As manufacturers increasingly turn to after-sales service and customer interactions to boost profit margins and deliver new sources of revenue, the area of field service is coming under the microscope as an entry point for service innovation.
My recent experience getting a company-owned laptop repaired is a study in what still needs to be fixed in order for field service to deliver the profits and customer experience that many manufacturers seek.
It began innocuously enough. My touchpad was not working properly, so I shared this information, including digital photos, with my IT support contact at my company, who launched the service ticket with the manufacturer, since the laptop was still eligible for an extended service contract. I work from a remote office, and the field service technician called me directly to schedule the first visit.
Two days later, the technician arrived, and spent 1.5 hours with my laptop, disassembling it. He brought with him the part needed, which was part of a larger component, and the goal was to swap the two out. After opening my computer, the technician determined there was a broken screw inside, which was preventing him from doing a simple swap of the components, and he instead had to take out the specific touchpad button and replace only that, thus extending the work time. He also identified that my Bluetooth connector was broken, and would need to be repaired, along with the broken screw. Even though at the end of the 1.5 hours I had a functioning laptop, another service visit would be required to repair the two newly identified issues. At this point, I was happy to have my laptop working again, and didn't really want another visit, but since the laptop is a company asset, I understood it needed to be restored to full functionality.
Three days later, another service technician showed up with the parts to repair the broken screw and Bluetooth component. He was more experienced, and quickly surmised that the previous technician was not very experienced, because he essentially put my entire motherboard in jeopardy the way he had patched the system. After another hour of service time (during which I was once again not able to work) this technician had replaced the two parts but also identified yet another problem with the surface panel, which was lifted and making it difficult to seal the surface of the keyboard. Yet another service call would be needed to replace this panel.
I am still awaiting the third visit - two days after Visit 2, yet another technician called - this one was from 2 hours away and in another state, and scheduled a visit for the following day, but called me en route with car trouble and had to cancel. I needed to head out of town for work-related travel, so we will try to reschedule upon my return. I am not looking forward to yet another hour of lost productivity, but I sincerely hope that the third time is a charm.
Breakdown of This Field Service Experience
Clearly, this field service experience was flawed for a number of reasons. While the initial problem was identified, and a technician promptly dispatched with the correct part, once into the repair, the subsequent problems identified could not be repaired because of lack of parts on hand. Handing off the subsequent visits to other technicians also somewhat lost the thread of the service flow, because I had to answer the same set of questions and explain what had happened to each new technician. And, for each visit, the warranty service company or OEM incurred unnecessary additional costs. The results were frustrated technicians, frustrated customer, and costly fix.
What Could Have Gone Differently?
Having just returned from Oracle OpenWorld, my mind filled with visions of the promise of after-sales service that leverages cloud, big data, mobile, and social, I believe there are several technology-infused changes that would make this type of service call a win-win for customer and OEM/Service Provider:
- A Field Service Knowledge Management platform that includes functionality for a knowledge base and sharing out to the field technician with video capabilities that can capture a current job and up-level the call if the on-site technician needs further assistance. I offered an example of this in a recent blog.
- Spare/Service Parts Management that enables the most likely additional components to be routed to the first site visit to maximize the potential for a first-visit resolution.
- Analytics tools that quickly identify the cost of subsequent visits vs. product replacement/discount for new purchase given the end-of-life of this particular asset.
We are seeing an increasing number of manufacturers look at their after-sales service organizations from a profit-center perspective, engaging with customers and enhancing customer experience and the likelihood of loyalty and future purchases. While many manufacturers opt to outsource service, it can be dangerous because any negative experience for the customer is directly tied to the brand, regardless of whom carried out the actual service. In this current era of Customer Centricity, protecting brand is imperative for highly-competitive markets, and OEMs need to protect their brands closely.
IDC Manufacturing Insights has an upcoming report on Service Parts Management and Spare Parts Planning for Manufacturing, in which we highlight some of the necessary aspects of a Service Management Supply Network. Additional reports this coming year will highlight some of the leading approaches to field service, leveraging mobile, cloud, and social for increased customer engagement. Stay tuned, and feel free to share your service technician horror or success stories!