“Cloud everywhere for everything” is a quote from Frank Gens, Senior Vice President and Chief Analyst for IDC Research at the IDC FutureScape: Worldwide IT Industry 2018 Predictions. His emphasis was on the vital urgency for businesses to acknowledge that the public cloud is the best platform to use for their future digital engagements with technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and virtual reality (VR).
Not surprisingly, the predictions that appear to be the most salient for field services in 2018 are closely linked to the number one prediction for technology by IDC: the predominance of cloud technology for business.
The Critical Role for Mobility in 2018 for Field Services
The strategic importance of a field service business relies quite heavily on its ability to act with responsiveness and professionalism when interacting with customers. As the front-line agents of businesses, the role of the technician in ensuring a positive customer experience is crucial. In order to support their efforts and maintain this level of excellence, field service operators will turn to mobility solutions in 2018 as one of their most valuable and productive tools.
The ability to work online, through the use of a wide range of applications, offers the workforce an optimized ability to perform in a productive and informed manner. If we look at the most complex challenges facing field services, issues such as reduced productivity, lack of real-time information, dissatisfied customers and reduced profitability top their list. Central to the ability to overcome all these issues is the need for up-to-date data in the field.
When field service processes are integrated with field service mobility, the results translate very directly into an optimized customer service experience and, as a result, increased revenues. Notably, mobility, as the critical partner in this industry, is only possible because of the strong presence of cloud technology.
In fact, mobility is the transformative stimulus behind the field services industry. If this sounds hyperbolic, consider the benefits that mobile technology delivers to the field services industry. Mobility provides a centralized, knowledge-based platform that gives technicians access to data wherever and whenever they require it.
This ability is key to maximizing performance in all areas of the field services enterprise. Access to data can hasten and improve the resolution process, extend a company’s reach to its customers and maintain a more lean and productive organization. This relationship with mobility is a win-win scenario for field service businesses everywhere and, consequently, 2018 will witness an increased investment in mobile technology by this industry, as it affords a truly competitive edge in this highly competitive industry.
Developing a Technician’s Soft Skills in the Field in 2018
When theorizing the top predictions for 2018 in the field service industry, conventional wisdom would probably name technologies like the IoT, VR, AI and automation as the key contenders on this list. Understandably so, given the fact that these technologies are increasingly shouldering the burden for the majority of diagnostic and other technical functions.
In addition, almost half of FS companies surveyed for a comparison of 10 critical business functions identified automation as leading to the greatest revenue growth, in both short- and long-term scenarios. But the prediction we would like to propose is perhaps a bit of an outlier, but equally relevant in terms of promoting and ensuring a successful future for field service operations.
Having access to the best possible information and support is, quite clearly, a very critical aspect of a field service technician’s job that has the greatest impact on facilitating a successful customer interaction. But technology and knowledge alone cannot guarantee a positive outcome when interacting with customers. The competitive nature of our business environment has elevated the impact and importance of customer satisfaction.
According to industry research, over 50% of field service companies rank training technicians in so-called “soft skills” as one of their highest priorities. It is these soft skills that enable technicians to interact professionally and courteously with people, as people are a very important component for the success of this industry. Businesses have recognized the value of a technician with the right combination of technical and soft skills as s/he interacts with a client.
The potential for indirect sales are significant, given a technician’s familiarity with a customer’s individual needs. As a result, there has been a ramping up of investment in management and training for the new crop of field service employees. There is little doubt that this is a prescient and wise investment in the interpersonal skills of employees, as the business environment increasingly shifts towards a customer-centric position.
Interpersonal skills are not usually a natural partner with highly technological skills; therefore, there is a real need to develop and encourage the interpersonal side of the equation among field service employees.
As our business environment becomes increasingly competitive, the importance of fostering customer relationships becomes central to maintaining existing levels of profit, and to fostering continued growth. This approach embraces the concept that sales must originate from as many sources as possible, and not rely exclusively on the efforts of the sales department. As noted above, field agents are well-positioned to participate in a sales strategy that can help secure success in new and emerging markets. Technicians are in a unique position to be in direct contact with customers and have the greatest understanding of their needs.
The next generation of field service technicians come from the population group identified as Millennials, and this is a consideration worthy of some reflection. Much has been written and discussed about millenials, both positive and negative, but the general consensus appears to favor their ability to work well with customers and to adhere to a set of values that prioritizes meaningful work over salary.
In fact, the transition to Millenials is inevitable, and an important factor for businesses to consider as Baby Boomers leave the workforce in significant numbers every year. The loss of talent and knowledge is regarded by service organizations as a major challenge in the near future. Some of the principal challenges are related to customer dissatisfaction when dealing with inexperienced technicians, and the costs associated with recruiting and training new employees.
To compensate for the potential loss of this body of knowledge, field service organizations are in the process of preserving legacy knowledge with innovative technology. This knowledge database is a critical resource that can then be used to recruit and train new employees.
Millenials are digital natives, meaning they were born into the digital environment, and as a result are better equipped at handling an abundance of technologies and utilizing them to their maximum potential while on a service visit or during a customer interaction. Investments will undoubtedly continue in the best technologies for business, but a company’s workforce is not to be ignored.
In this era of potentially high employment upheaval, it is particularly important to maintain the focus on the employee base. Statistical studies have shown conclusively that a company’s workforce is the single most important asset of the business. Therefore, both now and in the future, the best route for field service organizations to maintain and improve upon their success is to continue to pay attention to the evolving needs of the employee.