Companies across customer-facing industries are pressured to continue to develop superior service offers to differentiate their brands, increase margins, and secure customer loyalty. In 2023, this is a task made all the more difficult by the need to embrace a more circular economy and pressure to demonstrate progress against increasingly ambitious ESG goals.

Against this backdrop, here are my five key service trend predictions for 2023. 

Trend No. 1: Service is ready-made to meet sustainable goals

Keeping products and assets running for their maximum viable lifetime has a positive impact on sustainability. Whether it’s a smartphone, car, washing machine, or construction bulldozer, timely maintenance, service, and repair reduces our environmental footprint. Consequently, even in times of recession or economic uncertainty, the service sector remains inherently resilient — consumers and businesses alike want to retain products and equipment for longer.

The key service tenets within the 9R circular economy framework — refurbish, repair, remanufacture, and recycle — sit squarely within any corporate environmental, social, and governance remit. The first two eliminate the need for new manufacturing production and the attendant consumption of resources, and the last two minimize waste and landfill. The effects are significant: A leading consumer goods supplier has calculated that for every three refrigerators it repairs; the environmental savings made equate to taking a combustion-engine car off the road. When managing 65,000 product repairs a week, that’s a significant savings.

Here, it is supply chain intelligence that will enable the effective reclamation, remanufacture, and reuse of parts from non-repairable products, resulting in procurement avoidance.

The move toward electric vehicles in field service operations is also challenging. With the need to ensure sufficient battery capacity, routing and scheduling needs to factor in availability of charge points, the schedule, and range. Excess van stock (including obsolete and excess stock) and even colder weather can also significantly reduce range.

We can also expect the continued move toward remote service — with IoT-connected devices — providing the potential to make service more sustainable by removing the need for a service visit entirely.

Trend No.2: Hitting the accelerator pedal on service innovation 

There are three core accelerators driving service innovations in 2023.

Remote service: Since the pandemic, remote service is no longer a bolt-on and is now an integral part of any service offering. Now a service model in its own right, remote monitoring and diagnostics are increasingly working hand-in-hand with remote (virtual) assistance. Critical 24/7 assets, such as hospital (MRI) scanners, can be interrogated, rebooted, or otherwise fixed with, for example, remote updates without an engineer ever setting foot on-site.

Depot-based repairs: Another growing service model is depot-based repair—devices arriving for and returning after repair via a dedicated engineering hub. More portable products can be shipped or transported (i.e., laptops, smartphones), while larger assets demand engineers or specialist collection.

Designing for service: A consequence of the move to service-based revenues is the impact upstream into the organization, particularly on functions such as product and/or service design and research and development. With an outcome-based service model, manufacturers that embrace design for service and all the internal implication and changes this requires also need to ensure serviceability and longevity are built into the “product.”

Regardless of the model, and how service is designed and delivered, the success depends on delivering a consistent, positive customer experience, end to end. That incorporates everything, from the moment you call to book an engineer to the use of online resources, when an appointment is rescheduled, or when a customer is guided on the phone. Nothing should present itself to a customer as a bolt-on or afterthought.

Trend No. 3: Predictive.X — the technology is there to deliver insightful, intelligent, and automated service 

The so-called “predictive everything” era, dubbed ‘Predictive.X’ will see AI and autonomy play an increasing role in preventive maintenance with traditional fail-fix models rapidly declining. The use of predictive intelligence will become even more far reaching. Everything from when a device might be likely to fail to the parts that might be needed to skill proficiency and, therefore, time-to-fix when allocating different engineers are within the scope of predictive adoption.

Two factors underpin successfully adopting these competences: The first is the availability of data, and the second is the presence of effective artificial intelligence and machine-learning capabilities to interpret the findings, detect anomalies, and create predictive service insights. Increasingly, we can expect AI insights and analysis to augment and support human engineers. For example, based on the analysis of historic fault patterns, symptoms, and resolutions, AI can suggest the most likely parts an engineer will require as standard to secure a fix.  

Insightful service is effectively a data-driven prescriptive diagnosis combined with intelligent service. At the same time, this real-time connectivity to assets and devices also enables asset performance management (APM) and ultimately asset optimization, both directly linked to customer experience and a successfully delivered service-first business model.

Trend No. 4: Employee experience gets its time to shine

Customer experience (CX) has hogged the spotlight now for several years. Post-pandemic, things have changed. Now, facing a global skills shortage and the great resignation, the service sector is also rapidly recognizing the importance of the employee experience (EX).

It’s not hard to see why. A staggering 40% of field workers are due to retire within the next 10 years. Unless we can attract new talent, this invaluable knowledge and insight will be lost. Ignoring the need to create an AI-powered intelligent knowledgebase could prove a costly oversight.

In addition, 80% of the global workforce — some 2.7 billion people — are employed on the front line, “deskless.” The pandemic taught us just how important some of these workers are and, in many cases, how poorly equipped they are. In the absence of a consumer UX-style, mobile-first strategy by many employers, lacking simple and efficient onboarding, they remain woefully forgotten and, in many cases, “disconnected.”

If organizations want to retain and engage with this workforce, they need to emulate the focus and experience given to more traditional desk-based staff (both office-based and remote).

A shift to a mobile-first focus, and embracing concepts such as gamification, turns mobile devices in the field into a powerful and pervasive technician-enablement platform and a compelling way to attract and retain new talent. Over the coming year we can expect to see EX increasingly becoming an equal citizen to CX.

Trend No. 5: Periodic maintenance will get a makeover 

There is a difference between high-volume, break-fix service regimes for products and servicing major high-value asset investments, where service or modernization programs may span many months or years. Historically, companies have deployed separate distinct workforces to fulfill short-cycle break-fix requirements versus the long-cycle service planning required for strategic assets and projects. However, these boundaries are beginning to blur with a shift toward a multidiscipline, blended workforce. The skills shortage means companies want to develop multiskilled technicians who can perform both a 30-minute fix and also a daylong full asset overhaul.

There’s also a transition from the traditional fixed periodic maintenance model to condition and usage-based service. But managing schedules and maintenance plans for multiple geographically dispersed assets in this way is complex. In response, to blend the service and asset life cycle, IFS is seeing increased demand for its powerful multi-time horizon planning (MTHP), providing resource planning and demand forecasting for short-duration intraday visits through to multiday, planned outages and further long-term projects to optimize resources and shifts.

This technology is enabling leading service providers, such as Mitie, to expand their offer from fulfilling category contracts — such as servicing store fire alarms — to full facilities management contracts spanning entire retail outlets.

Fast-five for a fast-changing sector

The future for service in 2023 is exciting. Service is a critical component across the business value chain. These five trends span new and emerging business goals, products, employees, and end customers. Maximizing each one can deliver service success in 2023 and beyond.