Field Service Symposium: Executive Summary

Field Service Symposium: Executive Summary

Christian Kundert, Services growth Manager, Caterpillar shares his notes from the 2022 Field Service symposium, organized by Field Service News, and that took place in Birmingham, UK on October 5-6, 2022…

 

As part of a group of senior Field Service leaders, from UK & Europe who came together to participate in panel discussions, Masterclasses, ThinkTank sessions, and ‘Ask me Anything’ sessions with experts.

 

These open and constructive discussions did very well to put in perspective 4 key shifts that drive the current Field Service transformation:

 

  • On the Systems side: Digitalization that drives Field Service organizations from being customer-centric to digital first
  • On the Product side: new offerings from high-hand Servitization to the simplest self-service options
  • On the Process side: Remote solutions that imposed themselves during the pandemic
  • And finally, the People aspect: with the confinement that imposed a change in the work behaviors, and employees now looking for flexibility and a sense of fulfillment. These coupled with an aging workforce and a shortage of technicians that we face for a few years now.

 

And having found the discussions hugely useful, I asked the Field Service News team if they thought it would be useful for other readers if I shared my notes, which are below – I hope you find them useful. 

"Significant digitalization efforts and investments have been made to keep servicing customers during the pandemic though Remote activities. But when Remote by default becomes the norm, activities become invisible to customers...."

The primary change that predominates, and not only in Field Service, is Digitalization. It started years ago and tends to accelerate. It has a significant impact not only on Field Service processes, but also on the customer experience.



A current trend is to move from being customer-centric to digital first. Customer focus remains key, but technology plays a predominant role in the Field Service processes (through Remote services, predictive maintenance, advanced analytics, machine learning, etc.), as well as customer interactions (Remote support, call centers, chat box, etc.).



COVID was a blessing to accelerate IOT. Significant digitalization efforts and investments have been made to keep servicing customers during the pandemic though Remote activities. But when Remote by default becomes the norm, activities become invisible to customers. The challenge is then to move from free to fee, i.e. Monetize the unperceived value delivered. A solution may be a customer dashboard that highlights the value, such as: the repair costs avoided thanks to predictive maintenance, or the carbon reduction thanks to remote services (like diagnostic or software flashing). Selling Remote activities becomes like selling an insurance product, which require specific skills. Beyond a new function should be created to highlight the value delivered to customers (Service Delivery Manager).


The pandemic generated a refocus on core activities. We should now build on it and go back to basics. This starts by understanding what customers want, which is typically: equipment up-time (when they need it). For Field Service organizations, it means focusing on the outcome, be more efficient, and easier to work with.

 

Some customers will still not be willing to pay if they do not see someone. It would then be interesting to understand if this is due to a reluctance to use technology, a lack of trust in the service provider / brand, and/or an unwavering trust in ‘their’ technician… A hybrid model will then have to be maintained for these customers, but they will have to pay extra for a physical presence.

 

And in any case, Remote solutions will be complementary to the traditional model as some interventions will still require the visit of a technician. Triage will become even more important.

The pandemic also impacted the Field Service Servitization, which consist in selling the outcome as a service. Some companies went back and refocused on their core product or solution, while others intensified their collaboration with their customers.


"The development of full-service solutions also generated an interest for the opposite simplest offering: self-service options for customers who want to perform some activities themselves..."

In some industries, Servitization requires a complete rethinking (upside-down) of the activity (with a different financial model). For others, it is just the evolution of its offering: starting from maintenance and repair contracts, warranty extensions, financing and leasing offerings, rental options, and finally full-service solutions with a payment per outcome (per hour, per ton, per kilometer, etc.). Servitization can then be both a journey and a spectrum.

 

Servitization generates a segmentation of Field Service as individual activities needs to be better controlled: preventive maintenance, troubleshooting, diagnostics, and repairs (before or after failure). The technician’s job followed the same specialization. This segmentation improves efficiency where demand and coverage allow. On another hand it increases the complexity, especially for customers who may not understand why there are three different technicians on his site at the same time.

 

The development of full-service solutions also generated an interest for the opposite simplest offering: self-service options for customers who want to perform some activities themselves. These options generally include Remote services: technical support, remote diagnostic, remote software flashing, etc. But they do not always include technology: think about parts kits with instructions delivered on time to customers. Self-service may cannibalize some labor business, but it is a great way to maintain touch points with customers. Beyond that it may also free up some resources who could work on higher value jobs. Phone support is generally not the best Remote solution: is it better to be for hours on the phone, or follow clear instructions from a video?

 

The third shift is a change in the work behaviors that have been generated or at least accelerated by COVID. Before, people came to work to make money and set aside for the future. Working 24/7 was accepted and sometimes encouraged. Loosing hours on the road or in public transportation was the norm. The confinement changed the perspective and the focus shifted to work life balance (with flexible working hours and home office).

 

At the same time, the Field Service workforce is aging, while we face a shortage of resources. On one side, we have experienced and technically savvy technicians who love to solve technical issues. They will have to be replaced in the next 10-15 years. On the other hand, the young generation is more interested in technology and data. They are also ready to have 2-3 jobs in parallel to favor their life outside of work. Job loyalty becomes less important.

 

Technician is one of the last Field Service jobs that faces customers every day. They remain brand ambassadors more than ever. Candidates are then hired more for their attitude (easy-going, customer orientation) and soft / interpersonal skills. The technical aspect can be acquired later through training and coaching.

 

Employees are now also looking for a sense of fulfillment. Jobs need to be appealing beyond salary and flexibility. Field Service technician is a relatively lonely job, with long hours on the road or around the equipment. Technicians need to feel part of a team and they need to receive clear and transparent communications. Mutual trust and fairness are critical, supported by a recognition program and incentives. All these need to be genuine and aligned with the company strategy and culture. Beyond that clear roles & responsibilities, as well as development and advancement possibilities need to be defined.

 

A solution may be to propose part-time jobs, or internal job rotations that offer more diversity. But these should make sense and have a purpose, i.e. balance the time in the field with some call center / technical support. This could also be an option for older technicians who are not fit for field jobs. Finally, Field Service remains a male industry and efforts are made to encourage female careers.

 

As a conclusion, the current Field Service transformation is more an Evolution than a Revolution. And it is not a surprise to see that the key shifts that drive it (Digitalization, Servitization, Remote solutions, as well as work behaviors and sense of fulfillment) match with the traditional Systems, Product, Processes, and People.

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