As a former industry analyst, I have the opportunity to listen in to some speakers presenting innovative ideas and interesting content. Last month, for example, I had the privilege of engaging with senior field service leaders at Field Service Connect in Austin, Texas.
Below are six things I learned from end user industry experts that might help you in your own service organizations.
1. The Benefits of a Board of Technicians
Leaders need to assess and adjust their communication styles especially in the context of remote and field-based teams. It may sound obvious, but it’s often overlooked. Ericsson, for example, has created its own Board of Technicians. This small group of eight technicians (out of a pool of thousands) comprises high performers across various geographies and skill levels. Senior leadership meets with this Board for an hour every week to discuss a wide range of topics impacting the day-to-day lives of technicians.
It’s an innovative idea and an effective way to avoid common mistakes. Most service organizations assemble a focus group of technicians on an ad hoc basis or during a technology deployment. But I have yet to see such a simple, yet formalized arrangement focused on listening to the needs and feedback of front-line technicians.
Senior leadership treats this Board of Technicians as a Board of Directors and collects invaluable feedback from these conversations. The short and consistent meetings show a respect for the technicians’ time and commitment to work, and continuity of the meetings allows for a longer-term focus on the strategic objectives of the business, as opposed to the short-term attention to a specific problem. For the rest of the technician pool, it reveals a great deal of commitment from business leadership to the needs and wants of those on the front-lines.
2. Never Mind The Aging Workforce, What About The Aging Customer?
While we often talk about the aging field service workforce, we never talk about the aging of the customer base. In field service, this ties in to those who are responsible for the maintenance and operation of equipment on customer sites. These customers are the ones that interface with the service organization and are being exposed to newer forms of technology and service delivery.
As they age, are service organizations prepared to meet their needs while preparing for those of their replacements? I spoke to a medical device company that was installing iPads on its equipment. The purpose of these iPads was to provide the operators with basic troubleshooting and other information so that they could avoid service calls where they weren’t needed. The iPads also had advanced capabilities tied to augmented reality and video-based support. The organization found that their current customers didn’t want to use these iPads and preferred a conversation with support. They just wanted someone onsite when there was a problem. Contrast this with what we hear about the changing expectations of the next generation of customers. While it’s important for organizations to invest in service tools and modalities, they must continue to address the needs and wants of their current customers.
3. A New Skillset For New Generations
Most organizations aren’t looking for a one-to-one replacement of their retiring workers. With new technology and changing product design, newer technicians don’t need to have all of the knowledge of their predecessors. That said, organizations are beginning to prioritize a changing set of characteristics in their field workers. Things such as critical thinking, customer-centricity, the interest in diagnosing a problem, the ability to work in teams, and the ability to navigate today’s tools, are becoming more important as organizations look for the next generation of their service workforce.
4. A Digital Mentor
With Augmented Reality and other collaboration tools, it is now possible for organizations to extend the reach, knowledge, and expertise of their experienced service workers. In addition to sharing technical knowledge and information, these senior technicians can also serve as mentors for those entering the field service arena.
Technicians are often isolated in their field-based roles and sometimes lack the necessary guidance and mentorship to feel connected with the rest of the organization. Organizations must rely on improved communication and collaboration tools to support the broader needs of their junior field technicians.
5. Artificial Intelligence (AI) Project Prioritization
Customers continue to make advances in the areas of machine learning and data science. Diebold Nixdorf, for example, uncovers analysis opportunities that can be supported with the aid of machine learning tools that look for data analysts that scour data and look for correlations in the service business. These analysts are the ones who most need help when it comes to the validation of data sources and the execution of data-driven analyses.
Likewise, Dell, has invested in Data Scientists (analyzing data) and Data Engineers (preparing and cleaning data). The company currently has 40 active Robotic Process Automation projects and it’s become necessary to find a way to prioritize which projects get access to the necessary resources.
6. Outcome-Based Progress
Aerospace was one of the early adopters for outcome-based services, with the likes of GE Aviation’s ‘time on the wing’ approach to maintenance. We’re now seeing more progress from organizations across different industries and geographies. Companies like Tetra Pak are making significant advances in outcome-based services. These services are focused on delivering a predictable maintenance cost with performance guarantees or in establishing and taking a stake in operating cost guidelines for their customers. Although progress in some companies continues to be slow, we are beginning to see an acceleration in organizations testing outcome-based services with their early adopter customers.