Ongoing labor shortages and changes in seasonal demand mean that to keep field service organizations profitable, it has become essential to have a flexible workforce strategy. Many businesses are now reliant on third-party workforces, with as much as 44% of workforce spend going to external contractors. That’s a significant investment into a resource that many still voice concerns around—namely the limited visibility and control a business has with contract workers and the fear of negative business and customer outcomes if the workforce isn’t managed properly. Here, Sarah Nicastro, VP of Customer Engagement at IFS and Creator of Future of Field Service, explains how field service organizations can use cloud-based FSM to manage their subcontractor workforces more effectively with a focus on ensuring consistent CX while remaining flexible to market demand.

Subcontractors play a vital role within many service organizations. They can supplement existing workforces to accommodate time-sensitive projects, provide coverage in low-density regions, and fill the worker gap left by the global skills shortage. Subcontractors provide service organizations flexibility to scale operations up or down depending on shifts in market demands. 

But temporary is just temporary—and this is a concern with using subcontractors

While there are many benefits that can come from using third-party contractors, like lower costs and faster response times as well as greater flexibility in times of meeting surges in demand, there can also be some pit falls. Service organizations must consider both the benefits and the limitations of contract workers when considering a flexible workforce strategy.

Subcontractors may have deep domain knowledge, but they will lack the familiarity with the technology and systems of a particular organization that only comes from repetitions of working on the same assets and accounts over time. Even with additional support, the lack of continuity in customer experience across a mix of internal and subcontractor workforces raises concerns around maintaining quality of service.

Trusting brand reputation to third-party contractors

We know that the field workforce is a powerful provider of brand experience for customers. To meet customer expectations, one of the most significant CX KPIs in field service is the ability to resolve a service call on the first visit. If a contract worker doesn’t have the necessary product knowledge, issue diagnosis can become more time-consuming and may result in reduced first-time fix rates, impacting CX. 

Businesses must also be cognizant of maintaining service quality and the characteristics of experience customers have come to expect—especially if previous interactions were with a long-serving staff technician. A subcontractor who is not familiar with or trained in the company’s specific service style and client base has the potential to lower NPS and influence customer perceptions of brand reputation.

A report by McKinsey found that a failure to take an integrated approach to workforce management in field service not only creates waste and increases cost-to-serve, but also damages CX—businesses could see customer satisfaction fall below the threshold by as much as 20%. In today’s market landscape, this is as good as a brand knock out.  

Out of sight—Out of mind: the challenge is greater in the field

While many industries have used contract workers with great success for a long time, what’s different about doing so in field service is that the workforce is isolated from the rest of the company in many ways. The manual management of subcontractor workforces can be difficult and labor intensive. There is an inherent lack of visibility into third-party contractors who exist outside core business systems. In a non-integrated service ecosystem, once a ticket is recorded and allocated to a subcontractor, the business immediately loses sight of it and job status must be updated manually. This level of manual input can be extremely costly, with field technicians wasting up to 40% of their workday on non-value-adding tasks, such as filling out timesheets. This in turn hinders the planning and allocation processes of workforce management.

A contract worker who isn’t connected into the service ecosystem has a limited understanding of the business’ practices, service history, and customers which threatens the quality of service. CX is especially at risk if the subcontractor has to repeatedly request information the customer has already supplied. There’s a valuable statistic to remember here—one third of customers feel most frustrated when having to repeat information they already provided.

Integration is key: how cloud-based solutions can unify workforces in the field

A cloud-based field service management (FSM) solution can manage and mitigate the concerns and potential limitations of third-party contractors by effectively integrating them into existing service models. As with any new resource or asset, creating a separate system isn’t cost effective. The goal is to integrate the external workforce into the existing operations.

By leveraging cloud-based FSM, subcontractors can intuitively access the information they need when they need it via any device. Subcontractor information including cost, experience, certifications, skillsets, and proficiency can also be maintained in the FSM system to help drive the scheduling process, allowing businesses to consider all available resources and constraints in analyses and response plans. 

As a subcontractor completes a job, the call and customer information are updated in real-time, enabling, for example, dynamic scheduling based on the as-is state of the network. These real-time updates not only improve workforce management but also inform other business management processes, such as, budgeting and procurement. A McKinsey study found that one North American utility company not only saw on-site productivity rise by 20% and customer satisfaction by nearly 50%, but also the number of repeat visits for servicing fall by half—after deploying a workforce integration initiative to improve productivity.

Lending a helping hand to the entire field workforce in the field

The most efficient and productive field service workforces rely on real-time data to optimize how teams work and interact in the field. With a single source of truth from your FSM providing enhanced visibility over field service activity, businesses can better support all technicians in the field regardless of worker status. This includes onboarding new technologies across the entire service ecosystem.

Businesses can offer remote assistance using augmented reality to provide instant access to experts to help subcontractors who are less experienced with systems and products or aid internal workers on challenging technical jobs. The enhanced mobile functionality of cloud FSM allows field technicians direct access to the most up-to-date information including customer data, current work orders, as well as required activities pre- and post-work anywhere and from any device, even their own. 

Businesses can also leverage dynamic route scheduling, by incorporating subcontractor information into cloud systems to send technicians on the jobs they are best equipped to do and on the most efficient route from their location in the field, creating seamless service coordination and maximizing the effectiveness of the hybrid workforce. 

With cloud comes composability: to optimize operations in line with your specific business needs

While the automation of third-party workforce management has many benefits for business outcomes, full automation may not be the best practice for every field service organization. However, an added benefit of a cloud-based FSM system is its composability. That means the ability to choose the degree of integration that suits the individual company’s own field workforce management style. For instance, businesses can permit subcontractors access to core databases for technical and client information and provide support in the field as well as real-time feedback, but still maintain complete control over job allocation, where dispatchers manually assign tasks on a case-by-case basis. The cloud has flexibility built in, which businesses need more of not only in their workforce but also in their technology. 

While some of the concerns and cautions around using contract workers to deliver valuable service to customers are valid, there are ways to mitigate and overcome each. Using a capable FSM solution across flexible workforces is one way to protect the CX while augmenting the ability to scale to meet today’s service demands.