Technology has changed the nature of service: Amazon ushered in the era of on-demand service, while Uber redefined customer experience. Ready or not, these standards have permeated other industries—and field service is one of them.

Customers aren’t necessarily comparing you to your competitors, they’re comparing you to every service they’ve ever received. This makes keeping your clientele happy extremely challenging. According to a survey conducted by the Service Council, 68% of field service professionals say customer expectations are higher.

So what lessons can we learn from Uber and Amazon to improve customer experience? From these companies’ success we can elicit three keys to improving customer experience: Transparency, convenience, and efficiency.

There are many approaches to improving these areas of your business, but a sure way to modernize your business and tackle each of these areas at once is incorporating field service internet of things (IoT). Incorporating IoT into your field service business will increase the transparency, efficiency, and convenience of your service, resulting in a better customer experience.

3 ways IoT relates to customer experience

The internet of things is an evolving concept. Essentially it refers to devices that can connect to each other wirelessly, but as technology improves, the applications expand.

Specifically, Gartner defines IoT as:

The network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment. This excludes general-purpose devices, such as smartphones, tablets and PCs.

IoT serves as the link between Field Service Management and customer engagement. It brings added visibility to your assets and collects large amounts of data that allow your business to offer a more convenient, transparent, and reliable service. In a Gartner survey, 49% of companies said they use IoT to improve customer experience.

1. Convenience

Convenience is central to making customers feel like your service does not add unneeded complexity to their lives. IoT enables your business to move away from frequency-based maintenance so that customers don’t have to report issues with your equipment and don’t experience unnecessary downtime. Maintenance based on uptime, instead of frequency, can be accomplished with the following:

  • Proactive maintenance: Rather than rely on fixed maintenance schedules, internet-connected asset sensors can help monitor anomalies, and enable alerts. Technicians can then intervene to determine the urgency and necessary response taking into consideration the cost and risk of outage.
  • Predictive forecasting: Performance and asset condition data used in asset performance management applications or other AI driven models can predict outages so that service downtime is limited to the least time possible.

flow chart showing maintenance based on frequency

Maintenance based on uptime, enabled by IoT

2. Efficiency

Any process that improves the efficiency of your operations will mean faster service for your customers. The following IoT-enabled capabilities can help do just that:

  • Connected field service: Real-time and historical asset data can deliver more precise, contextual work instructions via AR to increase efficiencies and reduce return visits. You can also track service time through interaction between technician devices and beacons or geofencing to monitor performance.
  • Remote service: IoT can help with real-time asset monitoring with embedded diagnostics to enable remote access and service. Remote service could also take on the form of self service, allowing customers to complete easy fixes.
  • Connected service parts management: Tracking the location, performance, and condition of internet-connected assets can facilitate inventory management. Inventory forecasting and demand forecasting can help your business keep the right level of inventory, reducing stock expenses and avoiding repair delays.
  • 3. Transparency

    The ubiquity of internet-connected personal devices has meant we are increasingly able to access our data and information anytime, anywhere. Your field service business is no different—these are the ways you can offer more transparency with IoT:

    • Automated alerts: IoT enabled assets can trigger events once they detect performance anomalies, or predict an outage. Your business will receive alerts when there is something that needs their attention, rather than depending on an arbitrary schedule
    • End to end data visibility: The data you receive on the status of your assets can be shared with your clients via client-facing dashboards or reports. They can be in the know and gain some peace of mind.
    • Usage-based maintenance: Contracts are written to establish tasks performed at intervals determined by IoT-gathered usage data Equipment as a service means all costs are accounted for in the usage charge, leading to more transparent pricing.

    What are the challenges of implementing IoT and how can you avoid them?

    While IoT could do a lot to improve your customer service, it isn’t without its risks. Before making an investment in any new technology, it is important to set your business up for success by avoiding common pitfalls.

    Challenge: Your technicians don’t embrace IoT.

    Solution:

    • Develop a career plan that offers technicians a way to add value as remote triage agents.
    • Involve technicians in determining workflows, deciding what data needs to be collected, and at what point their intervention is needed.

    Challenge: Equipment with a long service life is costly to replace with new technology.

    Solution:

    • Gather data to determine when it makes sense to retrofit equipment with sensors or replace the equipment altogether. Technicians can gather this information using mobile forms.
    • When replacing all equipment at once is not possible, take a hybrid approach. Provide customers with information to decide when they want to replace equipment.
    • Determine the condition of older equipment by normalizing existing data—such as time between failure, to gain insights.

    Challenge: IoT solutions can be comprehensive and too complex.

    Solution:

    • Choose projects that fit your scope, and educate managers to understand the opportunities and pitfalls of IoT.
    • Reduce complexity from IoT projects by adopting simple off-the-shelf solutions. Avoid customization, and choose solutions with minimal integration needs.

    Challenge: With all the data assets collect, it’s important to keep this data private and secure.

    Solution:

    • Remove or encode sensitive data elements before transmitting data to the external sources, especially when this data is not needed for predictive maintenance. If possible, consider using edge computing devices for data reduction.
    • Use segmented networks. The Target data breach was due to an improperly segmented HVAC system. Creating a separate segment for IoT enable assets helps protect other information transmitted via that network.
    • Address data ownership. Ensure that contracts establish who owns the data and who can access it

    The benefits of IoT outweigh the risks

    Implementing new technology can be intimidating. But to meet your customers’ convenience, transparency, and efficiency expectations, your business can’t avoid taking the plunge for long.

    Adequate planning, keeping your technicians in the loop, addressing security concerns head-on, and keeping it simple can help ensure IoT works for you.

    Read more about IoT and field service:

    Emerging technologies in small-business endpoint protection: IoT security

    How to align field service software with the customer experience

    3 Field Service Technologies to Ease Your Technician Shortage Woes

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