Modern technology is moving faster than anyone—or any organization—can feasibly handle, with new apps, devices, and trends popping up nearly every day. Increasingly, our customers expect “Uberized” service, which likewise means field service technicians must be prepared to meet and exceed these same expectations.
In field service management, keeping a finger on the pulse of our customers' preferences is essential to success. This requires us to look backward, and forward at the same time. As new technology pops up, we don’t want to abandon what’s already working well, just for the sake of fancy or flashy technology. But we must accommodate new customer needs, too.
Let's begin by looking backward.
Last year, Sumair Dutta, Chief Customer Officer for The Service Council, published the results of a survey of over 150 service technicians titled, Field Service in 2016: The Technician’s Perspective. This report is chock-full of insights to help you understand how service technician work is fundamentally changing. In the following paragraphs, we will explore these findings, and discuss what they mean for the path ahead.
The Good and the Bad of Being a Field Service Tech
Everybody has favorite—and least favorite—parts of their jobs. It’s no different for field techs. So what do the majority of techs love, hate, fear, and look forward to? Right at the top of the list is solving customers’ problems.
Unfortunately, it seems some struggle to do this efficiently, as they are distracted by administrative tasks and waste time looking for needed information. Interestingly, 21% said they feel isolated in the field. The Service Council (TSC) underscores the difference based on company size: at larger organizations, time spent looking for information wasn’t one of the two worst parts of the job. Instead, it was isolation from the team and the pressure to work faster.
Take a look at the following graphics, which illustrates best and worst parts of a tech’s day:
Ways to Improve the Day to Day
The report encourages organizations to address the issue of isolation by enabling more collaboration and engagement between those in the field. While there is more than one way to make that happen, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are two promising technologies. These technologies can truly bring information to life and enable live interactions that make it feel as though another expert is on the scene.
The Electric Power Research Institute is already exploring ways AR can be applied within the utilities industry. And Caterpillar is already making use of an in-house developed AR application to help its service technicians complete complex procedures.
In fact, AR could also help address what TSC sees as another shortcoming in field service—availability of key resources in the field. As the list below shows, most of these resources are usually available to technicians less than 50% of the time:
- Pre-visit review of service history (54%)
- Access to service manuals (52%)
- Knowledge base access (48%)
- Spare parts inventory visibility (42%)
- Training videos (30%)
Many of the survey respondents indicated a wish to access these resources via a mobile device or application, which is no surprise considering smartphones are the primary tool used.
What these technicians may not realize is that AR can prove even more effective in many of these areas. For instance, rather than simply read information on their mobile device, technicians could see it overlaid on the equipment they are servicing in the field.
TSC also asked the survey respondents to share their ideas for improving their work lives. Not surprisingly, some of the key suggestions included:
- Remove obstacles in getting work done
- Provide greater control in day-to-day work management
- Enable access to better information while in the field
To augment the mobile tools and apps already being used by 78% of organizations, companies could take advantage of wearables to help their technicians more easily do their jobs. Whether in the form of smartwatches, smart clothing, or smart headwear, this technology could dramatically improve day-to-day work.
No Time Like the Present to Plan for the Future
When it comes to the impact of emerging technology around remote connectivity and live and on-demand video, the survey respondents were fairly positive. However, organizations have their work cut out getting buy-in for use of emerging technologies such as AR, VR, and Smart Glasses. Most of the technicians polled are in wait-and-see mode. This is understandable considering these technologies are practically brand new.
TSC advises organizations to get on board sooner than later though. As report author Sumair Dutta, says, “TSC firmly believes that there is maturity map for augmented and virtual reality tools in the field service enterprise. Forward leaning organizations are already experimenting with the use of these tools, primarily to support training initiatives. A centralized expert model is extremely lucrative to service organizations as it enables the maximization of expert time and knowledge while minimizing the inefficiencies associated with travel.”
As much as field service has become modernized in recent years, many of today’s technicians could still do their jobs more effectively with the right tools and technology at hand. By taking the pulse of your technicians, you can make a plan that will work best for your organization.