By Sarah Nicastro, Editor In Chief, Field Technologies | Created In Partnership With Zinc
Do you view field service strategically? Leading organizations recognize that service is a great differentiator — stellar field service can be the path to setting your company apart, creating new revenue streams, and driving profits. These organizations are focusing on initiatives such as migrating from break-fix work to outcomes-based service models, better understanding and delivering on customer expectations, and embracing the need to continually improve operations by developing its people, processes, and technology use.
At the heart of all of this incredible transformation in field service is one thing: communication. Effective communication is what will enable you to meet and exceed your customers’ expectations. Real-time access to knowledge or assistance that helps your field workers answer questions almost immediately leads to a happy customer. When a technician finishes a job and can alert the back office in real time, they can quickly be deployed to the next task and downtime is minimized. When your field technicians are armed with real-time, two-way communication they feel more capable and confident in their roles. Without an effective communication method as your foundation, layering technologies on will cause headaches and frustration instead of their intended positive impact.
In this report, we examine how effective enterprise communication enables field service organizations to be more intentional and strategic in their service delivery. Field Technologies conducted a survey of 100 field service leaders in organizations that employ 50 or more field technicians to gather insights on how field service organizations are communicating today, how effective they feel these methods are, and to determine the opportunity that exists to enable teams to communicate more efficiently and effectively. Ninety percent of survey respondents indicated that real-time communication is either mission-critical (50 percent) or very important (40 percent) to their field workers being able to do their jobs effectively. With that being the case, let’s examine the current methods of communication being used and discuss some of the ways companies can improve upon those.
THE CURRENT STATE OF COMMUNICATION AMONG FIELD TEAMS
We first asked our survey respondents to share the technologies currently in use by their field workers. Sixty percent of respondents have a field service management solution in place. This illustrates the fact that organizations are focused on streamlining workflows and automating processes, which reinforces the idea that companies are viewing service more strategically and taking steps to optimize their businesses. However, the real work gets done in between these operational process steps and when a technician needs help, they need a way to communicate in real-time. While 35 percent of respondents currently provide video support for the field, only seven percent of respondents are using augmented reality (AR). I expect we’ll see AR use rise significantly as companies better understand the value that newer technology can provide in terms of remote troubleshooting and training.
Forty percent of survey respondents are using consumer messaging apps (such as text, What’sApp, GroupMe, etc.) for field communication. This is alarming because these types of consumer applications don’t provide trusted levels of security, privacy, or central administration – characteristics essential for most businesses. When field teams need to communicate among peers or with corporate-based teams, having a mishmash of apps wreaks havoc on efficiency and user acceptance because you’re asking your field workers to bounce around from application to application to be able to do their jobs. Moreover, these apps are only as good as the network of the individual technician using them – if they don’t have a particular expert’s number in their phone, they don’t have access to the answer.
When asked what the primary form of communication is between the field workforce and the back office (i.e. management, dispatch, field support, etc.), 44 percent of respondents use email and 45 percent use phone. If these numbers don’t shock you, they should. The amount of productivity that’s lost when field workers are using email or phone as their primary means of communication with the back office is astounding. Given that many field teams today use smartphones and tablets, emails are slow and cumbersome to execute. How do you know your technicians even read their emails? There’s also no easy way to know who has opened or read messages, which makes this method particularly ineffective for urgent messages.
We also asked respondents to indicate how urgent or important company information is communicated to their field workforce. Seventy-one percent of respondents are using email or e-newsletters, which is ineffective particularly for urgent communications because you don’t know when your employees will next check their email. And again, you have no visibility into who has actually received and digested the message. Sixty-eight percent of respondents communicate urgent/important information through phone or conference calls, which isn’t ideal for maximizing productive time. Twenty- eight percent of respondents use bulletin boards, which I’d argue isn’t an effective means even in an office environment, let alone for a workforce that is remote and may not visit the corporate office often (or at all). Twenty-four percent of respondents use video streaming, which is a far better option particularly if workers that are busy during a live broadcast can watch it back when they are free. Finally, 23 percent of respondents are using consumer messaging apps which pose the risks discussed earlier with security and privacy.
HOW INEFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION BECOMES DETRIMENTAL TO SUCCESS
While many of the methods of communication being used are less than ideal, there is recognition among the majority of survey respondents that this is the case. When asked how well they feel their current technologies support their field technicians in doing their jobs, 63 percent of respondents indicated there is room for improvement and five percent feel their technologies are not supporting technicians well or at all. Beyond how well the field technicians are supported, companies also recognize the need for improved visibility into field operations. Seventy percent of respondents say their visibility into field operations could use some improvement, and four percent of respondents say visibility is non-existent. Improving communication not only better equips your field workers to do their jobs, but also provides you with greater insights into what is happening with your remote workforce.
The inadequacies of the communication methods in use at the survey respondents’ organizations lead to unfortunate – and avoidable – paint points. First, when asked what they feel is the biggest barrier preventing field technicians from doing their jobs effectively, 37 percent indicated that timeliness of information access is a problem. Twenty-four percent point to the ability to easily communicate with peers and experts on an issue, and 14 percent call out lack of information or direction from management. With teams that are relying on phone calls and email to communicate with one another, these paint points aren’t surprising.
A lack of an effective and streamlined way to communicate also has a negative impact on employee engagement. More than half of survey respondents (53 percent) reported that their field workers are only somewhat engaged or even somewhat disengaged. Further, 50 percent of respondents said that they need to improve upon their methods of enabling field workers to provide feedback to management. Employee engagement is critically intertwined with not only performance and retention, but also with the customer experience. When employees don’t have an effective, efficient method by which to provide feedback and feel heard they begin to feel as though they aren’t valued. Even “somewhat disengaged” employees can cause significant problems for your company.
HOW AN ENTERPRISE COMMUNICATION EVOLUTION WILL IMPROVE YOUR BUSINESS
So we recognize the need for improvement in communication to accomplish the objective of strategic field service – and the good news is, technology that allows for a more streamlined and efficient communication is readily available. You may hear these solutions referred to as team collaboration. Frost & Sullivan describes team collaboration solution services as “workflow-focused software communications and collaborations platforms supporting the persistent exchange of information among groups or team members. Team collaboration services are typically cloud-based and deliver several key benefits, including: a positive user experience; persistent team spaces; integration of real-time with non-real-time communications; agile product updates; gamification elements; integration with business tools and processes; and access to anytime, anywhere information.”
Zinc is one such team collaboration platform, and the only all-mode communication platform purpose-built for deskless industries to drive business results. With Zinc, employees share and receive real-time information in a secure and intuitive platform, and rich communication analytics provide insights that drive decisions to improve productivity and overall performance. Zinc makes it simple to broadcast important or time-sensitive information to the entire company, facilitate connections among field employees, and get visibility into what’s happening on the front lines. All mode means you can use many types of communication within one single app. Text, phone, group call, video call, content share, and even push-to-talk. Zinc integrates with field service management systems so that conversations take place in the context of the tasks employees are working on. Content-related integrations with stores like DropBox, Sharepoint, and Google Drive mean information can be searched and shared in seconds, without ever leaving Zinc.
By combining all modes of communication in one intuitive platform that works on any device, and ensuring necessary security, compliance and central administration, Zinc gives organizations the type of effective enterprise communication that is essential in providing more strategic and intentional field service. In fact, Zinc was recently recognized by Frost & Sullivan’s Competitive Strategy and Innovation Award based on its strategy effectiveness, strategy execution, competitive differentiation, stakeholder integration, and price/performance value. Zinc was also listed as an example of team messaging technology in Forrester’s Tech Tide: Enterprise Collaboration, Q1 2018 – 20 Technologies That Underpin Enterprise Collaboration, which Forrester is saying is a technology worth investing in because maturity is low, business value is high, and team messaging will “further evolve with enterprise collaboration strategies.”
By investing in a team collaboration app such as Zinc, you can set that solid foundation of communication from which to build. A more effective communication platform will help you to improve the productivity of your workforce by giving them real-time access to the information and resources they need to get their jobs done. It will help you to provide a better customer experience, by arming your employees with resources, knowledge, and confidence to help them execute the stellar service you’re striving for. It will enable you to better engage your remote workforce, helping them feel more connected and even more valued. And it will act as an essential building block for all of your field service innovation efforts – each step you take toward more strategic field service will have greater success with clear, effective communication at the core of your business.