The Future of Field Services- Disrupt or Be Disrupted
Curiosity about how 36 non-transactional elements of value, as defined in ‘The B2B Elements of Value’, published by the Harvard Business Review in January 2018, may impact the future of field services, especially as the technology industry becomes more commoditised, recently lead BEST Technology Services to undertake an ambitious, wide-ranging research project.
Close to one hundred hours of research interviews with medium to large technology service providers in Europe, Asia and Australia, combined with local benchmarking research, revealed that although the future for field services is bright, there’s a dramatic shift about to occur.
BEST’s findings correlated with those of the authors of ‘The B2B Elements of Value’, who surveyed over 1000 purchasers of IT infrastructure to measure their perceptions of how IT vendors perform against the 36 elements of value that matter most to B2B buyers. As the authors show, for vendors to avoid being caught in the ‘commodity trap’ it’s no longer enough that they present their ‘table stakes’ to IT buyers – that is, value for money, ability to meet specifications and regulatory and legal compliance.
Just a few years ago these values would have been sufficient to position a vendor favourably. Nowadays, however, IT buyers are looking for more. When the authors reviewed the ratings that customers gave their IT suppliers on each element of value and their Net Promoter Scores, they found that despite what vendors might think, it’s not cost and compliance that are the major priorities for IT buyers. The most highly rated values were product quality, responsiveness and expertise. More broadly, the non-transactional elements of value most appreciated by customers are functional value, ease of doing business and the vendor’s inspirational values.
BEST’s research backs this up, demonstrating just how ripe the field services sector is for disruption of its very own. We found that considerable momentum is rapidly moving a confluence of factors forward, with customers’ rising expectations for immediate service being a prime example.
For better or worse, disruptors such as Uber, Airbnb, Airtasker and the like have led us to expect service delivery to be faster, better and more convenient. This is forcing a rethink of field services strategies and tactics. Customers now expect their IT service and support providers to ‘Uberise’ their processes; to make it easy to do business through automation, the digitising of workflows, real-time updates, tracking, information sharing and thorough reporting. As Field Service News recently reported: “It’s not your direct competitors setting customer expectations, it’s the best experiences these customers have had anywhere…In 2018 and beyond, your customers will expect speed, transparency, precision, and frictionless interactions…Understanding the factors that make for great customer experience will make it easier to assess which existing and emerging technologies will help you meet, anticipate, and outpace service expectations.”
Research by CSG International reinforces this, noting that 89% of companies want an ‘Uber-like’ tool that can track on-field technician locations and estimated arrival times. Around 86% also agreed that they would pay a premium for the services offered if they had increased options such as choosing specific on-site arrival times, one-time resolution and flexible appointments, for example.
It’s more than customers’ expectations that are about to transform field services, however. As our research revealed, the scaling of the gig economy has enormous potential to disrupt the market. It’s not that long ago that technical skilled resources were almost always permanent employees. Yet technology companies told us that they expect the gig economy to continue to trend upwards and to penetrate aspects of field services’ verticals. Those we interviewed shared that their clients are looking for suppliers to handle functions previously managed in-house, such as systems administration.
There’s no doubt that an agile workforce is a valuable asset in overcoming skills and labour shortages and as a quick fix for urgent repairs. Flexibility makes responsiveness and availability possible, both of which are fundamental to the ease of doing business, one of the most important elements of value for IT buyers. Consequently, adapting to the ageing workforce and the gig economy has to be a key strategic imperative.
It’s clear from our research that companies can choose to become disruptors by adapting technology to shift their focus from tables stakes to the elements of value that IT buyers are most interested in, namely product quality, responsiveness and expertise. For field services providers it’s all about making it simple for IT vendors to do business, as it is for vendors to do business with their customers.
It’s worth remembering that the disruptors we are now all so familiar with – Netflix, Uber, Airbnb, among others – did not disrupt their markets as a result of Blue Ocean thinking. It’s not that they introduced brand new services – Uber is a taxi service when all’s said and done – it’s that they tapped into cohorts of dissatisfied customers by introducing technology that makes it fast and easy for us to access what we want in real-time.
Companies that take action now will be those that avoid being stranded in the crowded Red , a battleground of competition awash with the blood of lost margins and customers frustrated with an increasingly commoditised technology market. It’s these customers that are those most ripe for disruption. All it takes is for a business to come along with a new platform.
BEST Technology Services welcomes your thoughts and comments. To discuss any of the commentary in this article, contact John McVicker. For more on how Best Technology Services’ field services capability can support your outsourcing, go to www.best-ts.com.au.