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The Rise of the Connected Customer

By Mike Henstridge

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

It’s no secret that the level of mobile connectivity has exploded. For your service customers, the pervasiveness of mobile connectivity is accelerating and raising expectations when it comes to service quality.

This is the era of the connected customer – consumers who are used to having the entire Internet at their fingertips, who can instantly interact with friends and associates via text or social media, and who can quickly summon a ride, make restaurant reservations, or order a gift with a few clicks and swipes on their phones.

Connected customers present both challenges and opportunities for field service organizations. Their expectations have increased based on their experiences interacting with other types of service providers such as Amazon.com, Uber, FedEx, etc. These customers want more information, along with faster, better service, and more control over their experience.

When it comes to service, these customers expect:

  • Real-time alerts when technicians are on their way to the job site/residence
  • Technicians that will arrive and already know their individual customer histories and preferences
  • Technicians that have real-time access to the repair information and parts that they need to complete the job
  • A service organization that can respond quickly to emergency calls
  • The ability to receive real-time updates on the status of their service, both online and via their mobile devices

Connected customers are extremely familiar with the capabilities of mobile computing technology in a way that they were not 10 years ago. They expect field service technicians to be able to access those same or even more advanced mobile capabilities.

Mobility should be #1 for engaging your field service customers. While mobile once offered a competitive advantage, it is now basic table stakes when it comes to field service. Field service management solutions that leverage mobile technology provide an opportunity to distinguish a service organization from competitors and unlock new streams of revenue.

By satisfying the needs of connected customers, service organizations can improve the customer experience, enhance their reputation, and reduce churn.

Leveraging Customer Connectivity

Enterprises are rapidly embracing mobile apps. According to data from Frost & Sullivan, 47% of North American businesses have at least 11 different mobile apps deployed, and 88% plan on introducing at least one new employee-facing app within the year.

Why are they deploying so many mobile apps? Because the benefits are widespread, clear, and easy to measure. According to Frost Sullivan’s data, companies have found that key mobility benefits include:

  • More efficient business processes (49% of respondents)
  • More productive employees (46%)
  • Improved collaboration (46%)
  • Cost savings (45%)
  • More satisfied employees (44%)
  • Enhanced customer engagement (43%)
  • Competitive advantage (42%)

The rapid adoption of a wide variety of mobile apps has been enabled by the emergence of more powerful mobile devices (including smartphones) that can run enterprise-class applications, as well as the development of more powerful and responsive wireless networks.

However, merely having a mobile solution in place does not automatically enable a service organization to effectively serve the connected customer. Focusing on cost containment, productivity, and efficiency is no longer the end game when it comes to mobility. While reducing costs and completing more jobs per day are good for the bottom line, they don’t necessarily assist in improving customer satisfaction and are not always in line with value creation in the long-term.

Why is this? Because cost/efficiency improvements tend to be internally focused; the fact that the service organization saved money on fuel or can bill more jobs per month doesn’t benefit customers.

Service customers want reliability and visibility. Did the service organization get the technician to the job site quickly, equipped with the right parts and repair knowledge? Were they able to complete the repair in one visit? Was the customer able to stay updated on the status of the technician and the work order? How easy was it to schedule the service visit?

Every decision the service organization makes should be weighed against a backdrop of the overall impact to the customer. The fact that customers are now highly connected makes it easier for service organizations to meet their needs, provided that they have their own robust mobility solution in place. By making it easier for customers to access and use their services more easily, they can open up untapped markets and intelligent insights.

Connecting with these consumers requires ongoing feedback. With that feedback, service organizations can optimize service processes based on actual customer needs, and empower their customer-facing employees to provide the best service possible.

By leveraging analytics, the input your connected customers provide can help you understand consumption patterns and deliver a personalized solution – and potentially do so at a premium, creating new pricing models and differentiated service models, and establishing new revenue streams in the process.

There are a number of ways to leverage customer connectivity to improve service operations and enhance the overall customer experience. Some these include:

Online Scheduling: Whether it’s via a mobile app or the service organization’s website, customers want flexibility and control over scheduling their service appointments, and don’t necessarily want to wait on hold for a call center rep. Online scheduling requests can feed directly into advanced automated scheduling and work order management solutions.

Proactive Service: Not only are customers more connected, so are the products they use that require service. By tapping into the Internet of Things (IoT) to monitor asset conditions, service companies can track and monitor how customers are using products at a much deeper level, and provide proactive service by recognizing maintenance and repair needs before there is a failure.

Technician Arrival Tracking: A number of telecommunications providers have already rolled out technician tracking apps for their customers, giving them the ability to see how far away the tech is by looking at a map on their phone – much like similar functionality provided by Uber. Instead of waiting at home during a predetermined two- or four-hour arrival window, customers can receive alerts when the tech is within 20 minutes of arrival, and then meet them at their residence. This solves a massive customer pain point.

Open Communication: In some markets, customers want to be able to communicate directly with the service organization via text, e-mail or voice – and may even want to communicate directly with the technician. For key contracts, that type of personalized communication can generate significant value for the customer. Field service management solutions with customer portals can also provide automated alerts and updates to customers so they can easily keep track of the technician’s progress from any location.

Meeting the Challenge of the Connected Customer

Engaging effectively with connected customers requires an investment in technology that can keep pace with the technology that your customers already have access to. There are a number of challenges involved in that process, including:

Navigating a fragmented and confusing market. Service organizations that are new to mobility, or that have not updated their solutions in several years may be intimidated by the diversity of technology now available, including different software deployment models, different hardware form factors, and multiple operating system options.

Predicting customer needs. The market is moving quickly, and it can be challenging to get in front of it. Service organizations should have a structured approach for gathering feedback directly from their customers to get a better idea of where to invest their technology dollars. Otherwise, they could wind up missing important customer pain points – a failure that could cost them business later on.

Determining the best technologies to deploy. Emerging technologies are also going to play an important role in field service over the next five years. Most of them aren’t quite ready for wide deployment, and others may already be in use by your competition. You want to differentiate yourself from the competition.

Predictive analytics, for example, are already being used to help service organizations sort out future demand for services in order to adjust hiring and scheduling practices. Other industries are investing in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to manage scheduling or to diagnose equipment failures. Wearable technologies such as cameras, smart watches, smart glasses, and displays can be used to help technicians keep their hands free during repairs, or to provide visual information in real-time for collaborative processes. Augmented reality (including 3D visualization) can be used to guide repairs or for remote technician training/assistance.

Conclusion

Connected customers have much higher expectations of their service providers than in the past. With mobile technology and field service management automation, service organizations can meet or exceed those expectations by taking a customer-first approach to their service operations.

According to Frost & Sullivan, 67% of companies plan to expand their mobile deployments in the next 12 months. That forward movement should erase any hesitation other service organizations have about making new investments in mobility in order to meet the demands of their increasingly connected customer base.

Having a complete picture of the customer experience is critical. The technology you deploy should allow seamless engagement between all of your customer touchpoints to improve the customer experience and gain insights into customer behaviors and preferences.

To be relevant in the future, companies must focus on leveraging data to create a single instance of truth when it comes to customer information, and then make that information available to all of the relevant stakeholders. Your technicians can have smarter, more informed conversations with your customers while having the flexibility to quickly adapt to meet their needs whether that is selling additional services, correcting an error, or being to able to quickly order parts or solicit technical assistance while on site.

Mobile technology provides the means of satisfying customers who are increasingly connected, curious, and demanding of your very best performance.