It’s a looming question for many field service organizations: How do you keep your brain trust of experienced technicians from retiring early? Often they leave after a couple of decades due to the physical demands of the job, such as climbing ladders or spending hours working on rooftops and in basements.

For Nashville’s Lee Company, the answer has come in the form of wearable tech, thanks to the recent rollout of 500 pairs of smart glasses. The idea: Retain experienced technicians as virtual supervisors who, from the comfort of the office, can help smart glasses-wearing techs in the field triage and fix problems.

Founded in 1944, Lee Company provides facilities services for home and commercial customers in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky. The company closely watches technology innovations that can help it stay competitive, says Steve Scott, Lee’s vice president of facilities solutions. “If we’re going to be a sustainable company for another 70 years, we’ve got to figure out how to stay relevant,” Scott says.

Experienced Eyes in the Field

Recently, Lee Company equipped technicians from its commercial service division with smart glasses from Vuzix to wear as they traveled to customer sites to maintain complex HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems. The glasses are equipped with software from XOEye that allows telepresence videoconferencing between on-site technicians and off-site supervisors, and also lets technicians in the company’s “triage center” access and view project documents like wiring diagrams and maintenance manuals.

“We use the glasses so we can see what the technician sees,” Scott says. “If technicians get into the work and find they need guidance, they can call in and talk to a supervisor [who] can offer support to the person on-site in real time, and suggest repairs and equipment changeouts.”

Before the smart glasses, if on-site technicians hit a roadblock at a customer location, they’d have to phone the triage center and verbally explain the problem. A senior technician would then jump in a truck, drive to the site and spend time troubleshooting (and climbing ladders, working in hazardous conditions, and so on).

“That was the hard way,” Scott says. “There would have been delays, and the longer that equipment is down, the more it’s costing customers.”

Now experienced staff can see video from the on-site technicians’ perspective — and they don’t need to leave the triage center to solve tough challenges. Onsite technicians can get systems up and running much faster, allowing them to move on to new customers and get more calls done in a day.

Customers See Clear Benefits

The smart glasses don’t just help connect senior technicians with their junior colleagues — they also help connect customers to the intricacies of the repair work being done to complex commercial systems. Software lets technicians attach video clips from the repair site, captured by the smart glasses, to service tickets so customers can see what was done to solve the problem. “Customers want more transparency. They want to know what we were doing in the places they can’t see, like on the roof of a building,” Scott says. “It creates more accountability.”

If we’re going to be a sustainable company for another 70 years, we’ve got to figure out how to stay relevant. — Steve Scott, Lee Company

And while they might not make the connection themselves, customers like the fact that smart glasses connect them to the most knowledgeable talent at Lee Company, even if the technicians aren’t there in person. “Customers always want the most experienced technicians to deal with their systems,” Scott says. The smart glasses help Lee Company meet this request, without demanding that the technicians be required to perform feats of strength and agility that might not be attainable.

The combination of smart glasses and smarter technicians is also helping Lee Company get more business. “It’s easier to get customers to make decisions on projects when we’re giving them a compelling narrative,” Scott says. “We’re showing them how it looks on the roof, or we walk through a mechanical room that has damage, and we can talk through the repair process. That kind of data helps decisions get made faster.”

So far, technicians see the smart glasses as a boon to their work, not a barrier. “Morale is good,” Scott says. “We didn’t just say, here’s the tool and start using it. We tried to get everyone to understand our vision for why we’re doing this.”

In the end, the company hopes that keeping creative and smart technicians on the job longer will raise its service levels across the board. “We’re retaining intellectual property and creating more career mobility,” says Scott.

ABOUT Christine Kent

Avatar photoChristine Kent brings more than 20 years of writing and journalism expertise to her work for technology, consumer and corporate organizations.