Field Service in 2012 - Finding the Fix

By Sumair Dutta, Research Director, Service Management Practice, Aberdeen Group — February 14, 2012

For service organizations, the field continues to be a major proving ground in the quest for improved customer satisfaction, higher customer retention and increased profitability. On average, as revealed in a recent field service survey (Field Service 2012: The Right Technician) conducted by the Aberdeen Group of 220 organizations, 65% of incoming service requests require a field visit or a dispatch. Nearly 26% of these dispatches require secondary or additional follow up visits, thereby making the effective management of field resources and the overall field service organization extremely vital in the pursuit of service excellence. 
 
For the end customer, whether a direct consumer or an enterprise, the ‘average’ (approximately 74% for all organizations) first-time resolution rate is a major concern. While speed of service and on-time arrival are important considerations in evaluating field service performance, the ability of a field technician to diagnose and resolve a service issue is of primary importance especially considering the cost and revenue loss associated with downtime.
Field service organizations need to quickly diagnose the reasons for their resolution underperformance as they are entering a volatile and extremely competitive market in 2012. Customers are holding back on purchases due to the global slowdown, and when they are in the market for products and services, they are now greeted by an increasing list of product and service options, which places downward pressure on prices.
Organizations need to combat these pressures by improving their customer service operations and shoring up service delivery processes, in order to further entrench themselves as the vendor of choice in their customers' minds. As seen in Aberdeen's State of Service Management: Forecast for 2012 research, higher customer satisfaction drives higher retention, loyalty, and profitability. In that research, organizations that satisfied 90% or more of their customers were successful in retaining 90%+ of their customers leading to significantly higher service margins when compared to those organizations with a 50% or lower customer satisfaction rate. These laggard organizations were only successful in retaining 26% of their customers and therefore struggling to stay in business. 
 
With this in mind, field service organizations have identified customer satisfaction as their top goal for 2012. They hope to attain this by improving the efficiency and productivity of their field service organizations, enabling them to resolve customer issues quickly and effectively. In addition to increasing customer satisfaction and retention, field service organizations are also looking to improve their financial fortunes with a deeper focus on driving net new revenue opportunities from their service customers.
For the Best-in-Class (organizations with higher first-time fix, utilization and productivity rates), the key actions prioritized to attain field service goals in 2012 aim at:
 
1. Equipping Technicians With the Right Tools
 
The Best-in-Class use mobile tools and applications to provide their field technicians with better information to improve productivity and resolution rates. These tools are also aimed at reducing the time and money wasted on unnecessary field service paperwork. In Aberdeen's 2011 Mobile Field Service research (Field Service 2011: Mobility and the Extension of the Service Enterprise, July 2011), leading organizations saw double-digit improvements (11%) in productivity as a result of investments in mobility.
2. Developing the Right Technician Workforce
 
A technician with the right tools can still be ineffective without the expertise to resolve the service issue, or the training to take advantage of the tools provided. Leading organizations continue to invest in gaining more visibility into the status, location, and capacity of their workforce, to ensure the appropriate technicians are selected for specific tasks. Depending on the task, the right technician may not be the closest one, especially if the closest technician is overutilized, unavailable, or lacking familiarity with a particular product.
 
Leading organizations are also taking an in-depth look at technician performance to determine optimal hiring profiles, build training regimens, and structure compensation practices. The Best-in-Class are relying on data, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, to build their 'right' workforce.
 
3. Enabling the Right Level of Access into Performance Results
 
The service organization can use service performance data to improve on field service or customer service practices. While this is extremely useful, service data can serve even more value if shared with the rest of the organization. Sales and marketing departments can look at service history with a particular customer to develop a complete customer experience profile. Product design and engineering departments can use service data in failure and quality analyses to improve reliability. The benefits of organization-wide data access are significant.  
 
With the aid of these actions and investments, Best-in-Class organizations are looking to support process, leadership, performance management and knowledge sharing capabilities in place to drive field service growth. These capabilities support the three central pillars of field service success:
  • Day-to-Day Execution - Scheduling, Dispatch and Mobility
  • Strategic Planning - Demand Forecasting and Resource Planning
  • Workforce Management - Hiring, Training, Compensation and Engagement of the Field Service Workers
Complete findings from the field service report, including Best-in-Class metrics and results, are available at: http://www.aberdeen.com/Aberdeen-Library/7380/RA-field-service-management.aspx

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