Jim Saccone manages a team of field service technicians as a Global Services Leader at GE Oil & Gas, which provides equipment and maintenance services to oil and gas producers. To do their jobs requires a lot more than a screwdriver: they work regularly with gas turbines, steam turbines and centrifugal compressors. Here, Saccone reveals the skills he looks for in a tech and what he thinks every tech needs to succeed.

What’s your role at GE Gas & Oil?

Saccone: I work in the global services division of GE Oil & Gas and am responsible for field services within the Americas. We provide aftermarket services, both planned and reactive maintenance, to oil and gas customers for their rotating equipment needs. In our terminology, rotating equipment is gas turbines, centrifugal and reciprocating compressors, and other rotating equipment such as steam turbines and turbo expanders. We also handle control systems that open up the valves within equipment, including gas-fuel mixture rates.

These machines must be very complex.

To service the equipment takes a good amount of training. If somebody wants to become a field service engineer and has a mechanical degree, it usually takes them 12 to 18 months of training. During that time, they get a lot of classroom and theoretical training, but also hands-on training.

There’s a lot of value in having a field service engineer that can do things well technically, and who is also savvy and can communicate with customers. If you’ve got all that, then you’ve got a tremendous field service engineer — and you want to leverage that.

We don’t say that field service engineers have any responsibility to sell. We want them to be really good lead generators versus sellers. At this point, we don’t have any courses that are specifically designed for lead generation or sales. But we do a lot of soft skills training such as communications, influencing skills, negotiation and leadership.

What does it take to be a successful field service tech?

I always tell the field service managers in my group that, in order to be a successful field service professional and to provide high-value offerings for customers, a field service engineer must do three things.

Think of a three-legged stool. The first leg is they must be technically sound. The second is they need customer relationship skills. They must be able to communicate and build relationships with the customers. A field service engineer is a face of that company, and they promote the brand and the image of that company. The third leg of the stool is what I call the administrative side — the paperwork and documentation. We live in an environment where you’ve got to have documentation of pretty much everything you do. What did you fix? How did you fix it? How long did it take? We archive that because it’s useful in the future when we might need to intervene again on that machine.

In order to be a successful field service professional, you need to be able to do all three of those very well. Otherwise, your stool will fall over.

How do you stay connected with techs who are dispersed all over the world?

We go to a lot of different places, and some are very remote. Oil and gas facilities aren’t exactly in the middle of metropolitan areas.

Sometimes, you can’t communicate because there isn’t an Internet connection. We try different things. We’re working on an exciting pilot next year that involves the iPad in terms of documenting and some neat Bluetooth technology between our tools and the iPad. We think it will provide a lot of great productivity for our field service team, and it will also help them handle the administrative side.