As is the case with most conferences, Field Service USA was held remotely last week. Palm Springs would have presented a much nicer venue in comparison to my home office, but that aside, I was pleased to see the high caliber of discussions taking place at the event. One of my favorite sessions of the event focused on ‘Key Technologies Field Service Organizations Should Be Investing in Today to Ensure Continuity and Growth in a Post-Pandemic Economy.” The session featured:

  • Marlene Kolodziej, Vice President Centralized Services, Ricoh USA Inc.
  • Mark Hessinger, Vice President Global Customer Support, 3D Systems
  • Haroon Abbu, Vice President Analytics Practice and Data Services, Bell and Howell

A constant theme of the session, and the overall event, was the acceleration of digital plans and trends particularly in the area of remote support. There were three areas of remote support being discussed.

  • Remote connectivity – the ability for service organizations to remotely monitor or connect to their assets to drive various outcomes (diagnosis, update, repair, analysis)
  • Remote technical support – the ability for the service organization to remotely support a customer to a particular service outcome
  • Remote assistance – the ability for a field service technician to seek and receive remote assistance to solve a problem or challenge that they are encountering

All three areas of remote service are of greater interest to service organizations and their customers as they can potentially:

  • Reduce customer downtime
  • Increase time to resolution
  • Eliminate unnecessary field visits
  • Increase work and workforce efficiency

Considerations for Long-Term Delivery of Remote Support

During Field Service USA, I had the opportunity to lead a workshop to dig deeper into the area of remote technical support. As part of the workshop, I was curious to see if the interest in remote support was part of a longer-term trend or if things were expected to get back to normal once the disruption of the pandemic passed. From the level of discussion taking place at the workshop and at other events such as ServiceMax’s CSO Summits, it seems to me that organizations are investing in remote support for the long-term. A key reason for this conclusion is that service leaders are no longer just thinking of the features or tools to enable remote support but are also strategically thinking of how remote support fits into their overall service delivery infrastructure. This involves considerations around:

1. Monetization of Remote Support

While remote support might be a necessity in today’s world, can it be sold to customers? This is extremely relevant if remote sessions remove the need for other field-based revenue streams. Currently, service leaders are primarily looking at a model where remote support is included in the premium service contracts and then charged by the call for those customers who haven’t purchased premium contracts.

2. Entitlements for Remote Support

Several organizations already have response commitments tied to remote support. In essence, they have to respond remotely to a service request with a certain timeframe to be in compliance which makes it essential to have visibility into entitlements when remote requests are made. Other organizations have different pricing levels for remote support. For instance, if the remote technician is unable to resolve the service request, the proceeding field service event is charged at a discounted rate owing to the level of triage conducted during the remote event.

3. Remote Support as a Standard Process

Does every incoming technical support request need to go through a remote support workflow? Does every incoming request become an official work order that needs to be opened, managed, and closed? The answer to these questions is based on commercial and capacity considerations. Most organizations have level 1 support agents who capture service information and determine follow-on actions. In most instances, it is impossible for these agents to capture deeper asset, issue, or triage information. Therefore, the service request gets sent to the field for necessary triage or gets escalated to a remote technical support team. There is a definite benefit to capturing additional information remotely, but organizations are still not convinced that every technical service call needs to go through a remote workflow.

4. The Remote Customer Experience

There is greater attention being paid to the channels available for remote support. Is text or messaging good enough to solve customer issues or is there a greater need for audio-visual channels? In addition, organizations are considering the ease with which customers can initiate remote support requests. Some are including options for remote initiation within their customer service applications or communities. Others are more focused on service agent-initiated remote experience where the agent invites the customer to join a live session via chat, text, or email.

5. Development and Management of a Remote Support Workforce

As the demand for remote support increases, organizations are looking to build their remote support capacity. While most organizations find it necessary to have a dedicated remote support workforce, others are looking to augment their existing remote capacity with field service agents who might have ‘white space’ on their calendars. Others are looking at agents across time zones and geographies.

Considerations of skillsets, availability, and expertise, typically reserved for the scheduling of field-based work, are also being applied to remote support models. Can a remote request be routed to the right support agent to ensure an effective resolution? Organizations are looking into the alignment of their remote agents by asset familiarity and service expertise to ensure adequate service coverage.

6. Tools and Resources Available for the Remote Support Workforce

A common practice is for organizations to offer remote support roles to their retiring field service workers. The thought is that these workers are less interested in the travel or wear and tear associated with traditional field roles but would still like to contribute to their organizations and customers. The great benefit of relying on an experienced workforce is in the ease with which they can leverage their knowledge to diagnose or resolve the situation. It is easier for them to listen to or see an underperforming asset and arrive at the possible error and solution. The problem is that this knowledge continues to remain tribal and isn’t documented or transferred to less experienced remote support agents. Therefore, organizations need to consider two sets of tools for remote support agents – those that enable useful remote interactions as well as those that provide necessary knowledge and information to remote agents.

7. Accounting for Remote Support Work

Many service organizations are looking to build a common service language that documents machine errors, work done, skills used, parts required, time commitment, and more. This common language is needed to build a service database that can be mined for usable intelligence and predictive outcomes. If x error occurs in the future, the organization can leverage this database to determine the most likely resolution commitment and scenario. Remote support sessions need to be an integral part of this common service language which means that every remote session should have an accompanying work order that captures relevant information. More so, remote support activity needs to be made available to other service stakeholders such as technicians and customers.

8. Metrics to Measure Remote Support Success

Resolution time and dispatch avoidance are the most common metric areas being used to measure remote support success. As this space matures, organizations will also begin to look at areas such as

  • Remote workforce utilization
  • NPS with remote support sessions
  • Compliance with remote-level entitlements
  • Revenue per remote support agent

It’s exciting to see the level of thought being applied to remote support in such a short period of time. Organizations are being much more agile in their approach and there is a greater appetite for experimentation. There are challenges to be ironed out. For example, organizations are worried about warranty and liability issues if a remote session leads to a customer doing something wrong. Others are more concerned with remote support eroding the perceived value associated with a field service relationship. As we experiment further, more challenges will emerge. That said, COVID-19 has increased everyone’s appetite for innovation by lowering the cost associated with failure. I’d be interested to hear how your organization is approaching remote support.

Also, stay tuned for part 2 of the remote series where Daniel Brabec discusses trends in remote assistance for technicians.

 

ABOUT Sumair Dutta

Sumair DuttaSumair Dutta is the director of digital transformation at ServiceMax. In his role, he works closely with ServiceMax customers to maximize the results from their business and digital transformation journeys. He works 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.