2023 brought with it new trends to interpret, fresh challenges to navigate, and, of course, lessons to learn. In 2024, global service leaders will be focused on seizing new opportunities and the impact they will have on their businesses.
I’m not one to pause and reflect often; I tend to move from one thing to the next with great fervor. But taking some time to look back on the highlights from Field Service Palm Springs,Field Service Europe, or Future of Field Service Live Tour, there are some themes taking shape that I believe will be prevalent throughout 2024.
#1: AI Buzz Will Prompt AI Action
At every event I attended this year, AI was brought up within the first five minutes of discussion. Headlines about AI across news outlets, social media, and research organizations were scattered with it. With good reason – IDC reports that the ongoing incorporation of AI into a wide range of products will result in a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 27.0% over the 2022-2026 forecast, with spending on AI-centric systems expected to surpass $300 billion in 2026.
The buzz was impossible to miss, but it seemed to me that many service leaders were left wondering: What does it all really mean?
We know the AI buzz isn’t just buzz; it’s opportunity. The requirement to add layers of intelligence to the digital landscape is clear – it helps organizations work smarter, manage costs and meet customer expectations. The action to take, however, depends on where you’re starting from and what you’re looking to accomplish – and it’s essential to assess your starting point and objectives thoroughly rather than simply being enamored by the shiniest options.
AI as a whole isn’t new, and many organizations already have AI-based tools in place, like Electrolux, who are using IFS Planning & Scheduling Optimization to provide seamless field service as part of their customer-centric strategy. These organizations are looking for the next levels of value that AI can bring to their businesses. Others, however, need to start with mastering the basics.
Recently, I had a conversation with someone who was speaking about the realities of being bound by an old legacy service management solution, one that ticked all the wrong boxes and was riddled with customizations. Legacy systems like this leave organizations feeling like the path forward is nearly insurmountable. However, organizations in these types of situations need to realize the importance of building a strong foundation with modern technology and then deriving value from AI.
In 2024, I think we’ll see companies less focused on AI buzz and more focused on defining what the specific opportunities are within their business and taking action to drive tangible value from AI. IFS is working hard to further embed the intelligence of AI across its platform so that the value is in intrinsic to the technology experience within their existing systems; rather than an add-on.
In 2024, companies must learn how to balance AI with the irreplaceable aspects of human touch. At the Service Visionaries 100 awards ceremony in London, I spoke with Andy Cachaldora, General Manager Digital Service Northern Europe at GE Healthcare, who won a spot on the Top 100 list and shared some words of caution, “One of the key things at risk is emotional intelligence. Everything’s AI-driven. We forget the human touch of trying to really understand our customers and, more importantly, going back to empathy. I actually think service will deteriorate over time as a result unless we recognize that.”
#2: Old-School Leaders Will Be Ousted
If I began to list all the things that have changed about service in the last few years, this article would be the length of an encyclopedia (if those still exist). But just picture a few – whether it’s digital transformation, the evolution beyond break-fix service to more advanced, sophisticated customer value propositions, navigating the talent gap or determining how to persist in serving customers in (and after) the Covid era –you quickly realize the change has been immense.
What hasn’t kept pace? Leadership. In many instances, you have very “old-school” leaders, or leaders with quite outdated philosophies and practices, leading within the organizations that have evolved at pace. These layers of change are compounded by the desires and demands of younger generations of talent, for which old-school leadership simply doesn’t fit.
To be clear, the label “old-school” isn’t used in relation to age but ethos. These leaders are focused on a command-and-control style of leadership and pride themselves on being the “smartest” person in the room. A more modern leadership style, or as Dr. John Chrisentary describes it, transformational leadership, is not only increasingly necessary when it comes to recruiting and retaining service talent but also its ability to empower employees in new ways needed to advance service offerings and impact customer satisfaction.
We’ve talked so much historically in service about change management, but in an era where change is constant, what we really need is stronger, more effective leadership. In 2024, we’ll see more and more companies recognize the power of service and the importance of its leadership, resulting in these visionaries being celebrated and their “old-school” counterparts falling by the wayside.
Roy Dockery, VP of Field Operations at Flock Safety, and another Service Visionaries Top 100 winner, spoke on this topic at the October awards ceremony. “In 2024, we must focus more on leadership development. There is a void of people leaders and a lack of intentionality for organizations to develop people leaders,” he urges. “We’ve got a lot of people that are going to retire in the next few years, and how do you develop the next generation? They have cultural differences, different priorities, and different ways of seeing the world. How do you develop the next generation of leaders so that in tech, in service and all these industries, you can actually have teams that have a healthy culture that retains people?”
#3: CX Demands Service Siloes Dissipate
When talking to people about Future of Field Service, I often have to start by explaining it isn’t just about field service, it encompasses a lot more. And that’s because field service is only one facet of the service experience and it’s inextricably to the company’s service lifecycle and the overall customer experience.
Today’s customers won’t tolerate a complicated, fragmented experience – they demand seamlessness. They’re seeking peace of mind, assurance that what you’re offering to work when they need it to, and for you to add value to their businesses (or lives). This reality leaves some companies struggling to transition from the siloed operations that sufficed in the historical break-fix environment of yesteryear to the interconnected, customer-centric operations needed today.
There are companies who have embraced the need to dissolve service siloes and work more cohesively to ensure a positive customer experience by today’s standards. In the Future of Field Service Podcast, Kristoffer Brun of Electrolux recently shared how the company’s service transformation initiative was part of a more holistic quest for customer-centricity. By focusing on making it easier for their customers to interact with them, Electrolux restructured their organization, putting their customers at the heart of their business model.
Mark Hessinger of 3D Systems, illustrates how the recent shift in his own title from SVP of Customer Service to SVP of Customer Success represents a greater focus on aligning internally to meet customer needs and becoming easier to work with. Make no mistake, “customer centricity” is not as simple as it sounds. Eliminating siloed in service requires a mindset shift, as Dell’s Bob Feiner describes. He compares it to the idea of trying to motivate a team to focus on winning a Superbowl ring versus an individual player (or function) aiming to win a trophy.
In 2024, companies who haven’t taken the steps highlighted above will need to ensure they are aligned internally to deliver a smooth, positive customer experience, which is critical to being able to earn loyalty and build the understanding necessary for identifying new service revenue opportunities.
#4: The Role of the Field Technician Will Begin to be Redefined
We’ve been talking for years about what the future of the field technician’s role looks like, but that future is upon us. With the wider adoption of automation, remote service capabilities, and AI-enabled self-help options, companies now need to reconcile how their service delivery has changed and what that means in terms of their day-to-day expectations of field technicians.
While this shift can be stressful to consider, it also brings a new wave of opportunity for talent by enabling greater flexibility for the frontline workforce and attracting talent that historically may not have been interested in the traditional field service roles. For example, as Tony Black of Husky Injection Molding Systems explains, shifting the company’s focus to provide more predictive service presents a great opportunity to upskill and reskill field technicians into new roles.
While, IFS customer Konica Minolta’s Ged Cranny, discussed the company’s “remote-by-default” mission as well as its quest to optimize the efficiency of the on-site work that is required. Ged highlights, that evolution can be multi-faceted, and that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” emphasizing why change management is critical.
At the Future of Field Service Live Tour event in Paris, Ravichandran Khirsagar of Schneider Electric shared the company’s strategy on what the frontline role will look like in 2030. Already they have taken immediate steps to bridge the gap by changing the term “field technician” to “service technician” to reflect the inclusion of more remote service delivery. This is a bite-size, tangible action that is setting the stage for what’s to come.
The other themes I’ve discussed here, AI, leadership, and customer-centricity, converge in many ways as companies reflect on how their service delivery will change and what that means in terms of the skills required. Maintaining a customer-first mindset while evaluating how modern tools can help automate efforts that are not creating value while deploying strong change leadership will help us define not only what the role of the frontline worker will look like but how service will continue to evolve throughout 2024.
For more on service trends and predictions join our upcoming webinar, The State of Service in 2024 and Beyond. This session will offer a comprehensive analysis of the current field service landscape, offering insight into how service will look in 2024 and the years to come.