The future of field service is the customer experience (CX). Sarah Nicastro, director of service management business development at IFS, shares four predictions for HVACR field service organizations that will change business for good. 

#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 US.

In 2018, 6.7 million jobs remained unfilled in the US. In the UK 71 percent of service sector firms reported difficulties hiring staff. This year I predict FSOs will be looking to redefine roles altogether.

Labor shortages will force FSOs 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 company and its 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 is 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 long-serving technicians head into retirement, in 2019 ‘experience’ will no longer be a viable top hiring criterion. Many HVACR contractors 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.

Now is the time to tap into technology

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..

In the area of experience, augmented reality can bridge the experience gap. With AR, super-experienced but often “road-weary” technicians that are nearing retirement can provide “hands-on” expertise to teams of younger technicians in the field, cost-effectively 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.

But let’s not forget about artificial intelligence (AI), which is also a powerful enabler for new technicians, 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, it improves fix rates and first-time fix, but, crucially, customer satisfaction too, which takes us to my second prediction.

#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 have seen in the industry. But it wasn’t always that way.

Going back a bit further, a field service leader would rarely mention the term; when asked about priorities, responses were always centered on cost cutting. While reducing costs and optimizing efficiency are still very important, improving customer experience has become the central focus for many FSOs. In fact, according to a report released by Field Technologies at the end of last year, improving customer experience was reported the #1 strategic initiative for 76 percent of service organizations surveyed.

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With 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.

Take the Schindler Elevator Corporation, a major manufacturer and installer of state-of-the-art elevators throughout the US and globally. I recently interviewed the company’s Director of Customer Experience, Stacy Sherman, 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 in 2019 we’ll see these sorts of roles expand in field service, as well as begin to trickle down into the mid-market.

#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 the customer experience. But how do we measure this experience?

One common key performance indicator is the net promoter score (NPS), though there are other equally valuable indicators that contribute to NPS: Customer Satisfaction (C-Sat), Level of Effort, Sentiments. All deliver valuable learnings. But it is taking customer experience 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 key performance indicator sets by 2023, 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.

#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 to have been focused on understanding their business case for IoT and working to deploy the technology.

In 2019, I predict we will see exponential growth in use of the data capabilities that 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.

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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 a customer 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.