When we surveyed our customer base of service organizations during our Maximize conference in October 2019, one of the most-requested product developments was a mobile application for end customers—the owners and operators of the equipment serviced by ServiceMax customers. This was, in some respects, not surprising. Complex asset owners and operators are increasingly expecting a higher level of involvement in the service process. Factors in this trend include the growing complexity of assets and workflows, an increased desire to self-service with remote support, and heightened expectations of service visibility driven by consumer apps for ridesharing and food delivery.
But the survey response illustrated how quickly “customer engagement” expectations have evolved. Until recently, web-based portals were considered the appropriate means of engagement. End customers could log in, request service, and track the completion of work. Yet adoption of customer portals for field service has been limited at best.
This limited use of customer portals does not, however, imply a limited interest in customer engagement. Rather, it is an indication of their inherent shortcomings. Most of these portals provided a poor user experience and lacked functionality, such as the ability to receive real-time notifications.
The global pandemic has further elevated customer engagement expectations, with an even greater emphasis on a digital-first, mobile-first approach. As Gartner has written, field service providers are “grappling with customers’ need to minimize human contact and have more work performed either remotely or by the customers themselves in collaboration with technicians using AR and other new collaboration channels for remote expert guidance.” A customer mobile app may have been a “nice to have” pre-pandemic; post-pandemic it may be becoming a “must-have.”
But for an asset-centric organization, the need for an end customer app extends beyond appointment-booking and remote support and to the asset itself. We have previously reported the extent to which asset service data quality serves as a barrier to better service outcomes—from revenue to costs to outcome-selling. Our 2018 report on Asset and Service Data Gravity found that only 50% of service organizations trusted their own asset service data. Who better to help improve this metric than those closest to those assets, the owners and operators?
Indeed, one of the valuable learnings in piloting Engage, our new mobile app for customers, with ServiceMax customers is that the ability to request asset data updates was among the top use cases of their customers. In other words, these equipment owners wanted to do more than request service; they wanted to be able to identify whether an asset had inaccurate or incomplete data, or had changed location—and to inform the service organization so it can update its records.
We believe this feature—the ability to support deeper asset visibility and accuracy—will be a differentiator among the mobile apps for end service customers that we expect to emerge in coming months. Features such as appointment booking and notifications can better involve customers in (and thereby improve) the service process. Guided remote expert hotline support can help these customers actually perform some self-service for certain tasks. But it is the utilization of these apps to leverage end customers as partners in the quest for asset data accuracy that may have the most profound long-term impact on service outcomes.
Even as we launch Engage, some analysts have written that messaging, not mobile, will become the preferred channel of customer engagement. This is a false choice, and inadequate to the needs of asset-centric service organizations. While we incorporate messaging within our mobile app—between customer and technician, between customer and expert—it is no substitute for an application that provides critical asset context in a variety of visual formats. Such context is essential to service execution.
The era of digital-first, mobile-first customer engagement has arrived in field service, accelerated by the events of 2020. Leading service organizations are beginning to grasp the potential of a customer mobile app to differentiate themselves and improve customer experience and NPS. But truly asset-centric companies will also recognize it as a tool for tackling the asset data impediments to their broader service goals of increasing revenue, reducing costs, and becoming more outcome-based.