost thousands of dollars. In healthcare, equipment failures can affect patient care and safety.

Field service companies need the time to prepare for possible disruptions to avoid all of these possible scenarios.

Thoughtful Software Updates

Technology has worked wonders for field service operations, helping to make everything smoother and more efficient. However, field service software companies must recognize that while updates are inevitable, how they manage them truly matters.

Thoughtful planning, effective onboarding, and comprehensive training ensure that tech upgrades enhance rather than disrupt field service operations.

In other words, don't do what ServicePower did and completely overhaul the user interface without telling a single customer.

After all, technology should be an ally, not an adversary, in the world of field service operations.

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’s been in and out of the appliance repair industry for ten years, creating systems from scratch, overseeing parts and pre-screens, submitting claims, and just about everything else. When she isn’t passionately restructuring processes, or documenting workflows, you can find her fostering random animals or swimming.