Jon Holstead is a real estate entrepreneur and investor. He started his career in technology by earning a computer science BSc degree from Durham University, UK. He transitioned from software innovation into real estate. Jon has built a successful short-term rentals business, a property acquisition company, and, most recently, a business blog through which he shares knowledge of business and investing: https://debt2millionaire.com/

Written by

Jon Holstead
October 08, 2020

6 Expert Predictions About Field Service Management Post-COVID

man wearing mask touch 3d graphic earth with light effect

As a business executive or operations leader, I’m sure you know what field service management is. But, to make sure we’re on the same page, here’s a quick definition.

Field service management (FSM) is putting into place best practice guidelines and processes for every interaction of your business’s resources en route to or deployed at a customer’s site.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many businesses to make rapid changes to their FSM processes.

Workforces became reduced due to illness and cutbacks. New regulatory restrictions introduced changing requirements for business operations. Travel restrictions made in-person work unachievable.

CGS conducted a survey of 100 field service executives in late summer 2020 to find out what adaptations businesses made to their field service management post-COVID. Download the infographic report here.

This article will explore six of my predictions for the future of field service management in 2021 and beyond, as a senior executive and operations leader.

 

1.    Digital Transformations Will Be Accelerated

CGS’s survey found that companies investing heavily in technology before the pandemic were twice as likely to be benefitting or seeing the ROI from those investments in response to the pandemic.

In other words, their digital transformations were fast-tracked.

I predict that heavy investment in accelerated digital transformations will continue long-term.

41% of companies surveyed experienced reduced workforces. Employees were having to quarantine at a moment’s notice. Some companies had to lay off staff to control their costs, reducing their workforces further.

Field service companies had fewer technicians available to send out to service incidents and fewer field service support staff on the backend.

I’ve seen companies roll out new technologies to compensate for their reduced workforces which we’ll explore in the next two sections.

 

2.    AI Will Pick up the Slack in Reduced Workforces

With fewer technicians available and just as many field service incidents, companies needed to utilize their technicians as efficiently as possible.

Scheduling technicians is a complicated task. A lot of variables and constraints must be considered.

AI was implemented by some companies to create near-optimal technician schedules in a small fraction of the time that a human scheduler could. AI could also rearrange schedules in real-time as new data became available, such as a technician taking longer than expected at a callout.

In addition to scheduling, customers could receive highly personalized support and instructions from AI chatbots, freeing up customer support employees to handle higher value tasks.

I predict that AI-powered self-service solutions will be tapped more often to reduce the load on remote technical support staff.

AI could eventually replace backend functions entirely, but I don’t think that AI will ever fully replace human remote technical support. Customers usually prefer to speak to humans when they have an issue. In CGS’s 2020 Customer Services Preferences in Times of Distress Survey, 39% of U.S. consumers cited having an opportunity to speak to a human agent as one of the top three requirements for ensuring they leave a customer service interaction happy and 44% wished brands would be more transparent on how to get help from a human. These human interactions are the only way for companies to form long-lasting emotional relationships with customers.

 

3.    Data From IoT Devices Will Be Better Utilized

IoT is already mainstream. Companies have sensors connected to nearly everything.

Field technician locations were already being tracked using IoT devices and fed into AI scheduling engines.

And a lot of deployed equipment had monitoring devices installed for remote diagnostics and preventative maintenance.

The availability of data wasn’t the issue at the start of the pandemic. Companies already had so much data about their operations that it wasn’t clear what to focus on.

CGS’s survey found that 37% of companies planned to invest more in their IoT systems in response to the pandemic. I predict that this investment will be in making more valuable use of the data that is already being collected to be able to better diagnoses remotely.

 

4.    100% Remote Technical Support Will Be More Prevalent

CGS’s survey uncovered that companies couldn’t remotely resolve as many as 40% of field service incidents. Worse still, 10% of all incidents required two or more site visits due to failed first attempts.

This wasn’t such an issue pre-pandemic. But now, companies want to minimize their callouts to lower the risk of infection of their workforce and to lower costs during uncertain market conditions.

27% of companies decided to stop callouts entirely during the pandemic, switching to self-service and remote technical support only.

I predict that remote assistance will continue long-term. Companies will invest more in remote technology, such as enhanced remote guidance for customers. This could include AR for remote maintenance.

Some field service companies will undoubtedly invest in augmented reality solutions to guide customers remotely. In the not-too-distant future, customers will be able to connect their own augmented reality devices to a field service’s network. They will then receive real-time AR visuals that will help them service equipment themselves.

 

5.    Frontline Workers Will Have More Decision-Making Autonomy

The continuously changing world of the COVID-19 pandemic forced companies to ditch some of their bureaucratic systems and give lower-level workers more decision-making power.

Companies need to make fast adaptations to survive in this new world. This can’t happen when decisions need to trickle through several layers of management.

Frontline workers are now working more autonomously. Companies realized that their strict decision-making processes were slowing them down.

I predict that frontline workers will retain their power to make more decisions about the practicalities of their job. And higher-level executives will focus more on giving the frontline workers what they feel they need to work more effectively.

 

6.    Customer Satisfaction Will Come Second to Employee Safety

Safety – something that was a third place priority pre-pandemic – has become the top priority for companies.

Pre-pandemic, 63% of companies prioritized meeting customer expectations. Now, that same number of companies are prioritizing the health and safety of their employees instead.

A company with employees off sick can’t operate as effectively. So, companies aren’t sending out field service technicians unless absolutely necessary.

Businesses have started to resume in-person visits. But with extra precautions.

New roles have emerged as a result of the pandemic. Health and safety officers are now responsible for controlling the risk of infection to the workforce.

These new roles have implemented policies like mandatory health declarations, equipment and working environment cleaning, and free PPE supplies for employees.

I predict that in-person callouts will gradually be phased back in. But extra precautions will continue to be taken long-term. For example, technicians won’t allow other people to be in the same room as them while they work.

 

Final Thoughts

I hear many people saying all the time: “When things get back to normal.”

I don’t think that things will ever go back to how they used to be.

Companies are operating more cost-effectively. Innovation is being accelerated. And customers are benefiting from those innovations.

Investment in emerging technologies like AR for remote maintenance and remote guidance, AI and IoT will enable companies to achieve operational excellence while even keeping operating costs lower than before the pandemic.

I think that field service companies will come out ahead in 2021.

Download the infographic report here.
 

Jon Holstead is a real estate entrepreneur and investor. He started his career in technology by earning a computer science BSc degree from Durham University, UK. He transitioned from software innovation into real estate. Jon has built a successful short-term rentals business, a property acquisition company, and, most recently, a business blog through which he shares knowledge of business and investing: https://debt2millionaire.com/

Written by

Jon Holstead

BPO study reveals biggest challenges for growing tech companies