Windmill: by Jenna Helen

Today’s field service managers are looking for the same punch list of support as 10 years ago: They want help connecting with their employees in the field, scheduling appointments, managing parts, and enabling customer self-service. New are much higher customer expectations for faster and better service, the need to improve efficiency, and opportunities for new business models.  These are driven by powerful technology innovations – enabling true real-time processing – and increased competitive intensity.

Mobile technology is a key area where there have been profound advances.  When I became a software consultant in 1998, the only mobile technology available was a very early version of the PalmPilot. Because these devices had limited capabilities and were hard to use and disconnected from back-office data and intelligence, companies generally stuck with their paper-based field service processes.

Introduction of smart phones and devices like the iPad have changed the mobile space substantially. Broader capabilities (including GPS and multimedia manuals) as well as simplified interfaces increase adoption and make them essential for best-in-class service. Parallel advances have dramatically changed the landscape for scheduling and spare-parts management.

Enhancing Field Service Practices

There are several business drivers that are motivating advances in field service, including:

Heightened customer expectations. Today’s consumer expects rapid service by the right technician with the right skills and parts. Customers want first-call resolution.  If dissatisfied, they’ll let their Facebook friends or Twitter followers know. Business customers are equally, if not more, demanding.

I recently spoke with the service VP of a windmill manufacturer. He knows what his customers really want is for their windmills to produce the expected energy output no matter where they are or how windy it might be. So now, instead of just selling windmills and servicing them, they’re including service level agreements as part of an offering that will guarantee energy output. The windmill manufacturer stays on top of the agreements by monitoring data from more than 400 sensors that measure each windmill’s performance.

Similarly a well-known manufacturer of air compressors is simply selling compressed air.  Manufacturers of medical devices, automotive robotics, and many other products have started to operate the same way. 

Need for cost containment. Many companies are under increased pressure to optimize the productivity of their technicians and reduce their idle time as much as possible.

Today’s mobile technology and workforce optimization tools help the back office reach field service technicians in real-time and flexibly adjust their schedules. When an urgent request comes in, or a repair task takes longer than planned, the existing schedule can be changed to optimize resource utilization and still meet existing service level agreements.

Drive to maximize revenue. Increasingly companies are asking their service organizations to become sales channels, or at least identify new opportunities – especially since they may be the only staff that interacts with customers face to face. Properly trained technicians in the field, with the advantage of intimate customer knowledge and mobile access to company databases, might pursue up-selling and cross-selling better than anyone.

Improving your field service capabilities

There’s no magic bullet for improving field service. Needs vary by industry. Automotive firms might want to improve spare parts logistics. High tech firms may need to link more tightly with their channel partners. Utilities require advances in mobile technology for field technicians. 

But you’ll certainly need to act, since two things are certain: The future winners in your industry will exploit new technology to trump the competition, and your customers will talk on the Web about your choices and performance.

Windmill: photo courtesy of flickr's Jenna Helen