Over the past few days, I had the opportunity to escape the snowy confines of the Midwestern United States to engage with medical devices field service leaders at Field Service Medical in San Diego. The event featured speakers from a range of organizations such as Medtronic, Hologic, Swisslog Healthcare, Philips Healthcare, Illumina and more. The three-day event was structured around the following themes:

  • Day 1: Evolution of Field Service and Customer Care
  • Day 2: Innovate to Compete (with a flavor of compliance)
  • Day 3: Talent Management

For the purpose of this summary, I’d like to focus on takeaways that were outside the realm of the usual discussions around:

  • Predictive service outcomes and remote monitoring: Most organizations are still struggling to connect to devices in a meaningful way.
  • Proactive customer management: It’s a goal for most organizations to take a greater stake in the customer experience.
  • Aging workforce: Knowledge loss attributed to retiring workers is a challenge that keeps service leaders up at night.
  • Regulation and compliance: Compliance remains a major factor and driver for business decisions in medical devices. MDR 2020 is a major area of interest for those running business operations in Europe.

In addition, here were several areas that caught my interest:

The Need for a Field Service Rebrand

Roy Dockery from Swisslog held an extremely interesting discussion on hiring, training and talent in field service. His doesn’t see a talent crisis, but he does see that field service organizations need to rethink the way they approach talent management in order to appeal to a larger pool of candidates. Roy is a big advocate for skills-based recruiting to replace the current experience-focused methods most organizations follow. Skills-based recruiting relies on organizations highlighting the skills and personality traits that are essential for various roles in an organization and then looking for these traits in interviewees and new hires.

These desired skills can be ascertained via assessments of both top and poor performing employees and an analysis of the characteristics that are uncommon in the two groups. For example, a skill or attribute tied to empathy or commonness can be essential in roles that directly touch the customer or require a great deal of internal collaboration. Those who don’t test for a high level of empathy or commonness could be ill placed in a customer facing role. Any technical needs or shortcomings can then be addressed via training or other learning programs. As said by one of the attending service leaders, “It’s a lot more expensive to untrain someone with the wrong experience vs. training someone with the right mindset.”

Several leaders at the conference also talked about the restructuring of their training programs to account for the way that employees prefer to learn. There was a lot of talk of:

  • Microlearning
  • Video-based learning content
  • Group learning and collaboration
  • Hands on training

“It’s a lot more expensive to untrain someone with the wrong experience vs. training someone with the right mindset.”

Outside of hiring and training, there is a greater acceptance from service leaders that the industry needs an injection of new faces and increased diversity. No one used this exact term, but there needs to be a general rebranding of field service to make it appeal to those in high school, technical school and undergraduate university programs. Given the increased use of technology, the relatively high wages, the impact of the work, and the benefits of travel, field service can be an appealing profession to many currently considering their career paths. Unfortunately, not many students and young professionals are aware of the existence of a field service profession or they associate it with dirty, greasy work that might not be truly reflective of the current field service environment.

The Changing Customer

I’d written about this briefly in my recap of Field Service Connect 2018. At Field Service Medical, there was some talk about changing customer expectations regarding service due to consumer services like Amazon and Uber. For medical device companies, there isn’t an overwhelming demand from customers and users (those who operate the equipment), yet. However, there is a realization from service companies and OEMs that they can’t wait for the tipping point of customer demand and need to be more proactive in putting these experiences into place. Organizations are also reporting that the profile of their customer users (clinical technicians and medical technicians) is changing much like the profile of field service technicians.

As these customers age and are replaced by younger users, the type of experience demanded also changes. One of the speakers discussed how their lab technician customers were no longer interested in picking up the phone and dialing in for help. They wanted an on-device support experience that could be appropriately escalated to a voice channel, if necessary. These customers were also less likely rely on paper-based manuals for troubleshooting, preferring to have access to short-form videos and on-demand content.

Customer experience wasn’t a major focus of the event, but the discussion on turnover at the customer level and the changing customer profile did yield a lot of dialog. In my mind, this is essential for service leaders to discuss as they look to design the ideal experience for their customers. It also brings into focus other areas such as:

  • Design for customer experience (and not just serviceability)
  • Self-service models and omnichannel support
  • User and customer training methods
  • On-device technology and interfaces exposed to customers

The Appetite for Visual Collaboration and Augmented Reality

Several speakers from Thermo Fisher, Becton Dickinson and Sysmex spoke of their use of augmented reality (AR) tools to help their customers and field technicians. Most organizations were either testing or evaluating these tools for their own environments. While AR has yet to see a high degree of adoption in other industries, there is a great interest in the spectrum of visual collaboration tools (video chat/visual support, mixed reality, augmented reality) in the medical device and healthcare space. This is primarily tied to the high cost of downtime, both to the customer and the servicing organization. The impact of downtime can also be debilitating in the medical space, especially when machine downtime can lead to the interruption of vital patient care.

As the technology and connectivity get better, and the cost of AR comes down, I expect to see a greater use of these solutions in diagnosis, collaboration, and learning. Companies evaluating AR and similar tools should build their business cases on these three areas and mustn’t limit themselves to the use of these tools only for the ‘technician needs help’ scenario. This downstream scenario will likely become more relevant as workforce dynamics change. Yet, there is a greater opportunity in avoiding the downstream scenario with the aid of better training and improved accuracy of diagnosis. This is where the extension of these tools in learning environments and customer-facing diagnosis situations holds incredible value.

ABOUT Sumair Dutta

sumair duttaSumair Dutta is the VP of product marketing at ServiceMax. In this role, he helps shape ServiceMax messaging and positioning to support customers and prospects. Previously, Sumair worked closely with leaders of service businesses to define and shape their service vision while working hand in hand with implementation teams to execute on established service plans. Sumair is a thought leader in the field service and service management spaces and has conducted numerous research projects in the areas of field service, customer support and business strategy. He brings more than 15 years of experience in studying, analyzing and guiding field service organizations, first at the Aberdeen Group and most recently as the chief customer officer at The Service Council.