Productivity and customer satisfaction peak as field organizations go mobile.
Leading organizations realize that the field technician’s role goes far beyond installing and repairing products. He or she can be a powerful extension of the sales force with large impact on customer satisfaction and the result at the bottom line.
Fifty-six percent of leading companies surveyed in the Aberdeen field service study last year indicated that investment in mobile tools was the most important initiative to improve the performance of field service organizations.
Mikael Holmqvist, head of Consafe Mobility, predicts a large increase in demand for mobility solutions that extend back-end systems to field service technicians in 2012 and beyond. Companies are looking to increase the productivity of their field workers and improve customer satisfaction.
Resolution on the first visit
The ability to resolve service issues on the first visit is the most important performance metric in a service organization. This ability directly impacts productivity and operating cost, and it helps companies to comply with contractual agreements to avoid penalties and fees. Most importantly, fast resolutions lead to higher customer satisfaction and retention.
The Aberdeen study reports that missing parts is the most common cause for not being able to complete a task on the first visit. By using a mobile solution with real-time access to the parts inventory system, companies can track field inventory and maintain control so that the right parts and tools are available on the truck before a technician is dispatched on a job.
On-site, mobile solutions allow technicians to access drawings, online diagnostics, and knowledge databases and to collaborate with colleagues and suppliers.
Shorter billing cycles
When the job is completed the customer can review and approve the work by signing on the computer screen, and the work order is automatically sent to the office for processing and billing. The invoice can be emailed or the customer can pay by swiping his or her credit card.
"By providing field workers with the tools to manage approvals and payment transactions, companies can shorten billing cycles with significant impact on their cash flow," explains Holmqvist. "Mistakes can be addressed immediately without causing frustration or payment delays."
According to Gartner, mapping, field service fleet routing, and fleet management will be integrated, essential packages for field service organizations by 2012.
"Today, most service technicians receive schedules in the morning and the appointments are pushed to them at the start of the shift," says Holmqvist. "With a wirelessly connected field force, work orders can be dispatched based on the technician’s schedule, location, and the parts availability on the truck in order to maximize the utilization of the field force and minimize unnecessary travel."
With a "pull-based" dispatching system, schedules can easily be changed during the day without making phone calls and juggling schedules. Field technicians can pull and reject jobs in real-time.
Global positioning systems (GPS) technology is one of the hottest trends in field service. Most new mobile devices have GPS integrated, and the technology can be leveraged for more efficient routing and location-based dispatching. GPS also increases productivity and allows a technician to visit more customers.
Real-time data capture
With mobile access to the service management system, data can be captured and communicated in real time, reducing paperwork and return trips to the office. A mobile application provides an accurate audit trail, recording the exact time the technician arrives and leaves, which is important to track compliance with service-level agreements (SLAs) for response and resolution time. Additionally, it provides an efficient way to record used parts, labor utilization, and expenses for more accurate billing and inventory management. By having a technician submit meeting reports during or immediately following an appointment, problems can be resolved more quickly and fewer mistakes are made. Technicians can spend more time with customers and less time doing paperwork. Other administrative tasks such as time reporting and expense approvals can also be managed from the field, further reducing the need to return to the office at the end of the day.
Gartner predicts that adding CRM functionality to field service solutions will be used as a way to enable field service technicians to capture sales leads, configure orders, and market additional products. The ability to deliver these capabilities through mobile devices is critical.
"The borders between sales, service, and logistics are fading," says Holmqvist. "As an example, drivers can take care of simple service tasks or installation jobs when they deliver products and service; technicians have proven successful in selling parts, extended warranties, service contracts, and supplies."
A survey of consumer home services conducted by TSIA found that field service agents sell extremely well. Customers were much more likely to accept up-sell and cross-sell offers for additional products, services, and extended warranties from on-site technicians than from other types of sales channels.
Mobile devices not only allow technicians to finalize the deal and accept signature and payment but also identify new sales opportunities.
Integration and information sharing
With responsibilities blending, businesses need to focus on integrating information systems that are scattered throughout the enterprise. By integrating information that is captured during a service call with systems for field service management, enterprise resource planning (ERP), parts management, and customer relationships management (CRM), companies can improve interdepartmental communication and respond faster to customer issues and inquiries.
"Integration on the back end is very costly and complex," explains Holmqvist. "Another, more cost-efficient approach is to do the integration in the mobile solution, which can communicate with several enterprise systems and present information in one user-friendly interface."
Focus on flexible platforms
Windows Mobile is no longer the only platform option. More companies are evaluating Apple and Android products for the next-generation field service mobility systems. Employees are also bringing their own mobile devices to work. Tablets are increasing in popularity, providing access to drawings, knowledge databases, and video instructions.
"Many field organizations already use mobile applications, but these solutions do not support the latest technologies such as real-time communication and GPS for location-based routing and dispatching," says Holmqvist. "Nor do they support multiple platforms, including Android and Apple. Old technology limits what is possible and holds you back from realizing the full ROI from your mobility solution."
Increasing interest in software as a service
Another trend is the shift from on-premises installations to software as a service (SaaS), which is making mobile solutions affordable even for smaller businesses.
Aberdeen predicts that in 2013, 25 percent of new application components such as workforce optimization, technician portals, and asset monitoring will be sold as SaaS subscription models rather than being bought and deployed on the premises.
"Field service organizations need to focus on evaluating the need from the user’s perspective instead of just pushing out work orders from the ERP or service systems," concludes Holmqvist. "Finding a flexible and scalable platform that integrates with your back-end systems and presents data in a user-friendly manner is a key factor for a successful mobile deployment."
Aberdeen January 2011 report, "Field Service 2011: Trends in Workforce Management"
TSIA 2010 Member Technology Survey, "Mobile Enablement: Field Service Automation"
2011 Gartner, "Magic Quadrant for Field Service Management"