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.

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.

 

Why data-driven field service businesses perform better (and how to be one)

There’s no doubt that the best performing field service businesses are driven by their data.

Aberdeen Group says these organizations are reporting a 7% decrease in operating costs. Just one advantage to data directing your business operations.

But what does a data-driven business look like, and how can you become one?

Why is data so important?

That might seem like a question with an obvious answer. We all know how important data is. It provides us with facts to replace hunches and assumptions.

Working with data is certainly not a new thing. Far from it. But using data to inform, influence and predict the performance of your field service business is relatively new – and incredibly effective.

Data can help to better allocate your resources and identify knowledge gaps and training needs. It can also enhance your customer service and in turn, your customer loyalty.

Put simply, data can help to transform your field service operations. It can save you money, make the most of your time and ensure excellent service.

Savvy businesses have been working to harness the power of data for years. Back in 2012, an Economist survey identified that 63% of those ahead financially were also ahead on data usage.

And today, data is no longer past tense only. You used to learn what had happened with data, weeks or months after the event. Collection methods have revolutionized since then. We can now access data that tells us what’s happening right now, in real time. It helps us to become predictive, not just react to events of the past.

Where is it?

That’s the thing. Your data is everywhere. You’re probably drowning in it. Overwhelmed by the many sources and the sheer amount of it.

Having the data is one thing. Using it effectively is another.

It’s a major challenge for many large organizations. There’s no benefit in grappling unsuccessfully with large amounts of data without extracting practical learnings from it.

Many departments have access to data that could be useful. You might have machines that collect data, not to mention many service systems via mobile devices. Digital transformation has delivered the goods, we just don’t know what to do with it all.

Which data matters for field service?

The data of most use to your business depends on your objectives and KPIs.

As a field service operator, that’s likely to focus on delivering excellent service: first time fixes, rapid response times and maximum job completion per day.

Your field service management software is likely to collect the most valuable data for you. That’s to say, your field technicians working alongside your customers. They’re on the front line of your operations.

Thanks to digital transformation, field service data is often available in real time. And with the right software, you’ll be able to gather even more.

Such knowledge enhances performance too. AnswersAnywhere Analytics recently uncovered that the top 20% best performing field service engineers were also the most frequent users of the knowledge base. A useful insight for the remaining 80%.

Remember: data is for everyone

There’s a myth we need to dispel. Data is not just for top-level managers when it comes to field service. Every level of your business will benefit from being better informed; from chief executives right through to the field service team themselves.

And getting buy-in at every level is powerful stuff.

Take the example of HVAC and parts ordering. If your parts managers have access to data that highlights key seasonal peaks in demand for particular parts, they can manage their stock accordingly. Hold more when demand is high, and less when it’s not. The result is two-fold: less cash tied up in stock and faster fixes for your customers.

Spread the love of data across your entire organization. If you get the right facts into the right hands, you’ll transform your operation.

How do I start?

It probably seems like an enormous task. As with many such challenges, starting small is often the answer.

Choose some core KPIs – just one or two if you like. First time fixes, jobs completed per day and mean repair time are all common measures of performance. By engineer, by machine and by customer.

Let’s say you decide to monitor first time fix rates.

So, gather data to understand which engineers have the highest first-time fix rate. And monitor which pieces of equipment get fixed first time. This might throw up some training gaps on certain equipment, or the need to have more parts available to speed the fix.

Monitoring first-time fixes by engineer might uncover some best practice to make more widespread across your field service team. Do your better-performing engineers use certain tools or resources to speed their work? Do they follow a different fault diagnosis process?

If you cannot gather the field service data you want to see, talk to your field service software provider. They might guide you towards analytics that already exist or help you with relevant reporting.

Should you have gaps in your field service data, consider new methods of collecting it. Such investment could make a significant difference to the future performance of your business.

How AnswersAnywhere helps your field service data analysis

At AnswersAnywhere, we’re acutely aware of the importance of data-analytics. It helps to drive our customers in many ways.

And that’s why we’re constantly developing new capabilities in our mobile software. We want our customers to have direct insight on how their engineers are using AnswersAnywhere. For example, the products or manuals they access most frequently, and the customers that require this type of on-site support.

Such clarity will enable AnswersAnywhere users to understand where to focus their development of this parts and technical data tool. They’ll also appreciate the knowledge that’s being under-utilized, prompting important training opportunities.

Without doubt, data analysis is helping field service organizations get ahead of their competition. The effective process must achieve three things though. You need to be collecting the right data in the field. You must then process it correctly. Finally, you must get it into the hands of those who can learn and act on it.

Achieve this, and you’ve just found one of the most powerful tools (to date) in the 21st century.

Is Your Field Service Knowledge Up to Date?

In field service, things change quickly. And that includes your company’s knowledge.

The ugly truth about knowledge management is that a knowledge base is outdated as soon as it’s published.

Installation manuals, parts lists, and technical information all need to be kept updated frequently.

Field service technicians lose faith in knowledge that’s inaccurate or outdated. Costly errors occur from ill-informed decisions. Incorrect parts are ordered. Time technicians don’t have is spent searching for the right answer.

All of this lowers their productivity, increases your service costs and frustrates your customers.

Sound familiar?

There’s no doubt that knowledgeable decision-making leads to more first-time fixes. And better business for you.

Get your priorities right

Trying to capture and manage all knowledge can be mind-blowing. It quickly becomes impossible, unless you have a more technological system in place (like AnswersAnywhere, dare I say?)

So, in the short-term, focus on the knowledge that your field service team actually NEEDS in order to service and fix the equipment.

It sounds simple, but you’d be amazed by how tangled up many businesses can become at this point.

Our advice? Speak to your field service team and establish these priorities with their involvement.

How to keep it current and accurate 

Once your knowledge priorities are clear, identify the key personnel to involve. You’ll probably need to get different departments talking to each other and sharing resources.

This in itself, can be a big hurdle.

Try to develop a system that works for your business and your level of knowledge management. Ponder these questions:

* Where can updated files and documents be found?

* Who collates them?

* Who processes them?

* Should your documents be coded or tagged?

* Where will your updated knowledge be stored?

* How will this be communicated? To whom?

Look Towards the Future

Granted, it’s time-consuming to keep your knowledge current. Especially with limited technology and support. But the potential benefits to productivity, customer service, and profitability make it an essential task to master.

And consider this: future, game-changing technology such as AI is likely to depend on it.

Think about what your knowledge needs to look like. Would templates help the management process? Should lengthy documents be summarized? Scrolling through a 200-page manual to find the answer is hardly productive.

Also consider how and where you’ll store your current knowledge. A shared drive? A login section on your website? In the office, ready to support phone queries?

The more central, collated and systemized your knowledge is, the easier it will be to keep current and accurate. 

How to transform your knowledge management system 

If your present way of doing things is driving you and your field service team mad, consider a change that’ll make a huge difference. Ask me about our Discovery Workshop. It’s an affordable starting point for a daunting task.

Our knowledge experts will walk you through the process of identifying and utilizing your knowledge. We provide you with the people, technology and expertise needed for a knowledge management project. Essentially, we do all the work and you avoid all the stress!

The result is the ability to arm your field service team with the answer to everything. Instantly.

This is how you thrash those KPIs, once and for all.