Unlike other industries that have had to respond to the pandemic with whole-scale change, the best service-based organizations were changing their business models and digital priorities well beforehand. Listed here are a few top priorities for the year ahead for service-based organizations as they continue to develop their business models, from employee experience and wellbeing to meeting cutting-edge customer demands and the important role of the service sector in meeting sustainability goals. 

When producing industry trends and predictions, it can be easy to pick out some revolutionary ideas set to shake up well-established industries that are behind the digital curve and have been forced to react to the touchless and digital demands of the global pandemic. But, the service sector is more digitally advanced than most. Organizations in this sector have long been providing critical services to customers on a mobile basis with a digital customer journey and dynamic workforce management all well-established.

So, when we look at the service sector in the year ahead, my assessment is more a continuation of developments and focus areas in an already digitally mature sector. Here are my five focus areas that will be molding the future of service delivery for the next 12-months and beyond.

1. Employee experience will match customer experience in importance — While customer experience is no less important than it has been, this year, employee experience will take center stage. It simply must. The Great Resignation will force companies to reflect on everything from their company culture to the strength and quality of their leadership to the employee value proposition to how much (or how little) opportunity exists for career development, and much more. 

Organizations will be forced to take responsibility to get more creative in how — and whom — they hire. Leaders will need to do and give more in the form of mentorship, encouragement, and recognition. The masses are realizing that the stellar customer experience they aim to deliver is impossible without engaged and satisfied employees. In 2022, service organizations must do what it takes to understand what employees want and need to be happy and they must work tirelessly to deliver that.

From a technology perspective, IFS understands the potential software has to act as a great enabler or a massive deterrent. This is evident not least in the ability for workers to efficiently carry out their jobs, but even more so in the experience and satisfaction levels created by the software. A platform that offers an intuitive UI and consumer-grade experience while also providing meaningful insights, and access to remote resources at the touch of a button will significantly improve your employees’ experience.

2. Mental wellbeing comes under the spotlight for the right reasons in the wake of pandemic pressures — You cannot dispute the depths of stress and worry and trauma that have been experienced over the last two years. Of course, there are varying degrees – some have lost loved ones, some have had to juggle working with children at home, and some are forced to show up to work with colleagues who have very different fundamental beliefs than they do. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, really. Not to mention the fact that even pre-Covid, mental health deserved far more attention in the workplace than it was getting.

For frontline service workers, and their leadership, the necessity of in-person work exacerbates the stress of the pandemic. While remote assistance, deployed adeptly by companies, like Munters, as the pandemic began, has proven an invaluable tool in helping minimize unnecessary on-site visits and fostering easier internal collaboration, it can’t and won’t replace all need to deliver on-site service. As such, service organizations both need to continue to evolve service delivery strategies to best leverage tools like remote assistance but also accept the responsibility for playing a more active role in supporting employee mental health.

While the efforts to normalize the topic of mental health in the workplace have begun, we have a long way to go. There’s ample room for improvement when it comes to how these discussions are handled and encouraged: What resources are available and how they’re used, how leaders lead by example, and how we deal with the realities of providing a safe place for employees who are struggling.

3. Digital transformation gives way to the digital continuum to separate the best from the rest — In 2022, service organizations will gain more clarity around the digital continuum. Digital isn’t something that needs to be “done” but rather something that needs to become a part of each company’s identity. This means eliminating siloes, combining disjointed approaches and strategies, and moving beyond fragmented systems and tools.

Digital as a part of a company’s identity means it is within the business’ DNA — it’s a part of every conversation, function, and role. Digital leadership is strong, and digital reputation is considered. Digital is being leveraged to streamline internal operations in a way that enables the best customer experience as well as efficiency, and it’s being used externally as a part of a company’s value proposition. As a company masters a foundational level of capability, it looks for layers of sophistication and intelligence to layer on.

Various IFS customers are leading the way and serve as great examples for those still seeking their digital identify. For instance, Cimcorp has learned the value of working smarter rather than harder. ANDRITZ is building upon its digital foundation to add layers of intelligence and automation. And Smart Care Equipment Solutions has a vision for how data will set its company apart from its competition.

4. Customers don’t want service; they want outcomes — Here’s the punchline: Your customers don’t want service. They want uptime, outcomes, and peace of mind. They want the complexity that goes into making “it” work to be invisible. They don’t want to buy “things,” they want knowledge, insights, and perspective that helps them be and do better.

Whether we refer to this evolution as Servitization-As-a-Service (the move to delivering outcomes) or the subscription economy, it means that service organizations need to reevaluate how they’re doing business and how they’re talking about service (hint: It shouldn’t be an “offering”). Companies need to equip themselves with the technological underpinnings that allow for guaranteed outcomes and need to be reconsidering their identity — moving away from manufacturer of X or servicer of Y to provider of (insert your differentiation here).

This evolution is not possible without first releasing all legacy thinking and habitual practices and focusing objectively on what your customers are seeking. It’s also not possible without the technological sophistication that allows for impeccable asset intelligence and data collection, optimal utilization of resources, a seamless customer experience, and the ability to derive business intelligence that feeds new value propositions. This journey is not one that can happen overnight, but in 2022, we’ll see more companies take leaps and bounds of progress because the market simply demands it.

5. Service-based organizations find themselves on the sustainability frontline — With the growing realization of how much more effort we need to be putting into saving our environment, and new standards and regulations being introduced around the globe, there’s a lot to discuss around sustainability. Even more specifically, there’s an immense amount of opportunity here for service organizations to introduce new offerings as well as a natural fit in how a focus on sustainability lends itself to the benefits that servitization introduces in terms of longer-lasting products and a more circular approach. 

Last year, IFS held its first Change for Good Sustainability Awards to showcase how its customers are making a positive impact. IFS also spoke with service customers, such as Bureau Veritas, to discuss how they are embracing the services potential around sustainability. In 2022, we’ll continue to explore this intersection and discuss how companies are making changes that positively impact both the environment and their service objectives.

Building on a strong business and digital platform in 2022

The best service businesses have already proved their mettle and alignment to customer expectations that have only been ramped up during the pandemic. These five areas will continue to shape service delivery, and the service sector in general, now and into the future.