By Tom Paquin
How did you develop your current Field Service Management technology stack?
a. We built our solution from the ground-up
b. We bought and customized a single solution
c. We bought a single solution and didn’t change anything
d. We have a hodgepodge of systems, utilities, and practices
e. We have an Excel spreadsheet
f. We have a bunch of paperwork
There are some clearly wrong answers to this question, but today, most service organizations that would be seen as effective exist somewhere on the spectrum of the other options on this list. That’s not to say that anyone should be satisfied with what they have today, but they should at least be conscious of what they have today as well as if their solution is—consciously or unconsciously—sliding into another category.
My experience has been that through unfocused decision-making, workforce turnover, and good old-fashioned entropy, most service organizations’ solutions eventually drift into the slump of becoming a hodgepodge of systems. This is only natural; strategies change, downtime is the enemy, and it’s easier to put a technology band aid onto a problem than to think about maximizing connectivity from system to system.
Back in the days when field service was nothing but a cost center, it was fine to have a tangle of wires that was called a service tech stack. Who cares that your routing is handled ad-hoc, your service history is managed by a list in Excel, and inventory is managed by a system unrelated to field operations, as long as the job is done? Well, field service professionals have discovered that one important group does care—your customers—and it’s completely changed the approach to the service tech stack for the better.
Aberdeen’s research has shown that the #1 pressure that top-performing companies face in the service space is streamlining operations. That old tech stack—the dozens of tangled wires—is standing in the way of realizing that. Today’s processes are leaving money on the table, both in terms of inefficiencies and lost revenue. Organizations therefore have an obligation to their customers and their stakeholders to reevaluate their service stacks. This can be both daunting and disruptive, so here are some things to keep in mind:
#1: You have to understand your service stack
This may seem obvious, but in my experience, you’d be surprised how few organizations—big and small—have a good understanding of their technology stack. In fact, when polled, only about 1/3 of service organizations indicated that they have a clear, well-defined technology vision for their service practice. If you cut that by top performers, however, the number of organizations with a plan in place doubles. Service technology used to be a bolt-on addition to an ERP or CRM system. Nowadays, it needs to be treated like its own ecosystem, even if and when it communicates with those other systems.
#2: Don’t be afraid to go nuclear
I know it’s scary, and will be disruptive, but what is the cost of doing nothing? Or worse—stacking more and more systems onto an uncalibrated set of technologies? Adding more and more on top of what you already have is only going to cause more trouble when the next new technology comes around. With that in mind, if you feel as though your field service technology is not where it should be, it might be best to onboard and ramp up and entirely new solution. That will require stakeholder buy-in, which is not always an easy task. With that in mind…
#3: Your builders should be your practitioners
Your field and dispatch techs, call center operators, and customer support teams might not know the scope of technologies available on and industry-level, or might not have a big picture of the overall technology vision, but their input is essential to the success of your business. I’ve spoken to too many service organizations who invest wholesale in a new technology solution with no input from their teams, only to watch the teams resort to old practices, sometimes on pen and paper, because the new systems either lack essential functionality, or they haven’t been calibrated appropriately for the job.
#4: Your field service management platform—not your CRM—Needs to be your Grand Central Station
This goes back to the fact that you’re creating a tech stack for your service practice, with all of the nuances that go into that, rather than your business as a while. Service is only going to get more complicated as time goes on. We’ve really only crested the IoT wave, and when it comes in full force, you’ll want a sophisticated service system ready to tackle the many opportunities that come along with that. A CRM-centric approach dramatically limits the scope of functionality needed to be ready for the future. Sure, you can upload a picture of your client, but can you quickly and capably get a part to a technician for them? That’s not to say that serving the customer should be secondary, it’s to say that service excellence will produce an outcome that serves the customer much more tangibly.
#5: Avoid customization where you can
This may seem counterintuitive. Shouldn’t you customize an off-the-shelf solution to fit the unique needs of your business? The answer isn’t as clear-cut as it would seem. With increased emphasis on cloud, and again—being forward-thinking, you don’t want to overtly customize your solutions. You want them to be able to easily integrate with one another, both on the service side, as well as outside of service. APIs are designed to do most of the heavy-lifting these days. The solution that you purchase should work right out of the box. Also—less customization means more support from the vendor. Another important consideration.