Magazine Article | December 14, 2012

Can't-Miss Field Service Advice For 2013

By Mike Monocello, Business Solutions Magazine

Experts give advice on selecting the right hardware and software, mistakes to avoid, and how to deal with customers asking about iPads.

From a reseller point of view, what is the most significant trend in the field service space?
John Pomerleau, North America field mobility principal, Motorola Solutions: Service organizations are switching from being reactive to proactive and utilizing mobile solutions to support both the organization and the field technician to accomplish this goal. For the field worker, mobile solutions are not only providing call and customer information, but also account and equipment history, contracts, parts on order, picture taking, and geocoding assets for easy locating in the future. Mobile solutions can also provide insight into which other customers are nearby and can be proactively serviced while a field worker is in the area. This builds greater customer satisfaction, which ultimately goes to the bottom line.

In addition, wearable computers are gaining steam as a technology that can help field technicians use voice commands to access complicated records, schematics, and diagrams while keeping their hands free. Wearable computers can also provide video and picture sharing with a remote subject-matter expert, while the technician is on-site to give additional guidance and provide a faster response to complete the job on the first trip. Data regarding customer changes and requests can now be collected and shared in real time across the entire organization to build a more comprehensive view and help foster new solutions for customers along with ways to market them.

What are some of the newer trends in field service?
Jake Shuford, VP of sales, CipherLab: Applications “in the cloud” designed with the smartphone/ tablet as the field-based productivity tool and a move to contractorbased field staff are trends that seem to be very popular among field service operations. This creates alternative multiple platform concerns and requirements while necessitating the interaction with multiple “customers” within one operation instead of one buying influence. These requirements translate to more difficult engagements requiring much more time and effort which results in lower revenues in most cases.

Pomerleau: Field service organizations continue to look for new efficiencies from the field, new services for their customers, and to get faster and more comprehensive insight into their customers. This in turn is shared across the organization to pull together new service offerings to drive revenue. There is a great opportunity for resellers to provide the solutions and tools needed to accomplish this through mobile solutions.

What are some common pain points end users face?
Pomerleau: Customers cancelling, back-ordered parts, weather conditions, and a changing field staff all can play havoc with the daily schedule. Other pain points include limited access to service information or history, orders pending, and parts needing to be ordered while in the field. All of these things can impact customer satisfaction and increase expenses which hit the bottom line. A comprehensive field service solution accommodates scheduling, customer information, driving directions, upsale offers, payment options, and possibly customer surveys.

What are some mistakes resellers should avoid when selecting/selling field service hardware?
Shuford: With the easy access and advertisement of AIDC products on the Internet by Internet retailers, some resellers are being pressured into believing that they need to match the low advertised prices being offered there. Failure to recognize that those prices are typically credit card in advance with no value-add doesn’t promote a valid response from the reseller community.

Pomerleau: Jumping too quickly to a decision on a mobile handheld computer. Always review the entire business process. There are three basic issues that mobility needs to address depending on the organization: reducing costs to serve customers, increasing service revenues, and improving customer satisfaction — all of which impact the bottom line. By jumping to a decision on a make and model number right away, other solutions and services that the custom er may have or want to offer will be unmet, leading to missed sales opportunities.

Regarding TCO (total cost of ownership), a common mistake that customers make involves comparing a consumer device and an enterprise-class device thinking that the performance is comparable. Besides what is learned about the customers’ business processes, resellers should closely review and consider the following:

  • Bar code tools and assets used in the field to control expenses and inventory turns
  • End user working environment — consumer devices are harder to work with when wearing gloves, and they do not hold up well if there is moisture or temperature swings above or below 91°F
  • Battery life needed on a daily basis and looking ahead to battery replacement plans for when the battery ages and does not hold a charge

What are some mistakes resellers should avoid when selecting/selling the software part of their field service solutions?
Shuford: In today’s business climate, it pays huge dividends in the way of building a reputation and recognizing appropriate revenues if the time is taken to fully understand the requirements of the use case at the operator level. The tendency is to try to make one software solution meet multiple requirements and then “customizing” the base application to meet the specific requirements of each engagement. The net result becomes an installed base that simply can’t be fully supported over time, and repeat sales to the affected organizations are less likely.

Pomerleau: Review how much experience the software provider has in that specific industry. Some industries are very specific and have very complex processes. For example, in the CPG (consumer packaged goods) industry, direct store delivery has a very complex business model that dynamically changes within that industry involving scanning, EDI (electronic data interchange)- (DEX), price adjustments, ordering new product, calculating discounts, and mobile printing.

Often, multiple features or applications need to be integrated or work together. For example, a field service application may need to interface with sophisticated mapping functionality to provide customer service features such as texting estimated times of arrival to customers based on location or helping direct drivers through commercial areas that can accommodate trucks with certain load types.

How should resellers respond to customers asking about iPads?
Shuford: Embrace the change to iOS devices by offering AIDC-enabling accessories (Bluetooth scanners, Bluetooth printers, etc.), but point out credible rugged device alternatives with justification.

Pomerleau: iPads are not the answer to “all things mobile.” They do not perform well outdoors, even with a layer of protection on them and how they are carried by service people. Moisture, rain, and temperature swings tend to slow or stop these devices till they cool down. This can be very inconvenient for technicians who work in those environments.

Other areas of concern include repair and service contracts and knowing who will service it and how quickly it will be returned. Will moisture or liquid damage be covered or multiple screen breakages as they get banged up out in the field? Battery replacement is another key area that needs to be questioned.

Organizations need to ensure that the iPad or any other mobile device is futureproofed and key enterprise applications will be protected and covered by operating system, screen size, and accessory changes. The customer will need to plan for testing, validating, and adjusting all applications as OS changes occur. And last but certainly not least, will the organization get the level of device management and security needed for enterprise applications? The potential for havoc exists if IT has to support all the changes that come with supporting consumer devices, offerings, carrier service plans, repair, and service.