I am very fortunate to have one living grandparent: My maternal grandfather. A musician, former public school teacher, and town historian, Grampy is a true renaissance man. Even as he tiptoes towards triple digits (though he’d be quick to say he’s not THAT close) he’s taking on new projects.

His recent fixation, at least over the course of the last decade or so, has been the digitalization of every old, brittle piece of paper in his massive collection of news clippings, maps, and genealogical documentation. I am generally tasked with developing new workflows (step one: press “scan”, step two: press “ok”, etc.) or handling troubleshooting. When I visit him, he brings out a yellow legal pad with “Computer Issues for Tommy” written across the top (yes he still calls me Tommy), and we work our way through the list.

Not being able to visit him over the course of the last few months has been difficult for all the obvious reasons you’d expect, but it’s also made troubleshooting the various issues that he’s been having especially more challenging. Any good technician knows that identifying what’s wrong with an asset involves isolating the issue, and that is much easier to do in person than over the phone.

Last week, while helping him figure out why he couldn’t burn a DVD, and struggling to parse his explanations of what he was seeing on his screen (“Well Tommy there is a large white box and several dots.”), it occurred to me that we could try screen sharing. After walking him through the directions, we were able to set him up with an interface that I could access, and I was able to remotely see what he was working on and quickly direct him to resolve the issue. We now have a very effective workflow. He will call me and unleash a steady stream of expletives about the computer, we will initiate a screen-share, and I will walk him through what to do (reserving the right to take control only if things get bad). Grampy is fully on-board, feels empowered, and is ready to do more with technology. He even volunteered to have a remote physical with his doctor using the same system.

If my grandfather is shifting his behavior, your customers are, too. I was recently reading a McKinsey study on this precise topic, and was intrigued to see their graphic looking at increased utilization of digital resources across the spectrum.

There’s obviously a lot to unpack here (and plenty to disregard) and this is looking at consumer trends very broadly, but these broader changes on the consumer-side do have implications—and opportunities—for service. Looking at these things through a service lens, we can start mapping some potentially unorthodox new business approaches that could save money and bring in new customers. Here are a few areas that immediately stand out based on this new data:

Remote Assistance
This is a topic that we’ve been eager to discuss with respect to the current situation, and have featured Munters both in writing and on the podcast regarding their quick implementation, but it’ll be important to continue thinking about this as time goes on as well. For many organizations, this would certainly have seemed to be a bridge too far in the past.

Now, though, customers are accustomed to some initial steps in order to manage and mitigate issues remotely, and that embedded change in customer sentiment means that even as travel and social restrictions are lifted, businesses have a new way to offer their customers solutions, and a new willingness on the part of their customers to accept service through that channel.

Remote Assistance can take many forms (some of which we will elaborate on below), and will often differ from asset to asset, not to mention company-to-company. To get remote assistance right, I’ll be necessary to develop a formal, structured, and well-communicated hierarchy, running from chat, to voice, to video, to augmented reality, to IoT, and so on. This requires businesses take a detailed look at their tech stack while simultaneously building out your business plans. Don’t build you plans around your technology, and don’t build you technology around your plans. Build them to compliment one another.

Asset Management
This one requires a bit more onus on the part of your customer when it comes to embedded assets, and greater redesign and investment when it comes to saleable assets, but building systems of connectivity to embedded assets, will allow yet another channel of visibility. This is not dissimilar from the uptick in connected exercise equipment referenced in the McKinsey data. In the same way that a Peloton instructor can ruin your whole day by increasing the tension of your bicycle from 1200 miles away, a remote technician could remotely manage the mechanical functions of embedded assets.

Beyond that is observing output, condition, and performance. By getting more data from assets, both at a glance as well as historically, not only does it make break-fix service (and preventative maintenance) easier to maintain; It offers the means to start building service contracts around outcomes, rather than contracts. We’ve spoken at length about the business benefits of the outcomes-based model, and to do so effectively managing asset performance is the key.

Applications
A decade ago, the uncreative digital question du jour was, “Do you have an app?” Now everybody has an app. Whether that app is downloaded, used, and relegated to the first five screens on a consumer’s device is another question entirely. Back in the halcyon days of December 2019, when we were all blessed with the blissful freedom to step foot inside the nearest TGI Fridays, I wrote about how remote assistance could be the doorway to application utilization.

This is truer today than it was then, if we draw some conclusions from the McKinsey data. Both remote doctor’s visits, as well as the prevalence of personal health applications indicate that consumers are willing to do more to self-manage their personal health. It’s a short bridge to take that concept and apply it as well to their serviceable assets.

Getting that element right requires that the app actually be useful, which is where most businesses seem to lose their way. The app should offer embedded services that can’t be accessed via the web. It can be the conduit of your remote assistance, or have prebuilt augmented reality overlays for routine repairs built in to allow for self-service. Or it can connect remotely to connected apps and allow for changes without having to pop the hood. If I can remotely adjust my thermostat with my phone then the ability to mitigate issues remotely can be built into virtually any asset that you can think of.

As always, these are but a few examples, but businesses have an obligation to evaluate and consider the changing customer sentiments. Business-as-usual isn’t going to look the same when this is all over and done with. As I’ve said before, in the wake of this crisis, you can either be an agent of change, or a victim of it. My grandfather, for one, has chosen to be an agent of change, and he’s doing great.

Tom Paquin
Author

Contributor, Future of Field Service