The Power of AI to Support Field Service Employees and Maintain Exceptional Customer Experiences
We’re three years removed from the pandemic’s Great Resignation, and talent shortages remain across all industries, including construction, trades and other sectors requiring maintenance and repair technicians. Nearly 25% of construction workers are older than 55 — a growing trend that may see an industry short of over 340,000 workers by 2024. Over 70% of field service companies like utilities, telecom and property maintenance also have a shortage skills gap.
Many factors contribute to this shortage, including competition from other industries, demographic shifts and cultural changes. Artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a solution for manufacturing and other sectors, for trades reliant on humans to complete highly skilled technical work.
Companies looking to successfully manage a workforce responsible for performing home maintenance, appliance installation and repairs, critical electric or plumbing work — or overseeing short-cycle construction projects — need a strategy to overcome the challenges of building a candidate pipeline to ensure full staffing. Here are four things you can do right now.
1.Keep senior technicians from retiring completely.
Senior technicians are a known commodity because they’re established in a company and have a wealth of knowledge. If you employ a technician with decades of experience, losing them to retirement costs companies more in knowledge loss than seeing an employee with five years of experience leave.
Think creatively about how to keep these technicians on board, and make sure you keep their interests in mind, too. Consider offering them a reduced workweek in lieu of immediate retirement. Or check their interest in working as a contractor or a mentor to less-experienced technicians.
2. Nurture younger and less experienced employees.
Many younger people choosing to work in the field service industry aren’t looking for a job — they want a career. Careers offer growth and opportunity. Your company can provide those opportunities by offering professional development and education to drive advancement.
Your HR department should work with department leaders to create career paths or a formal mentorship program. Provide tuition reimbursement and flexible scheduling, allowing newer employees to attend training and obtain industry-relevant certifications and licenses.
Consider partnering with an organization like the Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals (SMRP) to help your technicians grow their skills and position themselves for greater career growth. This organization offers comprehensive management certification programs for maintenance, physical asset and reliability management professionals.
3.Consider contracted employees.
Another way to extend and augment your workforce? Leverage a contracted workforce. This staffing approach offers multiple benefits, including:
- Reduced long-term labor costs since you’re not paying for learning and development, retirement packages, healthcare or annual salaries.
- Instant access to highly-skilled personnel with niche experience.
- Flexibility in your company’s response to market trends and customer demands.
- A chance to gain an “outsider’s” fresh, unique perspective.
Creating a blended workforce of full-time employees and third-party contractors also empowers companies to increase the geographical range — and service offerings — of their service areas. This strategy also can increase efficiency and service flexibility and drive a faster time to market.
Finally, the hiring process for contracted employees is usually shorter and less complicated — partly because you’re hiring for a specific need and not necessarily a fit with business culture. And if you haven’t leaned into AI to help with sourcing, vetting and hiring skilled contract technicians — and using it to assist with scheduling, customer service and predictive maintenance — you should.
4. Leverage AI where you can.
Field service companies shouldn’t discount technology to help address staffing shortages. Finding ways to leverage AI’s potential requires thinking outside the box and finding opportunities to introduce automation.
Predictive analytics, the Internet of Things (IoT) and AI run new technologies like management software. It takes the pressure off of service and technical personnel by diagnosing problems, targeting faults and suggesting remediation strategies before a technician even arrives on site. This tool can increase productivity by optimizing scheduling to better allocate resources and reduce service redundancies.
And in an age when blended workforces — especially in the technology and service industries — have proven a viable solution for delivering exceptional customer experiences, AI-driven technology solutions empower organizations to champion innovation and collaboration, increase visibility, stay agile and perform better.
Here are several other benefits of using field service technology:
- Scheduling: Maintenance technicians generally have a good idea of how long a job might take to complete, but sometimes a project throws a curveball. So do traffic jams and accidents. AI doesn’t let personal biases interfere with creating estimates to finish a job. Access to real-time traffic and weather data generates more accurate travel estimates, so technicians know how long their travel will take — and customers will know when to expect help.
- Customer service: Automated scheduling improves customer experience by connecting the best technician with the customer to resolve their issue. It also empowers customers to take control of their experiences by enabling them to choose their appointment time, make changes in real time and send pictures of the problem. This technology can digitally connect customers and technicians to give them a head start on working toward a solution before they even arrive.
- Improving technicians’ experiences: Chatbots already provide customer service, but now they can help technicians troubleshoot too. An intelligent chatbot can search databases more quickly and accurately than a technician to find a solution, help with possible diagnoses, describe a repair procedure and provide information about parts.
A technician can input the type of job they’re working on and an intelligent system can generate a list of supplies they need — avoiding a second (or third) trip to get the right part. And the IoT has enabled a connection between equipment and diagnostic tools which, if they’re AI-powered, can detect and report on anomalies.
- Providing predictive maintenance: In many industries, taking an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to equipment is a bad idea, leading to more expensive repairs (or replacements) and costly downtime. Pairing AI with WiFi-connected machinery via the IoT allows AI to monitor changing conditions and alert managers it’s time to schedule a maintenance call. Predictive maintenance can assist businesses with budgeting for maintenance by tracking and estimating how many replacement parts equipment might require throughout the year.
AI has modernized field service technology and its workflows to increase operational efficiency, minimizing risks and reducing costs (and frustration) for companies, their employees and their customers. While AI isn’t a panacea for all challenges field service companies face, it’s nevertheless a valuable tool for those companies navigating talent shortages.
Brad Hawkins has been with ServicePower since 2004. He currently serves as Chief Product Officer, overseeing operations, development and product management. A long time veteran in the world of field service technology, Hawkins brings more than 20 years of experience in work force management software.