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Chatbot Requirements for Better Collaboration for an Evolving Field Workforce

Richard Schwarz
Senior Principal Customer Success Manager

Chat and chat bots are currently all the rage as a key interaction channel with customers. So why don’t more companies leverage them to enable field collaboration?

I’ll bet you’ve been serviced online through some sort of chat channel.  You browse a website and research an item that you can’t live without. Suddenly, a chat window appears with a virtual or actual agent ready to help you. Chat serves your customers by being a proactive sales application or it can act as a halfway point for customer service situations that fall between a full self-service agent and a live voice agent.

Most field workers use some form of mobile device chat capability to fulfill the needs of their workload.  These devices usually enable some sort of standalone chat/SMS capability that can be used in an ad hoc manner by the field. In fact, back office (e.g. dispatch) staff can also reach out directly to field workers via one-on-one mobile device chat.  As a result, companies that deploy chat solutions that are designed to improve the efficiencies of the field become at best, an afterthought, rather than a vital piece of the puzzle.

The truth is that, as operations continue to evolve, a more efficient model is required that enables the field workforce to work more independently. This will likely include expanded remote capabilities to power flexible and omni-directional communications that will be required for success.

Real collaboration requires a broad and integrated chat solution that connects field workers and the supporting back office teams in an intelligent and efficient manner.  The robust collaboration capabilities for the field workforce should support the following:

  • One to One and One to Many Conversations – Field operations should be able to chat with other field workers, managers, and dispatchers.  These communications should be configurable per user or groups via permissions.  The ability to broadcast specific, one-way messages to the entire organization is key.
  • Location Awareness – Collaboration communications capabilities should take location into account since all modern mobile devices are location aware.  This includes the ability for a field worker to send out a call for assistance to any colleagues within X miles of his/her current location.  Additionally, a dispatcher could send an urgent job request only to field workers currently within the job’s locale.
  • Video Capabilities – The ability to share photos, attachments, and support live video makes issue resolution more efficient. When a remote colleague can view the issue at hand and effectively provide assistance to a field worker, this prevents the need to double-dispatch additional assistance, postpone or reschedule the job.
  • Assignments and Transfers with Contextual Awareness – You want to support job assignments and transfers among field workers with full awareness of the required skillsets, work zones, and potentially other process constraints.  Resources and gear such as tools, set top boxes and spare parts should be easily transferrable among field workers without breaking any pre-defined business rules. Assignments and transfers can be done by dragging and dropping a job or an inventory object from the field service solution directly into an open chat session.
  • Helpdesks – Helpdesks should be available and configurable to enable teams to staff a specific function, like dispatch, in a flexible manner. Demand and resource balancing can take place for any field requests for assistance.  A field worker needn’t reach out to a specific person. Instead, Helpdesk assigns a subject matter expert, representing a specific function to address the issue in a timely and effective manner.  Members of the Helpdesk can accept and close inbound requests and transfer chats among themselves as appropriate.
  • Access Points – An effective collaboration capability provides convenient ‘access’ or launch points to communicate with the appropriate colleague, with full context, whenever necessary. This should be configurable so that companies can tailor capabilities to their particular and evolving operations processes.
  • Metrics and Reporting – You’ll want to collect data around usage and provide robust reporting. Archive conversational content for future analyses.  Metrics can range from the number of field worker requests for assistance, to how often a work assignment was rejected, to the average response time duration it took to respond to a Helpdesk request.

As proof that a field workforce collaboration-based chat approach can really deliver business value, some companies have reported that they have achieved:

  • Up to 75% reduction in call volumes to the back office
  • Up to 75% response time reduction for inbound field requests (based on the ability to support simultaneous chats versus single voice calls)
  • Dramatic improvements (on the order of 20-25%) in dispatcher/back office staff to field worker ratios

A collaborative chat solution both enhances your customers’ experience and can be a key capability to drive an improved employee experience in support of field workforce operations.  To ignore its use may negatively affect your customers and employees while damaging your brand.

Is a chat-based collaboration capability something that your field workforce would thrive on?  I look forward to your comments!

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