Customers have grown accustomed to a superior level of personalized service. If you request an Uber or Lyft, you can track the driver on a map. If you order dinner on DoorDash or Grubhub, you expect to know exactly when your dinner will arrive and get updates if the ETA shifts, down to the minute.
But if you need to get your air conditioner repaired or cable TV installed, dread sets in. You know you’re likely to get a four-hour window for when a technician may arrive, without any transparency around their current location or delays. And when they finally get there, the problem often isn’t fixed on the first try.
Until now, customers have largely put up with the inconvenience. But the discrepancy won’t remain acceptable for long. Today’s empowered customer brings her expectations for a stellar experience with her when interacting with any brand, but when it comes to an experience with a mobile worker, only a few companies have moved past archaic systems.
The opportunity for companies to differentiate themselves from competitors is massive. Meanwhile, the pandemic has made the need to transform even more urgent. Field service must evolve to meet modern-day expectations, and brands that act fast have the chance to become the frontrunners.
Field service needs to level up
In these days of social distancing, modernizing field service is not just a matter of convenience, but also of personal safety. A four-hour window is too broad when customers need to ensure a child or elderly person is out of the house while a technician is working. Sending technicians back multiple times to fix the same problem creates more risk for both customers and workers. And failing to notify customers efficiently about the status of jobs and precautions to take wastes a valuable opportunity to enhance safety measures.
Even before COVID-19, marketing, sales and service teams have increasingly understood that they’re competing on customer experience as much as anything else. According to a 2019 survey, 84% of customers report that the experience a company provides matters just as much as its products and services, and 73% say an extraordinary experience with one company raises their expectations of others.
Field service is no exception – in fact, someone arriving on a customer’s doorstep is likely to become the face they associate with your brand. The quality of the interaction has the potential to either vastly improve or degrade their perceptions of the company. Guaranteeing a good experience is a way not just to enhance a single transaction, but to build a long-lasting relationship. Not surprisingly, the same goes for businesses except the components of those experiences might include tracking long cycle work, visibility into asset performance, and warranty management.
How field service is evolving to meet customer expectations during the pandemic
If the four-hour window is passé, what does the future of field service look like? Here are some of the key characteristics of next-generation field service:
Just like when they order food delivery, customers should have real-time insight into when a technician will arrive. A few minutes before a technician comes, a customer should get a reminder to clear out and sanitize the work area, prepare certain paperwork or wear a mask and maintain physical distance. This level of visibility not only creates a better experience, but also enhances safety in the time of COVID-19. For example, Best Buy Canada, the consumer electronics retailer, uses a mobile app to automatically inform customers about schedule changes for appointments with the Geek Squad, its 500-member support team.
A proactive approach
Instead of reacting when customers report a problem, field service should increasingly take place in advance and prevent breakdowns from occurring in the first place. More and more, customers want to have confidence that products will work and be available, without having to think about logistics and maintenance. Meeting those expectations will require having greater visibility into your service operation, including how assets are performing when a periodical service needs to be performed. Drawing on insights from data science and artificial intelligence tools can help companies predict when a product will need service and what parts a technician needs on hand, based on past jobs.
Enhancing service can mean different things to different companies. For example, is your goal to serve as many customers as possible at any cost, or to balance service with cost controls? Clarifying business objectives should be the starting point for optimizing the field service operation to be as efficient as possible. Sending the right person for the job and equipping technicians with the latest skills and tools is critical. Equally important is replacing legacy systems, often disconnected from CRM tools, with cutting-edge technology for mobile workforce management.
Reducing face-to-face interactions, without compromising service quality, is a boon to both efficiency and safety. According to Gartner, by 2023, more than 60% of all customer service engagements will be delivered via digital and web self-serve channels, up from 23% in 2019. During COVID-19, more companies are relying on video technology and screen sharing to address customer issues. In some cases, technicians drop parts off at a customer’s premises, then walk them through the installation remotely, coming indoors only as a last resort. In other cases, technicians who need to come on site can use video technology to get remote guidance from another technician if they need backup. Best Buy Canada is one example of a company that uses an application to remotely access and run diagnostics on customers’ devices. All of these developments increase the chances of achieving a first-time fix and satisfied customers, while maintaining social distance and keeping people safe.
From product company to service company
Astute leaders are wising up to the fact that field service can become the frontline for how customers perceive their brands. They are no longer viewing field service as a cost center, but as a revenue source that can transform a customer’s experience and craft a relationship that lasts.
Think about it: You’re more likely to remember experiences than things. In the world of field service, it’s time that companies stop thinking of themselves as product companies and start considering themselves service companies.