When Great Products Aren’t Good Enough—Learning to Sell Customer Experience

The old adage “you get what you pay for” has been a way to shrug off poor product or service quality for as long as most of us can remember. For consumers who are cheap—or price sensitive—there was some understanding that quality would have to be sacrificed for price. Quality or innovation could be the core of a brand, a competitive differentiator, and an excuse to charge a substantial premium. But technological, cultural, and market forces have conspired to make quality into table stakes, no longer optional.

As it becomes easier for consumers to share information about products, and comparison shop on both features and price, businesses are competing and being measured on new considerations. Everything from cars to smart washing machines is reaching feature parity, profit margins are narrowing, and something has to give. To paraphrase another adage: your consumers might forget what you sell, but they will never forget how you made them feel. It’s time to get into the experience business.

A Confluence of Disruptive Forces

There are many factors eating into business margins. The internet and social media have empowered consumers in unprecedented ways. They can find out everything they need to know about a product or restaurant before any direct contact with the business. They can read reviews on Yelp or Amazon from hundreds of strangers, or defer to the opinion of a trusted blogger. They can use the social media megaphone to voice their displeasure with a poorly made product or unpleasant service interaction—reaching an audience far beyond just their friends and family, and potentially doing real damage to a brand. They have the tools to seek the highest quality for the lowest price to get the most value—no longer content to trade one for the other.

Innovations in supply chain management, just-in-time production, lean manufacturing, and agile product development have made it easier and faster than ever to test and deliver products without overproducing something that’s likely to fail, while ensuring quality. Most frustrating is the ease with which competitors can replicate what another business has been doing with speed and gusto. When Apple’s iPhone set new expectations for the form and functions of a smartphone, Samsung was not far behind, leading to a glut of new touch-screen phones on the market, and a series of lawsuits. Uber remains dominant but competitors like Lyft, and regional challengers like Fasten or Gett, continue to poach their drivers and customers.

Quality and capabilities are now expected from every option. Uniqueness and innovation won’t keep a company in the lead for long as features get easier to replicate. Furthermore, as any type of service or technology matures, innovation in that space becomes inevitably more incremental, and therefore less compelling as a reason to upgrade, at least until someone makes the next big leap.

Get Profitable by Getting Emotional

Maintaining healthy margins is the key to maximizing profitability in any business, but margins and operational efficiency aren’t enough to drive revenue growth. However, one consistent indicator, if not predictor, of future profitability is customer satisfaction. When it comes to making your customers happy, their experiences with your brand can have a powerful and lasting effect, and—unlike product features—are a lot harder to copy.

Marketers and branding experts have long understood the power of an emotional connection to a brand or product. Consumers can have strong and opposing feelings about two ostensibly identical brands (think Coke and Pepsi), and spend billions of dollars more each year buying the branded item over a generic store brand just because they feel they’re getting something better, true or not.

Even seemingly objective considerations like quality, innovation and uniqueness, and price carry emotional weight. Consider this reasoning that happens unconsciously for most consumers, regardless of why they think they’re buying:

  • Quality – I found the highest quality option; I am an intelligent, rational, discerning individual; and I will be rewarded with respect or recognition for making the best choice.
  • Innovation – I am an early adopter who recognizes cool new trends; I have a level of insight about the future that other people lack; and this makes me worth following, more interesting, and a valuable employee.
  • Price – I am frugal, sensible, and objective; I extracted the most value for this purchase by paying the lowest price while still meeting the essential criteria and looking past the marketing and sales mumbo jumbo to understand what’s most important.

Humans are wired to survive based on snap judgments they later match with reverse engineered logic to support the validity of their decision. And your customers are still only human after all. Does this mean quality and innovation are irrelevant and will force you to compete on price alone? Not necessarily. But even if you don’t know exactly how much more likely someone is to recall an emotional state than the details of a specific situation, you already know it’s expensive—if not near impossible—to win back an unhappy customer. And the lessons learned from United Airlines and Chipotle repeatedly failing their customers will not be soon forgotten.

Why Service Providers Have the Ultimate Edge

So being the best at what you do is not enough, and consumers are not just fickle but also irrational. What can a business do to survive and thrive in these conditions? Focus on customer experience as a competitive differentiator that provides added value and strengthens the emotional bond with your brand.

Apple is a product company, but their rise to dominance in the MP3 player market was not a result of the iPod being the first nor the best nor the most attractively priced option on the market. Apple also offered customers a marketplace for purchasing music, software, and later apps, to better organize and access the media and music they would listen to on the iPod. They understood the customer’s experience with the product would be key to its success.

Service-centric organizations have a tremendous advantage in this new landscape. Unlike product-first businesses, they don’t have to unlearn decades of old thinking. Many are already in the field, accustomed to dealing with customer needs, collecting their feedback, and looking for ways to improve their experiences. In fact, even highly regulated non-competitive industries like utilities are increasingly focused on customer satisfaction.

Field service organizations in particular benefit from a mobile workforce of agents interacting with customers each day, creating countless opportunities for collecting feedback, and also testing new approaches to service delivery.

By focusing on service and experience as the greatest source of not just added value but delight for customers, businesses face a tremendous opportunity to leapfrog their competition without having to out-innovate on products or engage in an endless feature arms race.

The secret to doing this well is simple, if not always easy to implement: understand what customers want; design your policies, processes, and business objectives in a way that aligns to customer experience; and invest in the tech tools, infrastructure, and organizational knowhow that can help you deliver on rising consumer expectations. Adapting to an experience-first mindset will be a major shift for some, but it’s a change you can feel good about.

The Future of Work: 3 Field Service Trends and How to Keep Up

To thrive in today’s field service landscape, organizations must harness new technology and trends. Learn how in this post.

With the 24-hour news cycle, and constant state of connection most of us now live in, it can feel like there are new trends every time you raise your head to take a break. But while the pace of change is certainly rapid-fire, keeping up is well within your reach. In this post, we focus on the workforce trends that are sure to reshape the future of field service.

Today’s service workforce is a blend of boomers, millennials, and soon, gen Z. As a growing percentage of the population becomes comfortable working in non-traditional arrangements, your organization must adapt to accommodate new working scenarios, worker behaviors, and habits. Read on for three service workforce trends, and methods for remaining relevant in a quickly changing field service landscape.

Trend #1: The Gig Economy Expands

Driven by the availability of new technology, applications, and services, a growing number of professionals desire situations allowing them to work outside of traditional offices. According to PwC, over the past 10 years the number of mobile employees grew by 25% and is likely to grow another 50% by 2020 — further proof of the gig economy’s rise.

Apps like Uber, websites like Upwork, and services like Airbnb have rapidly transformed entire industries, opening up new markets and redefining the relationship between employer and worker.

As people work in new ways, more are open to both virtual work and short-term assignments. As a result, the service organizations that are geared toward vetting and picking talent for part-time “gigs” stand to win big.

According to Forrester, a full 40% of all service tasks will be handled by contractors by 2020. It’s no surprise then that two in five organizations expect to increase their use of the contingent workforce.

With a large portion of tomorrow’s technicians fitting into the contractor category, your business must prepare itself accordingly from a legal, operational, and technical standpoint. By positioning itself to support and enable the modern worker, your organization can establish ongoing relationships with valuable talent and thrive in the gig economy.

Consider geographically dispersed seasonal service businesses, such as those catering to consumers on summer vacation. Access to an extended workforce with needed skills helps ensure geographic coverage. Rather than scramble to hire seasonal workers, these businesses can rely on contracts with contingent workers to confidently and nimbly staff up and down as needed.

Trend #2: Tech Habits Evolve

As field technicians, millennials, and consumers at large adopt new behaviors surrounding new technology, your organization must evolve to keep pace. New consumer tech habits are changing fast surrounding dozens of technologies including voice-activated in-home devices, augmented reality, wearables and more. To succeed, you must strategically balance customer and workplace needs. This requires a keen understanding of customer technology preferences.

For example, do your customers show a readiness to adopt the latest technologies? Does the interest vary by demographic? Arriving at these answers will involve surveying your current customer base and perhaps even some deeper research.

In addition, your technicians must be prepared to perform maintenance on new consumer and enterprise devices that are poised to optimize home climates, operate dams via sensors, and so much more. To prepare them for this, your field service organization must understand the technology landscape as it applies to your customer base. Then you must educate and train your field service technicians with the necessary skills.

At the same time, your organization must embrace IT transformation. Rather than simply using devices because they are trendy, take a practical, considered approach to the technologies that will best enable your workers. You can get on the right path by surveying your employees to understand technology needs and preferences, and recruiting a subset of workers to vet and test selected tools.

Trend #3: On-Demand Professional Services Thrive

People have come to expect lightning-fast Uber-like experiences across the entire spectrum of daily life. Take buying groceries as an example. Companies like Peapod and Blue Apron are redefining how we cook, while bigger players like Amazon are shooting to reinvent the modern grocery chain (as evidenced by their recent purchase of Whole Foods).

We are also accustomed to calling upon experts as needed in other areas of our daily lives. Just look to the Apple Store Genius Bar, Geek Squad from Best Buy, and TaskRabbit for proof.

We must look to the future, and decide how service organizations can meet customer needs faster.

One approach has been leveraging third parties for field service fulfillment. In fact, The Service Council reports 76% of service organizations have already used third parties for service delivery. Leaning on third parties and expert contractors to satisfy needs beyond your organization’s current in-house capabilities is a perfect way to get started in the gig economy.

Imagine an all-too-common service situation; the need to inspect a client’s inoperative equipment in a remote area. A certified, local third-party contractor could handle the inspection and upload findings via an application. Your organization would save greatly on travel expenses while quickly addressing your client’s localized needs. And it’s hard to beat the combination of cutting costs while boosting client satisfaction.

While this opportunity is tantalizing for some, the majority of field service organizations fear going this route. In the same Service Council study featured above, a full 64% of respondents were hesitant to outsource this type of work for fear of, “lack of control over service quality.” But the truth is in order to deliver quality service, you need to be capable of delivering service in the first place. We believe with the right communication tools in place, tapping third-party service professionals poses an amazing opportunity.

Looking for more trends, ideas, and strategies for improving your field service operations? Never fall behind by subscribing to the Field Service Matters blog.

Field Service Trends: How the Gig Economy Is Reshaping Service

Learn how the gig economy is changing service from the outside in, and 5 ideas on how you can survive and thrive in this coming freelance economy.

Picture this. A field service engineer wakes up early on a Tuesday. He brushes his teeth, and puts in his augmented reality contact lenses. On the left side of his vision, he can see his personal emails. On the right, he sees a long list of work requests, bids, and notifications from the day’s potential employers.

Will he blink twice to accept the repair job an hour away? Or keep scrolling to find a gig with a more convenient commute? He’s got a five-star rating on the TechsOnDemand app after all. There’s bound to be a job closer to home.

While this world of on-demand, highly empowered field technicians may sound like fantasy, it’s truly not far off. So what exactly is the gig economy? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics defines it in the following manner.

The Gig Economy Defined

“Gig workers are spread among diverse occupation groups and are not easily identified in surveys of employment and earnings. But they are similar in the way they earn money.

These workers often get individual gigs using a website or mobile app that helps to match them with customers. Some gigs may be very brief, such as answering a 5-minute survey. Others are much longer but still of limited duration, such as an 18-month database management project. When one gig is over, workers who earn a steady income this way must find another. And sometimes, that means juggling multiple jobs at once.”

In field service, the gig economy is taking hold, and fast. In fact, just last year Michael Blumberg conducted a study, KPIs for The Blended Workforce In the Gig Economy, in which his consultancy found that nearly 70% of field service organizations used a freelancer management system of some kind for staffing purposes. Other reports have pointed to the same trend: field service is soon to be dominated by freelance technicians and engineers.

With the field service talent shortage we are all facing, making the most of the gig economy will be key to the success or failure of nearly all service-oriented organizations.

But all future-tech predictions aside, here are five ways field service organizations can survive, and thrive in the gig economy.

1. First Things First: Get Familiar with Freelance Management Tools

While you likely won’t completely abandon traditional methods of hiring and retaining talent, participating in the gig economy requires new methods of finding and managing part-time, freelance, and remote workers. While there are platforms specifically dedicated to the management of freelance talent, others can be used to manage both your full-time and freelance staff.

But finding workers with niche skills unique to your organization will require being highly selective with the online platforms you leverage. There are dozens of online networks including SimplyHired, Upwork, Flexjobs, Indeed, or even LinkedIn where you can find and vet top talent. Do some research to find out whether the skills you’re after are reflected on these sites before posting jobs. Otherwise, you’ll get flooded with meaningless resumes and non-specific talent.

2. Tap Freelance Talent for Geographic Expansion

Maybe you’re expanding into a new market, or perhaps it’s costing you thousands of extra dollars to send techs to hard-to-reach service areas. Tapping freelance talent can solve both problems. By using geographic targeting available in the tools listed above, you can narrow your freelance search to the target areas you are expanding, or trying to provide service to.

Consider conducting remote training sessions via video to ensure new talent reflect your organization in a professional and personable manner. If you have unique equipment training needs, consider bringing your entire freelance network to headquarters for a training on an annual basis. This will improve the likelihood that your on-demand workforce feels like they are as valuable to the organization, as full time field engineers.

3. Scale Up & Down Faster with Freelancers

Whether you are running an HVAC installation business, tree trimming service, or oil rig service operation, the needs of your service business can change drastically on a seasonal, quarterly, or annual basis. Lay the groundwork for scaling your business up or down by vetting a handful of online talent communities, and “testing the water” with freelance resources. If you’re forced to hire thousands of new freelancers in an attempt to keep up with a major market shift, you’ll want to have the kinks worked out.

In the recent ClickSoftware Uberization of Service report, just 3% of service suppliers reported, “response times” or, “optimizing service delivery” as highly important in an open-ended question. On the flip side, the majority service consumers (60%) cite faster service as a top priority.

This means using freelancers to scale up, and speed up service is one of the most strategic differentiators available to organizations today.

4. Meet Unique Customer or Technical Demand with Freelancers

Field service technology is changing at light speed. The Internet of Things, augmented reality, and even virtual technology are set to disrupt nearly every area of consumer technology, and likewise change manufacturing, infrastructure, and maintenance industries. In a few short years, homes and factories will be controlled via Wi-Fi and smart devices. Where will we turn, when we must service these new technologies? The very millennials we so frequently fail to draw into full-time service careers.

There’s a huge demand on the horizon for tapping talent that can service new technologies and equipment. Getting ahead in the freelance game today is how organizations can prepare for the new technologies of tomorrow.

5. Most Important of All: Increase Profits

Whether supplementing staff, scaling to meet new market demands, or hiring freelance talent to service hard-to-reach areas, remaining efficient with talent management is essential to the profitability of field service operations. The gig economy is not so much an “if” situation, rather it’s a “when” situation.

According to Intuit, the gig economy now makes up 34% of the US labor workforce. With new tools, devices, and skills, imagine how many thousands more will choose to work remotely as a part of this budding freelance economy in the coming years.

The service organizations that survive will be those that have a keen understanding of the gig economy, and how to use it to their advantage. Get in today and you’ll be spared the pain of being forced in tomorrow.

For more news, advice, and coverage on all things field service, subscribe to the Field Service Matters blog.

Three Ways Artificial Intelligence Drives Business Value

It’s not news that artificial intelligence is already improving workplace efficiency and productivity in many ways and its adoption is only growing. Forrester predicted a 300 percent increase in AI investments this year over last, based on the valuable business insights it delivers. A new Accenture report suggests that AI could boost average profitability rates by 38 percent and lead to an economic increase of $14 TN by 2035. While more and more companies across dozens of industries are moving in this direction, it bears taking a look at a few of the top benefits for businesses when they capitalize on the data harnessed by the technology.

Customer loyalty and retention

Innovative technologies like AI have a direct impact on customer loyalty and retention. AI-based technology—think chatbots and speech-recognition platforms—are designed to contribute to providing exceptional customer experience, today’s baseline value prop, no matter the industry. Specifically, the “self-service economy” is taking shape due to the fact that 70 percent of consumers expect a self-service option for handling commercial questions and complaints.

Aside from the consumer-level value technology enables, it also acts as a data aggregator for the business, collecting various customer-specific insights that are leveraged to design more personalized experiences for customer, further ensuring happy customers.

Talent management

Artificial intelligence drives business value in so many areas, but one often overlooked area is human resources. For one, data that is harnessed through AI-based technology gives businesses the ability to predict when a customer may leave for another competitor (Sprint actually did this via predictive analytics to help improve retention), helping reduce customer churn rates. In addition, AI-based technology can quickly sort through thousands of job applications in a fraction of the time it would take a person, narrowing down a giant pool of applicants to a few dozen. While AI alone can’t determine the best person for the job, it does extend the career recruiter’s bandwidth who would otherwise be bogged down with tedious and time-consuming tasks and enable them to focus on getting the right people in the door and in jobs that are beneficial for both parties.

Competitive advantage

A recent Infosys survey of 1,600 business and IT executives found that AI is a long-term priority for innovation, with 76 percent of respondents agreeing AI is “fundamental to the success of their organization’s strategy.” Sixty-four percent stated the future growth of their business depends on AI adoption. These beliefs can be tied directly back to increasing competitive advantage but the secret is in how companies use AI to reap the rewards. Earlier this year, Ford motors announced a plan to invest $1 billion over the next five years in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence startup that is focused on developing autonomous vehicle technology. Bosch is placing AI at the forefront of their business as well. The company’s “thinking factory,” currently rolled out in one of Bosch’s German automotive plants, enables AI-powered machines to self-diagnose technical failures, automatically trigger the ordering of replacement parts and anticipate maintenance needs. Bosch predicts more than $2 billion of added revenues and savings from the widespread use of intelligent systems and machines by 2020. Bottom line: AI technology fuels decision management, enables enterprises to efficiently make intelligent conclusions based on automation. The savings refers not just to money, but to the time and energy savings not inconsequential within today’s corporate landscape.

But we’re not there yet. Ninety percent of businesses say their organizations’ continue to face challenges or employee concerns such as fear of change, cultural acceptance and a lack of in-house skills to manage AI—impeding the implementation of artificial intelligence. Only ten percent of those surveyed whose company have adopted AI technologies think that their organization is fully maximizing its capabilities.

Looking ahead, what can be done to fully harness data through the power of AI? Adapting the current workforce to these inevitable changes is important as we move to a more hybrid model (humans + AI). Business leaders have a responsibility to explain the risks and opportunities that the next-gen workforce brings.They can even introduce AI-driven workplace technologies that can detect emotional stress and worker burnout through natural language processing, allowing businesses to use AI for HR value too. After all, it’s the perfect mix that contributes to the bottom line, including our most valuable asset—valued employees.

For more on artificial intelligence and field service, subscribe to Field Service Matters.

Job Shadowing 101: Reduce Technician Churn

Running a successful field service business involves acquiring and retaining top talent—and today, businesses are feeling the pressure. A 2016 report on skilled labor from Home Advisor uncovered that 93% of professionals believe their business would grow over the next 12 months if not for hiring challenges. If you aren’t able to keep field service technicians and managers on board for several months, your high technician churn rates could be costing you thousands of dollars in hiring and training costs.

Research by Gallup’s Business Journal found that employees who are ‘engaged and thriving’ are 59% less likely to seek a position in a different organization in the next 12 months. Engaging an employee starts the very first day, and in our experience, job shadowing during the onboarding process is one of the best ways to foster a long-term employee engagement.

Here’s a closer look at how job shadowing can reduce technician churn:

How Technician Churn Affects Your Business

It takes up to two years for an employee to be fully productive, according to a Training Industry Quarterly report. When field service technicians aren’t staying on board for at least two years, you may not get the most out of your new hires and find yourself having to go back through the hiring process to find skilled workers.

High employee turnover can also impact your recruitment efforts since job seekers often look for a company that has low turnover and a loyal group of employees. Low turnover typically means happy employees, in the interviewees mind.

Benefits of a Job Shadowing Program

Job shadowing provides on-the-job training so that employees can get comfortable with their work environment, learn how things work, and get acquainted with their coworkers and supervisors. The new hire follows an experienced professional around for a day, or even a week, to see firsthand how to perform their job.

Since field service technicians need to learn how to use different types of equipment and get familiar with company processes and protocols, a job shadowing program can provide them with basic skills and knowledge to jump right in to their new role with minimal direction after training is complete.

Job shadowing needs to be part of the onboarding process since it may be the employee’s first experience working onsite or in the field. The new hire can follow the directions of the experienced employee as they perform various field service jobs, communicate with managers and team members, and handle any administrative activities such as using time cards, completing paperwork, or returning equipment after completing a job.

Implementing a Job Shadowing Program

A job shadowing program is only effective when the person guiding the new hire has good leadership and management skills, and serves as a good example of a strong employee at the company. Making sure you are maximizing the new hire’s time is another important item to consider during the onboarding process — too much too soon could leave the new hire feeling overwhelmed and even disinterested in the new opportunity.

Some dos and don’ts when managing a job shadowing program:

  • DO train in chunks: It may be overwhelming for a new hire to follow an experienced employee around for a full 8-hour shift. Consider breaking up the training into half-day experiences so the new employee can absorb the information slowly—and even over the course of a few days if there is a lot to learn.
  • DO take the lead on introductions: It can be intimidating for those who are trying to learn a new job to also interact with people in the workplace. Take the lead on introducing the new hire to all available team members, identifying their role, and indicating whether the new hire will be working with them directly or indirectly. Make arrangements to have the new hire meet with other team members and managers. This can be a semi-formal event so everyone can make their first introductions.
  • DON’T make them feel isolated: Field service technicians may not be working onsite most of the time but they need to get acquainted with employee work areas, offices of different managers, the break room, and storage closets and lockers for equipment. Provide a full site tour and a map if you have one so the new hire can study that as they get settled in.
  • DO Plan on lunch: Taking the new field service techs out to lunch on job shadowing days can be a great way to break the ice and get them more comfortable with you and the work environment. Plan on having lunch together so you get to know them on a more personal level.
  • DON’T be closed to questions or suggestions: Encourage the new hire to ask any questions as you take them through the job duties and explain how things work. This can help reduce some of the stress and anxiety a new employee might experience as they get settled in to their new role.

If you are facing high technician churn year after year, consider adding a job shadowing component to your onboarding process. This will help ensure new hires have enough time to acquire basic skills and get comfortable in their new work environment. One-on-one training can also increase transparency between the employer and new employee so they feel confident and secure about their position—and are more than ready to get to work.

Interested in learning how to continue to engage and inspire workers long after their first 12 months? Read 5 Methods for Inspiring Your Field Service Techs.

Emerging Technologies Expected to Reshape Field Service Management Market

Anyone working in field service management in 2016 is living in interesting times. With the global field service industry expected to grow to $5.11 billion by 2020, aggressively outpacing most others, there’s lots of opportunity ahead—and a lot of changes that come with it. Gartner’s 2016 report on field service management (FSM) delivers the expected analysis of market leaders, their relative positioning, and insight into this changing landscape.

Increasingly, the Magic Quadrant needs to explore emerging technologies shaping the field service management market alongside other trends and business health indicators in the evaluated companies and solutions.

This year’s report gleaned many insights around the way companies are incorporating FSM and enabling technologies, most of which we believe fall into one of three categories: improved connectivity and communication, smarter processes, and solution scalability.

Improved connectivity & communication

  • IoT enablement and work order APIs – There is so much hype around the Internet of Things, it can be a challenge to cut through the noise and determine the strategy necessary to make all these sensors and systems work together. Leading FSM solutions incorporate any and all relevant information from smart connected devices into the algorithms used to schedule and manage the execution of work.
  • Social communication is paramount for field service organizations who are focused on delivering a superior customer experience, as well as increasing efficiency. Field service leaders need to consider communication between field service professionals to help troubleshoot problems while on site at the customer and improve first time fix. Leaders also need to consider how social communication to customers can drive customer lifetime value by eliminating friction in scheduling and fulfilling customer appointments.
  • Wearables – Whether a smart watch, glasses or head-mounted camera, wearables have many practical applications for field service. While it is still early days for wearable adoption in the enterprise, leading FSM solutions have POC’s in place that will enable field service professionals to change their status via a smart watch gesture, or to leverage Augmented Reality and get instructions and schematics overlaid on equipment as they are standing in front of it.

Smarter processes

  • Predictive analytics – Predictive analytics is another weighty topic that can proliferate benefits across the service chain. From using predictive traffic to create more efficient routes, to predictive job durations to create a more accurate schedule, even leveraging data to predict when a machine will need preventative maintenance in order to prevent system failure, leading FSM solutions are enabling their customers to do all this and more.
  • GIS integration – According to Gartner, GIS integration is one of the most commonly used functions, with 45% of field service organization surveyed leveraging this function from their FSM provider. The ability to see where assets, customers, and field service professionals are in relation to each other drives significant benefits for routing, dispatching unplanned and emergency work, and for field service professionals to have visibility into where assets are on a job site, as well as other work they can be performing around their scheduled job.
  • Mobile scheduling and supervisor apps – FSM leaders understand the need for increased usability and expansion of mobility. They provide mobile solutions that are compatible with leading consumer devices, and are empowering new roles in the service organization, such as the field supervisor, with mobility. Field supervisors can now be out in the field mentoring their less experienced professionals while still keeping an eye on the rest of the team’s activities.

Solution scalability/extensibility

  • Mobile app extensibility – Of the field service organization’s surveyed by Gartner, 74% indicated they are using or plan to use the vendor’s latest mobile app within 12 months. Leading FSM solutions give their customers the ability to add new forms and workflows without the need for any coding. This gives the field service professionals the functionality they need to most effectively and efficiently do their jobs at their fingertips in real time.
  • 3rd party service provider enablement – In a recent survey conducted by The Service Council, a resounding 76% of service organizations reported using third parties for field service delivery. Couple that with the rising expectations of consumers, and you need an automated mechanism for having visibility into the jobs and capacity of your contractors. Leading FSM vendors provide service organizations with the ability to automatically manage and streamline contractor scheduling, dispatch and work completion.
  • Multi-tenant SaaS and upgrades – According to Gartner, cloud adoption among new FSM deployments has increased by over 65% from 2014, and now more than 38% are being deployed in a multitenant “public” cloud. Leading FSM vendors are no doubt leveraging the power of the cloud to offer customers seamless upgrades, reduced TCO, improved accessibility, and much more. But they are also offering their solutions on-premises for those organizations who are not yet ready to move to the cloud.

The rapid growth in the field service management space will challenge service-centric organizations to meet shifting customer expectations and fully leverage the emerging technologies and solutions available. Whether today’s market leaders can strengthen their positions depends on their ability to adapt to shifting conditions, use them to their advantage, and rise with the tide of change.

To learn more about the 2016 technology and vendor outlook on field service management, download the full report for free here.

Gartner does not endorse any vendor, product or service depicted in its research publications, and does not advise technology users to select only those vendors with the highest ratings or other designation. Gartner research publications consist of the opinions of Gartner’s research organization and should not be construed as statements of fact. Gartner disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, with respect to this research, including any warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose.

Field Service Engagement: What Zappos Can Teach Field Reps

Imagine that someone asked you to be in a wedding party, and you’re in quick need of new shoes. You’re on a budget, so those fancy designer shoe stores are out of the question. You turn to the Internet for the best deal and find Zappos.

You place an order for delivery on the day of the wedding. But you learn they send the shoes to the wrong location and would miss the deadline.

Panic, right? Not with Zappos.

This story actually happened. And it put the customer in a tight spot with less than one day until the big day. Rather than bury the customer with excuses, Zappos shipped a new pair over night. They also gave the customer a full refund and upgraded him to a VIP member for his trouble.

The customer has since become a lifelong Zappos supporter.

Why should you care about what Zappos does? Because they have an uncanny rate of return customers. Zappos built its sterling field service reputation on the strength of an engaged workforce. They’re committed to positive company values and unshackled from restrictive customer engagement policies. In return, they’ve built an army of loyal customers. In fact, 75-percent of their purchases  come from returning customers.

This story has all the makings of stellar field service engagement. And this is something familiar within Zappos’ customer service culture. So what makes this company so effective with its customer relations?

The best man story is just one example of Zappos’ service model, known as “WOW” (as in, WOW I love Zappos!). The model focuses on creating a values-based internal culture. It involves understanding the worth of customers. And it allows field agents to go beyond “normal” service requests.

Field service managers who want to match Zappos’ success can start with these two tenants from the WOW model.

#1 – Create an Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded Culture

Zappos’ CEO, Tony Hsieh, believes good customer service comes from a happy, motivated, and engaged workforce. He strives to build a workplace culture that employees love. He knows that goodwill translates into improved customer relations.

Zappos’ website says, “we are not an average company, our service is not average, and we don’t want our people to be average. We expect every employee to deliver WOW.” That expectation is born from a culture that embraces individuality and strives to be ‘a little weird.’”

Positive, team-based reinforcement is rampant at Zappos’ headquarters. It creates a passionate workforce, committed to the company (and its customers). Hsieh expanded on this model in a presentation at Stanford:

“We want the person to be the same person at home or in the office because what we’ve found is that’s when the great ideas come out, that’s when their creativity shines and that’s when true friendships are formed – not just coworker relationships. When people are in that environment, that’s when the passion comes out and that’s really what’s driven a lot of our growth over the years.”

#2 – Never Accept (or get too Comfortable With) the Status Quo

Zappos doesn’t force its call center representatives to follow a time requirement. That alone can seem inefficient from a call management standpoint. But it produces unique customer experience stories.

One December morning, a customer called the Zappos service line. But it wasn’t to complain. Instead, the customer wanted to talk with the service rep about living in the Las Vegas area. Instead of gently ushering the customer off the call (or rudely ending it), the rep stayed on the line — for over 10 hours.

Eventually the customer purchased a product, even though that wasn’t the original intent. But the level of service demonstrated by the rep blew the customer away.

Now we aren’t suggesting that your reps spend 10 hours talking to each client. But the desire to please the customer at any cost fuels Zappos’ engagement model.

Where do companies draw the line on providing what the customer wants? For Zappos, the limit is flexible, and constantly evolving to stay ahead of competition.

Hsieh notes that this philosophy pushes back against staid policies. It puts greater trust in employees to adapt and act outside of the box.

“I think the main thing is just trust [the customer service reps] and let them make their own decisions. Most call centers are set up by policies and so the actual person that’s answering the phone doesn’t really have the ability to do anything. If you…call most customer service places, if you ask for anything that’s not normal they have to talk to a supervisor or just say ‘oh our policy doesn’t allow that’ and whatever. So we generally try to stay away from policies, we just ask our reps to do whatever they feel is the right thing to do for the customer and the company.”


Want to learn more about the Zappos way? Click here for additional stories of their service. And learn more about establishing a strong culture of service within your organization.

What does Brexit mean for EU’s mobile workforce ruling?

The recent referendum in the UK regarding membership of the European Union and the subsequent “Brexit” vote has led to unprecedented volatility in the market, resignations of members of parliament and uncertainty about what this may mean in the months ahead. While this uncertainty has been a big focus around the globe, the debate continues about whether the referendum will even lead to Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union being triggered, and so any potential impact is currently unknown.

With the UK, as a whole, is in such limbo, it’s no surprise that the impact on the split from the EU and its Court of Justice, will have ramifications for the future of field service management in the UK and Europe. There are multiple judgments from the European Court of Justice that, as part of the EU’s “Working Time Directive,” are in progress and will need to be considered as the UK’s future in Europe is clarified.

Last year we reported on one such ruling regarding the definition of travel time that now, given Brexit, may or may not play a role in the UK’s employment law going forward:

In September 2015, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) held that travel time by an employee with no fixed or habitual place of work between their homes and their first and last customer appointments in the day constitute working time. This decision has significant impact on ensuring employee scheduling complies with labor requirements, especially ensuring that workers are given the required amount of rest time between work shifts.

What caused this case?

In 2011, a Spanish security company closed its provincial offices. The result was that field technicians responsible for installing and repairing security systems throughout the country no longer go into the office. Instead, they receive their daily list of appointments the night before and the next day go directly to their appointments. In some cases, field technicians were sent to locations more than 100 kilometers away. Before the office closure, field technician working hours started once they arrived at the office and stopped upon returning the company vehicle. The lack of an office caused major problems figuring out payroll and tracking other expenses.

A Spanish court asked the ECJ to rule whether travel time at the start and end of the work day is considered working time under the EU’s “Work Time Directive.” The ECJ decided that the employees were at “the disposal” of their employers when driving to the office or the first appointment and acting on their instructions. In addition, the court noted that the fact that travel time now started and ended at the employee’s home was a direct consequence of the company’s decision to close the regional offices. The decision stated that requiring employees “to bear the burden of their employer’s choice would be contrary to the objective of protecting the safety and health of workers pursued by the directive.”

Fallout from the case

The ruling regarding travel to and from the office at the beginning and end of the day has fundamentally changed the definition of work hours, especially in the field service industry. However, it should be noted that the changes are limited to the EU’s “Work Time Directive.” The directive limits the definition to:

  • maximum number of work hours per week

  • mandatory rest periods within a single shift and between shifts

  • special rules that apply to night time work or specific industry sectors

Now that the ECJ has expanded what qualifies as “work time”—at least regarding workers with no fixed workplace—companies throughout the EU have to reassess how they’re scheduling employees. For example, before the ruling, a field technician could average five customers a day. That may drop to four now that the start and end of day travel time is included in their eight-hour day—causing a potential 20 percent drop in productivity with the stroke of a court’s pen.

What role can workforce management software play?

A company without a intuitive mobile workforce management tool to help them optimize their workforce will have to hire more workers to maintain productivity and minimize risk—that’s an expensive option. Workforce management software can be used so companies can incorporate the new rulings into the work flow and become agile, as they adjust to the growing and evolving patchwork of legal and business requirements governing how they schedule employees.

Shift work has its own host of scheduling quirks and needs, but the explosion of the mobile workforce has created multiple new layers of scheduling complexity. There are also new kinds of mobile workers. As an increasing number of companies are eliminating offices entirely, the number of remote workers is growing.

High profile companies, like Google and Yahoo, provide employees transportation shuttles to their offices. How long will be it be until a court decides that the time spent on these wifi-enabled shuttles that allow employees to work during their commute must also be included in work hour calculations?

Companies must constantly reevaluate whether their current policies comply with new legal and business requirements. Scheduling is now far too intricate to leave to human planning. Having a system in place that provides artificial intelligence and adds visibility into your workforce minimizes the risk of noncompliance. The ability to track remote workers’ locations and movements—and forecast staff workloads to coincide with daily commutes and other necessary travel—can optimize labor costs without experiencing a decline in customer service levels.

As the ramifications of Brexit become clearer, these and similar directives will require flexible workforce management capabilities to deliver the operational visibility, adhere to the appropriate legislative requirements, and give companies the level of business control necessary. Let’s see what happens next.

#FailFriday: Tales of Field Service Management Mishaps

Internet Service for a Startup

For every stellar field service story that we encounter, there are several less-than-stellar examples to serve as warnings for how field service can go south. It’s bad enough when the service isn’t provided on time, but some truly eye-opening cases involve businesses fleecing their customers or demanding additional fees for underperforming services.

To recognize this week’s #FailFriday, let the following story serve as a call to action for good field service management—and for good business practice in general.

The scene: Installing internet service for a startup

A California startup company sought internet service from a major communications provider. Before setting up their office space, the startup’s CEO was assured by the provider that internet service would be available at their new address.

To the CEO’s surprise, they were later informed that service was not available—after they had moved into the office space and signed a lease. Subsequent calls resulted in more confusion regarding the contract terms, delays in construction of new fiber optic infrastructure, and immense frustration for the startup team.

After several months, the startup sought to terminate their contract, having received none of the service they were initially offered. They were then hit with a $60,000 bill from that same provider to cover construction costs during the length of the contract.

None of this was made clear throughout the construction and sales process. As a result, the startup was forced to move out of their office space and manage their business on home Internet connections.

So to sum up: Provider promises service in a specific area, can’t deliver, and demands $60,000 to cover construction costs. The startup was able to get that fee waived, though only after working with the provider’s PR team instead of the standard sales and support teams.

In the end, it resulted in a complete breakdown of effective field service best practices.

The issue: Lack of communication on service levels/areas

When your company (or website) promises one thing, and you deliver something else (or nothing at all), that’s grounds for immediate customer dissatisfaction. In this case, the provider repeatedly assured the startup that service was available, yet failed to adequately check the address before pursuing the sale.

This is where a modern field service software system would benefit the entire process. Had the provider sent out a technician to test the startup’s proposed office site before proposing a contract, they would have avoided any of the resulting chaos.

The provider also failed the customer by breaking several other customer service tenets, including:

  • Not clarifying that their online service area map is subject to change
  • Claiming that the signed agreement with the customer was dependent on local surveys (after the agreement was actually signed)
  • Trying to upsell to a faster (and more expensive) connection after it was clear that the lower tier would not work
  • Lack of communication regarding construction delays

Communication is at the heart of all these mistakes. A recent TechnologyAdvice study noted that 56.2% of customers were not routinely informed about service delays, leaving plenty of room for improvement.

The solution: Real-time visibility and responsiveness to requests

Now imagine if this same provider had used a more real-time model to assess the startup’s viability for service. They could have contacted a nearby technician to quickly determine service viability at the proposed site, relayed that information to the customer, and altered the service proposal based on that assessment.

In the case of this provider, it would have meant lost business, because they didn’t offer service in the area. But it would have also saved $60,000 in unnecessary construction costs and endless hours of  troubleshooting contract issues.

The TechnologyAdvice study further explained how field service management software could have helped the provider better manage the customer experience:

  • Supports end-to-end service delivery, with back-office system integration
  • Allows for greater preventative asset maintenance, which can reduce overhead costs and avoid service interruptions
  • Optimizes routes in real time to enable quicker scheduling, overcoming any logistical hurdles and enabling more visits
  • Creates frequent mobile reminders and push notifications to keep customers informed without needing to call back

The story has a happy ending for the startup, as they were relieved of that $60,000 fee. But the headaches still remain from a lengthy—and completely avoidable—customer service blunder. For the provider, it’s a lesson in communication that won’t soon be forgotten.

Want to read more field service #FailFridays? Subscribe to our content to receive alerts when your favorite articles have published.

 

 

The Motivating Manager: 5 Methods for Inspiring Your Field Service Techs

Field service management is becoming more technologically-driven and demanding with every year that passes. Our customers expect instant service, staff want more advancement opportunities, and the number of systems we manage continues to balloon. We’re getting crushed under the weight of the always-on customer.

Furthermore, it’s a real challenge finding field service talent who have both the technological background and customer-facing skills necessary for succeeding in today’s market. So tough, in fact, that a full 55% of service employers report having a hard time filling open positions. In addition, field service professionals are aging; 70% of service organizations report they will be facing a pinch from retiring workers in 5-10 years.

So, how can field service managers bridge the gap and hire the best of the best? There you are at your desk scratching your head thinking, Oh finally! Someone will tell me where to find these super-human, tech-savvy field service pros with unparallelled people skills! So sorry to disappoint, but not enough exist.

It doesn’t mean we can’t create these professionals. As managers in this new age of field service, it’s our responsibility to train up our ideal employees. It’s never been truer that great employees aren’t hired, they’re made.

The following 5 tips can put you on the path to a more engaged and productive field service staff.

1. Take to the Streets

You got where you are by hard work. And you likely have years of field service experience under your belt. So, why are you sitting in an office shuffling papers, shrugging your shoulders when your field techs don’t “get it?” The best way to motivate your field reps, techs, and other pros is to take it to the streets. And no, you don’t have to give up your daily responsibilities to make this happen. But get out there—undercover boss style—and figure out what challenges your field force is facing. Understanding how the field has changed will give you the ammunition you need to better motivate, engage and inspire your field techs. Whether it’s once a week, monthly, or every year—set up a regular cadence for getting out into the field.

2. Train, Test, Train Some More

Training programs and tech schools for field service pros offer a wide range and significant background for potential talent. But your best bet at keeping them engaged at your organization is to train them with specific in-field conditions before they ever get there. The reason veterans make such good field service employees is they understand the value of sound training. Does this mean you should make them watch an OSHA safety video 10 times instead of just once? No.

Instead, we’re talking nitty gritty, get-your-hands-dirty training. Here are some examples:

  • Is your organization in HVAC repair? Buy 20 units, break them, and sick your newbies on the problem.
  • Do you have telecommunications reps in the field? Run free installs at willing employees’ houses, and send your fresh faces out to do the work.

Getting your field force to understand that the being well-trained also means they’ll move up the ranks can have a big impact on overall company performance.

Finally, testing your field service pros is also helpful. And the test doesn’t have to be difficult. You just need to make it clear that they will be tested. Its basic human nature; if they think a tough test is coming, they’ll prepare more aggressively.

3. Incentivize

This is the number one area managers struggle with. Giving away bundles of gift cards, or showing favoritism might not work for HR, but that doesn’t mean offering corporate recognition should get thrown out the window. In fact, a recent study found that 77% of employees say they would work harder if they were better recognized.

Of course, people should just do their jobs well out of good will, right? Unfortunately, that’s not the world we’re living in. Don’t give away the farm, but do find creative ways to incentivize employees to do outstanding work.
Here are a few ideas:

  • Is your field force into hockey? Give out some free seats every month, raffle-style.
  • Do your employees have children? Offer to fund some daycare to those that get exemplary remarks from customers.
  • Is there a lunch spot nearby? Set a customer satisfaction benchmark, and when the team hits their number take them all out (or offer gift card) for free lunch.

4. Create Culture

The biggest thing field service organizations are losing sight of is culture. Among the many rules and regulations, scripts and best-practices we wade through each day, it’s easy to forget how crucial team-building is, no matter the organization.

It’s up to you as management to create a healthy team culture. And not the culture in the Greek frat sense. We’re talking broader strokes. Does your team hang out? Do they get along? Do they know each other’s names? Do you grill out, or have barbeques? Figure out what everyone’s common ground is and get employees talking.

Once you’ve aligned around common culture, you can start to move toward common goals as an organization.

5. Gamify

The latest research has shown that gamification is a viable solution for improving productivity in the workplace. But, you don’t need to buy virtual reality headsets to make this happen. Start by putting up a score board in your office. Open up the floor for debating the route structure, and gamify the outcome. The bottom line is that any chance you have to get your field force viewing their job as something more, and something they can beat, you’ll automatically have more engaged and energized employees. If beating the game means better service customers, it’s worth a shot.

If you set the right rules, gamification can be an absolute (pun intended) game changer.

So, is hiring amazing talent tough? Yes. But, motivating your existing field force to greater ambitions doesn’t have to be. With a few tweaks, some hard work, and by setting a perfectly good example, you can ensure your field service professionals become more engaged and excited in their day-to-day operations. Pick a few metrics to track month-over-month like retention, field operations efficiency, or customer satisfaction. Give one of the tips from above a shot! You just might see an uptick in the data.