We’ve published many articles on this blog about the future of technology in field service. But that doesn’t mean we propagate doomsday crackpot business theories. We do not believe robots are coming for service jobs, that flying drone fleets are just around the corner, or that artificial intelligence will supplant all of our customer service interactions. However, we do believe that major digital disruptions are on the horizon for our industry.
In a matter of a few short years, taxis have been swept aside by Uber, hotels have been upended by Airbnb, and Amazon is obliterating entire retail chains and shopping malls. As technology evolves faster than ever, entire industries are getting gobbled up by upstart companies that scale seemingly overnight.
Can field service avoid being digitally disrupted by a service or economy that we previously hadn’t thought up ourselves? We believe the time to answer that question is now, before this actually happens.
In the following paragraphs, we reveal five signs of the coming digital disruption apocalypse. In addition, we offer suggestions for modernizing field service to ensure you remain relevant in today’s digital customer landscape.
1. Field Service Technicians are Increasingly Freelance & Skew Older
The cold hard truth is it’s getting harder to find qualified technicians and engineers, as well as fill field service jobs. In addition we face an aging workforce crisis that may leave us with one of the largest workforce shortages in decades.
It’s no surprise then that 61% of field service organizations use freelancer networks for remote field work, and 53% use freelancers to handle all types of work, according to Blumberg Advisory Group’s Research.
The Gig Economy is reshaping field service, and fast. With fewer employees loyal to specific organizations, how will those same organizations drive a unique service culture that sets them apart from competitors?
If left unanswered, this question could sink some of our organizations. The aging service workforce and rise of freelancer economies both point to the same unavoidable truth: the perception of working full-time for a service organization has eroded. Potential employees prefer the freedom of freelancing, or are finding work in other sectors.
So how can we incentivize a new class of field service technicians, engineers, and loyalists?
It starts with culture, by embracing new ways of working and by doing away with old-world service models.
2. Customers are Fed Up With Current Service Options
You know in your gut this is true. But if you need proof, simply look to cord-cutting trends, a few Reddit forums, and statistics on consumer sentiments to learn just how fed up customers currently are.
According to recent Accenture research, consumers are most frustrated with banks, retailers, and cable satellite providers for putting them on hold, forcing them to talk to robots, and taking days to resolve their service problems. In fact, this Accenture study also showed that a full 83% of U.S. consumers prefer dealing with human beings instead of digital channels to solve customer services issues.
Which frankly flies directly in the face of what most service providers believe about going digital.
In addition, nearly half (45%) said they are willing to pay a higher price, if that higher price ensures better service. So while it’s true that nearly everyone is now on Facebook, has multiple smart devices, and can find literally anything using search engines, when it comes to service issues and equipment failure, these same folks want a reliable human to fix it. And fast.
So what’s the answer? As an industry we need to stop automating the most important aspects of our customer interactions. We have been working for decades on scaling technology and finding greater efficiency. But now more than ever, we must put Field Service Engagement to work if we wish to avoid disruption. No more eight-hour appointment windows. No more putting customers on hold for twenty minutes.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with using new technology to connect customers and technicians in a faster and more engaging manner. But frankly, that’s not what most large enterprise organizations have done. Instead, they have used technology to automate and streamline so much of the process that many customers now feel isolated and emotionally disconnected from service providers. It’s time to turn that around.
3. Brand Loyalty Has Eroded
As devices, technology, and the on-demand economy have exploded, the sheer number of consumer touch points have likewise become unmanageable for enterprise organizations. It’s become impossible for companies to keep up with, and manage all the communication at their disposal. It’s likewise been hard to keep customers happy across every touchpoint.
The result of countless options and lackluster brand communications has been a huge erosion in brand loyalty. In fact, a full 64% of consumers report switching brands due to a single poor customer service experience.
If service organizations do not differentiate by offering superior, or unique customer experiences, they stand to get supplanted and digitally disrupted.
4. Service Organizations are Not the Ones Introducing Disruptive Technology
Take a look around at the technology that industry analysts are claiming is set to change field service forever. There’s the Internet of Things (IoT) that promises to bring all of our homes and factories’ devices online. There’s artificial intelligence and robotic technology. And what about wearables? Or drones? Or self-driving cars?
The one thing each of these disruptive technologies have in common is the fact that the service sector is reacting to them, instead of introducing solutions around each new technology.
If service organizations don’t get ahead of this new technology by incorporating it into service offerings faster, they’ll be left purchasing it from others, or competing with new players for customer attention.
So do we all need to introduce a line of IoT-sensors to the equipment we service in a matter of weeks? Or hire data scientists to help us make use of AI and advanced algorithms? Or purchase self-driving trucks to prepare for the driverless future? Not necessarily. But it wouldn’t hurt to begin investigating these technologies more heavily, as they all stand to drastically change the field service landscape.
5. Service Organizations are Seeing Incremental Growth
As we have previously reported on this blog, a full 76% of field service providers say they are struggling to achieve revenue growth. But why?
There are two key reasons. The first boils down to the fact that some executives at large organizations view field service as a cost center. It’s simply a department they have to invest in, but not an area that they believe can drive customer loyalty. Which means the service arms in these organizations don’t have the necessary investment for getting strategic and providing next-level service.
Second, the market is simply more competitive than ever, which is a result of rising customer expectations. After all, most of your customers can get same-day delivery from Amazon. Why wouldn’t they get the same from service providers?
As a result, even the top service organizations today are seeing incremental growth and working much harder for every bit of revenue.
If we don’t find a new approach, we’ll be left with incremental gains and exposed to disruption from upstart organizations and digital disruptors.
Field service is a business that arguably goes back hundreds, if not thousands of years. If we wish to remain competitive in today’s landscape and stick around for hundreds more years, we must begin to use technology to improve the customer experience, in addition to using technology for operational efficiency.
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