The Importance of Trust in Field Service Management

May 13, 2020 • Featureshealth and safetyDriver Behaviourfleet managementAlistair DobsonThink TankWhirlpool

Monitoring the driving behaviour of your fleet can have tangible positives for KPIs but negative affects culturally. Mark Glover spoke to Alistair Dobson from Whirpool about his approach to integrating a positive safety culture.

When engineers carry out on-site maintenance there is always an element of risk. I've written many times on the dangers of lone workers, which field service engineers essentially are. However, there is another high-risk environment that engineers often operate in, and that's even before they've got to the job itself.

Driving is a Central part of the Field Service Industry

Driving is an important metric of a technician's day-to-day. Time wasted while travelling either from heavy traffic or an poor route-planning can have a detrimental affect on that day's output. Fortunately, route-planning software and telematics solutions can assist in the latter, but the fact remains the roads will always be a risky environment.

In the UK, more people are killed or injured in at-work road accidents than in all other workplace accidents put together. It is estimated that around 200 road deaths and serious injuries involve someone driving whilst at work and around a third of all crashes are estimated to involve someone who was at work at the time. This means that up to 1,000 lives are lost in the UK each year through driving for work-based practices.

In the US, the figures are obviously higher. Motor vehicle crashes (MVCs) are consistently the leading cause of work-related fatalities in the U.S. A total of 8,173 workers died in work-related MVCs on public highways from 2003 to 2008, representing 24% of all work-related fatalities for the period.

We're tracking them so we had to very quickly move away from the fact that we're not tracking you. This is a health and safety initiative, this is about keeping you safe.

"Driving is 30 per cent, give or take, on average of an engineer's day of what we do," said Alistair Dobson, speaking at a recent Field Service News Think Tank session. Whirlpool's Service Operations Director explained that his fleet typically travel very short distances between customers in a designated local area, a routine common for the majority of service engineers where time is spent more on residential streets rather than high-speed motorways or roadways.

Alistair and his team took the decision to integrate telematics into their fleet strategy six years ago. It was a decision met with some resistance. "We invested in telematics which was a huge step and one viewed negatively viewed by the engineers," he recalls. "We're tracking them so we had to very quickly move away from the fact that we're not tracking you. This is a health and safety initiative, this is about keeping you safe."

Outlining the Benefits to Your Field Service Engineers

The moral and ethical questions around tracking technology are part of its implementation however, framing the technology as a safety initiative, one that is in place to protect drivers rather than a spy on them. This approach can help sell the technology to cynical engineers.

"It goes back to trust," Alistair continues, explaining how fragile the relationship between engineer and manager can be. "I'm not putting these cameras on your vans to watch and monitor you. I'm doing it to help keep you safe.

"Because if you're talking about culture and trust and you do things that destroy that trust, like, 'I'm going to be watching you every single day and I'm going to have someone in an office watching you on a screen,' then you quickly erode that trust."

One element of manifesting trust, Alistair explains, was being transparent with his own driving habits. He had the technology fitted to his own car and shared his own scores in a weekly email to the workforce.

"If I'm asking my engineers to do something why should I not be prepared to do it myself? What have I got to hide?"

Engineers were encouraged to 'Challenge Alistair', to try and beat his own table-leading metrics from driving safely. A combination of friendly competition and setting a tangible example helped cement the trust further. "I was driving very slowly because I've got an example to set. Leading by example becomes a key thing. If I'm going to ask the engineers to have it fitted then I should also have it fitted. If I'm asking my engineers to do something why should I not be prepared to do it myself? What have I got to hide?

"We're running a very consistent programme and we haven't changed it after six years. The methodology hasn't changed, we still need to go out and repair things in an economical way."

As we look into the next 12 months, one that is inevitably going to be affected by Covid-19 then communication between management and team will become more important.

Fleet management and the deployment of drivers as the lockdown lifts stringent will require a new approach in bringing the system back up to speed and engineers will be expecting clear, concise and controlled instruction.

It may require another shift in culture, another period of operating slightly differently to what's gone before yet what's important is consistency.

"And it's that consistency that creates that culture," Alistair explains. "So, when you talk about culture change, if you can gain that respect it means I can do something from my level down which drives the culture and behaviour."

We're operating in a Covid-19 affected world right not and it's a challenging time for everyone that offers little certainty. When I write next year's article for the Handy Little Book, I look forward to speaking to Alistair again to see how he drove that culture change in fleet management in such difficult times and ultimately thrived.

Further Reading: 

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