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Three Things Field Service Organizations Can Learn From Black Friday

Nelson Haung

Thanksgiving Day, 2008. Hundreds of people began lining up outside a Walmart in Long Island, New York.

By Friday morning, the crowd had swelled to more than 2,000 people.

When the doors finally opened, a stampede ensued. Even after police officers tried to close the store, customers shouted angrily and continued shopping.

So why the frenzy? Sales, of course. But also the thrill (or mania) of jostling with fellow shoppers in pursuit of the best deals.

Black Friday may be a bargain hunter’s dream, but it is also a logistical nightmare. Retailers have to contend with irate shoppers, complex logistics, and large teams of contract workers. The strategies they employ to keep shelves stocked and customers happy can easily be applied to other industries.

Take the telecom industry, where field service organizations are being asked to deploy thousands of small cell towers for 5G while still maintaining legacy networks. Or the oil and gas industry, where the emergence of smart meters is creating an influx of new data streams to manage.

Let’s look at how retailers approach three key challenges of Black Friday – training seasonal employees, using data to drive better decisions, and meeting rising customer expectations. Then, we’ll look at how field service organizations are applying these strategies to their own operations.

1. Building an on-demand workforce

During the holidays, most retailers bring on seasonal employees to help handle the increased volume. These workers need to be brought up to speed quickly, with minimal time and money spent.

In 2018, Target used an online training program to onboard more than 100,000 seasonal workers. Participants were paid for their time, and trained on company culture, standards, and vision.

Once the employees were in store, Target used gamification to reinforce training, such as using red and green lights at registers to indicate whether people had optimally scanned each item.

In field service, organizations are using mobile apps to train field teams and provide on-demand support. Best practice workflows are helping technicians complete tasks the first time, while knowledge management systems are breaking down information silos and ensuring that everyone is operating from the same playing field.

2. Doing more with data

As Black Friday grows in scale, so does the complexity of managing that many moving pieces and parts.

Some retailers diffuse this pressure by extending sales into Cyber Monday, but they still need to find new ways to work smarter and faster.

One approach is using AI to predict demand and adjust stock accordingly. Traditionally, companies treated Black Friday as an opportunity to unload stock that had sold poorly throughout the year – at a reduced price. Now, retailers are using data to optimize pricing and stock distribution centers according to regional buying habits.

Field service leaders are also using data to drive productivity, whether it’s monitoring trunk stocks in real time or automatically reassigning technicians to avoid SLA penalties. With the help of IoT devices, organizations are replacing routine site visits (a costly and inefficient process) with real-time device monitoring that triggers an alert if something is wrong.

3. Meeting rising customer expectations

As online shopping becomes faster and more convenient, retailers are under increased pressure to deliver an in-store experience more compelling than the couch at home.

In field service, organizations are also under pressure to deliver better customer experiences. Customers today expect better connectivity at the same price as their existing service. And while 5G will solve the performance issue, it also brings increased network complexity and ballooning maintenance costs.

AI-driven automation will help ease this burden, from delivering better customer experiences to lowering field costs.

In Canada, Telus Communications is already using AI-driven chatbots to sort and address low-level concerns. At the service level, network operators are automating routine tasks to reduce complexity and free technicians to focus on specialized work.

Better data, better results

As Black Friday has evolved from a day of discounts to an unofficial national holiday, so have the strategies employed by retailers to stay one step ahead.

From warehouse management to supply chain optimization, Black Friday is a delicate ballet of planning and execution. Retailers need to hit the right amount of stock, without having excess inventory taking up valuable space on shelves. And they need to effectively onboard a small army of seasonal workers to help deal with volume.

Behind it all? Data. Retailers are using data to power better results, from smarter inventory management to pricing.

As more IoT devices come online, field service leaders should be taking a similar approach. Data is essential to solving today’s biggest field service challenges, whether it’s onboarding new hires or automating routine tasks. With better data (and the agility to act on information in real time), organizations can eliminate the communication breakdowns that lead to missed tasks, SLA penalties, and unhappy customers.