Tips for Doing Field Service Right

At Nucleus Research we've been doing a lot of work recently looking at the effectiveness of field service teams. As service becomes a more critical differentiator for almost every company, field service is a real opportunity for them to either shine or be outshined. Unfortunately (or fortunately), because field service often is the first in-person connection a customer receives with a company, the quality of that interaction has more impact—either positively or negatively—than almost any other contact. Also, because it involves a commitment of the customer's time, any perceived inefficient use of that time is even more damaging to customer satisfaction than any amount of time spent on hold.

The good news is that technologies to enable field service are more accessible, less costly, and easier to deploy than ever before. We see deployments of edge CRM technologies like field service when done well delivering an average of 4.2 times the ROI of traditional core CRM deployments, such as traditional customer service automation efforts. However, at the same time, in looking at field service technology deployments, we find many companies are just scratching the service on optimizing those operations. In fact, fewer than 10 percent of companies with field service operations are at the maturity level where their service is truly differentiated in delivering value to customers.

Some of the same factors that make field service so important also make field service technology deployments difficult: remote workers touching customers are difficult to train, and contractors and part-time workers are often reluctant adopters (particularly if a technology keeps tabs on them). There's often a cultural disconnect, too, between "real" customer service and techs in the field who are actually doing the work. Technology can help, though, in breaking down these barriers and turning field service into a differentiator if companies keep these tips in mind.

Don't Buy the Buzzwords

A lot of field service marketing today is all about artificial intelligence, automation, robotics, and self-driving techs. Although automation is, in many cases, a great way to drive efficiencies in field service, many companies can do a lot by adopting standard processes and using rules-based optimization, not AI, in areas like scheduling and routing. The AI will come, and automation will as well, but we find many organizations learn much about their field service operations in the initial phases of standardizing processes and using rules-based workflows that would have been missed had they jumped directly to AI and automation. A more phased approach both eases adoption and allows for learning along the way, so when AI is deployed it's driving improvements based on real data and experience.

Don't Pave over Cowpaths

Before an initial or new deployment, successful organizations take the opportunity to review their field service operations and processes to determine not just how to automate them but how to leverage the technology to drive more intelligent and consistent processes. Often companies that have grown quickly, organically or by merger, have different teams or individuals with different ways of getting things done in the field. What is a differentiator at the one-to-one level is often a disaster at scale. Bringing in top performers in the process stage and standardizing helps scale operations while producing meaningful consistent data for analysis and reporting.

Make the Most of Mobile

Beyond just access to data and the ability to complete work order records, organizations that take advantage of devices' capabilities for geofencing, time and date stamping, camera and image recognition, and real-time collaboration can dramatically reduce the burden on highly-skilled field service technicians and more effectively scale their knowledge to less-experienced techs in the field. We expect to see more deployments of mixed reality and other capabilities in the near future; however, today there's a lot we can do with the capabilities of the devices we have.

Let the Customer Drive

Remember that field service interactions are most critical to customer satisfaction because they have a more personal and direct impact on customers' time than any other interaction. Giving customers more control and visibility into that interaction will do more for customer engagement than any amount of scheduling optimization. Exposing analytics to customers, letting them schedule through self-service and track their status, and giving them insights and context of the work your field service team is doing for them will deliver a great return on your field service investment.

As the last mile of many service organizations, field service is often the last to be effectively attacked with technology, but it doesn't have to be; nor does it have to be just the long tail. Leveraging field service technology effectively to enable both techs and customers can make field service a differentiator and a low-cost, high-touch opportunity for greater customer engagement.

Rebecca Wettemann is vice president of Nucleus Research.