Gartner research suggests that by 2020 70% of organisations will cite customer satisfaction derived from integrating field service as a primary business benefit. But how, and even more importantly, where can field service be integrated into a company’s operations in order to reap these customer rewards?
Here, Chris Mean, COO at Columbus UK, outlines the key elements that enable companies to increase their service revenue while keeping associated costs at a minimum, and explains how field service can be seamlessly put in place to add value to business operations.
The path to field service success starts with understanding the key aspects that contribute to both boosting service revenue and controlling service costs. These elements need to be implemented well and are an essential first step for any organisation considering how to integrate field service into existing business operations and systems.
Provide relevant warranty information
If a business has a largely manual warranty claim process, this is likely to result in ‘warranty leakage’ – where a warranty service is unintentionally provided beyond the remit of a business’ warranty program. This is typically due to limited visibility of accurate warranty data – from the perspective of management in terms of where warranty costs are likely to occur, and from a field service engineer’s point of view regarding what is covered by warranty. The implementation of technology and business insights in the form of auto-entitlement warranty checks are important, as employees benefit immediately from relevant warranty information whenever required.
Offer service flexibility
Considering how a business typically segments existing customer markets, the service offered to each segment and how customers consume products is key to identifying new target markets. It is essential to remember that a customer’s business expectations are built on their personal experiences as a consumer, particularly in today’s connected, always-on world. Flexible service offerings will ultimately enable businesses to enter new market segments.
Capitalise on sale opportunities
Perhaps the most obvious way to increase service revenue is to take advantage of positive interactions with customers. Each time a customer service agent or field service engineer has a strong conversation with a customer represents a potential opportunity to up-sell – but agents and engineers must have the necessary tools to identify these opportunities. Whether it’s selling additional products during a service visit or selling an extension or improved warranty package, it is essential that employees know what products are available and recommended, have stock readily available if it is a physical item and can process transactions at point of sale.
Fully integrate mobile devices
The quicker each field service engineer can close and approve a customer work-order, the more a business can speed up cash flow. Engineers must therefore be equipped with mobile devices that enable immediate customer approval and closure or work-orders, but more significantly these devices must be fully integrated into the existing accounts receivable system to automatically generate customer invoices. With better integration of commerce platforms this allows for payments to be taken instantly.
Better manage inventory
Having business insights into overall part consumption, by job or product, can reduce inventory levels. The key for businesses to effectively manage their inventory is to ensure that they have the right parts on hand or have visibility of nearby stock on another van to improve ‘first time fix’ rates. This also helps determine which parts are fast moving or failing and allows a business to centrally stock the right levels.
Optimise service schedules
Optimising scheduling and on-the-fly routing are another necessity for a business that employs a high number of field service engineers and as a result handles shorter service calls. When routes are optimised this has great benefits in terms of headcount and fuel costs. Implementing on-the-fly scheduling engines allows businesses to react to real-world situations such as cancellations, urgent appointments, delays and traffic to ensure a high level of efficiency and customer satisfaction is maintained.
Where exactly in a value stream can field service help?
For businesses to achieve the true customer benefits that come with connected field service they need to know exactly where it can be integrated to add value to business operations. There are four main areas where its influence is most effective:
If a machine is broken, a service technician makes a field visit to resolve the issue. The repair may be covered by warranty or incur charges because of the time and parts consumed, but this is where field service is advantageous and cost-effective – problems are fixed at the first time of asking, in real-time. A business that can provide a service that is timely, when the customer requires it, is key to gain a competitive advantage.
Moving beyond customer expectations of timely maintenance and repairs, businesses can now shift towards offering maintenance on a predictive basis. Using smart IoT devices, machines can automatically inform both the business and customer that a malfunction is likely to occur and that maintenance is required. This is an especially valuable aspect of field service because breakdowns and operational downtime are reduced.
This applies to products that need to be installed by a service technician. Once a product has been installed, the technician will run several tests to ensure the machine or device is fully operational –the commissioning process. For businesses operating in the B2C world, flexibility at this stage is especially important because customer expectations have changed – they expect to be able to purchase a product and schedule its installation at a convenient time for them in one, unified transaction.
A field service visit can also include a critical analysis of a business and its customer demands – it isn’t always a hands-on appointment with a machine or device. It is important that a business is connected in a feedback loop with its customers to better understand their requirements and further enhance future business operations – particularly because customer satisfaction is now considered the most important aspect of field service ahead of price and quality.
Flawless field service: A strategic enabler for customer satisfaction
To achieve an end-to-end, unified customer experience, an effective field service solution spanning repair, maintenance and installation and commissioning should be implemented. During all stages of the field service customer journey, businesses need to make sure their field service engineers are empowered and able to identify and execute sales opportunities, as well as having the ability to capture customer feedback. This is how businesses can consistently benefit from the revenue potential that comes with integrated field service, while ensuring customers are satisfied because they are getting the experience they have come to expect.