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What The Field Service Industry Can Expect in 2021

2020 has been a challenging year; now there’s a newsflash for you. 

For field service organizations, 2020 hasn’t just been challenging, but it’s also been a transformative year. A year of trying to figure out how to be in the field as little as possible, while still providing excellent field service.

Field operations while avoiding the field is like asking a fish to swim as little as possible. 

Lemons and lemonade aside, we’ve seen the mesmerizing acceleration of digital transformation processes that have been dragging their feet for many long, long years. 

2021 looks to be a bounce-back year, as companies, governments, and individuals find their groove again. During 2020 we all scrambled to somehow manage the onslaught of a new reality. In the closing quarter of the year, the realization sank in that the shift in business markets and consumer behaviors was lasting, and won’t go back to what it was pre-pandemic. 

In 2021 field organizations will need to cement the restructuring of processes and operations. They will be forced to implement new tools and business processes (if they haven’t already) to support their new organizational structure and service paradigms, as they adapt to provide their customers’ transformed expectations.

Digitalization of Customer Support Channels

Salesforce recently introduced Visual Remote Assistant (VRA) that adds visual communication to the customer support mix. It allows customers to take pictures and videos, send them to the service provider in realtime. It further facilitates video chat sessions between customers and support teams via the system’s Augmented Reality (AR) features. This allows the customer to serve as the eyes of the support center, as though a field technician was already present, and potentially eliminates the need to dispatch one at all, if the problem can be solved remotely. Even if the issues cannot be addressed remotely, technicians will be better prepared when they arrive which will increase the first-time fix rate.

In addition, our customers are expanding their digital channels for communication by implementing WhatsApp and Chat-Bots as additional communication channels for their customers. Allowing customers the ability to choose their preferred communication method which is a crucial element in delivering successful service, by giving customers the power of choice.

These two examples, Salesforce Visual Remote Assistant and WhatsApp, provide immediate value to any organization as they can be implemented and rolled out quite quickly. 

Displaying dynamic adaption to shifting needs and wants of customers is a value on its own. 

Data Collection and Analysis to Amaze your Customers and Save Costs

Another element field service organizations will need to display in 2021 is a sense of balance. The urge for ‘quick wins’ in light of the traumatic 2020 is understandable, but decision-makers should also try to look into investing in digitalization endeavors that will bear their value-fruits in the long, rather than short-term.

The long standing break-then-fix work mode that many field service organizations operate by is an operational burden. It creates spikes of urgency that are hard to be prepared for, interrupt scheduled work, and lead to unneeded expenses and man hours. Preventive maintenance can alleviate the situation but can only take you part of the way. 

On the other hand – with Predictive Maintenance – you can amaze your customers: arriving on site before the malfunction occurs, at a time that is best for your field operation, making standard maintenance schedules obsolete.

With Predictive Maintenance, an AI engine acquires knowledge about the ongoing operation of a piece of machinery or equipment. It monitors performance over a period of time to identify failure indicators, automatically produces a work order, and schedules a technician prior to a machinery malfunction. This enables technicians to provide fix-before-break service, preventing mechanical failures and avoiding the urgent, costly, system-shaking break-fix occurrences.

Obviously, it takes time to get to the cumulative effect on costs and efficiency. Integrating an AI-powered Predictive Maintenance module into your FSM system is invaluable, but it is a long-term game. An investment in technologies such as this in 2021, requires vision-over-immediacy. 

Speaking of vision-over-immediacy, so is creating a Smart Knowledge Base. In light of the digitization of customer support channels, a lot of data is going to be generated through remote assistance and support. This data should be gathered, categorized, and analyzed to derive actionable insights. 

If every customer interaction is recorded and classified in the right way, including speech to text – the next interaction with the customer can be condensed to its minimal necessity, which both sides will benefit from. Again, a Smart Knowledge Base provides significant long-term value if implemented correctly, but in the short-term, such an endeavor requires the capacity for vision-driven decision-making. 

The Uberization of Field Services

With the shift to remote service delivery rather than taking actions in the field, organizations will find themselves re-thinking their workforce. When much of the support and service can be done remotely, keeping an extensive team of field technicians across various territories would be questionable. With travel time out of the equation, the number of tasks a single remote support worker can handle during a day increases exponentially.

Still, eventually, a technician with a toolbox will need to get out there to the field; AR is grand, but some things will always require a pair of experienced hands on site. As these cases decrease over time, field service organizations will find themselves needing to keep a very wide range of professional technicians on the payroll for a smaller and smaller number of on site tasks. Or would they?

In the last year we have already implemented applications we developed in-house for booking and scheduling contract workers. Those were for enterprise-level organizations that had a pool of thousands of contract workers, and needed to integrate them seamlessly into the workflows on an ad-hoc basis. 

The application works very similarly to on-demand taxi services – a task is published by the company with the skills required, time, place, and compensation. The task will be pushed out to relevant contract workers who meet the pre-defined criteria, and whoever grabs it first gets it. Yes, exactly like Uber, but with a different logic behind it, which can balance between cost to company and reaction time for the customer.

I suspect we’ll see more of that in the coming years – the Uberization of field service, utilizing a network of contract workers to be dispatched in real-time on service calls. It makes good business sense, for both parties, satisfying the need of organizations to be leaner while maintaining high quality and speed of service.

The office in the field – Internal Field Service

A lot was already said about the new-normal of working from home. What might not have been mentioned, is how that shifts a lot of internal IT and support activities to remote. This means that IT technicians will no longer be concentrated in the offices (cyber security at thousands of remote employee stations at homes, hardware issues, connectivity issues etc.). As companies around the world are adjusting and planning for their long-term mode of operation – we are expecting to see more and more need for internal field service employees. We may be seeing companies who grab this opportunity and become providers of this type of field service for multiple customers, and/or companies which create internal field service operations as part of their IT teams – in both cases the new type of Internal Field Service will grow and will require the right solutions.

And So

All the tools and work-modes mentioned above, stem from and lead to, the forced-upon new reality of remote working. I just saw that Field Service News released a report titled “Benchmarking the New Normal from Year Zero”. I’m not sure it goes so far as to claim that we are starting from a clean slate in 2021. We are, after all, carrying decades of field service knowledge, experience, best practices and KPIs. 

None of what I described above is new. These are technologies and service paradigms that have been brewing for years, albeit on a very low flame. 2020, among other things, acted as a catalyst for long-due innovations to be addressed with an urgency that can only be caused by, well, a catalytic event. 

The task at hand is to use our collective knowledge base with the experiences of 2020 to produce a blueprint for superior service in 2021 and beyond.A blueprint that fuses the physical and digital worlds. This is the New Reality, a call to action to utilize the past for a better future.

“Another year over / A new one just began” Mr. Lennon sang too many decades ago. It’s a fine perspective to adopt, especially when we depart 2020 and march onward to 2021.