Is using CRM software to manage field service a good idea? We explore the pros and cons, and look at the results of using a CRM for field vs. a dedicated field service management suite to run service operations in the field.
There’s no question, technology has become necessary to build successful field service operations. On any given day, business leaders have their hands in various platforms and applications, which help them understand customer history, product support detail, and monitor remote equipment for errors or outages.
One of those enterprise systems usually includes customer relationship management (CRM), which have come a long way in the last decade, particularly with the trend to expand CRM capabilities beyond traditional sales strategies towards a broader suite of business functionality. Indeed, CRM systems can now be found managing marketing tasks, customer service, social interactions, and more.
Beginning with the sales department as the starting point for CRM use, the growth in breadth and customizability of CRM systems has caused businesses to explore expanding CRM to other areas of the organization. As a customer-centric department, field service is often one of these areas.
But is using CRM software to manage field service a good idea? We explore the pros and cons.
Pros: How CRM Configurations Can Manage Field Service
Like any business, field service departments survive by gaining and maintaining customers. And CRM systems excel in managing customer relationships. They help companies market to customers, manage customer opportunities and activity, and guide sales activities.
Field service departments rely on strong customer relationships, which is why CRM systems can be useful tools. The field service benefits most CRM systems provide include:
- Quoting: outline recommended services and what they’ll cost
- Opportunities: track stages of customer opportunity from incoming lead to closing the sales deal
- Lead management: manage top of the funnel inquiries and track early stage leads
- All customer information in one place: contain all customer communications in one location
- Sales access to service history: track past experiences with customers to inform future sales conversations
- Email integration: track single source customer activity
- Integration/ app plug-ins: install CRM app onto mobile device
- Marketing campaign management: track marketing campaigns and evaluate their effectiveness in driving sales
- Operational excellence in service sales: implement best practices for sales departments
These features are useful for marketing and evaluating sales, and CRM systems have come a long way in expanding their capabilities to help companies market, manage, and sell their products and services. But customer satisfaction in the field involves more than earning and managing leads.
While basic field services might get away with managing their entire organization through a CRM system, larger field service organizations need more. Instead of asking whether you can maneuver your CRM system to meet basic service needs, ask whether your CRM system can help you take full advantage of service opportunities and turn your product support department into a revenue generator.
Cons: How CRM Systems Lack Functionality for Complex Service Processes
Maintaining a modern field service technology stack is a challenging and ongoing task. Field service software is more complex than other industries because the work is disconnected from the office. Service processes can include challenges like budgeting wisely, unpredictable cash flow, agreement pricing, managing technician productivity from the field, and assigning jobs.
While current CRM software excels in areas like marketing, sales, and customer acquisition, it is unable to perform many of the functions necessary for a top performing service operation. Not only do you need an organized sales strategy, you need to track and manage moving parts, people, and work order details from the office to the field.
CRM systems lack many of the features that would deliver huge returns for field service organizations, such as:
Scheduling & Dispatching
Getting techs to the right place at the right time requires detailed insight into the customer needs and technician details like GPS location, availability, and skill set. Because these detailed scheduling needs are specific to field service, most CRM systems don’t have the scheduling capabilities to efficiently dispatch the best technician for each job.
Some benefits of having a field service visual scheduler include:
- Higher first-time fix rates
- Reduced travel time
- Improved utilization
- Fewer needed resources in the back office and field
- Improved customer satisfaction
- Shorter appointment windows
- Improved customer appointment booking process
- Reduced overtime
Asset & Warranty Management
Service contracts and warranties can become a stream of recurring revenue while also presenting an opportunity to gain valuable insight from customers.
“Field service organizations are aggressively searching for premium support offers that excite customers and trend toward delivering customer outcomes,” said the 2016 TSIA State of Field Service report. Selling ongoing service contracts and warranties through a dedicated field service management system streamlines the process, increases revenue from service, and helps deliver positive customer outcomes.
Mobile Field Service Management
CRM systems do not provide mobile capabilities for field workers, which can put companies at a disadvantage in a growing technological market. “Mobile technology isn’t just changing service; it’s changing the technician as well. No longer just someone who can install or make repairs, a field technician is also a knowledgeable and trusted advisor,” according to Trimble’s 2016 Field Service Insight report.
Mobile service apps are increasing productivity by providing field service workers with accurate and timely information and eliminating paperwork in the field.
Trimble research found that field service organizations implementing a mobile strategy provided an:
- 18% increase in service visits per technician
- 40% increase in service revenue contribution per technician.
Research confirms that in today’s connected age, if you don’t have a way to eliminate paper and manage service processes through a mobile app in the field, you’re going to be left behind.
Detailed Service Quoting
While CRM systems often have a quoting feature, they’re sold as “horizontal” software models, meaning the systems are geared toward general sales processes that are consistent from industry to industry.
Because of the uniqueness and time-sensitive nature of quoting in field service, the quoting capabilities on most CRM systems don’t meet standard field service needs. In addition, most CRM systems are unable to convert quotes directly to work orders, which field service organizations need in order to communicate with customers in a timely manner.
CRM systems are able to create maintenance contracts, but they don’t quite fit within the realm of field service needs. Like the lack of Warranty functionality, CRM systems can’t do much to manage and schedule long-term maintenance contracts. For example, when a company signs a contract to perform PMs, CRM doesn’t have the ability to schedule those contracts as regularly repeating services.
Equipment & Inventory Management
A main organizational aspect of field service involves managing equipment and tracking inventory. CRM systems don’t offer a way to log or update inventory, which can make it difficult to track parts usage for invoicing, restocking, and equipping technicians for each visit.
For example, if technicians can’t log the parts they’re using as they work in the field, it’s nearly impossible to accurately track inventory. Without the ability to track and manage equipment and inventory in real time, the response to new orders will be slower and success rates lower.
Completing Billing & Invoicing
CRM systems don’t usually offer programs for on-site billing and invoicing. Systems that allow technicians to bill customers in real time save time and money while maintaining billing accuracy. CRM systems, which aren’t designed specifically with field service in mind, do not provide the ability to sync a work order in the field and make it available for immediate invoicing.
Communication with Technicians
Communication is a key aspect of running a successful field service organization and CRM systems do not offer a way to communicate across office workers, managers and field technicians. Without a smooth and consistent communication system for field workers in place, the quality of your service will undoubtedly suffer.
CRM systems are similar across industries because sales needs from company to company are relatively similar. Field service organizations, however, require a different sort of sales process and CRM systems do now allow the customization required to meet their needs.
Connected Service & Automation
In order to take the next step in boosting productivity and growing revenue, technology can be a great enabler. But that technology needs to fit your business processes. With a designated field service management system, not only can basic processes like appointment scheduling and route planning be automated, but also analytics from connected products can provide insight into both customers and field services organizations, including real-time performance dashboards and resource forecasting tools.
Conclusion: Invest in a Solution Equipped to Handle Complex Field Service Needs
As an increasingly customer-oriented industry, field service requires software solutions that can optimize efficiency, improve quality of service, and increase customer satisfaction. Fierce competition and escalating overheads increase pressure on field service companies to improve their delivery methods and, more importantly, keep their underlying technology infrastructure up to- date.
Service organizations need solutions that can schedule accurately and efficiently to jobs offsite and equip traveling technicians with the resources they need, while offering back office workers solutions like payroll and customer management functionality. An all-in-one FSM suite is the only offering available that’s equipped to handle mobile, back office, and scheduling needs for dynamic field service organizations.