Will You Let the Sea of Technological Innovation Drown Out Your Personal Touch?

May 13, 2019 • FeaturesmanagementBBA ConsultingJim Baston

Our industry has seen a sea of change in recent years driven by technology. Wave upon wave of innovation has changed the very way in which we approach service delivery. In these fast changing times, maintaining a personal touch should be the rock upon which your organisation anchors itself writes Jim Baston...

If you are in the service business, then you know just how much technology is changing the way service is being delivered. Just about everything to do with field service has been impacted by technology innovation and it is revolutionizing the way we do business.

Technology has allowed us to improve efficiencies and to get a more accurate picture of the effectiveness of our business practices. It has improved our ability to diagnose and solve problems. It has facilitated the sharing of expertise with less experienced employees. It has also allowed us to empower our field personnel. Most of these changes have been good for the customer, for us and for our field teams.

But the adoption of technology takes resources – primarily time and money and because of the sea of technological innovation we encounter everyday, it is easy to lose focus on the personal touch of service – the simple interactions that our field service professionals have with our customers and which contributes to the overall customer experience. This comes at a time when it is now that we need that personal touch the most. This is because the implementation of the latest technology is increasing the relative importance of the softer skills of the business – the personal touch of our field service team with our customers. Technology is creating a shift in the relative importance between the “soft” and “hard” skills of service and soft skills are winning out. This is not to suggest that soft skills were not important in the past – they certainly were – just that they are more important now.

Shrinking Competency Gap
Emerging technologies in the field service business are reducing the competency gap between top service professionals and less skilled service providers. The result is that it is becoming harder to differentiate on technical skills. With remote diagnostics, artificial intelligence, visual reality and embedded information in the serviced equipment, the field service professionals rely more on the new technology to troubleshoot and repair and less on their experience and technical expertise. This opens up the door for less experienced individuals who use these same diagnostic tools to give comparable levels of technical service. This means that, even though it is highly competitive now, it will become even more so in the future.

Customers will have an increasingly difficult time distinguishing between service providers based on technical competence. Service professionals and service organizations alike will have to rely more on the service experience that they create when interacting with a customer to differentiate them from their competitors. The basis of competition will shift from who is doing the best job of servicing the equipment, to who can create the best service experience while doing the job. This is not to say that technical competence will go by the wayside. Obviously, it won’t. Technical competence is and will remain critically important.

Providing a positive interaction without the ability to solve the problem is not a sustainable service strategy. But as technology levels the playing field between service professionals of different capabilities, technical competence of the individual and the organizations that employ them will become less of a factor of differentiation.

"It is becoming harder to differentiate on technical skills..."

Limiting Personal Touch
Technology can limit personal contact opportunities with the customer. For example, when problems are diagnosed and repaired remotely, we save both the customer and ourselves time and money. That’s a good thing in that it gets the customer back on line more quickly and reduces the cost to service. However, it also creates a lost opportunity to expand our personal relationship with the customer. If that is the case, how does the customer distinguish us from our competitor who can provide a similar service?

It may be tempting to use technology to avoid the customer. Although this is something that service providers have been grappling with for some time, it is no less prevalent today. Why spend time explaining the work completed when the details can be sent to the customer at a touch of a button? Why not use email or texting to share information rather than picking up the phone? As a field service professional, this approach may improve their efficiency in the field, but it may not contribute positively to the customer’s overall service experience.

It’s All About Maintaining a Personal Touch
The winning service organizations of the future will be the ones that can find ways to maintain a personal touch while implementing the efficiencies that technology provides. They will clearly define the service experience they want to create and invest in the processes and soft skills training of their field service team to achieve it. Perhaps the best way to avoid allowing the sea of technical innovation drown out the personal touch in service, is to create a clear picture of the service experience you want your customers to feel and have clearly defined expectations of the nature of all interactions with your customers to achieve it. Technology can be evaluated, at least in part, in how well it facilitates these interactions. Here are some questions to consider.

• Do you have a clear picture of the service experience you want your customers to enjoy?
»» Can you describe how you want customers:
»» To think about you?
»» To feel about you?
»» Can you articulate what you want your customers to say about you

• Does everyone in your organization share this picture?
• Have you translated this picture into action?
»» Do you have clear expectations about how your team interacts with the customer in order to deliver this service experience consistently over time and across the organization?
»» Do you provide soft-skills training to ensure everyone has the skills to create the defined experience?
»» Do you provide coaching and reinforcement of these skills to help your team adopt and maintain the behaviour change you require?

• As managers, do you model the service experience through your words and your actions?

• When you consider new technologies, do you evaluate how its adoption will contribute to your ability to deliver your service
experience as part of your assessment?

It’s a thrilling time for service – full of change and new experiences. The future is really quite exciting. The challenge for service providers will be to maintain a personal touch with their customers while adopting new technologies to ensure their continued service leadership. This challenge can be summed up by the direction often given by a manager that I worked for many years ago.

When confronted with “I just don’t have time to get everything done. Which do you want me to do, this or that?”, he would typically answer “Both”.

Jim Baston is the President at BBA Consulting Group Inc.