While I could be considered a mainstay of the US WBR event circuit, last week was my first time not only attending but also speaking at WBR Field Service Europe in Amsterdam. It was exciting to experience a Field Service event through a slightly different lens but also reassuring that — regardless of geography — the challenges, changes, and demands that are facing service leaders remain consistent. While there are of course variations on objectives and strategy from industry to industry and business to business, the key themes among service organizations are shared. Here are some thoughts on how three of those key themes were presented this past week at Field Service Europe.
#1: CX Focus Leads to An Outcomes-Based Service Journey
If you visit Future of Field Service, you’ll see that an increased focus on CX as well as the journey to outcomes-based service are both topics that are very well represented. This is because they are arguably two of the most important topics in field service today, and they are really quite interconnected. The increase in focus on CX that we saw begin about three or four years ago has led us to the point of clarity that outcomes-based service is our future. This is because once we began really listening to what our customers want, we learned that they don’t simply want a better experience – they want a different one. They will no longer settle for good service, they want seamlessness and peace of mind that can only be delivered when guaranteeing outcomes.
Miguel Ángel Hernanz, VP, Head of Global Service Delivery Transformation at Philips led a presentation on Tuesday during which he provided insight into how Philips has worked to master CX. He discussed the importance of a “seamlessly orchestrated” CX and described how the company set criteria to guide its evolution from transaction to relationship, fragmented information to a connected customer view, generic experiences to personalized journeys, scattered self-help to end-to-end self-help, and a reactive model to a preventative and proactive approach.
It was apparent that the majority of attendees at the event have come to understand that their focus on CX is forcing the need to migrate to an outcomes-based service model. What is less clear, it seems, is how to smoothly pave the path from a traditional service model to an outcomes-based model. It’s not a quick or easy transition, of course, and I observed that, while resigned to the need to embrace outcomes, there’s a fairly universal struggle with the “how.” Jan Van Dijk, Regional Connected Services Sales Leader for Benelux at Honeywell BV offered some words of wisdom in his session on Tuesday afternoon, which was that siloes within the organization and disparate systems are two major issues that create a lack of measurable KPIs that will inhibit your ability to transform.
Another outcomes-based-related theme that came up in multiple sessions over the course of the event is the recognition that as service organizations progress on the path to delivering outcomes, it will become increasingly important to partner with other companies and create an ecosystem that delivers a truly seamless experience/outcome to the customer. It was mentioned that aligning strategically with partners and determining the right fit and competitive mix of that ecosystem are realities that will inevitably need to be grappled with and worked through.
#2: Technology Is a Critical Enabler
There was a more simpler time in field service when technology was an impressive tool to use from a competitive standpoint and enabled significant productivity improvements and cost savings for companies – but arguably wasn’t an essential. That time has come and gone, and in today’s landscape while technology is still just an enabler, it has become a critical one. Perhaps 10 years ago it wasn’t impossible to deliver a strong CX without the latest tech at work, but for todays’ customers that are demanding outcomes it is most certainly impossible. Companies now must rely on technology to help meet the growing needs and increasing demands of their customers – you can’t simply work harder to keep up, you have to leverage technology to work smarter.
I interviewed IFS customer Mike Gosling, IT Service Platforms manager at Cubic Transportation Systems for a keynote session on Wednesday morning. Cubic has moved to outcomes-based service and relies in part on IFS Field Service Management and AI-based Planning & Scheduling Optimization to deliver those outcomes. When preparing for our session, Mike pointed out that in an outcomes-based model it become impossible to just work harder than you have before to meet those demands – his experience has illustrated firsthand that you have to rely heavier on technology. “Technology is the path to outcomes-based service,” says Mike. “Adding field engineers to meet the demands of outcomes is not reasonable – technology is critical in today’s service landscape.”
#3: Changes to The Technician Role Are Inevitable, Although Unclear
I moderated a panel Wednesday morning on AI and ML that included Henrietta Haavisto, Head of Service Transformation Change Management, Global Maintenance at KONE, Rajat Kakar, VP Services Business at Fujitsu, Norbert Kamberg, Director, Global Operations – Field Services & Tools at Siemens Power & Gas, as well as Mike of Cubic. We discussed where each of these organizations stands in leveraging AI and ML, which was interesting. But where the debate heated up is not if these tools are important (they are) or whether they’ll be used (they are, and they will be further) but how the use will impact the role of the field technician. Some panelists held firm that field techs remain the company’s most valuable resource. This camp maintained that while the technicians’ roles may shift to be more centered on relationship building and nurturing, a consultative approach, and the need to deliver a positive human experience as the face of the brand; they will never be, in any way, replaced by AI.
Other panelists felt less certain of this truth, pointing to examples where advanced AI and robotics could actually eliminate technicians’ roles. This made for a lively conversation that ultimately concluded with the point that while it is impossible to predict the future, what is certain is that changes to the field technician role are inevitable. This is due to the evolution of how service is delivered as we move to outcomes, because of the increased reliance on technology moving forward and the possibility of automating (at least some) tasks, and even related to the differences in skill sets among newer technicians that will be joining the workforce as all of these changes unfold.
There was plenty more food for thought at Field Service Europe that I plan to share in the coming weeks! Stay tuned.