Across customer-facing industries, companies are under pressure to deliver a high-quality and unique customer experience. At the same time, they face major obstacles to achieving that goal, including a growing emphasis on circular economies and the need to comply with environmental, social and governance (ESG) requirements.

Following are five trends that will put companies in the best position to manage the pressures and thrive in the rapidly changing world of service delivery. 

Service and sustainability must go hand-in-hand. Keeping products and assets running for their maximum viable lifetime has a positive impact on sustainability. Whether it’s a smartphone, car, washing machine or construction bulldozer, timely maintenance, service and repair reduces the environmental footprint. Consequently, even in times of recession or economic uncertainty, the service sector remains inherently resilient, because consumers and businesses alike want to retain products and equipment for longer.

The key service tenets within the “9R” circular economy framework — Rethink, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Refurbish, Remanufacture, Repurpose, Recycle and Recover — sit squarely within any corporate ESG remit. The first two eliminate the need for new manufacturing production, and the attendant consumption of resources, and the last two minimize waste and landfill. The effects are significant: A leading consumer goods supplier has calculated that for every three refrigerators it repairs, the environmental savings equate to taking an internal combustion engine car off the road. When you’re managing 65,000 product repairs a week, that’s a significant savings.

Supply chain intelligence will enable the effective reclamation, remanufacture and reuse of parts from non-repairable products, resulting in procurement avoidance.

The move toward electric vehicles in field-service operations is also challenging. With the need to ensure sufficient battery capacity, routing and scheduling includes factoring in the availability of charge points, the schedule, and range. Excess van stock (including obsolete and excess stock) and even colder weather can also significantly reduce range.

We can also expect a continued move toward remote service, with the help of internet-of-things-connected devices, making service more sustainable by removing the need for a service visit entirely.

Ramping up service innovation is a recipe for customer-experience success. Three core accelerators are driving service innovations in 2023:

  • Remote service. Since the pandemic, it’s no longer a bolt-on but an integral part of any service offering. Now a service model in its own right, remote monitoring and diagnostics are increasingly working hand-in-hand with remote (virtual) assistance. Critical 24/7 assets such as MRI scanners can be interrogated, rebooted or otherwise fixed, for example with remote updates, without an engineer ever setting foot on site.
  • Depot-based repairs. Another growing service model is the arrival and return of devices after repair via a dedicated engineering hub. More portable products can be shipped or transported (such as laptops and smartphones), while larger assets demand engineers or specialist collection.
  • Designing for service. A consequence of the move to service-based revenues is the impact upstream on the organization, particularly for functions such as product and service design and R&D. With an outcome-based service model, manufacturers that embrace design for service and all the internal implication and changes this requires also need to ensure that serviceability and longevity are built into the “product.”

Regardless of the model, and how service is designed and delivered, success depends on delivering a consistent, positive customer experience, end to end. Whether that’s calling to book an engineer, using online resources, rescheduling an appointment or being guided on the phone, nothing should present itself to a customer as a bolt-on or afterthought.

AI and automation become major players, resulting in fresh service approaches. The “predictive everything” era — call it “Predictive.X” — will see artificial intelligence and autonomy playing an increasing role in preventive maintenance, with traditional fail-fix models rapidly declining. The use of predictive intelligence will become even more far-reaching. Everything from determining when a device might be likely to fail, to parts that might be needed and time to fix, is all within the scope of predictive adoption. 

Two factors underpin successful adoption of these competencies. First is the availability of data. And second is the presence of effective AI and machine learning capabilities to interpret the findings, detect anomalies and create predictive service insights. Increasingly, we can expect AI insights and analysis to augment and support human engineers. For example, based on the analysis of historic fault patterns, symptoms and resolutions, AI can suggest the most likely parts an engineer will require as standard to secure a fix.

Insightful service is effectively a data-driven prescriptive diagnosis combined with intelligent service. At the same time, this real-time connectivity to assets and devices enables asset performance management and ultimately asset optimization. Both are directly linked to customer experience and a delivered service-first business model.

Battle of the “Xs” sees EX come out on topCustomer experience (CX) has hogged the spotlight for several years. Post-pandemic, things have changed. Now, facing a global skills shortage and the Great Resignation, the service sector is rapidly recognizing the importance of the employee experience (EX).

It’s not hard to see why. A staggering 40% of field workers are due to retire within the next 10 years. Unless we can attract new talent, this invaluable knowledge and insight will be lost. Ignoring the need to create an AI-powered intelligent knowledge base could prove a costly oversight.

In addition, 80% of the global workforce — some 2.7 billion people — are employed on the front line, or “deskless.” The pandemic taught us just how important some of these workers are and, in many cases, how poorly equipped they are. In the absence of a consumer experience-style mobile-first strategy, with simple and efficient onboarding, they remain woefully forgotten and, in many cases, disconnected.

If organizations want to retain and engage with this workforce, they need to emulate the focus and experience given to more traditional desk-based staff, both office-based and remote.

A shift to a mobile-first focus, and embracing concepts such as gamification, turn mobile devices in the field into a powerful and pervasive technician-enablement platform — and a compelling way to attract and retain new talent. Over the coming year, we can expect to see EX increasingly becoming an equal citizen to CX.

Demand for flexible service gives rise to a new multi-disciplined workforce. There’s a difference between high volume, break-fix service regimes for products, and servicing major high-value asset investments, where service or modernization programs may span many months or years. Historically, companies have deployed separate and distinct workforces to fulfill short-cycle, break-fix requirements, versus the long-cycle service planning required for strategic assets and projects. However, these boundaries are beginning to blur, with a shift toward a multidisciplined blended workforce. The skills shortage means companies want to develop multi-skilled technicians who can perform both a 30-minute fix and also a day-long full asset overhaul.

There’s also a transition from the traditional fixed periodic maintenance model to condition- and usage-based service. But managing schedules and maintenance for geographically dispersed assets in this way is complex. In response, to blend the service and asset lifecycle, we’re seeing increased demand for powerful multi-time horizon planning (MTHP), providing resource planning and demand forecasting for short-duration intraday visits, through to multi-day, planned outages, and further long-term projects to optimize resources and shifts.

The year 2023 will be one of great potential for those that are willing to embrace change, as service becomes even more critical to the business. To satisfy employees, end-customers and meet growth targets, companies must maximize innovations that deliver service across all touchpoints.

Mark Brewer is vice president, service industries at IFS.