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In the endless talk about the shift from the retiring baby-boomer workforce and the incoming Millennials, I as a representative of that overlooked, unforgotten middle child, poor old Generation X, would like to just take a moment to point out that we often tend to get left out of the conversation. Now, don’t worry, this isn’t going to be an article of self-pity - that’s just not the way us Gen-X folk roll.
Nope, we are the generation that just rolls our sleeves up and gets on with it.
Unlike our Baby Boomer parents and elder siblings, who were able to indulge in free love whilst turning on, tuning in and dropping out, that greatest consumer generation of them all, who spent every dollar they earned as they lived solely in the now, those of us in Gen X, got up off our backsides and went and got a McJob to see us through college before generally fixing the ‘Boomers mess and creating the easy gig that the Millennials got to inherit.
You know sometimes history can be a cruel mother to the middle child.
The Millennials are the first generation to exist in a time of huge technological advancement (and it’s subsequent impact on society) since the industrial revolution. Therefore, quite rightly, we should factor in such significant change when considering how we attract, develop and retain them within the workforce. All I ask, is just occasionally, spare a thought for us poor oft overlooked Gen Xers who have been quietly making things tick over for a long time now.
I mean, OK they might be the first google native generation, and the internet as we know it today may have been invented by a ‘Boomer, but it was us who terraformed the world wide web from the frontier town of the early nineties to the sprawling global metropolis it is today. You’re very welcome.
All of the above is of course said firmly with my tongue in cheek. Crikey, technically, I’m actually dangerously close to being a Millennial myself having been born in ‘80 - technically I think that makes me a Xennial - meaning I’m more down with the kids than my elder Gen X brethren, but still remember the sheer agony of pre-app dating, and the terrifying wait on the phone to see if it was your intended date who picked up, or her rather more hostile father.
And whilst, it is of course fun to pick on both ‘Boomers and Millennials alike from my lofty Gen X pedestal, there is a actually a serious point to be considered here.
Sure, there are plenty of things that we should be considering when the difference from one outgoing generation to the incoming generation within a workforce is so pronounced. I know, I’ve certainly spent plenty of time writing and talking about the topic in the past.
For example, ‘Boomers wear the knowledge they have earned through study and experience like armour. The deeper the knowledge, the stronger the armour - as the more invaluable they become to an organisation.
Millennials on the other hand, see knowledge as an easily accessible resource, always readily available and on demand through a couple of taps and swipes on the phone in their pocket.
"They are the first generation to exist in a time of technological advancement since the industrial revolution..."
‘Boomers viewed career paths as fairly straightforward, linear progressions. A ladder to be climbed, with progress being in steady increments, one rung at a time. Millennials, are as inclined to move sideways, often into a different industry entirely, and research by Deloitte showed the average time a millennial intends to stay in a job is just two years.
Another huge difference is that whilst financial remuneration always played a key role in ‘Boomers career aspirations, Millennials value the societal impact of a company and will look at soft factors like company policies on diversity, inclusion and flexibility, equally if not more so, than just money itself.
So yes, there undoubted differences between the two. And yes to reiterate such changes should be considered when talking about talent recruitment, retention and development. However, it feels to me that if we reassess things to radically within our internal procedures, we may be at risk of losing what I believe is the utmost important thing for any business to maintain if they want to be successful. An Inside-Out perspective.
Remember, as much as Millennials are our new/future workforce, they are also our new/future customer base.
It is obviously thus, highly important to acknowledge what makes this generation on the whole, buy into a brand - green carbon neutral policies for example carry as much wait in this age, as a cheesy celebratory endorsement would have back in the 80s. In doing so, and by being a company whose values Millennials can buy into, you will enhance your recruitment success. But one caveat here is it needs to be led from the top and be genuine.
Millenials have an inate ability to smell BS from distance.
The other issue I see with sweeping generalisations of a generation, is that by treating Millennials as a monolith, we may be at risk of overlooking the individual - and in field service in particular, the individual is often the star of the show.
This creates something of a duality that we must overcome and I suggest doing so by adopting a two pronged approach to our workforce. On one hand we need to acknowledge and embrace that many of the Millennials that come through the workforce may be just ‘passing through’ and invest in the technologies such as AR and knowledge banks, technologies which can make them as productive as possible, as quickly as possible. Here, we want a workforce with a shallow but broad skill set that can then be supplemented via remote assistance by experts with deeper knowledge when neccessary.
Simultaneously, we need to identify a number of career paths that enable those individuals who buck the trend of being part of a transitory workforce (and beyond the hyperbole there are many out there believe me) to grow within your company. Tap into the gamification instincts that are almost embedded in the root directory of Millennials by attaching gravitas, kudos and continual learning to roles where deep experience is built upon.
Ideally, such a two-tiered structure will ultimately allow you to utilise the emerging gig economy or contingent labour sectors - giving you flexibility within your staffing that could potentially be a major benefit to your P&L. A win-win all round. Alternatively, you could just ride it all out until the Gen Z cavalry arrives to quietly save the day just like us Gen Xers did for the ‘Boomers.
A question was raised recently at the Field Service Summit held in Warwick where the theme for the conference was moving into an experience economy. It is a question that is often at the top of mind for Field Service Executives, particularly when they are surrounded by so many of their peers, who are all seemingly ploughing ahead with customer engagement programs.
The question went along the lines of “Whilst I can see the benefits of improving customer satisfaction for my customers, how can I translate that into something tangible that my board might actually buy into?’
One man, who has fielded this question many times both when speaking at such events as well as in his long and illustrious career as an analyst to the field service sector, including in his role as a columnist for Field Service News, is Bill Pollock, President of Strategies for GrowthSM.
“It sounds like an easy question, but the reality is that it’s not an easy question to answer at all,” he explains.
The reason for this Pollock outlines is because when in fact Customer Satisfaction (CX) is actually an end product and the net result of a number of other strategic actions or exercises that the services organisation takes. To put it bluntly, CX is not what you do first, there are a whole bunch of other, more tangible tasks that sit in the strategic line ahead of it.
“You don’t achieve customer satisfaction first and then take strategic actions to improve processes and procedures and policies, etcetera, and so forth. It works the other way around,” Pollock explains.
“Now that doesn’t mean to say that once you attain the desired levels of customer satisfaction that doesn’t lead to other things - it absolutely does. But think about how you’re doing business, it’s a journey, it’s a continuum. And if you look at customer satisfaction on that continuum it might be two thirds or three quarters or the way towards the end but it’s not the end onto itself, there’s more that follows.
“When you look at customer satisfaction, that’s mainly a dependent variable rather than an independent variable by which I mean if you update and streamline your service delivery processes, if you acquire a new and upgraded or more powerful and robust field service management solution.
“If you can take steps to eliminate silos and other bureaucratic obstacles within your own organisation that tend to slow down the time it takes for you to deliver services to your customers, and ultimately tick them off.
“If you can train your field technicians and provide them with the latest technologies and mobile tools. If you can provide your customers with portals whereby they can initiate work orders and track the status and order parts and escalate problem scenarios solutions... then you will likely end up attaining higher levels of customer satisfaction.” “So you take those strategic actions first. And then what happens is it leads to more customer satisfaction.”
One of the things that makes Pollock such a well respected voice in the industry is that he is able to draw extensively not only on his own experience but also on solid data that his organisation collects every year within their annual Benchmarking studies. Reflecting on such trends across the last few years he is able to forensically piece together a detailed picture of how field service organisations are behaving both in the US and in Europe.
“What we saw [in 2018] was a dip in customer satisfaction across the European continent, down to 78%,” he explains.
“This was down from about 82% or so the year before. In our latest survey, 2019, the customer satisfaction rating for the total respondents, UK, Europe and North America and the Far East, it’s gone back up from 81% last year to 84% this year.”
“Customer satisfaction is mainly a dependent variable rather than an independent variable..."
This would at first perhaps indicate a course correction of European companies who had started to let the increasingly crucial CX metrics slide. However, Pollock believes there maybe an alternative explanation.
“Last year appears to be a year of transformation, a year of recalibration, a year for stepping back, seeing what needs to be done and then starting to do it. And this year is the year that the fruits of that labour have begun to take place,” Pollock says.
“Now you look at something like that and you say, “Hey, well, that’s really good, it’s improved.” But you don’t want your auto mechanic or your brain surgeon to only have 80% customer satisfaction,” he says with a wry smile.
He is of course correct, as the old adage goes the enemy of excellence is good enough. So what steps does Pollock suggest for companies seeking to go from merely good to great.
“Once you take the steps that I talked about just earlier and you have attained higher levels of customer satisfaction, then the road forward from there gets even trickier, even muddier,” he explains.
“When we ask organisations, ‘Do you measure customer satisfaction?’ 67%, two thirds in our current survey, say, ‘That’s what we measure first.’ That’s two points higher than total service revenue and five points higher than total service cost.
“They look at customer satisfaction before they look at anything else. And that has been the number one KPI that respondents to the surveys look at in every survey we have ever done. Field service, warranty management, reverse logistics, you name it, that’s number one.
“Now customer retention was only measured by 30% of service organisations last year. So 67% versus 30%. Why is there that discrepancy? Well, because it’s pretty easy to measure customer satisfaction. You get a good qualified third party objective to conduct the survey. They ask the right questions of the right audience, they tabulate it the right way, no errors, you’ve got customer satisfaction measurements.
“How do you measure customer retention? The easiest way is when your company goes out of business because it hasn’t had high enough customer satisfaction and you lose all your customers. You can say, ‘We had a high level of customer retention yesterday and it’s zero today.’ So there are many surrogates to measure retention, but it’s very, very difficult.”
There are of course, ways and means of doing so, particularly in this age of social media and customer sentiment analysis, but that is a topic for another time. After all, as Pollock suggests there is still plenty of scope for improvement in CX metrics first.
One of the challenges staring service full in the face is the growing disparity between those leaving the industry and those coming in. Many voices in the sector have expressed concern at this alarming future trend, yet there seems to be little action when it comes to addressing the issue.
Cheryl-Anne Sanderson is the Operations Director at G4S and a recent guest on the Field Service Podcast where she shared some employee statistics attached to a contract she is currently working on, where employee demographics reveal 70 per cent of that workforce is over the age of 50 and, worryingly, only 10 per cent under 30. “I find this absolutely bonkers,” she says with typical candidness, “I like to think I’m still young myself, but I fell into my industry. It was pure luck that someone got hold of my CV, but I think we dumb it [field service] down quite a lot, we don’t make its sound attractive. If you look at field service and if you ask most people what it is,” Cheryl-Anne says, “they would say ‘it’s a man in a van’, which doesn’t sound sexy at all.”
Cheryl-Anne with a fiery Welsh enthusiasm is passionate about her job and passionate about the PR needed to change perceptions attached to it.
Perhaps young people do perceive the sector as the image of a ‘man in the van’, but as she tells me with enthusiasm, service and FM is so much more than that. “It’s a demanding role. No day is ever the same. If you’re a regimental type or person who likes routine, then this might not be for you. You need to be flexible, willing to work above and beyond at times but by doing that you actually get a lot out of it as well.”
Worryingly though, it seems that promotion of a new role in service, perhaps an entry level position, is simply advertised and left to pick up interest on its own, published on a bland FM job-site, rather than firms pro-actively visiting the pool of potential candidates through job fairs or colleges to extol the virtues of the opportunity.
Cheryl though, having done just that – visiting schools and job fairs - and communicated the diverse nature of a role in service or FM is often met with enthusiasm after their initial concern. “It’s about people’s perception and fundamentally about spreading the word, making it sound interesting and exciting and setting the scene,” she says.
"You need to be flexible, willing to work above and beyond at times but by doing that you get a lot out of it..."
We discuss the impact of personal engagement in service, how the role of customer interaction and satisfaction is playing more of a key role than technology. “I think in some aspects, we’ve sort of lost the customer service touch through the technology and digitilisation, which is really important in bringing innovation to the table,” Cheryl-Anne offers, “but at the end of the day you’ve still got to sell that innovation. If you don’t get on the same level as the customer and deliver that engagement then from a customer’s perspective, they can think it’s rather robotic.”
I suggest this shift could be used in changing perception of the industry, that service is about human engagement rather than complicated algorithms and technical components, making it more attractive to young people, Cheryl agrees but brings it back to delivery of the message. “Let’s go out there and spread the word,” she says. “You can look at a job description on an advert, but until you really speak to the people and go through the interview process, do you really know, whether you as the individual will want the job.”
It’s obvious there needs to be a change in perception of field service for young people to be attracted but it seems stagnant in making this happen. Influence needs to come from the top, with large companies willing to get out among colleges, universities and job fairs; perhaps even needs committing to some wide-spread pledge or campaign.
In Cheryl’s experience however, the best intentions are frustratingly never followed up. “I really think it should be within people’s
objectives, that we allow our staff and we allow our current leaders to go out there and inspire and to attract the new people into the environment. It’s about going back to basics and putting some governance around it. People say we should do a charter, make a commitment,” she pauses, sighing almost, “but we never follow it through.”
Regaining her enthusiasm, she continues: “You look at field service; one day you could be processing something in logistics, the following day you could dealing with an event.” A pause again. “It’s everything.”
To Cheryl it is everything and to new entrants joining the sector they should feel this way too, but the message has to come from the sector as a whole. So, to the rest of the industry; it’s over to you.
Let’s make this happen.
Over the last three years there has been a huge emphasis on the need to invest in technology to stay ahead and be the disruptor.
As many leaders struggle to move towards the enticing digital visions being painted, we have seen a more nuanced approach emerge. We perceive that leaders are switching their emphasis back to creating a solution focused culture where people have the imagination and customer focus to create and deliver new value offered by digital technologies.
In the coming years we believe we will see companies focusing on three areas in the growth journey:
1. Digital Servitization: the notion of digitising the back-office processes and enabling data capture in the product infrastructure to enable new value through services
2. Data Analytics capabilities: Turning the data into insights through being able to turn Business Problems and opportunities into Data Solutions that leverage their company unique knowledge.
3. Trusted Advisor Mindset: Having the trust of customers and the communication skills to turn intangible data into valuable actions that drive growth.
Now more than at any other time, businesses are focused on how to use shifts in technology to reduce costs and find new value propositions. But understanding how it all fits has proven more elusive to business leaders. Those that are making most progress have broken the Digital Transformation process into more meaningful chunks. They typically have two areas of focus:
1. Installed-Base Digitalisation:
Designing the products and supporting operational infrastructures that generate data, so that it can be collected, analysed and then monetized through service-based business models. Generally, investments have been made in:
- Technology that enhances the product and company infrastructure to enable Digital Support, such as remote data collection, diagnostics or predictive maintenance.
- Capabilities and technologies in the organisation that enables Data Analytics, such machine learning, visual analytics and business intelligence technologies.
2. Back-Office Digitalisation:
The tools we use to manage our business back office which sustain and improve margins /profits. Examples might be Service Management solutions, CRM and ERP. Generally, there are two aspects to consider in terms of system and process development:
- Technology that enhances the product and company infrastructure to enable Digital Support, such as remote data collection, diagnostics or predictive maintenance.
- Capabilities and technologies in the organisation that enables Data Analytics, such machine learning, visual analytics and business intelligence technologies.
Only when companies have reached a level of maturity in both Back-Office Digitalisation and Installed-Base Digitalisation, are they ready to, explore new business models such outcome based or subscription based services.
Data Analytics Capability - Business problem before Data Solution
The use of sophisticated Data Analytics technologies to gain insights into processes and product performance is slowly becoming part of management thinking. But again, progress is slow as many leaders are intimidated by the jargon and lack of understanding of the business case. We have found successful companies have followed these three steps:
1. Articulate the business problem to solve and why (Value)
Before investing in digital technologies, the most successful companies have a clear idea of the business problem to solve and the value it can potentially bring. Often there is some experimentation/prototyping that may occur to build knowledge of the business problem and confirm value. They look wider than their own business processes or customers processes, the hand-offs between the different stakeholders in their value chain. Often, they will use ecosystem analysis, the value iceberg principal or points-of-selling approaches to identify value opportunities.
2. Define the Data Problem
The next challenge is how to turn the business problem into a business data hypothesis. This would describe an expected or speculated relationship that we hope to determine through the analysis of data. For example, the hypothesis for a predictive maintenance solution might be: ‘We can identify the failure patterns for hydraulic system as well as general machine performance using pressure, oil contamination, temperature and humidity data from the PLC, such that we can predict failures and recommend corrective actions.
Why is this important? Data Scientists cannot tell you patterns that interest you without knowing the area of interest! Hence converting the business problem into a hypothesis is a key part of the process and applying the scientific method which is question led and iterative. But the hypothesis does not have to be correct.
It is very likely that it will change as more knowledge is gained about the data being analysed or definition of the business problem evolves. One must expect a certain amount of iteration from business problem to data problem as our knowledge expands, and this in turn helps deliver optimal business value. It is critical to be very clear about the business problem and the data required to understand it.
3. Pilot before Scale Up
Now that the data problem is defined, managers can understand where they may have organisational and infrastructure gaps for their project, and from this be able to identify the first steps of their roadmap to a data solution. It is important that these early steps include a pilot of the solution. The goal is to quickly understand if our solution is likely to be successful, and the actions to be taken to scale up across the organization.
"Over the last three years there has been a huge emphasis on the need to invest in technology to stay ahead..."
Often in business we take it for granted that we have all the capabilities in house. However, in today’s world, where the use of technology is rapidly evolving, it is very easy to become ‘out of date’ from both a business mindset as well as technology capability.
To help leaders understand the strengths and weaknesses, Si2 have worked with The Data Analysis Bureau to develop a short 10 minute maturity self-assessment which will you help you identify your strengths and weaknesses as you move from Business Problem to Data Solution.
There are just 10 questions and you will get personalised feedback as to your situation and what you can do. Use this link to access the assessment.
Trusted Advisor Mindset
The biggest enabler of the ‘digital’ ideas we have discussed is not so much the technology but the mindset of your people. The Trusted Advisor mindset is more than just being able to talk to the customer, solve problems and sell ideas. It is a whole attitude where we focus on solutions, continuously moving customers towards their goals whether they be internal or external.
This is the type of mindset that has leapt onto the potential offered by digitisation, long before it entered the language of today’s business. Trusted Advisors have clarity on their role and an understanding of how to talk to customers so that they achieve a WIN, WIN, WIN:
• A Win for the customer so that every conversation they have moves them closer to their goal
• A Win for the company to develop customer loyalty and profitability
• A Win for themselves so they feel great about their job
What makes a Trusted Advisor different? At the very minimum they are good customer problem solvers. What starts to differentiate them from others is their ability to have meaningful conversations with customers that always seem to move towards solutions. They are able to provide options together with the benefits for various decision the customer might make.
They normally have a high level of personal maturity in that they do not try to tell customers what to THINK. Instead they influence them by what they SAY and DO, and because they consistently deliver, customers trust their advice. As the notion of a Trusted Advisor is widely used across sales & service, the job context is extremely important.
For example, in field service and technical support the Trusted Advisor role is more about providing options than closing deals. Whereas in sales it is more about how we build rapport and credibility within a consultative selling process.
Clearly understanding the context in which the Trusted Advisor mindset is being developed is vitally important to successful adoption. Service leaders who want to improve how their teams communicate with customers, might consider having the following conversations with their own people:
• Clarify what you mean by a Trusted Advisor and the role they play in your organisation. In particular the customer needs and what makes them successful, as well as your companies business goals. This is where distinguishing the difference between selling and advising will be absolutely critical to your success;
• Develop a Mindset where every conversation we have with customers moves them a step closer to their goal. It may not be the complete solution, but it is a step in the right direction no matter how bad and uncomfortable the situation is. This very basic philosophy is key to training your people to deal with conflict, as well encourage them to have dynamic and collaborative relationships through solution orientated language;
• Provide Tools and methods that allow us to actively listen, to talk more effectively, to manage conflict and resolve difficult customer situations. These tools are critical to helping us to prepare ourselves to be a Trusted Advisor in what can be challenging and stressful situations;
• Practice in real-life scenarios with your team to see how they react under stress. We are constantly amazed at how confident many service people are about talking to customers in a training environment, yet it all falls apart in a customer situation.
• Refresh: Developing how your team interacts with customers is not a one-off event and needs to be constantly mentored and coached.
Digital People Increasingly we anticipate that Service organisations will take a more balanced approach to Digital. Yes, they will invest in the technology, but they will do so with a clearer idea of the value they are trying to capture. They will understand that the key to new business models will be to have automated their back-office processes as well as how to capture and action data from the product infrastructure. They will increasingly focus on developing a solution orientated innovative culture which is the key to leveraging the opportunities offered by new technologies and paradigms of thinking.
Nick Frank is Managing Partner at Si2 Partners. If you would like to talk more about any of the topics discussed in this article you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the latest Field Service Podcast, Jan Van Veen discusses why manufacturers unable to innovate their business model risk falling behind their competitors.
In the latest Field Service Podcast, Jan Van Veen discusses why manufacturers unable to innovate their business model risk falling behind their competitors.
In this special episode, Deputy Editor Mark Glover, speaks to moreMomentum's Jan van Veen who urges firms to take advantage of servitization and digitilastion and avoid stagnant business as usual behaviours.
Click here for material complimenting Jan's podcast including diagrams and charts. You can also contact Jan about any of the content raised in this recording and to find out how to get involved in Jan's new book, mentioned in the podcast, then click here.
Copperberg’s Thomas Igou reflects on some of their most recent research that outlines how although most companies within the field service sector on a program of digitalisation to leverage emerging technologies to improve the efficiency of their...
Copperberg’s Thomas Igou reflects on some of their most recent research that outlines how although most companies within the field service sector on a program of digitalisation to leverage emerging technologies to improve the efficiency of their service operations both in the office and out in the field, almost half of companies cite adapting current IT infrastructure for Future Digital Strategy as one of their biggest challenges...
Field Service Organisations today would like to move into predictive maintenance, connect the back office to the front and augment knowledge virtually to field technicians through digital devices to boost productivity, increase profitability and stay ahead of the competition.
However, according to the Copperberg Research’s Annual Field Service Report conducted with over 120 FIeld Service DIrectors in 2019, 42% of the respondents listed adapting current IT infrastructure for Future Digital Strategy as one of their biggest problems. There are so many technologies to implement yet having a unified IT infrastructure for these systems and platforms is no easy task, and can make or break a Digital Strategy if the data between systems cannot speak to each other.
With the advent of numerous sensors, faster data capturing and transmission, sorting, processing and making use of all the data can be a big challenge requiring a massive investment in upgrading IT departments. Most companies in the field service domain are just getting started on the digital journey where going fast could be useful, but the important question to ask is if it is worth going faster than your customers? Or, is the best approach to take is one of step by step collaboration with partners, suppliers and customers. According to the survey, the next big challenges according to 30% of the field service directors is deciding on the digital transformation tools along with workforce planning and scheduling (32%). However, the important observation from the survey is one about change management.
To be able to implement the digital tools and keep pace with the industry, change management is crucial, which has to trickle down from the company strategy through the top management to the field service engineers. Michael Porter famously said, ‘’Strategy is about making choices, trade-offs; it’s about deliberately choosing to be different’’.
Industrial organisations are fighting their own internal struggles of moving away from the traditional transactional business model they have been running on since their p77 inception towards a different one more adapted to today’s Experience Economy based on partnerships, value creation, subscriptions, outcomes and productivity. 53% of respondents in the survey claimed that only top management makes the decisions which could be a double-edged sword in today’s dynamic industry.
Strategies have been imperatively flowing top-down in organisations but might offer a challenge to adoption at the bottom level as they will be the ones using the deployed technology. Most leaders today are discussion preventive maintenance and some about building machines that will not break down avoiding maintenance operations and associated costs. 31% of the industry is still stuck in reactive maintenance which is concerning given the plethora of tools, case studies and resources available to move into proactive maintenance are available and have been publicised over years now.
Having the field service workforce motivated to pitch into the companies strategies will lead to motivated technicians. Top management has to involve the technicians when deciding on new digital tools, continuously train them and have the technicians help each other to understand the new technology.
This will help the younger technicians learn from experienced ones and also make the older technicians easily ask the young workforce on adapting to the new technology, bridging the competence gap. In the Survey, 80% of leaders rate their field service workforces adaptation to new tech, helping each other and providing feedback as average with only a very small number rating it as high. Competence Development of Field Workforce tops the list of priorities for field service leaders in the next 5 years.
Jim Baston, of BBA Consulting Group Inc. has a different take: ‘‘It is interesting to note the growing place that technology plays in field service. With remote diagnostics, artificial intelligence and visual reality, as well as embedded intelligence in the serviced equipment, the technical competence of the service person, will become less important. As they rely more on their tools to troubleshoot and repair and less on their experience, it opens up the door for less qualified individuals who will be able to give comparable levels of technical service.’’
In conclusion, to connect all three aspects of digitalisation, strategy and competence management, Adam Neale of Arqiva group states, ’’We will see a significant reduction in the number of highly skilled Field Engineers. We will be more low-skilled with 3rd line support assisting with technology such as Augmented Reality. Without great employee engagement, you will not succeed. Your employees build your customer reputation which can be positive or negative. If they were engaged with what your company does each and every day, then they will deliver high standards.’’
The quantitative survey conducted by Copperberg Research had over 125 respondents reflecting the state of the current field service industry. Field Service Organisations are trying to balance the growing customer expectations and associated challenges that implementing new digital tools are bringing along. The survey brings to light the major challenges the industry faces, the tools that will be important to implement in the next 5 years along with addressing the needs for Field Service Engineers.
The survey is divided into three chapters: Digital, Workforce and Strategy to streamline the needs in these three spheres complimented by insights from industry experts.
You can download the report here.
OK, so when it comes to your Field Service Technicians, you’ve reduced their time on the road between jobs, helped them to grow into a role of true trusted advisors and empowered them with access to all the knowledge they could need at the tap of a screen.
In fact, your already exploring how augmented reality could help you bridge the gap between experience and demand as well. Yet, a seemingly perennial problem still haunts you and your KPIs.
A problem that frustrates your customers, your technicians and you as a manager. You know where I’m going here right? The technician is on time, highly knowledgeable and determined to help, but it all falls down when he realizes he isn’t stocked with the part he needs to complete the job.
So the front line of your business, the key brand ambassadors within your company are all too often left sinking in unsatisfactory excuses as disgruntled customers lose faith in your ability to deliver on the service you promised when they signed up.
Suddenly all of that value you’d created through field service management technology investments and extensive training processes is being lost due to insufficient part availability. It’s an all too familiar challenge and one that can seriously damage a companies reputation in the short-term and it’s revenues in the long-term.
But the good news is that resolving these types of customer issues and experiences is perfectly feasible. In fact, technologies exist for this very purpose – service parts management and scheduling solutions interacting together to ensure that when your technician arrives to the right place at the right time, they have the right part to keep your customers happy and encourage repeat business.
Solutions specifically built for the service business, with all of its challenges around low-volume, ‘justin- case,’ intermittent availability, rather than for high volume, predictable, ‘just-in-time’ throughput. Service part inventory networks are complex – a part may go through central warehouses, distribution centers, regional stocking locations and secure local collection boxes along its journey to a technician’s vehicle.
Oftentimes, technicians will end up being over-stocked, causing unnecessary restocking at the warehouse. Standard parts inventory solutions are simply not designed to handle such complexity and in an area that can have such a dramatic impact on the success of your service operation, it is prudent to opt for a solution designed to be fit for purpose. In addition to this, many organizations have followed a trend initially driven by brick-and-mortar retailers, who took the brunt of the shift we’ve made as a society at large towards online shopping, which is to provide spare part stocking locations to bridge the physical gap between technicians and end customers.
In one study, The Service Council identified that over half of all service attempts fail because of not having the right part, and even when the right part is available companies are not maximizing the revenue correctly because they are not pricing correctly due to a fundamental lack of visibility into their inventory across the whole service supply chain.
"Technicians will end up being over-stocked, causing unnecessary restocking at the warehouse..."
But remember, the greater the complexity, the greater the potential for improvements in efficiency. This is particularly true of the highly complex nature of the service part supply chain. Once routing and scheduling have been optimized, further benefits can only come from other processes within the service ecosystem, and service part inventory management, with its potential to reduce costs across multiple echelons within the supply chain, can deliver quick gains. The fundamental question is ‘Why should you accept failure in your service supply chain?’. Or perhaps more crucially, ‘How much longer can you continue to do so?’
But remember, the greater the complexity, the greater the potential for improvements in efficiency. This is particularly true of the highly complex nature of the service part supply chain. Once routing and scheduling have been optimized, further benefits can only come from other processes within the service ecosystem, and service part inventory management, with its potential to reduce costs across multiple echelons within the supply chain, can deliver quick gains.
The fundamental question is ‘Why should you accept failure in your service supply chain?’. Or perhaps more crucially, ‘How much longer can you continue to do so?’ Oftentimes however, the current systems in place across the after sales service supply chain are not fit for purpose. If this is an accurate description of your own organization, I turn and say that the time for change is upon us all to make this a key area of focus within our sector. There will of course be resistance from those who believe the traditionalist approach works, those who see good enough as acceptable. If it ain’t broke, why fix it, right? But accepting mediocre service standards, is rapidly becoming a fading standard of the previous century.
Mediocre in today’s world of increasing customer expectations is, frankly, failure. And of course, failure within business is ultimately intolerable and should not be accepted by neither business leaders or their customers - and increasingly it isn’t. Indeed, there finally seems to have been a quite perceptible shift in the number of companies beginning to pay attention to the importance of good parts and inventory management.
Manufacturers around the world are waking up to the fact that the market has changed - from the volatility in the orders of durable goods, to millennials taking over the workforce, to the movement of ‘power by the hour’, there is great opportunity to be had and many organizations have identified that, in the area of parts and inventory management, there is actually a huge amount of low-hanging fruit that can see some big wins, delivered fairly quickly and painlessly.
This is changing the way businesses approach the value of parts and indeed service. It is one heck of an exciting time to be in the field service business because all of these economic, social and political changes are driving the attention onto the new era of service-centric business which has emerged across the last decade, as we embrace the emergence of the various new technologies pushing us forwards.
We are seeing futuristic concepts such as Drones, 3D Printing, Augmented Reality and Autonomous Vehicles enter the wold of field service. And whilst each of these have admittedly been on the horizon for what seems like a very, very long time as we talk of their potential and the promise of industry revolution, the fact is that these technologies are all now beginning to come to some form of maturation.
For while, talk of revolution and rapid change may sell products, conference tickets and dare I say it, even magazines - the truth is that in the world of business at least, real meaningful change always comes across a long period of smaller, incremental iterations. The fact is now that we are approaching the point where various technological, administrative and logistical kinks have been worked through and ironed out in small test cases and viability studies and most of the technologies I’ve listed are sufficiently robust that they are becoming established conversations in the mainstream of our industry.
However, the changes we are seeing in our sector are not just driven by technology alone. Sweeping demographic change within the workforce, accelerated by the aging workforce crisis being faced by companies across the globe and being exacerbated by the unprecedented differences between the incoming Millennial generation and the outgoing Baby Boomers, is of course another factor driving industry evolution forwards.
These changes are leading us into a world where we are making a shift to a much more service and outcome orientated society as a whole - something I would suggest is the result of this generational shift in tandem with the technical advances referenced above and is at the heart of why we are seeing companies turn their entire business models on their head in favor of a more customer-centric, service focused revenue models.
Servitization has gone from fringe concept to buzzword across the last few years as talk of ever decreasing SLAs and increasing First-Time- Fix rates has morphed into discussions around guarantees of uptime and the financial impact of unplanned downtime. At such a point of great industry evolution, it is essential we have our core foundations that we are to build service excellence upon, firmly in place. As an industry we seem to have our heads firmly in place when it comes to the old mantra of the getting the ‘right engineer, to the right place, at the right time.’
But without being able to get the right parts there as well it all becomes something of a moot point. Quite simply if field service organizations are going to be able to embrace the brave new world of servitization and preventative maintenance, then parts management needs to be given the same emphasis as mobile workforce management. Once we have that sorted then in terms of pushing service to the fore of industry, it’s game on.
Service outfits, recognising this shift, are now building in Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to keep pace with a change that
can ultimately bring profit. Mark Glover tracks the evolving nature of KPIs in field service affirms their importance to a firm’s strategy...
Employers stifle groans and share knowing looks when a project manager starts listing KPIs. Touted in boardrooms and meeting rooms, they do however drive a business forward. They serve as signposts along a journey, ensuring that important milestones are met, completed and contribute to the end goal.
It’s a complex process to streamline but one that can bear much fruit. But is there a magic formula?
Type in ‘field Service KPIs’ to Google and your browser gets filled with an array of subjective suggestions. This is not surprising, as KPIs can be as far-reaching as a business requires. Efficiency, for example, incorporates time, such as the time it takes to complete a task, what billable time was used-up and what overtime was given to a job.
However, drilling down too much into one KPI can create issues. Martin Summerhayes, Fujitsu’s Head of Delivery Strategy and Service thinks defining a KPI is essential, something that comes from taking a long view of your service strategy. Failure to do so, he offers, could risk negative outcomes. “If you don’t look at the end-to-end,” he says, if you don’t look at the value chain that you want to achieve, if you’re not looking at the outcomes that you want to achieve and if you’re not looking at the total cost to serve then inefficiency is what you’re going to get.”
To illustrate his point, Summerhayes gives an example of the engineer told by his Manager to attend four jobs per-day.
The first he attends but without the correct parts and after explaining the situation to the customer, he leaves. He fits the parts at site two but the fault remains so raises another ticket, unable to do more, he makes a swift exit. He needs to call his branch manager (who isn’t there) after inspecting the issue at the third job, so the fault can’t be dealt with, he again explains this to the customer and departs. Finally, at job number four he fixes the part and completes the job. “
You get what you measure,” Summerhayes says, explaining the issue. “Four jobs have been done, but they haven’t been completed. The engineer hasn’t been told what to do with those four jobs. As the engineer is not being asked to completer the job, a whole load of waste is created. Of those four jobs, only one has been completed. The others will be swept back, picked up by a different engineer. You start to build complete inefficiency into the process, just purely by one measure and not being clear.”
And here lies the danger of loose KPIs. It may be tempting to create them to the nth degree but unless you create the right ones in line with the outcomes you want to achieve then you could end up pushing the wrong behaviour completely. “You need to be aware of the consequences,” Summerhayes warns. “You might measure the metric you think is right, but it will actually drive the wrong behaviour and it could even drive the wrong culture.”
Other broad KPIs, as well as time, include service delivery and the aforementiond efficiency; yet customer service – a key focus in modern field service - feeds into all the above: processes, service delivery and efficiency. In fact, one could argue it sits over the top of all KPIs being fed by those beneath it. Field service management requires a balance between time and cost savings while creating better customer service.
But how can you measure this ambiguous metric? Summerhayes says it consists of many elements. “The right people, with the right training and the right skills and the right motivation will drive employee satisfaction, employee engagement, employee loyalty and employee motivation,” he conveys.
But within that, there needs to be a further question. How does an organisation create a positive employee culture? Does it come down simply to managing your team correctly and should you differentiate KPIs between your team and management?
In a podcast recording for Field Service News, Co- Founder and Managing Partner at Si2 Partners, Nick Frank identified that separate KPIs were extremely useful, particularly when relaying an employees’ worth to the company back to that employee. “It’s important to find the measure that motivates your staff and they can actually do something about,” he said. “If they’ve taken action, they can actually see how they’re impacting how the business is working. You should see that Managers and engineers, for example, are two different sets of stakeholders, so you should separate out the management metrics from the team metrics.”
I think Nick hits on an important point here, one that relates on human level and the impact we have in the world we operate in; which in this instance is the world of work. If you’re an engineer who is part of a large organisation, who checks-in once a month for the firm’s monthly meeting and reliant on mobile connectivity to keep in touch with colleagues, then it can be difficult to feel part of the company’s bigger picture. Having someone explain to you – through KPIs – that your excellent fix-rates are positively impacting the firm’s bottom line can only be motivating.
Service KPIs, therefore, should drive profits through loyal employees and satisfied customers. The latter achieved by acknowledging three aspects that customers expect today: access to support; overall solution time and being kept informed throughout the service experience.
Satisfied customers in turn creates customer loyalty which in turn creates revenue. Acquiring a new client is three times more expensive than retaining a current one. The focus should be on customer retention not customer acquisition. Keeping clients satisfied means adhering to KPIs that put them at the core. It means being creative with your data and having the courage to look at results a different way. If your measurements are showing positive numbers - for example, an 85% first-time fix rate - then turning the metric upside can really disrupt how you look at your services. Once flipped, analysing the 15% of jobs that didn’t meet customer expectation can lead to more insightful analysis of your service performance. It’s easy to remain in a KPI comfort zone.
Measuring what you don’t want to measure can sometimes return results that you didn’t expect but once acted on, can make all the difference in an era where the customer has, and will always come first.