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Technicians are concerned about the future of field service. Are we listening?

Sumair Dutta Profile picture for user sdutta January 25, 2022
Summary:
Sumair Dutta of ServiceMax considers an important question of employee engagement - technicians are well-positioned when it comes to the future of field service. Are we actively seeking and valuing their opinions?

Female technician listening to field service colleague at industrial factory © TMLsPhotoG - Shutterstock
(© TMLsPhotoG - Shutterstock)

Service technicians are the heart of the service economy. They are constantly on the frontlines solving problems, devising solutions, and supporting customer outcomes. They have been called ambassadors, heroes – even angels – and more, given the impact that they have on customers. Organizations would do well to spend more time with their technicians and to incorporate their feedback and insight into continuous improvement and broader transformation initiatives.

It’s always been a joy of mine to spend time with technicians, collecting their insights and feedback. I had the opportunity to do this during my time in service research, and at ServiceMax I have continued interacting with technicians as part of our focus on ride-alongs and other technician conversations. Recently, I had the opportunity to collaborate with Bain & Company (Bain) as they incorporated some technician-focused research in their overall campaign to study the future of field service. Here are a few highlights from this research. 

Only four out of ten technicians are motivated about the future of field service 

This is an extremely concerning statistic, as any sub-50% score on engagement or motivation might indicate. It’s worth noting that 60% of technicians at leading organizations (top performers) are motivated by the future when compared to 31% of the followers. There are consistencies to the leaders’ approach that we will discuss in the next highlight.

One would think that the biggest concern that technicians have about the future is the replacement of their jobs through automation. The research shows that while job replacement is a concern, it isn’t the primary concern for technicians. The three major areas of concern are health and safety, career development opportunities, and digital disruption of the way work is done. While technicians understand that technology will become a central part of their work lives, they are more concerned with it coming in the way of them doing their work and supporting their customers. On the positive side, the three areas that excite technicians the most about the future revolve around learning new skills, working hand-in-hand with technology, and being able to help more customers.

Leaders continue to differentiate via technician-centered change management

Leaders consistently focus on three areas around technician-focused digital initiatives: 

1. They are clear on the purpose of these initiatives. 

During ride-alongs we often hear technician complaints about long and arduous debrief processes. A common statement from technicians is: “I don’t understand why I need to fill all these fields.” While some of the fields are necessary for work completion or compliance, others are deemed unnecessary from a technician’s point of view. This is where it is extremely important for organizations to help their technicians understand why a few extra fields of data collection are important for the health of the customer, the health of the asset, or the health of the business. It also helps to deploy tools that make it easy to capture this extra data. Technicians at leading organizations are 23% more likely to understand the reason behind field-based data collection when compared to technicians from other organizations.

2. They provide a greater amount of support in helping technicians learn new tools.

Incorporating new tools and technology into the way of work is always a challenging process. From a technician’s point of view, the old way of doing things was likely the easiest — they could go about their work, jot down the pertinent data on a piece of paper and just call in the specifics in at the end of the day or the end of the week. But this wasn’t the best process or outcome for organizations, and they turned to technology. It’s a 50-50 split in terms of technicians who think that digital tools are easy to learn and use, highlighting a great need for additional training and support. This is where leading organizations excel as their technicians are 42% more likely to feel that they get the necessary training, support, and time, to learn new tools and technology.  

3. They link tool usage to outcomes that are relevant to the technicians. 

In coming back to the idea of purpose, leading organizations are much more likely to link technology use to outcomes that technicians care about. For instance, at leading organizations, around 3 out of 4 technicians evaluate their technology tools to be useful in enabling them to deliver their work safely, to solve customer problems, to complete their work on time, and to avoid needless paperwork. While there is still work to be done, technicians are much more likely to view these tools as enablers as opposed to barriers. 

Technicians are still not particularly interested in driving sales 

Service executives are increasingly expecting their field forces to play a role in generating revenue, with some companies expecting 30% of their service revenue to be driven by technicians. This is a potential area of misalignment and concern as most technicians (nearly 7 in 10) either aren’t interested in selling or don’t feel particularly skilled to drive sales. It is not the reason that they got into field service. My colleague Coen Jeukens shares wonderful insight on how we can support our sales desires and initiatives while continuing to leverage our technicians’ knowledge and insight. While it could be valuable to have your technicians sell, it seems much more impactful to leverage their insight to support a dedicated inside sales process, and recognize the impact of their insight on sales and business growth.

Technicians also have strong opinions on how their organizations can be better prepared to face disruptive trends in the future. In their minds, a few of the most important levers include the better utilization of data and the increased connection between parts of the organization. From a technician’s perspective, better connectivity across the organization is needed with sales and the supply chain, but they also see the value of being involved in product design and customer success initiatives. Their referrals and networks can also be a major plus for recruitment, training, and other talent initiatives. 

The concepts of data reliance and cross-organizational collaboration are foundational to the success of digital transformation initiatives. Maybe, the technicians are on to something. Maybe, we should listen.

Follow this link to see the Bain research developed in partnership with ServiceMax. You're also welcome to download ServiceMax’s own POV on some of the research themes. If you would like to discuss some of the themes and trends captured in the Bain research, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected].

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