How Augmented Reality Is Shaping the Future of In-Person Service

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When discussing the new era of hybrid work, many people are hyper-focused on what the office will look like for desk workers. However, work is also changing for the millions of workers across the globe who work in the field, many of whom have been doing so throughout the pandemic. 

Driven by the pandemic, field service organizations have accelerated their digital transformation efforts, unlocking new ways to serve customers safely and cost-effectively. One of the key digital technologies driving exciting new change is augmented reality (AR), which will enable service technicians around the world to work more efficiently, whether in the field or remote.

While much of this innovation was embraced by the necessity to keep technicians and customers safe during the pandemic, the most forward-thinking organizations will continue leveraging AR for field service operations long after the pandemic slows. According to Gartner, more than half of all field service jobs will include mobile AR and other advanced digital tools by 2025, compared with less than 10 percent in 2019.

Here are three reasons why this technology will be a game changer.

Reducing In-Person Visits

The pandemic era has been challenging for field service organizations. Particularly for technicians in fields where in-person visits are the norm, COVID-19 safety protocols have introduced a host of new challenges for both the technicians and customers.

For example, consider a situation where a hospital technician needs help with a small fix or update on one of their MRI machines. In the pre-COVID era, a technician from the medical device manufacturer would be dispatched to the hospital to work on the device.

During the pandemic, with restrictions being especially tight at healthcare facilities, manufacturers had to explore better ways to empower their customers to perform self-service. It’s here that we see an exciting application of AR technology continuing. Imagine that, instead of guiding customers through an update over the phone, trying to describe exactly what to do, remote technicians use an AR app to see exactly what customers see and, using video and AR-powered on-screen annotations, guide them through the resolution step by step with visual aids.

When an issue does require a technician to make an in-person visit, AR can play a critical role in increasing technicians' first-time fix rates. In many repair situations, one of the most frequent issues that technicians face is that they don’t have all the information or parts they need up front. For example, a technician dispatched to repair a broken device may find that the underlying problem is not the one they were prepared to fix. These cases often require a return trip.

These situations are time-consuming, expensive, and frustrating for customers. By allowing technicians to fully see and understand the scale of an issue before making an onsite visit, AR can help identify the right issue from the start, save everyone a return trip, and enable the organization to be more sustainable, given the reduction in truck roll.

We’re also seeing this trend play out for companies with a dispersed or remote client base. Without AR, it can be difficult to serve more remote locations regularly or respond to an unforeseen issue. AR can mitigate these challenges by allowing technicians to respond quickly and virtually to solve a problem.

Empowering Technicians Amid a Staffing Shortage

The staffing shortage currently afflicting the overall labor force has also been felt in the field service industry. Particularly in areas such as manufacturing and the medical device field, a shrinking pool of technicians have been challenged to meet rising demands.

AR can have a tremendous impact here by giving workers the tools they need to complete a job the first time with minimal setbacks. For example, using AR, novice technicians can connect directly with more experienced counterparts, who can remotely triage and troubleshoot issues. In a similar vein, AR can also help teams with less available staff scale. Technicians who use AR to complete jobs virtually can minimize travel and maximize time spent on tasks.

AR will also play a key role in bringing new technicians into the industry. By superimposing diagrams and repair instructions, AR can serve as a powerful supplement to job training programs, allowing technicians to learn while doing and retain familiarity with the systems they’re tasked with repairing more efficiently. Verizon, for example, has taken this approach since at least 2018.

This helps to reduce the skills gap and opens hiring options to candidates new to the industry without compromising the customer experience. It also helps preserve and pass on the institutional knowledge of more senior employees. It’s a technology-powered knowledge transfer.

As companies continue to manage the complexities of the staffing shortage, AR can play a key role in ensuring contractors and technicians at all levels feel empowered and prepared to do their jobs.  

Driving Employee Satisfaction

While the previous applications of AR in field service have focused on their benefits to organizations, I’m most excited about how it will help service technicians have a better and more productive experience.

This consideration is especially important today. Given the industry’s staffing challenges, rising consumer demand, and the added complications imposed by COVID-19, service technicians today are at a heightened risk of burnout. AR will play a key role here, giving technicians the tools they need to quickly find answers, simplify tasks, and efficiently fix customer problems. The result: Technicians will be able to get more done with less effort, enabling more flexible schedules and a productive work-life balance.

The Future of Field Service

Ultimately, what’s so exciting about this technology is that we’re not just augmenting reality; we’re augmenting technicians themselves.

The short-term and long-term implications of this transformation are massive. Not only will augmented reality help solve new challenges service organizations face today, but it will allow new ways to inspire and benefit customers. Field technicians are used to solving problems; AR will help them create entirely new solutions.

Bulent Cinarkaya is general manager of field service management at ServiceNow. He has hands-on product management experience in enterprise software, verticals, cloud computing, social media, and mobile. Prior to working at ServiceNow, Cinarkaya spent six years at Salesforce. He was a senior vice president of product management, Service Cloud, at Salesforce, where he led Service Cloud and Field Service product management; before that, he managed industry product management at Salesforce.

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