Field service management

Preventive maintenance, remote repair work and more reliable diagnosis to improve performance

All companies that manage repair operations on their customers’ premises want to maximize the number of interventions that their technicians can perform each day. One of the keys to achieving this is to strengthen the organization’s capacity to make precise technical diagnoses remotely.

It is still too often the case that when a customer contacts a company due to a breakdown or malfunction, he does not get through to a technician but instead speaks to a call center agent. The latter, after rapidly qualifying the request, proposes an appointment, sooner or later depending on the perceived urgency and the technician schedule that he has before him. The intervention is very often allocated to the first technician available, with a brief description of the problem, based on what the customer has said and what the call center agent has understood and noted down.

This absence of precision from the very beginning is extremely likely to transform the appointment made for repair work into a diagnosis visit, generally not invoiced and, in the worst case scenario, into a redundant call-out if the technician does not have the tools/parts required to repair the problem, or if it turns out that he is not authorized to repair this type of equipment or malfunction. In both these cases, the repair work is delayed and the customer disappointed or even dissatisfied. And, of course, a second appointment has to be organized as quickly as possible, even though the schedules are already overloaded.

The priority: to better qualify intervention requests

It is absolutely possible to avoid or at least limit these situations by strengthening the method of qualifying the requests in order to:

  • Validate whether or not the request is urgent. For the customer, all repair requests are urgent! However the company contacted is obliged to prioritize the interventions, firstly by taking into account the risks run by the customer and the potential damage to the machine or equipment. The intervention deadlines indicated in the customer’s service contract also come into play. To correctly assess the situation based on the symptoms described by the customer, the advisers/agents who receive the calls must have a certain level of technical knowledge. If this is not the case, they must be able to transfer the call to a sedentary technician capable of asking the right questions to identify the probable causes of the breakdown or malfunction and the associated risks.
  • Qualify the intervention to be carried out. It is one thing to determine whether the intervention is urgent or not and another to know what form it will need to take. And yet this is an essential point because the tasks to be carried out determine both the probable duration of the intervention and the skills that it demands — two indispensable parameters for establishing the schedules and, what is most important for the customer at this stage, scheduling an appointment. If the only information provided by the customer is that his boiler won’t start up or that it has started to make a strange noise, how can we know how long the repair work will take? It could just as easily take 15 minutes, for a simple adjustment of the pressure, as it could 2 hours because one or more parts need to be changed. Only a technician with real experience in the field is capable of linking the symptoms described by the customer and the possible causes. By questioning the customer methodically, he will be able to eliminate certain hypotheses and carry out a pre-diagnosis allowing him to compile an intervention information sheet specifying the estimated duration, the tasks to carry out, and the parts and tools that the field technician is likely to need.
  • Allocate the intervention to the right technician. Once the intervention has been qualified, the mission can be allocated to the technician with the necessary skills AND who is available rapidly, in view of the schedule. But if you want to really optimize your technicians’ work time and load schedules, availability and skills are not the only criteria to take into account. The “right” technician for this intervention is also the one who can take it on with the least possible knock-on effect on the appointments already scheduled — which means taking into account the intervention sectors, the customer’s location and the circuit plans already established.

At this stage, you are thinking that it is all becoming too complicated!

>> Did you know that Nomadia’s circuit planning and optimization solutions allow you to automate this job allocation process, taking into account all the criteria that your organization demands and the profession of your technicians?

Another objection: you may be thinking that you are not in a position to allocate one or several experienced technicians to the task of performing the pre-diagnosis by phone?

>> Do the sums: how much does it actually cost your company in redundant call-outs and interventions that need to be rescheduled because they were badly qualified when programming the call-out?

3 technologies to take things to a higher level

If you really want to maximize the useful time that your technicians spend on call-outs, the pre-qualification process is just a first step. It is possible to go a great deal further by mobilizing technologies that, fortunately, are increasingly affordable and easy to integrate in existing environments and processes.

  • Videoconferencing, to help remote repair advice – Since Covid, everyone is familiar with communicating by video conference. Why not use it more for diagnosis purposes? Rather than asking the customer to verbally describe what is wrong – which can lead to all sorts of misunderstandings – the technician responsible for qualifying the interventions can propose a video conference via smartphone. That will allow him to see the machine/equipment for himself, ask the customer to zoom on one or more parts, and determine the possible causes of the problem. If he judges that the problem can be resolved remotely without any risk, the technician can guide the customer step by step until the problem is solved. It is extremely satisfying for the customer and it avoids sending a technician on call-out. If an intervention proves to be necessary, the visual examination by the technician allows a more reliable diagnosis which means, in the field, a higher rate of successful repair work in a single visit and a reduction of the number of call-outs with poor value added.
  • IoT to develop preventive maintenance – For cost reasons, remote surveillance technologies have long been limited to critical or sensitive facilities. This obstacle no longer exists: firstly, cameras and connected remote surveillance systems have become both affordable and easy to install; secondly, IoT makes it possible to equip almost any machine with chips/sensors that allow it to transmit information about its environment and operational state. A company that maintains machines or facilities connected in this way is able to detect, in the data sent in real time, any anomaly that could precede a breakdown, abnormal wear of an essential part, or deterioration of performance. The technicians who receive and analyze the alerts can thereby plan a preventive visit, with a deadline adapted to the gravity of the problem/risk detected, which eliminates a majority of urgent interventions requested by customers once the breakdown has occurred.
  • AI to speed up and improve the reliability of diagnoses – All the software that you use to manage your interventions in the field and all the connected systems in place on your customers’ premises produce data. This data can be used by machine leaning algorithms to predict breakdowns, intervention durations and help the technicians to carry out their remote or on-site diagnoses. Obviously you have to give yourself the means to do this: to collect useful data, structure it, and train the models in order to obtain satisfactory results. And above all it is essential to train the technicians, teach them to work with these smart assistants which show them the method to follow, the questions to ask, the points to verify to establish a solid diagnosis even more quickly.

These technologies help professions and organizations to evolve rapidly. They notably lead to the creation of sedentary teams of technicians dedicated to remote diagnosis, supervision and assistance. It would be a mistake to minimize the level of skill and expertise that these positions require and to underestimate their value added. By limiting redundant call-outs, by remotely resolving all the technical problems that can be dealt with, by allowing the field technicians to arrive at the customers’ premises knowing exactly what they have to do, these new profiles contribute directly to the overall performance of field operations and to customer satisfaction.