Today marks one year to the day since the 500 staff at BioTek went home to work as COVID shelter-in-place orders kicked in. For the Vermont-based manufacturer of life science equipment, this set in motion a big task, recalls Service Director Sean Jordan:
It was a rapid change, making sure that people get their computers off their desks — some people had desktops, we had laptops we could change out to. After 12 months, we're still pushing through. Like everyone, we're burnt out, but we're still doing it, taking care of the customer, taking care of our colleagues.
BioTek’s service operation is spread across multiple sites around the world, supporting traditional field service roles via depot repot centers, contract sales and management operations, parts sales, call centers and escalation paths. But the shift to remote working called for creative thinking as there were processes that had been designed for a physical office environment, explains Jordan:
Our culture on campus is a lot of face-to-face, a lot of scrums. Why do it by e-mail if I can walk downstairs and talk to manufacturing, go talk to R&D, pull my team into the hallway [to discuss when] we have a problem in the field? So it's a lot of face-to-face, then all of a sudden, everything's just tons of email and all these messages coming through.
BioTek’s field teams had already used a variety of communications tools, including email, text messaging and telephony as well as remote conferencing tech, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams. But it was ServiceMax’s Zinc collaboration offering, designed with field service needs in mind, that saw a huge uptick in use during the pandemic. Jordan says BioTek had been using Zinc for five years when COVID struck:
We used it at the office to connect with each other and everyone out in the field, but now that everyone's remote and we don't have that face-to-face communication, as soon as we went to work-from-home, the volume of messaging just shot through the roof.
Zinc’s real-time collaboration capabilities have been useful in crowdsourcing solutions to how to deal in a remote world with certain processes designed for a secure campus environment, such as credit card payments, according to Jordan:
All of a sudden, there'll be a team on Zinc talking about, 'OK, how do we solve this?'. So you're kind of brainstorming on the fly, but doing it in a quick way in Zinc, whether you're doing on video or just the simple messaging stream.
Perhaps the most high profile example of Zinc in practice has come via BioTek’s Save My Bacon initiative, designed to help tackle problems experienced out in the field. It was this need that got the firm involved with Zinc in the first place, explains Jordan:
When you're on site, you want to solve the customers problem right away, but you're like, 'I'm really stuck, I need help'. A field person may text their favorite person, they may call their favorite service engineer back in the office, they might try to avoid the escalation path — classic 'hunt-and-peck'.
But what if your favorite engineer is in a meeting or helping somebody else out? If they’re not available, what do you do then? Save My Bacon is a way to crowdsource immediate ideas to customer problems, says Jordan:
It was kind of like the Bat Phone or the light in the sky that says, 'Hey, I need help!’. It was [a way of] saying, 'Look, someone in the world has a problem’, that goes out to everyone that works in service. So I don't care if you're a co-ordinator who's handling work orders for a bench site or me who may not have the technical information, we all know that that person needs help. And I know that if I don't have the information, I know who does.
Speed of response is usually pretty immediate, he adds:
I'd be surprised if it's more than 90 seconds before someone jumps on it, if they have time. I'll watch and if I see it's 'cricket sounds' for four minutes, five minutes, then I'm like, 'That's not normal and this person needs help'. Pre-COVID, I'd stick my head out my office and walk over and talk to a team that I know can do it. Now I just put it on Zinc and say, 'Hey, what's going on?'. Usually the response is, 'Oh, we're working with them. We forgot to tell you in Zinc that I'm working on it'. Or maybe they're like, 'Oh, we're all really busy. But obviously, you know what, you're in the field, so I'm going to make sure I take care of the problem you have right now, so we can help the customer'.
Critical here is the Zinc UI, which Jordan praises:
One of the values of Zinc is that the User Interface, that experience, is so clean, so simple, so good. It's not that I have to log into email [to help]. You can do a text message. You can bang it out - and that's one of the reasons why people use it so well, because for us, that UI is so good, that it's just, 'Yeah, sure, bang it out!
That Save My Bacon is still in use today six years later is testament to its effectiveness, but the Zinc offering has in that time evolved to include hotlines and associated metrics and analytics, which Jordon says have been great additions. Other functional enhancements have included the recent addition of the ability to annotate video, which is proving helpful:
You're in there working on an instrument and you can make a video - 'Hey, I've got this problem — I want to show you what it is' or even hear the funny sounds it's making. And then someone can take that and point out where the issue is...Before, it was an extra workflow of saving that video or photo to your desktop, doing an edit and then re-posting, instead of doing it on the fly. So [annotation has] been pretty helpful.
Everyone on board and on-boarding
Jordan argues that the use of Zinc has impacted positively on the BioTek corporate culture:
You can rely on Zinc as a way to contact everyone in service. You have an entire organization supporting you, no matter what your problem is.
That aspect took on another personal angle in the wake of BioTek’s acquisition by Agilent in 2019. The takeover meant getting staffers set up with a new 401k plan, new health insurance programs and so on, processes that can inevitably induce anxiety and questions among the workforce, who want to keep up their medical coverage and understand how to get paid. Zinc has helped here, says Jordan:
We have it set up so that if you have any issues, if you need something from HR, you're getting the answer. Or maybe I just heard the answer and I can repeat it back to you? We use Zinc in supporting every employee on that journey as they learn the information, the flow of the business, so that's been really comforting. It doesn't matter where you are in the world, you're going to get support and you have everyone behind you, so you don't feel alone.
And there’s another human benefit coming from the ability to set up groups in Zinc, one that Jordan clearly appreciates:
We have certain channels that are maybe less work-related. A great thing about Zinc is I no longer have junk email. We have a group in Zinc just for stupid humor and jokes and memes and whatever you want. Great - that's where it goes, and you can enjoy it if you want to and it's no longer in my email…We’re still maintaining somewhat of a normal cadence of the stupid things we would do.