Smart homes mean smart service

From the doorbell, to the fridge, to the lighting, smart technology is infiltrating every aspect of our homes. So how is this trend transforming the appliance servicing sector?

An estimated £10.8 billion will be spent on connected devices globally in 2019, according to PwC UK’s Connected Home 2.0 report.

For the first time in the history of servicing, field service technicians are strategically important rather than tactically required

While smart devices and gadgets, referred to collectively as the internet of things (IoT), are set to make our lives easier and safer, they rely on a stable broadband connection and in-​built software to work continuously. If problems occur, without warning, then the technology will start to be a hindrance rather than a convenience.

A survey carried out by US IoT market research and consulting firm Parks Associates revealed that 76 per cent of respondents set up at a device on their own or with the help of friends of family, but without technical support.

Interestingly, 12 per cent of smart home device owners reported unresolved technical issues in 2018, while 14 per cent reported experiencing more than one problem throughout the year.

“As smart devices become more ubiquitous,” says Chris Mean, chief operating officer at Columbus Global, an IT services and consulting organisation, “consumer confidence will increase and any concerns, especially relating to security, will diminish.”

Ultimately, though, the rise in smart devices in and around the home means there’s a need for a smart service, to keep up with the pace of customer confidence.

What will this look like? According to Mark Homer, vice president and head of global customer transformation at ServiceMax, gone will be the days of the “white van man” weaving in and out of traffic, racing to an appointment. This expensive, albeit necessary, overhead will become a thing of the past.

“The economics simply don’t work. It typically costs a company around £45 just to have a field service technician knock on your door for an appointment and that’s before they spend any time fixing the problem itself,” says Mr Homer.

For the first time in the history of servicing, field service technicians are strategically important rather than tactically required

George Walker, managing director of field service management software provider Novotek, UK and Ireland, adds: “Maintenance staff can no longer afford to spend time on the phone booking in a suitable time to carry out a repair often days in advance. Businesses need to move away from the traditional ways of field servicing to a more responsive, flexible system.”

The way applications are serviced is likely to change completely. As smart devices get even smarter and go the same way as enterprise assets with predictive maintenance capabilities, says Mr Homer, it will be possible to predict when to schedule maintenance. This means that if a field technician does need to be sent out on a job, then fuel won’t be wasted, leading to more efficient mileage management.

Complementing this will be customer support through online channels, including chatbots and video tutorials.

Consumers have low patience and little brand loyalty, so if a smart device manufacturer wants to retain customers they’ll need an end-​to-​end service, whereby the product is simply the delivery mechanism for continuous service delivery, which begins with a field technician installing a device on the same day and is then available to respond to any technical queries quickly. And given the shift away from bricks-​and-​mortar stores to online ordering, the role of the technician is becoming even more important.

With this in mind, it can be argued a smart service won’t be truly smart unless field technicians are encouraged by their employers to learn customer-​facing softer skills to go alongside their technical competencies.“There has been something of a shift in perception at boardroom level. Service is now a revenue generator and not a cost overhead,” says Mr Homer. “For the first time in the history of servicing, field service technicians are strategically important rather than tactically required. They can upsell services and are seen as trusted advisers by consumers. For many companies, they’ll be the only human face of the product a consumer will encounter.”

Field technicians will need support in carrying out any off-​site service required.

“They cannot go in blind. They don’t only need specific knowledge of the servicing required, they need the right parts and right tools,” says Mr Walker.

He says better software and apps will help smart home device companies realise the potential of the IoT in field service management. Modern field servicing software should be integrated with company inventory, billing and enterprise resource planning systems.

By taking these steps, companies can ensure they are ahead of the competition and future-​proofing their business to take advantage of the service challenges the future connected home will present.