The pandemic has transformed virtually every aspect of customer service, and field service is front and center. Over the past year and a half, companies across nearly every industry have turned to an “appointment economy” to deliver safe and convenient experiences. Contactless and remote service have become more widespread. At the same time, a move toward personalized and transparent service has accelerated.
These shifts aren’t going away anytime soon. We are more likely seeing the beginning of an acceleration in field service capabilities. “Customer and employee expectations are driving significant change in field service,” said Paul Whitelam, SVP & GM, Field Service Management at Salesforce. “With technologies such as automation, artificial intelligence, and analytics, companies can optimize efficiency and experience and make field service a powerful part of a holistic customer service strategy.”
Looking ahead, field service is poised to take on even greater importance as a strategic center and the face of the brand. Heightened expectations among customers and employees, along with advances in the Internet of Things, workflow automation, and artificial intelligence, will shape the way companies deliver service to stay competitive.
Here are three developments that will define field service in the coming years:
1. Field service will become more customer-centric.
Over the course of the pandemic, customers have gotten used to a higher level of service. They’ve grown accustomed to the convenience of scheduling appointments in advance, visiting establishments with reduced crowds, picking up purchases at the curb, getting help via video chat, and having items dropped off without having to sign for them. Although initially driven by safety concerns, such offerings have enhanced customer experience and improved sentiment toward brands. Any attempt to go revert to the ‘old normal’ is likely to unleash a backlash.
Going forward, companies have a choice about whether the conveniences they introduced will be transient or long-lasting. If a company claws back perks, customers get the message that the business was acting in its own interest the whole time — not based on what was best for consumers. However, we are seeing leading companies instead build on these changes and telegraph to the customer base that they understand what customers want and need. The early results are a further positive boost to how customers perceive the enterprise.
For example, customers are coming to expect easy appointment scheduling, the ability to track the progress of technicians on the road, and technicians who are familiar with their past interactions with a company. From the frontlines of customer experience, field service will wield ever greater power to either erode or build a brand.
The time saved, and the goodwill that is generated, also open up opportunities for selling to the customer and capturing feedback about future wants and needs.
2. Employee experience will grow in importance.
The field service workforce is aging. Historically it was predominantly male. These technicians often did the same job for decades. Now, companies are trying to attract younger and more diverse hires. Technicians are typically expected to be technologically savvy and stay up to date on new equipment and processes.
As automated and remote service become more widespread for routine queries, agents are facing tougher cases and more pressure to conform to strict guidelines around job performance and communication. Meanwhile, employees — particularly Millennial and Gen Z workers — increasingly care about whether they work for companies that engage in ethical practices and invest in professional development. These factors are certainly challenges, but they are also opportunities.
As the field service workforce ages, companies that want to attract a new generation of workers need to prioritize becoming a place where people want to work and see a defined pathway for development and promotions. Field service team members need to feel like they are armed with the right skills and tools when they arrive at a job.
The good news is that advanced technologies open up vast growth opportunities. Machine learning tools can help technicians prioritize repairs, predict the parts they’ll need, and minimize the number of required trips. Workflow tools can capture work duration and compare it to planned duration (to optimize future schedules), streamline the number of tasks and steps that they need to record, and reduce errors. New mobile technologies give them the freedom to use voice-driven commands and record their activities and communicate with the customers and dispatchers. These mobile technologies include offline capabilities for technicians who find themselves in areas without a network. They can store documents, work orders, plans, and even work offline and synchronize later.
In part, the challenge involves addressing a skills gap in the workforce by providing opportunities for continuous learning. But it also requires bridging an empathy gap: Companies that want to attract and retain talent need to treat employees as well as they treat their customers.
3. Excellent field service will go from personalized to proactive.
The leaders in customer service have already moved from generic, reactive field service toward personalized experiences. Now, companies at the forefront of service are going a step further to provide proactive experiences.
Thanks to the rise of the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, companies can gather massive amounts of data through sensors in devices and identify anomalies in real-time. Instead of waiting until a customer calls to report a problem or equipment breaks down, they can anticipate issues before they happen and communicate those messages to the customer on their channel of choice. A proactive approach will increasingly become a brand differentiator. Real-time video assistance is another great addition. Though the technology is not new, the pandemic has sped up the adoption of video communication between the remote support team and the customer, or the remote technical expert and a technician on site.
Field service personnel will also evolve into brand ambassadors. Armed with tools, skills, and data to be more efficient, technicians will spend less time on the ground resolving issues. Instead, they can become the eyes and ears of the company. As we said, they are then free to be advocates for sales and marketing. That could mean recommending relevant products and services on-site or sharing intelligence gleaned from a visit with other teams for follow-up.
Becoming the Disruptor
In the past, customers may have reluctantly accepted situations where they call in for a repair and wait days or hours for a technician to arrive and carry out what could be a basic fix. That level of service is no longer tolerable. Customers expect field service that is personalized, proactive, and seamless. No stress. And technicians expect to feel valued, feel progress in their careers, and they aspire to play a broader strategic role in the organization. Instead of waiting for a competitor to disrupt the business, inspired and inspiring companies are taking the initiative themselves, creating new paths in field service, and establishing new levels of trust with the customer.