The Rise of Field Services CRM

As far back as 2001, Kate Fitzgerald wrote about "CRM and Field Service: The Untapped Connection." At that time Fitzgerald could accurately identify "entrenched field force automation systems” as “rocky obstacles” to “the CRM movement." Yes, rookies, there was a time when the battle for CRM was not won — where a company's field service operations were not able to link in with the 360-degree relationship with customers.

She even was able to identify what a well-functioning integration of the two, field services and CRM, would look like, with -- pre-iPad!. She envisioned mobile service technicians "feeding information about work orders, service calls and customers' reactions to new products back to CRM systems for immediate analysis and action." She suggested one of the original field services management best practices of using CRM systems to give remote field service people instant information about customers "gathered from call centers, the Internet or sales reps."

Today things are considerably improved. Companies such as Vertical Solutions offer comprehensive products in the space, such as its VService Management. These solutions deliver automated Business Process Management functionality using escalation and proactive business rules. They integrate with your Web site, offer service request creation, and sync with your current ERP, inventory and logistics systems.

These field service applications feature inventory visibility, workload balancing, Service Level Agreement (SLA) adherence and service operations and productivity reporting.

With a field services CRM software solution, the overall idea is to get a tool that shares all information between your field personnel out on a call and all the information you have about your customers safely locked away in your CRM system in as close to real time as you can get.

If a service tech is at Acme Anvils and somebody from Acme calls in to your call center to report an additional issue, well, your service person needs to know about that as soon as it happens.

Your field tech needs access to all the customer account information you have on that client, including emails or other communications. Because what you do not want to have happen is the rep arriving on the site, realizing the problem is a bit more than was explained over the phone -- no, that never happens, just a hypothetical here -- and having to say well gee, let me get back to the office and check on a couple things. Then I’ll reschedule as soon as I can, when the information needed is in the system.

We’re entering the realm of competitive advantage here. Field services CRM software maker Astea notes that today, the technology isn’t an afterthought. No more of the scenario, "we’ve got a guy in the area, what say he drops by... Tuesday? Great. If you figure it out before then let us know."

Field service today, Astea says, in addition to workflow automation, includes "planned maintenance, remote equipment monitoring and self diagnostics to maximize uptime." The goal is no longer just customer satisfaction, but "defending why the service contract needs to be renewed."

There is no way to excel without giving your field service reps all the customer and product history information you have. So what if they are going there for this one thing, the more information they can access on site the greater ability they have to satisfy the customer in all respects.

A customer call isn't ever only about fixing the malfunctioning XJ-56 part they called you about. It's also about managing labor costs and vehicle assets intelligently. That means accurately assessing expenses and also drumming up a sale during the field services interaction with the customer.

In order for that to happen, the field rep needs to be armed with all the information he can get, whether it might appear relevant at first glance or not.

It's also about putting the right rep on the right call. ServiceMax sells verticalized field services CRM products. They emphasize their dispatch console and automatic scheduler, which "ensures that the right tech is assigned to the right customer," and keeps track of the preventive maintenance scheduling.

Another feature you’ll want in any CRM for field services solution is online and offline access to work order details. That includes offering your techs the capability to enter information from anywhere and have it sync with your home CRM system.

Whether in a remote area, a steel walled manufacturing plant, or secure Government or healthcare facilities which prevent connectivity, there are still places where mobility doesn't reach and offline operation is a requirement.

Bottom line: Your field reps are away from the office, but they should never be away from the information that aids their job performance.