Field service companies are getting smarter about soliciting customer opinions, but they’re leaving untapped an equally valuable source of feedback: service technicians themselves.

Techs are increasingly central to any thriving field service operation — not just for repairs but for repeat calls. Since they are the ones who are in the field, interacting with customers, they are the ones who can provide sales and marketing with the input they need to improve service or spot opportunities to upsell the customer. Who, after all, knows better than service techs if a customer is happy or not?

“In many cases, [service techs] are the lifeline to feedback from customers,” says Lauren Klein, a community consultant specializing in employee-to-employee communities. Service techs aren’t just experts at repair and maintenance; they can be integral to changing a business strategy or identifying a broken process, says Klein.

Case Study: Hitachi

The challenge for field service companies is implementing a feedback mechanism that is timely, centralized and realistic given techs spend their days on the road — and not at a home office where communication is easier. Here’s where technology — specifically, the subscription-based communities offered by many Internet sites — can help.

Popular services like Tibbr, Jive and Yammer allow companies to create, for a nominal monthly fee per employee, a forum where workers can offer feedback on their own or respond to a manager’s question. Users can select whether the entire company sees a comment or identify select managers and workers to engage in a discussion about, say, ordering parts or scheduling. Techs can log in on their own time — whether out in the field or at home — to convey that a customer was unhappy about a delay or engage other techs in a discussion about the best rugged smartphones.

Hitachi Data Systems, a seller of data storage systems and IT consulting firm, has used Jive to connect workers in the field with top brass since 2011. The company has brought together its workers worldwide to design an employee development program and also to educate them on a new product. Previously when a new product launched, details about it would disseminate slowly and haphazardly. Today upwards of 300 employees at a time are involved in the process of introducing new products. The payoff: higher productivity, more consistent messaging and, ultimately, happier customers, says Nick Howe, the vice president of learning and collaboration at Hitachi.

What’s more, adds Howe, the online community that Klein helped establish allows employees who are thousands of miles apart and who have different needs to find similarities and learn from each other. “It both builds that common culture and also surfaces a lot of the common issues,” says Howe. “We’ve had comments from employees throughout the world that they couldn’t do their jobs without it [social collaboration].”

For all the advantages, online communities aren’t foolproof. A tech might be more than happy to relay when a customer is unhappy because they were late due to no fault of their own, but what about a customer who didn’t like the tech’s attitude? Good luck with that.