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You may or may not have seen the ‘drive-in wedding’ recently. It’s a great example of how people overcome crises and get a little more creative. It’s something businesses can learn from, as we gear up for a long winter with the pandemic. What has become clear is that we are in this for the long haul now and that means two things; we can either stick it out and try and do business as usual or we can adapt and use this as an opportunity to try and improve.

It was interesting to read Deloitte chief economist Ian Stewart’s comment recently that “businesses have scaled back expectations and are focussed on strengthening their businesses and their balance sheets,” expecting a full recovery on the horizon only after next summer. It suggests a degree of conservatism. Customers will be looking to get more out of less and that will undoubtedly mean prolonging the life of machines for as long as possible.

For businesses operating field service teams this is of course a challenge. Under current restrictions deploying technicians on customer sites has not been possible, at least in most cases. This has necessitated the use of remote service tools, enabled by Field Service Management technology. As a result, we are seeing an evolution in how products and machines are serviced. For vendors this is not just an opportunity to accelerate self-service capabilities with customers but also to improve intelligence on how customers are using assets.

But we’re also seeing another unexpected result of remote support. It’s creating new personas for servicing assets and equipment. With field-based access now much more limited or reduced, there needs to be a greater consideration for other stakeholders who might repair and support assets. These include customers who might have their own teams or workforces dedicated to completing basic repair and maintenance.

In some industries, these customers or customer-appointed workforces might rely on third parties for access to parts, manuals, or service information, as its cheaper or more convenient. These new personas are changing how we support industrial equipment and engage with technology and other service personnel in the process. 

The Digitisation of Service 

For any organisation that hasn’t yet implemented remote servicing to at least supplement any customer that is self-servicing, now is the time to make a move to ensure they’re effectively supported. Connectivity capabilities within customer sites has never been higher. Any previous stumbling blocks to IoT-enabled machine connections, for example, should now have been removed, thanks to the rapid acceleration of digital transformations. If the pandemic has done one thing, it has certainly convinced most firms of the need for digitisation.

Of course, remote connectivity to assets is just one part of an overall remote service solution. Reduced costs, increased uptime and improved outcomes are only truly delivered if the whole support framework is in place. That means every job must be tightly controlled, with the right intelligence and the right people. Any end-user support teams triaging service issues, and any subsequent technician visits must be coordinated, minimising risk, minimising cost but maximising the opportunity for successful resolution. Accurate asset data is also critical for accurate bill of materials, service history and to ensure all asset attributes are being maintained. All of these factors are driving the digitisation of service globally, namely through adoption of field service management platforms to orchestrate the growing list of complex service requirements. 

Training Revamp

These insights not only increase first-time-fix rates but also provide organisations with a more nuanced picture of where processes and procedures are working well and where, perhaps, they need a rethink or a tweak. A lot of this comes down to good communication. While increasing remote intelligence of products and the way they are used and their service histories, can help with more-informed decision making, it can also increase technician knowledge quickly. This is still (and may it long be) a human business. Technicians can learn on the job and from each other, so the more intelligence at their fingertips the more they will be able to deliver results more quickly and efficiently. Likewise, with more customers stepping up as first port of call to triage service issues, access to experts will become more important.

What this means is that the demand to revamp training will increase, as we continue along this path forced upon us by the pandemic. Organisations will need accurate, easily accessible and on-demand video training tools, as well as context-specific content dependent on assets. While a certain amount of hands-on training will still be required, it will almost certainly make sense for technicians to receive remote training too, which will also involve partners and on-site customer teams. 

Ultimately it needs to reflect the changes in how assets are being serviced and how vendors are fulfilling SLAs with customers. In many respects, this has to be a good thing. It’s an opportunity to improve intelligence and service levels despite the pandemic and ultimately improve field service practice and customer relationships for the foreseeable future.

By Kieran Notter

Kieran Notter is VP of Global Customer Transformation at ServiceMax. He is acknowledged as a service industry domain expert with 30 years’ experience. He specializes in field service revenue and working capital improvements, with a particular passion for supply chain operations.