Mindset applied the design thinking process to reimagine the field service experience for Patterson Companies, a leading distribution and service company that serves the dental and animal health markets in North America and the UK.
It brought together field service technicians, business leadership, and IT experts to create a new mobile app that improved customer satisfaction, gave employees time back every day, and will continue to save Patterson over US$1.3 million annually. With just a few user experience (UX) champions, a diverse group of stakeholders was created to focus on empathy, find the real problem, and deliver an innovative solution.
Modern Field Service Processes Require Access from Anywhere
The technical service team at Patterson spends much of its time at customer sites. Field technicians provide dentists and veterinary offices with the expertise, products, and services they need to keep their practices running smoothly and efficiently. Patterson’s customer experience sets it apart from other distributors. Not only does it sell and install products, but it provides services to make sure dentists’ equipment runs smoothly.
Prior to working with Mindset to develop a mobile solution, the technicians needed to be back at the office or their home each night to load the information from their service appointments into the SAP system that ran the business.
Walking in the Customer’s Shoes and Riding in Their Trucks
Patterson’s director of Technical Field Service and vice president of IT reached out to design thinking expert and UX champion, Mindset. To gain a complete understanding of the problem and underlying business processes, Mindset decided to team up with several field service reps for a series of “ride-alongs.” By riding in service tech vans, going on real service calls, and getting to know and interact with the service techs, Mindset project managers got a unique perspective on the pain technicians go through to deliver great service every day. This would prove very helpful when facilitating the design thinking sessions with a broader team.
With Design Thinking, People Focus on What Matters Most
After capturing the preliminary information from traveling to multiple sites in the field, Mindset set up a design thinking workshop at SAP AppHaus Minneapolis, a space created specifically to cater to such workshops.
The workshop included the technicians from the field research, business sponsors, IT experts, and Mindset facilitators. Jonathan Bragg of Mindset served as Patterson’s principal UX architect. Getting everyone together made a big difference in building empathy for everyone’s needs. The ability to ask “why” across roles led to a deeper understanding of the current situation and problems along the entire process flow.
The design thinking workshop followed the typical steps for problem finding, problem solving, and iteration.
- Empathize:– By bringing various stakeholders together, everyone was able to understand how their part of the process affected the entire company. In many cases, it was the first time the field service reps had a chance to speak with IT directly.
- Define: Once everyone understood the overall situation with the current field service software, which was based on SAP Customer Relationship Management (SAP CRM), they were able to work as a team to narrow the scope and create a clear problem statement. Since the field service technicians spend most of their time at customer sites, one of the key requirements was that the solution needed to have a mobile-optimized design.
- Ideate: With a clear problem definition, the cross-functional team suggested many ideas for improvement that spanned the entire business process. Not only did this make it easier to enter data during service calls, it also improved how Patterson used the information downstream to improve customer service and reduce company costs.
- Prototype: During the workshop, the Mindset experts were able to create prototypes, gather feedback, and make improvements in an iterative and agile manner. With the insight from the design thinking session, they were able to develop an SAP Fiori app that could be tested in the field.
- Test: The initial pilot version went to a group of 17 technicians in 17 locations. This allowed for further refinement of the app, using agile methodology to put new functionality into people’s hands quickly to see what worked and what needed further refinement.
Throughout the process, a dedicated product owner from Patterson helped the Mindset team prioritize development and ensure the features they developed addressed the user stories that were documented during the workshop.
“A design thinking workshop is somewhat of a magical event for our customers. You get people from all walks of life into a room together for three to four days and out comes an amazing, thoughtful proposed solution that can be estimated, built, tested, live, and championed. It’s these workshops that form lasting bonds between business end users and IT, showcasing how everyone is one the same team and everyone wants to make a difference”
— Jonathan Bragg,
Director of Software Products,
Agile Development Process Added Validation Steps for Clean Data
The discussions in the workshop revealed that without a dedicated mobile app, field reps needed to return to the office or their home to enter details from their site visits. Besides being inconvenient, the complexity of a desktop screen sometimes led to data inconsistencies. During the prototyping phase, it became clear that adding validations into each step of a linear process would be successful in ensuring that only clean data can go into the system. Once they focused on this pain point, they were able to make small modifications to the app that accommodated the checks and balances they wanted to build into the new service process that weren’t available in the original system.
The initial plan was to create a native iOS application. During the field observations, the team learned that not all the technicians had iPhones. Since SAP Fiori was already used in other areas at Patterson, the developers decided to create an SAP Fiori app that runs in a browser so it could be used on any device.
Intuitive Screens Lead to High Adoption and Measurable Business Benefits
- The new app was so compelling to use, that over a four-month period, 85% of the field reps chose the new app over the old process. The number of clicks and associated time to complete various processes dropped by over 50%.
- Better visibility into order status allowed the company to focus its resources and reduce the number of orders open longer than 60 days from 13,000 to 4,000. This translated into $1.3 million in annual savings for Patterson.
- On the human side, technicians were able to complete the administrative part of their jobs more quickly, so they were happier. And, they were able to check on tasks from anywhere, so they could be more responsive to their customers’ needs, adding to their job satisfaction. With the ability to complete work remotely, people could bypass a trip to the office for “paperwork” and switch to relaxation mode when they got home, rather than staring at their computer to document tasks they had completed hours earlier.
Digitalization Will Drive Further Business Improvements
The design thinking approach is more than just bringing a bunch of people into a conference room, either physically or virtually, and expecting magic to happen. If you have the right facilitators, who can ask the right questions, and the right development team, who can build apps quickly and make updates based on user feedback, along with the key business stakeholders, you greatly increase the chances of success. If you lack the skills in your organization, then bringing in an outside expert is a great way to gain the results you want while learning the process.
Peter Spielvogel is senior director of Product Marketing for SAP UX Engineering.