Rethinking customer engagement in a mobile-first era

March 22, 2021

Complex asset owners and operators are increasingly expecting a higher level of involvement in the service process.

More than ever before, when our team speaks to leaders of service organizations, they tell us that they’re focused on customer engagement and are looking for more seamless, mobile-first ways to connect to their end customers—the owners and operators of the equipment they service.

This is, in some respects, not surprising. Complex asset owners and operators are increasingly expecting a higher level of involvement in the service process. Factors in this trend include the growing complexity of assets and workflows, an increased desire to self-service with remote support, and heightened expectations of service visibility driven by consumer apps for ride-sharing and food delivery.

Over the past year, customer-engagement expectations have evolved even faster. Until recently, web-based portals were considered the appropriate means of engagement. End customers could log in, request service, and track the completion of work. Yet adoption of customer portals for field service has been limited at best.

This limited use of customer portals does not, however, imply a limited interest in customer engagement. Rather, it is an indication of their inherent shortcomings. Most of these portals provided a poor user experience and lacked functionality, such as the ability to receive real-time notifications. 

The global pandemic has further elevated customer-engagement expectations, with an even greater emphasis on a digital-first, mobile-first approach. As Gartner has written, field-service providers are “grappling with customers’ need to minimize human contact and have more work performed either remotely or by the customers themselves in collaboration with technicians using AR and other new collaboration channels for remote expert guidance.” A customer mobile app may have been a “nice to have” pre-pandemic; post-pandemic it may be becoming a “must have.” 

But for an asset-centric organization, the need for an end-customer app extends beyond appointment-booking and remote support and to the asset itself. In 2018, ServiceMax reported the extent to which asset-service data quality serves as a barrier to better service outcomes—from revenue to costs to outcome-selling. Our report on Asset and Service Data Gravity found that only 50% of service organizations trusted their own asset-service data.

Who better to help improve this metric than those closest to those assets, the owners and operators?

At the same time, equipment owners want to do more than request service; they want to be able to identify whether an asset has inaccurate or incomplete data, or has changed location—and to inform the service organization so it can update its records.

This ability to support deeper asset visibility and accuracy will be a critical capability for service organizations focused on customer engagement. Features such as appointment booking and notifications can better involve customers in (and thereby improve) the service process. Guided, remote expert hotline support can help these customers actually perform some self-service for certain tasks. But it is the utilization of these apps to leverage end customers as partners in the quest for asset-data accuracy that may have the most profound long-term impact on service outcomes.

Even as remote work has become the norm over the past year, some analysts have written that messaging, not mobile, will become the preferred channel of customer engagement. This is a false choice, and inadequate to the needs of asset-centric service organizations. While messaging should be incorporated into any mobile app—between customer and technician, between customer and expert—it is no substitute for an application that provides critical asset context in a variety of visual formats. Such context is essential to service execution.

The era of digital-first, mobile-first customer engagement has arrived in field service, accelerated by the events of 2020. Leading service organizations are beginning to grasp the potential of a customer mobile app to differentiate themselves and improve customer experience and net promoter score (NPS). But truly asset-centric companies will also recognize it as a tool for tackling the asset-data impediments to their broader service goals of increasing revenue, reducing costs, and becoming more outcome-based.

Seth Dunn is ServiceMax's industry development director, power & utilities