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First-Class Field Service: Your Brand’s Secret Weapon

Many of us have been frustrated by interactions with customer service representatives, and all too often, that experience continues to weigh heavily on our perception of a company’s brand long after the service call is complete. This reality has led many CMOs to regard their field service organization (FSO) among the most crucial brand representatives, particularly for digitally empowered companies. The fact is, field service staff are on the front lines of customer interface and are crucial in forming and reinforcing customers’ views. Building a more proactive FSO that can sense, predict and respond to customer issues has the potential to clearly differentiate companies in a variety of industries and sectors.

A full 42% of corporate operations leaders are planning to focus their 2016 efforts on a few differentiating factors that drive competitive advantage, according to PwC’s 2015 Global Operations Survey.

We expect FSO optimization to draw increasing interest going forward. Through a combination of digital tools, process optimization, workforce training and thoughtful incentives, managers can cultivate a customer-centric organization that accurately identifies customer signals and tailors solutions to deliver more high-impact and reliable outcomes.

Consider the journey taken by one refreshment services group to improve the effectiveness, efficiency and range of their FSO, and in the process thereby strengthen ties with existing customers and boost recurring revenues and operating margins. Before launching its improvement initiative, the company was burdened by siloed sales and service processes and limited visibility into customer needs and issues. Its field service toolkit did not allow for basic work order management. In other words, the FSO was working suboptimally, and its financial performance and customer satisfaction numbers reflected that.

The company began its journey by reimagining the strategic objectives of its field operations from the customer’s perspective with a focus on unmet needs. The FSO then:

  • designed and rolled out a single sales and service solution based on a 360-degree view of its customers;
  • standardized identification of issues faced by customers and automated FSO information flows via a CRM and ERP system reconfiguration and integration, along with new mobile applications;
  • set up a resource management and work order dispatch system that prioritized service calls, enabled service teams to reroute as needed and ensured that spare parts and tools for common customer issues were at the ready;
  • and equipped teams with a field-service mobile solution that pooled knowledge and enabled access to quick, peer-to-peer support when exceptions arose.

The result is a field service team that is meaningfully more connected to its customers, headquarters and one another. Connecting installed base and service information directly to the FSO helped make a significant and sustained improvement in the company’s ability to sense, predict and respond to customer issues as they arose or even before. Support came from a back-office operation that could update service teams’ performance and location instantly, enabling the company to deploy its mobile assets with optimal efficiency and effectiveness.

In our experience at PwC, this is typical of the performance generated from optimized field service organizations. All over the globe, digitally empowered FSOs are turning from reactive, costly organizations to proactive solution providers. As a result, their service center volume rates subside, the number of field service dispatches drops and the volume of wrong and unused parts plummets. The number of issues resolved with a single visit improves by half, enabling a sharp increase in the uptime of the installed base. Costs per dispatch drop sharply while field staff engagement increases and employee churn is reduced. That’s not all that a next-generation FSO does. It also improves the customer experience by increasing product uptime and cutting time-to-service.Its connection to customers increases visibility into field service issues before they escalate to costly problems. Its field service technicians, empowered with intelligent mobile solutions, gain access to knowledge anywhere, at any time. By improving field service relationships, it cements customer loyalty and increases wallet share.

Based on our experience, we have outlined four elements to a successful FSO optimization program:

  • Assess the current state of your FSO to identify capability gaps and lay the groundwork for an optimization initiative;
  • Design a future-state model of the FSO that focuses on empowering service desk and field tech communications, measurable processes and supporting technology enablers;
  • Build the model and implement recommendations and associated business value that will enable the future state;
  • Implement the transformation program, which typically takes no more than 12 months to complete.

At that point, you’re ready to operate the model and measure the sustainable financial benefits captured by transforming the FSO to the future-state operating model and operating as a next-generation FSO—and an important face of your brand.

Kevin Keegan is an advisory principal with PwC, focused on aligning cost with business strategy. Dave Yoffie is an advisory director with PwC, focused on creating unique customer experiences.