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4 Digital Trends Driving Technician-First Field Service

March 13, 2023
Tech-first solutions that enhance productivity in the field can be a powerful step toward beating the labor shortage and establishing a competitive advantage.

By Jeff Grisenthwaite

Field service technicians need simple, intuitive technology to solve the real-world problems they encounter on the job, regardless of their skill set or level of experience. This is more true now than ever before given the rapidly widening skilled trades gap. After decades of technology products targeted at business owners and the back office, innovative solutions are finally emerging that prioritize techs’ needs on the jobsite.

Too often, the digital platforms available to technicians haven’t adequately addressed the challenges they see every day. Modern equipment is sophisticated and more complex than ever. Jobsites are frequently inhospitable to technology with frigid temperatures, bright glare on screens, and internet dead zones. Techs need reliable, easy-to-navigate tools built for real-world jobsites that provide quick, effective diagnostics and access to a wide array of support material, such as manufacturer specs, manuals and video tutorials. Automated workflows reduce the need for manual data entry and the risk of duplication and human error.

For contractors, providing tech-first solutions that enhance productivity in the field can be a powerful step toward beating the labor shortage and establishing a competitive advantage as an employer of choice.

1. Streamlined User Experience

The experience technicians have on the job with technology is even more important now in such a competitive job market. If technicians struggle with the software they’re using, they’ll be less satisfied with their job. In addition, the efficiency with which techs operate is the primary measure of productivity for field service industries.

A major development in tech experience in recent years has been the shift from laptops and tablets to smartphones. The shift reflects the reality of jobsites and how technicians engage with the equipment they service. When techs are climbing ladders or working in tight, cramped conditions, a small handheld device is much more usable and safer than lugging around a laptop or tablet.

While the form factor is much improved, the downside of smartphones is the sheer number of apps that many technicians need to navigate to in order to get a job done. Each app is designed to make the job easier, but the vast number of apps necessary for a job has made work more complicated, as techs find themselves switching back and forth depending on the task at hand. Not only does this add time to the job, it introduces the risk of errors and miscommunication.

But the emerging model of technician enablement solutions addresses that by providing a single pane of glass and integrated experience. In this model, critical data is pulled into one central app before the job even begins and that app acts like a hub, seamlessly connecting to other apps throughout the job. This eliminates duplicate data entry for the technician, and pulls the various apps together into one coherent, efficient workflow.

2. Advanced Analytics

Artificial intelligence, machine learning and sophisticated data collection drive the solutions that contractors need. A new generation of technology connects with the equipment they service and facilitates meaningful collaboration across the field service ecosystem by sparking an entire system of intelligence. The unprecedented data and analytics available in today’s field service technology improve workflows and productivity and deliver actionable insights that contractors can apply for future growth and success, such as:

●     OCR technology allows field service techs to instantly capture equipment and service data that can be accessed by other members of their team or on future jobs.

●      Insights to help techs identify end of life replacement opportunities. When techs have knowledge about units nearing the end of life, they or the sales team can proactively contact customers regarding the purchase and install of a new unit.

●      Identifying service trends that generate preventative maintenance sales.

●      Identifying the components technicians are working on most frequently as well as the skill requirements for the types of jobs techs most commonly encounter.

3. Knowledge Management

A disproportionate percentage of technicians in the industry are approaching retirement. Fewer new techs are entering the field. The math is simple. In coming years, contractors will have to find ways to get the same amount of work done with fewer, less experienced techs.

Besides the obvious challenges to productivity, cascading retirement rates also promise to severely disrupt the continuity of institutional knowledge that has been critical to the industry for decades. Younger workers benefit from the lessons senior employees have already learned, helping them avoid costly errors. Informal mentor relationships also support and reinforce formal training, enhancing the value of investment in ongoing education opportunities. 

Over the course of a 30- or 40-year career, skilled workers accrue a vast amount of useful information and knowledge. There are, of course, the essential technical skills required for the job. But there are many other forms of knowledge and expertise that aren’t as easy to measure, such as soft skills necessary for successful interaction with customers and colleagues; institutional knowledge about the industry and local service area; and diagnostic abilities that depend on intimate familiarity with a range of products and brands.

With data- and AI-powered tech-enablement solutions, contractors can build, maintain and share a proprietary knowledge base that will empower them to successfully adapt to the ongoing labor challenges they face: 

●      A powerful, easily accessible industry knowledge base featuring manuals, diagrams, and service bulletins from major manufacturers.

●      A historical institutional knowledge base that includes key data from every job and jobsite, including content, photos, and videos.

●      Searchable historical job information that can be referenced and reviewed from the field.

●      Shared transparency and accessibility throughout an organization. 

●      Virtual mentoring resources offer a seamless virtual solution for on-the-job training, troubleshooting, and support.

4. Building Trust

The connection between technicians and the equipment they work on is the central relationship of the field service industry. When contractors and their teams can add transparency and data to customer transactions, they are building trust that will support long-term growth through customer retention. The accessible data powering today’s tech-enablement solutions can also empower customers with knowledge about their equipment.

Most service business interactions are transactional. But providers who can offer sophisticated, money-saving guidance that is backed by data and visual evidence can elevate those interactions and become partners, not just vendors. Sharing meaningful photo, video and detailed job summaries creates a superior customer experience, which in turn leads to more five-star reviews, fewer customer credits, and more referrals and repeat business. The ability to establish stronger trust with the customer is the ultimate competitive differentiator.

Jeff Grisenthwaite is chief product officer for XOi, the leading provider of technician-first smart technology for commercial and residential field service companies, where he oversees product strategy, roadmap and UX design. With a demonstrated commitment to the hard-working men and women in the field service industries, XOi delivers innovative artificial intelligence-based solutions that empower field service teams to drive productivity, elevate customer experience and help close the skilled labor gap.

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