In 2004, Stanford economist Paul Romer said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”

Five years later, Rahm Emanuel echoed a similar sentiment when he said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do the things you once thought were impossible.”

Today, we’re facing a global health crisis unlike any in our lifetime. And while it might sound a tad draconian to describe any aspect of COVID-19 as ‘good’, it has forced us to adapt and innovate at a pace that would have been unthinkable just six months ago.

Managing the unexpected

In many ways, our response to the pandemic has looked like something that only MacGyver – you know, the 80s TV icon who could solve any problem with his Swiss Army knife and a roll of duct tape – would dream up.

Field service in 2020 has been a series of quick fixes and temporary band-aids. We’ve had to use unconventional solutions just to keep our critical infrastructure up and running, like staggering coordinator schedules to reduce the risk of a widespread outbreak. Or sending technicians into the field in their personal vehicles, instead of having them double up inside fleet trucks.

It’s been a tough go for everyone. But even the stopgap measures that we’ll (gladly) leave behind have taught us a few key lessons. Like the fact that our field operations are a lot less rigid than we used to think. Or the need to view coordinators and field crews as first responders – and treat them accordingly.

At Zinier, we’ve spent a lot of time over the last six months talking to our partners and customers about the pandemic. What are the unexpected lessons? What are they doing to protect employees and customers? What blind spots or limitations have they identified in their operations?

What are field service teams doing today?

Field service organizations are doing everything possible to protect their employees and maintain essential services, even while they deal with skeleton crews and brand-new safety measures.

Social distancing has also created a number of challenges. Almost overnight, organizations have had to pivot to a largely remote workforce. Tasks that once seemed mundane – from submitting paperwork and picking up tool boxes to interacting with customers – now require additional thought.

Here’s a quick look at some of the things we’ve seen and heard:

1. Safety comes first

For organizations that have already started digitizing their operations, technology is a major enabler of new safety measures.

In Mexico, one of the leading telecom providers used Zinier to modify their existing workflows to include additional safety measures. Now, technicians need to take a selfie of themselves using personal protective equipment (mask, gloves, hand sanitizer) before entering any customer site.

The ability to pivot and introduce new solutions or workflows is going to be critical in the months ahead, as organizations roll out new safety measures like contact tracing.

2. Customer service still matters

According to Simon Johnson, Area Manager of Operations and Service Delivery for Urban Utilities in Australia, one of the biggest challenges was figuring out how to interact within their community.

Before the pandemic, it wasn’t uncommon for customers to walk outside and ask about updates and contingency plans. But with social distancing guidelines in place, they had to figure out how to provide timely updates on each job without exposing their technicians to additional risk.

Their solution – pushing customers to look for updates on social media and placing additional signage around all job sites – was pretty straightforward, but it also required a number of additional steps and management.

3. So does customer empathy

Field service organizations are also using automation to help their customers cut costs and navigate the pandemic.

In Queensland, Australia, one of the largest utility companies rolled out a new feature that let customers automatically disconnect and reconnect their power, enabling them to quickly put their business into “hibernation” based on local regulations.

Moving forward, the ability to deliver self-service programs will be a key part of every field service organization’s customer engagement strategy – and not just a crisis response.

4. Tribal knowledge is a roadblock, not an impenetrable barrier

One challenge for field service leaders is the need to plan and execute around a workforce that is in a state of constant flux.

On any given day, the number of available technicians could be cut in half due to lockdowns, illness, and other factors. In response, some organizations have started pushing back-office workers with minimal field training into field duty. And while this helps with technician coverage, it also creates issues around speed, safety, and quality of work.

At Zinier, we think intelligent automation – with the support of a purpose-built mobile app – can help bridge that gap by:

  • Minimizing the impact of tribal knowledge with step-by-step mobile workflows and on-demand knowledge libraries
  • Building a fast-moving, adaptable workforce that can swarm hot spots and ensure consistent service
  • Optimizing each task and technician by automatically assigning routine work to new hires and on-demand crew

Struggling with any unexpected COVID-19 challenges? Contact us today to discuss how automation can help you drive productivity and reduce the burden on your back office and field teams.

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