Powerful, flexible and scalable cloud computing technology is opening up multiple new opportunities for businesses to improve customer service, develop better ways for customers to -serve themselves and introduce new technologies more quickly and easily. However, the ready availability of business applications via the cloud has also raised the issue of data security and how to keep information about people and the businesses they work in, secure and private at every level.
In Part One we looked at how cloud is an enabler for field service organisations and in Part Two how technology is facilitating enhanced centralised control and better people management and communications.
In this third and final instalment of our coverage of the recent debate on “Cloud and Mobility: The next frontier for Field Service Management” which was organised by ClickSoftware, we’ll consider in more detail the most important ways in which technology can improve overall customer service and how organisations should deal with the issues of security and privacy.
The debate was chaired by Forrester’s senior analyst, Paul Miller, with a panel including: Tim Faulkner, Senior Vice President at ClickSoftware; Dr Carsten Sorensen, Associate Professor in Digital Innovation at the London School of Economics; Katelyn Burrill, Product Marketing Manager at ClickSoftware; and Phil Wainewright, Chair at Euro Cloud UK.
One popular trend for improving overall levels of customer service, is to offer new technologies to customers that allow them to “self-serve”, the idea being that customers have a faster and more tailored experience which costs the business less to deliver. But where is the competitive advantage and business vale of providing customer service in this way, if everything is being done by the customer themselves and the suppliers have no opportunities to engage directly with their customers?
One particularly interesting example to consider here is the case of energy smart meters. Smart meters monitor energy consumption in real-time and automatically send electronic meter readings to providers. While the devices improve operations for utilities companies, providing real-time usage data that helps them to forecast demand and also help their customers to minimise energy usage and save money, once smart meters are installed, the suppliers never need to visit houses and offices to take meter readings.
“In the smart meter world, the biggest challenge that utilities suppliers worry about is how to roll out the smart meters. But finding new ways to maintain customer loyalty and revenue should also be looked at as a high priority activity because technicians are going to be in the customers…”
“You have to find things people want and talk to them about it when you’re there,” explains the LSE’s Dr Carsten Sorensen. “We go to fix or install stuff. If you look at utilities companies, they’re not silly. Once they do arrive, it’s all about upselling.”
However, Phil Wainwright, of Euro Cloud UK, argues that physical presence is only a very small aspect of the opportunities available to business to interact with customers.
“A huge part of a good brand experience and competitive advantage in the modern world is minimising the amount of frustrating interaction the customer has with individuals not equipped to deal with their problems. It’s all about delivering competitive advantage by delivering good quality customer service through any medium.”
So what happens when we reach that stage where, in many or most cases, the customer is in charge of managing the services themselves, through mobile apps, smart meters and similar associated technologies? In a situation where devices pass information directly back to a central location, there is less interaction. If most of the information that vendors have comes from customers, where does the competitive advantage come from and where do suppliers offer value if everything is done by the users or their devices?
“The other clear opportunity for field services organisations rolling out smart devices and mobile apps is from utilisation of the considerable amounts of highly valuable data being generated…”
The other clear opportunity for field services organisations rolling out smart devices and mobile apps is from utilisation of the considerable amounts of highly valuable data being generated. So how might they start do to clever things with this data? One obviously practical and impactful use of data is in getting a better understanding of each individual customer’s behaviour – what they are using, how they use it, when they use it for example.
“The other is being able to predict what kind of approach you’ll need to take to address any issue based on job type and history of that job with that customer,” Faulkner explains. “Building in this kind of predictive analysis for parts is a direction that ClickSoftware is taking now in our R&D team. There’s a mix there. You can automate it and/or provide decision-making capability. And you also need to use human beings who have personal experience and can understand the context and add value. Because an automated decision can sometimes be a wrong one.”
Finally, when dealing with apps or smart devices in homes that are collecting a lot of data, there is the issue of privacy and data security to be addressed. What happens, for example, with the data being collected by companies that can effectively tell where you are and where you’ve been, when you are in or out, what you are doing and what you might like to do?
As Paul Miller, Senior Analyst at Forrester, points out, even while the likelihood of that data being abused is very low, “the customer has a nagging doubt that bad people or Big Brother will do something with the data. How will a field service organisation respond to that?”
Gauging the best response is largely down to having a good understanding of the trade-off customers are willing to make between privacy and convenience. “Companies need to work out their push-pull line,” says Sorensen, “as it becomes increasingly complex and risky to manage all that data.”
The bottom line is that data privacy is a huge focus, for governments, legislators and brands alike. Plus, in addition to looking at privacy from a consumer perspective, it’s also insightful to consider the ways in which field service software providers deal with issues of data privacy from the point of view of their business customers.
“No-one wants to be called at four in the morning with an upsell proposition when they are on holiday on the other side of the world!”
Many of ClickSoftware’s customers are household brand names and they take issues of data security and customer privacy very seriously and work through it diligently as Faulkner explains. “They have specialist teams that work on security topics, and they have big legal teams. It’s about education, about trust that the brand has transparency.”
It really matters to consumers and to businesses what data people have on them and what they use it for. Companies need to work out their push-pull approach. No-one wants to be called at four in the morning with an upsell proposition when they are on holiday on the other side of the world!
What’s often discussed in the media is that everyone should have a social contract with their suppliers. It’s not just ‘we give you X and you pay us Y’, it’s a back and forth negotiation which should be based on situation and context. As individuals we can be hypocritical in terms of data privacy, when it works for us and we get a reward, we’re all for it but when something goes wrong, we claim that we didn’t agree to the terms.
The field service professionals can be a key part of the evolution. They are there, speaking to the customer and can provide real feedback on what the customer does and doesn’t need, what went well and what topics of discussion, goods and services the customer liked and engaged with. Empowering the people on the ground to decide how they interact and feedback will go a long way towards assuaging any concerns about how personal and business data is being used.
Training engineers to use personal interactions as an opportunity to be brand ambassadors, looking for upsell and feedback opportunities is what all field service companies should be aiming for.
Through discussions with both academic and industry experts, this debate looked at how cloud and mobility will impact the field service industry and help businesses achieve their goals both now and in the future. The three-part series covered why cloud is an enabler for field service businesses, how technology is allowing central control and improving employee management and, with this final part of the series, looking at how technology can improve customer service and the issue of privacy.