As the Covid-19 restrictions in the UK start to lift, we have been reflecting on the last year and the impact on the businesses in the field service sector. Rather than remembering the difficulties and stresses (of which there have been many) it feels appropriate, in a spirit of positivity brought on by rising vaccination rates and falling R values, to celebrate the achievements of field service companies, their versatility and determination, and their ability to adapt and even thrive in unusually tough times.
Back in May 2020, when it was all still banana bread, panic buying and home schooling, we wrote about the unsung heroes of field service; the engineers and technicians who couldn’t just set up a laptop on the kitchen table and work from home, but were donning PPE and putting themselves at risk by going into homes, hospitals and care homes to keep the heating on, the building functioning and the medical equipment maintained. As the dust settles, we can see that this quiet heroism and dedication to customer service is what has kept our sector going, and will continue to do so as we emerge into a post-pandemic world.
A recent survey by Field Service News looking at the state of the ‘New Normal’ for the sector shows that the versatility and determination of field service organisations is what will help our sector to thrive as the worst of the pandemic starts to fade and we are left to count the cost and look to the future.
In many cases, the survey shows that the Covid-19 crisis has accelerated changes that were already underway. We’ve seen this in other spheres such as flexible working and online shopping, and our sector is no different. When lockdown began, field service organisations had to find new ways to provide services to their customers; remote service was an obvious solution and one that the most forward-thinking had been working towards or planning for before the pandemic. The survey found that 76% of field service organisations that took part offer remote services. What is interesting is that two thirds of these (67%) implemented remote services as direct result of the pandemic. Remote service was already on the horizon for many firms as part of a shift-left strategy: finding the least-cost way to deliver all aspects of service. The pandemic turned plans into reality more quickly than expected; the success of this no doubt represents much hard work and many late nights for service managers and their teams. There are a further 18% of companies planning to adopt a remote service strategy – the majority of whom plan to do so in the next year. Like flexible working and online shopping, remote service is here to stay.
However, the survey also showed that 87% of field service managers consider face to face engagement of greater or equal value to remote services. So rather than prioritising a remote or touch-free delivery, companies will pick and choose which elements of service need the personal touch of a visit from a trained expert. Companies want to return to ‘normal’ service as safely as possible. Focusing on customer experience has always been a winning strategy, and you could argue that it becomes even more important in a downturn. Engineers and technicians on service calls are the human face of the company, and a speedy and successful service visit from a polite and friendly engineer can be the pinnacle of customer experience. The survey showed that the majority of companies (70%) believe that despite the rapid changes both within our sector and industry at large, service will remain a key differentiator in both winning and retaining business, and that almost three quarters (74%) of respondents believe that this will not change within the next 24 months.
This is a good thing, considering that the survey also shows that 76% of field service organisations plan to grow in the next 12 months, as opposed to the 24% that are focused on survival. This statistic, more than any other, shows that the industry is able to create new opportunities even in the toughest of times. The service companies that will come out of this the best are those that are creating service ecosystems, joining with technology and analytics partners to innovate, using technologies such as machine learning, and offering customers creative solutions such as service on demand. The survey report says “we truly are on the cusp of a new era of field services, our industry has been slowly building the building blocks of evolutions across the last decade. Covid-19 has simply put us all on the same page”. We agree. We’re proud to be part of this industry and excited to see what the next few years will bring for the versatile, determined and adaptable companies that make up the field service sector.