While the COVID-19 pandemic changed how many industries and people work, customers and advanced technologies also reshaped business.
As the pandemic reset customer expectations, field service management and its relationship to customers also changed. These changes created new trends for the future of field service management, including more self-service, contactless service and adoption of more advanced technologies. In turn, the future will include more AI, more cloud and more automation.
How COVID-19 reset customer expectations
COVID-19 forced organizations to quickly transform how they interact with customers and manage customer expectations, which led to more online services. These transformations also changed CX, as new technologies and communication channels met safety precautions and new customer demands.
For customers, field service technicians and customer service representatives, safety precautions became the first line of defense against COVID-19. Safety protocols helped organizations comply with local government regulations, limit risks and remain operational. New, evolving customer expectations emerged, like how organizations service customers and how to interact with field service technicians and customer service reps.
While customers have high expectations for end-to-end communications with field and customer service workers, they had similar desires before COVID-19. The new ways to manage customer interactions brought out by the pandemic -- whether online, contactless or face-to-face -- will have lasting effects.
With growing market demands, organizations must optimize their field service teams, including contact center staffing across communication channels like phone, chat, online booking and appointment management. This model enables last-mile delivery management and monitoring, like Amazon delivery confirmations with a photo of the delivery at its location.
Field service industry trends
As customer expectations reset, field service industry trends also change. The main areas of change include more contactless and self-service opportunities and new technologies.
1. Contactless field service and support
COVID-19 evolved customer and field interactions, and many customers are less interested in returning to the service standards from before the pandemic. Many organizations also added safety protocols -- like contactless capabilities -- to keep employees and customers safe amid the pandemic. Those organizations may find these changes easier to maintain than returning to previous standards.
To continue with contactless options, organizations must evaluate if they can do more. Approaches include the following:
- Contactless service appointments outside the home. This approach lets field service workers do their jobs, limits the number of customers they see and diminishes contact risks.
- Dispatches from home to customers. If organizations enable field service workers to dispatch from their homes rather than a central office, they reduce the number of people with whom workers interact. This approach also could reduce time spent in traffic, so workers get to customers faster.
- Remote or hybrid work. Organizations should enable and equip customer service reps to work from home or offer hybrid work options. Even within healthcare, organizations equipped many customer service reps and other essential professionals to work remotely.
Organizations can contact customers to ensure their information is up-to-date, improve CRMs with their preferences -- such as contactless interactions -- and make the data more predictive for future needs.
2. Use of cashless and mobile payments
Amid the pandemic, fewer customers have used cash due to health concerns and restrictions. Use of currency decreased within B2B transactions, while digital payments increased. Mobile payments offer customers more convenience and safety than cash or physical cards.
Organizations that can't invest in contactless card readers can enable mobile payments in other ways. For example, customers could pay online through a secure portal on the company website, smartphone application or separate offering, or through a third-party payment processor with brands like PayPal, Square or Stripe.
3. Increased use of self-service
Self-service portals offer an initial point of contact between a customer and an organization and capture details about the customer's problem. These details tell field service teams what to expect and where to resolve the customer issue.
Self-service also offers field service teams a starting point to find resolutions. If an organization uses a software-enabled device or mobile app that employees can update in real time, field service workers and customers can stay in sync and manage expectations on both sides.
4. Use of advanced technologies
Across healthcare and manufacturing industries, organizations heavily invest in IoT and AI. These technologies can also benefit the future of field service management.
IoT sensors and augmented reality glasses could help field service workers identify where the customer needs help and provide remote assistance and support.
5. Return to basics training for service professionals
COVID-19 has required field service teams to revisit health-related concerns and priorities, including mandatory training on preventing the spread of germs.
COVID-19 provided an opportunity to update basic training on empathy and how to follow appropriate public health mandates and measures, in addition to skills training. More training can enable more consistent experiences between field and customer service professionals.
What does the future of field service management hold?
Field and customer service must evolve to address customer expectations and remain competitive, and the future of field service management has many paths it could take.
1. Hybrid or flexible work options
COVID-19 has changed how and where many employees work and shifted attitudes about remote work. Many employees also recognized a new need to balance work and home life.
In response, many employers gave employees flexible work options, such as hybrid work. Long-term hybrid work can benefit the following areas:
- work-life balance;
- productivity, as employees work in ways that best suit their needs;
- trust between employer and employee; and
- health and safety for employees who choose to work remotely.
For field service workers and customer service reps, hybrid work success requires the right technology to support employees in multiple locations.
2. Cloud-based software to enable remote work
Before COVID-19, few to no field service workers thought something would prevent them from working in a customer's home. Yet, organizations worldwide suddenly closed their doors while learning how to run their businesses from somewhere other than their offices.
On the other hand, organizations with remote work processes in place saw little to no workflow interruptions, except for social distancing when necessary. The switch to remote work enabled organizations to adopt cloud-based software to access data and help employees -- including field and customer service teams -- work from anywhere.
3. AI to enable automation
COVID-19 also caused a strained supply chain. The field service industry, in particular, faces a skills shortage as employees exit the workforce. As a result, many organizations adopted AI and automation. AI automates processes and can use algorithms to schedule field service workers, enabling organizations to deliver jobs ahead of time and boost profits.
AI also provides new data that organizations can use to understand CX, its strengths and places in need of optimization. Data from AI can help organizations develop reactive and proactive ways to address service needs.
4. Inventory management software
Throughout the pandemic, supply chain issues have resulted in delays, material and product shortages, and price increases for the trade and construction industries. Many organizations turned to inventory management software to manage supply chain issues and track inventory changes in real time. The software can also monitor inventory and identify price fluctuations for optimized pricing.
Organizations that follow current and future field service management trends can strengthen their relationships with customers. Field service benefits include increased customer loyalty, customer and employee retention, and increased revenue.