What is Field Service? How to Drive Operational Efficiency with FSM Software
Field service refers to any job that’s performed in the field, as opposed to on company property or in a traditional office setting. Field service organizations dispatch their employees or contractors to customer sites, where they sell, install, repair, or maintain systems or equipment.
The field service industry has evolved throughout the years to encompass a much wider array of roles than what were conventionally included. While the term “field service industry” might conjure images of a cable repair person or an HVAC technician, today’s landscape also includes healthcare workers, salespeople, inspectors, and more.
Organizations across a multitude of industries have adapted their operations to better serve their customers where they are: In the field. The result is now a predominately deskless workforce, with 80% of the world’s workers now considered part of field services.
But for many businesses, that shift has presented significant operational challenges. To ensure worker availability and deliver better customer service, many have started using a blended workforce, with a mix of full-time, part-time, and contracted employees, each working different schedules in varying locations. While this flexibility enables them to reach more customers, it also often breeds operational complexities that diminish efficiency and performance.
Competitive field service organizations know that their success is grounded in operational effectiveness and excellence; and that requires a reliable field service management practice. With the right processes and tools, they can establish a strong field service operation that empowers their blended workforce to foster stronger customer relationships, increase their productivity, and—ultimately—improve the business’s bottom line.
Types of field service activities
Organizations can deliver field services in a variety of ways, which can be divided into a few basic categories:
After a customer purchases a piece of equipment, the field service organization must dispatch an experienced technician to install it at the client’s site. The technician will evaluate the customer’s existing operating environment and install the equipment based on specific guidelines and protocol.
A sales representative for a solar provider, for instance, sells residential panels at a big box retailer. Once a customer makes a purchase at that retailer, the solar organization must schedule and dispatch a technician to the customer’s home for expert installation. The technician ensures the panels are properly installed and fully operational for the customer’s use.
Many field service companies provide maintenance services to monitor and repair their customers’ equipment. Maintenance activities can be broken down into three major groups:
- Preventive – Field service organizations use recurring maintenance schedules to prevent larger equipment failures that may otherwise result in excessive downtime. A technician may inspect and lubricate the parts of a customer’s piece of equipment every 10 weeks, for example, to ensure reliability. Preventive maintenance tasks are performed at regular intervals or when specific, predetermined criteria are triggered.
- Corrective – When a product breaks, the field service company must dispatch a technician to the customer’s site to fix it. In some cases, the product may need to be recalibrated to continue working properly. Both of these activities are considered corrective maintenance.
- Proactive – Proactive maintenance (sometimes called predictive maintenance) uses advanced AI and machine learning technologies to help field service organizations identify and ameliorate problems before they even occur. With a proactive maintenance approach, field service teams can easily monitor their assets to predict issues, quickly address maintenance or upgrade requirements, or alert their customers to potential equipment problems. Since there are expected to be 497.3 million active smart home households by 2025, proactive maintenance opens a clear opportunity for field service companies to deliver exceptional, competitive customer service.
Field service technicians are experts when it comes to the equipment they install and maintain; so it’s no surprise that many also offer advisory services to their customers. They can help customers maximize their products’ value, optimize their operating environment, or determine which additional products or services can nudge them closer to their objectives.
Common Challenges in Field Services
Field service organizations face a variety of obstacles that impact their operational efficiency and effectiveness. Many of these issues have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has significantly influenced customer needs and expectations, labor hiring costs, and the overall size of the workforce.
Companies operating in the field service sector must now contend with these common challenges:
- Technician scheduling and dispatching – Organizations that still rely on traditional, manual tools (like spreadsheets) for their scheduling and dispatching processes often struggle to keep up with ever-changing appointments and proper job matching. Field workers have varying skill sets, roles, certifications, and responsibilities, so matching them to the right job—and getting them there on time and fully prepared—can be an operational nightmare for already busy staff schedulers. These processes are even more time-consuming and frustrating if schedulers don’t have access to the real-time locations of their field workers or the progress of their work. The result is inefficient, ad-hoc scheduling and dispatching that fails to meet both customer and employee needs.
- Service delivery optimization – In an effort to offset their own costs, some field service companies have had no choice but to drive up the price of delivering their services. They simply don’t have the right processes and tools in place to streamline their operations, reduce their labor costs, or maintain worker productivity. A lack of transparency into their daily operations often hinders their ability to optimize service delivery, ensure customer satisfaction, and sustain profitability.
- Keeping up with digital transformation – Despite their efforts to transform, many field service businesses still lack the digital maturity to keep up with their competitors. They take a siloed approach to adopting new technologies, face slow implementation timelines, invest in tools that go unused, and run into tool sprawl issues. Digitally mature companies are 26% more profitable than their peers, but the pressure to keep up can cause some field service organizations to execute half-baked, unsuccessful transformation strategies.
- Reliable, punctual customer service – Today, customer experience and brand perception are absolutely crucial to a company’s success. Customers have myriad options and instant access to customer reviews, so they have come to expect superior service every step of the way. Unstable scheduling and dispatching processes, communication issues, and a lack of workforce visibility all result in operational inefficiencies that threaten a field service company’s ability to provide reliable customer service. And since 62% of customers say they share their negative experiences with others, ignoring issues in customer service can mean leaving potential revenue on the table.
- Recruitment and retention – Field service organizations often face chronic employee turnover due to inflexible schedules, a poor workplace culture, insufficient tools, and workflow frustrations. In fact, 36% of deskless workers say they want to leave their current jobs. But replacing field workers is time-consuming and costly, especially since many of them have unique skill sets, certifications, and experience that are difficult to find. Constant new-hire recruiting, onboarding, and training all lead to lost productivity and errors, which damage a business’s operational health.
What Does Successful Field Service Operations Look Like?
Overcoming the challenges associated with field services requires implementing the proper processes and tools that keep your operations running like a well-oiled machine. A successful field service operation has strong practices for scheduling and dispatching, communication, routing, and workforce analytics to ensure an exceptional customer experience every time.
An internet service provider, for example, maintains their competitive advantage by prioritizing the needs of their field service workers and their customers. They leverage an intelligent scheduling and dispatching process—backed by powerful, mobile-first tools—to support the delivery of their installation and maintenance services.
Using the mobile platform, a customer can schedule an appointment to have a fiber-optic internet connection installed at their residence. The service provider instantly receives and accepts the appointment request through their field service app. The tool automatically matches and assigns the job to the right technician, based on their real-time location, skill set, certifications, preferences, and more. Then, the app provides the most optimized route to get the field worker to the job as quickly and safely as possible.
Once the technician arrives at the customer’s location, they’re fully prepared to perform the installation. They can check the same field service app for customer details, relevant manuals, and other key resources. If they have additional questions, they can easily use the app to connect and communicate with colleagues who are either in the field or back in the office.
As they install the equipment, the technician can capture job notes, customer signatures, and track their progress within the app. Back-office supervisors and schedulers are always up-to-date on where their field workers are and how far along they are on any given job.
From the customer’s perspective, the installation process is easy and seamless. They can book the installation (and any follow-up maintenance) at a time that works best for them. They know exactly when the technician will arrive, as the app updates them with key appointment details in real time. They’re met with a confident, well-prepared technician who has everything they need to deliver an excellent experience.
Once the job is complete, the resulting data doesn’t go to waste. The internet service provider’s field service tool is connected to the company’s other existing systems, which makes it easy for them to generate meaningful, actionable reports. Using this data, they can uncover inefficiencies, make informed decisions around customer service, reveal opportunities for improvement, and make strategic moves in real time. They continuously boost their field service operations by analyzing team performance and measuring their customer experience.
But this high level of operational efficiency doesn’t occur by accident. From resource deployment and scheduling to the completion of a job, competitive, forward-thinking field service organizations know they need several essentials to bolster their operational success:
- Processes and tools that help them manage full-time, part-time, and contracted employees
- Complete visibility into customer data
- An intelligent scheduling tool that can handle dynamic, complex schedules
- Automated job matching based on technicians’ experience, locations, qualifications, and more
- A user-friendly mobile app that doesn’t require in-depth training
- Optimized travel routes
- Seamless communication between field and back-office workers (and customers, too)
- Tools that track job progress in real time
- Mobile data collection capabilities
- Actionable field service reports
- Fully integrated technologies that connect data and can scale with the company
How Field Service Management Software Addresses Field Service Problems
Of course, at the crux of any successful field service company is a strong field service management (FSM) process. FSM is the process of monitoring and optimizing an organization’s workers, services, equipment, and operations in the field. Proper FSM requires a healthy balance of processes and tools for scheduling, dispatching, routing, communication, inventory management, customer experience, and field data collection.
As the industry changes, so do the technologies intended to empower field service organizations. But not all solutions are built equally, and competitive organizations must give careful consideration to the tools they leverage to support their operations.
Traditional FSM tools can help an organization alleviate some of the problems that plague their operation, but true sustainability and scalability requires a modern approach. Robust, comprehensive FSM solutions, like Skedulo, can help your team manage its blended workforce, deliver superior customer service, and streamline its field service operations—all in one, user-friendly place.
As you evaluate FSM software against your business’s needs, make sure the tool you choose offers:
- Automated, intelligent scheduling – Your FSM tool should easily handle your team’s dynamic, complex scheduling needs; like matching technicians to jobs based on multiple skills, real-time locations, irregular availability, and customer history. Some solutions automate the process and are customizable and scalable, so your business is always supported as it grows. They make it easy for field and back-office workers to schedule and share job details, so appointments are less likely to be missed and fewer customers are left frustrated. Plus, if a deskless worker is unable to make an appointment or the customer makes a last-minute change, the system can automatically handle the update in real time, instantly send alerts to relevant people, and adjust schedules as needed.
- Real-time communication – Proper communication is essential for any team, but field workers often lack the right tools for support. They have to toggle between email, phone calls, text messages, and other communication apps to send and receive updates in the field. Powerful FSM software allows technicians to report status updates on the job, connect with operations teams, and ask for assistance in real time and through a centralized app. Simplified communication makes it easier to deliver faster, more comprehensive service and ensures everyone is always on the same page.
- Improved back-office efficiency – Paper-based forms and manual data entry processes increase the likelihood of errors and hinder the productivity of your back-office teams. Your FSM system should make it easy for field workers to collect data (like photos, e-signatures, digital forms, and other paperwork) on the job, then automatically sync that data to your system of record. Some tools, like Skedulo, even work offline, so data is never lost in areas without connectivity. That way, your back-office workers always have quick, seamless access to the information they need, and your business is never slowed down.
- Pipeline analysis and prediction – Your workforce data is a powerful piece of your larger operational puzzle; so make sure you’re putting it to work. Modern FSM tools use all of your teams’ relevant data to uncover the availability and capacity of your entire workforce. They generate robust reports that help you accurately forecast service demand and predict pipeline, so you’re always one step ahead.
An FSM tool with the right capabilities eliminates the time-consuming, repetitive tasks that hamper your team’s productivity. It offers the transparency, workflow efficiency, seamless communication, and analysis required to continuously improve your field service operations. With the right software, you can identify and resolve the operational issues that inhibit service delivery and surpass your competitors.
Intelligent Tools for a Competitive Field Service Operation
Successful field service management requires a strong end-to-end operation that’s both reliable and flexible. As businesses adapt to industry changes and rising customer expectations, they need powerful processes and tools that ensure the efficiency and productivity of their blended workforce.
Skedulo’s field service management software goes beyond traditional FSM, with tools that were built to meet the unique needs of deskless workers. With Skedulo, field service organizations can centrally manage their workforce, automate their scheduling and dispatching processes, enable real-time communication, and scale their operations with data-driven decisions.