Kevin Summers, Sr. Director, Mobile Strategy, Mitel
In field services, mobility encompasses more than mobile communications. For service workers, the smartphone is often the main – and sometimes only – means of communications back to the home office. In many cases, the smartphone is also the primary compute platform. Most field services employees have mobile phones, but few companies actually have an overall mobile strategy. Webtorials found, in a study from 2015, that 83 percent of today’s companies have not deployed a mobile strategy.
A successful mobile strategy for a field services organization can include:
• Using the latest 4G/LTE mobile plans now available, offering dramatic improvements in speeds, capability, and base level functionality.
• Using new “native” mobile features like Wi-Fi calling and advanced messaging.
• Deploying mobile-first field services management applications, complemented with powerful general purpose apps.
• Providing a mobile presence to your customers, allowing them to interact with your organization using their preferred method of communications.
"Forward-thinking FSM solutions have begun to include collaboration and communications from inside the mobile application itself"
Evaluate the plan options from your available mobile operators. Most major mobile operators have upgraded their networks to support 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) and there are lots of benefits to this improved mobile service; for your organization, the key benefits are faster data, improved battery life, and a capability called high definition voice that offers crystal clear voice when both subscribers are on the same LTE network.
In addition to the benefits brought by a network upgrade, several mobile operators offer new functions that help you do more with your mobile phone's "native" capability. For example, advanced messaging allows rich messaging, contact, message-read receipts, picture sharing, and video sharing—all within the phone's basic dialer. This can be really valuable in your day-to-day field services activities when you need to take a picture or video during a service call and share with colleagues. You do need to be sure that your mobile device supports advanced messaging, which fortunately many newer mobile phone models do support.
Another capability that can be very helpful to a field services company is Wi-Fi calling. Mobile operators that support this capability allow you to use a Wi-Fi network to make and receive calls. This is helpful when you're in an area that has poor cellular coverage or you're in a building that has no cellular reception. Wi-Fi networks are everywhere and more than ever, businesses offer public access. In general, it's good practice to have employees connect to Wi-Fi when they can to reduce data usage.
An appetite for verticals
In a widely read 2011 Wall Street Journal editorial, entrepreneur/investor Mark Andreessen famously penned that "software is eating the world," the point being that all sorts of industries are being disrupted by software and online services. This is happening in field services at a quickening pace as software-based field services management (FSM) solutions drive increased automation of business process and workflows. Benefits include workforce optimization, better allocation of resources (capital assets as well as human resources), enhanced transparency of business process, and improved customer satisfaction. Most FSM solutions include some combination of scheduling, dispatch, work order and forms digitization, location tracking, inventory management, and payments. It doesn't hurt that these FSM solutions, when effectively implemented, can improve time-to-cash.
For managers of services teams, it’s a buyer's market for FSM solutions with many choices available. Solutions once offered as enterprise solutions (i.e., running the application on internal servers) are augmented and supplanted by cloud solutions. While FSM solutions offer a mobile app to extend the functionality to mobile teams, several companies are building from a mobile-first perspective, optimizing the experience on the mobile device.
Forward-thinking FSM solutions have begun to include collaboration and communications from inside the mobile application itself. Examples include sending the customer automated SMS text messages informing them of the assigned service technician's estimated time of arrival; service dispatchers finding in real-time the best technician based on location, skills, and availability; and real-time communications and collaboration (i.e., chat, voice, video calling).
The supporting cast
Beyond FSM mobile applications, several general purpose mobile apps may prove to be useful to service teams. Team-centric storage enabling file sharing in the cloud helps create a knowledge base, storing soft copies of manuals, troubleshooting guides, reference pictures, videos, and audio recordings. The choices are plentiful and include offers from Dropbox, Box.com, Google Drive, Microsoft's OneDrive, and Amazon's Cloud Drive, among others. Apps focused on collaborative note taking include Evernote, Google Keep, Microsoft’s OneNote, and Notability. Another excellent addition to the stable is Waze, a crowd-sourced geographical navigation app that offers turn-by-turn navigation, realtime traffic updates, and location-specific updates like road hazards.
A more intimate customer conversation
To this point, the discussion has been more inward facing with ways to enhance internal operations of your field services team. But perhaps the most important reason to recast your business communications strategy to be more mobile-centric is to better serve the most important person to your field services business: your customer. It's no surprise that a majority of people prefer to be able to interact with businesses via their mobile phones. Imagine your customer being able to conduct all business with you via her mobile phone: texting to request an appointment; texting an after hours hotline for an urgent service call; sending a high res video of a service issue as it happens. Using mobile communications is just faster and easier. Why not give your customers a better overall experience using their preferred communications medium?
With a mobile-centric operations model, as a services company, you have an opportunity to be more sympathetic to your customers' issues and respond more quickly and with appropriate measure. Imagine a scenario where your customer can text your company about an issue, your company quickly responds via text with a proposed appointment, the customer confirms, and the FSM solution provides service ETA updates via SMS and upon arrival on site. Issues that the tech deals with requiring a more senior set of eyes are resolved more quickly. The tech can collect payment immediately. A short post-service survey can be delivered via SMS. Periodic promotions (e.g., air conditioning checkup with change of season) can be presented to customers that opt-in. The relationship becomes more direct, more intimate, and more personal.
A mobile-centric operating model
Without question, common business interactions have become more mobile-centric. This is true across all industries and for all types of employees: knowledge workers, information workers, and service workers. When it comes to creating a mobile strategy, understand what your options are as a field services organization: mobile plans and capabilities have evolved, devices are now more powerful and capable, and mobile applications focused on field service management have reached a high degree of maturity. In addition, general-purpose mobile applications can augment overall business process.
An effective mobile strategy supports business objectives of optimizing effectiveness and productivity in your daily operations and delivering superior service to your customers. Very likely, your customers would like to be able to interact with your services organization via their preferred communications method, the mobile phone.
By establishing and implementing a sound mobile strategy, field services organizations can tune their operating efficiency and deliver to their customers a higher level of service with better responsiveness and improved communications.