By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service
Our lives, personal and professional, have been forever changed over the course of the last couple of months as we’ve grappled with COVID-19. As I’ve spoken with service leaders about what this crisis has meant for them and for their organizations, what I’ve taken away from those conversations is that while this situation is most certainly devastating and unfortunate, there are aspects of how service organizations are being forced to react that will result in some really positive, long-term changes in service. These changes will bring us into a new normal in which service can surface stronger and more resilient than ever. Here are four areas of change taking place that will only expand and progress as we recover from this crisis.
COVID-19 Accelerates Digital Transformation
Many leading service organizations have been on a digital transformation journey for some time – those companies have been well-positioned to quickly build upon their efforts to react to these new and challenging circumstances. Munters is a wonderful example of this – the company has been pragmatically deploying technology to enable its journey to servitization and was able to adeptly speed its plans to adopt IFS Remote Assistance for business continuity.
Other service businesses have been dragging their feet a bit when it comes to embracing the potential that digital holds. Those laggards are now turning to digital transformation in an effort to survive the global pandemic and, in doing so, are breaking down barriers that have long been in place. Whether these laggards had been avoiding digital transformation intentionally because they were happy “doing things the way we’ve always done,” or had fallen victim to the best of intentions that continued to be deprioritized among other urgent tasks, the force by which COVID-19 is spawning these companies toward digital adoption is making them realize the power and value that they’ve been missing – and helping them to see the potential in leveraging today’s technologies not only to weather this storm, but to set the stage for a strong recovery and immense future potential.
As recovery begins, we’ll see digital adoption surge as a result of these experiences. Companies that have already been on this path are gaining valuable experiences to refine their use and build upon their successes, and those that have been slower to embrace these tools are learning now the power they hold. Employees who had resisted change are welcoming tools with open arms that allow them to continue working, and in doing so are learning that technology is a powerful enabler. These lessons and experiences will result in service organizations collectively being ready to embrace digital in a way they never have as we recover from this crisis.
Service Organizations (Finally) Embrace Agile
Fear is a powerful tool, and in this situation, the fear of failing at business continuity is forcing service organizations to embrace agile. The ability to think, react, and pivot quickly is what is saving a lot of companies in today’s circumstances. For many service organizations, these characteristics aren’t necessarily ones that come naturally – many companies, particularly those with a long history, are fairly slow to react and adopt change.
The need to be nimble in order to successfully navigate today’s challenges is showing service organizations, by practice, that doing so isn’t a bad thing. It’s forcing leaders and companies alike outside of their comfort zones and, while the circumstances are unfortunate, the result is that they will come back from this with a new perspective and a wealth of experiences that will equip them to operate in a more agile manner – bringing them up to speed with customer expectations and consumer industries far faster than had this situation never occurred.
Remote Work Becomes the New Norm
With isolation orders in place across the globe with exceptions only for essential workers, many service businesses have had to quickly adapt to allowing and enabling employees to work from home. This is pervasive across many functions, from office staff to customer support to field technicians. This adjustment is causing companies to deploy technologies that allow constant, effective, and collaborative communication – from conferencing tools to more sophisticated technologies like merged reality. The Samaritans – a registered charity aimed at providing emotional support to anyone in emotional distress, struggling to cope, or at risk of suicide throughout the United Kingdom and Ireland – is using IFS Customer Engagement to allow a percentage of its volunteer network that is unable to come into location due to COVID-19 to operate from home.
The quick pivot to remote work is bringing to light a number of factors for organizations – how productive a remote workforce can be (not to mention less expensive), how trusting you can be of a good staff to do their jobs even when you aren’t face-to-face, and how empowered employees become when given this sort of trust. Between the learnings taking place and the technologies being deployed, the idea of returning all the workers that have become remote to in-office work is highly unlikely. The reality is, while some workers will most certainly return to their pre-crisis normal, much of the remote work that has begun out of necessity due to COVID-19 will continue and expand as we recover.
Safety Will Be a Key Differentiator
As recovery ramps up and service organizations that haven’t been doing in-person visits get back to it, we’ll see safety become a key differentiator for service organizations. Pre-COVID-19, a customer asking, “what is your safety protocol?” probably wasn’t incredibly common – but it will be as we move forward. Not only do experts say the Coronavirus itself will take quite some time to go away, or for a vaccine to be developed – but the emotional impact it has had on individuals will persist even longer.
An employee isn’t going to want to return to work if he or she doesn’t feel safe and well protected. Moreover, customers won’t want a field technician coming into their home or business if they aren’t fully confident in how the service organization is protecting their safety. This of course begins with proper PPE and disinfecting processes, but it should be considered far beyond that. Much of what puts people at ease is communication, so thinking about how you’ll communicate with customers regularly about what your safety practices are, who will be arriving on site and what protocol they’ll follow, and how you’re handing issues that inevitably arise will be of critical importance.
I hear people ask often, “when do you think we’ll get back to normal?” I’ve even said it myself. But in reality, I don’t think we will return to normal – I think we’ll find a new normal. And service organizations most certainly will. If there’s a silver lining in all of this, though, it’s that with the experiences of navigating this crisis, I really believe service organizations will emerge stronger than ever