Developing a solid training program offers field service organizations a lot more than just keeping everyone certified: It allows techs a way to improve both technical and “soft” skills, presents a way to advance in their careers, and, some studies say, is considered the next-best thing to a pay raise. In short, training is an important investment. Here are five ways to get the most out of the process.

1. Start By Training Your Top People

Delivering the same level of training for everyone in a large company, with hundreds or thousands of field service technicians, can be near-impossible — and definitely expensive. Instead, focus on a group of top technicians and keep them on the bleeding edge of your industry’s technology and best practices.

In fact, SmartVan commenter Edward Post left the following message on training: “The best approach seems to be to have a point man that is up to date on all the latest 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 methods of a certain fix than bringing all the service people in for training.”

Those techs can help disseminate their knowledge down the ranks, or can occasionally make trips to other offices to deliver the training they received at the company base. It’s an inexpensive alternative that can also help develop future company leaders, and promotes interaction and communication among employees.

2. Decide What Can Go Online

Moving certain training programs online, through a learning management system, presents a great way to save money on travel, and provide technicians with an on-demand library of training lessons they can go back to for a refresher when confronted with a tough fix, as we discussed last week. But first try to figure out what elements of training really translate online, and which don’t.

Mike Kay, the service training manager for STERIS Healthcare, said more “knowledge-based” training can work online, while super tactile lessons are best reserved for in-person meetings.

“So if you’re showing how to dismantle or reassemble a mechanical component, even if you show the process, that doesn’t always translate from a learning standpoint online,” he said. “… But if it’s something like, ‘Here’s Step 1, Step 2, Step 3,’ or ‘Push this button, switch this lever’ — more knowledge-based information — that’s certainly easier for someone to do online.”

3. Use Social Networking

No, not Facebook and Twitter. (Although they can be useful, too.)

Enterprise-level internal communication programs like Yammer, Salesforce’s Chatter, or Tibbr are all great for connecting employees in real time. Field techs can pose a question right from their phone or iPad to anyone in the organization, and get an instant reply. Or he can search the network’s archives for any prior mention of, or advice on, the repair he’s inquiring about.

4. Make Service Part of Design

The more proactive way to keep service techs up to speed on product designs is to actually design the products with the service tech in mind. WMS, which makes casino games, takes this idea literally: The company actually embeds service-department employees in the product design team, so they can offer advice on ways to make the games easier to work on for a service tech.

“He’s in meetings saying, ‘Hey, last time we used a red wire here. Can’t we keep it the same?’ Or, ‘A tech’s hand used to be able to fit behind here and that needs to happen,'” said Tim Spencer, VP of customer experience for WMS.

Making service part of design means new products, or updated ones, are still familiar to service techs, which in turn simplifies their training needs, and ensures that everyone’s still able to perform maintenance on the newest and latest gizmos.

5. Time It Right

The truth is that most service technicians are busy, and may not have a ton of time to devote to training — either online or in person. Instead of overloading people, choose times of year (or of a month, or a week) that make the most sense. In the HVAC world, “shoulder season” — in the spring and gall — is typically slow, so many companies use that time to get certified, attend new training sessions, and brush up on new products.

We’ve also heard of Monday breakfast sit-downs for techs to discuss new tricks or product updates amongst themselves or with a manager. The point is that training doesn’t need to be as formal as flying across the country for a week of break-out sessions. Get creative, find ways to make it a part of your business plan, and reap its rewards.

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

ABOUT Ian Stewart

Avatar photoIan is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.