The world that we entered into at the start of 2020 is a very different one to the one we inhabit today. The Covid-19 novel coronavirus pandemic that brought national borders crashing down as we entered into a global lockdown has seen to that.

Michael Blumberg assesses the situation outlines the challenges ahead and explains why he believes there is still a light at the end of the tunnel.

When I initially accepted the request to submit an article for The Handy Little Book for Field Service Managers, I did not anticipate that we’d be in this precarious situation. The topic that I intended to write about no longer seems relevant as we face growing uncertainty over public health and the future of the world’s economies. Yet, the wheels of commerce continue to churn, and field service organizations continue to operate.

So, what can the service industry expect int the next 12 months? When faced with uncertainty, we can look to the past for insights and perspective of what we might be able to expect in the immediate future. If we consider this in terms of quarterly action plans, we will manage the next 12 months effectively

How Field Service Companies Can Manage the Pandemic

Over the next quarter, the service industry will need to do everything it can to move past this current crisis. While we might have the knee jerk reaction to throw our hands up in the air and proclaim, “we’ve never seen anything like this before,” the truth is we have the means and ability to respond.

It is highly likely that segments of the economy, those businesses that are deemed essential, will continue to operate at full capacity and require high levels of service availability. In contrast, others will have decreased demand as they scale back operations to comply with shelter in place and lockdown orders. Field service organisations will need to be agile and flexible when it comes to resource and staff planning. If dealing with a large number of employees on sick leave, field service organisations can turn to subcontractors and contingent labor provides to augment staff.

To respond to social distancing and self-quarantine issues, field service organisations must ensure they have secure and reliable cloud-based systems in place to facilitate telecommuting. Field labor may be scarce due to illnesses, so field service organisations must ensure that have technicians who are working can easily find the parts and knowledge they need to resolve services right the first-time fix. There’s no room for repeat visits.

“Field service organisations will need to have implemented the right technology and processes to facilitate this model…”

In dealing with social distancing , we may have to alter or modify service delivery. We may need to switch from a field service to Customer Self-Service or Remote Support. Field service organisations will need to have implemented the right technology and processes to facilitate this model. Guided troubleshooting, same day/next day parts delivery, Augmented Reality/Merged Reality, online customer portals, parts catalogs, and knowledge bases are all part of this model.

An essential thing that field service organisations can do is build goodwill and strengthen relationships with their stakeholders. This is required now more than ever. Managers will need to interact with employees who work from home through online communication platforms to ensure high levels of productivity and morale while employees work from home. Some customers may be faced with economic hardships and contemplate canceling their service contracts or placing their renewals on hold. Field service organisations can pre-empt this and build goodwill by offering freemium services and flexible payment terms. Field service organisations can also extend the length of service contracts, or explain to customers the contingency plans that they have put in place will not cause any disruption to their service.

A Rocky Road Ahead for Field Service Organisations

Medical experts predict that the spread of the Covid-19 Virus pandemic will begin to peter out and reach containment by the middle of Q3 2020. Even with government bailouts, economists predict that we will likely face a recession, and it could take another six to nine months to recover from it.Field Service Leaders should not be caught off guard. They can dust off their Recession Playbooks from 10 years ago and implement strategies to get through it.

During a recession, companies typically need to find ways to reduce or recover costs and create value. For field service organisations, a large percentage of operating expenses may be tied up in their parts inventory and labor. Field service organisations will need to implement strategies to reduce parts stock and recover the value from excess and obsolete inventory. At the same time, they’ll need to implement processes and systems to ensure they have the right parts on hand at the right place when technicians need them to provide high first-time fix rates.

“Field service organisations mustn’t abandon their plans when it comes to broader strategic initiatives like Digital Transformation and Servitization…”

Field service organisations will also need to remain flexible when it comes to resource planning and allocation. They may find themselves outsourcing their logistics operations to reduce costs or turning to service provider networks and subcontractors to deliver service. Of course, the field service organisation’s service management systems must be able to connect and share data with all stakeholders and participants in their ecosystem.

Field service organisations mustn’t abandon their plans when it comes to broader strategic initiatives like Digital Transformation and Servitization.

However, they may need to reprioritise them or reign them in at least temporarily. Instead of implementing multiple initiatives, they will need to focus only on the one that results in the highest return in the shortest amount of time. More then ever before, field service organisations will need to maintain strong rapport with customers and strive to obtain high service contract attachment and renewal rates. To maximize customer lifetime value and generate revenue from a satisfied installed base, field service organisations must rely on warranty and service contract management software solutions and continue to provide excellent service.

The Light at the End of the Tunnel for the Field Service Sector

Eventually, we will pull through this crisis and come out of it stronger and more resilient than ever before.  By late Q1 or early Q2, we are likely to observe what economists call “green shoots” as the economy begins to recover. Field Service Leaders mustn’t lose sight of the mission and business objectives they established before this current crisis.

field service organisations must continue to manage their business against KPIs and achieve performance targets during the next 12 months if they expect to obtain investment resources to grow the business once the recovery is here quickly.

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