By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service
The ability to successfully perform remote service can have a big impact on costs, customer satisfaction, workforce optimization, and even sustainability efforts. Incorporating remote service into your service delivery mix, though, requires both new technology and what can seem like a big cultural change within a service organization.
A few weeks ago, I spoke to Darren Elmore, GM of Service for printer equipment specialist RICOH New Zealand. I had heard Darren speak at the Field Service Palm Springs event in the Spring and was impressed not only by what he shared related to RICOH’s remote service journey, but also what he had to say about some of the ways company’s tend to avoid innovation (which I wrote about here.) I then welcomed Darren onto the podcast for a chat about how RICOH has successfully increased its ability to deliver service remotely.
Darren said he started thinking about a remote first service approach a few years ago, while observing internal IT support operations at RICOH, where the majority of tickets were resolved remotely. At the time, RICOH’s field service operations were resolving around 25% of EM service requests remotely – and he thought they could do better than that.
He knew intuitively that in many cases, technicians would arrive at a customer site and pretty quickly diagnose a problem based on the equipment model and a few troubleshooting questions. “Well, if you're pretty sure you know what it is and it's not something that requires physical adjustment or a part to be replaced, how about talking to the customer and see if we can resolve it over the phone?” he said.
When the COVID pandemic began, the experiment quickly accelerated into a more formalized push for remote service that has paid off tremendously. As of 2022, the company had expanded from 25% remote resolution to 42%, and halfway into 2023 that rate was already sitting at 47%.
I have talked to a lot of service leaders about the incorporation or expansion of remote service, so I know that adopting new technology (which RICOH did) is only part of the story. Companies have a variety of options, some choosing mixed-reality tools like IFS Remote Assistance that allow for a virtual “hands-on” feel and others using more pared down remote access or even video chat solutions. I asked Darren about the balance of new toolsets vs. new mindsets that are required to really make remote service a successful endeavor.
As you might expect, he emphasizes the importance of change management to succeed from the mindset perspective. Before you deploy remote service tools, you have to talk your team through what you are trying to achieve – the “Why?” of what you plan to do. That messaging has to get to the technicians actually doing the work.
“[T]he mindset has to come before the tool set if you want the buy-in from the teams that are going to be using the tools, otherwise you are just investing in a tool set that metaphorically, it's just going to count the dust and you won't get the take-up that you need,” Darren said.
As a result of expanding its remote-first approach, RICOH has been able to not only save money and improve productivity, but it has also managed to reduce emissions as part of its sustainability initiatives by having fewer truck rolls. Darren also said that remote service has boosted its customer satisfaction scores. “We conduct surveys, post completion of the service request. And in the free text field, we've had some really good comments,” he said. “I remember one not too long ago where we had an end user saying how great it was that they felt they were part of the solution, they were able to actually take part in the resolution. But again, that's us leveraging off the tool set and technology that we're able to do things that five years ago just weren't possible.”
The company’s success thus far can certainly be attributed to its understanding that such a change requires not just the toolset but the mindset as well. And there's more to come. Darren sees a lot of potential in artificial intelligence (AI) and large language models for remote service resolution and customer-led self-service. We covered a lot of ground in the podcast, so be sure to listen to our whole conversation here.