The Service Council, with the aid of the SmartVan community, surveyed more than 180 service and manufacturing organizations on the state of their field service businesses and priorities for 2015. We are still compiling the findings but have already noticed some surprising takeaways:

1. Customers Hold on to Aging Equipment

Fifty-five percent of respondents indicated that they saw an increase in field activity (as measured by total service visits). While this in itself isn’t surprising, what is surprising is that for those who saw an increase in service visits, nearly 40 percent attributed it to customers holding on to equipment longer. We’ve heard that with an improving global economy, organizations are beginning to invest in new equipment and new tools. This shows that we continue to see some concern.

2. Talent Gap Conundrum

Two-thirds of organizations state that they are able to meet increasing field service demand with current workforce levels. This is surprising as we consistently see organizations scrambling to acquire field service talent. One thing to note is that most of the worry is focused on talent loss and hiring three to five years from now. While most organizations are currently comfortable with workforce levels, this is likely to change in the near future. (Note: 47 percent of respondents report having unfilled positions for field service agents to close the year.)

3. Substantial Rise in Field Service Revenue

Sixty-eight percent of respondents drew more revenue from their field service businesses in 2014, when compared to 2013. What’s surprising is that nearly two-thirds of those respondents saw a greater than 10 percent increase in field service-generated revenue compared with 2013. This is substantial.

4. Parts, Inventory Management Top Challenges

theservicecouncil.pngIn improving field service execution, respondents highlighted that parts and inventory management present the greatest challenge. This is a pleasant surprise. Most organizations get so caught up in optimizing employees that they forget about the impact of parts on field service delivery. Another trend we’re seeing is organizations paying more attention to returned parts management owing to the large amount of untracked inventory sitting in field service vehicles.

5. Biggest Customer Complaints? Effectiveness and Cost

When tallying the top reasons for customer complaints with field service (the top being poor first-visit fix rates), we found that 31 percent of organizations said their customers balk at the cost of service. We haven’t seen this in previous surveys, and it reflects the high cost that customers pay for service that isn’t under contract.

6. Some Organizations Still Use Paper

To improve a day in the life of front-line technicians, 52 percent of respondents prioritized the reduction of administrative paperwork with the aid of mobile applications. And here we thought that everyone was mobile.

7. Lack of Self-Service Options

Forty-seven percent of respondents stated that their customers have no self-service options to view technician status, schedule appointments, reschedule visits, review completed work, and more. As organizations look to improve the field service experience offered to customers, there needs to be a greater investment in self-service applications and tools available to customers.

8. Video Investments Heat Up

Fifty-six percent of organizations are considering real-time video feeds to improve field service efficiency. Nearly a third of that group is currently building the business case for adoption in the short-term. We’ve never seen such a high interest in video for field service delivery, and this indicates a greater comfort with the quality and reliability of commercially available video products.

These are some of the more surprising takeaways from my preliminary analysis. Stay tuned for a summary of the overall findings.

ABOUT Sumair Dutta

sumair duttaSumair Dutta is the VP of product marketing at ServiceMax. In this role, he helps shape ServiceMax messaging and positioning to support customers and prospects. Previously, Sumair worked closely with leaders of service businesses to define and shape their service vision while working hand in hand with implementation teams to execute on established service plans. Sumair is a thought leader in the field service and service management spaces and has conducted numerous research projects in the areas of field service, customer support and business strategy. He brings more than 15 years of experience in studying, analyzing and guiding field service organizations, first at the Aberdeen Group and most recently as the chief customer officer at The Service Council.