Donald B. Stephens is a 30-year senior customer service engineer with the Xerox Corporation. In this post, he discusses how field service leaders can use technology to track their technicians’ performance and location without alienating them. 

A few years ago, during training for a new product, I met a technician I’ll call “Bob.” He had left one of the major shipping companies to come work for us. Our company had just introduced GPS tracking devices into our company vehicles, which was a big topic among service technicians at the training center. Bob held everyone’s attention when he told us how his former company used technology to micromanage every aspect of their jobs, right down to how they started their vehicles.

“When they bought their fleet of vans,” Bob told us, “they had the manufacturer install the ignition on the opposite side of the steering column. To save time, we were told to start the van with one hand while we buckled our seat-belt with the other. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I left.”

We all sat in silence and pondered whether GPS were only the beginning, and if we were losing one of the things we love most about field service: our freedom.

Change is hard enough — many of our techs had 20 years or more of tenure at the company — but a new process that tied our hands could have a devastating effect on morale.

Since that discussion, the company has adopted programs that tell us where to go next, how long it should take and what parts to carry. It seems as if we were well on our way to Bob’s micromanaged nightmare. If management hadn’t followed a few simple steps, morale could have dropped with every program launch.

Explain the ‘Why’

Technicians are practical, logical people, which is why trouble-shooting comes as second nature. We need to hear that new technologies will give us a competitive edge, or help us keep up with the competition. But don’t stop there. Tenured techs have seen a lot of programs come and go, so the better you can explain the value of a program, the more likely we will be to get onboard with it.

Go Slow

Every manager dreams about a new technology that will make the organization more productive. But data is only as good as the people who input the numbers. Older technicians are less likely to buy into the new program, and they could soon discover ways to skew the data that they find intrusive. Roll out new technologies in stages and allow for error and resistance. Once the technology has become accepted, managers can tighten the process and discipline the nonconformists, if necessary.

Get Feedback

Technology-driven processes are often rife with problems during launch. Sure, technicians need support, but if that is all managers do then they’re missing out on what we do best. We fix problems for a living, and our input is invaluable. Ask questions that will help everyone involved get the most out of a new technology.

Be Human

More discouraging than the loss of freedom that these programs can bring is the loss of individuality resulting from a numbers-driven approach to success measurement. The best managers who I’ve had the pleasure to work under look at technology as a tool — not as the means to an end. Remember that the service technician, not the technology, fixes the machine and interacts with the customers. The question is: Do you want us excited about what the company is doing, or do you want us dreading the next change?