It’s a tough era for field service managers: Not only are they facing a skills gap and challenges in achieving revenue growth, they’re also next in line to deal effectively with the Internet of Things (IoT) and its expected overhaul of their field service processes.

The advent of the IoT will mean a lot for field service processes, changing everything from the way that technicians interact with equipment, to how customer service agents approach customers, to the manner in which data is collected and used.

Gartner predicts, for example, that by 2021, 10 percent of customer-reported issues won’t need an on-site visit to be resolved because of the remote capabilities of the IoT (full Gartner content available to clients). That means fewer technicians will be needed to field service calls, and technicians will need to know how to deal with a huge influx of data from remote solutions.

The IoT represents a huge shift to using real-time data and predictive maintenance, and businesses that don’t adapt their processes to suit this shift will not achieve the success in efficiency improvements that over 80 percent of companies that have adopted IoT technology are currently experiencing.

Your customer service practices need to become proactive versus reactive

Current processes

Customer service in the field service industry is currently a reactive process: Customers reach out to representatives to help them after a problem occurs. These customer service calls are logged using field service management tools, which store work history information such as how many visits were required to fix the issue, payment information, and technician notes.

Future processes based on IoT capabilities

Fewer on-site visits will mean less visibility for the customer. Because of this, clients will need to make more use of their customer portals to see what maintenance has occurred, including pricing information, and precise details of what work took place.

Customer service interactions will also become more proactive. As more equipment is able to “self-diagnose” maintenance issues and send reports back to organizations, customer service representatives will need to make more outbound calls to customers to inform of issues proactively. As the level of proactive customer service increases, so will representatives’ ability to deliver more specialized information to clients.

How you can plan for this process change

  • Train your customer service representatives to be able to deliver specialized and detailed information to clients over the phone
  • If you don’t yet have a functional customer portal, make plans to build an area where customers have complete visibility into maintenance records
  • In addition to the customer portal, send out regular emails to encourage your customers to interact with this tool.

How well you collect data and use it will set you apart from the competition

Current processes

Field service organizations have traditionally collected data to streamline processes and enhance efficiency in areas such as scheduling, routing, and task-matching. Using data to aid decision making in these areas can save organizations time and money but can also be extremely overwhelming.

Collecting and analyzing data from all areas of the business—from GPS systems to timesheets—can be incredibly time consuming and futile if this information lies dormant in a spreadsheet.

Future processes based on IoT capabilities

Gartner predicts that by 2021, “40 percent of field service work…will involve equipment data collected remotely, either before, during or after a visit by a field service technician” (full Gartner content available to clients). This signals a huge expansion in both the amount of data collected and the methods of data collection. Organizations will need to learn how to properly collect, filter, analyze, and use the data, and how to use it to strengthen their relationships with customers.

How you can plan for this process change

  • Develop mobile forms to help field technicians collect additional data.

If you don’t change your work planning processes, your remote fix rates will suffer

Current processes

Field service organizations use work planning to manage capacity for both technicians and equipment to use resources efficiently. This includes scheduling and assigning jobs and work orders based on demand forecasts, making service calls, integrating with inventory solutions, and enabling technicians to complete tasks by, for example, creating invoices via mobile.

Future processes based on IoT capabilities

IoT will eventually enable organizations to send a technician to a site only as a “last resort,” when nothing but technician intervention can solve an issue. This will result in fewer scheduling obligations and service calls, as IoT connectivity will enable organizations to diagnose issues and plan for parts needed before sending technicians to a site. In turn, this will help improve remote fix rates.

How you can plan for this process change

  • Ensure that your customers know to expect fewer on-site visits, and assure them that this does not signal any less obligation on your organization’s part. Make use of email marketing to make customers feel comfortable with this change.
  • Analyze your current first-time fix-rates, and determine where changes to scheduling can be made in anticipation of fewer on-site visits.

Manage your technicians’ careers correctly alongside IoT, or lose valuable expertise

Current processes

We’ve recently discussed how there is a skills gap looming over the field service industry and why organizations need to introduce new methods of training and hiring to overcome this gap. The field service industry is a highly competitive market, and most companies have career development plans in place to accommodate their staff.

Future processes based on IoT capabilities

Given the rise in remote triage, diagnosis, and resolution, technicians might begin to feel that their skills are inadequate in the IoT age and fear that their jobs are at risk of becoming obsolete. Organizations will need to learn how to best marry the skills of their workforce with the rise in IoT capabilities by compiling a unique workforce strategy for this eventuality.

How you can plan for this process change

  • Involve technicians in the data revolution: Make sure that their knowledge and expertise are included in plans to refine your data collection strategy, including any workflow alterations.
  • Ensure that your technicians are aware of what career progression paths are available to them, acknowledging that their skills are still valuable in spite of the increase in remote triage work.

Your field service processes need to change to embrace IoT

Optimizing your field service processes now means protecting the future of your business. Remember, you need to be prepared for the fact that 10 percent of customer issues won’t be dealt with by an on-site visit. As IoT spreads throughout the field service industry, it’s your responsibility to future-proof your business to ensure long-term success by analyzing and changing your current processes.

Read on to discover:

  • This infographic which details what other trends are impacting the field service industry.

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