Supporting Your Field Techs and Your Customers Through New Technologies and Tools

(Topline Results from SFGSMs 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey – Part 3)

SFGSM’s 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey findings also show that Field Service Organizations (FSOs) aspiring to attain Best Practices do not merely look at outcomes, like improving the bottom line, or increasing customer satisfaction; they also look at ways in which to identify the root causes of major problems and leverage process improvement opportunities through the implementation of effective technologies and tools to support their resources both in the field and in the front and back offices that support them.

For example, a majority of FSOs currently support their field technicians with a variety of online capabilities, including the ability to initiate service orders (80%), ability to track and update the current status of work orders (80%), access to product schematics/ documentation (68%), access to customer/asset service history (66%) and ability to provide customers with an Estimated Time for Arrival (ETA) (59%). Each of these capabilities also reflects between 21% and 30% of the respondent base citing them as planned actions for the next 12 months as well, suggesting a strong and growing importance within the overall services community.

Whether it is access to data and information that represents the past (i.e., customer/asset history), the present (i.e., current status of work orders), or the future (i.e., providing customers with an ETA), the leading FSOs already recognize the importance of real-time data and information access.

The key to success for many best practices FSOs is that they are also providing their customers with a comparable set of online tools to make both their – and their field service provider’s – lives easier. By providing customers with the right mix of Web-enabled self-help capabilities, the leading FSOs have essentially been able to run their respective services operations more effectively, while also increasing existing levels of satisfaction by allowing customers to become part of their own “support team”.

Self-help support capabilities, such as the ability to order parts or view current work order status, saves customers – and FSOs – significant time in that an entire series of potential two-way vendor-customer status update calls can be avoided; and customers can create their own service tickets online, gain direct access to self-service resolution scenarios, receive real-time status update alerts, and track the shipping status of outstanding service parts orders themselves. Basically, the more the customer can do any of these activities itself, the quicker service orders can be created, the quicker potential time-related problems can be identified and resolved, and the happier the customers will be with the service they are receiving from the provider.

Also, by making the customer part of the service delivery team, FSOs can also benefit from reduced time and cost-related factors. Customer access to online service order data and information is clearly a “win-win” scenario for both parties.

However, the greatest impact on the future of Field Service Management is most likely to come as a result of the growing acceptance of Cloud-based technology, as reflected in one particular series of questions included in the FSM survey questionnaire. Respondents were first divided into three (3) categories – i.e., those with existing FSM solutions already in place, those planning to implement in the next 12 months, and those considering an FSM implementation or upgrade in more than one year. The results strongly suggest that we are currently in the midst of a fast-paced sea change in the way FSM solutions are being marketed, sold and deployed.

Among the group of respondents with existing FSM solutions (i.e., already in place), 60% report they are using a Premise-based solution, compared with only 26% reporting a Cloud-based, or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), solution. Accounting for the roughly one-in-seven, or 14%, that are not certain as to the specific type, this represents an approximate 70% of current FSM users operating off of a Premise-based solution – a ratio of roughly 2:1, Premise-based over Cloud-based.

The ratio completely reverses 180 degrees, however, for FSOs planning to implement (or upgrade) their FSM solution in the next 12 months (i.e., they have either just signed, or about to sign, an agreement to implement). For this category, 54% plan to implement a Cloud-based FSM solution, compared with only 20% planning to go Premise-based. In this case, however, nearly twice as many (26%) are not certain as to which way their organization plans to go … so, by eliminating the “don’t knows” from the equation, the corresponding numbers equate to 73% planning to go Cloud-based – a 2.7:1 ratio in favor of Cloud.

For those FSOs considering an FSM implementation or upgrade in the timeframe of one year or longer (i.e., they are presenting exploring their options, and/or just “kicking tires”) the numbers are similar to those planning to implement in the next 12 months; however, with nearly half (45%) indicating they are still uncertain as to which path their organization will ultimately take, these percentages are likely to shift somewhat over time. Still, the numbers reflect 36% favoring Cloud, compared with 19% favoring Premise – a roughly 65% preference toward Cloud-based FSM, and a ratio of roughly 1.9:1 in favor of Cloud.

Regardless of which type of FSM is preferred, the decision to acquire a specific FSM solution is based on many factors. In fact, a majority of respondents cite three factors as most important in making their selection; namely, a solution that interfaces with CRM (i.e., either their existing solution, or one that they plan to implement), one that is intuitive and easy to use, and one where they can work with a single provider with respect to field service functionality.

Other factors cited by just under half of respondents include a preference for a solution that can roll out quickly, and one that fosters collaboration between Sales and Service within the organization. Both Premise-based and Cloud-based solutions can accommodate this list of top factors, although Cloud would appear to have an edge in factors relating to ease of use, quick rollout and, arguably, fostering collaboration.

Based on the results of SFG’s 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey, the key takeaways are:

  • Field Service Organizations (FSOs) are being driven to meet customer demands for quicker response; improve workforce utilization, productivity and efficiencies; meet customer demand for improved asset availability, and increase service revenues
  • A majority of FSOs are adding, expanding and/or refining the metrics, or KPIs, they use to measure service performance
  • Over the next 12 months, more than three-quarters (77%) of FSOs will have invested in mobile tools to support their field technicians, and more than 70% will have integrated new technologies into existing field service operations
  • Field Technicians are increasingly being provided with enhanced access to real-time data and information to support them in the field
  • Many FSOs are providing customers with expanded Web-enabled self-help capabilities (i.e., to order parts or initiate service calls, track the status of open calls, etc.)
  • More than half of FSOs are not currently attaining their customer satisfaction or SLA compliance goals; and one-in-five are not achieving at least 20% services profitability (although services profitability, as a whole, appears to be improving)
  • Existing FSM platforms are reported as reflecting a more than 2:1 Premise-based over Cloud-based ratio; however, planned FSM implementations are reported as more than 2:1 Cloud-based, or SaaS.
  • While Cloud-based FSM has become the preferred mode of delivery for planned and/or considered implementations, an estimated one-quarter (25%) of the marketplace still cites a preference for a Premise-based FSM solution.

Historically, the primary factors cited as driving the services community to improve its operational efficiencies and service delivery performance have essentially been customer-driven; that is, with a focus primarily on meeting – and even exceeding – customer expectations for response time, first-time fix, mean-time-to-repair and the like. The economic bust of the past decade changed the way field service organizations thought by shifting their focus to ongoing rounds of cost cutting and downsizing (i.e., the denominator of the bottom line). This was quickly followed by a shift to the numerator, best represented by an all-out effort to increase service revenues.

In 2013, the focus once again shifted back to the customer in terms of meeting (and exceeding) customer demands and expectations – or “back to the basics”. And how are FSOs planning to accomplish this? Mainly by integrating new technologies into existing field service management or Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) systems, investing in new tools to support both field technicians and customers, and developing and/or improving the KPIs they use to monitor their improved performance over time.

New technology initiatives, such as Cloud or SaaS, afford FSOs of all types and sizes the opportunity to compete head-to-head against their competitors, while Premise-based is still preferred by many. However, one thing is for certain – more changes will be coming as the market continues to evolve.

Next up (in Part 4) will be a discussion of what the Best Practices FSOs are doing to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack.

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