Problem Solving ‘Trusted Advisor’: The Big Assumption

Jun 19, 2019 • FeaturesManagementfuture of field serviceNick FrankSi2PartnersTrusted Advisor

Whilst we want our field service engineers and technicians to be viewed as go to problem solvers and trusted advisors, is that really fair if they haven’t been given sufficient training to meet such expectations, Nick Frank writes...

Problem-solving is an essential skill set for all Trusted Advisors, yet many of us take it for granted. We assume our Technicians and Engineers must be great problem solvers because that is what they do. Most have developed ways to solve problems through on the job training and mentoring from experienced colleagues, but very few have been educated in this key professional competence – logical problem solving!

This lack of competence can cost companies considerable money and customer loyalty. You will have all experienced problems that don’t seem to go away, where teams of people seem to solve, resolve and resolve again the same issue. These are the type of problems that are complex, multifaceted and can costs companies thousands and sometimes millions of pounds.

They require a disciplined process and in truth most companies do not sufficiently support their staff in developing this critical skill set. As data analytics becomes increasingly influential in field service processes, so logical problem solving skills will become more important!

Increasingly the solutioning of known problem sets will be done through self-service, lower skilled technicians or even automated through remote services. Companies will want their skilled technicians to focus on the more complex technical issues as well as fixing the customer relationship.

How can you up the game of your technical teams, save your organisation costs and increase customer loyalty?

Best in class companies with a Trusted Advisor mindset where the goal is to continually create more value for their customers, embed in their culture a logical problem-solving wheel, which starts and finishes with the customer. This gives companies a common language and process to solve problems, which is critical to improving the skill levels of all their employees. When problems are complex, it develops a good discipline, especially around problem definition and data collection.

As the ability of service organisations to leverage advanced analytics to analyse unstructured data found in service reports becomes more widespread, so a common language becomes even more important in identifying and predicting fault patterns. There are also many tools for both analysis and solutioning that help break open the problemsolving process. Some examples from the problem analysis phase are the 5 W’s (Who, What, Why, Where, When) for situational fact finding, the 5 Why Method for root cause analysis and Fishbone diagrams, sometimes known as Ishikawa or FaultFinding Trees.

The importance of statistical skills in the future should not be underestimated, as data becomes an essential resource in the service resolution processes. Many of you will know these tools from your professional experiences and probably take them for granted as part of your work life. However, you will be surprised at how few of your colleagues really understand how to solve problems. Many will often jump to the first solution that fits the symptom’s they are seeing. 

They will switch components in & out to see if the symptom goes away without really understanding the root cause. This leads to significantly higher costs in managing spare parts and many more “No fault Found” from returns reports from component suppliers.

Research by Cranfield University ‘A framework to estimate the cost of No-Fault-Found events’ published in 2016 showed examples from the Aerospace industry where NFF cost companies between one to 300 million dollars and in some cases account for up to 80% of failures. Indeed, not solving the root cause of problems has led to industries developing their own problem solving methods.

If you have worked in the automotive industry, no doubt you will have experienced the 8D problem solving process and will probably be familiar with 6 sigma methods. Those of you with the experience of large field organisations will know that service leaders such as Xerox or Vaillant make logical problem solving a core skill in which they train their whole organisations, not just their service technicians. For these organisations, just solving the technical problems is not enough.

They recognise that the art of creating customer loyalty comes from an ability for the organisation to fix the customer. Hence a critical element of any work in logical problem solving is to recognise the role of the problem solver in the process. For example, if a service technician perceives their role as ‘fixing equipment’, this is what they will focus on.

They will miss the fact that the root cause might be a lack of customer training or an external factor such as raw material quality or the operating environment. This wider view of the problem, and an understanding of the problem solvers role in the effectiveness of the process, can save companies huge amounts of cost, and deliver more value to customers.

We often refer to this mindset as being the Trusted Advisor, and it is the reason why excellence in Problem Solving is such a vital and often overlooked capability that needs to be developed. We are all aware that the ability of any organisation to effectively solve problems is critical to its success in terms of costs and customer loyalty. Leading global organisations recognise this and train their teams in logical problem solving, yet for many organisations it is a capability that is taken for granted. And in the context of forming deeper lasting relationships with customers, we also should recognise that problem solving is an essential skill set of being perceived as a Trusted Advisor.

If you would like to know more about developing Trusted Advisor programmes in your business, then you can contact Nick at

Nick Frank is Managing Partner at Si2 Partners.