Many companies still don’t know a lot about field force automation. It’s a fairly new enterprise resource that’s helping field service businesses to be more efficient and productive by capturing more data than ever before. Having an understanding of what field force automation is — and how to use it effectively — can help business leaders enhance the customer experience, improve revenue and empower their field workers.
Field force automation is revolutionizing how people work in the 21st century. By bringing specific data to the point of use, these types of field service management software and solutions provide workers and managers with more tools at their fingertips and makes them more capable ambassadors of their brands by taking field service and turning it into an automated, mechanized machine.
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What Is Field Force Automation?
Field service management (FSM) involves the work done to manage a field services business. Field force automation (FFA) is an aspect/extension of field service software that allows technicians in the field to document information, which then automatically syncs with the main system, giving all users access to real-time data on a mobile interface.
Field service suites use automation for things like scheduling and dispatching, working with drivers en route to customer locations and documenting specific customer needs on location, while also providing certain kinds of customer service information from the head office.
Field force automation aims to improve the customer-business relationship. The key phrases to remember with FFA are “automation” and “real time.” By collecting and sharing data instantly across a consistent platform, businesses can increase communication with the home office, leading to more productivity and better customer service.
Benefits of Field Force Automation
There are a number of advantages to using field force automation with your business. For starters, it helps please customers by eliminating the bridge between the field and the office. Technicians are able to access all the necessary client information and history as well as track the progress of their current jobs through the use of their mobile device. This speeds up the ordering process by cutting out the delays that often lead to lost revenue opportunities.
Field force automation increases communication within a business and empowers technicians by providing all users with the most recent information. Technicians will be able to finish one job and then immediately move on to another without wasting time checking in with the office. It essentially gives more power to your field workers and provides them with something techs crave: autonomy.
FFA also improves your business’s productivity and efficiency. Work orders can be completed faster through the use of GPS and other scheduling and dispatch features by automatically assigning jobs to a technician based on their proximity to the client and specific skill set for a job.
As opposed to manually entering and re-entering data, users will only have to enter data once. For example, a technician used to record information while out in the field and then have that information re-entered in order to get feedback. Instead, the automated field force automation software can save the information as you record it on your mobile device and track your performance in real time. This increases productivity and helps eliminate human error, making for more accurate data; win-win.
FFA can also provide peace of mind for an employer, knowing that everybody is doing their job and pulling their own weight. By using a consistent platform throughout all devices, employers can know everything that is happening without feeling the need to micromanage. In turn, employers can focus more on problem-solving and other aspects of the business.
One of the primary reasons so many businesses are starting to use field force automation lies in its ability to improve customer service. This function provides your technicians with customer information and history to help make for smooth interactions with customers. The automation tools are often identity-driven: they can identify past track records, touch points and communications, while showing field technicians a clear path forward.
Field force automation can provide notifications to the customer about shipping status, delays and other updated information to make sure the customer is informed throughout the entire process.
This kind of directive and administrative software improves communications and shows both the customer and the home office more about what is needed and what the company can do to serve a particular client well.
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Big Decisions in Data
Field force automation solutions enable businesses to collect more data than ever. However, simply storing a lot of data doesn’t do much to help your business. So, how can companies harness that information more effectively? The answer for many, is business intelligence (BI). This involves using existing data to discover analytics that can be useful to improve your business.
The best way to assure accurate data is by reporting it in real time rather than waiting until you get back to the office. When reporting is done correctly, software can automatically analyze data and provide immediate feedback.
For example, a plumber who fixes a leaky faucet can document information such as how long the job took and compare that to past jobs and other technicians. In addition to performance tracking, businesses can use this data to help schedule and predict more accurate completion times for future jobs.
Proper reporting is a crucial aspect of field service management, and with automation being integrated into software, it no longer has to be such a tedious task.
When adopting field force automation, companies have to build or source the right interfaces that effectively support field work. One of the most common setups is a WiFi or LTE set of connections to tablet PCs and smartphones that workers carry with them in the field. The software is designed so that no matter which device is being used, the interface will remain the same, making for easy use when switching from device-to-device.
Having the right interface to port visual and documentation data back to the head office will vastly improve customer service, and make work processes more transparent. In some ways, the typical field force automation software interface is like an intranet, with every remote worker signed on to give and receive information through the platform.
Putting Data in its Place
Business tools aimed at merging data are often complex and sophisticated systems that consider how data has to be in the right places at the right times to be useful to a business. Oracle describes some of this process in a white paper on Real-Time Access to Real-Time Information:
Transactional data — data related to business transactions such as customer orders, payments, shipments and service requests — and business applications that rely on processing, reporting and analyzing that transactional data are critical for day-to-day operations.
To this end, these kinds of field service solutions use algorithms and other programming tools that track each instance of incoming data that updates a database in some way, and work to ensure that end users have access to the most current version of data.
Automation Driving Customer Satisfaction
Businesses have to choose software tools that meet their specific goals. It’s important you understand how core services are supported and which types of functionality will make the best impression when a field worker visits a customer — and customer satisfaction isn’t something to be overlooked.
Research from Gartner highlights a crucial fact when considering a field service automation product: in 2020, customer experience and satisfaction will drive 70% of all business decisions for field service companies, meaning customer satisfaction is paramount to your growth as an enterprise. You should know your business’s specific needs for a software and what you hope for it to accomplish or improve — chiefly customer satisfaction. Some methods for improving customer satisfaction include prompt billing and having your techs be on time and well-prepared for the job at hand.
Remember, not all software operates the same. When choosing a field service management solution it is important to make sure it’s the best option for your business. There are over 40 different field service tools in our inventory, and comparing them isn’t an easy task. If you’re in the market for software, then you’ll want to check out our comparison guide to quickly compare products and services.
Resolving Real-Time Data
Another major area of constructing the right field force automation system involves getting field data and merging it with the internal databases and central data repositories. This challenge can be harder than it sounds.
Some of the best field service products out there have robust integrations with reporting tools, CRMs or their own in-house services. Generally speaking, real-time data allows you to pivot and purse right in the field, usually the instant that data becomes available. Tactical information such as response times, customer satisfaction rates, tool usage and routing data are especially useful for back-office managers, who can pull in real-time data and analyze it with integrated dashboards.
Real-time data is often presented in the form of live dashboards that tick and turn to the sound of your techs at work. Or, for a less obscured and artistic explanation, they’re live updating and modular data displays, with only the information you need at your fingertips (and the information that you might need just a few clicks away). Nowadays, with most enterprise software, you’re getting a pretty solid analytics suite that has a multitude of customizable dashboards. Just make sure they can be tuned to the real-time data that you need to meet customer satisfaction targets.
Nearly everyone in the field service industry has the same goal — to close the deal and to do so as quickly as possible. Field force automation works with this goal to serve the maximum amount of customers possible without compromising quality service. By capturing data in real time, data-entry errors and time delays are heavily reduced, making overall productivity go up.
Field force automation solutions use a consistent platform across a variety of handheld devices for the purpose of tracking various field operations. Some field operations include:
- Managing workers
- Storing important documents (schematics, customer communications, order forms)
- Scheduling and dispatching workers
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There’s more to field service than what’s listed above, so if you need a refresher, check out our guide here. The bottom line is field force automation empowers technicians to tackle all of the above (and more), and then sync up everything back at the office without actually being there.
When choosing your software, it is important to know what exactly it is your needs are. Some of these types of software can be overwhelming and confusing, but pinpointing your businesses specific use and needs for these software can make the selection process easier.
What questions do you still have about how field force automation works? Ask us in the comments!