Ask someone on the street what (or who) a field service technician is and you might get a blank stare back. It’s hard to believe that a position that  drives a multi-billion-dollar profession across dozens of industry sectors could remain such a mystery, but that’s starting to change — as savvier companies catch on to how a profession once pigeonholed as a “dirty job” is evolving rapidly into a high-skill, high-tech, and high-value role in today’s service economy.

Here’s a look at what defines the “2.0” version of field service technicians today:

They’ve Got New Wheels

service-van.jpgYesterday’s service tech drove a standard-issue service van, mid-1990s vintage, with a nondescript company name (and street address) stenciled on the sides. The most sophisticated technology on board was the automatic transmission and perhaps the driver’s cell phone. Today’s 2.0 service tech is more likely to be driving something more 21st-century — such as a hybrid Nissan NV, an all-electric retrofit from VIA Motors, or an “NGV” running on compressed natural gas. Apart from the vehicle itself, the 2.0 technician might also be using on-board telematics or GPS-enabled fleet management software to streamline routing and scheduling.

The look on the outside sets a new standard as well — newer fleet vehicles have marketing and branding factored into the equation, and tech-savvy companies are experimenting with different options and configurations. Here’s a solid rundown of the latest fleet options in field service today.

They’ve Got Tablets, Smartphones, and BYOD

No more pagers and clipboards.  Today’s service tech has a smartphone just like yours and probably knows how to get more utility out of it for work. As the Wall Street Journal put it recently, “The field service sector is at the leading edge of an emerging workplace-technology boom,” with service teams using mobile apps for diagnosis, repair, scheduling, and even a little M2M — enabling the equipment they service to communicate to the techs themselves.

Mr. Fix-It Is Now Mr. Sales

The 20th-century service tech showed up at a job, did the job, and took off — maybe without saying a word to anyone. 2.0 technicians are trained to do — and earn — a lot more. Alex Alexander, professional service strategist and founder of Alexander Consulting, and the author of Seriously Selling Services: How to Build a Profitable Services Business in any Industry, explains why this shift in roles has become so critical: “There’s nobody that has more impact on future purchases of service or products than field service engineers,” Alexander says:

“They’re seen on a more continual basis and have at least a dozen times more trust than the salespeople, so it’s a no-brainer. Field service engineers are the hidden sales force within a company. I’d rather try to train a FSE on how to sell service than a traditional product salesperson any day. They catch on more quickly and once they see that it is in the customer’s interest to sell, they’re more than dangerous.”

Want more details on why sales is part of the 2.0 tech’s new skill set? Check out the full interview with Alexander.

… And Mr. Service

Smart field service managers recognize that their teams in the field are critical brand ambassadors and own customer relationships in new ways that can drive more revenue and profit, not just drive the vans. That’s why fewer are making some of the bonehead mistakes in service that were all too frequent in a bygone era — from arriving late to service calls and showing up with the wrong tools or equipment to talking down to customers (or not talking to them at all. The “7 deadly sins” of customer service in the field are, thankfully, becoming the exception, not the norm.

More importantly, as The Service Council’s president Bill Pollock explains, the 2.0 service tech is leaning into an array of new skills and tactics that are — for the first time — turning service organizations into profit centers, not cost centers. “We’re going to see the rebound of the service economy,” says Pollock, “so there’s more focus on the customer and generating revenue, rather than on cutting costs.”

Oh — It Isn’t ‘Mr.’ Anymore

More women are joining the service-tech workforce — both in the U.S. and abroad. In the U.K., more than a third of all commercial van drivers today are women. In the U.S, the percentage of women moving into field service is on the rise in jobs like these:

  • ATM repairers (9 percent)
  • Precision instrument and equipment repairer (16.2 percent)
  • Telecommunications line installers/repairers (4.3 percent)

Quick Thinkers, Fast Actors

Modern field service techs need to know the company’s products inside and out–and understand that the skills required differ depending on those products. But here’s the trick: because changes and technological advances are happening so fast today, the machines and devices that techs knew so well yesterday may be obsolete by tomorrow. Today’s field service techs must adapt. This skill requires an ability to learn quickly, react intuitively as unexpected problems arise and be flexible.


ABOUT Maeghan Ouimet

Maeghan joined Original9 with over 5 years of media experience — reporting and writing on business, culture and technology trends for Rolling Stone Australia, Boston Magazine, and Inc. Magazine. She is a self-admitted start-up geek and semi-avid Bikram yoga practitioner.