In 2016, it seems you can’t turn a corner without hearing about new, futuristic technologies — self-driving cars, augmented reality helmets and glasses, robots that talk and follow you around, and more.
In the HVAC industry, all these new tech trends mean big changes for the service technicians who use them in the field.
With technology developing so quickly and customer expectations steadily rising, the way service technicians do their jobs is rapidly changing. Companies that are able to implement new technologies and adapt job expectations for field service techs will reap the benefits of a profitable service department in an increasingly service-focused economy.
Here are the transitions we predict service techs will undergo in the second half of 2016, what technologies will lead those transformations, and how HVAC service organizations can incorporate them into their businesses to get ahead.
No. 1: Techs will experience greater collaboration between the office and the field — New voice recognition and improved messaging apps will ease collaboration between the field, office, and customers. For years, Siri and other voice-recognition software have eased mobile communication, and that software is becoming smarter, allowing techs to trigger reminders and alerts with a simple command or action. Techs will be able to automate tasks like ordering a part or updating an estimated-time-of-arrival (ETA) window so they can focus their entire attention on resolving the customer’s equipment problems.
No. 2: HVAC service goes mobile — As mobile in the field becomes more common and incoming technicians grow more tech-savvy and collaborative, incorporating a mobile field service strategy will be necessary to compete. With mobile tools at their disposal, routine maintenance will become more personal and efficient. Mobile devices equipped with service apps offer technicians the ability to share, store, and view job data in the field, giving them a virtual link to the back office. Critical information, such as daily tasks, customer histories, and billing, can be accessed on demand.
Gartner, a Stamford-Connecticut based research firm, has made the following short-term predictions regarding the state of mobile technology in field service occupations:
• Two-thirds of the mobile workforce will own a smartphone;
• Forty percent of the workforce will be mobile;
• Field-service organizations will purchase 53 million tablets in 2016; and
• Approximately 56 percent of smartphones purchased by businesses in North America and Europe will be Android devices.
As more organizations use mobile to automate the service process and eliminate duplicate data entry, those who stick with paper methods will continue to fall farther behind.
No. 3: Prevalence of bring your own device (BYOD) allows technicians to use the technology and devices they know and love — Tech-savvy workers do not want to be tied down by outdated legacy technologies. They want the freedom to engage with the latest technologies they’ve been using in their personal lives. With more security options, like mobile device management (MDM) and encryption, cloud software, and easier integration of apps from various devices, service organizations will be able to adopt a BYOD policy with greater ease than ever before.
No. 4: Smart HVAC technology equals energy savings for customers — HVAC units are smarter and more energy efficient than ever. Customers are looking to smart thermostat technology to save energy and money, and HVAC contractors will need to understand how to install and service this type of complex equipment. While consumers will experience lower energy bills, HVAC contractors can take advantage of these complex units by selling service contracts to maintain them on a regular basis rather than waiting for them to break.
No. 5: Internet of Things (IoT) will drive preventive maintenance programs for complex HVAC units — As HVAC units become more complex, it’ll be important to establish regular maintenance programs to prevent problems from developing. The power of the IoT in 2016 will allow HVAC contractors to plan maintenance visits based on feedback from equipment in the field. Sensors in machines monitor equipment health and performance and trigger alerts to the service team when something is expected to go down. Techs schedule a visit, perform necessary preventive maintenance work, and keep machines running like new without any machine downtime.
No. 6: Machine data will equip techs with information to make informed service visits — In addition to informing predictive maintenance programs, machine sensors — which are becoming increasingly more common — provide insight into exact functionality of a machine. This is great for service technicians who show up on-site with the right skills, parts, and understanding to quickly resolve problems on the first visit.
No. 7: Augmented reality will guide complicated service operations — Augmented reality is a natural fit for field-service professionals. Field workers will use augmented reality devices, like smart glasses and helmets, to guide them through the intricacies of a difficult job and put them in communication with equipment and other connected products on-site. Workers can pull service records; telematics records; report out-of-order equipment; and identify performance, maintenance, or safety warnings signaled by machines. As technology evolves, service techs will be able to look at exploded drawings of a component they’re working on or dial up a technology expert in an office somewhere who can show them how to solve
No. 8: Software integrations will become seamless — HVAC businesses will become more connected in 2016 and rely on multifaceted software systems to streamline their companies.
As telematics and workforce management solutions become integrated with mobile apps, the opportunities to increase efficiency and productivity will grow exponentially. Service managers can make real-time decisions remotely by accessing vehicle tracking, scheduling, and routing on their mobile devices. In addition, field-service software integrated with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and billing software gets information documented in the field invoiced and billed to the customer within 24 hours.
No. 9: Advanced scheduling software will provide shorter ETA windows and updates — Customers hate long or inaccurate ETA windows. Can you blame them? We’ve all been there.
As scheduling software becomes more advanced, those ETA windows will shrink and automated alerts will trigger when a technician is running late. These alerts keep customers in the loop and make techs’ jobs better, since they won’t have to greet an already grumpy customer who has been waiting all day for them to get there.
No. 10: Advanced vehicle technology gets techs where they need to go safely — New vehicle technology was the talk of the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show. Advancements like autonomous driving, connected vehicles, and hands-free commands make it easier for techs to get where they’re going safely and without distraction.
Finding talented service workers is a huge challenge for HVAC businesses. With that in mind, it will become increasingly important to give techs the tools and technology they need to be as efficient as possible. Make every tech in your business more efficient.
With so many advancements to explore this year, it’s exciting to think of how the service technicians’ job will change for the better going forward.
Publication date: 6/20/2016