By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service
Technology enabling remote service is fundamentally changing how and when service is delivered – and as you may have gathered from the headline, I firmly believe it's going to play a bigger and bigger role in service moving forward. To be clear, I don’t believe the traditional field service visit will ever completely disappear, but I do think relying on only traditional methods of delivery (customer calls with issue, technician visits to diagnose, repairs or perhaps has to return to repair) is a practice that will soon put a number of service organizations at a competitive disadvantage.
A lot of firms were forced into some flavor of remote service delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic, using software to remotely diagnose or even remedy equipment failures, leveraging online video to support customers or other technicians, and in some cases implementing augmented or virtual reality (VR) tools. We learned that these capabilities provide some compelling options for making our service operations smarter rather than always trying to work harder to keep up.
Yes, remote service also raises some questions that can give service leaders anxiety. How do you maintain the personal connection with customers in this environment? Is it going to cost technicians their jobs? How reliable is it? Will customers pay for it if they don't see a tech in their building? While valid points, answers are being found at a rapid pace and many companies are committing to a remote-first service model.
In last week’s podcast, for example, I spoke to Steve Goulbourne, the Global Service Program Director at Mettler-Toledo, about the company's experience with remote service, its disruptive potential, and how he is responding to some of those concerns.
Mettler-Toledo began embracing remote service during the pandemic because they needed a way to take care of customers without going on site. Because of the types of equipment the company services, remote-only interventions are often not feasible. While software fixes can take care of some problems, a technician still usually needs to install a spare part. However, as Steve describes it, remote service at Mettler-Toledo is really a way for technicians to arrive on site for that spare part install better prepared and informed about what the job will entail. They are using the technology to arm technicians with enough knowledge to maximize their first-time fix rates.
Repeat Trips Compound Talent Shortage Woes
“We can actually see what's happening versus a traditional triage where you're asking questions,” he said. “This can really allow us to fully understand a situation before a truck rolls and then we can make sure that we send the right technician with the right skills and the right spare part to try and make sure that we get the equipment fixed the first time. That's the most important to our customers because that increases their uptime.”
At Mettler-Toledo, like many others, the first truck roll has traditionally served as a diagnostic/triage visit. In some cases, the technician can’t even start the repair during that initial visit. That's a costly way of doing things, and can lead to some disappointed customers when the first technician on site tells them to expect a second visit, with a completely different engineer and a different set of parts and tools.
“Those second visits, they drain capacity,” Steve said. “And I think when we listen to the voice of the customer a lot of times … technicians always get very high scores in terms of customer experience, but actually scheduling and finding time to be able to do the work is a challenge. So if we can improve the capacity by reducing those unnecessary second visits, I think that definitely helps.”
Saving those second visits doesn't just help with first-time fix rates, uptime, and net promoter scores; it also reduces costs. Depending on the industry, each truck roll can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Remote service also helps with the service sector's current talent challenge by more efficiently using technician time. In an era where there is a shortage of qualified service engineers, it’s not hard to make an argument for maximizing resource utilization by reducing unnecessary site visits.
Steve also pointed out that younger technicians entering the workforce not only expect to see better use of remote and mobile technology (which, as digital natives, they have been raised using), they also want to minimize their time on the road. In some industries, technicians may spend several days or even a week at a remote site diagnosing and fixing a problem, and a lot of that time is often spent waiting on parts or information.
Using remote service tools to minimize time on the road puts service jobs more in line with the work/life balance these younger workers are looking for. “If we can get better resource capability and resource capacity because we're using these tools, it means we can plan more effectively,” Steve said. “By planning more effectively, we can make sure that that person does nine-to-five hours, or whatever they may be.”
We covered a lot of ground during our discussion, so I would encourage you to listen to the entire podcast here to find out more about how Mettler-Toledo is using remote service to improve operations. As for the question of how long until traditional service delivery is dead; it’s hard to say – but the business case for embracing a remote-first approach is very strong and I expect we’ll see a lot of stories similar to Mettler-Toledo’s in the coming year.