What the future holds for the field service industry

As field service organisations review their priorities, it’s important to note what factors are driving them. Budgets? Productivity? Efficiency? All of these play a role in some capacity but when it comes to key strategies, there are several that come up time and time again.

Good customer service drives profitability
Field service organisations are recognising the importance of delivering a greater customer experience to be successful. Happy customers are loyal customers and critical to improving revenue streams, both through their spending as well as referrals to other prospects.

At Aberdeen’s 2012 Chief Service Officer (CSO) Summit, 85 percent of attendees said that their organisation was placing an increased importance on service, given the constraints of the economy and the competitive marketplace. In addition, the delivery of excellent customer experience was spreading across the entire organisation, by focusing on increased value for the customer, which in turn improves results for the business. Aberdeen also found that ‘best-in-class’ organisations have reduced churn and achieved a 92-percent level of customer retention, as opposed to 72 percent for all others.

The strategic importance of field service delivery as a driver of customer satisfaction and brand reputation was confirmed in Trimble’s latest research report, The Road Ahead - The Future of Field Service Delivery. Of the field service departments surveyed, 90 percent of companies see field-based staff as the face of the company and 68 percent consider customer satisfaction a top priority.

Safety is a key priority
Vehicles driven for work purposes are clocking up the highest mileage on Britain’s roads. A recent survey into the Fleet200, the UK’s 200 biggest fleets, revealed an average 35 percent accident rate, suggesting the need to mitigate road risk is of the utmost importance.

Because of this acceleration in road accidents, field service organisations are becoming increasingly aware of their legal responsibilities when it comes to employees driving a vehicle for business. Businesses are looking for ways to safeguard their fleets, both to minimise insurance claims and to reduce the number of driving incidents. The result is an increase in next-generation technology solutions to help mitigate road risk. These solutions include in-vehicle safety devices that monitor driving behaviour as well as maintenance and diagnostics reports to ensure vehicles are safe and “road-ready.” The best solutions also include exception alerts that warn of hazards or out-of-compliance issues, including lapsed certifications.

Technology will streamline fuel costs
The volatile cost of fuel has caused a headache across many businesses and this isn’t likely to subside soon. In fact, rising fuel prices were cited as the number one concern in meeting field service priorities, according to the Road Ahead report. Regulating fuel consumption has been an on-going challenge for fleet managers trying to maintain control of operating budgets. Re-evaluating the types of vehicles in their fleets as well as initiating programs to raise awareness of excessive idling will help remedy the problem, but savvy businesses will also harness technology that monitors and identifies excessive waste in fleets to encourage fuel-saving strategies.

In addition to streamlining fuel costs, businesses can seek “connected-vehicle” technology (i.e. GPS based fleet management devices, workforce management/dispatch and routing software and driver-monitoring devices) to regulate and enhance efficiencies and improve performance management across the entire organisation, which ultimately improves the bottom line.

Technicians will take on a lead role
Field-based employees, whose potential as brand ambassadors had gone largely unnoticed, are now being rightly recognised as the new frontline in customer service.

The Road Ahead report found that nearly all (93%) of respondents agreed that mobile workers are the ‘company face’ and an additional 89 percent consider field staff to be important for the image of the business.

Two thirds agreed mobile workforces must be made aware of company campaigns and values if they are to reflect a positive corporate brand out in the field. Nearly half of those surveyed hold regular customer service training sessions and a further 31 percent meet frequently to discuss how to interact with clients. So it is not surprising that there has been an increase in technicians undergoing training to promote the brand and helping to drive revenue by finding opportunities to cross sell and up-sell products and enhance service to increase customer satisfaction (and retention).

Aberdeen’s Field Service 2012 report revealed that 26 percent of visits require a secondary or additional follow up, so it is very important that technicians get it right the first time to ensure customer satisfaction. Companies that empower their workers with better information and tools will resolve customer issues faster and more effectively. By investing in appropriate technology and improving worker training, businesses will not only retain customers (and good workers), they will develop brand agents who are more knowledgeable and better equipped to do their jobs efficiently and productively.

The importance of the cloud
Many field service businesses are starting to lean towards cloud computing as a way of helping remote workers stay connected to company data and applications from anywhere at any time.

The ‘software as a service’ (SaaS) form of cloud computing is well suited to organisations with field based operations. SaaS cloud-based applications can offer visibility into day-to-day fleet operations to identify, manage, and improve areas such as driver safety, customer service, back office administration, fuel use, and fleet efficiency. Businesses are able to access their account and information at any time from any computer and manage the mobile workforce in real time. Benefits of increased productivity of up to 30 percent, dispatch efficiency up to 60 percent and a reduction in overtime expenses of up to 70 percent have been recorded.

Information is key, not data
It is important to note that the data collected through fleet and field service technologies can only be of value if it’s turned into meaningful information and the analysis is provided to the right stakeholders, who can then analyse and use it to impact areas of the business most in need of support.

Decision makers are suffering from data overload in their attempts to operate the most efficient workforces and fleets on the road. What they need are high level trends and benchmarking, not a mass of information.

Analytical tools allow companies not only to extract rich, meaningful data from their various solutions, but also ensure that key stakeholders get that information in salient, relevant reports and snapshots. These give an instant, clear picture of business performance whether that’s for operations, finance, customer service, HR or the CEO.