Dan Bryant (Copyright 2014) www.danbryant.com

And smart sensors connected to the Internet could be the antidote.

By Heather Clancy
December 15, 2015

Picture this. Your family is packing for an end-of-year getaway. With three days to go, the washing machine goes on the fritz. You’re lucky enough to schedule a next-day repair, carving four hours out of your schedule to await a technician. He or she arrives on time, only to discover the repair requires a part that’s not on site—and forcing someone in your household to set aside four hours for a second visit.

If that scenario is a major pet peeve, you’re far from alone. The inability for a repair technician to resolve a problem during the first visit rates as the most common reason people were dissatisfied with a recent service experience, according to a survey of 4,122 U.S. and U.K. adults commissioned last June by ServiceMax.

Indeed, it’s twice as dominant as the second most common complaint, which centers on communications issues. More than three-quarters of those who were dissatisfied with a recent service experience were upset because the problem wasn’t resolved on the first visit.

“There’s absolutely an advantage to being able to minimize downtime and get something fixed during the first visit,” said Athani Krishnaprasad, co-founder and chief strategy officer for ServiceMax. “If a technician walks in with a modern mobile device, the idea that someone is walking in with information, there is an emotional hook.”

ServiceMax, based in Pleasanton, Calif., specializes in software that automates tasks and processes for service technicians or delivery teams—people who tend to spend very little time at desks. It is backed by $202 million in venture capital, including its $82 million Series F round last August, and is allied closely with Salesforce.

The survey results suggest there’s a pretty good reason why prolonged repair scenarios are so frustrating: Aside from the personal inconvenience associated with hanging around for a service call, many people (70%) today tend not to request service until the appliance or product in question isn’t working.

But the data also point to a serious interest in service plans that could prevent issues in the first place. More than three-quarters of the respondents said they would be “extremely” or “very” interested in the concept of diagnostics services that help repair teams pinpoint potential issues before a product actually breaks down.

This isn’t science fiction. Consider the example of ServiceMax customer Enphase Energy ENPH , an energy company from Petaluma, Calif., that specializes in solar installations. Enphase uses ServiceMax’s software to monitor solar panels on homes and commercial buildings, collecting data about how efficiently the technology is running or even just whether they’re dirty, which can decrease the amount of power being generated.

The system helps Enphase keep up with the service levels required by its 25-year-long warranties and leasing agreements, said Martin Rogers, vice president of worldwide service and support for Enphase. “We are in a long-time marriage that requires a completely different approach than other services,” Rogers said. “We need to make sure the income generator is producing.”

ServiceMax has about 400 customers for its software, including high-profile companies such as Coca-Cola Enterprises CCE , General Electric GE , and Tyco TYC . It disclosed a deal with the Sony professional services division in Europe last month. “This is not only enabling us to focus on our long term strategy of recurring revenue creation, but also enables us to harness the shift to a service outcomes approach with a future-proofed ready-made [Internet of things] platform,” said John Cooper, the general manager of Sony’s service and support operations in Europe.

Some pretty big software companies are eyeing the market for field services automation, a market ServiceMax estimates is worth $18 billion. In July, Microsoft MSFT acquired FieldOne Services, which supplies software to United Technologies and Mitsubishi-Hitachi Power Systems. Oracle ORCL has also staked a claim, through its July 2014 buyout of TOA Technologies.

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