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Six ways to boost the productivity of your field service technicians

Joe Kenny Profile picture for user Joe Kenny April 24, 2024
Summary:
Can AI crack productivity? The role of technology and collaboration in helping to forge successful service teams is at the heart of improving customer experience.

Manufacturing workers with laptop at manufacturing plant. Concentrated workers showing control machine on laptop to technician © Thirawatana Phaisalratana - Canva.com
(© Thirawatana Phaisalratana - Canva.com)

There have been several studies since the COVID pandemic highlighting the impact of those difficult years on productivity and economic growth. Every industry it seems has been looking for answers. ‘Top ten tips for creating productive workers’ have become de rigueur. While good management and culture are evergreen factors, in field service, productivity has increasingly been influenced by technology. It’s not just about making things faster or more efficient; it’s about removing tedious tasks that technicians hate. After all, if we’re happy at work, we tend to perform better, and there are few things that technicians dislike more than administrative tasks that add no value.

To really understand frontline performance and productivity, organizations need to use harnessed data – from mobile devices, assets, contract renewals, sales and so on – to build a picture of how service teams are adding value. This can also identify performance issues and possible reasons for such issues. For example, technicians could be assigned too many difficult tasks that require in-depth troubleshooting, journey routing might be incorrect or inefficient, or it may simply take too long for parts to arrive.

The point is that to improve productivity, field service leaders need to ensure their technicians are not just carrying the right tools and parts but have the correct job and asset information, are assigned the correct tasks, and are understood – individually – and inspired. 

According to the Service Council, organizations are facing a staffing challenge making it even more important that any productivity measures are more carrot and less stick. “Difficulties with technician hiring and retention, and loss of tribal knowledge through retirement, are likely here to stay,” says a Council report. It adds that 80% of field service techs claim that administration and paperwork is their least favorite part of the job. 

Below are six ways that technology is raising the bar on the productivity and value service leaders are creating for their frontline field workers.

  1. Let technology and AI do the time-consuming tasks – Manual tasks can be removed through field service management tools that harness generative AI (gen AI) capabilities and other technologies, such as augmented reality, IoT and automation, gen AI can help to automatically schedule journeys, for example, increasing call density and optimizing field service journey times, ensuring job tasks are accurately allocated and relevant parts identified. It can also help with post-job reporting and any customer follow-ups, such as providing information on machine upgrade options or warranty extensions.
  2. Give technicians the tools they need to succeed  By recognizing employee pain points, such as the drudgery of admin or writing reports, and the frustration of not having the right parts, field service leaders can utilize tools to ease technician burdens, and in doing so actually significantly improve employee experiences. In addition to AI, augmented reality tools can spell out work instructions, remote support saves on truck rolls, visibility into IoT data accelerates problem solving, and mobile tools enable technicians to capture data in the field – even when they’re offline. This in turn reduces wasted time, improves time to repair and even improves overall first-time fix rates, a key metric when it comes to managing overall technician and customer experience. The right tools in the field also means new technicians can get up to speed faster, close their knowledge gaps and reduce inefficiencies by easily accessing expertise – rather than searching through product manuals for answers.
  3. Know your knowledge – These digital tools can also help with knowledge transfer, a growing issue among service technicians when so many experienced people are retiring or near retirement age. Through automated knowledge capture and collation of repair work from colleagues – no matter how obscure – combined with remote access to the latest tools, parts and methodologies as well as access to experts via remote collaboration and remote assistance, employees will always feel they have the ability to grow in their work and manage previously challenging field jobs.
  4. Collaborate to improve Customer Experience (CX) and job satisfaction  While field service is no longer just a repair or maintenance function, it is essential that it is recognized as a key role within organizational strategy. Collaboration with sales and R&D teams, for example, adds value, not just to the specific roles of service techs but to the whole organization. Service data derived from assets and service tech visits can transform sales plans and product roadmaps but only if that data is centralized and shared. It also joins the dots for technicians out in the field as they can see the value of the work they are doing and how it feeds back into the wider organization. Being part of a bigger team and central to an organization-wide strategy, only elevates service teams and the relevance of their work. CX is after all, key to account growth and revenue retention, the economic basis of any ambitious business.
  5. Then cross collaborate to raise your game – Research has found that this service data can increase customer asset uptime and improve cross functional collaboration. Through asset performance management frameworks, as well as asset-centric service tools, organizations are already identifying problems before they occur. Unplanned downtime is being tackled and, in many cases reduced by over 5%, with false alarms decreased by as much as 75%. This has a knock-on effect on minimizing maintenance costs, in some cases by 25%.
  6. Move to remote-first maintenance – COVID accelerated demand for more self-service. While this requires a connected approach, it removes the need for costly truck rolls for minor issues.Remote-first maintenance – a data-driven capability that enables technicians to assess customer assets remotely before they actually visit customer sites – is a gamechanger. It not only improves first-time fix rates by giving technicians access to real-time data, it also identifies issues and finds solutions before ever leaving the office. Even when the technician needs to go on site, the remote-first approach ensures that technicians have the right information, parts requirements, and context before arriving at the customer site, giving them a higher chance of first-time fix. This enables quicker and more accurate maintenance work, and also helps manage efficiencies in travel costs and inventory.

These technologies are fundamental to field service and customer satisfaction today. While data and automation will become de facto, they are rapidly becoming the bedrock for growth. AI and collaboration are helping to forge successful service teams and drive customer experience improvements. Whether future technologies include augmented reality or even robotics, they will be tools, all designed to help service technicians do their job better. And that is the point. Centralizing your service data and the enriching role of your service technicians drives employee satisfaction, which in turn boosts CX and customer retention.  

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