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The Future of Service Delivery: How IoT and AI Optimize the Customer Experience

While the promise of artificial intelligence is not yet fully realized, the Internet of Things is becoming more commonplace, and the potential for improving field service operations is boundless.
By Paul Whitelam
Aug 27, 2017

Customer service has never been as critical for businesses as it is today. Consumers have many options for nearly every product and service, and modern companies know that exceptional customer experience is key for success. Yet field service suppliers are still struggling, especially with regard to services being delivered to the home (cable, telecom, utility, retail and so forth).

Despite countless technological advances, we still have four-hour wait windows, missed deliveries and unprepared technicians. In addition, service levels created by retailers like Amazon and Uber are driving expectations across the board, forcing other industries to play catch-up. Now that all service encounters are held to the same high standard, whether e-hailing a cab or scheduling cable repairs, customers want increased convenience and a more on-demand experience. And with the advent of real-time communications and technologies, such as predictive analytics, wearables, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence (AI), the opportunity for businesses to transform customer service has never been more accessible.

The IoT and Customer Service
Improved customer service is increasingly needed across almost every industry, the service industry perhaps most of all. Today's customer will not tolerate wasting time to accommodate service schedules. What if field service technicians could determine their exact time of arrival and anticipate service needs before they arise? The potential for this to improve the consumer experience by reducing wait-in windows and optimizing the likelihood of first-time-fixes is significant. This also has a positive impact on the technician experience, enabling him or her to complete the job quickly and with less stress—a win on both fronts.

With technologies such as IoT and predictive analytics, field service organizations can move from reactive to proactive service. Instead of reacting to a disaster when something breaks, IoT technology allows us to fix things before they break. Sensors can be used to monitor appliances (washer, dryer, refrigerator, etc.), to relay information and intelligence to field service technicians, keep track of their service history and even alert customers when they're due for service. Ready access to work history and information from previous site visits will further ensure the engineer is equipped with the vital information he or she needs, both before and during a field service visit.

Alongside this, the adoption of better, more optimized real-time communication tools that enable organizations to instantly tell customers which technician is coming to them, and when, will be key to maintaining and growing long-term competitive advantage across the field service industry. Sharing live updates on a technician's location and progress, and providing customers with the ability to conveniently schedule, change and provide feedback about the service visit via any device can help increase engagement, satisfaction and retention.

Indeed, we're already seeing future-looking field service organizations beginning to make use of sensors, smart watches, modern communication tools and augmented reality glasses as part of their day-to-day toolkit. These IoT-enabled devices are allowing field service technicians to repair or replace machinery faster and with greater accuracy than ever before by tapping into online knowledge resources. And as customer expectations continue to rise, we can expect adoption of the IoT in a field service context to become more and more commonplace.

Artificial Intelligence and Customer Service
Beyond improvements in the field and on the job, the IoT also provides unprecedented data about devices and their use. Armed with AI and machine learning based solutions, field service providers can collect and turn the vast amount of data collected about customers and service interactions into action and drive meaningful improvements. From technician travel routes to scheduling service and diagnosing issues from connected devices, AI can also be employed to optimize various aspects of service delivery without the need for employee intervention.

With the ability to better process, interpret and learn from data, more field service providers will be able to automate the tasks that don't need human input. For example, sophisticated chatbots already help solve the problem of long hold times for many businesses, and are often able to solve a customer's problem without callers wasting time waiting for a person to respond.

Experts agree that artificial intelligence is still in its infancy, and while we can speculate about the future, the seemingly endless potential and human-like capabilities of AI look very promising. In fact, Andy Peart of Artificial Solutions wrote, "By 2020, Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be as critical to business and customer service as the website was 20 years ago, or the mobile app was five years ago."

AI is already being adopted in various industries, and this will only grow as the technology matures. By helping manage simple customer interactions and streamlining complex processes behind the scenes, AI may just become the secret ingredient for supercharging customer experience.

The New Reality
While the promise of AI is not yet fully realized, the IoT is becoming more commonplace, and with new technologies emerging all the time, the potential for continually improving field service operations is limitless. Once technologies become increasingly integrated into existing support channels, this will not only free up employees to focus on other tasks, but also create new ways to delight and retain customers. Now is the time to incorporate the Internet of Things into the customer service strategy, not just as a competitive edge, but to continuously engage with an organization's most valuable asset—loyal customers.

Paul Whitelam is the group VP of product marketing at ClickSoftware, where he works with field service management leaders across a variety of industries. Paul has more than 20 years' experience in enterprise software, working on both the technical and business aspects of many of the areas that are fundamental to field service, such as mobility and sensor technology (Nokia), data management (Endeca), and machine learning, software-as-a-service and GIS (ClickSoftware).

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