5 Major Challenges in Field Service Management
Velosio’s field service experts explore how the ever-growing list of management challenges service orgs are up against.
Velosio’s field service experts explore how the ever-growing list of management challenges service orgs are up against.
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Challenges in field service are no surprise. The modern field services industry is rife with challenges. There’s the pressure to keep up with rising customer demands and get ahead of growing competition from both new entrants and well–resourced incumbents.
There’s also the fact that managing and coordinating large, distributed teams is always a struggle – even under ideal conditions.
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And, then, there’s the whole issue of attracting, training, and retaining qualified techs. The point is, it’s just too much.
In this article, Velosio’s field service experts will explore how the ever-growing list of challenges service orgs are up against, and what you can do to get ahead of them.
Field service customers need reliability, stability, and transparency from their providers. They need visibility into how assets are performing and assurance that breakdowns don’t lead to long stretches of downtime — and the losses and risks that come with the territory.
These are just the basics — and a lot of field service companies still aren’t getting them right. Four, six, even eight hour appointment windows are still the norm. And, it’s not uncommon for techs to arrive on-site without the right tools, parts, or a clear picture of what’s going on.
Bill McGibony, “one of the biggest challenges is customer retention. There’s a lot of pressure to provide excellent customer service with every interaction, otherwise their customers will quickly leave for a competitor. Some of these service industries involve low barriers to entry, so they have a lot of competition to keep up with.”
When orgs face these pressures to deliver personalized solutions and support — at scale, and in real-time — it’s tempting to outsource everything to the robots, which, in many ways, are better equipped to handle these challenges.
Heather Racine warns against relying too much on AI. “Yes, it’s powerful. But, customer experience is all about that human element.”
Ultimately, rising to new expectations is about striking the right balance between human connection and the speed and scale of AI – and taking advantage of CRM and business intelligence capabilities.
Unfortunately, that’s a big ask for a lot of people. There’s still this huge gap in understanding AI strengths vs. human ones — making it difficult to establish effective working partnerships between employees and bots.
While inflation is starting to come down, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics January 2023 Consumer Price Index shows prices on critical essentials like food, fuel, and energy remain high.
Field service organizations have always dealt with a daunting set of cost pressures. They’re covering the costs of parts, labor, travel, fuel, equipment, inventory, training, the list goes on. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of elements coming together to support this business model.
Velosio’s Dave Sigler says, “as prices for fuel and repair parts keep going up, companies are looking for new ways to lessen the financial impact on core operations. Orgs are looking for ways to lower overhead and maximize the ROI of existing resources without losing their competitive edge.”
According to Aquant’s 2023 Service Intelligence Benchmark report, the average cost of field services has risen by about 7%, keeping pace with inflation. The industry, as a whole, has made major improvements across several critical KPIs — first-time-fix-rates, etc., but aren’t reaping the benefits of those improvements due to inflation.
What’s more, the report found, is that the poorest performing field service orgs cost almost 70% more compared to top performers.
What that means, per Aquant VP of Growth, Edwin Pahk, is that service orgs must invest in the right tools for monitoring and training their workforce — like, right now.
Service businesses that fail to make this a priority won’t be around in five years, due to rapidly increasing service costs. Pahk says that good service and a high-performing workforce actually costs less than low-performing workers and poor service.
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Of course, no one can control the economy. But, field service leaders can control their response to economic uncertainty, and focus on building resilience, so they’re not rattled by future shakeups.
For example, improving procurement processes can help keep costs in check. You might not have control over the cost of parts or equipment, but you can take advantage of volume discounts or bundle orders together to reduce shipping costs.
You might also look for ways to reduce travel time with route optimization solutions or by providing more remote and self-service options to your customers. Or — reallocate resources to high-impact areas, while simultaneously slashing costs elsewhere.
There are countless things you can do to combat inflation, but your only chance at profitability is an efficient, tech-driven FSM practice.
Now, staffing issues are certainly part of the inflation story. According to the BLS, average wages are up more than 5% annually — across all industries. But, the field service industry has long faced a talent shortage, so that means, field orgs are paying more to hire, train, and retain workers.
The bigger problem extends beyond the balance sheet.
Jason Wietharn says, “staff shortages are a huge problem. It’s gotten really tough to find, hire, and keep qualified technicians. As costs continue to rise, orgs need to be more efficient about how to make the most of the resources they have — without placing the added burden on workers.”
Field techs are aging out of the workforce and younger workers aren’t replacing them.
Fixing this problem will require widespread, systemic change — with government support, public-private partnerships, and educational reform. But, orgs can start building talent pipelines themselves. Perhaps by creating apprenticeship programs, paid training opportunities for existing employees, or forming partnerships with vocational training programs, colleges, even high schools.
In the meantime, field service orgs should look for ways to augment their workforce with technology. They might offer more self-service options or AI assistance to employees and customers.
Or – they might invest in resources that give more junior techs a leg up. For example, things like RemoteAssist can help field techs get help from experienced technicians or troubleshoot problems in real-time with colleagues.
Low-user adoption — among both field techs and desk-bound employees — represents another major barrier for service-based orgs.
Nelson Johnson, “having enough people in the organization that really are comfortable using the product before the go-live is something a lot of companies still struggle with. I’ve worked on many projects where most of the client’s employees don’t make time to learn their way around new products until they absolutely need to.”
Casey Hendriks put it like this, “the biggest challenge facing field service organizations today are the organizations themselves. Those who are unwilling to solve business problems with technology will go the way of the dodo bird.”
Casey adds, “organizations face resistance to change at all levels. Many clients are frustrated with the headache of changing processes. But, most will tell you that the bigger headache is learning to adapt to an ever-changing environment.”
Dave Sigler, “User adoption is about more than simply getting people on-board with change. Often, people struggle to transition existing processes to their new FSM platform.”
Overcoming adoption challenges is difficult for any organization. As anyone who has experienced org-wide transformation will tell you, it’s more about culture and change management than anything else. And – getting everyone to buy-in is easily the biggest barrier leaders must overcome.
When your core business value depends on a mobile workforce used to doing things a certain way, well, that barrier turns into something bordering on the impossible.
According to Jason Wietharn, low adoption is especially hard to overcome because field service orgs are often starting from scratch. Many processes are either manual or non-existent.”
Erica Ellis adds, “field technicians often have little, if any, experience with technology. If an organization was previously using paper-based tracking, the transition to electronic record-keeping and automated processes may be especially difficult.”
Or, she says, “if orgs are switching from one field service system to another, they might have trouble adjusting to the nuances of the new system. Often, technicians are looking toward ‘how I did it before’ versus ‘how I need to do it.’”
This makes it extra difficult because these orgs need to ensure that training and resources can be delivered in a way that works with erratic schedules — and addresses mobility challenges that make it hard for techs to access critical info or support.
Kandarp points out that “one of the biggest challenges here is overcoming issues with mobile offline capability.”
In many ways, things are getting better. Cloud-native apps with better mobile capabilities are now the norm — and critical apps and productivity tools are now optimized for any device or location.
Extreme example: Burkhardt Compression used Dynamics 365 Field Service and Remote Assist to support ship technicians with specialized mechanical expertise, while working on the “high seas.”
Resource management has always been a challenge for field service orgs. And, if we’re being honest, it probably always will be — no matter how good the tech gets.
There are all of these tools out there with advanced resource management capabilities. D365 Field Service, for example, comes equipped with automated scheduling recommendations, resource assignments, and fully-automated scheduling & route optimization.
Yet, according to Kandarp, “many clients struggle to effectively leverage the automated resource management tools that really take things to the next level. Think — automated scheduling, dispatching, and routing (or re-routing).”
Part of the problem is that field service leaders don’t always understand the full picture. Dave Sigler says one of the biggest FSM challenges he sees is that clients don’t understand the ROI of their digital investments.
For instance, they might know that they need to digitize operations, but don’t have a clear sense of what they’re trying to achieve — let alone how to measure progress toward critical goals.
Jason Wietharn agrees, “a lot of organizations don’t understand how they’re tracking against critical KPIs. Many times, they’re not even sure what KPIs they should be looking at in the first place.”
The other part of this is, orgs may not be prepared to implement changes in stages.
Going back to Kandarp’s point, platforms like D365 and NetSuite are designed in such a way that orgs can build out AI/automation capabilities over time.
First, they’ll digitize manual processes, automate simple tasks, then, from there, move on to more advanced applications.
For example, outfitting devices and equipment with IoT sensors can transform resource management on multiple levels. Customer assets might send out a real-time alert at the first sign of trouble and attempt to self-heal before automatically scheduling a service call.
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The field services industry has always been uniquely challenging — long before technology entered the fold.
In some ways, things are getting easier. But, only for those that understand how to develop effective FSM strategies, leverage the latest tech, and most crucially, create an environment that embraces change and empowers technicians.
With decades of hands-on experience working with clients, developing industry-specific solutions, and running field operations and call centers themselves, Velosio’s field service experts have been through it all.
Our deep knowledge of the space — as well as the entire Microsoft ecosystem — means we’re uniquely positioned to help field service orgs digitize operations and transform into a true competitive force for years to come.
David SiglerPrincipal Consultant