June 2016 - The Service Council

The Missed Opportunity in Field Service Relationship Management

By Sumair Dutta | News | No Comments

Note: This is the 2nd of our 3-part blog series on consumer perceptions of field service delivery. An introduction to the project is found in Blog 1 – Field Service Performance: What Resonates with US Consumers. This post focuses on the opportunity in field service relationship management.

There is an ongoing debate in service leadership circles on the need for and appropriateness of field service agents selling at the point-of-service. Well, the debate has progressed from to sell or not to sell, to sell or to recommend. Most organizations we poll are driving some form of technician lead program wherein their field service agents are:

  1. Instructed to
  2. Trained to
  3. Provided with tools to

recommend solutions to customers with the hope of improving customer satisfaction and uncovering new revenue streams.

When we polled field service agents regarding the pressure to sell, 39% indicated that they were satisfied with the sales push from their organizations (18% were negative, 43% were neutral or had no pressure). Field service agents don’t want to be salespeople, yet they see the opportunity in improving customer relationships by recommending tools and services that might benefit the customer. A well-thought out incentive and opportunity management structure also helps get field service agents on board.

What do Customers Think about Current Field Service Relationship Management Attempts?

Most U.S consumers are open to their field service agents recommending solutions at the time of service. In fact a good percentage were willing to act on those recommendations.

Sixty-five percent of the 650 consumers polled by The Service Council indicated that their field service agents had given them advice on getting the most out of their purchase/product. That’s a good start, but a missed opportunity for the remaining 35% to maximize the impact of the field visit.

When it came to field recommendations, 58% indicated that their field agents had recommended additional products and services for use. Of those 58%, 9 out of 10 were positive in terms of their reaction to the made recommendation. Specifically:

  1. 28% made an immediate purchase
  2. 28% made a purchase after additional research
  3. 35% did not act on the recommendation, but appreciated the fact that the recommendation was made

Of those to whom a recommendation wasn’t made, i.e. 42% of the sample, 8 out of 10 individuals indicated they would have trusted the recommendation made by their field service agents.

There is still a group that doesn’t want to be sold to in the field (10% of the group that received recommendations, 20% of the group that didn’t receive recommendations), but this group is diminishing. Most consumers expect a recommendation and are willing to listen if the intent is to enhance value. The value of the recommendation also depends on the context of the situation. In the case of an unsuccessful field visit, consumers are less likely to be favorable towards recommendations, as one would expect. The favorability towards a recommendation drops to 50%, as in only one half of the population reacted positively to recommendations or would react positively to recommendations that were made. It’s surprising to me that recommendations are made at all in the case of a ineffective and incomplete service visit.

Looking at it from a different perspective, the consumer ratings regarding on-site field service experience were not negatively affected by the field service agents’ action to recommend solutions. In fact, we found the opposite to true. The activity of advising customers on the use of the installed, delivered, or repaired product had a significant positive impact on the consumer’s overall field service experience.
The Impact of Field Service Advice

Poor Mobile Engagement

What was also staggering is that less then 30% of consumers polled stated that they saw their field service agents use their mobile device for work-oriented tasks or to deliver a better experience. Only 27% stated that they were asked to sign on a mobile device for service work completed. Less than 20% had their field service agents overview information on the device, indicate support resources, or print supporting information with the aid of mobile tools. This is very interesting given a large percentage of organizations are using mobile devices and applications for field service. It points to:

  • Limited use of mobile tools and applications at smaller B2C service organizations.
  • Limited use of the functionality delivered by mobile tools in field service organizations. The focus continues to remain on the automation of back-office administrative functions.
  • Limited use of mobile technology as a differentiator in customer-facing situations.

This presents a significant opportunity for improvement in field service relationship management. Upon completion of a service task, a field service agent should be able to leverage mobility to further engage the customer particularly as it relates to:

  • Work verification
  • Customer support resources and communities
  • Instant feedback

This is just a start, but mobile can be used to showcase the intent for a broader relationship with the customer as opposed to delivering a message where the customer is one of many transactions to be completed in the field service agent’s day.

We conclude our field service consumer series with a post early next week. Please feel free to join our summary webinar on June 30, 2016 at 1030am Eastern. Once again, feel free to send in any questions directly to sd@servicecouncil.com.

Field Service Performance Ratings: What Resonates with U.S. Consumers?

By Sumair Dutta | News | No Comments

Our research typically focuses on polling the leaders of service organizations. To that end, we’ve documented field service progress and challenges extensively. We look to continue to do so via our ongoing coverage and our annual Smarter Service Symposiums. Recently, we’ve branched out into getting different perspectives and ratings from the various stakeholders in the field service delivery chain. In May 2016, we published a report highlighting key take-aways from direct surveying of front-line field service technicians. The research yielded valuable insights, specifically around the day-to-day obstacles encountered by technicians in getting work done. We will continue our focus on technician-oriented research.

There are several other stakeholders that we are working with to present unique perspectives on field service performance. Perhaps none is more important than the end customer. There has been a great deal of research conducted on customer feedback regarding customer service and customer experience performance. However, very little has been done on field service performance. Therefore, earlier this year, we embarked on a research survey that polled 650 consumers across the U. S. regarding their perceptions of field service and their recent experience with field service organizations. (We defined field service as work that was done at the respondents’ primary place of residence by a visiting field agent or technician. The work could be tied to installation, inspection, repair, replacement, maintenance and certain types of delivery). Nearly all of these consumers were homeowners and dispersed all across the United States (International research will be forthcoming).

The focus of the research was:

  • To understand how customers select providers for field service
  • To determine what’s most important when evaluating field service performance
  • To develop an evaluation scale of all aspects of field service work as tied to the most recent visit – pre-visit, on-site, and post-visit
  • To understand areas of underperformance in consumer-oriented field service delivery

Over the course of the next 2 weeks, we will publish several of the results from our extensive survey work. This initial wave of publication will feature 3 blogs and will culminate in a webcast on Thursday June 30, hosted by our partner ServicePower.

Blog 1: Field Service Performance: What Resonates?
Blog 2: The Missed Opportunity in Field Service Relationship Management (Thursday June 23)
Blog 3: Field Service Ratings (Tuesday June 28)
Webinar: Field Service 2016: The Customer’s Perception (Register)

Field Service Provider Selection

First things first. How do consumers find or shortlist field service providers? Well, most of them look at some sort of recommendation or review to narrow the playing field. As seen in the chart below, nearly 50% rely on the recommendation of a friend or family member. Another 30% rely primarily on online reviews. Interestingly, men in our survey (48% of survey population) were much more likely to rely on online reviews while women were much more likely to select local service providers. Both groups still ranked recommendations are their top means of selecting field service providers. From a geographic perspective within the US, most regions fell in line with the overall results. Participants from the Midwest (25% of population) were much more likely to look to local service providers than those in other regions.

Field Service Ratings 2016 - Selection
Once a provider or set of providers has been shortlisted, the following criteria are most relevant when it comes to final selection. (Ranking based on 9 options provided)

  1. Price
  2. Reputation
  3. Guarantee of Quality of Work
  4. Speed at Which Work Can be Done
  5. Customer Service Ratings

The scores for the top three are fairly close. It should also be stated that most customers with repeat service work are more likely to pick their provider based on past work or reputation than on price. For first-time transactional work, the selection of field service work is most likely to be done based on a combination of price and reputation. It should be noted that in several circumstances field service providers are selected for the customer, as in the case of a post-purchase or warranty situation. This becomes relevant when we dig deeper into field service performance evaluation. That said, the rankings above reflect the choices in self-selection.

Field Service Evaluation for Ratings

Once work is completed, the evaluation of field service performance is tied to price and expectation attainment. As seen in the chart below, these are areas that are most likely to be deemed ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ important. Expectations, such as time of arrival, service window length, or guarantee of work, are typically set pre-visit, and can have a significant impact on the customer’s choice to engage in repeat business with the service provider.

Field Service Ratings 2016 - Evaluation
In our next blog we’ll talk about several missed opportunities when it comes to on-site field service performance. If interested in learning more about this research, please feel free to log into our summary webinar taking place on Thursday June 30 at 10:30am Eastern. You should also feel free to contact me directly at sd@servicecouncil.com.

An Open Office for Field Service Professionals

By Sumair Dutta | Perspective | 6 Comments

Some of my ideas are original. This one isn’t. I’m glad to say that it isn’t, because I come across so many bright minds in the field of service management. One of those minds is Steve Nava (www.linkedin.com/in/stevenava1) at Luminex Corporation, Austin, TX. In a recent conversation with Steve, he spoke about his intent to extend the concept of an open office to his field service workforce. What a novel idea.

When we typically think about open offices, we think about a traditional workspace or floor plan that promotes visibility and collaboration. But what about improved visibility and increased collaborative opportunities for those who call their van or truck an office.

I was reminded of my discussion with Steve on a recent trip to meet customers in Columbus, OH. While ‘working’ at a local Starbucks, I noticed a fleet of four service vans parked right next to each other. These vans belonged to the same service provider, a large HVAC and facilities management organization. The four field service agents responsible for these vans weren’t working collaboratively on a site or a project, but they sure were collaborating and developing camaraderie over coffee. This went on for exactly 25 minutes at which time all four vans departed and went on their separate ways.

Connecting with the Field is Essential

I imagine that this form of collaboration is repeated several times a week across service teams all over the world. It’s probably something that drives dispatchers and service managers crazy, given the desire to push utilization to its maximum. But in my mind, it’s a good thing. Field service agents need to be connected to their organizations. Otherwise, they can get very isolated in their work and profession, which is typically one that comes with long hours of driving and working solo. In our recent Field Service 2016: The Technician’s Perspective report, the feeling of isolation was one area that field service agents disliked most about their roles. This was true, regardless of experience level, but felt much more so among field workers who had recently entered the service workplace.

There is a great opportunity to extend the concept of the open office to field service agents. Not only can this drive a higher level of collaboration and innovation in the field service ranks, it can drive a higher level of knowledge sharing across the organization. The wealth of knowledge about customer issues, product challenges, and procedure failures, built into the minds of these technicians is significant.

Structured knowledge management efforts to capture this information are essential to the survival of service businesses, but unstructured sessions and meet ups can also be extremely beneficial to the organization. Not to mention the benefit gained by the field service agents, in terms of engagement, loyalty, and commitment.

Steps to the Open Office

Organizations have engaged in various strategies to create a more open and collaborative field service working space. Several have scheduled frequent meetings for their field service teams, where these agents are allowed to collaborate and partner on topics of technology, customer management, and safety. Safety, as a topic, gets everyone’s attention, given how it impacts every single individual in the field.

Other organizations are creating mentorship or apprenticeship type of programs where technicians from one region are paired with those from another region for a period of time. This is typically done at the point of hire, but can also be done on a rotation or continuous basis to foster collaboration across geographies. Several companies also host technician competitions or retreats that allow for improved communication and collaboration. Retreats are typically reserved for the top sales agents, but why not for top service agents?

Some organizations have resorted to the use of technology to create a tighter knit technician community. For instance, at Luminex, field service agents get greater access to the entire team’s service workload via their field service application. Therefore, agents aren’t just looking at their own work and their own parts, but they’re also able to access the workload of others on their team. As a result, field service agents can support one another in the time of need and can also work towards improving service delivery to customers as a team. This requires a culture of customer-centricity and collaboration, one that Steve is very interested in driving. Field service agents who just want to do their own work aren’t the best performers in this type of model.

Other organizations are also using technology in novel ways. Messaging or collaboration platforms such as Slack or HipChat are being extended to the field. Other platforms such as Zinc (formerly Cotap) and TigerText are being developed specifically for dispersed field-based workforces. Video and mixed reality tools offered by organizations such as Librestream, Help Lightning, XOEye, and PTC, are used for remote assistance and field-based training. Demos for Microsoft’s Hololens solution promise an environment where field technicians can collaborate with each other on repair procedures and more, in a virtual meeting environment.

We’ve also seen organizations resort to gamification to promote collaboration and recognition. Recognition is a wonderful elixir for isolation. We’ve seen gamification being used effectively to promote safety, as in the case of a TSC member organization providing access to safety scores and leaderboards to field service agents on their mobile devices.

At the end of the day, field service agents like their coffee and donuts. They like working collaboratively. Maybe we let them have their coffee. Coffee doesn’t have to be for closers only.

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