Why Field Service and CRM Software need to be Best of Friends

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Field service management (FSM) and customer relationship management (CRM) are best-of-breed solutions that are essential to the work of field technicians. Both tools manage different aspects of client needs, but if they’re not working together, businesses will miss out on new opportunities and more productive work processes. So how do you synch the two?

FSM and CRM are usually integrated with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to eliminate duplicate data entry, avoid costly mistakes due to lack of data, and share customer information in real-time. FSM software vendors and others offering best-of-breed solutions generally offer standard integration approaches, but in most environments it also makes sense to integrate FSM software with CRM software. This ensures a consistent customer experience regardless of whether a customer is interacting with a CRM user or a field service technician. It is for this reason that some software vendors have created standard integration models with ERP products.

A deeper dive into FSM
While CRM is designed to manage the customer experience, field service management software helps companies go deep into their data to ensure customers can be served profitably and successfully in the field. Good FSM software has a vast detail of built-in functionality, but here is a topline list of what it covers:

  • Dispatch and service scheduling, appointment setting, calendar-based scheduling from maintenance plans and automated scheduling optimization
  • The ability to issue and record completion of work orders
  • Contract management to ensure service agreements are adhered to, even when terms are customer-specific
  • Service inventory, including inventory on each technician’s vehicle
  • Warranty management, so technicians in the field can determine which work is covered by warranty and which carries an additional charge
  • Tools to enable technicians to upsell new services, issue quotes and secure approval on quotes
  • Reverse logistics to take parts and subcomponents back into inventory, repair or scrap them, track ownership of the part and whether the customers or subcontractors are entitled to a replacement
  • Service billing, used to collect details of billable service, pass it to ERP for invoicing, and provide customers visibility into billing activity in the field

This takes us to the heart of the issue because even when a CRM package has field service capabilities, it alone cannot enable a company to deliver all these functions – especially if competitors have a more advanced service offering. So, comprehensive FSM software is the key, but if run as a standalone entity, even the most advanced field service product will leave gaps in the ability to address the entire customer lifecycle, maximize revenue and improve customer satisfaction.

When two become one: 360-degree view

So, how does this combined view of the customer across both CRM and field service improve customer service and increase revenue? If a field technician can see in the CRM solution what service has been performed on a customer’s equipment in the field, then that technician can – based on frequency of service, cost of service and parts, and even predictive analytics – record a sales opportunity to potentially replace the equipment and make that business case directly to the customer.

In this scenario, a field service technician may learn that the customer site they are working on will be expanding and can quickly create a sales opportunity for additional equipment that might be sold. Combining these solutions is essential, as a company delivers a better experience when their employees across the organization know about recent customer conversations, transactions, service calls, open issues, customer-specific requirements and correspondence.

Identify the two-way streets
There is also specific information that should be subject to a bi-directional integration with FSM and CRM, ensuring data is created, synched and updated in both systems. Recording service history and ongoing sales activity is a must to allow sales, customer service and field service personnel to get a 360-degree view of the customer and better understand the facts on the ground. As is sales history information, which gives field service technicians better visibility into products or equipment at a customer site that may not yet be covered by a service agreement and which may represent additional revenue opportunities.

Warranty information and contract management is another important consideration, as it can provide CRM users with a better idea of warranty renewal sales opportunities for each customer and show how well the field organization is performing against contractual requirements. Current sales promotions can also be included in both systems to allow field technicians to see opportunities that are relevant to the customer and use that to upsell or provide appropriate discounts.

Open architecture means you can tailor-make your solution

Some enterprise software integrations are associated with high costs and risks, but not all systems are built the same. To avoid this, businesses should look to solutions built on an open integration architecture, creating standard but configurable implementations to CRM offerings. No two implementations of either of these CRM products is truly the same, which means that each integration will be somewhat unique. That is why the integration needs to be configurable and user-friendly – for example, using a drag-and-drop tool to add fields, repurpose fields and add tables.

This streamlined approach to integration also increases enterprise agility. As the way you do business changes and those changes are reflected in a Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics 365 solution, the integration can change with you, without custom programming or external consulting fees – the result is quick, cost-effective and simple onboarding.

There are still some decisions to be made

In planning your integration, there are a few decisions to make about how you want to handle transactions as they are passed between systems. Some database fields are typically integrated synchronously, which means before a transaction relating to a particular field is recorded in one system, it must be confirmed by and recorded in the other. Others are handled asynchronously, which means the transaction is recorded in the system immediately, without any acknowledgement that it has been received and approved by the other system.

Some fields that are typically handled synchronously include quotes and estimates, which need to tie back to current pricing in CRM or ERP, inventory commitments to ensure available-to-promise status of parts, and credit approvals, which need to be checked against payment history and credit limits in CRM or ERP.

Asynchronous integration is typically used to make the full customer list from CRM available in field service. This is valuable to a field service technician so they can see all contacts at a company and have an idea of their role in the organization. The service history can also be made available in a periodic update to CRM to keep customer service and sales people informed of the nature of the total service relationship.

Better together
It is critical for the various software products you rely on to share data where it makes sense, but integration can only be considered with a sound business case. In identifying that business case, ask yourself how you want the integration to enable your business to beat the competition and how an integration can help increase customer satisfaction and revenue.

Field service management software should not be an island unto itself – it should extend into other enterprise software, including CRM and ERP. Integrations can increase solution expense and complexity, so standard integrations that easily accommodate your unique solution set are extremely valuable. When considering integration, make sure to identify the barriers you want to overcome, so you can reap the rewards of a high-quality enterprise solution.

Andrew Lichey, Product Manager, North America, IFS Andrew is responsible for developing and evolving the IFS Field Service Management software product. He has been leading field service management software development projects since 1996. Prior to that, he served as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army. He holds a degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Andrew can be reached at Andrew.lichey@ifsworld.com.

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