From the rise of artificial intelligence technology and new service delivery models, to growing expectations from customers and a transforming workforce, there are many changes and trends that field service providers face today. To stay competitive and meet customer expectations, the industry needs to remain flexible, keep up with emerging technology, expand its mobile offerings, and better anticipate customer needs.
We chatted with five field service experts for their take on exactly what to expect in the coming year.
Here are the top seven trends to look out for in 2020:
1. A Greater Focus on Predictive and Proactive Maintenance
It’s not enough to fix equipment or technology when it breaks. Field service companies need to be proactive about engaging with customers, says Sumair Dutta, the director of digital transformation at ServiceMax.
“That might mean fixing things before they break. It could mean making sure our customers have the parts necessary to update or replace something, or giving customers better advice on how to use their products and services,” he says.
The transition from a corrective maintenance model will also change the way companies employ resources. Because predictive models are driven by data analysis, “we are seeing a shift of resources away from the field to a more centralized support system and the use of self-service models through portals,” says Nick Frank, the co-founder and managing partner at Si2 Partners.
As a result, the way companies measure their success, including the KPIs they use, will evolve to account for preventative work, says Bill Pollock, the president and principal consulting analyst at Strategies for Growth.
2. Smarter Use of Data Analysis
To get ahead in 2020, Dutta says it’s crucial for field service companies to embrace data analysis. A built-out analytics system can help field service providers identify recurring issues, brainstorm effective solutions, improve employee productivity, and increase customer satisfaction.
Gathering information on your work orders, failures, resolutions, and technicians can help you “come up with products that are more reliable and more serviceable, and find technicians who have a better level of knowledge before they come onsite so they can fix issues,” Dutta says.
This is where field service management (FSM) software comes in handy. An FSM system provides tools for tracking and scheduling work, automating backend processes, and conducting data analyses.
3. Higher Expectations for Uptime
As standards for service increase, customers want greater reliability when it comes to their devices and equipment. To improve uptime, companies need to integrate spare parts logistics, encourage autonomous maintenance, and facilitate communication between customers and service providers, says Anil Pai, the global head of digital field service management at Tata Consultancy Services.
Digitizing backend processes helps with automation and data visibility, Frank says, but it’s no longer enough. Communication is key. “I see many companies working harder to equip their technical people with the communication skills that better support their customers,” he adds.
What’s more, customers want their devices to work in harmony. “A services organization that merely keeps individual systems or equipment up and running, but does not ensure that they are all working together to effectively and efficiently execute the company’s business, will ultimately find themselves being replaced by other services organizations that do,” Pollock says.
4. A Total Servitization Model
Manufacturing businesses have already been transitioning to the servitization model for decades, but the pace of this evolution is picking up.
“It is almost becoming mainstream for companies to recognize that services are a strategic contributor to their growth strategy,” Frank says. “And with the greater awareness of the value of data, companies are realizing that the key to monetizing digital technologies is not in the technology itself, but through new services and outcome-based business models.”
In fact, companies that have already introduced servitization into their business are more likely to offer outcomes—like GE’s “power by the hour”—instead of uptime guarantees or parts replacements, Pai says.
5. Increased Reliance on Mobile Tools
Field service providers need to continue building out their mobile options for customers and technicians in 2020.
“Most FSM solution providers are providing their customers and users with more apps and customer portals to facilitate their use of the solution,as well as for communications with their remote support providers,” Pollock says.
Tools like self-service interfaces improve the customer experience by giving users more information about their equipment and easier access to support and answers, Dutta says.
But mobile tools are critical for technicians, too. Field technicians need mobile apps to track their work orders, as well as greater insight and reliability on mobile devices, Dutta says. “It’s not just about better access to work, but the ability to consume more content and information on a better network.”
In 2020, field service companies will have to rely on the Internet of things (IoT) to connect systems, equipment, devices, and people, Pollock says. “The more connectivity there is, the better the delivery of service can be.”
6. Utilization of Different Types of Workers
With more field service technicians reaching retirement age, “the demand for field service workers will grow, creating an enormous opportunity for the next generation of workers,” says Ira Wolfe, the president and chief Googlization officer at Success Performance Solutions.
To close the age and skills gap, Wolfe says companies need to adopt technology that appeals to a younger workforce. “These new technicians, the ‘digital natives,’ will embrace the opportunity to use software, artificial intelligence (AI), apps, mobile devices, and even augmented reality (AR) to learn new skills quickly, then apply technology in the field to solve problems, troubleshoot, and save time,” he says.
Field service companies should also consider how they can leverage the gig economy. “Using third-party contractors and gig workers who have the skills but demand a more flexible work arrangement can expand the talent pool and skill sets significantly,” Wolfe says.
7. Increased Experimentation With AI
Field service companies are continuing to experiment with AI solutions. “Current applications of AI in field services are primarily limited to areas like chatbots for customer query and self-help, issue troubleshooting, and scheduling automation,” Pai says. Companies can also use AI to pinpoint target markets for selling, upselling, or cross-selling their products and services, adds Pollock.
However, “applications of AI in areas like predictive maintenance will see a bigger offtake in the coming years,” Pai says.
Along with using AI to conduct data analyses, Dutta says another potential predictive use is determining which parts to use for service requests. “That involves image recognition, knowledge recognition, and parts recognition,” he says. Companies that explore AI now may find new ways to streamline work processes and improve customer experiences.
Looking forward, field service companies should focus on predictive maintenance, building out their mobile tools for better customer service, and experimenting with different technologies to improve their reliability and efficiency.