In 2019, a pre-pandemic article by McKinsey, called the Coming evolution of field operations, outlined four essential trends that would shape the field service industry in the coming years. As well as AI and machine learning, augmented reality, more integrated workflow tools, and an on-demand, Uber-like workforce were cited. A futuristic vision was created, where all of these trends were incorporated, and field technicians would have pre-emptive analytics information at their fingertips and access to remote expertise to solve more complex problems. All of this left the customer “beaming.”
While the technologies already existed, and a few forward-looking, trailblazing organizations were using them, it was the pandemic that would trigger an acceleration, especially in self-service and remote services, for a large majority of firms. For the many, it was a huge wake-up call to the inefficiencies of existing field service work but also the opportunities that new technologies would enable.
Customer expectations changed too. According to new ServiceMax research, The Impact of Asset Data Flow Beyond the Silo of Field Service Operations, field service organizations have seen a big sea change in how customers want to be serviced. We asked 230 service leaders what the most significant ways in which customer expectations are changing. The most widely cited response was faster response times (67%). This was closely followed by increased remote service options (58%) and a better understanding of asset performance and asset condition (42%).
Clearly, the pandemic has had an impact but surely these should be field service goals anyway? If we want to maintain machines and devices effectively and keep customers happy, this is not too much to ask for, pandemic or no pandemic. Interestingly, these three responses are also three essential components within a servitized model, where the shift from a focus on strict SLA adherence to one where guarantees of uptime would occur.
So, how have field service organizations responded? We asked organizations to define the most significant change for them within the last eighteen months. Overwhelmingly, the provision of remote services to be added to a portfolio was the most widely cited of any response. Almost two-thirds of respondents (64%) stated that they now offer some form of remote service to customers.
The catalyst of change – remote service
As the adoption of remote service delivery requires the implementation of new technology, it naturally leads to a significant shift in how we design and manage field service operations. The skill sets required of the technicians and engineers within the field service workforce will be significantly different than the traditional on-site approach to service work.
This of course raises the issue of skills once more, in an industry where the workforce is aging and the tools and terms of service are modernizing rapidly. The research revealed several workforce concerns – ‘more flexible shift patterns within the field service division’, ‘increased usage of third-party works’, and ‘a change in the profile of field service technicians/engineers’ – leading to ongoing demands for a redesign of service delivery. Times are changing and the skills and working environments and patterns need to change with it.
Remote service could be the catalyst here. We found that two-thirds (67%) of field service companies felt a more significant customer push to introduce remote service into their service portfolio. In comparison, 20% of respondents had seen a similar increase in customer demand for self-service solutions, once the golden child of modern service design.
However, one abundantly clear finding is that customers are demanding more. Despite the pandemic and the obvious challenges that many field service organizations have faced over the past two years, customer expectations in terms of service standards have rocketed. According to the survey, 80% of respondents claimed that their customers expect more today in service standards than they did eighteen months ago.
Meeting those expectations is the biggest challenge that any service organization will face today. The industry has already been adapting with data-driven tools and analysis to increase machine and device intelligence. IoT has been an increasingly essential service weapon but how organizations use that intelligence is key. There is clearly an urgent need to further evolve service design and delivery, with better curation and analysis of data as the enabler. Customers are expecting nothing less.