5 trends to watch in the evolution of the mobile workforce

Paul Whitelam Profile picture for user Paul Whitelam February 7, 2020
Businesses are investing more in the mobile workforce that delivers on-site service to their customers. Salesforce's Paul Whitelam outlines 5 trends to watch

Service technician uses augmented reality industry 4.0 © Zapp2Photo - shutterstock

The mobile workforce — those who travel to customers to provide on-site services and resolve problems — is growing both in numbers and stature. Nearly 90% of service decision makers say the interactions customers have with mobile workers in the field or on the jobsite reflect their brand, according to recent research. Around 80% say the services these mobile workers provide significantly increase revenue streams, and in some cases create all new ones. Situated squarely on the front lines of customer engagement, field service is a key part of the entire service lifecycle, and the mobile workers who carry it out are the face of the brand.

That’s why, even with the rise of self-service and remote service via digital channels, the mobile workforce continues to rise in importance. On-the-ground support for mission-critical requests has always been vital, especially in industries like energy and manufacturing, but the modern mobile workforce needs to evolve to meet customer expectations. Historically, it hasn’t been easy for managers to efficiently route mobile workers and set them up for success once they arrive, ensuring that they have the right equipment, the right parts and the right information to complete the job. That’s all changing now. Today’s mobile workers are getting access to the right technologies and training to give them a complete view of the customer and apply knowledge from multiple systems in real time to deliver higher levels of service than ever before.

The challenges of mobile workforce management

One of the key obstacles mobile workers face is accessing the information they need to deliver the quality service customers expect. That means having a 360-degree-view of the customer, the products they own, and what sort of warranties or service level agreements (SLAs) are in place. This information is too often locked up in multiple places, from customer relationship management to supply chain management to enterprise resource planning systems. Tapping into disparate sources of data in the field has always been difficult, and this has only become more challenging as the number of channels and customer touchpoints has proliferated.

Managing mobile workers and sending them relevant instructions in real time is also a highly complex undertaking. Dispatching the right workers to the right place at the right time depends upon the urgency of the tasks, travel time, the worker’s skills and availability, the tools and parts the worker has on hand, what sort of warranty the customer has, and much more. Juggling these factors is more complex still given the unpredictability of new requests and the variability of factors such as traffic conditions. In doing so, service organizations must also strike the right balance between customer experience and cost of service, and operate within real-world constraints such as overtime regulations and truck capacity limits.

5 ways the mobile workforce is evolving

As we enter a new decade, advances in technology are helping companies with a mobile workforce find new ways to overcome these challenges and exceed customer expectations. Here are five ways that mobile service is moving into the future:

1. Mobile service is branching out into new areas.

Field service has typically played an outsized role in industries like manufacturing and telecommunications. While mobile workers might go by different titles, managing them well is increasingly important in other areas, like insurance and healthcare. For example, the expansion of home healthcare makes it imperative for providers to optimize how they deploy resources so that aides who deliver care are armed with the right information to help their patients. In the insurance space, Suramericana, a Latin American insurance company, found that optimizing service delivery of emergency roadside services was key to achieving scale and meeting customers’ urgent needs.

2. Connected devices are enabling predictive service

Where people once notified companies of issues with their products, connected machines are now increasingly reporting their own problems — and even predicting them. In recent years, field service evolved from being reactive (fixing an air conditioner after it breaks) to preventative (sending a technician out before the unit breaks, based on its average lifespan). Today, mobile workers can go one step further by being predictive — dispatching a technician before there’s a problem thanks to real-time information about a particular unit. IoT innovations provide immediate visibility into multiple data points and make the health of assets completely transparent. A mobile worker knows it’s time to service the air conditioner based on factors like the service history of units in that batch, how often it’s used, and performance of the device itself.

The Town of Cary in North Carolina, a truly connected city, is an example of the massive potential of connected devices. In Cary, stoplights are equipped with sensors that report outages to government departments in real time so that the city can quickly and automatically dispatch a team to fix them, resulting in less downtime. The city also has a system in place to alert residents of these outages so they can take alternate routes. The Town of Cary shows the potential of connected devices to improve government services, but in any sector, getting ahead of problems through data optimizes field service delivery, maximizes efficiency, minimizes downtime, and improves customer satisfaction.

3. Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming the playing field

Overcoming the challenges inherent in field service requires aggregating large amounts of data and performing intelligent analysis. Machine learning can deliver insights from connected devices to drive predictive service, for example by identifying that unusual vibration readings from an air-conditioning unit indicate a 60% probability of a breakdown within 30 days. By the nature of machine learning, more data delivers better results over time, and this self-learning service optimization not only increases efficiency, but also gives customers what they want. While some companies and industries are already tapping the power of AI, mass market adoption has not yet arrived. Going forward, service organizations have a great opportunity to use this approach to get the most out of data and improve their customers’ service experience.

4. Augmented reality shows workers the information they need

Augmented reality (AR) is an emerging technology that's improving the experience for mobile workers. Field technicians can now point a mobile device at an asset and get real-time diagnostic information as well as service guidance on their screens. For example, mobile workers servicing photocopiers can’t possibly know the nuances of every single model. By using an AR tool to scan a barcode, they can quickly learn about the model and obtain instructions to solve a particular problem — and those instructions are actually overlaid on the picture of the photocopier, arming them with all the information they need on one screen to solve the problem. AR also enables the mobile worker to collaborate with remote colleagues while they share the same visual of the problem at hand. Granted, AR is still in its early stages, but use of the technology for the mobile workforce will only grow.

5. The last-mile experience will get better and better

Customers today want full information and control about service engagements. They want to be able to initiate calls for service, receive confirmation, update appointments if needed, and have a specific estimate of when service will take place, through their channel of choice. Solutions now exist for providing customers with real-time details about technician arrival time and enabling two-way communication between customers and service companies, so that mobile workers have a good understanding of the problem even before they arrive. Mobile solutions can now provide the type of engagement that customers are used to seeing with consumer ride-sharing or food-delivery applications.

Toast, a restaurant management platform, is empowering mobile workers to have the right information on hand when visiting customers for installation and set up. A mobile app provides them with a single source of truth — background on the customer, and clear instructions on tasks to complete. Mobile workers can also use the app to record their work, add notes, and collaborate with others. Taking field service to the next level helps Toast improve efficiency while providing consistent and personalized customer experience.

Preparing for the mobile workforce of tomorrow

The mobile workforce is a growing source of value for organizations — creating all-new revenue streams and empowering companies to build long-standing relationships with customers. Getting field service right makes companies more efficient, makes workers more effective on site, and improves customer experience. That’s why research shows that nearly three-quarters of service decision makers say they are making significant investments in their mobile workers, including expanding teams and improving technology. Harnessing new tools — from AI to connected devices to augmented reality to custom mobile apps — is crucial as mobile service evolves for the future.

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