Field service work is integral to the success of companies across countless industries. Field service workers play a crucial role in guaranteeing seamless business operations and preventing disruptions by handling tasks such as equipment installation, machine repairs and technical support, thus standing at the forefront of this effort.

Artificial intelligence (AI) continues to drastically change how different work environments operate, and many have guessed field service companies would be in the first round of industries replaced by AI and automation. According to a recent Goldman Sachs report, AI is anticipated to profoundly affect the job market, with potentially exposing 300 million jobs around the world being exposed to some degree of automation.

AI thrives on routine and simple tasks to be most effective, making an industry requiring heavy problem-solving skills like field service much less likely to be fully replaced by AI. Take, for instance, a technician engaged in repairing a piece of machinery, who may confront unanticipated challenges demanding innovative problem-solving skills. Likewise, a service worker responsible for installing new equipment within an unconventional setting may have to adjust their approach according to the unique conditions they face. Most large language models (LLMs) like those powering applications like ChatGPT, BLOOM and BERT are not capable yet of working within the level of flexibility and context awareness field service workers need to complete their job. Because of this, technicians are still very necessary to fix the problems their customers experience.

While some jobs are more likely to be automated due to AI, the in-person nature of field service work also greatly decreases its likelihood of being fully replaced with AI algorithms. Unlike various other job domains, field service frequently entails direct engagement with customers who might be anxious or angry about equipment malfunctions and the inefficiencies this brings to their business operations. In the case of a field service emergency, customers need a worker that will not only work with them to fix their problem but also empathize with them as they solve their issue. The capacity to empathize with customers, convey information effectively and build rapport is important especially in an industry requiring constant customer interaction. AI-driven chatbots and virtual assistants can assist with certain parts of the customer service journey, but they are unlikely to completely replicate the human touch customers of field service work expect with every interaction.

While AI is not poised to completely replace field service workers, there are still numerous benefits technicians can garner from using AI. In reality, numerous companies have already embraced AI-powered tools to enhance the productivity of their field service teams. With the increasing complexity of equipment and widening skills gaps, service team managers and leaders are continually seeking methods to enhance the skills of their workforce. AI is gaining popularity as a viable solution among service providers to bridge these skills gaps and enhance customer satisfaction. One example being service teams providing their technicians or contact center agents with diagnostic tools that leverage generative AI, enabling them to perform tasks with greater speed and efficiency.

Furthermore, customers in 2023 are further demanding self-service capabilities. Instead of reactive service as a result of customer escalation, AI can allow companies to shift resolutions more toward the end user. Whether pointing customers toward the right article or even alerting customers proactively with self-solving instructions, AI can make customers problem-solvers just as much as their technicians. Customers now anticipate the ability to resolve issues independently before calling on their field service providers, and AI-powered diagnostic tools are facilitating this option.

Nevertheless, it’s crucial to recognize that while customers may desire self-service options, not all of them will necessarily choose to undertake such tasks, instead relying on a technician to visit their location and handle the job. This further reinforces the notion that AI is not meant to replace human personnel, but rather to assist and uplift employees and organizations in achieving optimal performance. By doing so, companies can meet the ever-increasing customer expectations while mitigating challenges associated with skills gaps and talent shortages.

With the increasing connectivity via Internet of Things (IoT) equipment, field service workers are faced with the challenge of managing vast amounts of data in order to properly maintain equipment and ensure optimal efficiency. AI-powered analytics can assist field service technicians in extracting meaningful insights from the data their companies already possess, detecting patterns and correlations imperceivable for humans to identify on their own.

This can result in more efficient and effective maintenance practices, as well as deeper understanding of the root causes behind equipment failures, leading to a more educated workforce. Even managers are leveraging these capabilities to have a complete overview of workforce performance and customer sentiment. For instance, if a manager wishes to determine which employees require training or which customers are at risk, available tools can allow managers to directly query an AI model, receiving instantaneous answers and data-driven recommendations for improvement.

Although AI is poised to exert a substantial influence on various economic domains, it’s improbable to upset the field service industry like many other facets of the business world. The intricate and unique knowledge required to complete individual service jobs, coupled with the indispensability of human interactions, indicate that field service tasks will persistently demand human judgment and problem-solving abilities in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, AI can certainly serve as a valuable tool when training field service workers, contributing to improved efficiency, minimized downtime and an enhanced customer experience. Consequently, companies that invest in AI-powered tools for their field service teams are poised to reap substantial advantages in the coming years.