Back during the financial crisis, I happened to meet a man who was volunteering at a food bank in Providence, Rhode Island. He had recently been laid off from his manufacturing job and was moving boxes and stocking shelves because he needed something to do.

I think about that man a lot. I think about what it took for him to get out of bed, get dressed every day, and drive to a place to work for no money, gain no transferrable experience, and receive no benefits. I think about the integrity, the discipline, and the desire to help others that he expressed. The inspiration that he offered me has stuck with me, simple as it was. I often wonder about the man, and where he is now.

I think about that man quite a bit right now, in the context of our current health, social, and economic crisis. I think about the challenges faced by the people that I write about; Technicians and front-line service workers, who, stripped of work, lack even the simple dignity to volunteer at a place that, today, doesn’t want crowds, but also needs our help more than ever right now.

I wish I knew how we, as a service community, navigate this crisis, but it’s a question that I don’t think any of us can realistically answer right now. Sarah did a great job tackling this on Monday, and with a few days more to process what’s been a scenario that changes by the hour, I thought I’d share some of my own thoughts.

What we do know is that, in spite of the temporary economic contraction that we all face, the need for service functions, both in B2B and B2C settings does not simply erode in the face of a global pandemic, and with it comes challenges and dangers for the technicians on the front line. There are things we can do today to manage some of those challenges, and there are things that, when the dust settles and we return to a state of normalcy, we will need to consider for the future. Like I said before, these are mitigants and means to blunt damage. I cannot absolve the entire service sector of illness or economic strife, as much as I wish I could. But these can begin to make things a bit better.

What to Do Today

There is of course the obvious litany of safety measures currently at our disposal: Wash hands, maintain social distance, etc. I hopefully do not need to reiterate them here in detail, but here is the CDC’s guidance on mitigating health risks for businesses.

From a business standpoint, I’ve seen some companies declare business as usual, I’ve seen some manufacturers consider a pivot the desperately-needed utilities that are within their scope, like masks and ventilators, I’ve seen some firms reallocate field workers to internal positions to give them less exposure and help maintain business continuity, and I’ve seen others say nothing.

The bottom line is this—your technicians are the lifeblood of your company, and their wellbeing, both bodily and economically, should remain a top priority. We have remained on the precipice of a labor shortage among many areas of service for some time now, and it’s up to us to do our best to mitigate that shortage in the long run. I can’t dictate how that happens for your business, and without bills and budget it is easy for me to say all this, and yes, austerity measures might be necessary, but I think that, across service, organizations have a fiduciary duty to hold on to their talent. How that happens relies on your creativity, your compassion, and the unique machinations of your industry.

What to Think About Tomorrow

I truly believe that when recovery comes, service will be the driver. Service already accounts for more than 60% of the US GDP, and the importance of getting service right—and managing what might end up being a huge influx of business—will be key to owning and championing that recovery.

Chief among that are, as we will continue to discuss around here, the technological considerations attached to proper service delivery. I truly believe that, for all industries, not just service, we are now going to have a very serious conversation about the implication of zero-touch commerce, and building a stronger zero-touch infrastructure.

In service, that typically resides down two avenues: Augmented Reality and IoT capabilities. I think that we’ll begin to see an influx of interest and development in those areas, both in manufacturing, and across other business categories. Within IoT, self-diagnostic, and even self-healing systems are a thing of the present, and smart upfront investment can mean that the stage is set for more deliberately-managed appointment time to mitigate on-site interactions. This obviously limits person-to-person contact, but also saves on truck rolls.

Another IoT-capable utility not explicitly tied to the asset itself is, for organizations with large SLA agreements, remote locking mechanisms so as to allow service to perform tasks in off hours or in unmanned plants. All of these things are in use today, and will ultimately help businesses work more efficiently and effectively.

The benefits of Augmented Reality are more obviously in play today, with many companies using shared view to walk customers through repairs remotely, or loading automated repair instructions into apps and tutorials that activate when pointed at an asset. These functions, like IoT, serve a similar purpose, while saving  time, money, and materials.

These are obviously small measures, and it’s important to know that this discussion, these ideas, and plans for how we lift one another up when we come out the other side of this will be ongoing. We’ll be right here with you with more content and considerations on service, both in this context, and looking ahead to the future (as is our titular mission after all).

And Sarah and I will see you at the next big service event, sooner or later.

Tom Paquin
Author

Contributor, Future of Field Service