The old saying is that necessity is the mother of invention, but that was founded in the industrial revolution…
In this post from Astea’s Managing Director – Asia Pacific Steve Scott, see how innovation creates demand in today’s information revolution—and how your company can use technology to be proactive about growing your business and exceeding customer expectations of service.
Traditional service standards
My first job out of university back in 1983 was as a technician for a small electronic repair company in Toowoomba (Queensland, Australia). Upon arrival, my boss pointed to a large format printer and said, “Fix that.” At the time, I didn’t even know it was called a large format printer; I had never heard of such a device. I learned the name when I came across the shiny, new Operation and Service Manual. I spent the first half of my first day reading the manual, and the second half fixing the printer. I can’t take too much credit—the print head carriage was just jammed with gunk and it was a simple fix. Still, I spent the last hour of the day testing it, having no confidence at all in my own abilities on the first day of my career.
At the end of the day, I shared with my boss that I had fixed the printer, apologising for taking so long. He told me the customer would be thrilled because the printer had been in the shop for two months while the boss had been hunting down the manual from the manufacturer in the USA.
It was a very stressful, but ultimately successful first day of a 35-year career in the service industry. A happy customer, a critical device fixed with only eight hours of labour after only two months in the shop. Can you imagine any customer accepting that today?
Twelve months later, I had moved to Sydney and was working for a national supplier of automotive service equipment. I was the first electronics technician they had ever hired after previously working exclusively with external service agents.
Changing response times
Everything I fixed in my first month, whether in the shop or in the field, was something I had never seen before. Typically, my first task was to hand write a letter to the manufacturer in the U.S. and have one of the ladies in the typing pool key it into the telex machine. (Yes, we had a typing pool and they were all ladies. It was the 1980’s.) Usually the next morning I would be delivered a telex from the manufacturer stating that the service manuals and schematic diagrams I needed were being sent by air mail.
At that time, a one-month turnaround through our workshop was considered by most customers to be a significant improvement over what was being achieved by the local service agents operating across the country. Not long after moving to Sydney, I made a sound business case to my boss, and I was able to convince him to invest in a fax machine. With manuals, schematics or advice from the manufacturers arriving via fax overnight, we were able to reduce turnaround through our service process from weeks down to days. Of course, customers quickly grew to expect that level of service every time.
By the late 1990’s, all correspondence with our suppliers in the U.S. was being conducted by email. Technical data was available via the Internet. Customers would no longer consider accepting the lack of technical data as an excuse for slow service. The very pace of business had accelerated manifold and continues to do so to this day as new technologies continue to emerge.
This can be seen in the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) included in most service contracts today. Historically SLAs have been based around arrival times, often measured in days, but are increasingly often measured in hours. However, in spite of push back by service providers, customers are increasingly expecting SLAs based on resolution of the issue, and once again, often measured in hours. They expect this because they know it is possible.
Technology changes expectations
Customers now know that service providers can schedule and track their field staff in real time using Mobile Field Service Management (FSM) software and GPS tracking. They know that the field service technician has ready access to technical information via mobile devices connected to the internet. They know that professional service organisations have FSM software that ensures their field staff have quick access to the right parts. Put simply, there are no longer any excuses for slow service.
Image via rawpixel on Unsplash
One thing that has not changed throughout the past 35 years is the paramount importance of communication. Perhaps surprisingly to people new to the service industry, it is often more important to a customer that they know when their issue is going to be fixed rather than having it fixed it quickly. This is because they are often able to somewhat mitigate the impact of the problem if they are able to plan around when it will be resolved. Of course, this level of trust can only be achieved when there is an open and honest dialog, and the customer has confidence that the service company is taking every possible action to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
In the 21st century, there are no excuses for poor communication with customers. We have always been able to pick up a phone and call a customer, and sometimes that is still the best approach. Whatever the communication method may be, customers now expect to be proactively advised of status updates at every step of the service process because they know it’s possible. They know that any service organisation should have the ability to automatically send regular updates to the customer via email or SMS, as well as allow the customer to view the status online. The customer expectation is being driven by what technology has made possible. Innovations quickly become the norm.
The future of field service
So, where to from here? What will customers expect of us in coming years, driven by new technological advancements?
I won’t pretend to have a greater read on the future than anyone else. I do not own a crystal ball or a time machine. But there are a couple of things of which we can all be fairly sure:
- Firstly, business will increasingly be conducted using mobile devices. Just walk down any city street and try to find someone that doesn’t have their face buried in their device. Today we all do many things on our phone that were not possible just a few years ago. We do our banking, order food, pay our bills, schedule medical appointments, book flights, hire cars, and even make or break dates. Increasingly service calls are being booked and tracked online using mobile devices as well. Very soon this will cease to be seen as an innovation and will instead be the customer’s minimum expectation.
- Secondly, the Internet of Things (IoT), allows machine to machine communication, raising service tickets with no human intervention. Currently, IoT can seem like a buzz word, but soon most customers will expect their service providers to know when a device needs maintenance and advise the customer, rather than relying on the customer to advise them.
- More than that, with the increasing awareness of Artificial Intelligence and Predictive Analytics, customers will before long expect every service provider to know when a device is about to fail and fix it before it does. If you are in HVAC, be prepared for the first time an unhappy customer asks why you didn’t know their air conditioner was about to fail. It may have happened to you already.
What impact will technology have on contractual SLAs?
You will likely see customers no longer expecting Arrival or even Resolution SLAs. Instead they will be asking for SLAs based on outcomes such as device uptime, or minimising failures. In HVAC, customers may be asking for SLAs based on average room temperatures. In the fire and security industry, your customers may be asking for SLAs based on legislative compliance. And, it may well go beyond SLAs. In many cases, customers may expect penalty clauses for failure to achieve outcomes, or even have the revenue from service contracts directly determined by these outcomes.
These types of expectations are actually not that new. For decades the copy/print industry’s revenue has been driven based on outcomes; the number of prints or copies made by the customer. However, this will almost certainly expand to include many other service industries with many, varied measurable outcomes.
How service organizations can prepare for the future
Although the information revolution will continue to drive customer expectations unpredictable directions, companies cannot wait for this future to become a reality, or else surely a savvy competitor will get there ahead of you. This is where a modern, connected Field Service Management application with open and flexible integration capabilities, developed by an innovative, forward thinking company will allow you to respond quickly to these emerging technology-driven trends. It’s important to be laying a foundation now that allows these new technologies to be quickly adopted and integrated into your business model as time undoubtedly continues to necessitate