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Customer 4.0: Enabling field employees with integrated mobile

This article first appeared in Electric Light & Power

Jane warily peeks out of her bedroom window. A powerful storm is overhead and winds are howling. She sees a large branch from the neighbor’s tree come crashing down on her power lines. A powerful flash of light follows and the next instant, the whole house goes dark. As she scrambles to get some candles going, her phone buzzes. Thankfully, it’s a text from her utility to confirm the power outage and inform her that a crew will be there within an hour. The crew shows up on time, finishes the work within the allotted time, and voila, Jane’s power is back on. Throughout the service outage, Jane was able to easily track the field operations and the status of the resolution on her phone.

Outages of this type thankfully do not happen every day, but Jane’s experience outlines the kind of resolution customers have come to expect. After billing queries, service issues are the next biggest items that prompts a customer to reach out to the utility. Although the number and type of service issues will vary from utility to utility, service operations is one of the few face-to-face interaction points. Thus, it’s critical that the experience is positive.

In this digital age, companies in other sectors like Amazon, Uber and on-demand storage companies like MakeSpace have redefined a positive experience–a Customer 4.0 experience–where customers expect service providers to come meet them in their universe and help them achieve their goals and aspirations. Against this setting, how does Jane really want to receive service from her utility?

Realistically, she likely wants to avoid the experience altogether. But if it must happen, she would want the field technician to show up on time, at a time of her choosing. She would want an informed field technician who completes the work efficiently. She would want her home returned to its original state if any digging was done. Lastly, she would want to be kept informed on the progress, all without having to expend her own time and energy to get this done.

By leveraging cutting-edge technologies and deploying connected field mobility solutions, utilities can provide a much better Customer 4.0 experience.  

Foundationally, field staff must be equipped with the right tools and applications to help address customer issues as quickly and efficiently as possible. A holistic Mobile Work Management (MWM) solution can drive an improved customer experience, simplify work by migrating operations from paper-based workflows, and improve worker safety. The solution includes efficient field scheduling and dispatch in tandem with the deployment of mobile devices and supporting device accessories.

  • Field scheduling and field job routing can be optimized to complete service orders in the shortest possible time and reduce field technician down time.
  • Tablets and smartphones provide increased mobility and instant access to information at the worksite. Features like GPS, camera, and accelerometer can unlock new workflows and increase productivity at the worksite.
  • Complimentary device add-ons can contribute to many aspects of the field technician’s day. For example, integrated barcode scanners can improve accuracy of meter reads and credit card readers make collections easier while recognizing revenue faster.

Here’s how these attributes contribute to various aspects of service operations.

Complementary to traditional mobile devices, wearable technologies will allow the next-generation field technicians to have instant hands-free access to information as well as be more productive. Augmented reality wearable devices can be used to overlay asset information with real surroundings, bring up asset maintenance history and easily interact with an expert. In Jane’s case, as the field technician nears the premise, the Augmented Reality wearable device would display the door code for her meter lock box, display a series of steps to resolve the specific wire down issue, enable the field technician to initiate a hands-free call to their supervisor and even share a real-time video feed to resolve the issue together.

A well-executed mobile work force solution can also provide the field technician with full visibility into previous customer interactions and service orders. The technician should have information about historical work orders, comments from previous field techs, customer service agent interactions to inform the current work. At the same time, customer service agents should have instant visibility into where assigned field staff are working and what they’re doing to address issues. Internal communication between customer facing field operations and back office customer service groups must be seamless, because, in the eye of the customer, the utility is one entity.

In parallel, utilities must ensure that the customer is informed and engaged during the field service journey.

  • Field-status notifications and real-time worker location tracking: When enabled, notifications can be sent when the crew is en route to provide peace of mind that help is on the way.
  • Two-way interactive communication channels: While many utilities currently send billing and outage notifications to customers via text, e-mail or automated calls, they should enhance the experience by creating intuitive interactive communication channels. For example, at a US utility that serves about 1.5 million gas and electric customers, the customer can text “OUT” to report an outage instantly or “NOT OUT” if they have received an erroneous outage notification. This engages customers and also helps in reporting and validating the service issue.
  • Social media channels: Utilities have an opportunity to better leverage technology and social media channels. For example, videos, drone footage, and live streaming (via Periscope, Facebook and Livestream) from outage scenes can be used to proactively share updates and engage with customers.

We have just scratched the surface with the use of technology and mobile devices in field services. As utilities digitalize various parts of their business, field operations will become an increasingly important touchpoint to the Customer 4.0 experience. The use of ergonomically designed digital tools and always-connected mobility solutions can give field staff the right information, in the right place at the right time to enable better workflows, improve worker safety and improve customer service. Customers like Jane can look forward to cutting edge experiences that deliver and exceed their expectations of a utility in this digital age.

Utilities need to start their journey to Customer 4.0, because quite frankly, your customers are already there.

Ajay Jawahar and Lili Gao are energy and utilities experts at PA Consulting Group

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Contact the authors

  • Ajay Jawahar

    Ajay Jawahar

    PA energy and utilities expert

    Ajay is focused on delivering digital business transformations and end-to-end technology/strategic solutions.

    Insights by Ajay Jawahar
  • Lili Gao

    Lili Gao

    PA energy and utilities expert

    Lili has experience with customer experience transformation, process mapping and design and change management.

    Insights by Lili Gao

Contact the energy and utilities team


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