11 Aug Field service reimagined for a connected world
Field service is critical
Field service activities are a complex yet critical component of the ongoing operations of organisations that have solutions deployed on customer premises or assets used remotely. Examples of such companies include manufacturers of capital goods; value-added resellers and distributors; and service providers that provide hardware and network-based services on a subscription basis, such as providers of leased office machines, as well as the local telephone, cable TV or home alarm service providers.
Field services activities range from the initial deployment or configuration of assets at a remote site to their ongoing maintenance (planned) or repairs (ad hoc). These activities can be performed on assets belonging to the customer—located on its premises—or on assets (e.g., physical plant, equipment, software, etc.) belonging to the organisation itself. With all of these moving parts, optimizing the flow of information, service, and inventory is imperative in order to manage customer expectations and minimize business downtime—both in terms of field agents’ best use of time and clients’ need to be up and running.
The challenges of providing a seamless customer experience
As end customers are exposed to seamlessly integrated service and support experiences elsewhere, expectations of “good enough”, let alone world-class, have changed. As diverse service providers have upped their field service game—putting in place tools that enable customers to track the progress of their installation or repair—expectations have changed as well.
More and more, business customers are expecting the same level of visibility into the provisioning or repair processes as they have experienced as consumers. While customer expectations have increased, the challenges associated with providing field service have remained largely unchanged—manual data entry and ad hoc communication—and there are opportunities for misunderstanding or for things to fall through the cracks have largely stayed the same.
Enter the Salesforce Field Service Lightning platform
Stepping into the breach between customer expectations and an organisation’s field service capabilities is Salesforce’s Field Service Lightning solution. Leveraging data in Service Cloud, Field Service Lightning promises to enhance the productivity and effectiveness of field service personnel while providing customers with a seamless experience from the first contact to ultimate resolution. Field Service Lighting works to tie the discrete processes, actors, and artefacts generated by field service activities into an automated workflow, where a timely view of the state of the work order is the natural by-product and not a separate deliverable.
Field Service Lightning’s capabilities include:
- Work order management
- Create, assign, complete work orders from the Service Cloud console
- Smart scheduling
- Assign technicians automatically
- Route (assign and schedule) work orders to technicians based on skills, experience, location, availability
- Dispatcher console
- Manage and monitor technicians remotely
- View alerts and take action
- Mobile application
- Receive and update work orders
- Consult inventory and expense parts
- Consult product documentation
- Asset management
- Track information about customer assets (i.e., products)
Field Service Lightning provides field personnel with the customer insights and intelligence, leveraging Salesforce’s Einstein artificial intelligence platform, necessary to deliver on service commitments, along with the knowledge to upsell or cross-sell other products and services. With support for desktop and mobile applications, Field Service Lightning lets each stakeholder monitor and report on field service activities in real-time, generating insights that can manage customer expectations in the short term, and drive service enhancements in the long term.
Nubik and Field Service Lightning
While best known for its implementations of Sales Cloud and Service Cloud as a Salesforce Consulting Partner, Nubik also provides Field Service Lightning implementation for clients in a range of industries. Nubik’s team has experience deploying tools and supporting agents in organisations of all sizes—some with thousands of field personnel—and in the most demanding field service situations.
Leveraging its experience with Service Cloud and the client’s existing customer, product, and service data, Nubik’s team of field service specialists work with clients to understand its specific field service capabilities, its unique challenges, and its different customer support entitlements. Nubik will recommend best practices for customer service excellence and the Field Service Lightning and Service Cloud configurations that support them. Nubik works to transform the customer experience at each step, from the initial support call to a successful resolution.
Nubik helps deploy Field Service Lightning
One of Nubik’s clients is a multinational company that provides irrigation management and automation solutions to growers of water-intensive crops such as almonds, pistachios, and cotton. These solutions help growers improve the health of their plants, increase yields, and reduce the costs of irrigation and fertilizer.
The company’s solution combines wireless-enabled hardware probes located throughout the farm with a secure, cloud-based platform that aggregates data from probes to present a real-time overview of soil tension and crop performance across the farm. The company aggregates data from across farms, combines it with analysis using expert systems backed by research, and then recommends those areas of the farm requiring additional irrigation. The system offers a mobile-friendly web portal with real-time dashboard and reporting capabilities, enabling farmers to monitor and take action from anywhere on the farm.
In essence, the company provides irrigation management as a service. Its ability to deliver its solution as a service—and to meet its contracted service levels—is predicated on its own ability to remotely monitor thousands of probes in real-time, and to take effective action promptly when those probes are not responding. Work orders are delivered by an in-house dispatcher who works with 3rd party contractors in the field—each is an independent technician with a dedicated territory—to perform the actual inspection and repair activities. Due to the sheer size of many farms, field service activities largely consist of driving, mostly on country roads, leaving less time to locate, inspect, and then repair or replace unresponsive equipment.
While this organisation was an existing Salesforce Service Cloud customer, it had managed its field service activities mostly offline or in separate applications. In fact, much of the activity was based on phone calls or text messages. Technicians would receive a list of sites at the beginning of the day and then head out. Work order status would be updated sporadically during the day or all at once at the end of the day. A list of parts used, as well as remaining inventory, would be provided as handwritten notes transmitted by fax.
During a conversation about how to improve the client’s field service effectiveness, Nubik proposed the Field Service Lightning platform, which could leverage the client’s existing data and business rules in Service Cloud to provide a starting point for reinventing the field service experience.
Nubik worked with the client to identify the project scope, objectives, and timeframes; key project resources both at the client and its 3rd party contractors; and, finally, any project risks. Leveraging interviews with various stakeholders in the field service process, as well as through surveys and questionnaires, Nubik worked to understand the client’s unique field service processes. Armed with this information, Nubik was in a strong position to help launch a secure and effective Field Service Lightning implementation. In light of the relationships with multiple 3rd party contractors, a decision was made to roll out the new solution progressively.
Transforming field services
In determining the scope of work and the project objective with Nubik, the client identified three specific aspects of its field service operations that it wanted to improve by implementing the Field Service Lightning platform: real-time visibility into field service activities; the productivity of its field service personnel; and its own agility in the face of evolving customer requirements.
The disparate systems and manual processes that preceded its deployment of Field Service Lightning meant that Nubik’s client had limited real-time visibility into its field service activities. Once a technician was dispatched on a given work order, the client operated in near total darkness, relying on ad hoc communications with the technician or the affected customer to monitor the progress of the field service effort. While it was able to track technician journeys via GPS in a separate application, it was unable to track progress or infer anything meaningful once the technician was on-site. The field service effort was effectively a black box.
By implementing Field Service Lightning and equipping its technicians with the purpose-built Field Service Lightning mobile application, Nubik’s client is now able to manage and monitor all aspects of the field service effort electronically. Using the mobile application’s chat capabilities, dispatchers or other support personnel can interact with the technician immediately, eliminating the need for untimely phone calls, while also confirming that a message was read promptly. The mobile application also supports photo capture, enabling technicians to provide visual confirmation of completed work or request remote assistance for specific issues with probes or other hardware, captured in high-resolution detail. Work orders can be dispatched, confirmed, and marked as completed electronically. Customers and support personnel can receive service reports automatically, within seconds of work orders being updated.
Leveraging the built-in GPS capabilities of smartphones, the Field Service Lightning mobile application enables the client to track technicians remotely, replacing the need for a separate, unintegrated vehicle tracking application. The Field Service Lightning mobile application also provides technicians with navigation services, enabling and encouraging them to stay connected to the Field Service Lightning solution at all times.
The disjointed nature of the field service process—work orders were dispatched over the phone while completed work orders and inventories were submitted via fax—and the use of multiple unconnected systems of record meant that field data needed to be reconciled manually. As a result, the information that could drive key insights into workforce behaviours or productivity was not being captured in any methodical or systematic way. There was no way to effectively measure the productivity of individual technicians or to determine whether additional training was in order. There was also limited ability to understand trends or to capture learnings that could improve the core solution offering or the field service experience. This complicated efforts to better manage field service resources, whether that meant paying overtime, assigning additional technicians to a customer site, or recruiting additional technicians that could be called upon in the future.
By moving to the Field Service Lightning platform, the client now has access to an end-to-end, time-stamped view of every field service activity, as well as the ability to aggregate data from multiple activities to understand trends and opportunities for service improvement. Dispatch times and completion times for each job are recorded automatically, enabling the client to measure the effectiveness of individual technicians. This has enabled the client to better understand opportunities for additional training, as well as opportunities to reward the most effective technicians with more work.
Field Service Lightning’ mobile application enhances the productivity of individual technicians. In addition to providing a complete and up-to-date calendar of service appointments, the mobile application enables technicians to access product documentation, including timely product notices. A technician can also view complete details of the customer relationship, including service records, in the palm of their hand. Though Nubik’s client is not currently managing its field inventory via Service Cloud, Field Service Lightning provides the ability to do so natively; this will eventually give technicians real-time access to parts availability, delays, and other information critical to delivering on customer expectations.
Having real-time visibility on contractors en route to each probe location, as well as between probe locations, is critical to managing and responding to customer expectations, as well as optimising technician assignments. As we saw earlier, implementing Field Service Lightning essentially transformed the client’s visibility overnight.
Before deploying Field Service Lightning, the client’s ability to respond to changing customer field service requirements was dependent upon a single team member, the dispatcher, who managed and tracked every detail in his head: technicians, their skills sets, their assigned territories, their experience with customers, etc. While the dispatcher was extremely proficient at his job, he was, in essence, a bottleneck, complicating the client’s ability to scale its business as well as manage its customers’ expectations. He was also at the mercy of timely communications from the field due to a lack of integrated technologies and systems.
With status updates occurring on an ad hoc basis at best—or worse only occurring at the end of the day—there were huge gaps in the client’s ability to understand the utilisation and the effectiveness of the technicians it had deployed. The inability to determine whether a technician is ahead or behind in their work, can take on a new assignment during the day, or needs to be seconded by an additional technician complicated the resource allocation effort, and lead the client to take many decisions sub-optimally.
By codifying and implementing the dispatcher’s knowledge of the field service dynamic in software—the data points concerning technicians, skill sets, and territories—and by enabling real-time communications with technicians via the mobile application, Nubik and Field Service Lightning were able to significantly enhance the client’s business agility.
As we have seen, field service activities are a critical aspect of the ongoing operations of organisations with solutions deployed on customer premises or assets used remotely. The ability to offer a seamless, end-to-end customer experience while achieving installation or repair outcomes promptly is paramount. This is contingent to a certain extent upon automating the discrete processes, actors, and artefacts generated by field service activities. Managing customer stakeholder expectations is only possible when a timely view of the state of the work order is the natural by-product of the field service process and not a separate deliverable.
With its ability to call upon a team with experience deploying tools and supporting agents in organisations with hundreds or thousands of field service technicians, and by leveraging the power of Field Service Lighting to tie everything together into an automated workflow, Nubik is well-placed to radically transform the complete customer experience.