Field service organizations were recently pinning their hopes on getting through the COVID-19 pandemic unscathed. Instead, they have been caught in a double bind.

Forced to limit on-site dispatches and fix issues remotely, many companies rushed headlong into enabling cross-distance collaboration through the use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology.

This hasty move is a short-term survival response, which may have lasting effects.

Author Teodora Gaici | Copperberg

The newly ubiquitous AR/VR technology allows clients to self-serve. Assisted remotely by a field technician, customers are expertly guided through a set of equipment repair operations to expeditiously solve the issue faced by their organizations.

Now, with 9 out of 10 organizations restricting or firmly eliminating on-site dispatches, the shared virtual environment is perceived as a perspicuous vestige of field service evolution—an encouraging advancement that allows for instant service and clearly improves time-to-resolution without exposing anyone to unnecessary risk.

It is a realistically achievable perspective. Yet sooner or later, this reactionary decision to turn towards AR/VR technology for timely field service investigations and repairs may come under the glare of public attention. At this turning point marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, field workers can’t afford to operate reactively any longer. Too often, being in a constant response mode is seen as a cursory attempt to put out fires while covering up negligence.

As the field service industry moves into the unprecedented era of remote assistance, organizations that seek to resolve the conundrum of short-term reactionary strategies will sustainably improve customer satisfaction.

A Cautionary Tale of Reactive Technological Investments

The field service industry has to move quickly to adapt to the unfolding COVID-19 crisis and proactively extinguish potential client concerns. During these times of uncertainty, the great majority of customers expect a prompt response to their inquiries. The audience correctly sensed the imminent service disruptions—and while being in the position to omnisciently judge a company’s actions, 30% of clients claim that:

“[If] a company offered some type of special solution or extra service because of COVID-19, they could see themselves supporting the [organization] once things settle down.”

Field service companies have the willingness to respond positively to such demands—and a growing number of firms do it by bringing immersive user experiences to life through AR/VR programs. But not every customer sits back and instinctively takes comfort in this, knowing that additional services may be subject to extra fees.

As it turns out, that is not far from the truth. While some firms are offering free support and discounted services, other organizations surprise their clients with a surcharge on their bill. Facing higher expenses to implement AR/VR solutions that seamlessly improve field worker safety and preserve customer loyalty, it is probably inevitable not to raise costs for services. What raises the alarm is that multiple firms choose to quietly add a COVID-19 fee to their clients’ receipts. The lack of transparency inevitably creates perceptions of price unfairness—which, in turn, could suddenly “give rise to consumer resistance to prices and result in decreased profit to the firm.”

That is primarily why a reactionary strategy is an inadequate method of risk management; it doesn’t come cheap.

An escalatory move has grim and largely unforeseen consequences. Of course, a reactive plan could always lessen the impact of the crisis. It will, however, have a short-term effect on the company’s profitability.

To a certain extent, reactive strategies contribute to labor inefficiency and allow unplanned downtime to occur. This series of disruptive events maximizes the risk of slowed production and shortens the asset’s life or its lucrative capabilities. Alternatively, data is at high risk of being stolen during a system outage. If organizations turn a blind eye to data misuse, they might lose credibility with clients—and perhaps more tellingly—the lasting costs from a decline in customer loyalty can be the most damaging.

Conversely, AR/VR technology holds the prodigious promise to improve uptime—and it candidly delivers on it. A virtual system facilitates collaboration and enhances resolution rates as it connects field service specialists to real-time data and the power of remote intervention. AR/VR-driven assistance is also more time-efficient; it allows experts to remotely oversee and troubleshoot at multiple sites to course-correct anytime, anywhere.

Yet even in the best of circumstances, a few ominous signs cast doubt on the implications of visual collaboration technology in field service.

AR/VR technology is inevitably stigmatized due to its perceived risks—namely, threats to privacy and security. Are virtual systems patently inadequate to guard business-critical data from loss, security breaches, or unintended access?

To answer this question, industry experts illustrate the distinctive dangers that evidently emerge with the implementation of AR/VR solutions. They warn that virtual applications have the remarkable ability to capture vast amounts of personal and professional data—such as behavioral intentions, physical spaces, retina patterns, or the surface of specific items.

Part of the unease may come from the realization that no digital system is completely secure. Therefore, field workers can’t safeguard data 100% of the time—which means that each unique virtual identity or environment is at risk of theft.

Not even free-of-charge assistance can compensate for the potential loss of revenue that often results from a security breach.

Thinking for the Long Term—with Foresight

The global lockdown has forced the field service industry to reorganize its priorities and accelerate the digital transformation of their offerings.

In an effort to ensure business continuity, industry players have started investing, with varying degrees of caution, in AR/VR technology. Visual assistance is an acceptable alternative to on-site service as organizations increasingly reduce technician visits and provide remote support to their customers.

The urgency of optimizing field service delivery for visual support did not give organizations much time to think everything through. It is, therefore, a justifiable move to implement visual collaboration technology; clients expect timely assistance programs, and AR/VR-based visual guidance makes quick and efficient service possible.

But sometimes, you have to slow down to move fast.

Developing a fully-functional practice takes time; field workers shouldn’t just play it by ear. It is highly recommended to trial the new ways of field service delivery to better prepare for risk and uniquely foster a positive customer experience—during and post COVID-19.

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