Editor’s note: Donald B. Stephens is a 30-year senior customer service engineer with the Xerox Corporation. Below, the longtime tech explains what technicians themselves think about the slew of new technology tools in service — and how managers can make a solid case for change. (“Do it or get fired” isn’t necessarily the best strategy, Stephens says.)

Having worked in the field service industry for more than 30 years, I’ve experienced more advances in technology than I can shake a screwdriver at. We once had to flip through grease-covered, ragged hard-copy manuals to find equipment repair procedures and adjustment specs. When we needed a part, we would pull out our portable microfiche viewer, point it towards a light and squint to find the appropriate part number. We would also have to call into dispatch every hour to check for new service calls.

Along came computers, pagers and then smartphones, which allowed us to ditch the mounds of documentation, the microfiche viewer and the hourly call to dispatch. We largely welcomed these advances with open arms.

But I can think of two advances in field service technology that have not been so readily accepted. A large part of the dissatisfaction and intimidation these advances caused is due to poor implementation, lack of monitoring and insufficient training — all issues that can easily be remedied.

The Internet of Things … that Frustrate Service Techs

This popular buzz phrase sends shivers up our spines because it means that not only will we be getting service calls from our customers, but now the silly machines will call us as well. In a perfect world, IoT-enabled machines send out alerts before there is a problem, allowing techs to schedule a service call and giving the customer peace of mind. I’ve experienced the opposite of all these promises.

Problem No. 1: User Error

With machines that have a lot of customer interaction, and that are accessible by many people, user error can cause alerts to go off every day (or every hour).

Problem No. 2: False Alarms

I’ve also had customers who use applications that have been proven to cause a high frequency of failures, but they’ve accepted the problems and choose to run the faulty applications anyway. The erroneous service calls they generate can quickly cool a service team on the IoT’s promise. Techs will either find a way to turn off all alerts or cancel the majority of machine-initiated service calls, defeating the technology’s purpose.

Solution: Listen to Tech’s Feedback

Managers should work with the program administrator to customize the sensitivity of alerts to each customer’s need and usage. Managers should also ask their team how the program is working. That’s a big ask since unpopular programs often result in a lot of gripes, but there is a danger in ignoring the complaints. Somewhere in the whining and moaning there is a defect in the process that needs to be remedied. It’s a manager’s job to ferret it out.

Field Service Management Software

The introduction to new field service software can be a traumatic experience for field service techs. The manner in which it is implemented and monitored, and the training involved, are the keys to success with new software.

Understanding how techs view the software will help managers get through the implementation phase. Monitoring the effectiveness of the program, meanwhile, will keep techs from giving up on the system. And knowing where to focus the training will help everyone involved feel better about the change.

Problem 1: Implementation

Technicians are independent and disciplined workers. They’ve learned how to prioritize service calls and juggle travel. So when they hear that a computer is now effectively in charge, they can be (justifiably) put off. Management’s typical solution is to put up charts and graphs showing the increases in productivity and response times that field service software promises. Managers might as well say, “This software is going to correct all of the bad decisions you’ve been making — oh, and you’ll have to work a lot harder, too.”

Solution: Sell Techs on the ‘Why’

The best way to introduce new software is to say something like, “Please understand that we are adopting this software to remain competitive in our industry. Our competition is using it, and we want to stay relevant and profitable.”

Techs will understand that technology only moves one way (forward) and their jobs depend on accepting this new technology. Plus, the mention of increased profitability means that they could prosper from the new technology, as well.

Problem 2: Training

Readers might expect that I’m going to mention the need for extensive and comprehensive technician training. This is certainly needed, but it’s not the source of the majority of issues I’ve seen. In order for service techs to get on board with new software, it must work — with very few acceptations. Field service software is only as good as those who set it up.

Managers are responsible for setting many of the parameters that send the right tech to the right call – every time. No matter how well this is done at launch, conditions change. No service team remains static. Techs retire, move or get reassigned. A manager who has only a vague recollection of how to adjust the system to accommodate these changes is guaranteed to get it wrong.

Solution: Tweak the System as Needed

To get the most from the software — and to prevent techs from finding inventive ways around it — managers must be well-versed in all aspects of the system. Proper management training is essential.

Problem 3: Monitoring

The service team will know right away if the software is doing as all that it promises. Again, a manager will have to wade through the flood of grumblings to find the real problems.

Solution: Flexibility is Key

Techs are the best source of intel about whether the system is making the right decisions, or if adjustments and reconfigurations are necessary. Listen to technicians’ feedback and, if necessary, make changes.

No one can forecast what new technologies are destined to sweep through the field service industry in the future. But I can predict that proper implementation, training and monitoring will be a part of their success.

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