One of the key outcomes of the world going into a global lockdown is that the field service sector has now truly embraced the concept of remote services with remote first becoming a default option for many service organisations. However, this shift will shake our understanding of field service delivery down to its very roots. What does the role fo the service engineer look like in such a model?
“When we consider the remote element of the conversation, there are some serious considerations we need to factor in," began Kieran Notter, VP Global Customer Transformation, ServiceMax as we moved into this important part of the discussion.
"You need to think about if you are the first company in our space, adding this remote option? Do you bring the price of service down but increase the value? Do you increase the throughput of the product and the lifecycle of the product by managing this? Should you for want of a better phrase remain old fashioned and keep sending a technician all the time, which can’t be done immediately, because they have to get there, the call has to be scheduled; you have to factor in SLAs etc.
“Or do you swap to a plan where you can have that technician sitting on the couch (sofa) at home, going straight to the call because you’ve got no travel time, maybe deciding to stay to work longer with you as a company and keep that knowledge involved because their work-life balance is much better?" Notter continued.
“They’re no longer driving 300 miles a day they’re sitting on the couch at home, and they’re answering the calls as they come through. You’ve also then got the ability, depending on language, etc., to spread the net. In general, the average drive or region for a technician is 50 miles north, 50 miles south, 50 miles east, and 50 miles west unless you’re in a product environment where you have to fly.
"Now all of a sudden if you’re harnessing remote assistance, that same engineer can serve all of the United Kingdom, they can do all of Germany, that the ability to utilize those areas is much better..."
- Kieran Notter, ServiceMax
“So now all of a sudden if you’re harnessing remote assistance, that same engineer can serve all of the United Kingdom, they can do all of Germany, that the ability to utilize those areas is much better. I think that’s how you start to differentiate your ability to respond and to provide uptime to the customer.”
Certainly the case Notter puts forward is one that could yield benefits for the service provider, the engineer and the customer alike. The agreement around the room was that such a transformation also required however, also required a revised mind-set for those within executive leadership positions.
Ged Cranny, Konica Minolta, offered a similar viewpoint as well.
“When we look at our engineers’ bonus, we prepare them for going to site, but when they sit in the car and think ‘I can fix that and save myself a 40-mile journey at the end of the day, what the engineer is actually able to do is save themselves a 40-mile trip at four o’clock in the afternoon and save the business the cost, including the likely overtime, of that service visit," Cranny said.
"However, the technician loses out on their bonus if they choose this option, so they are disincentivized to do so. So why not pay our engineers the bonus based on whether the fix was a good or not? If it was a good fix, the technician has saved us money on our fuel and saved us money in time," he suggests.
“At some point in the not too distant future, many of the engineers, in all of our companies are going to retire. We’ll move people into the new parts of the business and need to leverage the software, and tools we have bought to overcome this issue. However, now is the time we must utilize that knowledge while we’ve still got it to be able to not only use the tools but to help teach the new technicians that are going into a call.”
Essentially the critical function of the engineer has been evolving for some time anyway.
"The value for me is in the knowledge of our engineers. It’s not the knowledge of the product. It’s the knowledge of the product and the process that we deliver to a customer, and then you have to devolve that to a remote service..."
- Tony Chapman, Siemens.
However, from what was discussed during this Think Tank session was that it is the consultancy aspect of the service engineer's role that is rising to the fore.
Will it be that as we move towards remote service as the default first point of service that we will lose something in terms of that relationship? There is an increase in thinking that we will perhaps see a smaller pool of more experienced field workers, and it will be their knowledge that will be where the value of the engineer sits in the eyes of our customer.
Could it be that we may need fewer people will shallower skill sets - perhaps that’s something that we’ll start looking towards the gig economy to supplement our workforces? In doing so we could shift the actual role of the field service engineer into something much, much more deeply ingrained with the customer and with a deeper, more specialised understanding of the assets they serve.
As Tony Chapman, General Manager, Customer Services, Siemens put it “The value for me is in the knowledge of our engineers. It’s not the knowledge of the product. It’s the knowledge of the product and the process that we deliver to a customer, and then you have to devolve that to a remote service.
“The benefits of service being delivered on-site to the customer are that they've got that expertise on hand. The question is, how much value does the customer see in that expertise?”
All members of the Field Service Think Tanks are speaking from their own personal opinions which are not necessarily reflective of the organisations they work for.
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