Magazine Article | July 24, 2013

What's Missing In Field Service?

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By Sumair Dutta, chief customer officer, The Service Council,,

Focusing too narrowly on productivity gains can lead you to leave other benefits of mobility on the table.

When thinking of field service enhancements, most of us begin to focus on mobile devices and field service applications that are intended to improve the work lives of field agents. Our data backs this up, as The Service Council’s (TSC) research on field service shows that mobile and other technology investments are a focus area for organizations looking to improve field service performance.

Unfortunately, too many of these mobile investments focus on the technology as opposed to the information access that the technology is intended to enable. Instead of the rugged vs. nonrugged decision, more time needs to be spent on how the device to be selected can be leveraged to provide field agents with the real information that they need. With that in place, device parameters and characteristics should be evaluated. It’s not to say that ruggedness, IP ratings, and screen size aren’t important, it’s just that these factors are worthless if the device doesn’t enable the level of information access that field agents need to resolve customer issues.

The other issue with mobile field service automation is that a large percentage of organizations that have already deployed solutions have only used mobile tools to automate paper-based processes tied to work order and schedule management. Therefore, basic tasks such as ticket opening, schedule management, and ticket closure are automated in order to reduce reliance on paperwork and improve overall productivity. This is a good thing, but only a minor step in organizations truly understanding and reaping the benefits of mobile technology. Automating basic tasks does improve the daily lives of field agents to a certain extent, but what’s really needed is access to resolution information and knowledge that equips the field agents with the insight and confidence to resolve customer issues, to improve the customer experience, and to increase customer satisfaction. In a recent TSC survey of 223 service organizations, nearly two-thirds of organizations indicated that their field agents didn’t have adequate access to service knowledge while in the field. This knowledge can be attained via access to a knowledge base or a collaborative information portal. It can also be attained via easy access to field agents who might have greater expertise with the particular service issue. In TSC’s survey, the following were the most sought after types of information for field agents: knowledge (access to knowledge-base, connection to other technicians) — 63 percent; customer/service history — 51 percent; resolution information (schematics, step-by-step procedures) — 40 percent; work order information — 37 percent; and parts information — 36 percent.

Focus On Resolution, Not Just Productivity
With this information, field agents can look to increase customer satisfaction while delivering productivity enhancements seen via reduced reliance on paperbased processes. The focus of mobile investments needs to shift toward resolution as opposed to just brute productivity. With resolution you get satisfied customers, lower costs, and increased productivity.

The shift in focus toward improved resolution is also needed at the time of dispatch and this change impacts the type of information that is needed (whether manually or via an algorithm) to determine and dispatch the best-fit field agent. In TSC’s survey, 46 percent of organizations indicated that they currently leveraged regional allocations as the primary means to select best-fit field agents. While this may be appropriate in larger geographic areas that are covered by a single field agent, it isn’t the most optimal means to select the best-fit agent in denser areas covered by a number of field agents. For these coverage areas, agent knowledge and certifications, agent capacity, and part availability become vital in ensuring that the agent dispatched is actually going to be able to resolve the customer’s issue. These information areas are those highlighted in TSC’s field service survey as those that are most needed and not currently available at the dispatch stage. This is extremely vital, as more than anything, the information available at the dispatch stage is central to improving resolution rates. Eighty-three percent of organizations polled indicate that better triage and issue identification at the initial call and dispatch stage are the most effective ways to improve field service resolution rates. With a proper understanding or diagnosis of customer needs, dispatchers will be able to select the best path toward resolution. This path could be one of self-service or one that selects the agent with the necessary knowledge, parts, and ability to resolve customer issues.

Information is key at all stages of the field service hierarchy, and an increased focus on resolution-oriented information at the dispatch level and on the front lines can go a long way in enhancing operational, customer-facing, and financial metrics.