Is Your Field Service Organization Future-Proof?

Preparing the Workforce of the Future

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that no one can predict what the future will hold. The resiliency of field service has never been more in the spotlight. This last year, companies learned just how flexible their operations were. Unfortunately, some where left scrambling to adapt to “new norms”.

Now it seems like things are slowly getting back to normal and you might think that organizations are breathing a little easier. However, a recent study found that 95% of CXOs expect to be hit by another crisis in the near future. This might seem all “doom and gloom” but consider this – we’ve already experienced 3 global disasters in the last 20 years.   

Whether or not a company begins to prepare now for the next crisis will be the deciding factor between which companies successfully weather the next storm and which do not. However, between technological transformation and the changing workforce landscape, trying to think ahead can feel overwhelming. So, what is a company to do?

Here are the three areas you need to focus on now to help you prepare the workforce of the future. And they all have one thing in common: outsourcing.

Future-Proofed Technology

More than ever, the technology your organization invests in must be flexible enough to adapt to a changing environment. Organizations need to implement modern field service solutions that can be deployed quickly and cost efficiently. However, the increasing complexity and speed of change of technology makes this difficult. With technology expected to evolve exponentially and become more disruptive in the coming years, investing in the latest technology may not be an option for most companies.

Outsourcing provides access to the latest available technology, allow companies to remain competitive and relevant. Organizations can mitigate risk by avoiding investment in technology and resources that could become redundant quickly, while giving them flexibility and scalability they need to be future proof.

By finding a technology provider familiar with the latest trends and innovations, as well as the knowledge and experience to deploy it to your team, you will save your organization the cost of investing in-house. 

Future-Proofed Workforce

Before the pandemic, a report by the Service Council found that half of of field service organizations reported challenges finding enough talented technicians. COVID-19 has certainly driven this number higher.

By now, you have heard of the rising gig economy and the benefits it has for field service organizations. Some companies have already included on-demand workers as an integral part of their current operations. No doubt, these companies were able to remain flexible and adapt quickly to the uncertainties 2020 brought their way.

If they haven’t already, companies should be seriously investigating how a 3rd party workforce can fit into their future-proof roadmap. Contracted workers give businesses the operational scalability needed during uncertain times, as well as access to workers with more specialized skill sets.

Future-Proofed Knowledge   

The importance knowledge plays in a field service organization’s ability to be successful during a crisis has been proven ten-fold during the pandemic. Unfortunately, many organizations found themselves relying on it more than ever and companies soon realized that their “good enough” knowledge management procedures were no longer sufficient.

The need for knowledge isn’t going away soon. According to the Service Council, 70% of service organizations indicated that they would be burdened by the knowledge loss of a retiring workforce in the next 5 to 10 years.

Implementing knowledge management can be an overwhelming task. Creating, delivering and maintaining an effective knowledge solution takes a combination of people, process and technology in order to be successful, and most companies lack the inside talent, software and time to do it. In fact, we’ve heard from many companies using in-house systems realized just how insufficient their current way of doing things was last year.

Working with a knowledge management provider that not only has the know-how, but access to the latest tech, qualified experts is the best way to ensure you get an effective, and accelerated, strategy in place.

Outsourcing is the Future

It’s not a matter of “if” the next crisis will hit. It’s a matter of “when”. Fortunately, outsourcing provides the necessary ingredients for companies to remain resilient and adaptable when faced with the unexpected.

Outsourcing gives businesses the ability to create opportunities for digital growth that they wouldn’t otherwise have, while letting employees focus on their main roles. Organizations can build teams of skilled professionals for both core and non-core functions without adding the expense of full-time employees, as well as shift areas of operations globally during a crisis.

Field Service 2021: The demand for a single source of truth

The Results are In

Every year The Service Council issues the results of their “Voice of the Field Service Engineer” survey, yielded from hundreds of participants on the front lines of field service.

The 2021 survey results were particularly interesting because, when asked how their work has changed since they started in field service, over 90% of survey respondents said that more knowledge is required to service modern products.

Additionally, nearly 70% of respondents said products are more complex today, while over 80% said that their current field service responsibilities require “greater technology knowledge”, compared to when they first started.  

 

Demand for a Single Source of Truth

The fine work by the Service Council highlights what many service leaders already know – your field service staff are in desperate need of a “Single Source of Truth”.  A Single Source of Truth would provide them with the relevant and up-to-date information needed on site, such as installation and servicing documents, product and safety notices, FAQs, parts lists and exploded diagrams. In many companies, technical product documentation, parts lists and exploded product diagrams are unintentionally locked up in corporate silos or disparate file formats.

The Need for Knowledge Has Never Been More Important

Finding servicing information is so difficult and time consuming, that many field service engineers defer to “winging it” or calling a buddy. Neither of these solutions is acceptable when efficiency, accuracy and customer satisfaction is on the line.

Even if the documentation is available on an internal network, expecting a field engineer to download and cull through a 200-page PDF to find the answer to one question is not reasonable or efficient. 

Delivering current documentation and accurate parts lists sounds like basic blocking and tackling, but it’s not. Field service leaders need to come to grips with the fact that their new Millennial field service technicians’ primary computing device is a mobile phone and not a laptop. Trying to convince them otherwise will be a futile battle.

After you cry uncle on the mobile phone versus laptop controversy, it will be time to figure out how to keep technical documentation and parts lists current and available. Field service leaders will attest that installation and servicing documentation and parts lists designed to be used by field service engineers are often out-of-date. Providing inaccurate documentation and parts information is a sure-fire way to make a field service engineer clench their teeth in frustration.  

Establishing a Single Source of Truth is not for the Faint of Heart

The fact is that creating, maintaining and distributing up-to-date technical documentation and parts information is a mundane and costly task that few field service organizations do well. 

This rise in complex products has resulted in complex service and maintenance procedures, affecting and influencing inaccuracies in technical writing and documentation. Companies still rely on traditional time-intensive methods to develop and deploy technical documentation such as service procedures, work instructions, guides, manuals, etc. As the demand for complex maintenance and service procedures increase, technician efficiency decreases due to more time being spent searching for the correct service information in a format that can be used on the field.

Poor Access to Information Leads to Wasted Time

When service technicians encounter unfamiliar problems and don’t have reliable service information to solve a problem, the need for costly telephone calls back into technical support and repeat service visits increases. Poor access to servicing documentation and parts information is a serious time waster.

For example, one of our AnswersAnywhere customers has 500 field service engineers making 3 service calls per day. Based on surveys, the service leaders estimated that each engineer spends an average of 30 minutes per service call finding servicing documentation and parts information.

By providing their field staff with a mobile Single Source of Truth, each engineer saved 15 minutes in research time per service call. Over the course of a year, the 500 field service engineers combined saved a total of 99,000 hours of research time.

That’s 99,000 hours that can be repurposed into improving customer satisfaction, educating customers on new products or increasing service calls.

Bottom Line: It Doesn’t Have to be Difficult

Most companies have a wealth of technical knowledge and parts information that – when put into the hands of the field service staff – would increase customer satisfaction and decrease wasted time.

Creating and managing a Single Source of Truth for field service engineers is the perfect outsourcing opportunity because you can avoid technology evaluations, process development projects or hiring staff to keep everything updated. 

Efficiency Vs. Effectiveness in Field Service

“Efficiency is Doing Better What is Already Being Done.”

       – Peter Drucker, author and management consultant

Like me, you have probably seen this quote a lot on field service social media channels. It is no surprise considering efficiency is the name of the game throughout this industry – I know I’ve certainly written a lot about it over the years.

I recently came across another quote from Peter Drucker that I found equally interesting: “Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.”

The digital transformation is in full swing and field service organizations are putting more emphasis than ever on investing in new technology to drive efficiency. But are they doing so at the cost of effectiveness?

Wait… aren’t efficiency and effectiveness kind of the same thing in field service?

What exactly is the difference is between efficiency and effectiveness? Efficiency is the ability to accomplish something with the least amount of wasted effort, time, and/or money. In field service, it often translates to a peak level of equipment uptime.

Effectiveness, on the other hand, is defined as the degree to which something is successful in producing a desired result. In field service, as in all business, the desired result is success.

More than ever, field service managers need to ensure they are investing in solutions which will deliver results that are both efficient and effective. Here are some important questions every organization should ask when considering a new solution as part of their digital transformation strategy:

1.     Will the solution have minimal training and high adoption rates?

Does this issue sound familiar: Your companies invests a lot of money, time and resources into adopting a new solution that is meant to increase field service processes and drive efficiency. The problem is your engineers aren’t using it, making the software completely ineffective. Low adoption rates can have a variety of culprits, but they usually have one thing in common: lack of input from the end user from the onset.

Engineers are the best equipped to spot potential roadblocks and pitfalls because they better understand their teams’ work preferences, work conditions, field processes and workflows. Including extensive feedback from field service engineers from the very start of the search will drastically increase adoption rates once the solution is selected and deployed.

2.     Will the solution address app fatigue… or exacerbate it?

Increasingly, field service engineers are being inundated with a growing number of apps needed to do their job. While these apps are all designed to make their job more efficient, too many apps can have the opposite effect. Having to switch from app to app, screen to screen, over and over again, sometimes to complete even the simplest of tasks will fatigue even the techiest of engineers.

This is a perfect example of a solution that sacrifices effectiveness in the name of efficiency. If a new solution creates extra steps for engineers — like having to navigate away from work orders or copy and paste important information like parts numbers — the efficiency gains will be lost almost immediately. Integrating with existing field service software will help create a “single pane of glass” experience for your engineers, making them more efficient while avoiding app fatigue.

3.     Is the solution creating more work than its worth?

This is something we see a lot at AnswersAnywhere with prospects we speak to. To get important technical and parts information to their call center staff and engineers in the field, the organization creates an in-house shared folder or wiki. However, the company soon realizes that the time and resources it takes to keep this repository organized, optimized and up to date so that it will be useful far outweighs the benefits of having their information all in one place. It also doesn’t take into account that most of the documents on the shared folder are user-unfriendly formats like PDFs, which means an engineers has to take time to pinch, zoom and scroll through pages of documents to look up the relevant information. What seemed like the most efficient solution to a common problem ends up being very ineffective.

Before adopting any solution, make sure you are thoroughly investigated the amount of time, money, resources and staff it will take to keep it performing effectively for your organization You may find that the efficiency gains you experience on the frontlines will be lost in another department.

Conclusion

The digital transformation is moving full speed ahead. Any organization that wants to stay competitive needs to start implementing their digitization strategy now. However, if a strategy is going to be successful, it is important to consider the overall effectiveness of each solution; not just the efficiency improvements that it is expected to deliver to your field service organization.

 

What Can Field Service Expect in 2021?

There is no doubt about: 2020 has massively disrupted business as usual, and most field service organizations around the globe have spent the last year scrambling to adjust to the “new normal”. Now that a new year is here, let’s look back at the how the lessons learned from last year will transform the field service trends of 2021.

1.     Safety First

If there is one thing 2020 taught us, it is that safety should always be the top priority. Moving forward, companies will be putting a greater emphasis on safety, with many completely re-evaluating and overhauling existing safety protocols to appease customers and workforce.

Customers will be seeking services from companies that observe the best health and safety procedures. In addition, employees also want to feel safe when onsite. If a company does not have adequate safety policies in place, engineers are likely to look for work at a company where they feel their safety will be ensured. Therefore, strict safety protocols will have to be a priority for any organization that wants to remain competitive.

2.     Contact (Tracing) is Key

Contact tracing is something that very few of us gave any thought to before last year. Now, it has become a part of our everyday lexicon. As mentioned above, safety will be top priority in field service and contact tracing will have to play an important role.

The very nature of the field service engineer’s job is to go from one place to another, frequently. Therefore, it will be crucial for organizations to see where they’re going and where they’ve been. If you have not done so already, now is the time to invest in apps that can track interactions and support contact tracing efforts. That way, if an employee does get sick or is exposed while on the job, you can easily determine who that person has been in contact with.

3.     Digital Transformation Goes Full Speed Ahead

Digital transformation may have been on the horizon for some time now, but 2020 has brought it front and center. The pandemic has marked a radical rethinking of how field service organizations use technology to do business.

Customer expectations around services and products has shifted completely, and organizations are realizing that simply “getting by” with outdated technology is not a viable option for any company that wants to stay competitive and profitable in a post-COVID world. Specifically, remote technologies like AR and VR, as well as mobile technologies aimed at reducing engineers’ time on site, should be at the top of all organizations’ “must-have” lists.

4.     Rise of the Gig Economy

A gig-economy staffing model has long been on the rise worldwide. According to McKinsey, by 2025 a whopping 50% of field service workers will be freelance. Service leaders seem ready to embrace the use of a blended or outsourced workforce to navigate the challenges of a post-pandemic industry, workforce retirement, the talent gap, and evolving customer needs.

However, if organizations wish to meet and exceed the expectations of the customer, they will need to prioritize mobile tools that will not only enable technicians to complete complex repairs more quickly, but also provide appropriate monitoring capabilities for the company.

Conclusion

We can all agree that 2020 put the field service industry through the ringer, but it has also taught us to be more innovative, more flexible and more resilient than before (both personally and professionally!). And while 2021 will no doubt bring with it a new set of challenges, organizations now have an opportunity to put the lessons learned from last year into practice moving forward.

The Critical Tools Manufacturers Need to Excel at Service Delivery with a Contracted Workforce

The manufacturing industry is rapidly changing, and the role that third party workers play in service excellence is becoming even more critical. Technological advancements in AR and IoT were already driving the move towards a contractor-focused – or gig – economy. In 2018, the IDC predicted that within two years, 20% of service would be delivered by contractors.

Since then, the combination of the field service skills gap and the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed 3rd party workforces directly into the spotlight and cemented outsourcing as an essential part of service delivery. Manufacturers are turning to third-party providers to overcome travel restrictions, reduce costs and extend their service capabilities.

To ensure outstanding service for clients, organizations must invest in the right tools to support and manage external service workers.

Provide 3rd Party Workers with Mobile Knowledge…

Service efficiency is directly related to a technician’s access to knowledge. A 2019 TSIA (Technology Services Industry Association) report found that knowledge management had a huge impact on performance, with a 50% reduction in mean time to repair.

The need for knowledge is true for all technicians, whether they are employees are contractors. In a survey by the Aberdeen Group of 3rd party workers, 24% said their primary reason for a repeat visit was because they didn’t have the necessary knowledge to complete the task the first time.

Mobile knowledge tools are a necessity for field service excellence, and one of the most important solutions a manufacturer can invest in if they wish to deliver or maintain a high quality of service delivery.

…But Don’t Provide More Knowledge Than Necessary

Not having access to technical and parts data makes it difficult, or even impossible, for 3rd party contractors to complete the job they were hired to do.

However, this is easier said than done when the manufacturer or customer’s security protocols might make it difficult to grant the contractor access to sensitive data. It becomes even trickier with blended workforces, where employers might have a hierarchy of employees within your organization, all with different levels of security clearance to sensitive technical data.

The ability to manage exactly what a contractor can access is critical for organizations stay secure and compliant. Furthermore, it is an important demonstration that manufacturers take the security of their customers’ business and assets.

Investing in a mobile knowledge tool that gives managers complete control over who sees what information and for how long will allow organizations to safeguard sensitive data while ensuring their workers – both internal and external – have the information they need onsite.

Use Analytics to Monitor 3rd Party Worker Performance

Extending service capabilities with a 3rd party workforce calls for more attention to monitoring external field staff’s task performance. However, with many technicians in different regions, supervision and quality control can be far more complicated. Managers need to have access to real-time information about how external providers perform.

One area of data analytics that is often overlooked is insight into how technicians are using available knowledge. And yet, this information is one of the most critical for an organization to locate knowledge gaps and training needs, as well as identify behaviors that are affecting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as first time fix rates and mean time to repair.

Knowledge is the Way Forward in Field Service

A gig-economy staffing model has long been on the rise worldwide, and service leaders are already embracing the use of a blended or outsourced workforce to navigate the challenges of a post-pandemic industry, workforce retirement, the talent gap, and evolving customer needs.

In order to meet and exceed the expectations of the customer, organizations will need to prioritize mobile tools that will enable technicians to efficiently resolve customer needs while also providing appropriate safety protocols and monitoring capabilities for the company.

In the Age of Digital Transformation, Why Are Organizations Still Relying on PDFs?

The Digital Transformation has marked a radical rethinking of how field service organization use technology to do business, as well as what customers expect around the services and products these organizations deliver. Simply “getting by” with outdated technology is not a viable option for any company that wants to stay competitive and profitable.

Despite this rapid digital acceleration, one holdover from the Jurassic period still remains: the PDF.

The PDF is Clunky, Outdated and Frustrating to Use

In a recent article for NN/g, Jakob Nielsen discusses several usability issues of PDFs, calling them “unfit for human consumption” in this digital era. The 7 concerns he identifies as problematic are:

  1. Linear and limiting: PDFs are typically converted documents that were intended to be printed and were created in print-focused programs like Microsoft Word. Because of this, PDFs usually askew digital best practices around UX or accessibility.
  2. Jarring user experience: There is no denying that PDFs are outdated and clunky. This is even more true for the millennial user who has grown up viewing information on web browsers and mobile devices.
  3. Slow to load: PDFs can take a painfully long time to load, particularly if they’re large files with many pages or images (I’m looking at you, service manuals). Additionally, users can face extra charges if they are forced to download those hefty PDF using data instead of Wi-Fi.
  4. Stuffed with fluff: The creators of PDFs tend to favor quantity over quality. Because they aren’t designed with the same mindset as, say, a web page, they lack the substance that makes digital formats easier to read such as bullets, subheadlines, anchor links, and chunking. This makes it much harder to skim a PDF to look for the information that the user needs.
  5. Cause disorientation: Unlike digital platforms, PDFs lack standard interface elements and navigation tools like floating menus or return/back buttons. Users to struggle to stay oriented with where they are or return to previously visited places, preventing them from navigating through the content with speed or ease.
  6. Unnavigable content masses: PDF users have no quick way of understanding the type of content available in the PDF or getting to the interesting section without scrolling through everything that comes before them. Posters of PDFs mistakenly think that a clickable table of contents will solve this issue, but it doesn’t. Users still have to spend time and effort scanning the table of contents for relevant keywords, hoping that it’s a match. Of course, if users jump to a section of a PDF, only to find it doesn’t contain the information they were looking for, they are then forced to scroll 75-pages back up to the table of contents and try again.
  7. Sized for paper, not screens: As discussed before, PDF layouts are almost always optimized for a printed sheet of paper, so they rarely ever align with mobile devices. Unfortunately, mobile devices are where field service technicians tend to view most of their technical and servicing information. This means a lot of scrolling through a lot of tiny, unreadable fonts, pinching, zooming, and squinting until they find the information they need.

The PDF is Not Fit for Field Service

All of this adds up to one thing: your field service technicians hate the PDF. It makes your workers less efficient, less accurate and more stressed out. The inability to navigate PDFs means finding information is more challenging and time consuming. This leads to failed KPIs, customer dissatisfaction and higher churn rates among your workers.

Unfortunately, organizations still incorrectly assume that posting a PDF online is faster and easier than creating a more accessible way of publishing and disseminating information. Of course, who can blame them? Creating an efficient digital knowledge solution requires a blend of expertise, experience and technology that few organizations possess.

Plus, once its launched, the knowledge will need to be regularly updated and optimized to ensure field service technicians are not working with outdated, inaccurate data. What is the point of saving your field service department time and money by converting to a digital knowledge solution if you’re just going to put it all back into creating and maintaining the same solution?

This is why investing in a provider that has experience in transforming your existing PDFs and other disparate knowledge into a useable, efficient, mobile knowledge solution is the best option. It will save your organization a lot money, stress and wasted resources, while also delivering the accelerated digital transformation you need to stay competitive.

Field Service Technicians Need More Than “Good Enough”

For far too long, organizations have taken the “good enough” approach to knowledge management. Expecting your field service technicians to scroll through hundreds of pages of PDFs to locate important – even critical – information wasn’t ideal, but it was “good enough”.

However, the pressures of an aging workforce, shifting customer expectations and operating in a post-pandemic world have rapidly accelerated the digital transformation. Whether or not organizations continue to take the “good enough” approach will be the different between sinking and swimming.

Bottom line: it’s time to ditch the PDFs for a knowledge solution that works with your mobile workers, not against them.

Case Study: BUNN Arms On-Site Engineers with Off-line Interactive Technical Data

When beverage equipment company BUNN realized they needed to provide their field service engineers with direct access to information in order to increase field service efficiency, and strengthen their reputation of exceptional post-product support via BUNNserve, they turned to AnswersAnywhere to deliver a custom, mobile product knowledge base.

VIEW CASE STUDY

Is Your Knowledge Management Strategy Preparing You for Life After COVID-19?

COVID-19 is rapidly accelerating digital transformation for service organizations, and knowledge management is playing an enormous part. Companies will need to rely heavily on third-party contractors, and all engineers — both third-party and employees — will need to limit contact onsite by completing the fix the first time and as quickly as possible. In addition, the forecasted economic downturn brought on by the pandemic is creating intense pressure within service organizations to reduce costs and increase profitability.

In a guest blog for ServiceMax, AnswersAnywhere VP Bo Wandell discusses how companies can provide the digital training and deeper knowledge that engineers need onsite to improve accuracy and efficiency, while also reducing cost pressures.