Earlier this year, we ran a series of articles about the current paradigm of living with COVID, which covered the organizational, structural, and interpersonal considerations that businesses in the service sector should focus their attention on as our relationship to the pandemic continues to evolve. Even though those articles are only three months old, much of the observations, transient as they are, seem quaint given the continuous evolutions of our current moment. In contrast, we can now observe the investments and customer changes that have changes over the last nearly two years and draw some assessments about the current and future state of technology for service. There are a few angles that need to be observed before we dive into a comprehensive list.

The Customer Service Angle

We’ve also spoken about how COVID has accelerated digital transformation efforts for businesses. This is harder to quantify in terms of specific capabilities, and functions more on how those capabilities—and new ones—should be calibrated to adapt to this new reality. For instance, consumer sentiment for multi-channel interactions has increased substantially, especially with respect to the internet. In the world of food delivery, “Shadow Kitchens” now offer entirely online experiences for delivery and remittance of food.

Service, too, has an imperative to ease the burdens of appointment booking. This can be chatbots, or online portals, but sophisticated organizations of course have deployed systems of connected assets to alert service organizations at the root of an issue, mitigate downtime, and do pre-diagnostics to shorten appointment times.

The Operational Angle

We’ve also talked extensively about how COVID immediately made the business case for remote assistance. Obviously, this served an immediate purpose in the face of lockdowns and travel restrictions, and that purpose changed. Remote assistance now serves a means to mitigate unnecessary truck rolls for easily-resolved issues and planned maintenance (or touch-free inspections that would have requires an on-site visit). Further, it functions as a means to limit workforce challenges that businesses have, challenges that have been exacerbated by COVID, causing supply chain bottlenecks and limits on the amount of appointments that organizations can take through traditional means.

Today’s Service Capability Stack

So—we’ve seen a shift in customer expectations, and that shift has been met with a broad set of operational advancements. While this was true before COVID, and will be true after, the baseline expectations of what customers want has invariably changes. With all of that in mind, lets look holistically the current key capabilities for field service, what they do in plain terms, and, based on our experiences and changes over the last two years, what defines the best-in-class.

Capability What it does What defines best-in-class
Service ticket management Catalogs all active and closed tickets and ticket history across the service business. Leaders unify this process across all channels of service delivery and provide external services like performance dashboards, as well as automatic ticketing and closing.
Pricing and billing Provide point-of-sale functionality, purchase order, and account functionality to field workers. The maturity of these systems means that all should have the ability to process purchase orders and credit transactions, build tabulated account views, and appropriately automate communication for late payments.
SLA management Incorporate and outline various contract requirements in the system and use them to inform and prioritize service delivery. Automate SLA requirements into planning, scheduling, and routing; subdivide SLA requirements by region, business use case, or technician, and provide all necessary tools for outcomes-based service delivery.
Warranty management Catalog and maintain records of product warranties and expectations. Automate renewal cadence, build complex repair-or-replace options for technicians to provide to customers.
Performance management Log, analyze, and present technician performance across a variety of metrics that are prioritized by the firm. Consolidate data from not just the service practice, but across the serviceable assets and backoffice to provide a concise view of the business with minimal customization.
Knowledge management Deliver on-site information to service technicians to ensure an understanding of repair processes, customer requirements, and business functionality. Provide opportunities for shared view and augmented reality. Additionally, use IoT and appointment data to prepopulate the necessary instructions and guidelines automatically.
Repair management Log, route, and notate all instances of on and off-site repairs, and benchmark that history against any client requirements. Track repair process in real-time across channels, both internally, through dealers, as well as external partners.
Asset management Review output and health of serviceable assets in the field. Predict service interruptions and automate service appointments before an asset breaks down based on historical sensor data.
Mobile field service Access to service management capabilities on a job site via mobile device, rugged device, or tablet. 1:1 mobile and desktop functionality for all systems, including knowledge management, parts management, and all aspects of service delivery.
Planning tools Building long-term headcount and capacity plans for back office and field workers. AI-powered optimization allowing for multi-time horizon planning that extends past days, to weeks, months, and years, allowing businesses to set projected capacity and make decisions in advance.
Parts management Inventory, location, and stock level tracking. Ability to track across warehouses, technician vehicles, depot, and any other location that parts many be found to ensure quickest turnaround. Part allocation recommendations built into the scheduling tool based on appointment data.
Reverse logistics Tracking, managing, and optimizing returns and repairs. Multi-channel visibility across internal and external depots and warehouses. Ability to evaluate repair efficacy for customers in real-time to help facilitate informed decisions.
Driver routing Maximizing efficient appointment delivery by reviewing appointment locations. AI-powered utilities to identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies in technician behaviors, ability to set business rules and prioritize appointments and benchmarks and route technicians to maximize performance along those criteria.
Scheduling Prioritizing customer appointments alongside service needs. AI-powered scheduling optimization that automates scheduling with respect to all SLA, regional, and incidental requirements and restrictions.
Simulations Field “what if?” scenarios and their impact on headcount, profitability, and other metrics. This capability itself is typically a hallmark of best-in-class planning and scheduling optimization.
Enterprise resource management Management of internal business capabilities outside the direct delivery of service. Comprehensive lifecycle, performance and investment planning across all business functions in a unified platform environment.
Omni-channel contact center Provide multiple ways for customers to interact with the business after the sale has completed. Unified call logs and chat histories are automatically applied to customer information; Channels include phone, online, MMS, and app-based messaging, enhanced by AI.
Chatbots and virtual assistants AI-driven utilities for customer communications. Automated escalation and sophisticated voice recognition, ability to provide zero-touch appointment scheduling without the intercession of a human.
Customer service CRM Customer profile and interaction management at the firm, business unit, and individual level. Automated functionality for routine service booking and marketing utilities.
Unified desktop support Consolidated back office functionality in a single application. End-to-end compatibility with all utilities in your service stack.
Customer self-service Self-resolution options for customers. Multiple channels of delivery, including phone, online, and mobile, enhanced through emerging tech where appropriate. Built-in triggers to transfer to technicians for more complex service needs.
Remote assistance Resolve service issues without dispatching a technician where possible. AR-enabled shared view that goes beyond telestration to actual collaboration. The best of the best are further enhanced by IoT functionality.

 

Tom Paquin
Author

Contributor, Future of Field Service