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As with nearly every aspect of our lives, the COVID-19 pandemic is significantly impacting both OEMs and non-OEM Service providers. TSIA field service members receive on average 84,000 service incidents per month with over 40% requiring an in-person, on-site dispatch to resolve. Further, 60% of those incidents require a spare part to be delivered to the customer’s site to resolve.

COVID-19 Challenges In Field Services

COVID-19 is disrupting field service organizations in many, sometimes diverging ways. Shelter in place orders are limiting the availability of assembly line workers which are shutting down entire factories (Ford, GM, Honda, Nissan U.S. Plant Shutdowns amid COVID-19 Pandemic). This eliminates the need for on-site, break / fix service resulting in excess capacity for some field service organizations. 

Meanwhile, demand surges in other areas create an urgent need for on-site service. For instance, if your company services equipment that manufactures respirators, masks, testing equipment, enterprise servers, and yes, toilet paper, increasing uptime of that equipment is critical. 

Unfortunately, delivering critical on-site service in these industries has become incredibly more challenging. Travel bans have been implemented, customers have closed their facilities to visitors, and non-essential personnel limiting field service access to the equipment. Delays in cross-border transportation, lack of air freight capacity, and delays in ocean transport will create spare parts and supply chain issues.

During my recent State of Field Services webinar, I polled the audience on how they are responding to the crisis. 

88% of companies restricting or eliminating on-site deployments.

21% of companies have stopped deploying field service engineers on-site completely. Another 67% are continuing to operate, but with significant restrictions. Among the restrictions noted by webinar attendees:

  • Limiting on-site dispatches to customers that can be serviced via car travel vs air travel.
  • On-site dispatches for local areas only - no air travel or overnight stay. 
  • Increased use of local 3rd party providers where local employees are not available. 
  • Restrictions based on the need for and availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). 
  • Critical personnel / downtime events only, no preventive maintenance. 

Only 47% of companies have, or are considering, renegotiating SLA’s.

With 9 out of 10 companies restricting or eliminating on-site dispatches, only 6% have reached out to their customers to discuss or renegotiate existing service level agreements. Although another 41% are considering renegotiating service levels, this sharp drop off is a major gap for field service organizations. 

Clearly operations are being impacted and hindering service organizations from meeting their commitments. While shortfalls may be understandable, TSIA recommends proactive communications with your customers noting potential service disruptions and clear communication on how to escalate urgent needs. These are not normal times. Normal contracts and communications are insufficient. 

Lessons from a Past Crisis: Technology Changed the Landscape Forever

During the 2008 financial crisis, the customer traffic in my local Home Depot dropped dramatically and the number of store employees dropped as well. Although they still needed at least one cashier to check customers out, they couldn’t control when customers showed up. So, how did they handle a surge in customers checking out without anyone to open another cashier aisle? They added two self-service checkout lines. I don't know how you felt about this at the time, but I never thought that I would use these self-checkouts. 

Well, the economy eventually recovered, and Home Depot hired all the cashiers back, right? Wrong. Technology changed the landscape forever. When I walk into my Home Depot now, I see two cashiers and six self-checkout lines! And guess who uses self-checkout every time now? Me. 

The Path Forward and the Role of Technology

It is important to note that field services is a people business and the safety and security of employees and customers has to come first. TSIA recommends you assess your customer base by determining which need critical support and conduct a risk assessment of providing that support. As noted above, the use of PPE, travel, and duration of repair all have to be taken into consideration. 

As in the self-check out example above, technology can be a short-term savior that will ultimately change the field services landscape forever. Our members report that nearly 60% of their install base has diagnostic capabilities embedded into their product. However, less than 15% of service incidents are resolved using these capabilities. Why? Customer reluctance to allow OEMs to connect their product. 

With customers scrambling to enable workers to work remotely, it may be easier to overcome security concerns and increase your remote service capability. Each incident you resolve remotely means you don’t have to expose your field service engineers to the virus, resolution is much faster, and the data collected will lead to more value-added opportunities in the future.

Even if your install base does not have embedded diagnostics, technology is changing the type of work that can be done remotely with field service expertise. Help Lightning, a TSIA partner, has seen a significant shift over the past week. For example: 

  • A customer with mission-critical equipment in Milan had an incident resolved remotely with a field technician that was sheltering in place. 
  • A customer setting up a new manufacturing line in China received installation support in spite of an international travel ban.

With no end to the pandemic in sight, the traditional break / fix field service support model is no longer feasible. Increasing connected products in your install base and utilizing technology to enable safe, remote support with highly skilled field service engineers ensure that the world of on-site repair will never snap back to pre-pandemic operations. Being able to tell your customers that you are there to support them, while keeping your field service engineers employed is a good thing for all of us. Let’s stay safe and keep that equipment running!

TSIA is Here for You

We understand that our members, the technology industry, and the world at large have been impacted by COVID-19. Now, more than ever, we need to work together to get through these challenging times. TSIA is committed to providing visibility as quickly as possible into the changing industry trends and practices that come as a result of COVID-19. Visit our Rapid Research Response Initiative resource page for more information.

If you have any questions related to how COVID-19 is impacting your organization, we’re here to help

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Vele Galovski

About Author Vele Galovski

Vele Galovski is vice president of support and field services research for TSIA. Using his nearly 30 years of industry experience, he has consistently helped companies both large and small drive double-digit top-line growth with a proven retain, gain, and grow strategy. Vele has also written a book, The Perpetual Innovation Machine, which describes a holistic approach to management based on ambitious goal setting, data driven analysis, skillful prioritization, inspiring leadership, and the lost art of employee engagement.

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