Mark Cattini | 11.28.18
Summary >

If you’ve worked in field service long enough, you learn that no matter how solid your plan is, it will eventually collide with reality. The adage “Hope for the best, expect the worst” is not the mantra of a pessimist. It’s the pragmatism of a seasoned field service leader, encouraging preparation for less-than-best-case scenarios.

Running a successful field service team is largely about closing the gaps between what’s planned and what actually happens. The more customers you have, and the more resources to serve them, the more costly these gaps can become. To plan for the unexpected, the best service organizations use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) and a generous helping of actual data and operational insights.

Reality Check 1: Customers Want Experiences, Not Excuses

Your customers are busy, and the disruptions caused by equipment failures can range from inconvenient, to dangerous, to catastrophic. A customer with a gas leak in his neighborhood doesn’t care there was a massive traffic jam due to a football game. He’s worried his house might explode.

A movie theater with broken air conditioning that’s quickly turning into a sauna can’t afford to have customers leaving in droves and tweeting about it. They’re taking a hit in ticket sales that day, future sales lost due to bad customer experience, and brand equity. If the HVAC repair engineer takes four hours to arrive and there’s a 60 minute SLA window, you can expect steep fines. Did road construction impact travel time? That problem is for you to solve, so you can solve the customer’s problem.

One gas utility in the UK can dispatch a nearby technician to fix a leak in 13 seconds on average—without any manual intervention, and without impacting other appointments. That’s what automated optimization enables: accurate schedules that ensure efficient use of resources and short response times, and stay flexible to deal with whatever weather, traffic, or emergency work conditions threaten to disrupt their day.

Reality Check 2: Optimizing Is Not Outsourcing

While AI-based solutions provide a major uplift in capacity for automated improvements, they are not a panacea. Any field service solution provider should be willing to pit their offering against your best dispatcher with real information to see where human input still yields the best decisions, and which are best left to the software.

Making the most of automation requires your team to ask questions, test scenarios, and imagine better outcomes. Use the operational intelligence gleaned from your solution to continuously ask better questions, and make smarter decisions about your business.

As AI becomes more common and automates a wider range of work, we don’t anticipate humans will delegate all field service management to the machines. Your solution is only as good as the data, processes, and goals you feed it, and this requires both human insight and oversight. Automation will streamline much of the work and save time, leaving more nuanced decision making to real people.

Reality Check 3: No Process, No Progress

Businesses have used technology to support service operations for decades. Everyone has a solution in place, whether it’s a tightly integrated job ticketing, CRM, and field service management solutions, or a stress-inducing spreadsheet.

The organizations that get the most value out of field service management solutions are the ones who rethink their processes first. Many businesses invest in a new solution, only to configure it for old processes—putting the cart before the horse. Those who rethink how they deliver service and invest in change management see the largest ROI and better team buy in. We’ve seen organizations more than triple productivity and profitability by redesigning their processes in tandem with implementing a solution. Improved resource utilization and schedule accuracy shrink the gaps between the ideal and what’s real, and grow profits and customer satisfaction.

AI-driven field service management technology is a great enabler, but the key to transforming your service delivery is your vision for the future. If you can imagine the ideal experience for your customers and employees alike, you can plan, build, and optimize for it. And over time, you can redefine what is truly “unpredictable.”