Editor’s note: Donald B. Stephens is a 30-year senior customer service engineer with the Xerox Corporation. Below, the veteran tech explains why in-the-field techs need the right tools — and, as importantly, sufficient time — to do their jobs. (One trick: limit the digital distractions.)
Technology … because of it, field service will never be the same. Hefty, thousand-page repair documents that used to occupy the passenger seat in a service vehicle can now be held in one hand. Internet-enabled machines can run self-diagnostics and place their own service calls, while letting the technician know precisely which parts are needed. Field service software streamlines the workforce, sending the best technician for each job and coordinating the workflow with unprecedented efficiency and speed. But for all the promises, many tech innovations never reach their full potential in service.
Here are three mistakes that companies make when adapting new technology:
Mistake 1: Overlook Training
When given a new gadget or software, most techs will learn just enough to get them by. Rarely do technicians take full advantage of the company’s investment. Even when there is adequate training at launch (rarer still), techs quickly forget the features they don’t use every day. This is why follow-up training and usage monitoring are so important. Managers should dig deep to inquire how techs are handling the new software. “Oh, just fine” is not an acceptable response. Smart managers help technicians understand every capability, or point them to someone who can.
Mistake 2: Invest in the Wrong Hardware or Software
Possibly the worst thing a company can do when investing in a new technology is to buy the cheapest version available. The adage “You get what you pay for” rings true when it comes to new, high-tech equipment and software. Low-budget hardware can make even the best software a nightmare to use, while bargain-basement software is likely to underperform on the best hardware. Want your techs to commit to new technology? Don’t burden them with slow, buggy, infuriating tools that they’ll be asked to use every day.
Mistake 3: Set Unrealistic Expectations
Service leaders invest in new technology for two primary reasons: to stay competitive and to make employees more productive. Both are admirable goals, but beware of the latter. If your first thought is, “Now that techs can get their work done more quickly, I’ll just give them more responsibilities and expect them to be more than mere service techs,” you can sabotage all productivity improvements.
Research from HR analyst firm Bersin by Deloitte suggests that digital distractions are overwhelming employees, a top reason why companies fail to keep people engaged. I’m not immune. My “fix time” is often hindered by the constant flow of emails, texts, and service call alerts that buzz on my smartphone.
I understand that in larger organizations, the service managers likely don’t set the training regimen, choose new technology investments, or dole out added responsibilities. But they can make sure their techs understand how to use new technologies to their fullest potential, or go to bat for their techs when a new device or software just doesn’t deliver on its promise.
The responsibility doesn’t end there.
Managers should also think about ways to give their employees time (away from the field) to handle new responsibilities. Consider blocking off time for techs to read and reply to email or texts, or ask them to respond only before they enter a worksite.
“Training” is such a broad description that may not be what is really required. It really needs to impart an understanding of whatever it is trying to address, rather than just deliver some words about it. That can be a big challenge. Sometimes the best functional training has been delivered by one person who has developed a deep insight into a particular operation. That person was then able to share that insight with others, completely independent of the official training process.
Don, I would like to add a 4th, lack of support for a new technology implementation. You can have the best training, have the right software, and even have level set expectations, but if it is not set up to be supported and managed as a tool that the team uses, it can also fail. With new technology comes the responsibility of a trained internal staff that can respond quickly to issues and enhancements.