By Danny Wong
For most organizations, efficiently managing a team of service technicians is one of the most operationally complex tasks. Because it involves so many variables, which until recently had to be logged, monitored, and controlled by human labor, it took a significant amount of time and precision to keep track of all the unpredictable changes that could occur at any time. Miscommunications, delays, and incorrect or incomplete information inevitably plagued many companies in these situations, and while electronic databases certainly helped matters, they were still exceedingly prone to human error. As permanently connected mobile devices proliferated and systems began to communicate with each other more easily, the next step for many software developers was to devise a technological solution that would assist with managing field service operations, relieving frustrated leaders of many of the inefficiencies inherent in the traditional process. The result was sophisticated field service management (FSM) technology, which automates the field operations of a team of service professionals through mobile systems.; It has been estimated that the FSM market will be valued at over $3.5 billion by 2019, and many of the biggest players in the technology industry, including Salesforce, have already made FSM development a key part of their strategies. As customer demands and the logistics of managing field teams continue to increase in complexity, it is clear that many business leaders are discovering the value that FSM software can bring to their organization as a whole, as well as its employees, shareholders, and customers.
At its core, FSM is simply any system that is designed to keep track of the various components of field operations. These components typically include inventory management, vehicle tracking, scheduling, customer portals, and more. In terms of the software-as-a-service sector (SaaS), management of these components is usually controlled through a cloud-based portal that can be accessed from mobile devices, while field technicians are on the job.
If not for the massive leaps forward in cloud technology throughout the current decade, FSM solutions as they exist today would not be possible. As cloud solutions became more feasible, data storage became cheaper, and mobile devices were engineered to handle more sophisticated software. It was only a matter of time until it was possible for every field service technician to have constant access to sophisticated FSM technology. With management staff in the office now able to instantly update tickets and coordinate changes on the fly, and with technicians able to access these changes and immediately inform customers of progressions, FSM has completely changed the way that managers, service workers, and customers all interact with each other.
One of the most significant changes ushered in by the adoption of FSM technology has been in the relationship between the organization and the customer. FSM solutions allow employees at all levels of the company to engage with their customers in innovative ways, and it is reshaping how leaders think about the customer experience.
When systems are automated and integrated, it means that any employee who has access can deliver the same information to customers on demand. When delays and setbacks occur, status updates can be instantly transmitted to the customer with revised expectations and alerts. If a technician is behind schedule due to another job running over or unexpected traffic, new ETAs can be communicated quickly thanks to vehicle GPS and other innovations.
As this kind of technology becomes more commonplace, customers are beginning to expect it as a regular feature of their service. Studies have shown that 89 per cent of customers want to see modern technology—like the kind used in on-demand ride-sharing services—applied to their technician scheduling, and nearly as many would be willing to pay a premium for it. Innovation in the FSM software marketplace allows companies to continually deliver these new tools for engagement that many customers view as important.
Managing your field service team is fraught with complications, and managers have traditionally had to juggle numerous balls in order to clear the path for their employees to service customers. Scheduling and dispatching efficiently (including figuring out which professionals are best suited to service a customer based on a combination of expertise, location, and availability), managing the flow of communication, and attempting to monitor the quality of the team’s work have usually required a significant amount of time and energy. Reaction time was often painfully slow.
Thanks largely to the power of mobile, many of these processes can now be automated by incorporating FSM solutions. These tools can be used to enhance the productivity of both the managers and the technicians by incorporating algorithmically enhanced scheduling and providing access to real-time data from any device. Managers can also monitor the status of jobs much more easily through real-time analytics and live video feeds.
Mobile devices powered by FSM technology also allow field service workers to deliver fully on the promise of your customer experience: They can be a hub of knowledge for nearly any question a customer has. One of the key principles of successful management is removing as many obstacles as possible for the technicians to do their jobs in the best manner. FSM solutions empower employees to be the main contact for customers, thereby streamlining the service chain.
No longer will customers have time to grow impatient while they wait for service workers to call multiple parties in order to get a piece of data that usually isn’t mission critical for their duties, or send a request through several links of the chain of command before being able to give the customer a reliable answer. Technicians can access the same pool of data, including customer service tickets, sales data, or invoicing history, as anyone in the organization.
Efficient resource management is of paramount importance for every company, and FSM technology has created new ways to get the most out of your resources and control costs. Assets, whether they be vehicles, heavy machinery, expensive inventory, or anything else, can be incredibly costly if they are misused or aren’t operating at maximum capacity. This can also lead to further delays that ripple through the value chain and eat into the company’s operating margins.
Even something as simple as route optimization and driving logs can have a profound impact on the organization’s bottom line. Combined with intelligent scheduling tools, these programs can help companies dramatically reduce their fuel consumption, and you can also save significantly over time on vehicle maintenance thanks to fewer unnecessary miles accumulating. In 2015, one of the world’s largest package delivery services added route-optimization software to 70 per cent of its vehicles. The company estimates that the initiative will save it more than $300 million, and it is a step toward increased sustainability as well.
When systems can reliably and quickly communicate with each other, every department in the organization operates more efficiently. Cloud-based FSM solutions are creating new possibilities when it comes to managing multiple sets of data across a variety of different business sectors. Gaps in the knowledge chain within an organization slow down response times, decrease productivity, and frustrate customers, which makes integrated systems incredibly attractive for any enterprise that wants to operate leaner and increase customer satisfaction.
With automated and integrated systems enabled by FSM software, data points that are generated in one corner of the organization are updated everywhere and instantly accessible from both mobile and desktop devices. When accounting updates an invoice, customer service makes a change to a support ticket, or purchasing notes a reduction in expected inventory due to a missed delivery, field technicians will be able to see these changes in the system and deliver accurate information to customers.
The emergence of high-quality FSM software has transformed field resource management throughout a number of diverse industries. Four examples include:
- As previously discussed, package shipping enterprises have utilized these solutions to eliminate inefficiencies created by driving, thereby saving money on fuel and increasing driver productivity.
- For telecommunications companies, intelligent scheduling and vehicle tracking can result in fewer missed appointments and customer complaints.
- For engineering and construction firms, expensive machinery can be better tracked for maintenance needs, and job progress can be closely monitored thanks to instantly updated data points.
- Although health care isn’t the first industry people think of that utilizes FSM, there are many mobile doctors, nurses, and paramedics who are benefiting from the availability of accurate patient histories.
The advancements made possible by FSM software can create benefits for numerous different types of organizations, and companies in new industries will certainly continue to be exposed to these new possibilities.
No technology-based solution is worth employing if it does not enhance the customer experience, whether it is through direct interactions or by making it easier for employees to do their jobs. FSM software impacts the customer in a variety of different ways, and it is giving field service workers and their managers new solutions for building a better customer experience.
Again, it comes back to integration, and if you can provide a cohesive experience for the customer across multiple different channels throughout the relationship, it solidifies their place in the customer journey. One of the key goals of marketing automation is to create new ways to know your customers more intimately, and a feature of FSM technology is to translate this experience in the field service realm. Technicians will be better equipped to deliver more personalized experiences for the customers, which studies have consistently shown is what most customers now expect. In addition, you can use integrated data and comprehensive analytics to decipher patterns in customer behavior and make better predictions in the future.