The COVID-19 field service challenge: ensuring business continuity with remote support

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COVID-19 and field service
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Ensuring business continuity and the safety of employees and customers is top of mind for companies delivering essential services across industries such as utilities, medical technology and telecommunications. These are lifelines for millions of people and in field service, COVID-19 represents a unique challenge.

With so many people currently at home – whether on a voluntary or mandatory basis – customers are likely to experience more issues than usual and need far more support. Many are making much more extensive use of streaming services, for example, and running into problems with settings. There’s also a far greater load on infrastructure, putting a massive strain on ISPs.

At the same time, a company’s SLA commitments remain in force. Failure to meet guarantees leaves companies open to the possibility of litigation. In some industries, response times need to be even shorter. For example, many medical tech suppliers need to be able to resolve issues immediately to ease the pressure on overstretched medical professionals. Meanwhile, repair and service centers are either being closed or customers are choosing to steer clear of them. That pushes the demand for home visits from technicians sky-high.

Maintaining service is crucial. Brands that fail to deliver in these critical times can be significantly harmed in the long run. In the current crisis, it’s even harder to support customers who are already highly emotional and starting to panic because they can’t operate a vital device or access a vital service.

Companies have been caught off guard

According to a new survey, most businesses aren’t highly prepared. In fact, 88% of companies aren’t fully ready for the impact of COVID-19 on field service delivery. Virtually all companies – 98% in fact – don’t believe they can carry on as usual. Businesses also need to prepare for limited capacity – 40% of companies expect to be impacted by absenteesim, including in customer support departments.

New Paradigms

Because of COVID-19, field service organizations are discovering a whole new reality. Many are embracing the work from home model as they seek to reduce site visits to minimize human-to-human contact. That’s especially true in high-density, high-risk areas like New York City and London. It’s a paradigm shift in field service delivery and a huge psychological change.

Companies also working with limited resources. Some technicians are sick or in isolation, while others face severe travel restrictions. Organizations therefore need to update many of their procedures. This situation requires fast implementation of new tools and tech – by employees who don’t necessarily embrace new tools under normal circumstances. Technologies that would take several months to be adopted are now implemented within days or even hours. The lessons companies learn and the tools they implement now could radically change how they do business for decades to come.

Visual Assistance

The same video technology that enables teleconferencing, e-learning and telemedicine is now enabling leading enterprises to overcome the challenges of COVID-19 for field service delivery.

The concept of Remote Visual Assistance couldn’t be simpler. In a nutshell, it’s about overcoming the visual gap in traditional service delivery – putting everyone on the same page – or the same screen, in fact.

The technician or agent sends the customer a link – via any channel – to begin a live video streaming session from their mobile phone or tablet camera. The expert takes a good look at the issue to identify the root cause. Next they provide AR annotations to show the end customer exactly what they need to do. Finally, the expert visually confirms that the issue’s been resolved. That’s a vital step. It reassures the customer, while the expert can be confident there won’t be another call about the same problem.

There are currently three operational modes for field service organizations seeking to ensure continuity during the COVID-19 crisis.

Remote Support

Remote Support is essentially the same process that allows contact center agents to assist customers under normal circumstances. The customer reaches out with a problem and is routed to the right technician, who sends a link to begin a live video stream. He identifies the issue and guides the customer step by step through the resolution process, whether it’s plugging a couple of cables into the right ports or clicking the correct buttons in sequence.

This keeps dispatches to a minimum by enabling a work from home model​, ensuring technician and customer safety. It allows companies to continue providing support in high-risk areas and to customers in quarantine. It also maintains and enhances customer engagement, elevating CX even during a crisis. It’s at times like this that a company can win a customer’s lifelong loyalty.​

Onsite Support

In some cases, onsite support is an unavoidable event. That’s why many companies are incorporating social distancing into their processes, maintaining a safe distance between the technician and the customer throughout the visit.

With onsite support, companies can add a preliminary visual inspection step during the first contact – during the visual session before the dispatch. It guarantees that when a visit is required, the technician arrives fully prepared – they know what the issue is, what parts and tools they need and whether there are any special requirements, like access issues, to consider.

Across the global field service industry, around 25% of issues require a follow-up visit. Apart from the massive cost that involves, in the current situation it’s simpy unsustainable. It’s doubling the risk of COVID-19 exposure to both the technician and the customer. Onsite Support means the technician can reach out to an expert back at HQ or to another more experienced colleague and receive AR guidance right there on their smartphone or tablet screen.

Onsite Support also mean offering advice and assistance to outsourced teams and inexperienced technicians, reducing the need for follow-up dispatches because visual tools enable companies to carry out quality assurance in real time.

Hybrid Model

When the company needs to provide a specific part, the technician can bring it to the customer’s front door and then carry out a Visual Assistance session from the driveway, guiding the customer through the installation process exactly as he would if he was doing the session from home.

This ensures maximal safety when travel is still necessary, by enabling contactless interactions. Technicians can make equipment deliveries and swaps in safety​. And since they’re right there on the driveway, they can respond on the spot to customer feedback and avoid a repeat dispatch.

Summary

According to a new LinkedIn survey, 44% of senior leaders are somewhat or very likely to make remote work policies permanent. With many technicians currently being introduced to working remotely using Visual Assistance, the effect of COVID-19 on field service delivery could prove to be seismic.

This article was first published on the TechSee blog.

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