Field service is a segment of customer experience that is dominated by two elements: the complexity of the issues handled, and the high cost of providing on-site services. It is recognized as a critical component of the service experience, especially when managing the condition of high-precision equipment in the medical, manufacturing and utility industries. It is also a high-risk moment in the customer life cycle. Consumers often experience the process as a series of disconnected visits and handoffs that fail to resolve issues the first time.
Vendors in the service management space have been mindful of the sensitivity of these encounters, and have deployed technological advancements in new features and offerings that streamline the process and aim to reduce its cost and complexity. The technology supporting field service operations centers around case tracking, asset management and the information resources needed by technicians. The common element is data, and how an organization makes sure that its data is accurate and available when needed. Organizations are increasingly using automation and workflow design to create processes that make it easier for remote technicians to access the specific repair and diagnostic information they need when on-site with a customer, and to preload their vehicle with the specific parts needed for the clients they are seeing.
Many firms are also trying to improve the efficiency of operations by transitioning from manual to digital processes, often by connecting their service tools with existing customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning and other back-office applications. Processes that can be automated (but are often still manual) include scheduling service calls and technician shift schedules; completing service reports while on-site; and making decisions based on real-time analytics.
Organizations are also finding that what works for traditional field service can also be applied to broader use cases involving other types of mobile or remote workers. There are plenty of situations where an organization – often using its service infrastructure – has to manage either people or assets that are on client premises or in the field. Insurance claim processors, for example, are not strictly service technicians, but they are customer-facing and need to have secure and agile applications at their disposal to provide satisfactory outcomes. Other examples include utility company workers who check field assets or customer home meters, and home health-care workers. These types of service calls don’t always include customer visits or even an awareness by the customer that service is in play, but they do require the same kind of information resources about product, customer history and service-level agreements that a contact center agent would need.
Another trend that vendors have responded to is the diversity of vertical industry approaches to field service. There are significant differences between business-to-business and business-to-consumer field service, stemming from the vast difference in complexity and value of corporate assets (like magnetic imaging resonance machines, manufacturing tools or on-premises IT systems) and consumer goods like appliance installations and repair. Insurance claims processing visits are not as time sensitive as medical device service, nor do the outcomes have the same importance to customer longevity and value. By focusing offerings on the specific needs of select vertical industries, vendors are developing focused best practices that can elevate service outcomes while also helping control the high costs of operating in the field.
Salesforce, for example, has been aggressive in building out field-service applications tied to its Industry Clouds. Customers in different vertical markets can take advantage of specific user interfaces, data models or automated processes tied to their particular business needs. Some of the specialization – notably warranty management, industry-specific asset service management and service process management – is provided through Salesforce partners. Standard components within the Field Service offering include multiple mobile applications for tracking people, assets, timesheets and expenses; asset tracking tools; and workforce and work-order scheduling and tracking. The company is investing in improving the suite’s features related to predictive and proactive maintenance, and in providing customers with a digital-first experience.
ServiceNow has also been working on schedule optimization and work-order management, along with industry-specific resources and an enhanced mobile experience for workers in the field. ServiceNow has built out workflow automation systems for users across many of its products, including field service. It has integrated project management and support for multi-day long-cycle tasks, and what it calls “closed loop service processes,” which roll together problem investigation, root cause analysis and change management. In the most recent platform release, ServiceNow enhanced crew operations through dynamic scheduling and location monitoring, and provided tools for organizations to manage contractor relationships from the dispatcher workspace.
Across the industry, vendors are using improved artificial intelligence platforms to enhance scheduling and route management, and to provide better knowledge management and information resources to service technicians. Ventana Research asserts that by 2024, 4 in ten organizations offering field service will start AI automation pilot projects to reduce dispatch requirements and proactively engage customers early in the service process. We are also seeing an increase in interest for short-cutting service requests by identifying past engagements related to a particular issue, and proactively reaching out to address them either before they magnify or to alert customers to a potential problem.
Many of the features that buyers reportedly are interested in are the same as those seen in in-center service and support. For example, the trends toward omnichannel support and shepherding customers to self-service options are evident. For the most part, trouble-ticketing and case-tracking are seen as table stakes in any solution, and are considered almost a commodity by buyers. This suggests that vendors should be differentiating based on how well they connect their field service front-ends to the deeper tools behind the scenes, like customer analytics systems, ERP, AI knowledge management and other supporting systems.
For buyers, field service often runs in parallel with an organization’s contact center-based service and support. That suggests that one of the most effective customer experience strategies will be to unify those systems and processes, encouraging teams to draw from the same underlying customer, product and transaction data resources, knowledge bases and mobile communications platforms.
For further reading see the Ventana Research Customer Experience expertise area.