Field service leaders across a variety of industries are facing a serious dilemma: the need to reduce operational costs while simultaneously maintaining service quality and customer satisfaction. Many organizations have already done what they can to maximize the efficiency of their traditional field service model. Now they must explore new, creative options to deal with intense cost pressures, ever-increasing customer expectations and ongoing talent shortages.

According to Gartner’s Jim Robinson, field service organizations are under “pressure to optimize costs and shorten lead times, prompting more experimentation with the use of external workforce.” In a report from earlier this year (paywall), Robinson predicts that by 2020, 40 percent of field service work will be done by technicians who are not full-time employees.

Among the companies innovating their field service strategy to stay agile is Walgreens, an iconic retailer that faces tough competition in an industry known for slim margins. The retail giant has made no secret about its aim to differentiate itself by elevating the customer experience through technology. By putting technology at the center of its future, Walgreens is using its field service operation to drive that success — ensuring its technology is operating flawlessly at the customer’s “moment of truth.”

Here are three strategies that Walgreens and other savvy service organizations are using to build an agile workforce of elite service technicians to augment its field service operation and drive the bottom-line.

Access Top Techs Via Labor Clouds

Ensuring access to quality and trusted service technicians is a top priority for today’s field service executives, and many technicians with in-demand skillsets are now choosing to work independently. By leveraging work automation platforms like WorkMarket, companies can build “labor clouds,” curated talent networks of specific professionals based on any criteria they set. For example, a targeted labor cloud could help you find and curate a group of desktop repair techs in Arizona, cabling installation professionals with a background check, or Cisco techs with a CCIE certification.

Remember, it’s not all-or-nothing when it comes to finding the right balance of contract vs. traditional W-2 technicians. The most effective organizations will leverage a hybrid model, with full-time techs and contractors working alongside one another seamlessly to deliver the optimal business outcome.

Establish A Single Source of Truth

Overlapping point solutions and spreadsheets simply won’t cut it when attempting to manage a national or regional workforce of hundreds — or even thousands — of technicians. Executives looking to secure a “single source of truth” for their entire field service operation, including both their full-time techs and 1099 contractors, need to adopt technology that allows them to manage every aspect of their operation (costs, coverage, compliance, reporting, payment, etc.) from a single platform.

Because of the unpredictability of managing service events, it’s hard to forecast costs and resources with pinpoint precision. Now take a second and imagine you could get in-depth analytics and insights into the breakdown of all your field service activities. What portion of your overall service spend was allocated towards 1099 contractors? What are your coverage gaps in California? In the past, that kind of intelligence was almost impossible to glean. Not anymore.

Decentralize Control and Empower Front-Line Managers

With software that automates the vetting and reporting of its technicians, field service leaders can gain more confidence in enabling their front-line managers to oversee their own service requests. While the execs still retain full visibility over who is being utilized, the managers on the ground are empowered to provision the independent techs they need when as issue arises.

Charles Hughes, the director of IT field services at Walgreens, is already seeing impressive results with this new model. In serving the expanding IT needs of several thousand brick-and-mortar locations, Hughes used WorkMarket to build a hybrid and agile field service model that has allowed him to boost productivity, lower costs and boost customer satisfaction.

“I can now go through a selection of thousands of technicians to find exactly the one I need at the time I need,” says Hughes. “More importantly, [WorkMarket] is so robust that I don’t have to have a lot of oversight or governance at the higher corporate levels. We’ve taken the tool and pushed it down to the front-line manager, who’s the person that is going to be using the technician anyway. And we have real-time visibility into the decisions they’re making.”

Field service pioneers like Hughes are at the very forefront of a revolution in the way they find, manage and empower their most important asset: their people. With contractors set to comprise a significant portion of field service personnel in the coming years, it’s critical that service executives take the necessary steps to ensure their technicians, both full-time and independent, are armed with the tools, technology and data they need to deliver exceptional service.

ABOUT Mousa Ackall

Avatar photoMousa Ackall is VP of marketing at WorkMarket, where he leads the content marketing operation and works to educate customers on best practices, industry trends and much more. You can follow him on Twitter @mousAAckall.