Increasing consumer expectations and the rise of mixed reality

Social media, smartphones and connected devices have increased customer expectations of a first-time fix. Can mixed reality help field service teams deliver?

When something we depend upon suddenly stops working, getting it fixed can be almost as frustrating as the inconvenience caused by the fault. Repeat visits from a field service technician can turn the repair process into an ongoing saga that no one seems able to resolve. Meanwhile, your IT systems are down or your boiler isn’t working, and all you can think is “why can’t somebody just fix this?”

Customer service is central to the field service industry, with 52 per cent of field service leaders seeing the improvement of customer value as the primary outcome of their digital transformations. Fixing customer problems quickly and efficiently – and ideally on a first-​time basis – is therefore a vital part of many companies’ operations.

In recent years social media has levelled the playing field between companies and consumers, placing complaints and service requests firmly in the public domain and raising the stakes for field service management. Improvements in technology overall and the arrival of the Internet of Things has further changed the way field service teams approach faults: washing machines, refrigerators, cars and other devices can now alert manufacturers and service providers when something goes wrong. It’s then up to providers to resolve the issue as quickly as possible, which could include reaching out to the consumer to confirm that they’re aware of the issue and are working to fix it.

The ‘Uberisation’ of service has brought new ways of doing business which are putting the consumer at the center of the service process

Gary York, Help Lightning

Customers increasingly expect immediate help through their mobile devices, says Gary York, CEO of Help Lightning, a merged (aka mixed) reality (MR) solution that blends real-​time video streams of a remote expert and an onsite technician into a collaborative environment.

“The ‘Uberisation’ of service has brought new ways of doing business which are putting the consumer at the center of the service process and giving them the power through multiple channels to solve their problems.”

Mixed or augmented reality (AR) tools, delivered through a headset, smartglasses or a mobile device, promise to help field service teams meet consumer expectations in this hyper-​connected, multichannel world. First, AR will help to train technicians to be able to carry out onsite repairs to customer equipment. Second, such tools can help technicians carry out complex repairs in a more efficient manner, using easy-​to-​follow visual cues and instructions.

The training component of MR solutions could prove invaluable as the current generation of field service employees retires, potentially taking their experience and knowledge with them. What’s more, they can also help technicians tap into the experience of their colleagues when they’re out in the field, making the most of the company’s knowledge base.

In certain cases, MR and AR technologies could even do away with the need to send a technician to a customer site.

OverIT’s AR and virtual collaboration solution, SPACE1, is designed to offer technicians this type of enhanced capability. “Because we provide a maintenance module that allows people to follow a step-​by-​step procedure, we can provide a solution to a technician that isn’t sure how to perform the job,” says Francesco Benvenuto, product marketing manager.

In certain cases, MR and AR technologies could even do away with the need to send a technician to a customer site. Imagine, for instance, a world where the customer can seamlessly identify the cause of a problem, find a possible solution online, and have any necessary parts delivered to their home. Once these parts arrive, AR and MR tools could guide them through the repair process, saving money for field service providers while reducing the time needed to fix a simple fault.

However, Mr York cautions that we are still early in the adoption curve for technologies like AR and virtual reality.

“The killer smart glasses have not been introduced yet,” he says.

Help Lightning has therefore focused on bringing MR to mobile devices, allowing users to engage with their particular customer base through current smartphones and tablets via 4G networks – an approach aided by the introduction of AR platforms like ARKit and ARCore on recent-​generation smart devices.

Another risk associated with rolling out software on AR or MR glasses or headsets is tied to the speed of change on the hardware side. “It’s very important for organisations to find a product that is multidevice and multiplatform, so that if something changes on the hardware side, they can quickly change too and move to a different edition or a different solution,” says Mr Benvenuto.

It’s still early days for AR and MR. “We’re really, I would say, in the first inning,” says Mr York. “We’re just at the very beginning of the transformation.” Frustrating, perhaps. But then you can’t upgrade an entire industry overnight.