By Tom DeVroy
Almost 30 years ago the Magellan Corporation introduced the first hand-held navigation device and it has been 20 years since GPS accuracy degradation was stopped by the United States Defense Department, leading to a significant increase in the use of location coordinates for commercial and personal use. Field service organizations began to tap into vehicle location coordinates to better track their resources, improve scheduling and routing, and offer point-to-point navigation—and with the greater availability of GPS-enabled intelligent handheld devices, location coordinates were further embedded into day-to-day field operations.
Today, geofences—virtual geographical fences created around a specific location—enable the field organization to trigger business rules or create notifications as and when they are crossed by technicians. These fences can be used to generate greater operational efficiencies, promote technician safety and strengthen the customer experience.
Two use cases
Geofences can be inward-facing or outward-facing. Inward-facing fences are designed to keep people out of an area, such as restricted work zones, while outward-facing fences are made to keep people inside—as in the case of designated service locations.
The primary benefit these geofences offer is in automated alerts and triggers that can be set once a field service technician crosses a fence. As most scheduling is based on technician location, the difference between where a technician should be and where he or she actually is, can greatly enable the service organization to make necessary schedule adjustments.
No more “Where is my technician?”
If a technician has not crossed into a specific service area for a scheduled visit, the dispatch organization can raise an alert to assess the situation and take action. The impact of this alert can be quite significant, especially if the service technician is required to be on a customer site as per Service Level Agreements (SLA) or contract commitments.
Or “Where’s my part?”
In a more positive setting, the breach of a geofence by a field service technician can serve as a trigger for related actions to take place. For example, if a technician enters the vicinity of a forward stocking location, agents on site can ensure their parts are available and ready for pickup. The pickup of those parts can then trigger the confirmation that the related field service visit will be completed on time, keeping to the daily schedule. More importantly, such an alert informs the customer in real time that their field service event is taking place as planned.
Changing priorities in field service delivery
Customer satisfaction pays off. Research by McKinsey highlights that brands that invest in the improvement of their customer’s journey can see revenues increase as much as 10 to 15 percent, while lowering the cost to serve by 15 to 20 percent. Improved customer experience drives customer loyalty and advocacy, both of which impact business revenue. It also creates the opportunity to expand the business relationship with the customer.
Field service leaders are starting to realize these benefits and act. Until now, these organizations have typically prioritized enhancing the ease of scheduling field service appointments and reducing the time window in which such an appointment could be scheduled. Other experience-focused enhancements have revolved around shorter and more precise appointment windows.
While customers appreciate the convenience associated with these investments, they continue to demand a greater level of control over the field service experience. Therefore, the next wave of customer experience-focused enhancements must be built around increasing the visibility and access across the lifecycle of a field service event, from pre-event cost estimates and travel to post-event work order closure and billing.
An end to the waiting game in field service
Field service leaders must improve their communications around a service event to proactively keep their customers in the loop and enable them to make necessary preparations. This is where geofencing plays an important role. As a field service technician enters a designated customer site, the estimated time of arrival, event status update and technician identity can be instantly made available to the customer.
In turn, this enables the customer to undertake the necessary steps the prepare the site or piece of equipment for technician inspection. Not only does this eliminate the need for the customer to wait around for a technician, it also reduces the time a technician has to wait to receive access to the equipment.
If a technician is delayed, customers get notified of this and any alternate arrangements the servicing organization makes. When the service is complete, the technician’s departure through the customer-focused geofence can automatically trigger post-event processes tied to customer surveying, invoicing or ticket closure which can have further ramifications on the ease of experience delivered.
Continuous improvement: Tailor to customer needs
Not all customers will see value in these geofence-enabled enhancements. To that end, customer feedback must be solicited to understand the ideal field service experience. To augment customer feedback, organizations must be able to understand the pain points of their customers in all stages of the service lifecycle, as well as how the interactions with the service organization impact their operations.
Minimizing the service-related impact on customer operations and reducing the effort it takes to locate vital service-related information can improve the customer experience and the service relationship. Easy and direct internet access to create service requests and check on coverage, current status or billing inquiries is often a good place to start, as it provides the service organization with the appropriate foundation to deliver additional value-generating services.
Expanding the boundaries of the customer experience
Geofencing-based processes and alerts can offer incremental advantages to service organizations looking to increase operational efficiencies and deliver the right customer experience. They provide dispatchers, supervisors, and field service leaders with additional tools to manage their service resources and improve field service operations.
With greater visibility into a service event, both the service provider and the customer can make necessary preparations—leading to less waiting, less confusion and less negative disruption, and ultimately, a better customer experience.
Tom Devroy is Senior Product Evangelist, North America for IFS, an enterprise software developer serving customers around the world who manufacture and distribute goods, maintain assets, and manage service-focused operations.