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Lessons Learned From COVID-19: Post Pandemic Preparedness for Service Providers

Since the onset of the pandemic, business closures and social distancing mandates disrupted operations across all industries, and field service was no exception. Although state-implemented precautions designated field service workers as essential, safety concerns still impacted the work of field technicians as they worked to continue providing necessary services such as home repair and property and casualty (P&C) insurance audits. Despite the need for their services, customers remained reluctant to invite even essential workers into their homes to repair an appliance or inspect property damage.

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The industry had to adapt to provide services safely and maintain business operations. Field service and insurance providers responded by developing and implementing innovative solutions to the challenges imposed by COVID-19. These solutions have proved to be so effective they will likely remain after the pandemic becomes manageable and safety guidelines are loosened. Service organizations should prepare their workforces for the following business practices that may be here to stay in a post-pandemic world.

Touchless Service Through Remote and Virtual Support 

Before COVID-19, P&C insurance companies often relied on their adjusters being able to travel to review and appraise damage onsite, and organizations that repair equipment and appliances dispatch service technicians for onsite maintenance. With the onset of the pandemic and tight social distancing guidelines, many field service organizations (FSOs) moved away from in-person jobs and accelerated the implementation of technologies that deliver touchless or virtual services to customers, including augmented reality (AR).

AR enables a collaborative visual experience between a customer and an industry expert that helps improve company productivity while cutting costs. Adjusters no longer incur travel expenses and can greatly minimize cycle time, from claim inspection to adjudication and payment when operating remotely. This can result in a 10% reduction in claim intake costs and up to 40% decrease in loss adjustment expenses (LAEs). Additionally, policy holders are utilizing technology to simplify the remote auditing process by taking photos or videos of damage and submitting the data to support insurance claims.

Not only does touchless technology aid in customer-facing service, but it also increases internal productivity as well. Field service operators can send inexperienced technicians to service requests on their own now that technology enables them to seek live advice from more experienced team members to quickly solve a problem onsite. This allows other members of the workforce to service additional jobs and maximizes operational efficiency.

“The pandemic has been a catalyst for companies to accelerate planned digital transformations,” notes Gary York, CEO of Help Lightning. “Touchless service delivery, enabled by remote assistance software, allows a company’s experts to work virtually side-by-side with anyone needing help, anywhere in the world.”

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Dynamic Scheduling to Improve Field Service Productivity 

Due to the pandemic, customer expectations are high as they weigh the value of inviting people into their homes to service equipment. Consumers want to know precisely when they can expect a service call and full transparency to ensure that the job is completed in a timely and efficient manner. The pandemic has also led to a shortage of skilled technicians, making job efficiency even more critical for service companies.

Providers can surpass customer expectations and optimize their existing workforce by leveraging field service management software that automates technician scheduling using artificial intelligence, well-thought-out predetermined rules, and field service mobility.

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By implementing an optimized scheduling tool with robust features, organizations can improve the efficiency of daily jobs, travel times and customer satisfaction. Optimized scheduling has the ability to provide a 45% increase in the number of jobs completed per day, allowing field service organizations to do more with fewer technicians. Additionally, integrated customer portals allow customers to see arrival status in real-time and communicate directly with technicians and adjusters. Dynamic scheduling offers an evergreen solution to customer transparency and aids service providers as the industry faces ongoing labor shortages.

Blended Workforce to Cope With Labor Shortages 

For many years, the field service industry has supplemented its direct workforce with contracted employees. A blended workforce provides companies with a cost-effective approach to scale service by supporting customers in remote locations and filling labor gaps caused by variability and seasonality of service demand. Contracted workers can often service older, out-of-production products as well, eliminating the need to train new engineers on outdated equipment.

As a result of COVID-19, contracted labor increased significantly because of direct workers’ unpredictable absences due to sickness or quarantines through exposure to the virus or from the unknown duration of travel bans. When there is no set timeline for when technicians and adjusters may return to work, companies must supplement their workforce to meet the customer’s expectations for prompt service.

In fact, 49% of companies that utilized freelance workers reported a positive impact on performance. Enabling a blend of internal and contracted labor can help businesses overcome labor shortage challenges, geographic limitations and knowledge gaps for better overall efficiency and customer service.

Virtual Payments for Customers and Independent Service Partners 

Before COVID-19, many companies still utilized traditional paper payment methods, offering customers paper invoices to sign and physical payment methods. However, the pandemic has shined a spotlight on touchless transactions that provide both customer and technician with a sense of security and safety when they must interact in person.

Service providers are following suit by providing consumers with access to self-service or virtual payment options. Service management software vendors offer built-in customer portals to centralize customer interactions, including mobile payments using credit and debit cards or mobile wallets. Additional payment methods offer flexibility to each customer and allow them to drive their service experience.

Additionally, when managing a blended workforce, it is vital to ensure timely payments to all technicians. Implementing a field service management solution that can process virtual payments quickly has become a best practice and will help retain good third-party technicians. It is important to consider implementing a service management solution that can process both virtual payments from consumers and electronic payments to contingent workers and independent contractors.

Looking Forward 

Successful implementation of these four transformations relies on the assistance of a fully integrated field service management system. A suite of workforce management tools provides the technical capabilities that companies need to respond to increased demand as they scale operations and serve their customers. Workforce management software cuts costs and minimizes the cycle time of critical business processes, offering improved efficiency to businesses looking to bounce back from the negative effects of the pandemic.

As businesses emerge from COVID-19 restrictions, they are positioned to implement meaningful changes to both their industry and individual workflows. By leveraging the benefits of these practices and expertly managing the customer’s end-to-end journey through field service solutions, providers can increase customer retention, loyalty and brand value to provide better overall service post-pandemic.

[To share your insights, please write to us at sghosh@martechseries.com]

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