The first gas stations began appearing in the United States around 1909. By 1929, there were about 143,000 across the country — and in virtually every one an attendant would fill up the tank for the driver. It wasn’t until 1947, 39 years after the first gas stations, when the first self-service option opened in Los Angeles, courtesy of a man named Frank Urich[i]. The benefits were obvious immediately: the gas retailers were saving money because now they needed far fewer people to service the incoming drivers. Self-service stations also provided an incentive for people to fill their own tanks. In most cases, it was cheaper to pump your own gas than ask an attendent for help. This saved time and money for the customer, enhancing their experience at the gas station.
Similarly, Piggly Wiggly is credited with inventing self-service grocery store options[ii] just after World War I. But self-checkout didn’t begin to ramp up as an option until 1992[iii] — today they are an expected feature in major stores.
Gas stations and grocery stores recognized the importance of self-service options. They were empowering their customers to check out or pump gas on their own. Today, industry leaders in field service organizations are seeing the benefits of providing self-service options for their customers.
Developing self-service portals is of crucial value to field service organizations for a couple of key reasons:
1. The changing mindset of customers and clients: The omnipresence of the internet has led to an interesting psychological situation: when we research online we often think of ourselves as smarter than we probably really are[iv]. This has led to a rise in customers and clients who want to do things independently as opposed to being guided through a process; this is already having major implications in B2B sales and marketing. Many of your customers believe they can do things on their own and will only contact a service/help/contact function if absolutely necessary. This shifted mindset has led to a ramped-up need for self-service portals within field service.
2. Transparency: This also ties to customer mindset. In general, customers will want to know:
- Where their assigned technicians are
- When their appointment windows are
- What their invoicing and customer data look like
They’ll want this information on the devices they prefer, be it desktop, tablet, or mobile device — and they’ll want to access it without having to call a help line or get put on hold at HQ. Essentially, they want the ability to track and monitor the status of their appointments and know where their billing stands — including being able to sign the invoices from their tech’s phones. In past years, these have all navigated from “nice to have” options in field service to “need to have” options. Customers expect these features, and customer experience drives growth more than anything, especially within field service operations.
Self-service portals, therefore, are an important value play for field service management organizations: by empowering the customers to research, select, and monitor service options themselves, you’re increasing the customer experience. That’s only going to benefit your bottom line and growth potential in the long run.
ow you enact self-service portals can take several forms. You can begin with a basic library (PDFs, videos, and other documents) that customers can use for research and selection purposes — essentially to better understand the value of the service you provide. You can also use logistical databases, where they can login to their accounts and access key information about technicians, past services, and billing information. The most compelling is the app, where all this information is integrated one thumb push away on their phones. That’s the easiest and most logical option for many customers, and that’s going to yield the highest level of customer satisfaction.
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