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Humanity in the time of crisis - five steps for service leaders during COVID-19

Sumair Dutta Profile picture for user sdutta April 1, 2020
Despite the COVID-19 shutdown, essential equipment still needs attention. Sumair Dutta of ServiceMax outlines five priorities for service leaders during this time

Female technician checks machine wearing protective mask against Covid-19 © M2020 - shutterstock
(© M2020 - shutterstock)

The global crisis we find ourselves in is unprecedented. With the rapid spread of COVID-19 disrupting nearly every part of daily life, service of essential equipment cannot stop. All service can be critical when the consequences of inaction are dire. Yet, leaders have to be ever more intelligent about the use of their resources given the restrictions currently in place. Below are five areas that service leaders should focus on as they navigate these uncertain times.

1. Employee health, safety, and protection

For the service workforce, field employees are most at risk given the nature of their work. That said, health and safety policies need to be reviewed and communicated to all service employees to ensure the continuity of service operations. Back office dispatchers and administrators might not be out in the field, but they are critical to ensuring that incoming customer requests are answered, effectively scheduled, and invoiced. These back-office employees are now tasked with following work from home guidelines that might be unfamiliar and challenging. Therefore, it is vital that the organization provides the necessary tools, communication, and support to ensure that these employees can continue to be productive without compromising their health and safety.

For resources in the field, effective and consistent communication is key to ensuring adherence to stricter health and safety protocols. This communication must extend to all stakeholders so that field technicians aren't placed in any danger when looking to support customer needs. Back-office staff should be aware of updated scheduling guidelines to ensure the right resources for service work. Customers must be communicated with to ensure safe and efficient access to service equipment, even if it is after hours or during downtime. And most importantly, field technicians must be aware of safety protocols so that they complete necessary safety checklists, conduct proper site assessments, and have the necessary personal protective equipment before engaging in service work. The tendency for field technicians is to throw themselves into their work and the service of their customers. For now, it is incumbent on service leaders to remind technicians to serve themselves before they focus on the customer.

2. Customer communication and connection

Customer operations are being significantly impacted in this time of crisis. Some customers are ramping down their operations in the face of current restrictions while others are forced to ramp up. It's vital that service leaders connect with their customers to understand the impact of the environment on their current operations and their expectations around service support. Are planned maintenance visits necessary? What are the best times for access to critical service equipment? These are just some of the relevant questions that need to be asked. Likewise, it's key that service leaders proactively communicate with their customers about resource constraints, personnel restrictions, and overall service capacity. This dialog will help both parties develop a mutual plan to ensure that service needs are fulfilled without compromising health, safety, and business operations.

3. Ecosystem empowerment

This is a good time for field organizations to open up various modes of service delivery to reduce unnecessary travel and contact. Organizations should assess their customers' ability to resolve certain issues with knowledge access, real-time collaboration, or direct shipment of parts. When field dispatch is needed, the use of improved triage tools and protocols can ensure that technicians are only sent out if they have the right parts and knowledge. Reliance on this triage information can also reduce the time technicians have to spend onsite to resolve service issues. Finally, messaging and visual collaboration tools can help technicians complete their assigned service tasks and pre-empt future service issues, thereby reducing the total number of visits.

4. Supply chain stabilization

Supplier relationships are especially critical during this time, especially if the flow of parts and materials across borders is restricted or delayed. Service leaders must identify critical service parts and map current inventories with updated service demand. Leaders might have to rely on parts rationing or location-based prioritization to ensure that critical service events face the least amount of disruption. As in the case of customers, communication and collaboration with partners is paramount during this time of supply chain stress.

5. Risk management

What happens if 10% of the service workforce is impacted by the virus? What happens if that number rises to 50%? How would the service organization be able to meet its contractual and other commitments? Which customer situations would be prioritized? Service leaders must have a resource and communication plan in place for such eventualities. Such stress tests and plans also need to be conducted on the financial side, especially as it comes to working capital requirements.

A crisis, such as the one presented by this global pandemic, offers its share of challenges but also presents several opportunities. Perhaps the biggest opportunity for service leaders is to use this time to personally connect with and build relationships with their service staff and their customers. As the service leader at a large medical device supplier stated:

The best advice is to open up opportunities for collaboration and communication. Knowing a little more about your customer or employee can have such a significant impact in the health of your relationship. The best leaders will be those that display empathy.

We couldn't have said it any better.

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