Field service work always involves a certain amount of frustration. Some problems are hard to diagnose. Mistakes in estimating travel or repair time can wreck a day's schedule. Finding the right part is sometimes a nightmare. Nothing can totally eliminate these problems, but artificial intelligence can be a major help in dealing with them.
AI is already being used to aid service technicians. Businesses that watch the trends and look for ways they can start employing it will have the jump on their competitors.
Two big questions on any maintenance job are how long it will take to get there and how long the job will take. Allowing too little time for travel makes techs arrive late, and allowing too much is inefficient. AI can take distances, traffic patterns, construction, and weather into account to create more accurate travel estimates. It can group trips to reduce the total amount of travel. When technicians have just the right amount of time to travel, they're less stressed and customers are happier.
Estimating the time to complete a maintenance or repair job is even harder. Any job can uncover surprises that seriously extend the time needed. AI can't predict the unknown, but it can create an estimate based on the history of similar tasks in the past, along with the technician's personal history.
Some people are habitually optimistic about their estimates. Others are excessively cautious. AI-generated estimates are free of personal biases and may provide more accurate predictions.
An AI scheduler could pick the best person to send to a job. Some people do certain kinds of tasks better and faster, and it can put them on those jobs when they're available. Other tasks don't demand exceptional skill levels, so it can assign more junior technicians to them.
Chatbots and other service aids
AI can work with technicians to help them solve problems. Chatbots have become popular for customer service, but they can help even experienced professionals. The technician can describe a problem, and the bot will suggest possible diagnoses. It can provide information about required parts and supplies faster than a conventional database lookup. If a repair is one the tech hasn't done before, it can describe the procedure.
An intelligent system can better prepare the technician. It can list the tools and parts that a job is likely to require, so that it isn't necessary to make a second trip to bring the right part.
Combined with the IoT, an AI system can communicate directly with the equipment being serviced. If it detects an unusually high temperature or low pressure, it can report that along with the likely causes.
The result is quicker repairs with fewer needs for return trips. The customer is extremely expressed by the tech's knowledge and expertise and makes a note to give you more business.
The traditional wisdom is "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," but waiting till something breaks means downtime when it does. Scheduled maintenance is better, but AI can offer still smarter maintenance patterns. Heating equipment, for example, gets heavier use when a winter is especially cold. An AI scheduler can take the weather and other factors into account in scheduling maintenance.
Again, AI and the IoT are a great combination. When readings from equipment start to drift from their best levels, the scheduling software can detect the pattern and recommend a maintenance call. If the numbers are still optimal, it could recommend delaying the next service.
Predictive maintenance can help in maintaining inventory levels. It can give statistical estimates of how many of a part will be needed over the next month or year so that the business can adjust its level of ordering.
Looking at the future
Large enterprises will be the first adopters of AI technology. They benefit the most from the scale of use. It won't be out of the reach of smaller businesses, though. Cloud services will let them use large-scale systems for scheduling and assistance, using just as much of the resource as they need. They'll provide better service with its assistance, and customers will be happier.