Field service outsourcing offers plenty of benefits, but it also presents major challenges. And during a crisis such as COVID-19, there is often a sudden and urgent need to accelerate the outsourcing process without compromising on standards. This article describes how companies using visual technology are able thrive during emergency scenarios.
Outsourcing is nothing new for field service organizations. For years, third parties have been used to increase service coverage, meet temporary spikes in demand or handle simple tasks more cheaply than with full-time employees. The increasing demand for rapid, high-quality service coupled with the knowledge gap resulting from an aging and shrinking pool of experienced technicians has further entrenched the practice of outsourcing in the field service industry. Gartner, for example, has estimated that over 40% of field service work is now performed by outsourced technicians.
Field service outsourcing in the era of COVID-19
The practice has accelerated due to the current pandemic. The United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated that COVID-19 could eliminate up to 195 million jobs worldwide – an unemployment rate commensurate with that of the Great Depression – with the service sector being hit especially hard. Many field service organizations are finding themselves with a skeleton staff. However, they must still meet their SLA commitments, increasingly leading them to opt for outsourcing during this time of crisis.
Challenges of field service outsourcing at short notice
Onboarding and working with third-party technicians, especially at short notice during a crisis, presents its own set of challenges.
Outsourcing work – whether to a third-party organization or to independent contractors — means explaining new systems, workflows, and other protocols. Management must find ways to cost-effectively onboard contractors and optimize initial processes — often remotely — in order to ensure consistent service levels.
Keeping track of subcontractors’ skills and certifications is complicated and time-consuming even at the best of times. Management must therefore find ways to ensure their subcontractors are fully trained and capable of completing any job assigned to them. Delegating complex work to an unqualified technician can be unsafe, waste company time and squander precious resources.
In the digital age, a poor customer experience can rapidly go viral on social media, severely damaging a service organization’s reputation even before the technician finishes the job. Management must ensure that outsourced workers are fully trained and arrive fully equipped to complete the job properly the first time.
Visual technology to the rescue
For outsourcing to be successful during a crisis, it is more important than ever for organizations to utilize innovative tools and technologies that enable supervision and guidance. Remote video support and video collaboration tools can be immensely helpful in field service outsourcing.
During onboarding, visual technologies can shorten the time it takes subcontractors to learn new systems, understand proper workflows and other relevant protocols necessary for them to do their jobs efficiently. A learning curve is always to be expected; new technicians will not be able to solve every problem without assistance. They are often dependent on remote experts for guidance, confirmation of completion, adherence to safety regulations and quality control
A remote expert can utilize visual technology to provide outsourced field service technicians with all necessary data and instructions in real time.
How does it work in practice?
Here is an example of how visual technology can help with outsourcing field service work to technicians who may not be familiar with the equipment they need to fix.
The field service technician points his smartphone to show the equipment to the remote expert. The expert can view the issue and walk him through the steps required to fix it using on-screen AR instructions, driving efficiencies in the resolution process. Once fixed, the technician can point his smartphone at the equipment again and the expert will verify that it is working properly.
First-time fixes such as these not only enhance operational efficiency, but they also have a positive impact on customer satisfaction.
Going further: Visual automation
COVID-19 has caused numerous countries to restrict movement, and field technicians have become increasingly scarce human resources. This has driven a greater need to scale support for outsourced technicians. After all, remote experts only have one pair of eyes – a fact that often causes workflow bottlenecks and delays the completion of service, especially when demand is unusually high. Automating these processes using visual analysis tools or “smart eyes” can be a game-changer, thanks to Computer Vision AI.
Computer Vision AI refers to the processing and analysis of digital images and videos to automatically understand their meaning and context. The technology enables a third-party technician to perform a variety of tasks in autonomous assistance mode.
Help from a virtual field service technician
Let’s say a technician isn’t sure what to do. He captures an image of the issue using his tablet camera and the system searches for similar images in the company knowledge base, identifies the resolution and provides it to the technician in the form of on-screen Augmented Reality instructions. A visual virtual ‘technician’ bot can also interact with the worker, provide feedback, and correct any errors during the resolution process. In addition, the technician can take an image of the completed job and the system can compare it with the ideal image to verify that the job was done correctly.
Field service organizations can leverage images collected from any visual interactions – including remote visual sessions, on-site recordings, and automated guidance sessions – to train their systems using deep learning techniques. This enables them to achieve ever-higher levels of accuracy in recognizing objects in real-life conditions, delivering significant cost savings, extending expert reach, and streamlining training, especially in the area of field service outsourcing.
This article was first published on the TechSee blog.