A couple weeks back, we ran a pair of stories that started from discussions and presentations at the Service Council Executive Symposium in Chicago — one about empowering employees on the lower rungs of an organization, and another about the pain points of training field techs.

Those two stories generated a lot of great discussion between other field services professionals on LinkedIn. We thought we’d wrap up some of that discussion for our readers.

Empowering Field Techs

Our May 3 story about the benefits of organizations and managers paying closer attention to the ideas and techniques used by their people in the field was based on a talk given by James Mylett, the vice president and general manager of field and business operations for Johnson Controls, a $40 billion company that has holdings in dozens of sectors. Mylett was passionate about this issue because he said it means so much to a company’s bottom line.

“Mylett said Johnson’s field service division has 4,000 techs, each of whom work about 2,000 hours per year at a (hypothetical) rate of $50 per hour, adding up to a $400 million annual cost. Mylett pointed out that a 10 percent increase in operational efficiency, be it from smarter scheduling, better training or improved performance, adds up to a $40 million savings. …”

On LinkedIn, others seconded Mylett’s view and brought up the importance of field techs as customer service and sales adjuncts.

“Too often the guys on the bottom, who keep the customer happy, end up overlooked,” said Rob Greiner, a service engineer at Lance Co., Haas Factory Outlet. “The salesman sells the first product, service sells the rest. Service, for the most part, is the face of the company. It seems that management seems to forget this sometimes.”

Steven Cramer, a former VP of operations at WMS, said that the field techs in his organizaiton were crucial to sales and customer service.

“(At WMS) I emphasized that they were just as important if not more to the relationship we had with our customers because they were in front of the customers more,” Cramer said. “I also had them learn about the product so that they could be bottom up sellers, which had the affect to assist the sales people when they did their sales call – because there was already word on the street among the organization of the product. This was a very effective manner in circling the resources to work in harmony.”Andy Raymond, who runs a consulting business but once ran a large field service organization servicing medical devices, offered more pragmatic advice on simply keeping field techs happy:

“Recruiting super stars was easy, keeping them motivated over the years took work,” Raymond said “(We focused on) career mapping, giving them up to fellow directors in another part of the country, letting them go into sales if that was there passion. Giving them high profile projects that sent them on a little trip to Hawaii here and there. Putting them in think tanks for equipment development. Keep them interested and happy no matter what.”

Soothing the Pain of Training

A few days later, we ran a story about the universal pain felt by field service organizations when trying to figure out how to train field techs. With dozens, hundreds or thousands of tech spread out around the country (or world), how does a company effectively train them in new parts or procedures without the expensive logistical nightmare of flying people in to one location?

One commenter on our site gave some practical advice.

“The best approach seems to be have a point man that is up to date on all the lastest technology and have him, or her teach the process. Sometimes it is more cost effective to send one person on the road to show others the proper menthods of a certain fix then bringing all the service people in for training. YouTube is also a good source for connecting with your field people to show hands on video and can be accessed from any smart phone or laptop. By simply having the trainer make a video and uploading to you tube, this can be done as offen as needed.”

Bill Waters, a director of services, said it takes a balancing act of good hires and giving trainers and techs proper resources.

“You need the best techs to keep your customers happy, however, with the ongoing expense constraints, it’s getting harder to support proper internal training programs. Hiring experinced techs is a good start, but a bench full of ‘stars’ can be challenging to manage and drives up your fixed operational costs. Going to a online technical library is good, but now you have the expense of keeping it up to date and making it easy to use.

“Personally, I would view building a strong infrastructure with a focus on the tactical day to day requirements combined with long term strategic objectives as the best place to start. Build a pyramid of skillsets. A few senior tech support people at the top who can maintian a library, answer the phone to assist with escalations, and do some travel days for on the job training. Use your KPI reporting to identify which techs would benefit from day trips. Then assign team leads and pay for a weekly breakfast where the techs can sit down and talk about issues them come across in the field. No better tool than techs brainstorming – after all they are hardwired to fix problems.”

“You’ll end up with a nice mixture of tech support, senior/team leads, mid level techs and junior techs. Best of all, it will position you for the future.”

Related: The Service Manager’s Dilemma: How to Reduce Costs, and Improve Quality.

Click here to download a free whitepaper, “Five Steps to Make Field Service Profitable.”

ABOUT Corey Lewis

Avatar photoCorey Lewis is an experienced writer, editor, PR pro and marketer with a deep background in technology, social media, and internet tools and culture.