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January 11, 2023 | 13 Mins Read

5 Service Predictions for 2023

January 11, 2023 | 13 Mins Read

5 Service Predictions for 2023

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Sarah shares her thoughts on what she expects we’ll see unfold in service in 2023.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. For those of you that tune in regularly, you may wonder why I'm doing yet another solo podcast. And I promise there are interviews coming soon, but I'm asked every year to share my predictions for the year around what will happen in the service space. I don't love the term predictions because I think it puts a lot of pressure on anticipating a future that none of us can really do, but in 2022, I did have the opportunity once again to travel and have a lot of different discussions with service leaders across industries and different geographies. And so, I'm happy to share my perspective on some of the things I think we will see an increased focus on this year based on what was going on last year, what's going on in our world, et cetera. 

Prediction #1: So, in today's episode, I'm going to share those thoughts with you and you can do with them what you may. So the first prediction, for lack of a better term, is that I think we will see companies selectively increase cost reduction measures. So this prediction is interesting in the sense of when I started in this space, it was early 2008, and the way service and particularly field service was viewed within an organization was very, very different from how it is viewed today. Almost every conversation I had in my early days in this space was around cost cutting. Everything was really, really focused on squeezing every last ounce of productivity and efficiency, reducing cost in any way possible. And that was because at that point, service was primarily viewed as a cost center within the business. And that perception shifted. I think it's entirely shifted. And today, we recognize service not only as a profit center in most cases, but as a really important strategic area of growth and differentiation. 

So I want to make that distinction because when I say selectively, what I mean is not that we will look to cut cost regardless of the impact or what it might affect. I think that at this point we know that service is critically important to the business, and we'll see organizations be a lot more careful about how and where they look to reduce costs. That being said, obviously, we're facing economic pressures and we do need to look at how we can be as efficient as possible and really work smarter. 

And the good news is, I think that technologically there are a lot of opportunities for organizations to use existing technologies they have in place better and/or invest in new technologies that have a relatively low acquisition cost to be able to really make some cost reduction impact within the organization. So if you think about a couple of examples, one of the biggest is around better utilization of the workforce and making sure that you have technology in place that truly optimizes planning and scheduling of your workers so that they are not wasting time on traveling out of the way, which not only increases your labor costs, but also increases your fuel costs and make sure that they're not running into situations where you're having repeat visits, those sorts of things. 

So that whole area of maximizing the utilization of your workforce, increasing first time fix rates, eliminating unnecessary travel, those are areas that I would say some companies have truly, truly optimized, but a lot have not. And so that's a very easy starting point to reduce some cost for the organization without really affecting the value that customers will receive or the experience of the employees, et cetera. 

The same can be said in industries that are leveraging a lot of assets. The same argument for utilization can be said from those assets as well. So the same way you could look at how well are we leveraging our workforce? What is their utilization rate? Where is the unnecessary downtime or travel time? How often are we doing repeat visits? You can look at how to write size asset utilization as well. So that's another area to explore. When you think about workforce utilization and asset management, you also want to think about parts planning and management because you can have a system in place for truly optimizing the planning and scheduling of your workforce. But if you know the inventory they will need to do the work they need to do is not considered as well, that can be all for naught. And then a couple other really big areas I think are around looking at how do we increase self-service, and what that looks like in each particular business and what the customer's threshold is for participating in self-service. 

That term really can have a lot of different definitions depending on the extent to which it applies in your business. So that could be looking at reducing call volume, it can be self-scheduling, it can be validating appointments. There's a lot of things outside of true self-service in terms of resolution, excuse me, that you can consider. Another area though, is around the use of remote assistance and remote service. Now, this can have an impact from the perspective of workforce utilization in the sense of being used within a company, from employee to employee, and giving your workforce access to expertise if they get stuck, if they need assistance to again, eliminate that repeat visit, increase first time fix rate. It can also allow you to bring on new talent and get them to a point of revenue recognition faster if they are supported in a "hands-on" way by an expert remotely. 

But there is of course, an opportunity to use that technology with customers and either find some resolution remotely or make sure that you have a very detailed view of what is needed when onsite work is scheduled so that again, your technicians are showing up, knowing what they're going to run into, fully prepared for that first time resolution. So I think there's a lot of ways that technology can be leveraged to reduce cost within service delivery. 

And finally, I think knowledge management is another big area to look at. So again, you can get the technician where he or she needs to be with the inventory they need, but do they have access to the insights that can really empower them to do whatever it is they come across on that job? So I think those are just a handful of areas that give some insight into what I mean when I say that I'm referring to selective cost reduction. 

So not things that are going to detract from the customer experience and ideally not things that are going to detract from the employee experience as well, right? Because we've recognized how critically important it is to focus on the employee experience to achieve our customer satisfaction objectives. So we really want to look for ways that we can promote working smarter and reducing the unnecessary aspects that are incredibly time consuming that likely field technicians don't enjoy doing anyway, that ideally if resolved, not only don't detract from, but improve the customer experience. So that is my first prediction for what we will see in 2023. 

Prediction #2: Tied to that, the second prediction is sort of zeroing in on one of the things I mentioned there, which is, I do believe we will see wider adoption and acceptance of remote service. I think there's far too much value to come from leveraging remote service or its use not to grow and expand. I know that there are challenges for sure. Change management is one that gets brought up a lot, adoption. I think really one of the conversations that companies struggle with the most when we talk about remote service in the sense of actually changing service delivery. By that I mean not use technician-to-technician to simply help one another, but really implementing a remote first service approach and using that as your first wave of resolution with customers. 

I think really one of the biggest barriers is that companies who are still providing transactional service, are struggling with how to present remote service to their customers because those relationships are still based on those transactions rather than the conversation being value focused and value centered. So when we think about the overall transition away from transactional service to more outcomes based service, advanced services, that's the point where remote service makes a lot more sense because your customers are choosing to work with you based on the value you are providing to their organization, not based on the amount of time that you are spending on site. 

So I really think that's one of the biggest barriers is where within that service evolution, an organization can realistically implement and adopt remote service as a service delivery approach. So I hope that makes sense. I do think that that evolution is continuing. We know that customers today are less interested in cool products and helpful services and more interested in the overall value that it brings to them and the outcomes that it allows them to achieve. 

And so as we evolve further with that reality in mind, I think we will find greater opportunity to put remote service in place. It simply solves a lot of challenges for service organizations in the sense of not only improving efficiency and productivity and reducing unnecessary trips and wasted time, but offering customers faster resolution and giving companies far more options for how to navigate talent gaps and challenges. Allowing them to really better utilize internal expertise globally rather than flying people around. It's impact on the environment is significant when we can look at transitioning even a portion of service that is currently done on site to remote service. I think it also fits very well with how the role of the field technician is going to evolve. So that is my second prediction. 

Prediction #3: Prediction number three is that the talent focus will shift from new talent to nurturing talent. Now, this is not to say that companies are going to stop thinking about how to recruit new technicians. That's not the case. I think though we've almost too narrowly focused on that new talent acquisition in the past couple of years and have maybe overlooked a bit the importance of really understanding and nurturing relationships with our existing talent and looking for ways for them to grow within our organizations to focus on retention, et cetera. So I think that we certainly need to continue to look for ways to not only find, but really farm that new talent. 

And we've talked a whole lot about that in the past couple of years. We've shared stories of how organizations are really getting creative about different partnerships to educate people about the opportunities that are available in service, new ways and different places to find groups of people that maybe don't have experience but are very well positioned to succeed in field service roles. So we've done a lot of talking about the new talent, and I think this year we will do a bit more exploring of how we nurture talent. So including new talent that we bring on, what happens once we have found, attracted and hired them? What is their experience like? What is our company culture like? How well are we equipping our leadership to give those employees a positive experience? Do we understand what they need and want from an employer? And are we able to provide that? 

Do they have a sense of purpose? Do we offer career pathing? Are we properly training and enabling them? Do they feel recognized and valued for their contributions? There's a lot of layers to that conversation, but I have seen over the course of my travels this year, a lot more thoughts popping up from service leaders about the importance of prioritizing our people and putting more effort into making sure that our employee experience is one that will help us to deliver the customer experience we're looking to deliver. So that's prediction number three. 

And I think just going back to the point I made at the end of remote service, if you look at how that ties in with the talent conversation, I think when we talk about moving to a more outcomes-based service delivery model and we incorporate more remote service, I think we're going to need to see an evolution of that frontline role. There will still be technical work that needs to be done. However, I think we're also going to see more of a customer success type role that will either be incorporated into what that frontline worker does or work alongside the more technical skillset. 

I think there's going to be a lot of considerations for how best to segment and tackle that work. And that may be something that ends up helping organizations navigate some of the changes in the talent pool if they can find skills that fit different bits rather than looking for an all-in-one approach. So that's on talent.  

Prediction #4: And okay, not lastly. Prediction number four is that I think we will see more service centered sustainability strategies take shape. So sustainability again is a topic that I see coming up more and more at industry events. There's more conversation about not only the regulatory pressures, but customer expectations and investment decisions, all of those types of things. 

Service is really a unique function of the business in terms of how it intersects with an organization, sustainability initiatives, because a lot of the things we talked about in the beginning related to reducing costs also have an impact on the environment. So if we can look at ways to minimize travel, whether that's through better utilization or whether that's through a remote first service approach that has an impact on the environment in a very positive way. There's also a whole conversation to be had around how the move towards servitization and offering things as a service ties very well with sustainability and really can honestly change the game in terms of how companies providing assets design and manufacture, service those assets in a way that provides the customer with the outcome they need, but does so in a sense that makes prioritizing environmental impact a lot easier to do. 

So I think we will see a lot more discussion about sustainability in 2023. I don't know that we'll get incredibly far or to the other side of the conversation. When I was at Field Service Connect in Austin in November, I led a round table on sustainability. And at least in the United States, there's some very practical questions that need to be sorted through and answered before significant strides will be able to be made. So if you take electric vehicles, for instance, yes, there's interest, but is the inventory available of electric vehicles that are of the requirements that a field service organization would need? 

And even if so, do they support the mileage that different service organizations technicians drive on a day-to-day basis? Are there enough charging stations available for use? Et cetera. So there's questions like that I think maybe won't be completely solved in 2023, but I think we'll make some progress. I think we'll have a lot more of those conversations. And it's going to be very interesting to see not only how the regulatory implications evolve, but also how customer demands shape organization strategies and how some of that infrastructure comes along in a way that making these changes a lot more practical. 

Prediction #5: And the last prediction is one that I've already alluded to, which is the march toward outcomes will continue. The journey from delivering transactional service to delivering outcomes is a really significant change. It's really an identity shift for most businesses. It impacts far more than just service. We often think of that topic as service transformation, but really it's a business transformation. And so yes, we've been talking about outcomes-based service, servitization, advanced services for quite a while, and we will continue to do so. There are companies who are truly leading the charge that have really made that change and are not only embracing, but succeeding at delivering outcomes, but there are a lot more companies that are working hard to get to that point. And so it's a conversation that will continue, a progression that companies will work through to sort out what the idea of delivering outcomes looks like for their customer base, for their company, what those layers of change are that need to take place for them to be able to work through the continuum to reach that goal. 

So I think what's very clear is that today's customers expect a whole lot more than just product and services. And I think that's a reality that is pretty widely understood. And we see organizations at varying degrees of the continuum toward really incrementally improving the transactional service that they provide and working toward that world of really delivering outcomes to their customers. So we'll continue to see progress there, and I think that is a really exciting opportunity for organizations, but certainly one that isn't recognized without a lot of hard work. So we're here to support you on that journey on all of these journeys, and we are happy to be able to do that. 

So if you have other thoughts on things that you expect to see more of this year or topics that you would like to see content on, please know that you can always reach out to me. I am happy to listen, to take feedback, ideas, and I'm here to really give insight and resources that our community needs. So if you have thoughts on that, please get in touch. Otherwise, you can find more by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter. The Future of Field Service Podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.