In 2019, as customer experience (CX) becomes the key success factor for many field service organizations (FSOs), tackling the talent challenge and deriving utmost value from technology investments becomes critical.

Prediction No. 1: FSOs will get Creative to Fill the Talent Gap

Talent: How can we find it, hire it, and then keep it onboard? This was of paramount concern to the majority of the field service leaders I talked with in 2018, and they’re not alone. Skills shortages are hitting manufacturing and service industries hard throughout Europe and the U.S. In 2018, 6.7 million jobs remained unfilled in the U.S. In the U.K., 71 percent of service sector firms reported difficulties hiring staff.   
It’s time to redefine the field service role in 2019. These labor shortages mean FSOs will need to majorly overhaul many of their core recruitment and hiring practices in the year ahead. As they compete to attract a younger demographic into the industry, they will need to get creative in regard to:

  • Job Descriptions: How can service organizations better brand their companies and their open positions in a way that really speaks to and attracts younger talent that has different needs, goals, and drivers?
  • Hiring criteria: Many FSOs are accustomed to hiring based on experience. Doing so, however, means that service organizations are further narrowing an already small pool. FSOs will need to determine what skills their most successful technicians have and then determine how to recruit for these skills versus industry experience. Further, in today’s experience economy, it’s important for FSOs to balance ‘hard’ technical skills with increasingly important ‘soft’ social skills.
  • Perks and Incentives: FSOs will need to work to get a deeper understanding of the rewards and goals they can offer that would most appeal to younger talent, because the reality is they aren’t the same as the incumbent technicians, and most service organizations’ job descriptions and recruiting materials haven’t been updated to change with the times.

As FSOs work to overcome this major talent challenge, we’ll see the following:

  • Skills Over Experience: As long-serving technicians head into retirement, in 2019 ‘experience’ will no longer be a viable hiring criterion. Many field service organizations will decide that focusing on behavioral attributes and key skill sets that equate to “trainable” technicians will become more reasonable criteria than level of experience. This shift of thinking will enable service organizations to tap into new recruitment opportunities.
  • Technology Maximizes Labor Utilization and Optimizes Efficiency: With the talent gap issue, 2019 will see more companies relying on technology to maximize the use of the resources they do have. Taking full advantage of your existing workforce is critical when handling a shortage of new recruits. A strong field service management (FSM) solution boosts technicians’ knowledge, productivity, and response time, which leads to increased efficiency and improved customer satisfaction. With fewer human resources, for example, smart scheduling is crucial for helping fewer resources deliver more revenues and results.
  • Augmented Reality (AR) Bridges the Experience Gap: AR is a practical, proven antidote to the experience shortage in field service. With AR, super-experienced but often “road-weary” technicians who are nearing retirement can provide “hands-on” expertise to teams of younger technicians cost-effectively in the field from the back office. So, companies make the most of the experience they have while speeding up onboarding. 2018 was a talk-into-action year for AR; I met many companies who had started implementing it with great results. 2019 will see that uptake boom.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) Is a Powerful Enabler for New Technicians: This is true, particularly in knowledge management. In 2019 we could see more companies, like engineering and commissioning service providers M-Core Technologies, using AI chatbots in the field. M-Core chatbots enable field technicians to text their questions and receive knowledge back instantly. As you would expect, this improves fix rates and first-time fixes, but, crucially, customer satisfaction, too, which takes me to my second prediction.

Prediction No. 2: Customer Experience will Become Increasingly Tactical

I’ve been a passionate CX advocate for years. The growing commitment to CX over the last two to three years has been one of the most significant shifts I’ve seen in the industry. It wasn’t always that way. Going back a bit further, a field service leader would rarely mention the term. When asked about priorities, field service leaders’ responses were always centered around cost cutting. While reducing costs and optimizing efficiency are still very important, improving the customer experience has become the central focus for many FSOs. In fact, according to a November 2018 report released by Field Technologies, improving customer experience was reported the No. 1 strategic initiative for 76 percent of the service organizations surveyed. That said, there’s a lot of work left to do among FSOs to translate the realization CX is critical into the results of a true CX strategy. We’ll see that progression continue in 2019 as more field service companies will begin to “walk the CX talk:” formulating more sophisticated CX strategies, developing or further utilizing CX metrics and KPIs, appointing CX leadership and even creating CX units and departments.

Take the Schindler Elevator Corp., a major manufacturer and installer of state-of-the-art elevators throughout the U.S and globally. I recently interviewed Stacy Sherman, director of customer experience, for Future of Field Service. Having a director of customer experience for a major manufacturer like Schindler Elevator is a great illustration of how much the importance of CX for an enterprise B2B service organization has grown. I expect that we’ll see these sorts of roles expand in field service as well as begin to trickle down into the mid-market in 2019.

Prediction No. 3: How FSOs Measure Success will Change

There are a couple of major trends going on in service that are necessitating a change in metrics used to measure success. The first is one we’ve already discussed: The increasing prioritization of CX.

Whereas productivity and costs were the predominant measures of success for field service four or five years ago, organizations have come to realize that by focusing on CX, these issues are often encompassed. While you still have to track these items individually, the reality is that when you focus on delivering a strong CX, your whole operation has to be delivering. Further, the emphasis on CX really helps an organization work toward a common goal, which forces more synergies, contact, and productivity between a company’s FSO and the rest of the business.

So how do we measure CX? A common KPI is the Net Promoter Score (NPS), although there are other equally valuable KPIs that contribute to NPS, including customer satisfaction (C-Sat), level of effort, sentiments. All deliver valuable learnings, but it is taking CX seriously, following through on it, implementing it from the outside in, and measuring progress that is more vital than the metric(s) of choice.

The second major trend impacting the metrics used to measure success in field service (and beyond) is digital transformation. As IDC reported in its Worldwide Digital Transformation Predictions for 2019, 95 percent of organizations will have incorporated new digital KPI sets by 2023 that are focused on product and service innovation rates, data capitalization, and employee experience. For field service, implementing metrics focused specifically on employee experience and engagement will be vital as more and more technology is layered in.

Prediction No. 4: Data will Become the Vital Differentiator

Most of us are familiar now with statistics such as IDC’s estimate that global spending on IoT devices and services will reach $1.7 trillion in 2020. Thus far, the FSOs I’ve talked with have been focused on understanding their business cases for IoT and working to deploy the technology. In 2019, we will see exponential growth in use of the data capabilities that the IoT provides, which will serve as a true service differentiator.

We will continue to see IoT data being used by FSOs (alongside FSM and AI) as a differentiator in terms of delivering a superior service experience, enabling the progression away from break-fix to predictive service. IoT will also continue to deliver on its promise for organizations as an opportunity to increase service revenue, either through the organizations providing a higher level of service using IoT that customers are willing to pay a premium for or by providing IoT data streams to customers that provide valuable (lucrative) insights. Finally, organizations will further leverage IoT data for the purposes of business intelligence both in feeding data back into product development as well as service process optimization.

These factors have all been at play in 2018 and even before, so what’s new here? Well, first of all, while some organizations have been successfully leveraging the value of the technology, the penetration rate is fairly low. We’ll see increased adoption, and, more importantly, we’ll see service organizations learn to derive the full value from IoT by determining more sophisticated ways to leverage the data it provides.

We’ll also see the introduction of digital twins, which will remove the exploratory phase from service.

At IFS, we see more and more customers moving to remote service models, so that even if they still send engineers out into the field, the first pass is a remote diagnosis. Digital twins technology has the potential to eliminate all guesswork and assumption in this crucial phase, but potential implications reach far beyond that too.

Digital twins will forge powerful new bonds, synergies, and efficiencies between engineering, design, IT, and services departments. For example, if a company knows the exact configuration of a piece of machinery as it left the factory, and if it can leverage an as-maintained bill of material (BoM), its technicians can examine and pinpoint the problem on an identical, one-to-one, digital version of the machine before even turning up onsite.

By integrating engineering data, BoMs, sensor-captured asset information, and service optimization into a seamless, visual, foolproof model, digital twins would be a major step forward in the evolution of service as an integral component in all design and production right from the beginning of any new product.

Publication date: 01/18/18