Finally: Field Service Gains Sex Appeal

If ever there was an area within service in need of a makeover, it would be field service. My very first technical support job, back in the 80s at JCPenney in Atlanta, involved working closely with NCR and IBM to dispatch field techs when store point of sale equipment needed onsite repair. Frankly, not much has changed in field service since then, and in all the years I’ve been tracking field service technology and adoption, there has never been an industry-wide push to update and modernize as we’ve seen in other service areas (multi-channel, knowledge management and social support being three good examples).

Until now. There are several drivers making field service automation a hot area. Planned spending is up, the industry is ripe with innovation, and even Wall Street seems to be taking notice. Consider these drivers:

  • The cloud. Legacy field service automation suites were 12-18 month implementations, with price tags for large enterprises in the $10M or more range, often due to the complexities of logistics and parts management. With new technology providers offering end-to-end field service in the cloud, acquisition and maintenance costs are much lower, with business user targeted controls not requiring an IT system administrator to own the implementation.
  • Mobility. I see mobility as the primary driver for many companies to finally take the plunge and overhaul their field service infrastructure. The productivity improvements possible by arming the field staff with smartphones or tablets shows enormous potential. Streamlined scheduling and dispatch, access to enterprise content from onsite, easy collaboration with peers across the globe, etc.
  • Revenue. TSIA data has shown that upsell/cross-sell is nearly 100% successful for field service engineers, due to the intimacy of face-to-face contacts, as well as the trust customers tend to have with a friendly and knowledgeable field tech. With so many companies under renewed budget pressure for 2013, looking beyond cost cutting toward incremental revenue to fill the gap becomes a compelling strategy.

The final clue I needed to prove field service is a hot area came yesterday, when an equity firm reached out to me for information on the industry, because they see it as a hot investment area. I hear from equity firms all the time, but the topic is almost always related to social media, or maybe multichannel. If the guys with the big bucks see field service as a major growth area, who am I to argue? Clearly interest in this area is growing, not only with customers demanding features like self-service appointment scheduling, field service teams looking to mobility to streamline processes and energize the workforce, and now investors looking for the “next big thing” to invest in.

It was about this time last year that the video of the delivery person tossing a computer over the fence went viral. I honestly believe that served as a driver as well. Let’s hope the next viral video is about exceptional service, not broken packages or field techs napping on the customer’s couch. We need some good stories to share.

Happy holidays to everyone, and thanks as always for reading Ragsdale’s Eye on Service!

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