“Hmm, I think it says, ‘The fingers on the sandwich borrowed orcs, so I replenished the salamander twice.’ What does it look like to you?”

“I’m not sure,” my coworker Mark replied as he stared intently at the log book. “I think you got fingers, the and twice right, but the rest is utter gibberish. We really need to talk to Mike about his penmanship.”

Of all the responsibilities that a field service technician has, none is more neglected than the task of filling out a service log. In my 30-plus years of service, I’ve heard every excuse for a poorly written log. I’ve even made up a few myself. But the bottom line is this: Without clear and concise service logging, your organization will needlessly waste time and money — and there’s no excuse for that.

So how can you get your techs to be better loggers? I believe there are four steps that every manager can and should take to improve sloppy service logging.

Step 1: Review Logs Regularly

It’s possible for a service team to perform at peak levels while still having one or more techs whose logging habits leave much to be desired. Every service organization strives to be as efficient and profitable as possible. It can’t achieve these goals if it must replace parts unnecessarily because a tech failed to document a prior replacement, or if techs are wasting time making adjustments that a previous tech forgot to note in a log book. Managers should make it a habit to regularly review machine logs so that they can be certain that techs are maintaining them properly.

Step 2: Remind Your Techs Why Logs Are Important

When you put yourself in the shoes of a field service tech, you can see how easy it is to skimp on the logging process. Beyond simply repairing and maintaining machinery, today’s service reps also must be dispatchers, inventory managers and customer support specialists. When things get crazy, skipping the task of filling out a log can seem like an easy time-saver. Sometimes that’s a good thing if it means keeping a customer happy, but it can also lead to bad habits.

If a manager discovers that tech aren’t keeping logs properly or failing to document crucial information, he or she should remind them at the next meeting how important documenting a service call is. But a word of caution, based on 30 years of experience: Avoid pointing the finger at a single negligent logger during a team meeting. A one-on-one chat might be more effective than calling them out publicly.

Step 3: Make Sure Techs Are Reading the Log

When a machine log book is used properly, it can help technicians see into the past in order to illuminate the present. It can take time to determine intermittent problems, unique customer application errors and operator process mistakes.

Avoid pointing the finger at a single negligent logger during a team meeting. A one-on-one chat might be more effective than calling them out publicly.

If a machine has been in use for a while, it’s highly likely that a tech has already dealt with one or more of these issues — and it’s just as likely that another tech is going waste valuable minutes figuring out that the operator likes to take shortcuts. A well-maintained service log can capture previous techs’ valuable insights, but it’s useless unless the next tech bothers to read it. As a manager, you can’t reinforce that point with your techs enough.

Step 4: Confront Excuses with Helpful Suggestions

“I forgot.” “I was in a hurry.” “I couldn’t find the logbook.” “That’s just the way I write.” “No one’s gonna read it anyway.” “I knew what I meant.” “Call me if you need to know more than I put in the log.”

No one wants to look bad in front of their boss. When you confront a tech about poor logging, you’re likely to hear one of the excuses listed above. The idea is not to shame them. It’s to say, “Hey, this is important. How can I help you develop better habits?”

I once had a hard time remembering to write notes in a log book, and when I did think to do it, I usually skimped on the details because I felt pressured to get to the next call. A manager suggested that I not wait until the end of the call to fill out the log. He told me to open the book as soon as I got in front of the machine and document as I went along. That suggestion made all the difference in the world. But sometimes stating a simple fact can do the trick, like telling a tech whose notes are illegible, “If you’re in Hawaii on vacation, no one will be able to figure out what your scrawl means.”

Are Electronic Logs the Solution?

A log that can be kept as part of an electronic machine database is a wonderful thing. E-logs are easy to search, easy to use, and take bad penmanship out of the equation. But they do introduce a different problem into the mix: lack of typing skills. Many technicians look at a keyboard and grimace. If part of your logging solution includes an electronic log, I’d suggest a design that includes a slew of pull-down options and check boxes in lieu of text boxes where techs must type in notes.

Machine service logs are a crucial part of the field service process. They provide invaluable information when dealing with ongoing problems. They’re a way to validate that techs are following procedures. Mostly importantly, they can prevent unnecessary repetition of actions by multiple techs. They can be incredibly useful in saving time and money — but only if your techs are using them properly.