Adjusting Your Field Service Operations to Thrive Post-Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every company in the field service industry differently.
Some experienced a surge of new business. Any provider involved with home services – HVAC contractors, home networking technicians, pool cleaners, etc. – saw demand for services skyrocket as people spent more time around the house. Median revenue for these providers reached a record high at the end of 2020, climbing 23% over the prior year.
Field service providers focused on commercial and industrial clients faced a different situation. As offices closed down or scaled back, demand for services, such as copy machine repair or vending machine restocking dried up dramatically. And with the manufacturing sector facing supply chain issues, material shortages, and demand uncertainty, some companies chose to delay service until later or forego it entirely. Providers that started 2020 with a rosy forecast for the year ahead fell, in many cases, far short of projections.
However a field service provider has fared through the pandemic thus far, it is clear that things will never be the same again. Customer expectations have changed. Market forces have moved. The employee outlook has evolved. And the industry is in flux. Whatever form the “new normal” takes, it will compel everyone in field service to adapt. Making the right adjustments will help some maintain the momentum they gained during the pandemic while helping others overcome the unexpected obstacles they encountered. In both cases the steps to thrive in a post-pandemic world are the same.
Paper documents have always been annoying to manage and can be easily lost. During the pandemic they also became dangerous to handle. Not just because the documents themselves could potentially carry the virus but also because exchanging documents and signatures requires close proximity between two or more people.
One of the earliest ways providers adapted to the pandemic was by switching from paper to digital documents – digitizing — wherever possible. Ditching paper documents was both an important health and safety measure ,as well as a sign of respect to the employees and customers who exchange information in the field. The circumstances may have been unique to the pandemic, but paper documents will not look any more appealing once things return to normal.
Providers that commit to going paperless are well-positioned to meet evolving expectations around human contact. They can also take advantage of digital documentation to integrate, organize, and analyze data from the field. All signs suggest that paperwork is a thing of the past.
The mandate to complete service requests in one visit took on new importance during the pandemic. Customers wanted to interact with technicians as little as possible, making subsequent visits more undesirable and risky. Providers had similar health and safety concerns, but they were also dealing with economic uncertainty (or overwhelming demand) that made it imperative to maximize service delivery efficiency.
Completing service visits in one trip requires extensive preparation. Technicians need to know exactly what the job will entail and have access to the necessary parts and equipment . Once in the field, they also need access to equipment manuals, service histories, and the expertise of other technicians so they can complete jobs even when the unexpected arises.
The pandemic will make one-trip service the norm, giving providers that can meet this standard a lasting competitive advantage. Field service management software that integrates inventory tracking, technician routing, and job/asset histories in one place makes it easier to coordinate resources and prevent repeat visits. Productivity and customer satisfaction both improve as a result.
The unexpected outbreak of the pandemic necessitated changes to many service level agreements (SLAs). Some changes came in response to social distancing mandates that made it impossible to meet existing obligations. In other cases, providers offered extended payment terms in order to preserve positive relationships with customers struggling to handle the pandemic’s economic fallout.
There may be opportunities to reverse these changes after the pandemic subsides, but providers should expect new alterations to SLAs. For example, customers increasingly expect predictive rather than preventative service delivery. The pandemic may also lead to new rules and regulations with which SLAs must comply..
Adapting agreements to the new normal will take two things. First, the ability to understand how service delivery and business performance interact and how any changes to SLAs will affect both. With enough visibility and insight, providers can devise terms that look attractive to customers yet still boost the bottom line. Second, a way to translate new terms into real processes that technicians can follow in the field. Checklists (paperless ones) are the ideal tool because they are easy to update with changes and are simple for field service technicians to follow.
Attracting and retaining qualified field service technicians has been an issue throughout the pandemic. Health and safety concerns kept some techs out of the workforce, as did government subsidies to some degree. And for those providers who needed to hire new techs to support growth, locating qualified talent has not been easy. Widespread staffing shortages only contributed to the disruption of the pandemic.
Those shortages may persist after the pandemic due to accelerated retirements, interrupted training programs, and continued fears about the virus. When the labor market cannot provide the necessary talent, the next option is to cross-train existing techs in new skills. Now is an ideal time for training efforts because many aspects of technicians’ job responsibilities will forever be changed by the pandemic.
Providers can make cross-training a priority without it becoming a distraction by looking closely at their schedule. Knowing where every tech will be for days and weeks in advance reveals when there is downtime to use for training. Effective scheduling is also important for optimizing utilization of your existing staff and minimizing or eliminating the need to unnecessarily hire more people.
Innovate & Invest
The pandemic made one thing clear: the status quo is no longer adequate. How exactly companies change in response to the pandemic will vary by organization, but the imperative for change is universal. Doing nothing differently is the single biggest mistake a provider could make in the coming months and years.
Every provider, regardless of size or specialty, will need to make innovation and investment their guiding principles moving forward. They must be committed to finding better methods and viewing such efforts as vital for their sustained success. Providers must also be willing to spend on new tools, technology, or technicians as necessary, even if the economics seem undesirable. The right investments now, at this industry-wide inflection point, could pay the greatest dividends down the road.
Discovering how to innovate and deciding where to invest requires one thing above all: visibility. When providers can see all aspects of their business, stretching from operations to accounting, on one platform, the strengths and weaknesses become more apparent. Innovation and investment pose less risk to fail when they are informed by a complete understanding of the organization and everything happening therein.
Embrace Digital Transformation
Technology was how most providers (most everyone for that matter) survived the pandemic. Providers that were already “digitally driven” found it easier to adapt to the unprecedented and keep things running as normal. Alternatively, providers who had resisted or neglected technology were finally convinced that an upgrade was essential.
One of the biggest consequences of the pandemic will be digital transformation across industries. Field service is both overdue for this transformation and uniquely positioned to benefit from it. Providers that digitize, integrate, and automate more of what they do can outperform their competitors and over-deliver on customer expectations. Most importantly, they can remain relevant in a digital-first world.
Digital transformation can seem intimidating, but it is less expensive, complicated, or disruptive than it seems. The key is to make the biggest impact with the fewest technologies. That means a single piece of software to handle all aspects of service planning and delivery that, ideally, operates within the same ecosystem as the accounting and business management software. It is seamless, but more importantly, it is simple.
Consumer expectations changed as a result of the pandemic. People now expect anything they want or need to arrive quickly at their front door, whether that is food delivery or service technicians. And now that the home has taken on so many new purposes (office, gym, entertainment destination, etc.), people have greater expectations and higher standards.
The providers that can accommodate these new demands can capture more market share and gain lifelong loyal customers. But it will not be easy. First, they need to understand what today’s and tomorrow’s customers expect from field service, both the provider at large and the techs at their front door. Then, they must turn those insights into changes at all levels of the company.
Engaging customers depends almost entirely on doing things consistently. A stellar experience one time is not sufficient – it needs to be exceptional every time. That requires more integration between various aspects of service delivery along with extensive data about every customer so that each interaction informs the next one. Personalized relationships with customers lead to lasting partnerships.
The pandemic made change mandatory, but it is not a one-time event. Rather, recent history underscores the need for continuous improvement and adaptation to stay ahead of unexpected events (like a global pandemic) or transformational forces (like climate change or the digital revolution). Even if the pandemic had never arrived, field service providers would have needed to start evolving – and keep evolving for years to come.
That will be important to remain aware of in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. Short-term challenges and opportunities can obscure important matters looming in the long-term, including the emergence of technologies like augmented reality (AR) or the effects of consolidation in the industry. Foresight has never been more important or complacency more dangerous.
Staying focused on the future begins by streamlining the present. When providers can automate operations, eliminate persistent problems, ensure compliance, and engineer efficiency, they can put more energy into forecasting and planning. And when it is time to make strategic moves, the company can move seamlessly thanks to integration between data, tools, and departments.
NextService – The Key Ingredient for Post-Pandemic Success
Thrive like never before with unparalleled field service management software from NextService. Our software integrates all facets of field service onto a data-rich, mobile-optimized platform built to ensure excellence and maximize customer engagement. Native integration between NextService and NetSuite also creates a seamless link between everything a field service provider cares about. Adaption comes easily once everything operates in sync. And success comes naturally for providers who can innovate and improve at will. Put your post-pandemic plans into action by contacting us.
David Augustiniak, Customer Success Consultant
David is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee with a bachelor’s degree in Information Sciences and Technology and a certificate in Health Care Informatics and Digital Arts and Culture. He has a passion for learning ways in which IT can help those in need.
He is an avid reader, humanist, and traveler looking to experience the world one culture at a time. In his free time, he enjoys volunteering or spending time outdoors.