Field service's Rodney Dangerfield moment - in search of more C-Suite respect

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan June 12, 2016
Field service organizations want help grow the bottom line of the business, but they're going to need more investment (and respect) from the C-Suite purse-holders to do it.

In search of respect

The field service department as a critical enabler of customer satisfaction. It’s an idea that’s been given a lot of air-time over the past few years, driven initially by field service specialists such as ServiceMax and given validation by tactical acquisitions by horizontal enterprise applications players, such as Salesforce and Oracle.

The argument is simple, but compelling. Far from just being the cliched ‘man in a van’ who turns up when something breaks down, field service engineers are in fact an interface between company and customer and, being on the front line as the public face of a brand, have a unique opportunity to foster relationships and enhance customer satisfaction levels.

It’s also a given maxim that whenever C-suite executives are asked by any pollster what their priorities for investment are, improving customer satisfaction levels is going to be at the top, or very near the top, of the proclaimed corporate ‘to do’ list.

So given those two ideas, how come the reality is that field services isn’t getting the attention or investment that it needs?

That’s the big question coming out of new study by research firm Vanson Bourne, which surveyed 200 IT and field service decision-makers in the US, UK, France and Germany in companies of all sizes with field service departments. The study was commissioned by ServiceMax.

The results make for contradictory reading. They also indicate a corporate schism emerging that needs to be addressed urgently.

At first sight, there’s a lot of positivity from respondents about the potential of field services:

  • 73% of respondents say both profitability and customer satisfaction are positively impacted by field service management.
  • 48% believe that field service management improvements would increase customer satisfaction.
  • 86% expect field service to become a primary revenue driver in the next two years.

So far, so good. But then the study reveals:

  • Only 3% think field service management is a top three priority area for investment.
  • Only around two in five (39%) of those surveyed believe field service management is seen as extremely valuable to their organization’s board.
  • More than half (54%) of respondents think that their organisation risk facing increased costs if they don’t invest in field services.
  • 46% feel that they could fall behind competitors.
  • Three in ten (30%) believe lack of investment will result in a loss of customers.


Now, clearly as a field service management services provider, ServiceMax is going to push the importance of spend in this area. But what interests me is the seeming disjunction within respondent organisations here. The study polled IT Decision Makers and Field Service Decision Makers and what I’m reading between the lines here appears to be a fair amount of Rodney Dangerfield 'I don't get no respect' syndrome.

In other words, the C-Suite is making all the right noises about customer satisfaction, but doesn’t yet see the field service team’s role here. The implication here might then be that for too many corporate decision makers, field service is indeed still that ‘man in the van’.  Callum Budd, Project Manager at Vanson Bourne, suggests:

While businesses cite customer satisfaction as strategic, equipping their customer field service technicians with 21st century tools and investing in field service management are not yet strategic priorities – but they should be.

Although service leaders and IT management understand the ability of field service management tools to positively impact profitability, supply chain, up-selling, cross-selling and warranty leakages, senior executives and board level management have yet to make the link.

It’s a classic case of having your cake and not eating it by failing to capitalise on the un-activated potential of your field service organization.

Here of course, the field service team has to help itself as well. Clearly a lot of C-Suites are going to have to be led to a different worldview, so sitting waiting for some Pauline realisation to occur isn’t going to be the most effective approach.

The study does suggest a number of key inhibitors here. Almost nine in ten (89%) respondents say that there are challenges for organisations when driving field service engineer productivity. Field service strategies still don’t seem to be built into the wider business strategy. For example. 90% of respondents report challenges regarding their parts supply chain, and 22% say it is not part of their business strategy.

Most of the survey respondents reckon that field service management can have a positive impact on supply chain management (65%) and can up-sell/cross-sell new services (56%). That being the case, the challenge now is to take that message to the board and get it heard.

That, of course, is the trickier part.

My take

This need for affirmative messaging and exemplars around the new role of field service was one of the main talking points when I met up with ServiceMax CEO Dave Yarnold last month in California. It's going to be a case of 'lead by example' in getting the story across to the board about the still relatively untapped potential sitting under its corporate nose.

It's a point we make time and again at diginomica to all vendors - your strongest proof point is your customer. I recently had an encounter with one enterprise vendor who'd commissioned some collateral to support its claim that it was the leading, A+, number one, super-dude in a particular area of the market, but were unable, over a period of 4 weeks, to get me one customer to talk to about this in practice.

When it comes to field service management, there's clearly a tangible opportunity for expansion of the traditional model and definition and an appetite by the field service function to step up to new opportunities. There are also great exemplars out there of savvy organizations that have taken a leadership position around this. More please of this. Show and tell is way for field service reinvention to grab the board's attention.

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