How Do Customers Perceive Your Company?
Some of the world's largest, most powerful companies are represented by a single face. But it's not that of the celebrity CEO who graces book jackets and magazine covers. Nor is it that of the popular actor and pitchperson who stars in television commercials and print advertisements. In most cases the decidedly unfamous face of the field technician is who personifies and characterizes most companies. The field technician's face is the only company face most customers will ever see--and when a new service is needed, or an existing one fails, it is the only face they want to see.
As such, today's field technicians have greater opportunity to build customer loyalty and generate new revenue than perhaps any other employee of the service enterprise, from c-level executive down to company intern. But too many of them are being held back by yesterday's technology, or more accurately, a lack of modern technology. By trading in their clipboards and file folders for wireless field service tools, these field technicians can fully capitalize on the service-enhancement and revenue-boosting possibilities that their roles provide.
Advancements in mobile computing are fueling a revolution in field force automation that's allowing service companies to transform field service from a simple cost of doing business to a sales tool and competitive differentiator. Using industry-specific software applications running on ruggedized handheld mobile computers, technicians aren't just eliminating the inefficiencies associated with antiquated paper-based service systems, they're using real-time information at the point of activity to increase profitability both for their own organizations and for their customers'.
With a handheld device linked via wireless WANs or wireless LANs back to company headquarters, the technician can meet a number of customer needs, while still at the customer site. For example, with immediate, accurate access to pricing, availability, and warranty information, the technician can extend warranties, order new parts, or secure additional service packages in seconds. By accessing the customer's previous work history, that technician can improve troubleshooting and anticipate service needs before they actually occur. The technician can then transmit work orders and invoices back to headquarters, closing out the job immediately and eliminating the cost and time drains--and potential for error--that could result from filling out those forms after the service call.
The technician can then use the handheld to notify headquarters of a completed service call and request the next job. As a result, company dispatchers know where a technician is at any given time, and consequently can commit the technician to a shorter arrival-time window. This addresses and resolves one of the most common complaints voiced by customers of service providers: waiting for the technician.
For on-site data collection, next-generation field force automation software packages--when used in concert with mobile handhelds capable of bar-code scanning, image-capture, wireless networking--can streamline and dramatically improve the control and accuracy of work performed, parts used, and inventory available.
ROI for this new breed of field force automation packages is still being generated, but numerous industry analysts have published reports detailing the potential cost efficiencies and revenue impact. Gartner issued a report in 2002 that estimated a number of benefits, including repair-time improvements (of as much as 50 percent); invoicing-efficiency gains (of up to 60 percent); warranty-sales increases (of up to 40 percent); service response-time improvements (of up to 80 percent); and cross-selling opportunity increases (of up to 100 percent).
Industry experts estimate that about 50 percent of U.S. utility companies have field force automation systems installed or under development. Others are sure to follow suit as companies wake up to the fact that having a properly equipped field force is not just a competitive advantage, but a competitive necessity.
About the Author
Bruce Krohn is a director of vertical markets for Symbol Technologies, a provider of products and solutions that capture, move, and manage information in real time to and from the point of business activity.