When was the last time you had to wait longer than 5 minutes to get a response to a general question?
Go ahead and think about it. If I had to guess, it has been quite a while. Many of us have grown increasingly reliant on our ability to get the answers we need, almost instantaneously, by pulling out our smartphones and looking it up in a search engine or asking a friend. But that hasn’t always been the case. As long as more complex things have broken, we’ve relied on someone with specialized skills to come fix it—and if they needed a part or some other assistance, they would have to call for remote support. If we think about the evolution of communication methods, we can begin to paint a picture of how that may have worked in the past, and what the future holds.
First There Was Smoke…Then Pigeons
Smoke signals are one of the oldest forms of long-distance communication. In ancient China, soldiers stationed along the Great Wall of China used smoke signals to alert each other of impending enemy attacks. Now if you were an engineer working on the Great Wall of China, you might see that signal as an indication that repairs will need to be made. Taking the smoke signal a step further, the Greek historian and scholar, Polybius, devised a system of smoke and fire signals to denote specific letters of the alphabet. This was a rudimentary form of a cipher, and one of the earliest ways to encrypt communications.
If the engineer accepted a job around 3000 BC, then perhaps they sent the response back to the pigeon post in Egypt. As carrier pigeon is typically a one-way method of communicating; a rider may have been dispatched to the technician to advise of the request for assistance. Then the acceptance message could have been tied around the leg of the pigeon, who has the innate ability to find its way back to the nest when taken far from home, due to a highly developed sense of orientation. Carrier pigeons, while not quick, were a reliable form of communication that continued to be used around the world, even into this century. The Odisha Pigeon Service was established in 1946, and only ceased official operation in 2002!
Nowadays, our engineers are able to accept a job much easier than they did in the past. It may work a number of ways. They may be told what work they are completing simply by receiving an email about the work; they may be able to open an app and click ‘accept’; or they may be able to work within a team of experts utilizing real-time communication for remote support. In this last instance, they can see when their message was read, and whether someone has accepted their request for assistance.
Next Up: Morse Code & The Telephone
While not the first telegraphy system created, Samuel Morse’s 1838 invention of sending messages via Morse code is arguably the most famous. Imagine the possibilities, as field service engineers now had two-way communication capabilities to send and receive messages about the work, parts, or assistance needed. They would still have to go to the local telegraph office, leaving the work unfinished, but it was a vast improvement over the previous methods.
Luckily, in 1876 Alexander Graham Bell became the first person to be granted a United States patent for a device that had the ability to clearly replicate the human voice at a second device. Landline telephones enabled FSE’s to pick up the phone and call the office when they had an issue. Assuming they were in the same time zone, they could spend hours on the phone walking someone through an issue, describing all the intricacies of the asset in great detail, and ensuring that work was completed on the first visit; no return visit required. While this is an improved form of remote support, call center support doesn’t allow technicians to share images and video requires techs to hold a phone up to their ear while they are trying to work and doesn’t capture knowledge that could be shared with the broader team of engineers.
Today the Internet, Tomorrow?
The structure of the internet may have existed for some time prior to the invention of the World Wide Web, but when Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee proposed the idea of an information management system in 1989, it fundamentally changed the way the world would operate. Many organizations still utilize pen and paper for detail regarding their work, with most including email for some of their communication.
This addition of email enabled FSE’s or even customers to send messages and photos back to the office, so they could share a visual of the asset and the work that needed to be completed. It also allowed the tech to send a message to multiple people at one time, effectively building mastermind groups of troubleshooting engineers completing remote work. While this has been a much more effective method for finding solutions to common problems, it doesn’t allow for the capture of those solutions; and even more importantly, it’s not real-time. That’s why we’ve been focusing on building real-time remote support tools like Zinc Intelligent Remote Service that allow you to capture the solutions, identify training opportunities, and attach that information to the work order and asset history.
So why all the focus on moving to the most advanced form of remote support?
It really comes down to two things:
- Your customers
- Your P&L
Remote support enables faster resolution times for your customers; whether that is inspection, installation, repair, or service maintenance. And we all know that less downtime leads to higher revenue for your customers, which leads to happier customers. Happier customers are more likely to tell others about your business, and to sign long-term contracts which means stable recurring revenue. When your service business has long term annuity streams, you are able to forecast for the future, and focus on growth. That top-line growth combined with the bottom-line savings you have achieved through remote support means a healthy business that is prepared for the future.