Magazine Article | November 28, 2012

Why Field Service Has Become More Important In A Tight Economy

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By Bill Pollock, president and chief research officer, The Service Council,

Executives cite field service as a top strategic priority, despite some not having the resources to manage it the way they’d like.

The findings from The Service Council’s most recent survey on The Role of Service Culture in Driving Service Revenues support the case that field service remains a critically important component of the overall services economy and, in fact, is increasing in importance among the most successful services organizations. According to a near majority of more than 500 survey respondents, the top benefits of a strong service culture with respect to their impact on driving service revenues are (1) more satisfied customers (62%), (2) deeper partnerships with customers (48%), and (3) more consistent service performance and delivery (48%). The common thread that ties each of these three factors together is, of course, the field service organization.

Past research has shown that it is primarily field service operations that ultimately define how customers “see” the organization in terms of satisfaction, partnerships, and delivery. It is essentially at the field technician level where (1) customer relationships are first established, (2) the closest customer partnerships evolve, and (3) the performance of the entire organization is measured by customers — quite a significant load falling directly on the shoulders of the field technicians.

Why Field Service Is Crucial
These field service-related factors actually trump other key performance factors in importance, including stronger competitive advantage (33%), enhanced market image and reputation (26%), and a healthier bottom line (20%). Think about it — roughly half or more of the marketplace believes that the greatest benefits of a strong service culture can be realized by focusing on the field organization over and above other key factors such as the competition, market image, and even the bottom line!

Service executives apparently recognize the importance of their field organizations, as nearly all those surveyed (96%) cite their top strategic action over the next 12 months to be proactively marketing and promoting the organization’s services capabilities. This is not only through their use of state-of-the-art technology or their expansive geographic coverage, but more on the specific capabilities and skills of their field technicians and the many other people and technologies (optimized scheduling and dispatch solutions, parts management programs, etc.) that support them in the field.

Not all is rosy, however. While a majority of respondents report that service is a priority currently being wellmanaged within their organizations (53%), more than half (27%) of them confirm that service is also a top priority, but that they are lacking in the resources to manage it effectively. What that typically means is that within these organizations, all aspects of services operations tend to suffer, and — unfortunately — it is typically among field operations where much of the potential “neglect” is manifested.

In a world where more service executives measure customer satisfaction (65%) than service profitability (59%), and more organizations measure service revenue per field technician (28%) than total cost of service resolution (20%), the field organization is likely to remain a top priority. However, it will still need to be fully supported within the organization — from the bottom down, and the top up — with respect to the effective management of all customer touch points.

For example, respondents report that the greatest challenges they face today are (1) obtaining the investment required to support revenue-driving initiatives, (2) building a coordinated services cross-selling/upselling program, and (3) having adequate sales resources readily in place and productive. Other key challenges include gaining internal buy-in from company management and problems caused by a lack of collaboration between the services and product/manufacturing organizations. While not all of these factors are challenges for all respondents, it is among the most successful of these organizations that provide their field operations with all of the tools and resources required to build and sustain partner relationships with their customers.

Field operations was once the only major focus for many services organizations. But there is just so much that an organization can do with respect to call avoidance, Web-enabled customer self-support, and remote services to offset the importance of human interaction. There will always be a human factor that customers will use to define, measure, and assess service performance. While some organizations may have forgotten about that, the most successful ones are still running with it — and will likely be off to the fastest start toward a productive year in 2013.