Increasingly, companies are realizing that their Field Service technicians are considered the face of the company – these are men and women on the front lines that are physically present for their work. Returning to face-to-face interactions after COVID can present a huge opportunity, not only in terms of sales but to build the most important attribute of a relationship with a customer— Trust. Field Service staff are the problem solvers for customers and the source of product knowledge. These are people that customers are letting into their homes or places of business.
Like most industries or specialties, Field Service is abound with new trends and a focus on flashy, futuristic technologies that are the best and brightest in the field. The pressure to try and incorporate these technologies into Field Service operations for fear of missing out or being left behind can have executives scrambling to figure out how to get on board sooner than later.
Getting “from the stone age to the space age” doesn’t happen overnight. Salesforce Field Service can help to begin the process of digital transformation of field service operations by getting the foundation set with best practices built into a system integrated with Sales and Service. This can be further enhanced through development or partnerships to get closer to that ‘space age’ — using technologies to bring efficiencies to operations and allowing for a focused and positive relationship with customers. Groundswell Cloud Solutions working with Salesforce can get you there.
- Emerging Technologies & Field Service Operations
- The Upcoming Industry Trends
- Inhibiting Factors
- Foundational Salesforce Field Service Capabilities
- The Way Forward
Emerging Technologies & Field Service Operations
The area of Field Service, then, has become increasingly valuable as time has gone on. Front-line service technicians, while potentially overlooked in the past, are now being viewed as key representatives of brands as a whole. This makes absolute sense — who better to act as a beacon of trust for a brand? Field service technicians are the ones who customers let into their homes to complete their work, installing complex products and solving the customer’s problems. They are the ones with the expertise and experience who customers actually see and talk to, asking them questions and seeking their advice on the products they have purchased and the services provided. This has become even more crucial in a post-COVID world, where ‘human contact’ was in short supply and is now better appreciated. This goes beyond creating opportunities for technicians to cross-sell or upsell customers for quick hits of revenue. – It’s a chance to make a first impression that paints the brand positively and sets the stage for a lasting and meaningful relationship with that customer.
How about the technology? The solutions in the Field Service space need to allow for positive customer experiences that meet or exceed changing expectations. Experiences that compare favorably with those provided by their industry competitors, but also with leaders in other, tangentially-related industries. If you are in HVAC, your customers might be wondering why they can’t see where their technician is when they have that experience with their Uber driver or their Domino’s delivery person. Your customer might be wondering why they didn’t get a notification before their technician arrived when Amazon sends them an SMS message to let them know their package is arriving soon.
Technology also needs to focus on the major issues of the day for Field Service organizations — knowledge loss due to retiring experienced workforces, hiring issues causing turnover, and increased product complexity. The solutions that are implemented in the Field Service space need to allow for staff to be efficient in terms of travel and work execution, ensuring that installation and repairs are completed in a consistent manner. They need to provide technicians with knowledge at their fingertips while enabling processes that are easy to use, have 360-degree visibility of the customer, and don’t get in the way of them doing their jobs. While adoption is going to be easier with a younger group of technologically exposed employees entering the workforce, those who aren’t as savvy or have less experience need to be considered.
The good news is that Salesforce Field Service allows for a strong foundation and sets the stage for advancing to that next wave of futuristic capabilities. Companies that may need to build out operational capacities in other areas, like customer service, in lieu of their Field Service capability can look to a “crawl, walk, run” approach to digitization, which is crucial to the modern customer experience. That way, you can look at projects that are iterative, foundational, and provide time for both the organization and the customer to adapt in a controlled, evolutionary manner. No need to create potentially jarring changes with expensive and potentially disastrous “big bang” projects that don’t bring expected results.
The Upcoming Industry Trends
Let’s first go over some of those trends — those ‘futuristic’ capabilities that aren’t so far in the future anymore — to see what they are and what they potentially bring to the table.
Augmented Reality/Wearable Devices
Not to be confused with virtual reality, where the user is immersed in a constructed digital reality, augmented reality generally consists of the user viewing their current situation using a device that transforms or enhances it in some way. Instagram filters are an example of augmented reality, Oculus headsets are an example of virtual reality.
While there are use cases for virtual reality in the Field Service space, augmented reality is talked about more, mainly because of it being more useful in the field. For augmented reality, users can point their mobile devices at a piece of equipment needing repair, and a connected system can review the image and provide overlaid information about the parts required or even indicate the steps required to complete the repair. Available also are wearable devices, most commonly glasses, that provide the information overlays while freeing up both hands and keeping complete vision, so potentially a technician could be looking at an installation space and seeing virtually how the product to be installed actually fits into that space.
This becomes especially important in two ways:
- With institutional knowledge leaving the workforce and training costs being high, providing information via AR can lower the training threshold for effective field service and allow for new hires to make immediate, positive impacts.
- Consistency of repair and installation is key to quality and customer experience, not to mention it increases first call resolution and decreases truck rolls, reducing costs and carbon footprint.
Remote Support is related to AR and VR, where a customer service representative or remote support agent can provide assistance to a field technician or customer via mobile device. Many use cases see this working in tandem with AR — essentially what the mobile device or wearable sees the remote support agent sees. The remote support agent — which could also be a Field Service Manager — provides support to the technician or customer directly to answer questions or guide them through an installation or repair.
One example could be a utility customer working with an agent to capture an ad-hoc reading from their electric meter — in the past, this would often be a painful process (especially when there were dials on the meter) — where now the customer could simply show the agent a picture of the meter or the meter in real-time and the agent could take the reading directly. A new technician completing a repair of a delicate surgical device could get in touch with an experienced manager via their wearable device and the manager could guide them through the repair process in real-time, ensuring that downtime is minimized and the repair is done right the first time.
With COVID this became top of mind, but it has to be balanced with customer preference. Some customers may like and even prefer dealing with someone remotely and doing the work themselves, but this would get in the way of experienced technicians and warranties. While other customers may want to have their support done in person The key here is to ensure that enough channels are available for the customers and technicians to have it their way, when possible.
Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning
Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning have been in the news for many years now and while the many fantastical promises of the technology seem to have been potentially overhyped, the true benefits of using AI are becoming more clear now that there appears to be a more grounded understanding of it.
AI, in its current accessible form, isn’t SkyNet. It is generally made up of complex processing engines that help make data-based decisions and provide insights. The main dependency is having quality data available in a way that allows these engines to complete their processing and deliver meaningful outcomes.
In Field Service operations, this means utilizing the data available related to customers, assets, and other variables to provide information to agents and technicians to help them do their jobs more effectively. By automating the steps of the process or providing insights for repair steps based on asset age or other factors, you can utilize the power of cloud computing and AI to create more efficient schedules for technicians based on several different variables.
One of the main use cases for AI revolves around Preventative Maintenance and Predictive Maintenance — utilizing the data available related to a product’s usage, age, or other variables to generate maintenance tasks that allow for breakdowns to be prevented and maximize uptime. This has become a major focus in the Field Service industry — it’s viewed as a key differentiator in customer satisfaction by predicting potential issues and resolving them before they result in more costly repairs and downtime or preventing them altogether.
Connected Products and Cloud Technologies
Related to AI and the concepts of Preventative and Predictive Maintenance is the idea of a Connected Product. These are becoming more ubiquitous as time goes on and the “Internet of Things” is a reality of the twenty-first century. More and more of the appliances we use, the devices we own, even the clothes we wear, and the cars we drive are connected to the internet and provide data — whether we want them to or not — to the companies that provide and support them. We have all seen the messages on a new phone or when we install a new app regarding data collection for support and development purposes — that’s what this is about.
The premise here for Field Service, though, is to use the data and the connections for the power of good. We want to be able to monitor equipment and devices used by customers to determine if maintenance needs to be done before they break down or once it is broken down is there an opportunity to be proactive and provide timely support. If a company is able to receive data in real-time regarding usage, get alerts from the appliance/device/equipment when there are faults or errors and have visibility into how their products are being used, this helps the business be more effective in helping the customer and maintaining that relationship, while also providing insights to guide new product development and shape business processes.
The benefits of customer self-service to an organization are generally well-known — reducing operations costs related to serving customers and completing the most common transactions, freeing up agents to handle more complex customer issues and value-added tasks (including upselling and cross-selling), and a host more.
These are generally applicable to Field Service, as well, although in a different flavor. Providing more information to customers on a portal about the most common issues and giving step-by-step instructions for resolution can ensure that technicians are only handling issues where they’re truly needed. With customers having more and more exposure to technology, many of these tasks can be handled by the customer themselves, including installations and equipment hookups.
Also becoming more prevalent is the ability for customers to schedule their own appointments — the customer can request a work order related to a product they’ve purchased or service they’ve requested and the function will be available through a web-based component or bot to choose when the appointment is going to be scheduled. This can be incredibly beneficial to the customer relationship — giving them control of when the appointment is scheduled and letting them do it for themselves. Providing them easy access to make appointment modifications is also something that goes a long way in building that relationship through ease of doing business.
Field Service professionals are now increasingly looked upon as an opportunity to build a trusted relationship between the brand and a customer. There’s also the opportunity to get immediate feedback from the customer as it relates to the quality of their visit and their satisfaction with the service. Process automation is now becoming the standard to get surveys into the hands of customers almost immediately after the technician has left the premises to indicate how the technician did on that call. Data can be aggregated more quickly and actions can be taken sooner than if the data were to be sent after the fact. For example, the data quality of a survey received immediately after an in-home experience can be considered of higher value based on immediate sentiment.
“Last Mile” notifications are something that’s become more prevalent in the age of ride-sharing and e-commerce delivery, although the concept has been around as long as Field Service technicians have been going to customers’ homes. The term Last Mile sums it up — customers are notified when technicians are in the ‘last mile’ before arriving at their property to complete service. This could be through SMS or a phone call and could be manually done or automated, but the idea is to give the customer a heads-up that the technician will be arriving shortly. Generally, this should be done in concert with other reminders — such as emails or SMS — in the days leading up to the appointment to let the customer know that the visit is coming up.
In the most practical terms, this helps to reduce truck rolls based on customers being absent from the premises when the technician arrives. Subsequent visits due to lack of technician access aren’t usually charged to the customer.
It also helps build the relationship with the customer because it allows for last-minute preparations and as part of an appointment communication strategy allows for expectations to be clearly set with them. While the best practice is not to communicate exact arrival times to customers, letting them know when you’re en route and just about to arrive helps ensure their presence and comfort and fulfills a promise to them.
The concept of a “digital twin” is heavily connected to AR and VR but does not necessarily rely on having the technology — it essentially is the ability to have a digital replica of an asset or space to enable the simulation of work on or with that replica. It allows for a user to go through the process of interacting with the product or space virtually before actually being on site. This allows for two main use cases for digital twins — training and simulation.
As mentioned previously, the brain drain in Field Service is definitely real with some of the most experienced and knowledgeable resources leaving the workforce regularly. Training new hires and having them job-ready in the least amount of time possible is becoming vital and digital twins give a more comprehensive training experience than traditional ‘classroom’ learning and allow for risk-free spaces to develop skills.
Simulation can be incredibly valuable when it comes to working on delicate or complex assets. It can give even experienced technicians the chance to go through the steps of a repair before actually touching the machine in question — something that’s beneficial when working on technically advanced products like surgery robotics. Giving the technician the opportunity to experience the repair or installation beforehand (as close to the real thing as possible) improves job quality and helps to ensure that it’s done right the first time, every time.
Climate change has been at the forefront of news and politics for some time and is now gaining meaningful traction in the corporate world. It’s not just enough to state a case for brand image — customers and the public want to see actual actions taken. Impactful steps can be taken throughout the enterprise, and this includes Field Service.
Ensuring that technicians’ schedules are built so that travel time is minimized via optimization helps to ensure that carbon footprint is lower when using fossil fuel-powered vehicles. Utilizing parts on hand helps reduce shipping costs but also ensures that the carbon footprint of shipments is reduced. First-time resolution and customer self-service help to ensure that truck rolls are minimized which also reduces carbon emissions. All of the technological capabilities mentioned previously can contribute to a company’s sustainability efforts and every little bit helps.
So we see what could be possible with the technology trends that everybody seems to be talking about — but what, then, is getting in the way of adopting these right away?
Obviously, bleeding-edge technology is not cheap. Just using augmented reality as an example, you need the devices to run the software, you need to purchase the software (and likely go through the procurement process to determine what software to use), a project to implement the software, training, and so on. The cash register does not seem to stop ringing. Even if you have a solid business case around it, the initial outlay for any of the capabilities above can be considerable and more so if the stakeholders are not all in favor and if there are competing initiatives that need financing, as well.
Enterprise architecture generally is complex even in companies where they concentrate on one set of products and services. Enhancement projects involving even one system can have ‘tentacles’ leading to other systems and architectures becoming more and more a structure of integrated ‘best of breed’ cloud-based systems. For example, bringing Connected Product data into the fold can be formidable based on the number of users that might need access to the data or the number of systems that should be able to process it. This complexity presents a risk, and for more risk-averse companies it can be something that weighs heavily against the potential benefits of such an exercise.
Lack of Vendor Support
The bleeding edge of technology often contains companies that are startups or those that are not that far progressed from startup status. The capabilities are trendy and can have many competitors in the same space, trying hard to be first and best. Even in the VR space where Meta is the most notable name, you see many other competitors offering these capabilities in the enterprise space.
Unfortunately, that can mean that the vendors offering these capabilities — while not the definition of ‘fly-by-night’ — may not have the proper capacity to provide the desired level of support that would be needed for a company after purchasing and integrating their solutions. Or worse yet, they may not be around long term. After investing time, effort, and money to bring aboard a next-level capability, not being able to get meaningful support for it is not only a potential detriment to the processes that use that capability, but impacts the organization’s opinion of those types of capabilities in the future.
Lack of Use Cases for New Technologies
Buzz-worthy technology and trends are fun and all but if your company does not really have a use case for it, obviously it is not worth chasing down. AR/VR should probably not be on a company’s radar if they don’t have complicated or risky products to fix or install. If none of the products are currently connected to the IoT, then the related capabilities shouldn’t be on the roadmap. A company that currently does not have use cases where the technology could be applied — especially immediately — is likely not going to consider dedicating resources to exploring them, even considering the ‘art of the possible.’
People generally are resistant to change, for one or more of various reasons. Organizational inertia can prevent or hinder process change and the adoption of related technologies, even if these are changes that are meant to make their lives easier and benefit the company and customers holistically.
The change related to implementing one of these technologically-based capabilities is substantial. Remote support, as an example, is something that could result in a support agent now interacting with a customer via a video call and shared screen versus just a phone call. That has an impact on the impacted set of agents — they may worry about how they look on these calls, or how that might negatively affect their productivity and related metrics and bonuses. Change management, while always crucial for any organization, is especially vital when implementing advanced capabilities and can be considered to be burdensome when held up against the potential benefits.
Related to almost all of the above then is the ever-important stakeholder buy-in, as each one of those factors can erode the confidence of one or more stakeholders in the feasibility and/or benefit of a technological capability. Some of these doubts from stakeholders may even tie into the personal belief of technology — if an operations VP considers augmented/virtual reality to just be a fad or “a toy,” it could be unlikely that they’re going to be on board implementing it within the organization regardless of potential benefit. Or if a chairman has earmarked another project for funds that would be needed to bring on getting existing customer assets connected to the IoT, they won’t be supportive of that. The business case for each of these emerging technologies and their related uses needs to be strong, convincing, and build faith in what they deliver to the organization and the customer.
Foundational Salesforce Field Service Capabilities
So we’ve gone over the trendy, next-level technologies that could be game-changers in Field Service and also covered some of the factors that would inhibit adopting those technologies.
In the introduction, we mentioned that the process to bring these types of capabilities into an organization should be one that is controlled and evolutionary. Salesforce Field Service brings a set of foundational capabilities that can naturally lead into the next wave of technology so that a solid base of best practices is built upon. Changes can be incremental and the management of said change, especially if Salesforce is already in use, can be more effective and related processes implemented faster.
Here we relate the foundational capabilities of Salesforce Field Service and show their link to the bleeding-edge technologies described earlier.
|Salesforce Field Service Capability||Related Technology|
|Customer 360 – view of service and contact history|
– Field Service professionals are better prepared for a visit via the information available to them from connected records.
– Facilitates first-time resolution and quality interactions.
|Connected Products, AI, Predictive/Preventative Maintenance|
– IoT data will be visible in the C360 information just like the rest of their attributes, so usage, warnings, faults, and other information will be visible.
– AI-based insights using the data can allow for suggested fixes and cross-sell/upsell opportunities.
– Self-Service use cases bring down the cost to serve but some customers prefer face-to-face, while some work types simply have to be in person.
– Enable self-service in customer portals to provide information, answer questions, create cases/work orders, book appointments, and make payments.
|Augmented Reality, Connected Products, Remote Support|
– Customer self-service repairs can be the next step, where AR and IoT can be used to allow them to repair and install when comfortable. Order parts and provide instructions to complete work.
|Customer Asset Management|
– Knowing what equipment the customer has and being able to see its history in the C360 view helps agents serve the customer but also allows technicians to have the most important attributes and history of the assets at their fingertips.
|Connected Products, Predictive/Preventative Maintenance|
– Enables preventative maintenance based on install datesStatic information and manual updates eventually give way to automatic updates of crucial usage information when assets are cloud-connected.
– Feeds into Predictive Maintenance when considering actual usage, warnings, and part-specific maintenance – enabling only proactive visits when necessary.
|Scheduling and Optimization (including Routing)|
– Increased efficiencies in the field workforce, improved predictability of arrival times, and scheduling accuracy.
– Also increases employee satisfaction – resources driving less, scheduling accuracy.
– Decreased driving distances through clustered work, technicians working closer to home or home base.
|Mobile Workforce w/Offline|
– Ability to complete work onsite, refer to the knowledge base, present and sign service reports, and view C360 information.
– Enables proactive communication with customers and collaboration with customer service staff and Field Service managers.
|Augmented Reality, Last Mile|
– Existing mobile devices can be enhanced with augmented reality software or new hardware can be integrated with those devices for AR purposes.
– Geolocation tracking via mobile devices allows for automated last-mile notifications.
|Access to Knowledge|
– Giving Field Service technicians access to articles with images and/or videos improves first-time resolution and consistency of work.
|Augmented Reality, Digital Twins, AI|
– A knowledge base is used to build out AR where certain fixes/installs are presented based on available articles/data.
– Digital Twins can be built using knowledge base information so that complex repairs and installs can be done virtually first before being on site.
– Knowledge base data can be fed to AI to help provide insights into possible solutions based on issue dispositions.
|Parts inventory Visibility/Management|
– Parts need to be available for jobs, techs need to be able to ensure they have them on hand or can get them, and parts usage tracking is vital for calculating job costs.
– Efficient inventory management allows for improved scheduling when parts are on hand, shipping only when needed (and using transfers/shipments to enable visibility of logistics).
|AI, Predictive/Preventative Maintenance|
– AI can generate insights based on historical parts consumption for predictive parts reservation and ordering based on work types.
– Predictive maintenance based on said insights can incorporate automatic shipment of parts that are not in available inventory.
|Internal Asset Management|
– Knowing what equipment is in the field and being able to see its history allows technicians to have the most important attributes and asset information at their fingertips.
|AI, Connected Products, Predictive/Preventative Maintenance|
– Knowing what equipment is being used for jobs and being able to track age and usage allows for preventative maintenance to keep the business humming along by reducing downtime.
– Similar to Customer Asset Management, AI and IoT can enable predictive maintenance to further reduce downtime in a proactive way – also collecting data on asset usage can facilitate the adoption of new technologies, and process improvement projects.
The Way Forward
The journey to utilizing some of those advanced technological capabilities does not have to have a one-and-done, big-bang approach and honestly should not be considered as such, anyway. If a company is still in a non-digitized state through inaction or because it’s been ‘good enough’ based on size or delivered product/service, it would be virtually impossible to go from the ‘stone age’ to the ‘space age’ in one fell swoop. Iterative change is generally best for businesses and allows for incremental improvements, better change management, and incorporation of lessons learned from one step to the next.
Salesforce Field Service allows for this type of approach, especially if a customer is already using Salesforce Sales and Service Cloud to sell and service their own customers. Native to Salesforce, it builds upon an already best-of-breed Service Cloud offering to give organizations key functionality related to Field Service operations not only for the back office but for technicians in the field every day.
Salesforce is always enhancing the Field Service product and is bringing to the table exciting next-generation features:
- Appointment Assistant: this allows for customer self-service for scheduling appointments in a customer portal and also includes Last Mile notifications via the geolocation functionality in the Field Service Mobile App (when paired with Messaging.)
- Virtual Remote Assistant: enables on-demand video sessions with customers, letting agents provide more effective remote support. Includes AI for character and photo recognition, screen sharing
- Offline Briefcase: this allows for expansive caching of data for offline access to keep technicians productive when signals are not available, especially when Field Service users are in the field and can be subject to connectivity issues, especially in remote areas or in scenarios where wi-fi/mobile data is not permitted or accessible (like hospitals or underground)
These features with the robust AppExchange that includes Salesforce-related offerings from global partners, and an extensive development network mean that a Salesforce customer is not only getting a best-of-breed product out-of-the-box for Field Service but one that is extensible and constantly developing. It lays the groundwork for an organization to utilize a system that incorporates Field Service best practices and helps to ensure that those best practices are embedded into the system going forward while setting the stage for advancements into the next generation of technological tools.
Groundswell has established a Salesforce Field Service implementation practice and has a breadth of functional and technical consulting expertise at its disposal. Having implemented Salesforce Field Service for multiple clients, including those in the Health and Fitness and Home Renovation industries, we are always looking for new clients to help on the journey to high performance in Field Service operations using Salesforce. Whether it’s starting with a fresh project or making enhancements to an existing Field Service implementation, Groundswell has the experience, attitude, and development chops to bring the required solution to life.
Contact us today to find out how we can work together.