Every time a field engineer shuts off their van’s engine and steps onto a customer’s site, they’re taking a leap into the unknown. Every job is different.

There’s no guarantee that the site will be easy to find and in good condition. Just getting to the right room or machine can feel like a wild goose chase. The equipment itself might be rusted and dirty. Or even worse, a previous field engineer might have botched the last service job or used cheap aftermarket parts. And customers themselves are an endless source of surprises, with their schedule changes and differing preferences. Bad weather and gridlocked roads don’t make things any easier.

On top of all the unpredictability that comes with going out in the field, the technical service work can be full of surprises too. Field engineers need to be able to solve a huge variety of different problems. Machines can fail in a million different ways. And even routine maintenance and installation work can be complex and vary enormously from one product line to the next.

To be successful, field engineers need support from their team. They need as much advance knowledge as possible, and quick answers when problems arise. When field engineers don’t get answers and support, work is done poorly, jobs go over schedule, visits are repeated, sales opportunities are missed, and customers are unhappy.

The reality of the status quo: WhatsApp, SMS, calls 

Enabling effective field support and collaboration can be surprisingly hard for many modern service organizations. Rapid growth, complex organizational structures, and generational turnover can make it hard to ensure everyone in the field stays connected and gets the support they need.

Because field engineers tend to be resourceful problem solvers by nature, when they run into a problem, they’ll try to get an answer one way or another—they’ll ask a friend on WhatsApp, call another technician, or fire off an email to a vendor.

However, they don’t always get the best results. They miss out on critical knowledge and expertise. How often does their buddy have an answer? And for the technicians who do seem to know everything, they end up spending all their time helping their less experienced teammates and can’t get anything done themselves.

Plus, all these conversations, answers, and insights get lost in the wind. Or, worse yet, sensitive intellectual property or customer details end up on employees’ personal WhatsApp accounts and devices.

The DNA of Zinc: combining tribal knowledge, collaboration, and situational awareness

With ServiceMax Zinc, we’re focused on solving these problems and helping service teams collaborate and share knowledge more effectively. The idea is not just to give people yet another communication app—there are a million generic communication tools out there already, all designed to serve as wide an audience as possible with the same set of messaging and video calling features.

Instead, we’re focused on helping field service teams use messaging and calling more effectively. Rather than just another solution to the “how” of communication, Zinc helps solve the “who” and “what” as well.  Zinc makes it easy to connect with the best expert for help, and to ensure all the right stakeholders stay informed. By linking conversations to relevant service data records, and using artificial intelligence and bots to automate as much communication as possible, Zinc makes field service collaboration easy, transparent and accessible.

While Zinc is designed to look and feel like popular messaging apps to keep the learning curve minimal, it also has features designed specifically for field service scenarios, such as text-to-speech technology that reads messages out loud, photo text scanning, and photo and live video annotation.

Zinc is available not only as a standalone app but also embedded directly into the ServiceMax Go app for field engineers, the Engage app for customers, and also the Salesforce web interface. Soon Zinc will be embedded into Service Board, the ServiceMax scheduling solution for dispatchers.

The benefits of field service collaboration tools

Zinc eliminates the need for external, unsecured messaging apps, keeping data private and easy to manage. It also makes it easy for field engineers to get the support they need.

Effective field support leads to better service execution. This translates to a much improved customer experience. It also leads to faster employee onboarding and education. And all that contributes to a better employee experience, where technicians feel strongly supported and adept in their jobs, which boosts engagement and retention. Simply put, collaboration is key for field service success.

Visit Zinc Intelligent Remote Service to learn more and see a product demo.

ABOUT Scott Ewart

Scott is a Sr Digital Product Manager at ServiceMax, focusing on ServiceMax's real-time collaboration tool, Zinc. Prior to joining ServiceMax, Scott held engineering and product management roles at Zinc, Aditazz, and Formagine. He has a B.A. in Art History and Economics from Oberlin College and a Master of Architecture from UC Berkeley.