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Technology's Impact on Field Services

By Stephen Caulfield, Executive Director, Global Field Services, Dell

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Stephen Caulfield, Executive Director, Global Field Services, Dell

For many customers, their field service repair event is the single most intimate face-to-face experience they will ever have with your company: Regardless of whether you use in-house or subcontractor engineering labor, through social media your customers have the power to rapidly influence marketplace perception of your company on a global scale, while in turn potentially impacting real revenue.

In this way, any single field service repair event contains the opportunity to re-connect your customers to your brand. Technology can act as primary means to do this.

2015 and beyond: Technology will transform the field service experience

Today’s ‘ticket to entry’ for successful field service experience has moved beyond simply having a qualified engineer show up at the door, on time, and with the right parts. Today’s customers expect transparent and direct communication across multiple platforms (tablets, phones and computers). They desire a meaningful dialogue with their repair engineer that occurs at their convenience: ‘What’s the current status?’ ‘What was repaired?’ ‘Who do I call if I have additional problems?’

As a leader, you must look beyond your own industry to discover best-of-breed field service practices. You must seek out how to make every single service transaction effective and relevant to your customers’ expectations while staying ‘on brand’ and cognizant of your bottom line.

Technology is an integral part of your success plan. Here are a few highlights of how technology will impact field services in the near future:

•Live streaming video that add a visual dimension to communication, be it between your design engineer and field engineers–or–between your customer and tech support.

•Augmented reality tools such as Google Glass, will enable better trouble shooting between your engineers and tech support. Customers who ‘witness’ or engage with these tools are more likely to feel comfortable with the repair process.

•Texting, as opposed to email or phone calls, will become the preferred way to confirm the repair event schedule, particularly as the current generation of Millennium/Gen Y matures.

•Real-time, online scheduling tools where customers pick the time slot that works best for their busy lives, with tighter arrival times will also become popular.

•Predictive proactive repair, i.e. repairs that happen before actual product failure occurs, will become common in specific industries. Predictive repair requires significant enterprise investment to monitor products in the field with active diagnostics but it has a gigantic payoff in terms of customer up-time and peace of mind.

•Safe and secure monetary transaction enablement during the onsite repair event, such as credit card, Bitcoin or PayPal processing will become common. This opens the door for your field engineers to manage warranty extensions and product upgrades while they are onsite. Many companies are already building the enterprise infrastructure necessary to support this.

•Product training universities hosted in the cloud will support live, interactive classroom training, as well as two-way dialogues between instructors and trainees, certification testing and relevant search engine capability–in each engineer’s native language. Additional capabilities could also include engineering forums and downloadable diagnostic tools.

•Customer self-service enablement is critical. Many companies still have not grasped that some customers actually prefer self-service: This could be due to physical security needs, government recordkeeping, child safety requirements or simply because they have an affinity to technology. In my experience, when customers who prefer self-service are given the tools necessary to be successful, they feel an even stronger emotional connection with your company and products. Self-service customers are also less likely to experience repeat dispatches so this becomes a win-win for everyone, even though it requires significant enterprise investment up front.

I urge you to be holistic in your technology implementation. Too many times, I see companies investing in technology that does only one thing: a single service page portal, an asset tracking tool, a customer feedback mechanism, or a new product ordering guide. Although these tasks may use a different set of tools within your company, your customers will want to experience them as one integrated online experience that is secure and reliable.

What are the right technologies for your organization?

Many field service leaders are challenged to identify technology payoff, particularly as it relates to customer experience. As a field services leader for a technology company, I’ve often been in this situation. Here are the three key decision points that I use:

1.Automation: How much is too much and how much is too little? Most of us are taught that the more we automate, the better we can control our costs. I challenge this: Over-automation and its higher fixed costs can be a burden during business downswings. Lack of human interaction can negatively affect your customer’s emotional connection with your products. Don’t be afraid to extend your evaluation beyond ROI, and fixed vs. expensed costs: Think about your current infrastructure and the amount of change your team must manage through, as well as how automation affects customer comfort and information transparency.

2.Does this technology help me optimize the skills that I’m already paying for? A typical field services team includes a mix of highly technical (aka expensive) experts as well as general (less expensive) experts. Due to scheduling/ locale challenges, field service teams often must pay for expensive experts to do general tasks. Optimal technology can assist in managing your labor costs by improving workflows.

3.Does this technology align with upcoming consumer technologies? As technologies change, your customer’s expectations will change as well. Now that most people carry cell phones, it makes sense to invest in texting technology. As consumers become more familiar with video and streaming technologies, they will come to expect them during the field repair event. Other upcoming technologies to consider include tablets, and customer repair self-scheduling as well as concierge style services.

Technology is a means to get closer to your customers: The right technology can help you improve customer experience and control costs, without adding undue complexity to your organization.

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