Are Freelancers the Future of Field Service Staffing?

This interview by Derek Korte, editor at Field Service Digital and a senior editor at Original9 Media. It first appeared at  http://fsd.servicemax.com

Field service leaders have a lot to manage on any given day. But there’s one responsibility that’s often lost while  keeping the work orders flowing and vetting the latest technologies — talent. Sure, the IoT continues to reshape the service industry, but field service is still a people business. When something breaks, customers expect a skilled professional to show up and fix the problem quickly — hopefully the first time.

But it’s a challenge to maintain a trained, knowledgable service team. Experienced techs retire and are difficult to replace, and new technologies require new skill sets. As a result, service organizations are turning to freelancers to supplement their full-time workforce, while ensuring customers get a consistent level of service. We asked Michael Blumberg, president of Blumberg Advisory Group, to explain the most surprising takeaways from his latest research into the freelance phenomenon in field service.

You found that service organizations rely on freelance platforms to improve geographic coverage? Why did that surprise you?

I was surprised to learn that organizations are using freelance management platforms (FMS) for more than just handling a temporary surge in demand, or providing coverage in remote geographic areas. A significant percentage (61 percent) use freelancer platforms to expand their geographic coverage. They are using these platforms to facilitate strategic growth, not just to cut costs or solve a tactical problem.

You also found that organizations increasingly use freelancers to respond to emergency service requests — why?

The conventional wisdom is that freelancers are best suited to handle project work, such as installations and scheduled maintenance. Our research suggests otherwise. In fact, 53 percent of the respondents indicate they utilize freelancers to handle all types of work, including projects and emergency repairs. By relying on freelancers, service managers can ensure they have the right coverage when and where they need it.

What’s unique about a FMS is the crowdsourcing element, which leads to situations where technicians are often competing for the same service request. As a result, technicians know they have to be very responsive because their income depends on it. I’m not suggesting that company-employed technicians are lazy, but sometimes there’s no incentive to take on more calls. There’s no incentive for them to respond faster or get more calls done.

How are service managers using freelance platforms to improve recruitment and onboarding?

Even when organizations use freelance techs, whether for a long-term project or on-demand emergency work, they still have to spend time recruiting, training and onboarding those technicians. The crowdsourcing element of FMS platforms means that managers can find these techs quickly, so they can spend less time recruiting. And the digital nature of these platforms means that managers can train them, share work orders and outline what’s expected. A majority (59 percent) of companies using freelance platforms are able to recruit and hire new technicians in 14 days or fewer, while only 11 percent of non-FMS users are able to achieve this goal.

How do service managers integrate these freelancers into their regular workflows and explain service expectations?

They can be very selective about which freelancers they choose to work with, and they can request technicians who have certain qualifications and skills. Managers can also describe the procedures that the techs must follow when they go out on a call, which is something companies are already doing with full-time technicians. Lastly, some managers administer short quizzes and exams that the freelancers must pass before they’re assigned work.

Your research suggests that agility is the most important factor when deciding to use a FMS. Why?

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents indicated that their need for agility is the number one reason why their companies turned to a variable workforce. While cost savings might be the reason why these companies considered this alternative in the first place, agility is why they continue to use it. In today’s dynamic service environment, service organizations need to respond quickly to surges in demand and constantly changing technical skill set requirements. They can’t afford to spend a lot of time staffing up to meet demand because it is likely to change quickly.

And relying on freelance platforms can also improve service productivity and quality? How?

Freelancers are often more engaged with the service organizations that hire them because they see themselves as independent contractors. They’re running their own business.

Freelancers want to demonstrate that they’re responsive and effective so they will be given more jobs. There’s also a snowball effect — the more calls freelancers take, the more income they’ll have, which creates a productivity mindset.

Are there any quality and productivity tradeoffs?

Our survey results indicate that 65 percent of companies using a FMS model have experienced improvement in field service productivity. Furthermore, first-time fix rate is 18 percent higher among top-performing FSM users than the industry average, while SLA compliance is 16 percent higher.

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5 Barriers to Digital Transformation

Howard Tiersky is the President and Founder of FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency. He has a deep passion for digital innovation and helping each of client find success. This blog first appeared on his website.

You may be struggling to drive some sort of change, innovation, or digital transformation within your organization right now.

Why is it so hard? And what’s the secret to getting big companies to successfully transform?

There are five main barriers that large enterprises face when trying to innovate: change resistance, knowledge of customers, risk management, organizational agility and transformation vision.

Change resistance
Change is uncomfortable. Even if a change sets us up for a great future, most people won’t warm up to it quickly. To successfully drive change within an organization, create a burning platform for change so that failing to change is more painful than the change itself. Offer a compelling vision of the future once the change is complete, give people the confidence of success, and provide the opportunity to help create the change (instead of falling victim to it).

Knowledge of customers
You may think you have the answers, but how well do you actually know your customers? To incorporate your customers’ voice into your product development, you can use these five tactics:

  • Humility: Truthfully, we don’t even know ourselves that well, so it’s important to recognize that understanding someone else well enough to predict future behavior is no small feat.
  • Specificity: Figure out exactly what you need to know about your current or potential users that would make a difference to your product development. Use questions like: “What do you they like or not like about your product?” and “What are their unmet needs?”
  • Involvement: Get your whole team involved in customer research to allow the entire development process to include an understanding of the customers’ world and their current reality.
  • Iteration: One round of user testing is not enough — You need to continually study your customers to see how they’re reacting to your product and how their needs are changing.
  • 4D listening: Try to see past the surface of what your customers are saying to what they’re truly asking of you. Your customers may not be able to envision the more practical solutions that your product team conceives.

Risk management
Is it risky to transform your enterprise? Of course! The key to success is creating the expectation that innovation efforts are an iterative process. Successful innovation requires experiments, learning, persistence and, most importantly, the willingness to fail. Once you have alignment around the idea that some level of risk is necessary and appropriate, you can gain confidence from enterprise funders by envisioning the different types of risks your efforts might face and developing remediation strategies to combat those risks.

Organizational agility
As quickly as you can adapt, the digital world changes. Organizational agility is key to keeping up in the digital arena. There are five specific types of agility that are important for success in digital:

  • Sensing: This means knowing what’s going on around you so you can be aware of what actions might be required. How are customers, competitors and industry regulations changing, and what new technology exists that could impact your digital experiences?
  • Technology: Moving quickly from idea to live solution is important in supporting and growing your digital experience. Does your enterprise have technology stacks that are adaptable and easily maintained? Are your content and presentation capabilities accessible to your product owners and content managers?
  • Decision-making: Capital approval processes that take months to reach a final decision don’t work with the speed of digital. The people running your innovation projects need the autonomy and authority to make decisions on the ground-level so that they happen with the speed necessary to keep up with the digital world.
  • Strategy shifts: Embrace and expect that your innovation projects will go through a process of trial-and-error on their way to the kind of digital transformation success that you’re seeking.
  • Teaming: Despite a persistent myth, there is no one structure in which all digital work can be done by a single team of people operating under a single executive. The key to teaming agility is creating a culture with alignment across divisional silos, so that mobilization of the right people happens quickly and efficiently.

Transformation vision
Many organizations have a basic vision for growth: Optimize what already exists or expand upon current offerings. But to create a true transformation vision, one that encompasses your entire organization, you need to determine how the world is changing and how that will affect your customers’ needs. Only then can you determine what new products and services you can bring to market and the different channels you’ll need to deliver on them. You may even decide that the imminent changes will shift your focus to an entirely new set of customers! To be successful in the long-run, think in terms of transformation time so that you can get a few steps ahead.

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In Praise of Chat & Online Communities

How FireEye Dramatically Improved Customer Support

Over the last few years, there has been a significant move away from how we access help and support for products or services. Traditionally there would be an instruction manual and more recently a website containing the support documentation for an organization. However, in a digital mobile-first world, we are much more likely to turn to a combination of people and technology to obtain instant answers to our questions.

Advances in technology are already responsible for creating new chat and online communities. I recently spoke with John Bauer, Senior Director, Customer Support Technology at FireEye to understand how they are reducing costs and increasing efficiency by implementing a chat solution.

FireEye set out to transform customer service into a profit center by minimizing the time and effort that it takes to resolve a case. Bauer told me how when he first started there was an emphasis on email, phone and web support. Ideally, you want to leverage your web support channel because it provides the most context and is very efficient, but Bauer also advised that its chat and online communities that are the least costly and most effective.

In our conversation, he also highlighted that smaller support teams would find it relatively easy to manage their workload without the need for analytics. But, Bauer warned, as you scale, it will quickly become apparent, just how much time, and money can be saved through by leveraging analytics.

What many fail to realize is that chat allows organizations to exchange information and, direct customers to articles and documentation, and close calls quicker than the phone, web, or email.  Online communities enable customers to help other customers, monitor discussions and input as required. And it requires far less personnel to maintain community interactions than email or phone support.

The value bombs quickly became apparent. Moving away from the phone to online chat provided 30% in cost savings and 30% faster resolutions. After previously investing in around 30 FTEs for knowledge creation purposes to deliver email and phone support at another organization, Bauer only needed 2-3 FTEs to create valuable content for their online communities.

Research by the team at FireEye enabled them to learn that when a customer needed help, approximately 50% of the time they would go to a knowledgebase article, 40% go to the community, and only 10% would ever head towards documentation.

A few years ago, many companies approached the invasion of social media with an element of fear. Equally, FireEye faced the same resistance internally when looking to embrace community features. On the one hand, it’s glaringly obvious that people want to communicate directly with a human to obtain an immediate answer to their questions, but on the other, employees are fearful about negative connotations that could arise from conflict and disputes voiced over social media

Some might argue that the risk of a disgruntled customer broadcasting negative stuff about you or your company would never end on a positive note. Replying to them rather than burying your heads in the sand seems much more progressive.  You should never underestimate the power of your community either. There is something quite beautiful about the moment when your own customers jump in to tackle challenging behavior in their community. Bauer, even stated, “With communities, you will find customers whose seemingly full-time job became being a champion.”

Once again, it was analytics that illustrated the strength of the case to deliver tangible results. 30% faster time to resolve cases, 30% less effort required. Yet, discovering that 90% of visitors to their community only consumed information from their communities also proved to be incredibly valuable to FireEye.

Although a community of any kind needs people to manage and nurture it, the most interesting aspect of their discovery was that is also delivered a much higher ROI. The FireEye community was measured against call avoidance, currently at 25% of support demand; the ultimate goal at FireEye was for customers to find their own answers, through a Self-Service model, and move away from the time-consuming process of logging a case through email or telephone.

However, Bauer also warned that implementing chat can only be successful if your community responds quickly. Failure to engage with a customer within one minute will cause your abandon rate to skyrocket and stop chat adoption in its tracks. For these reasons alone, Bauer needed a platform that he could entrust with FireEye’s reputation.

Bauer told me, “You need to be committed. Starting a community is like having a child. For most enterprises, it will take 12-24 months of commitment to building community before it starts to operate organically.” We often over complicate tech solutions by investing countless hours trying to introduce sophisticated functionality. However, the secret to the successful implementation and adoption of chat technology at FireEye seems to be the use of both chat and communities to solve a problem for the customer. Maybe this is a lesson we can all learn from.

Please share your thoughts and insights by commenting below.

Setting Your Knowledge Free

Lessons from the Front Lines of Knowledge Management for Field Service

Thank you to Bo Wandell, VP Sales and Business Development at Infomill, Inc for this week’s guest post.

One of fastest and most cost-effective ways to improve field service KPIs is to Set Your Knowledge Free by delivering it to your service technicians’ laptops and mobile devices. Knowledge is power in field service operations – but only when your technicians have mobile access to it. Aberdeen Group found that service organizations incur an average of $1.68M each in unnecessary costs due to poor access to knowledge.[1]

Tacit vs. Explicit Corporate Knowledge

The two kinds of corporate knowledge are tacit and explicit. Tacit knowledge resides in the minds of employees, while explicit knowledge already exists in some published form, though it is probably locked up your corporate silos.

While both are highly valued by field service technicians, many organizations focus more on creating tacit knowledge, which can be an arduous and time-consuming task. In a 2015 survey[2] TSIA found that on average it takes 12 days to publish just one new article in a knowledge base. Some companies reported it’s not uncommon for the approval process to take 90 to 120 days.

A more cost effective and less risky approach for organizations to quickly improving KPIs is to focus on the delivery of explicit (existing) knowledge which has already been created and validated by internal departments.

Most corporations have large amounts of valuable explicit knowledge in the form of paper-based documents, PDFs, product and installation manuals, part lists, images, exploded diagrams, databases and more. Setting Your Knowledge Free means re-purposing this knowledge to create a current, searchable and accessible knowledge base for your field service technicians.

Explicit knowledge must be current if it’s going to be useful

So, why is Setting Your Knowledge Free so damn hard?

First and foremost, when your technical writers published the knowledge, they probably didn’t consider how a field service tech would need to access it.

Simply posting a 200-page installation manual PDF on a website is better than a sharp stick in the eye, but just barely. When a technician that shows up at hospital to service a lifesaving medical device, scrolling through a 200-page service manual on his device to find an answer to one question isn’t reasonable. What they need is a mobile application that provides an intuitive and searchable repository of all available explicit knowledge. According to Aberdeen Group, field service technicians spend an average of 14% of their time researching the information they need to do their jobs.[1]

However, it’s critical that explicit knowledge is kept current and continuously optimized. Corporate staff can try to anticipate the knowledge that service organizations will value, the technicians know best what they require to increase first-time fix rates and customer satisfaction while shortening field visits and increasing service-related profits.

There are many misleading or incorrect sources for content out there. For consistency, it is important that the knowledge your company created remains relevant and reliable.

Four lessons from the knowledge management trenches

Setting Your Knowledge Free requires a blend of people, process and technology led by a competent staff member called the Knowledge Czar. Below are four high level steps infused with a lot of lessons from the knowledge management trenches.

1.     Discovery – breaking into departmental silos

Establish team to the define the KPIs you’ll use to measure success. At the same time, identify and gather the sources of explicit knowledge available inside your corporate departments regardless of format. Otherwise you run the risk of your knowledge management project being delayed and the Knowledge Czar becoming frustrated.

2.     Convert – Mobilizing explicit knowledge

Convert explicit knowledge into XML or another industry standard format suitable for delivery to multiple types of mobile devices. This process is challenging, but assistance exists either from software applications or companies that specialize in converting documents to XML.

Next, add intelligence such as hyperlinks, hot spots, images, and links to external databases and videos. Intelligence should anticipate the knowledge needs of a field service tech. For example, if a tech is replacing part #001, he might need to test part #002. Provide a hot link for the instructions to test part #002.

3.     Review and Measure

The Knowledge Czar is responsible for performing a quality audit to ensure consistency and accuracy by manually verifying each piece of content and cleansing the outdated knowledge artifacts.

Measuring the success of the knowledge base can be accomplished by conducting surveys of service technicians. Since techs are on the front lines and deal with customers every day, they will provide valuable input on how to improve the knowledge base.

4.     Continuous Optimization – Keeping knowledge current

As discussed above, keeping content current is where most field service organizations struggle. Ensure that the Knowledge Czar has the responsibility and time to continuously optimize the knowledge base.

A final word of caution: creating and delivering a knowledge base that improves KPIs will result in your Knowledge Czar being hailed as a corporate hero. If they are rewarded with a promotion, make sure they’re replaced with someone equally as enthusiastic and committed to delivering knowledge to your technicians.

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[1] http://www.aberdeen.com/research/12031/12031-rr-knowledge-management-service/content.aspx
[2] https://www.tsia.com/documents/The_State_of_Social_Support_2015/

How Freelance Engineers are Adding Value to Businesses

Sachin Reddy is a staff author at Fieldengineer.com which is an On-Demand Marketplace for Telecom Freelance Engineers.

Telecommunication internet service providers invest billions of dollars into advancing the field and maintaining their vast networks. They are known for their innovation, but that innovation has been stymied by the lack of in-house engineers with the right skillset to efficiently offer solutions to problems and questions. Instead, companies are spending vast amounts of time looking for the right in-house employee when a significant number of top-tier engineers can be found offering the services as telecom field engineers. Looking for engineers outside of their company can save companies money and time as well as putting them into contact with next generation of field engineers.

Save Money
Most companies don’t want to pay the price to have top tier engineers on staff at all times and those engineers don’t want to accept less than they’re worth. Only hiring talented engineers with a specialized knowledge when they are needed saves the company money while it allows the engineer to set their price. This is especially true when multiple engineers are needed for a project. Companies don’t want to invest in that, but they need to realize that an in-house team doesn’t meet the requirements sometimes. When that happens, there’s a market of smart and talented workers who can provide companies with the knowledge and skills they need to capitalize on new opportunities. The one-time payment for an outsourced engineer would be the fraction of the cost of hiring a full-time engineer with the same talents.

Save Time

Sites like fieldengineer.com offer companies their pick of a large quantity of candidates who are qualified. That cuts out the time needed to put up job postings, wait for replies from potential employees, schedule an interview, and finally schedule a start date. Online, their professional experience and education gets listed for companies to peruse. Companies don’t have to rely on their own self-promotion either. Like all areas online, sites like these thrive on reviews. Companies review the people who have worked for them based on their skill, experience, and attitude. An engineer’s reputation for hard work and smart solutions is supported by positive reviews from other telecom companies who know what’s needed in that field. Of course, in order to assure you’re saving time and getting professionals in the field, it’s better to look at marketplaces specializing in connecting companies to engineers and only engineers.

Find New Talent

Newer talent can be found freelancing online. Many talented professionals have moved over to marketplaces because of the freedom and flexibility offered. The millennial generation and others who have welcomed the technological age with open arms have adjusted to the gig economy. Online sites give them a place to display their talent to every possible client. It’s also given them the control to pursue their own interests and bid for jobs that both hold their interest and conform to their schedule. These short-terms contract works best for them and best for the companies involved. So, the companies that find engineers on these sites for network planning analysis are getting self-motivated contractors who confident enough in their own skills to sell them to knowledgeable management teams. These are also eager contractors who applied out of a true desire to be involved for however long the project is meant to last. That’s the kind of energetic disposition and problem-solving nature that exists on marketplaces.

Companies can try to strengthen their in-house teams, but innovative solutions are often going to come from outside. Marketplaces like Field Engineer are dedicated to a promoting the freelance job market for a certain field, and that specialization is what makes them easier to work with and more dependable. They put talented engineers in a place they can be found, and they give companies the opportunity to present their project and project needs.

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Why The Customer Experience Should Be At The Heart Of Marketing and Selling Services

Consumers now reside in a digital world where instant gratification is the new currency. The rise of Spotify, Netflix, Amazon Prime Now and Uber ensures they can avoid any pain points and get what they want and when they want it in a new on demand economy.

However, the ‘we want it now’ consumer continues to evolve and now expects a personalized experience too. If online services know what their favorite movies, TV shows and music they like, surely retailers will know what they like too.

Tech savvy users are looking for businesses to lead the way with new technology that continues to treat them as unique individuals. A generic marketing e-mail with their name pasted at the top in a different font is no longer going to cut it.

The evolution of the customer experience has even given birth to the phrase Martech which is the blending of marketing and technology. Industries across multiple industries are all facing the same problem as the digital transformation of everything gathers pace.

Keeping up with all the latest trends across the digital landscape is no longer an option it should be compulsory for anyone serious about the future of their business. The good news is that you are not alone and the fact that 76% of field service providers were reportedly struggling to achieve revenue growth should be the only wake-up call that you need to take this seriously.

However, there are numerous field service winners here too. For example, in 2017 there are many organizations providing seamless digital experiences and delivering faster resolution times. It is often said that technology works best when it brings together and here is a selection of great examples.

The Value of Improving the Customer Journey

Personalization is much more than just another industry buzzword but a reaction to the demand driven by consumers. Providing the right experience at the right time is an art that many are still learning to master. But, the ability to increase 15% percent of revenue and lower the cost of serving customers by 20% is a language that every member of the boardroom will understand.

Do Not Underestimate the Importance of Customer Service

According to Microsoft, an incredible 97% of consumers advised customer service is critical to their choice or loyalty to a brand. But it’s also crucial to remember how this is across self-service, social, phone, mobile and a plethora of devices.

The divide between offline and online is disappearing. No matter what device we have at hand, wherever we are located and if we are using our keyboard, touchscreen or even voice, the experience should be the same.

Poor Customer Service Will Be Punished

It is well understood that it costs businesses more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. Savvy consumers will happily shop around for the best deal. Ironically many companies seem to treat their current clients with contempt arrogantly and assume they will stay with them regardless.

The reality here in 2017 is that 64% of consumers have switched providers in at least one industry due to poor customer service according to Accenture. We no longer suffer fools gladly, and a lack of patience or frustration will ensure most consumers will switch providers after only one negative experience.

In this digital age, loyalty must now be earned rather than taken for granted. The only question that remains is what are you doing about it?

Time Is Money

An Amazon Prime account makes one-click ordering and delivery within 2 hours a reality. Maybe, we shouldn’t be too surprised how our time is becoming increasingly valuable. Forrester recently advised that 73% of consumers will happily admit that their time is the most important factor where businesses need to focus.

Pain points such as long-winded automated phone menus, cumbersome online chats or waiting around between 9 am and 6 pm for somebody to call you will no longer be tolerated. Organizations need to manage the expectations of their customers and remove friction to offer a truly simplified service in a timely manner.

Make Way for The Internet of Things (IoT)

With 50 Billion internet-connected devices by 2020, the time to take IoT seriously is right now. Consumers do not care about your product roadmaps; they now expect the same experience with any of their devices.

There is already a long line of competitors offering similar services. Failing to keep up will leave your brand looking like a tired Sears or J. C. Penney store that failed to keep up with the speed of hyper change across the digital landscape.

OVERALL

Advances in machine learning, deep learning, and artificial intelligence have already made real-time personalization a reality. A dramatic rise in expectation levels means that users of all ages now demand the same experiences across multiple platforms.

Mainstream audiences are looking for businesses to lead the way and provide the wow factor through technology based solutions. However, sometimes, they just want greater digital interaction and to be treated as a unique individual from a fellow human being.

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What to Expect from AI in the Field Service Industry for the Next Decade

Sarah Jacobs is an experienced writer who loves creating articles that can benefit others. She has worked as a freelance writer in the past making informative articles and fascinating stories. She has extensive knowledge in a variety of fields such as technology, business, finance, marketing, personal development, and more. Find out more about her company here: http://www.lea-p.com/

When we hear about AI, which stands for Artificial Intelligence, we often remember Hollywood’s definition of it. Who could ever forget the doomsday prophecies of the Terminator series? While movies might picture AI as humanity’s greatest enemy, the reality is far from it. AI’s history can be traced back to the time of the Greeks and their myths about the golden robots of Hephaestus and Pygmalion’s Galatea. The basis of AI is on the assumption that human thought can be mechanized. This even dates back to the ancient civilizations like China and Egypt where craftsmen built automatons which the people believed to contain real minds. It was not until the 50s that studies in AI had kicked off. From then, we have had AI machines that have proven their capacity to “think”. Deep Blue, from IBM had defeated Russian grandmaster Garry Kasparov in a game of chess in 1997. In 2011, Watson, also a computer, won against Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings, both champions of the famous game show “Jeopardy!” Just this year, a Chatbot named Eugene Goostman passed a Turing test.

Artificial Intelligence is greatly beneficial for the field service management industry. It is AI in action when we hear SIRI’s voice, or when we hear that automated voice that answers the phone when we call the bank. While there is a lot of discussion about the eventuality of human workers being replaced by robots and computers, no one can argue the fact the AI has improved efficiency and worker’s skills. Companies now have AI and virtual assistants to communicate and interact with customers. With the technology in place, there is plenty of room for development for the use of AI in the future.

New Skills

When a business adopts AI technology, the people working in the company can sometimes be threatened by it. It is true that there are risks of being replaced by machines, but what we sometimes do not realize is that having the technology is actually going to make us more effective. Much like how the computers replaced the typewriters, we can gain new skills and adapt to the use of the new technology. Though there are many forecasts of how AI can be a threat to job security, this can be a good avenue to improve oneself, and explore what other things a person can be good at, aside from his job.

Improved Searches and Scheduling

It didn’t take two generations to notice the big leap we had on searches. Today, service technicians use software in order to search for customer information. Building on this, Chatbots can be useful in pulling up information and history in a conversation-based interface. Think of SIRI but on a business scale. Using the same concept, Chatbots can improve scheduling. What we have right now is an annoying series of voice prompted menus. It is confusing and time-consuming. It would be good to develop a bot which you just need to chat with, and it will do your scheduling for you, and it would be even better if it can do predictive scheduling, where it can monitor and predict your schedule, and all you would need is to confirm it, and it’s done for you. That way, it will be hard to miss your biannual dental appointment, or your annual check-up.

Predictive Maintenance to a Whole New Level

In the situation where technicians have to go on site to check the status of machinery and equipment, predictive maintenance is a great help. AI can do the job of making sure that equipment and machines are working at an optimal operating point. And should there be a need for maintenance, it can schedule for a worker to provide the work needed. This is a great help to technicians, as they would not be needing to check on the equipment all the time, and they will be able to work on whatever else they need to do.

While Artificial Intelligence has a promising future, there is still a lot that needs to be developed for it to be fully integrated into any system. Data is in abundance, and AI now has a lot of information to work on that can improve its capacity to think better. However, this overload of information is not enough for AI to be useful. There is a need to interpret the information and translate it into knowledge that can then be put to use, much like how our brains work. We get information and our brains process that information into knowledge and from what we know, we do. This is the key to unlocking the potential of AI, and once we find out how to do exactly that, then there would be no stopping the potential on the use of Artificial Intelligence in our lives.

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The Hero’s Journey: Xerox’s Field Service Force Is Armed With Augmented Reality

This article first appeared in the April 17, 2017 edition of Field Technologies Online.

It’s not hard to imagine that in today’s market, your customer’s success is dependent on the speed and quality of the service provided by your company. This is the situation in the print market which is highly competitive. Many printers utilize similar state-of-the-art equipment and systems in their establishments and printing has become a commodity business. In a commodity market, suppliers compete based on time and cost. If a printer cannot turn a print job around quickly, say within 20 to 30 minutes, the customer will seek an alternative option.  So, it probably comes as no surprise that printers are highly dependent on their equipment suppliers to ensure that the equipment, so critical to operations, is operating properly and at full capacity during their typical working hours (e.g., three shifts/24 hours per day). Extended periods of downtime, output errors, and printing glitches (e.g., smudges, smears, color mismatches) are unacceptable.

Ensuring high levels of machine uptime and quality print output places increased pressures on manufacturers for service and support. Regardless of whether they are forced to deal with a hardware issue or an application error, customers demand rapid response and fast resolution. If service is not provided in a reasonable time frame, manufacturers run the risk of losing customers as well as click-through revenue.  As digital printing technology becomes more complex and sophisticated (think expanded features and functionality), customers need more support and manufacturers find that they must hire more field service technicians to keep up with increased service demand.

Customer Demands Become A Growing Concern

Xerox Israel found itself in a similar situation during the second half of 2016.  Increasing headcount was not an option because it would have had an adverse impact on operating margin. Maintaining the status quo was also not possible. With a 77 percent market share, Xerox’s Israel-based service management team understood that it had to find an innovative and creative solution to overcome this challenge. Otherwise, they would run the risk of losing market share. That’s when Xerox’s Customer Service Manager, Eyal Mantzur, became aware of Fieldbit Hero, an Augmented Reality (AR) software platform. The Fieldbit solution is comprised of smart glasses and software that enables collaboration of live streaming and recording of video, audio, images, and text.

Prior to implementing Fieldbit, Xerox’s customers would call the Xerox Welcome Center and notify them of their problem. The Welcome Center would dispatch a Field Engineer (FE) who would call back the customer and attempt to resolve the problem by telephone. Usually, the callback was made because the FE was at another customer’s site.  Often, the FE needed to travel to the new customer site to see the problem to diagnose and resolve it.  The net impact was that customers had to wait hours for an FE to arrive onsite to resolve hardware faults and application issues. This resulted in unhappy customers and, ultimately, lost business.  FEs were also not as productive as they could be while onsite because they were often multi-tasking on the telephone with other customers who required help.  A stressful situation for all parties involved!

New Realities, New Possibilities, Better Results

Upon learning of the Fieldbit solution, Mantzur and his team realized they needed to redefine their support paradigm to provide better service to customers and achieve better results.  They placed an experienced technician in the Welcome Center who was responsible to use Fieldbit Hero. He provided technical support to both customers and FEs, who would also have access to the application. By using this solution, the expert support specialist and FEs could observe the problem that the customer (i.e., machine operator) was experiencing and provide instructions, in real-time, in the form of AR content (e.g., video, images, text, etc.) on how to resolve the problem. If they could not resolve the problem remotely then they could provide the customer with a workaround until the FE could arrive on-site.  More importantly, they could provide the FE with the knowledge and resources (e.g., parts, repair instructions, etc.) needed to resolve the issue on the first visit to the customer site.

The Xerox team realized exceptional results in several areas of their service operation after implementing the Fieldbit.

  • Xerox improved remote resolution rates by 76 percent within four months of implementing Fieldbit
  • Xerox experienced a 67 percent improvement in First Time Fix (FTF) rates
  • FE utilization increased by almost 20 percent while the total elapsed time to resolve a service request (e.g., telephone time, travel time, onsite repair time, etc.) was reduced by two hours

Most of Xerox’s FEs are now able to handle at least one additional service event per day. These performance gains result in real cost savings for Xerox because the service team does not have to hire more staff to support customer demand and travel costs are reduced.

While these internal performance gains are impressive, the impact on customer satisfaction is even greater.  “The customer feels very happy and empowered when we help him solve the problem [using Fieldbit],” boasts Mantzur.  “He feels he is the service hero. The quality of interaction between customers and FEs as well as remote technical support personnel is also much better because everyone can see and talk about the same thing.  There’s no guessing anymore. With Fieldbit, customer satisfaction at Xerox improved significantly, to 95 percent, per Xerox’s most recent customer satisfaction research.  Furthermore, customers experience shorter periods of downtime and receive more accurate advice or recommendations on how to improve both machine uptime and the quality of print output.

Ensuring AR Buy-In 

Like many service executives, Eyal Mantzur was initially uncertain about what AR could do for his company.  He first learned about it from referral by  a colleague.  However, Mantzur notes that AR is a difficult concept to describe verbally. It is something that you need to see to understand. Mantzur had many pressing questions when he first heard about Fieldbit… Would it work, would customers be receptive, would the field service organization embrace it?”   These fears were quickly dismissed after seeing the product in action.  Things started to connect when for Mantzur when he realized Fieldbit could help his team see what the customer is talking about and then use AR content in the form of video, text, and images to show the customer and/or FE exactly what to do to resolve the problem.

The management team at Xerox clearly understood the value of AR. This was not necessarily the point of view of the field service organization.  Some of the FEs did not understand the power of the tool. Some were afraid of being replaced or marginalized by the tool. Mantzur overcame this challenge by showing his FEs how Fieldbit enabled them work smarter rather than harder. In doing so, he offered them a trade-off they could embrace – either continue to be stressed out by complaining customers, or enjoy a better quality of work and more satisfied customers by using Fieldbit. Once the FEs started using Fieldbit “they fell in love with it ” claims Mantzur.

Working Smarter — Not Harder — Is Better for Everyone

In summary, Fieldbit is fast becoming an integral part of Xerox Israel’s service and support strategy. The goal is for Xerox Technical Support Specialists to reside at the Welcome Center and provide first-level support to customers.  The number of specialists will also increase.  By utilizing Fieldbit, everyone from the specialist to the FE to the customer can work smarter, and FEs will no longer operate purely in demand mode. Instead, they will have more time to perform periodic/scheduled maintenance, which in turn will improve machine performance and print quality output.  “Instead of maintenance leading us, we will be able to lead maintenance”, claims Mantzur. “It will also allow the customers to be more productive during their normal business hours. They can do a better job at planning their workload. Our FEs will also be under less stress and experience greater productivity”.

In a highly competitive market like printing, manufacturers must constantly be on the lookout for ways to gain a competitive advantage.  The Xerox service organization is on the front line when it comes to ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty.  Their FEs play a critical role in maintaining high levels of uptime and quality for their customers.  Mantzur’s advice for any service executive skeptical about using Fieldbit is to see a demo and experience it firsthand. “Most people won’t understand the power of Fieldbit until they see how the technology performs,” he notes.  Even the customer will not appreciate its value until they use it for the first time; then they will demand it all the time.”  It is for this reason that Mantzur believes Fieldbit provides Xerox with a competitive advantage and a source of differentiation in the market.

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How to Prevent Ongoing Performance Issues

Our Guest Blogger this week is Jan van Veen. He helps technology and manufacturing companies increase momentum for a continuous and quicker adaption to change. Adaptability is a key success factor for sustainable success in an increasingly complex world with rapid changes.  Download his research report “Adapt or Die – How to increase momentum for sustainable success”

Is your company experiencing continuous performance issues? Are your co-workers fixing these problems, adequately and rapidly? Many manufacturing companies often suffer with ongoing performance issues.  Their most common intervention is to do more of the same, in the hope that this will do the trick. In a complex world that is rapidly evolving, it is essential to continuously adapt and drive performance. But is this easier said than done?

Take a regional leadership team for example, that once struggled with reaching their expected growth. As the pressure for them increased, their main intervention was to create a list of potential sales opportunities within their respective countries; in order to meet their objectives, they would only have needed to gain a small portion of these leads. Unsurprisingly however, this  didn’t work out.

Why get Stuck?

As opposed to just a ‘quick-fix’, many performance issues require a more thought-out intervention. This should begin with a thorough root cause analysis, involving different stakeholders bringing in their individual perspectives. Several teams or departments will often need to collaborate, to implement the adequate solution.

In practice, this appears to be difficult for individuals and teams whilst they are in the so-called ‘defensive survival mode’ or in the fixed mindset (as opposed to Carol Dweck’s famous ‘Growth Mindset’). The common “planning & control” management approach is what pushes co-workers into this defensive survival mode. They focus on short-term targets and punish set-backs. They fail to give themselves time to sit back, discover the root cause, and seek alternatives.

Consequently, people in the defensive survival mode will focus on their survival by reducing risk, justifying issues, identifying external circumstances, blaming others for causing problems, and so on. This impacts performance and creates performance issues throughout the company.

The Alternative

Let’s go back to the leadership team from our last example. How different would it have been if they had taken the time to find out why their business was failing to grow? What if they had involved other stakeholders and experts, or interviewed a couple of (potential) clients? The team could have discovered that their company did not have the right brand or proposition for this specific region. They could have solved the performance issue from first principle, at the root cause. This would have resulted in quicker, and more sustainable solutions.

The Solution for ongoing performance issues

To resolve the matter, employees at every level should be confident and eager to adapt, collaborate, try, rethink, question, and most importantly: act! With modern “sense & respond” management practices you can increase the momentum to continuously adapt and drive change. There are a few practical things you could do, to increase momentum in your team:

  • Let them take the time to analyze the root causes.
  • Schedule meetings with team members to discuss these root causes.
  • Engage in strategic dialogue across all levels, to discuss and adjust priorities.
  • When objectives are not met, initiate a forward-looking approach; with a constructive review and discussion, that will lunge your team forward.
  • Introduce shared objectives as a basis for the review, as well as rewards for your team members; this will get them all in the ‘same boat’, and drive collaboration.

Hold them individually accountable, by agreeing on separate objectives that can all contribute towards the overall goal.

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Field Service Management

Current State and Future Outlook

This Q & A first appeared on Mobile Reach as part of their Field Service Management Expert Interview Series. 

In what ways do you think field service management is changing? What are the future areas of growth?
Field service is becoming a technology-intensive business function. Technology enables field service organizations to build “Uber” like service offerings which are always available on-demand and in real-time. The future growth will come from adopting disruptive technologies like mobile, augmented reality, GPS, IoT, etc., to make this happen.

Speaking of IoT, what role do you see it playing in field service management?
I see the Internet of Things playing a very important role in field service management. It provides field service organizations and individual field service engineers with real-time visibility into status, health, and the condition of equipment they must support within their installed base. With this knowledge, field service organizations can be more effective at solving issues remotely, and field service engineers can be certain to have the right skills and resources (e.g., spare parts) with them when they arrive onsite to resolve an issue.

How are mobile technologies changing the way FSM organizations interact with their customers?
Mobile technologies provide field technicians with instant access to information about equipment history, spare parts availability, and technical knowledge. This helps them be more effective in doing their job for customers. In addition, they can use the technology to receive real-time updates and alerts about customers’ equipment. Furthermore, field technicians can utilize mobile technology to capture business intelligence about their customers that can then be utilized to upsell and cross sell additional services.

You mention upsell and cross sell. How can field service organizations use mobile technologies to drive revenue and competitive advantage?
Field service organizations can use mobile technologies to capture information about their customers’ machine population. For example, they can record data about what equipment they own, how long they’ve owned it, whether it is under a service contract, when the service contract expires, and their level of satisfaction with their current service provider. This information provides market intelligence that can be used to upsell and cross sell additional products and services. Companies can also drive revenue and competitive advantage by using mobile technology to capture customer satisfaction data and other relevant market research that would help improve performance and lead to the development of innovative products and services. Organizations should coach and train field technicians on how to sell and establish sales oriented KPIs for the organization.

How is the broader economy affecting field service management? How do you see this changing over time?
The current economy has a very positive impact on field service management. In an “up” economy, such as the one we are currently in, customers usually invest heavily in new equipment which means more service in the form of installations and service contracts. They are also more likely to spend more on services by purchasing premium service offerings that they may have not purchase in a down economy. I see the economy and the field service industry remaining strong for the next several years. However, even a down economy can have a positive impact on field service. Investors view field service as a defensible business in the sense that it is not hurt by cyclical economic trends in the way that industries like automotive or luxury goods are. Customers still need field service even when the economy is performing poorly. In fact, they are likely to increase their dependence on field service to extend the life of the equipment they currently own instead of buying new products.

What is role of the Chief Service Officer and how will this position evolve going forward?
The role of the Chief Service Officer is to drive customer satisfaction by managing service delivery against KPIs. In addition, their role is to serve as an internal advocate/champion within their organization for service. This means they work toward obtaining investments and resources when needed to improve customer satisfaction and service delivery performance. The role is evolving in the sense that CSOs are being tasked with responsibility for managing field service as a profit center as well as taking a leadership role in developing business strategy and driving innovation within their organizations.

What are the top three KPIs that you recommend FSM organizations focus on now?
My top three KPIs are First Time Fix (FTFR), Mean Time To Repair (MTTR), and customer satisfaction (CSAT). In the future, as field service generates greater value for companies, the KPIs are more likely to focus on financial metrics and customer outcomes such as gross margin, uptime availability, contract attachment, and renewal rates.

How can FSM organizations integrate big data without becoming bogged down with information overload?
They should consider the problems they are trying to solve before trying to find a big data solution. Once they have a clear understanding of the problem, they can determine if a large data set is required to solve it and, more importantly, identify what types of big data analytics are required. Does the problem require descriptive, diagnostics, predictive, or prescriptive/cognitive analytics? Lastly, they must understand that from a data solution perspective these analytics build upon each other. In other words, you can’t run until you learn how to walk. Trying to implement a prescriptive/cognitive big data analytics solution is pointless unless you have effectively addressed problems that can be solved through descriptive, diagnostic, and predictive analytics.

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