Service Management Expo 2015 saw a number of excellent debates including a panel discussion that focused on the challenge of replacing an ageing workforce. As the millenials take over the work place, moderator Kris Oldand asked the panel just what will the changing face of field service look like?
The challenge for service companies was not so much the age of their current workforce but the aptitude and willingness to learn new skills, said Andy Beer, European Service director, Pitney Bowes. "As technology changes, the engineer's role may change from being field-based to carrying out remote diagnosis on a Help Desk. Regardless, they still need an underlying skill set and it's important those skills sets are up-to-date. Do they have the aptitude to learn and adapt?"
In field service, solutions are knowledge-based, pointed out Susannah Richardson, Marketing Director at mplsystems. "What is important is to get that knowledge documented - and your ageing, very experienced workforce can often be the best source for that. See it as an opportunity to get that valuable knowledge out of one engineer’s head and into the wider workforce. Once you've secured that knowledge, your service levels won’t drop if key staff leave or retire."
Formal, documented knowledge can also improve customer service, she added. "Once available, it can be used by the Help Desk engineers for remote diagnostics and repair, or even to guide customers on fixing problems themselves via a help area on your own website."
It is important that during the process of documenting knowledge, experienced engineers do not feel threatened, said Beer. "The solution is to show them you appreciate that knowledge and involve them in the process - such as sending them the final document for approval."
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Service companies need to remember that Millennials would also form a large part of their customer based in future said Lightfoot. "They'll expect a different sort of service and engineers will need training in soft skills. Managing clients and client behaviour, coping with complaints on a face-to-face basis will become an important part of the skill set."
A service sector that used modern technology would help attract the next generation and get buy-in from existing engineers when work processes were changing. "Giving engineers an iPad to work with wins hearts and minds," said Beer. "We found giving them permission to use the device in their personal lives made them excited and got them thoroughly engaged in the changes we were making in the business."
The sharing generation
Service companies could also benefit if they grasped the fact that the millennial generation, whether customers or engineers, are used to social media and sharing of information, remarked Richardson. "In the workplace, millennials will want to be part of a social community that shares information, interacts and is collaborative. This generation are more likely to communicate via Instant Messaging than make a voice call. Millennial customers wouldn't be phased by requesting a service via an app, not via a call to the help desk. "
It might also drive earlier resolution of a problem, she added. "Technology enables a three-way web chat, for example, with the customer calling the help desk who then brings in a field-based engineer to discuss the problem."
Trusted advisor or sales person?
The panel was asked whether a new generation of engineers would be less resistant than older workers to the idea of leveraging their position as “trusted advisor” to become a “trusted sales advisor". All were adamant that while this might be appealing for service companies, there were also inherent risks.
"There is potentially a lot to be gained, but if the field engineer starts to act in a more overt sales fashion, there is also the risk of losing that trusted advisor status with the customer," commented Beer. "Field engineers see themselves as trusted advisers and fixers. Many will resist the ideal of becoming sales representatives and customers, indeed, can see through overt sales tactics. "
Richardson however, thought some engineers would welcome a sales/upselling role. "Incentivising engineers for sales rewards them monetarily, but can also be attractive from a career development point of view."
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Baby steps and the gamification concept was the way forward, thought the panel with Dan Lancaster, Field Service Specialist with Telogis, advising "Set questions in a dynamic format. The process can be heavy at the start but you soon reach the point where you can get them to filling in questionnaires to test their skills levels."
Ageing workforce: crisis or opportunity?
Having already identified the need to interact with Millennial workers, each of the panel members were asked whether they considered if an ageing workforce represented a crisis (all that knowledge disappearing from the company) or an opportunity (with all those young people with a new outlook, enthusiastic about embracing the technology) that is going to be essential for service delivery over the next couple of decades.
"There are over 1 billion mobile devices out there: your workforce will be using them anyway, so tap into that mindset," urged Lightfoot.
"Technology is delivering the opportunity to document a vast amount of knowledge and get it out there to the wider workforce and customers," pointed out Richardson.
Finally, Lancaster added: "Younger people expect to be engaged in what they are doing, at work or play. So engage them. It's a fantastic opportunity to look at your operation in a different way."
So, in conclusion, our panel unanimously agreed that any potential crisis in terms of loss of expertise as older workers retired could be overcome and that service companies should explore the different aptitudes and mindset of a younger generation to drive process change and transform customer service strategies.
The face of field service is changing, but as with anything change can be both frightening and exciting at the same time. The trick is to walk the line in the middle so you are prepared for the pitfalls and ready to embrace the opportunities. Is your company up to the challenge?
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