Having employees work outside the office adds another layer of complexity to management. HVAC, health care, construction and other similar industries commonly need to consider how best to approach field services management (FSM). Efficiently managing field employees can improve customer satisfaction, increase employee engagement and cut costs. Here are some insights on current and future FSM trends.
In this article:
- Field service management processes
- Tips and best practices for effective FSM
- Downloadable chart to compare FSM software
- Examples of how different industries use FSM
- Trends to watch
What Is Field Service Management?
Field service is any service performed outside of the employee’s company property. Field service management is the practice of managing field services, employees and equipment using software, workflows and communication solutions.
What does field service mean? Workers are sent to a client location to install equipment or provide services. The goal is to provide customers with the most satisfactory experience while maintaining service levels and improving efficiency.
- Field service management can help automate key processes like auto-populating work order forms, providing status updates to customers, dispatching, monitoring assets and scheduling routine maintenance of essential machinery.
- When developing a field service management strategy, it’s important to focus on cost, the customer experience, processes that you can digitize and defining roles.
- In the future, field service management will benefit greatly from machine learning, connected devices and using the data these solutions generate to dictate change.
Field Service Management Explained
Mobile employees, service techs, drivers, work-from-home and salespeople fall under the umbrella of field service management. An FSM solution coordinates various departments’ software (like a CRM), employees and assets.
Why Is Field Service Management Important?
Customers do not like delays, poor communication or inconsistent service. Coordinating across systems and employees is crucial for providing the best customer service. A company can respond faster to customer needs and internal changes with field service management software.
Current Impact of Field Service Management
The current state of field service management varies by business, customer base, employee needs and external environments. What are field service management solutions?
FSM solutions are evolving in response to a more mobile, work-from-home workforce. The broad adoption of software solutions has led to dramatic productivity, cost and service improvements.
With the latest FSM software, customers can access online tools and help desks during non-business hours. And information, such as service technician time of arrival or delays can be relayed to customers quickly without the hassle of phone calls or unhelpful automated attendants.
Field Service Management vs. Mobile Workforce Management
The mobile workforce includes anyone who works outside of the office. Field service workers are a subset of mobile workers that cater to on-site, on-demand jobs at the customer site.
Benefits of Field Service Management
Field service management improves customer service and helps you manage costs. Using an FSM solution helps field employees complete tasks efficiently.
Field service management has many positive impacts, including:
- Standardized workflow processes: Having employees (whether in the field or not) use a standardized workflow process has an immediate impact on efficiency and service. Employees must make extra efforts to coordinate work, especially when they’re not at a central location. Customer service improves when you can demonstrate this cohesiveness.
- Reduced paperwork: Physical paperwork will probably not completely disappear. However, field service management can incorporate, for example, an electronic document management system (EDMS) to reduce paperwork and manual work—eliminating the need for outdated filing systems, overhead and supplies.
- Seamless scheduling: Transparent and dynamic worker scheduling process will minimize conflicts, establish better customer service and reduce wasted time. Customers will see shorter wait times and have an overall better experience.
- Accurate resource task matching: Field service management can facilitate more precise workforce planning. The system can identify a worker’s strengths and pair them with appropriate tasks, similar to human capital management (HCM), while also considering locations, deadlines and costs. The quality of your customer service will increase with the added benefit of improving employee morale. Successfully completing tasks will increase efficiency.
- Increased employee empowerment: Field service management tools give employees increased flexibility. They can access data like customer information, inventory levels and mobile software at any time from any place. Giving employees access to information and empowering them to creatively address issues can lower costs while improving customer relations and innovation.
- Improved innovation: FSM systems use statistical analysis, employee and customer feedback and software/hardware usage to fuel innovative improvements. The more information a system gathers, the easier it is to recognize where service is lacking, or how long it takes to complete a task to aid in further workforce planning. Feedback loops will naturally improve processes.
Challenges of Field Service Management
Distributed workforces may face challenges when dealing with customers, communication and overall safety, even with field service management software.
Obstacles of field service management include:
- Customer expectations: Meeting or exceeding customer expectations is always a challenge. Adopting new software can lead to confusion and frustration and initially hinder customer service. However, with a well-planned deployment, an FSM solution can reduce the number of dissatisfied customers while maintaining service levels regardless of upgrades, updates and employee movement.
- Service delivery optimization: Customers expect their product or service at specific times and places without hassle. And providing those services in the field adds another layer of complexity—traffic, new environments for technicians, jobs taking longer than scheduled to complete, etc. can be barriers. But an FSM can help account for some of those barriers and make the experience for customers and employees more positive.
- Real-time communication: Fast and easy communication with employees and customers can be a challenge. Consider the number of methods (text, email, website, apps) to provide information. Field service management can provide a standard communication method for all employees in a system with all the information they need about customers, tasks needed, etc.
- Real-time resource location monitoring: Field service management helps you monitor and identify resources in the field in real time. Track tools, equipment and vehicles and log who’s recently used the different items.
- Increased costs: Effectively managing travel expenses and monitoring equipment and tools with FSM software can help control costs. It also helps remove unnecessary paperwork and digitizes and automates tedious processes.
- Safety and security: Employee safety must be your first priority. Mobile employees and service techs encounter uncontrolled environments. Field service management can help employees identify security threats and communicate with management or customers to alleviate unnecessary risks.
How to Improve Field Service Operations
Customer feedback provides the best opportunities for field service improvement. Maintaining clear and simple communication with customers and employees is vital. Mobile devices are also key to drive and improve your operations.
Follow these suggestions for enhancing field service management operations:
- System integration: Integrating all your field service management tools to facilitate a reliable, optimized schedule is the most evident example of field service improvement. The software should integrate with scheduling, billing, asset tracking and other enterprise resource planning software. With integrated systems, on-time rates increase while customer wait times decrease.
- Mobile-enabled operations: Mobile devices enable data access and real-time communication across multiple systems and databases. In addition to mobile phones, field workers can use GPS devices in vehicles, remote printers, customer devices, watches, laptops, tablets and more. The freedom to access data and systems at any location empowers employees in ways that improve the bottom line.
- Dynamic data: Compiling data from all devices, employees, systems and customers provides the necessary backbone of an operational field service management plan. You can structure, analyze and report on the data, making it a useful tool for decision-makers and mobile workforce staff and customers. Real-time communication and reporting feed continuous improvement of FSM.
What Is Field Service Management Strategy?
A field service strategy ensures technicians understand business objectives and responsibilities, while delivering cost-effective and customer-focused services. When developing a field service management strategy, it’s imperative to plan your work and work your plan.
Some strategies for transforming field service management include:
- Digitize processes: A connected and automated FSM solution offers a consistent method for all suppliers, technicians, management and customers to communicate. The automation contributes to reduced costs, time savings and overall improved service.
- Focus on cost: A strategic approach to field service management allows your company to identify cost increases and savings. Visibility into equipment and resource costs is key to prioritizing various applications, Internet of Things (IoT) devices—or any device that can transmit data from one object to another—and department needs.
- Create an exceptional customer experience: Devise a plan for improving customer service levels. Evaluate your competitor’s services and perform a win/loss analysis, explicitly focusing on lost clients. This strategy focuses on encouraging innovation and creating opportunities to adopt new customers.
- Define roles: Defining mobile workforce roles as well as office employee procedures is an essential step. Make sure the process to report problems is clear to all employees.
Finally, define a plan to help all users, employees, partners, contractors and customers buy into the field service management program. The roll out plan should consider all employees and process and be well thought out.
What Is Field Service Management Software?
Field service management software includes all elements necessary to manage field service employees, communicate with suppliers and connect with customers. Pick a solution that enables your people and programs to work together.
When evaluating field service management solutions focus on deployment method, training opportunities and customer support. As you move beyond these features, consider more advanced functions depending on your industry and specific business needs.
Features to look for in field service management software:
- Single interface for managing all field service information
- Billing and invoicing for customers and suppliers
- Contract management for ongoing or one-off agreements with contractors, suppliers and customers
- Mobile access for on-the-go access to information, schedules and other data
- Payment processing for collecting payments in the field
- Automation for repetitive processes, service routing and historical audit trails
- Contact management for storing all customer and supplier information
- Inventory management for tracking equipment and resources
- Quote capabilities for providing cost of service estimates to potential customers
- Work order management for generating, assigning and monitoring work-order activities
- Dispatching for off hour service requests or when jobs take longer to complete than scheduled
Field Service Management Processes and Workflow
Field service management depends on well-defined processes and workflows. In industries that rely on suppliers and many moving parts, consistent processes and automation improve overall operational efficiency. Every industry has different requirements when it comes to field service activities. Regardless of industry, FSM processes should incorporate each facet of field service that will directly impact customers, employees and the company.
Below are four field service processes that will benefit from automation:
- Auto-populating work order forms: Many organizations receive repetitive requests for common services. For example, an oil and gas company may get multiple inspection requests daily. Auto-populating forms with data and automatically assigning technicians saves time and eliminates redundant work.
- Status updates: A workflow automation solution will keep a customer informed if a technician is running late or a part is out-of-stock. The system can even reschedule work if necessary.
- Asset monitoring: Tracking the stock of critical equipment is essential to fulfilling work orders. An automated solution can notify management or suppliers when inventory runs low.
- Recurring maintenance: Instead of manually scheduling service monthly, quarterly or annually, an automated solution can calculate appropriate dates and times for maintenance.
Defined workflows will lead to consistent communication throughout an organization.
Field Service Management Best Practices
Best practices for field service management provide the foundation for improving service levels and operation. Using a field service management solution helps extend best practices without being overly prescriptive.
7 Tips for Effective Field Service Management
Organized and accurate scheduling
Scheduling is paramount for field service. Mobile apps that integrate with back-office software like inventory management tools will provide real-time data to update delivery schedules. This system keeps things orderly and correct without the hassle of unnecessary paperwork or unproductive phone calls. Consider organizing data, field service and customer feedback to establish accurate customer and employee schedules.
Streamline recurring projects
Identify and streamline repetitive tasks and recurring projects so they don’t hinder customer service. Getting bogged down in the minutiae is a recipe for disaster. Once a job is complete, review and analyze improvement opportunities.
Real-time data and communication
Establish well-defined procedures for reporting problems. This process shouldn’t be an obstacle to employees or customers. The data you collect for real-time reporting makes communication, inventory control and scheduling more efficient.
Field-service employee follow-up
Employees with field service experience offer valuable insight. What is field service experience? Workers who have knowledge, background and expertise to help provide nuances to your field service processes. Develop a plan to assess, review and listen to field service employees. Without feedback, it’s hard to improve processes and best practices. They may have new ideas or concerns that will lead to refinements. Reviewing their schedules, projects and experiences with them adds to field service management success.
Automatic reminders are a non-invasive way to give your workforce and customers useful information that otherwise may not be accessible, like service outages, software updates or traffic jams that delay an appointment.
Give your field service team the authority to solve unforeseen problems in the field. Field service management tools provide your workforce with a meaningful way to report problems and receive useful feedback in real time. Additionally, employees can give customers correct information or alternatives to allay any fears of missed delivery times or the like.
Turn loyal customers into evangelists
High quality field service management will improve customer service, maintain long-standing relationships and help find new opportunities. With FSM, your customers are more likely to receive prompt and efficient service, and it gives them more options like accessing reports, quotes and invoices through an online portal.
Field Service Management Software Checklist
Download this list of basic and advanced features to consider when shopping for field service management solutions.
Field Service Management Examples Across Industries
Field service management adoption spans multiple industries, including health care, HVAC, telecom and shipping. The increasingly mobilized workforce has further driven the need for some level of field service management in most sectors.
Here’s an overview of how various sectors are using field service management:
- Telcom industry: Field service technicians use mobile devices to access work order management in the cloud. These products help them complete their tasks, report problems and indicate completion times and methods used.
- Shipping organizations: Delivery drivers can ensure service level agreement (SLA) delivery times by using advanced GPS rerouting. Proper scheduling and routing boost fuel cost savings. Detailed package tracking improves customer visibility.
- Utilities: Power, water and public transportation companies can use field service management to direct resources almost instantaneously to places of need. A power outage assessment and repair can occur immediately and effectively. Incorporating IoT devices that provide real-time data to your systems let field service techs arrive on site knowing what to do.
- Manufacturing and industrial: Manufacturers with access to real-time inventory levels can make informed decisions about production and scheduling. The mobile workforce can deliver detailed reports to allow manufacturers to forecast revenue and predict demand.
- Mining: Internet-connected devices that report safety problems are essential in a dangerous mining industry. FSM software can help protect workers and reduce the number of workplace injuries.
- Health care: The health care industry can use field service management technology to assess and treat patients from afar or in-home without costly hospital visits. House calls with providers, pharmacists or therapists lead to improved patient care and confidence.
- Construction: Material availability and weather-related disruption can make scheduling construction projects challenging. Knowledge of real-time inventory availability allows the foreman to schedule the various parts of a construction project effectively. FSM also aids with tracing service calls, reducing paperwork, tracking equipment and tools and more efficient billing.
- Engineering: FSM gives utility engineers and other technicians access to job status, customer availability and local delays. This information helps them react to changing environments without severely impacting outcomes.
- Property maintenance: Providing tenants with an online portal to report problems like water leaks and heating issues can expedite maintenance requests. Property maintenance professionals will be able to bring the tools they need to respond and attend to matters in a responsible, safe way. Property owners will have the satisfaction of knowing field workers are available and ready to move forward.
- HVAC: HVAC professionals use field service management tools to establish maintenance schedules, increasing customer satisfaction and reduce related costs.
Future of Field Service Management
The demand for field service management will continue to increase as mobile employees, field workers and technology grow and evolve. Connected devices and artificial intelligence (AI) will enable field service organizations to monitor equipment status and predict customer needs.
As with any industry, keeping up with the latest innovation is challenging, but it is necessary to maintain competitive positioning. Digitization is increasing with the rising number of internet-connected devices, more work-from-anywhere scenarios and the need for flexibility.
The traditional break-fix approach to managing field equipment is naturally progressing to preventive and predictable maintenance. Being able to manage these processes using digital communication is a huge undertaking for the traditionally manual field service industry. For example, service chatbots are automating scheduling, troubleshooting and repairs. A hybrid workforce requires better digital field service management tools. Solution providers are leading the evolution with software that automates processes and workflow.
What is a field service manager? They lead the field service management teams and should consider service contracts that offer a value-add to customers. Utilizing the data collected in a field service management solution provides visibility into trends that predict maintenance needs.
Current Trends in Field Service Management
Field service management continues to adapt to ever-changing landscapes and technologies. We’ll see big data, AI and hybrid customer service solutions emerge to meet the needs of growing mobile workforces and deliver a better overall experience.
Fields service management solution trends include:
- Automation: Field service management automation includes work order management, scheduling and reporting. Employees, customers and decision-makers will have access to insightful information.
- Increased remote workforce mobility: Some of the most innovative companies are embracing remote working opportunities to great effect. And their remote workforces are creatively address challenges and driving implementation of new processes and technologies.
- Artificial intelligence monitoring: AI empowers field service management tools with the power to make smart decisions with minimal human interaction. AI is useful for proper task matching and automatic scheduling, giving customers the best experience possible.
- Advanced AI: Artificial intelligence is useful for forecast reports, making real-time decisions on patient and employee safety and reducing costs by establishing smart inventory levels.
- Hybrid customer service: Field service management opens new avenues to give customers the information and service levels they expect by using a mix of online tools and customer service agents.
- Big data: Data collection, analysis and reporting help streamline your field service management plan and internal department structures and procedures. Accurate costing and work order management will allow your accounting department to provide timely, complete invoices.
- Crowd service: The more information a customer has, the better informed they become. Field service management portals give consumers a way to express concerns, make requests and speak to other customers regarding service levels and common issues.
- Proactive and predictable maintenance: A field service management plan can establish processes and algorithms that generate predictions based on internet-connected device reporting data. This information leads to proactively scheduling field service to perform maintenance on-site before hardware fails or a safety issue arises.
- Worker variation: Companies can use field service management to incorporate traditional office employees and a mobile workforce, including field service technicians, drivers and sales representatives. Hybrid employees are becoming more prevalent and will rely on FSM technology to succeed.
Building the Business Case for Field Service Management
Field service management is essential for customer satisfaction and retention. Build a business case by emphasizing real-time information, cost savings and increased efficiencies. These wins are attractive to business leaders.
To build a business case for field service management, associate appropriate measurements and key performance indicators (KPIs) that demonstrate how FSM aligns with company objectives. Supply decision-makers with goals and actual performance.
In addition to key metrics, include the following points in your business case:
- The goal of field service management
- Problems with the current field service management process/tools
- Overview of the proposed solution
- Benefits of the solution
- Risks and challenges
- Implementation plan
- Measurements of success
Field Service Management Software for More Efficient Workforce Management
Streamlining work to be more efficient is the goal of field service management software. A centralized data source, automation, mobility, workflow and process improvement based on customer feedback are elements of a successful FSM.
5 Ways Field Service Management Helps Workforce Management
- Centralized data sources provide a single, consistent platform to collect and analyze data to maintain consistency and increase efficiency.
- Automation creates efficient scheduling and reliable reports and assists with problem solving and maintenance.
- Utilizing new technologies like mobile apps, smart devices and new customer-based platforms allows for efficient real-time communication and problem detection. Work order management and inventory and resource allocations are also part of the larger picture included in these new technologies.
- Continuous process improvement through reviewing and analyzing field service management processes will increase productivity and efficiency for customers and the workforce.
- Customer feedback is an integral component of progress, allowing you to continue to improve service levels and gain customer trust and adoption. FSM applications need to focus on customer activity and relations with field service workers.
Field Service Management Case Studies
These four case studies demonstrate the power and effectiveness of using a field service management solution.
Leveraging FSM for more efficient workforce management
Headland Machinery: Using NetSuite, Headland Machinery consolidated several on-premises solutions to provide real-time visibility across three warehouses and mobile service technician activities. The industrial supplier boosted engineer efficiency and got customers and technicians on the same page.
Intimus International: Providing better customer service and competitive advantage was the number one goal of leading information security, information management and cash management systems provider Intimus International. After implementing field service management technology, the team reduced dispatch time by over 200 hours per week.
ReSource POS: ReSource POS has first-hand experience with the growing pains that come with adding offices, staff and partnerships. The team at ReSource POS uses field service management software to improve internal processes and achieve greater efficiency while they grow, reaching a return on their investment in just three months.
Generator Systems: Excellent customer service is part of the DNA of Generator Systems, an Akron, Ohio generator and pump provider. Generator Systems implemented FSM technology to improve communications with a seamless information flow and boost their customer service.
Streamline and Optimize Field Services Management with NetSuite
Field services management is on call when mission-critical services need attention. A quick response and repair ensure customer satisfaction is maintained and SLAs remain intact. NetSuite’s robust ERP platform features can help organizations achieve success.