A mentor of mine says, “If you want to know what’s not working in your service business, it’ll cost you $20. Take a technician out to lunch and he or she will tell you. And you’ll probably have some change left over for dessert.” There’s also a $50 version of that quote involving a team of technicians, but you get the idea.
Over the previous 15 years, I’ve documented service trends and challenges as seen through the eyes of the Chief Service Officer (CSO). This will continue as I look forward to the final publication of the 2020 Chief Service Officer report. It’s only recently that I’ve had the opportunity to balance the CSOs’ view with that of field service technicians on the front lines. This access has not only provided me with a different point of view, but it has also sharpened the insight and information that I am able to deliver to the Chief Service Officer.
A few years ago, I spearheaded a global research project by The Service Council that focused on capturing feedback directly from front-line technicians. Over 600 technicians responded and the research documented extremely interesting statistics around:
- The technician persona
- Thoughts on their organization’s focus on the employee
- Thoughts on technology
- The best and worst parts of the technician’s day
Some of the interesting statistics from the project:
- 84% of technicians agreed that the knowledge required to service products was changing. 55% agreed that products being serviced were much more complex
- Only 35% were satisfied with the career opportunities available for field service technicians within their organization
- 51% stated that solving customer problems was the best part of their day-to-day
- 44% indicated that completing paperwork and other administrative tasks was the worst part of their day-to-day
- 47% agreed that their company leveraged technician feedback to consider improvements to be made
The last number is disastrously low. More on this later.
What Technicians Have to Say
Getting out from behind the numbers, I’ve had the opportunity to spend more face time with technicians during my time at ServiceMax, either in the form of ride-alongs (see Coen Jeukens’s excellent article on the value of a ride-along) or through live interactions at ServiceMax’s annual Maximize conference. This past year, I had the privilege of hosting a feedback session with 10 technicians from a wide variety of organizations. We covered some of the same topics as documented in The Service Council research. Our discussions will remain confidential, but some of my observations follow.
Best Part of the Day
Given the diverse industries and opinions, it was surprising to get a unanimous answer to this question, but all of the technicians agreed that the best part of the day was solving the customer’s problem on a first try and visit. This was satisfying not only because it fixed the customer’s issue and allowed them to get on with their work, but also generated a sense of accomplishment and professionalism in the minds of the technicians. Conversely, the worst part of the day was tied to the frustration of not being able to solve the customer’s problem. This is incredibly important for companies to realize, especially when looking to drive change management programs to increase technician adoption of a new technology or business process.
Technicians recognize that travel is part of the job and are generally agreeable to it. In fact, the interest in travel seems to follow a pattern depending on the age of the technician. This pattern is similar to Gartner’s Hype Cycle/Trough of Disillusionment. Newer technicians who might just be starting their careers welcome the travel and associated benefits (miles, points, status, new locations). As these technicians begin to start their families, travel becomes something that needs to be managed. As family commitments advance and change, travel once again becomes more appealing and this finally wanes when technicians approach retirement.
As service organizations are looking to inject more flexibility into the work styles of their retiring technicians, they should also consider options for those who are looking to manage their travel, especially during the mid-stages of their careers. This would lead to a greater level of employee engagement and overall employee retention.
In addition, the acceptance of travel and the solo nature of field service doesn’t reduce technicians’ desire to feel like they are part of an overall team. This can be enabled with better communication tools, more peer-to-peer learning or training opportunities, frequent virtual conferences, and the occasional in-person get together. While it may seem expensive to get all the technicians in a room on a semi-annual or quarterly basis, the benefits are invaluable.
Making Life Easier
In addition to the reduction of paperwork and time dedicated to administrative tasks, technicians believe that improved access to the following information will make their lives easier:
- Past service history
- Asset history – performance, installed parts, red flag events
- Knowledge and service manuals
- Bulletins and other information
- Upcoming planned maintenance events
In most systems and organizations, this information is available but is not readily accessible by service technicians. To the earlier point on change management programs, making life easier for technicians is a good start when it comes to selling the investment in new tools or business processes.
As stated by one of the technicians,
“We like new technology, as long as it makes our life easier. On a lot of the implementations, we don’t understand why we are asked for some of the information. It is redundant and time-consuming.”
While this not only aligns with the previous bullet, it also highlights how little technicians are involved in a technology implementation project. While service leaders and/or their implementation teams might have the most legitimate reason for the inclusion of a particular field or piece of information, they will face resistance if:
- This reason hasn’t been clearly communicated to the technicians, hopefully before the solution goes live
- The reason doesn’t align with an improved outcome for the end customer. This might seem counterintuitive given the ‘make life easier’ narrative, but technicians are very aware of their impact and most will take on more if it means a better outcome for the customer.
The Importance of What Technicians Want
Why is any and all of this important? I’ve covered how listening to your technicians is vital when it comes to change management. But consider these additional areas:
- Technicians are in front of customers and can often be a source of real-time feedback. This feedback could be related to the product, to the relationship, or even to the competition. This type of customer intelligence is invaluable.
- Technicians are the source of ‘real’ feedback directly from the product or asset as it sits in the customers’ operation. Call it a poor man’s IoT, but their access to the asset allows them to officially or unofficially capture performance metrics, usage scenarios, and more information that can be invaluable to a number of internal teams in the organization.
- Technicians can also be your greatest source of recruitment via advocacy for your organization or via referrals. The point about referrals is extremely important especially since:
- Referrals are the top source of new hires delivering more than 30% of new hires and 45% of internal hires (2016 data, Society of Human Resource Managers 2017)
- Employees hired via referrals are 55% faster to hire compared with employees sourced through career sites (Source: HR Technologist 2018)
In field service, the use of recruiters for field service technicians is gaining steam, but I would encourage organizations to continue to focus on their referral programs and pipelines in parallel in order to source new talent.
In 2018, I had the opportunity to listen to a wonderful presentation from Jason Hamm at Ericsson regarding their Board of Technicians. At a recent Field Service Medical event, I heard of the topic revisited by several speakers and am fully supportive of the idea. I couldn’t think of a better low cost – high impact solution for service leaders. If starting a board is too much of a stretch, why not start with taking a technician out to lunch?