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April 29, 2019 | 5 Mins Read

How to Get Service Workers to Use the Technologies at Their Disposal

April 29, 2019 | 5 Mins Read

How to Get Service Workers to Use the Technologies at Their Disposal

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By Tom Paquin

WBR’s Field Service USA Conference is an excellent opportunity to connect with business leaders, check in on old friends, and get a feel for how the industry is changing. I’m certain that there will be quite a bit of digital ink spilled on the topics uncovered at the event (We’ve already had a bonus podcast episode recorded while there), and there are quite a few things worth unpacking in the coming days and weeks. One thing that stuck with me throughout my conversations was that many service leaders are struggling with getting their technicians to actually use the systems that they’re supposed to.

This dilemma is obviously as old as technology itself (arguably older). There’s a 1999 Harvard Business Review case study titled Rich-Con Steel, still routinely used in MBA programs today, that serves as a cautionary tale for companies training and implementing new IT systems. In it, a tacked-on and poorly-vetted solution is ignored by fronline workers, inciting inaccuracies that ripple throughout the business, from order management, through inventory, and customer service. In real life, this ultimately led to the decline and bankruptcy of the Richards & Conover Steel Co., a Kansas City institution founded in 1857. The company’s building has been repurposed into luxury lofts. A cautionary tale, indeed. We’re 20 years removed from the failures of Rich-Con Steel, of course, and technology-adverse companies no longer have the luxury of doing nothing. This is especially true in service, where a break-fix mentality is increasingly rejected by customers, who expect little to no downtime, and rapid resolution when it happens. Fancy new technology investments can lay the groundwork to help organizations compete, but the resounding refrain from executives was that down-the-line execution was failing. This was true in a variety of technology categories, but for many, the failures seemed to stem from two specific pieces of tech: Augmented Reality, and Field Service Management itself. For service firms adopting AR, the issues seem to stem from a combination of tech limitations and workforce failures. On some remote job sites, techs lack the cellular connectivity for their AR solutions to work properly. More often, though, when they’re in need of support, many executives made it clear that their technicians go straight to phone calls, and leave it there. AR utilization failures can cause slowdowns, but failure in utilizing service management systems properly can lead to data inaccuracies that can impact business effectiveness catastrophically. When techs don’t log service appointments properly, delay or neglect part usage, or don’t take advantage of internal systems for invoicing, you suddenly and dangerously lose all visibility into how your business is run. One service leader indicated that he, manually, started and ended technicians’ service appointments for them in his system when he saw them reach a job site. That’s no way to run a business. With those problems in mind, here are a few things that can help smooth over your tech’s relationship with business systems. These may not be the right fit for everyone, but taking a step back and reevaluating your approach could save your company a lot of anxiety in the long run.

Pilot Programs Need to Be Exhaustive

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again—Don’t just pilot new systems with your leading technicians. Also pilot them with mediocre performers, and, ideally, some new techs as well. This will give a much better vision of how systems can, and will, be implemented, both at different levels of tenure, but also at different skill levels. This will also help you build a practical implementation plan, especially when it comes to more abstract tools like AR. For example—If nine out of ten techs show no performance improvement through a specific job, but AR decreased onboarding time by half, that gives you a pretty solid business case for deploying AR as a training utility first, then further iterating for on-site opportunities.

Rollout Should be an Event

I’ve been in companies where rollout of a new system is part of a one-hour meeting, or done so piecemeal over the course of eighteen months. The former leads to technicians feeling unprepared and unsupported with new technology, while the latter allows employees to lean on old systems, often causing efficiency drags and inconsistent reporting. So—new technologies should accompany, generally, a week of initial training and shadowing. Use your pilots as player-coaches, form breakout sessions, and immerse the staff in your tools. Articulate the personal value for them—time saved, easier processes, access to better information. From a business process point of view, it may seem horrifying for the company to train for a week, but an upfront time investment pays dividends in the long-run.

Let your Techs Know Where They Stand

This is simple visibility. Technicians will be more inclined to use tools if they see others are using them, and they are given a gauge on their own performance. This is also a great way to glean some more value on reporting tools built into the hardware and software that you buy, by turning some of those reports towards the front-line workers most impacted by them. I would not advocate making utilization numbers, time-on-task, or repair times necessarily points for disciple, but they can be used as an opportunity for re-training.

Make Automation your Friend

Let’s think about our service leader from earlier, who manually started technicians’ appointments when they reached a job site. It would take virtually nothing to automate that task—A notification that a technicians received on a job site that says, “You have reached your job site. Would you like to begin your service appointment?” This brings them into the application, rather than doing the work for them. This baseline will only be built upon as more sophisticated AI processes automate more and more simple, repeatable functions. This is but one example.

Listen

Your technicians are not lazy, technology-adverse, or incapable of learning. A technicians’ hesitation to adopt a system derives from their desire to offer the best service possible, and the fact that they, the technician, have the best understanding of how to do that means that there’s a great opportunity to hear from them. Don’t just include them at the pilot stage, bring them into the decision-making process. Understand the worst part of their job. Invest in solutions that solve those problems, and you’ll have a team that respects your decisions, and uses your tools. It’s not hard, but it definitely requires more than simply buying a piece of software.

April 25, 2019 | 1 Mins Read

Live From Field Service Palm Springs

April 25, 2019 | 1 Mins Read

Live From Field Service Palm Springs

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Live from Field Service Palm Springs, Sarah hosts a roundtable conversation with David Douglas, VP of Service Management at Scientific Games, Buddy Saucier, VP HVAC Service at Johnson Controls, and Roger O'Connor, VP Product Support at Gosiger to discuss how the conference has changed, and what value that they've seen from this year's events.

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April 25, 2019 | 2 Mins Read

The Key To Digital Adoption: Make It Personal

April 25, 2019 | 2 Mins Read

The Key To Digital Adoption: Make It Personal

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By Greg Lush

In this series thus far, we’ve discussed various aspects of how to ensure digital transformation success. Last time, we talked about the importance of building a positive digital reputation – and one of the keys to doing so is to make it personal for your employees.

If you look back at the legacy of software deployment within organizations over the last couple of decades, with a keen focus on transactional systems, practitioners learned how to adapt their habits into the constraints of the software system. It really wasn’t until valuable applications came into the mix in the last few years that this position has been questioned. Now, more than ever, we need to look at it through a different lens if we are to achieve success in building our digital reputations. Although maybe a bit unusual for some here are some suggestions to get you started on making your adoption practices personal:

Lead by example. As with many things and articulated earlier in the series, a community, each in their own way, must demonstrate consistent use of the new valuable As everyone learns at their own pace it is not important the level of competency demonstrated, instead positive signals that the transformation is important to everyone.

Digital coaching. Often, with modern digital tools, adoption is not the core functionality of the software. Instead how to connect these tools with individuals daily work habits drive a change in behavior. Digital coaching starts with a discussion, followed by suggested tools to leverage. We remove the challenge for user to correlate their needs to functions within often unknown and/or complex toolsets. As the tools deliver immediate value they are commonly expanded by the individual or the team.

Typical uses:

  • Individual or team often utters “if I could only” …
  • Progressive users with the desire to be more productive
  • Output from business improvement or ideation meetings

Value:

  • Personalizes adoption
  • Immediate increase in personal and team productivity
  • Builds user confidence

From apps to outcomes. It is simply amazing to watch the transition as individual’s dependency on the “I believe button” falls off. The efforts put forth within your organization, in some cases for months and months, building and fortifying your digital reputation have paid off in spades. You will know that you’ve arrived and are ready for the next phase of the hierarchy of digital adoption when your transformation cycles stop naming applications and began listing transformation elements. Instead of your practitioners feeling the burden of determining which valuable application in the cloud platform will serve them best, they are now thinking about how these tools can help them reach their digital potential.

For me, and why you see the greatest amount of detail within the digital reputation section, is the realization that without a good digital reputation you will never achieve adoption. For those of you scoffing at that statement, true business transformation through these wonderful, value packed applications, will always be just out of your reach.

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April 24, 2019 | 1 Mins Read

Mastering the Hybrid Labor Model

April 24, 2019 | 1 Mins Read

Mastering the Hybrid Labor Model

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Charles Hughes, VP of Technical Site Services at Acuative, joins Sarah to share wise words on how to master the hybrid labor model. Charles says that the hybrid labor model is for everyone – no exceptions. He has years of experience leveraging contingent workers and with that experience has some valuable advice and lessons learned to share with you.

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April 22, 2019 | 3 Mins Read

Finding the Starting Point of Successful Servitization

April 22, 2019 | 3 Mins Read

Finding the Starting Point of Successful Servitization

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By Annick Perry

In the ever-changing environment that service businesses operate, there are many potential transformation initiatives available. But from all these potential choices, which are the best options to start with? Is there any low-hanging fruit that can help a service business to accelerate growth? Let’s look at the most effective practices that most successful service transformations typically start with.

Understand Your Customers’ Service Needs

It’s of critical importance that you understand your customers in order to quickly identify their needs and business challenges and be able to propose the right services. Due to the frequently intangible nature of the service business, customers often need help to articulate their service needs. The more effective the needs exploration phase, the more likely a customer will feel that they are understood and that the right services are being proposed. Most successful sellers will have developed their own “mental” customer segmentation model, with the typical needs, benefits and recommended solutions. It pays off to assist the broader sales team with good research and training to fully understand customer service needs.

Understand How Your Customers Buy Services

Your ability to sell depends on your ability to understand your customers buying journey. Do you have to train your field engineers to act as trusted advisors? Have you identified the moments at which a customer typically buys during a product life cycle? Or perhaps you have to work closely with the product sales force to sell a product as a service? Having a clearly defined sales strategy aligned with your customers’ preferred way of buying will make your entire sales force more effective.

Turn Average Sales Teams Into High Performers with Better Sales Methods

Sales teams that deliver average results often lack a good approach to selling services. The fundamental difference between selling services and products is that in the case of services, the discussion always starts with what the customer’s challenges are and never with the service itself. However, more often than not, product sales people typically focus on matching a customer’s documented needs with the product on sale. In the case of services though, most customers do not know that they have a need for services, or they may have given up on finding solutions for challenges that they assume cannot be solved. There are several proven service sales methodologies and you need to make sure that your sales people fully master the chosen method.

Let Your Top 10% Sales People Share Their Best Practices

Turn your entire service sales staff into high performers by providing them with sales tools that leverage the best practices of your top performers on a daily basis. A service sales guide written with the help of your top performers can really make that difference. In order to achieve this, you need to understand what your top sales people do so well, and research your customers and map the customer needs of the different types of customers with actual solutions. Such a sales guide can make your entire sales force excel, while the top is even getting better as they learn from sharing their best practices.

Make Everybody A Trusted Advisor

From the top of the company down to every front-line employee, companies should be able to gain the trust of customers and guide them towards whatever brings the best value to the customer. Our research has identified the categories of skills that are particularly important:

  • Situational knowledge: Being able to relate to the customer and identify their issues and pains
  • Capability knowledge: Know what capabilities you have that can solve the customer’s issues
  • People skills: Behavioural, communicational and observational skills are very important, as well as being able to understand verbal and non-verbal cues
  • Selling skills: Understanding the process of how you sell something and possessing negotiation skills

The changes needed to take place in order to compete in the service economy of the present and the future can be plenty for an organization. The way to realize them is to start with what can be actually achieved and overcome the challenges ahead.

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April 19, 2019 | 3 Mins Read

3 Ways Today’s Technologies Help Field Service Organizations Mitigate Risk

April 19, 2019 | 3 Mins Read

3 Ways Today’s Technologies Help Field Service Organizations Mitigate Risk

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Much of the conversation around technology investment for field service centers around two critical objectives: optimizing the customer experience and maximizing efficiency. There’s an important third aspect at play, though — how leveraging today’s technologies can help field service organizations mitigate risk.

In an increasingly competitive landscape, the need to minimize risk and vulnerability is imperative. Here are three ways in which today’s technologies can assist field service organizations in protecting their businesses.

1: Knowledge Capture & Transfer

If you rely on a incredibly experienced, highly knowledgeable and skilled team of field technicians or dispatchers to keep your operations running smoothly and to ensure your customers’ needs are met, you are putting your company’s long-term success at risk. As field workers and dispatchers age out and retire, letting those employees take immensely valuable tribal knowledge with them will cause measurable pain that is easily avoidable.

Today’s leading service organizations are putting tools in place to capture and transfer tribal knowledge, to take control of the information that is historically housed only in employees’ heads. This can take the shape of an optimized scheduling and dispatch solution, which replaces the dependence on highly knowledgeable manual dispatchers and instead builds the knowledge base within the technology so that the organization itself retains control. We also see the introduction of more sophisticated knowledge management solutions, which ensure that insights gleaned over the years of experience your most tenured technicians have are captured and can be more easily (if not easily) passed on to younger, less experienced workers.

2: Documentation & Proof of Service

In a world of endless information, documentation of work performed is becoming essential. Most customers today demand a detailed report of what took place during a service visit they are paying for, and you better be able to provide it. Even if they don’t demand this sort of insight automatically, they will inevitably have questions that they expect answers to. Having a proper service management system in place that allows your technicians to effectively document the service visit and work performed not only gives your organization greater visibility, but it provides what’s becoming customary information for your customers.

Where this ties in with mitigating risk is when an issue arises. Solid documentation and proof of service data can save your behind in a situation where your customer is questioning or debating the work performed. Being able to easily provide a detailed overview of what work was conducted, when, how, and why will help your organization to avoid such issues, often enabling you to recoup billable hours and defend paid services.

3: Safety

Last but certainly not least, today’s technologies help you to keep your dispersed workforce safe. From mobile devices to fleet tracking solutions, the ability to protect mobile workers is greater than ever before. Workers that at one point would have been checking in daily, even weekly, are now connected all the time, in real time. This helps companies to monitor safety and quickly respond to any risks, which is particularly important for organizations with workers operating in dangerous conditions (like oil and gas or mining) or performing service on heavy machinery (such as elevators or other large equipment).

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April 17, 2019 | 1 Mins Read

The CX Mindset: Journey, Not Destination

April 17, 2019 | 1 Mins Read

The CX Mindset: Journey, Not Destination

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Annette Franz, Founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc., joins Sarah to provide insight for companies at all points of the CX journey. Whether you’re looking to better formalize your CX strategy or make continual improvement on your CX efforts, Annette has a tip for you.

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April 15, 2019 | 5 Mins Read

Managing Information Sources: A Services Marketing Roadmap

April 15, 2019 | 5 Mins Read

Managing Information Sources: A Services Marketing Roadmap

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By Bill Pollock

Acquiring and mastering customer and industry information should be a core competency for field service organizations. The success of these organizations rests primarily on their track record and their ability to "sell" new service concepts to distributors and customers, using sound data from a variety of credible sources.

To be successful, services organizations need to implement comprehensive and efficient processes for utilizing customer and industry information. Specific strategies need to be developed for acquiring and managing customer information, research resources, and Web-based information services. Successful services organizations will also be counted on to develop specific strategies for tapping into each of these sources in an effective and efficient manner.

There are three major categories of information for which services organizations need to efficiently manage their respective service portfolios:

  1. Harnessing Customer Information
  2. Grasping Market Trends
  3. Tracking Industry Leaders

Harnessing Customer Information

Each company, by the nature of the products and services it sells, as well as its channels of distribution, has a very specific customer set. No amount of industry research can substitute for the knowledge gained by dealing interactively with your customers. Only in this way, can you be assured that your service offerings are in tune with your customers' needs.

Participation in the sales process is an excellent means for staying in touch with customer needs, requirements, preferences and expectations. Services organizations that do not proactively engage with customers at some level with respect to cross-selling and upselling end up “wasting” an enormous amount of information; not to mention the goodwill of the services sales force. In an ideal model, services organizations should have regional or channel-specific marketing representatives whose role is to support the services sales process. There should also be some built-in processes for field technicians to, at the very least, build a foundation for selling specific components of the services portfolio to the customers they regularly support. As such, these individuals should ultimately become a vital source of input into the overall services portfolio development (and marketing) process.

Secondly, services organizations should have a process in place whereby they can query front-line service personnel who actually come into direct contact with customers on a near-daily basis. Today, an enormous amount of information about customer wants and needs is being lost because there is no venue by which field service and tech support personnel can channel this information routinely to services marketing. To put it bluntly, in too many cases, nobody is asking them for their input.

Third, services organizations need to push aggressively to make sure the information they require is being captured in the call tracking and Field Service Management (FSM) solutions used by their organizations. They should also have been involved in the process of promoting these solutions, and should lobby to ensure that the information logged in these systems will be comprehensive enough to be useful for future analytical purposes.

Finally, services organizations should put in place a regular means for soliciting customer feedback on wants and needs, etc. For example, many organizations carry out follow-up calls to check on customer satisfaction after a service case is closed. Rarely do these calls ask the question: "What other services do you need that we are currently not providing?"

Grasping Market Trends

On face value, understanding larger market trends and forces can be accomplished by subscribing to well-known market research sources. Research firms such as Gartner, Forrester, IDC and many others provide periodic market trends and analysis studies based on interviews with large numbers of customers.

While these reports are extremely valuable, especially when developing long-term plans, they need to be scrutinized and cross-checked. Research performed by large industry firms can sometimes be too broad to serve as a predictor for any given sub-market. For example, research statistics on the overall growth of the IT services market may or may not be granular enough to help predict how demand for services will fare in an emerging market such as pest control services. It is often necessary to engage specialized research firms (like Strategies For Growth) to conduct research in specific niche markets. When done routinely, this type of research can be tailored to produce the desired data without breaking the budget.

One of the common pitfalls services organizations fall into is subscribing to a single service for all of their research needs. Because of funding limitations or simply due to lack of awareness, these organizations will most likely not be exposed to research conducted by other firms. In order to remain effective, services marketing organizations should adopt a three-pronged approach with regard to available research offerings:

  • Subscribe to one service as a primary research source, assuming one can be found that focuses sufficiently on your company's relevant marketplace. If not, you may also need to retain an independent firm that specializes in custom market research.
  • Purchase a small number of selected studies from other research firms on an "a la carte" basis when they address specific areas of high interest (although this approach my ultimately become too expensive to sustain). Alternatively, commission a boutique research analyst firm to investigate niche areas of high interest.
  • Keep tabs of the findings of yet other research and analysis organizations by gleaning high level summaries and commentary which appear on the Web, or in the trade press.

Tracking Industry Leaders

A smooth-running services organization develops efficient processes for scanning industry events, news and reports. There are several approaches to this task, including:

  • Having individual service marketing staff read industry periodicals, Blogs and posts. However, this approach tends to be the least effective simply because service management is generally extremely time-constrained and cannot justify spending its time leafing through trade journals et al. For example, in the IT industry alone, there are dozens of trade journals that report on service and support issues.
  • Traditional clipping services have been used as a source for staying on top of industry announcements and competitive moves. However, these services typically deliver too much "paper" and not enough filtering. And they may often be irrelevant or outdated. As a result, gleaning through clippings has become an esoteric task generally relegated to the corporate Public Relations (PR) department.

The most promising approach appears – at least in principle – to be Web-based information delivery services. The Internet has made it possible for services management to receive targeted industry information “pushed” to them practically in virtual "real time."  Every day, there may be hundreds of relevant posts that can be filtered, screened and pushed out to the organization’s designated parties.

In order to be successful, services organizations need to take the lead in acquiring and distributing relevant information to interested parties. They also need to be able to develop a strategy, processes and a budget for acquiring these critical types of information.

The result should be a custom mix of relevant information streaming inbound on a continuous basis from a variety of sources, ultimately in support of the organization’s field, sales, marketing, manufacturing and services teams.

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April 12, 2019 | 4 Mins Read

The Many Brains Behind AI in Service

April 12, 2019 | 4 Mins Read

The Many Brains Behind AI in Service

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By Tom Paquin

Last year, I wrote an article in which I compared AI in video games—a phenomenon that’s been around for over 40 years—with AI in business applications—a comparatively new development. In it, I used the example of a two-brained approach to AI development. One “brain” manages an operational task, while the other manages a customer-focused task. I argued that this, ultimately, is what AI in service should look like.

In exploring the most recent developments in the Service Management space as they work towards more AI-powered systems, we can begin to see this come into fuller view. In doing so, it’s become clear that AI, as it will exist in the future of Service, will consist on significantly more than two interlocking brains.

To understand how this multi-tiered AI model will work, we need to understand how AI embeds itself into service management software today.

Let’s start by defining AI. AI is less like a piece of software itself, and more like a complex, open-ended programming language. The main difference between AI-powered functions and traditional programming is whereas traditional programming is designed around generating specific output based on specific input, AI programming is specifically designed to create unique output, based on multiple factors, in response to input. As more data sources are made available to the AI system, the output my change in ways that the programmer would not have initially considered. This allows AI-powered applications to “Learn”, grow, and, ultimately allows for programs and systems to provide much more dynamic output than a programmer could build into a system on their own.

So, what does that look like today? In service, it looks like optimization systems built into certain applications. For instance, your routing system may improve over time as it learns routes, traffic patterns, and times to complete jobs in order to more effectively automate scheduling. Or your Customer Experience system will improve to the point that it’s able to recommend customer service solutions based on what, previously, has netted the highest NPS.

These things all exist today, in one way or another, and each represent a single, little, AI brain. This is phase 1 of AI penetration into Field Service, and is already helping organizations streamline operations and eliminate the needs for backoffice staff to handle simple jobs. Phase 1 will conclude when these systems of automation reach a point of reasonable maturity, and, more importantly, organizations start looking at ways that central operations will automate themselves.

Phase 2 will of course be that centralized system; a brain that automates how all of these individual systems work together. Here’s an example: A sensor-enabled device indicates that asset has been running to the point that it’s time to schedule maintenance. The central AI system takes that AI brain’s analysis, and uses it to schedule an appointment. The routing system’s brain then dispatches a technician, offering a concise service window based on previous performance. It provides the customer with updates. Upon job completion, it checks with the inventory system, and invoices appropriately. All repetitive tasks are automated, allowing staff to focus on complex engagements, the act of service, and customer engagement. We’re not there, yet, but this is the future. A central brain working with dozens of AI systems embedded in dozens of apps, playing into each other, developing a common language, and executing on service before a human could input their name.

Sure, this is the future, but it behooves organizations to begin looking at these things today. To that end, there are three major things that organizations should be focused on:

  • Evaluate what AI systems you have today. Since those sub-brains that will inform the overall AI brain that runs operations in your business exist in so many applications today, it’s important to take stock of those platforms. Are the AI systems in place performing at an optimal rate?
  • Evaluate the integrity of your connected devices. If you work in an asset-intensive business and you’re not collecting and synthesizing asset data, then you’re way behind the curve. That’s not the only connected element of a service organization, of course. How about vans, warehouse inventory, and, importantly, your mobile workers.
  • Evaluate the overall connectivity of system processes. For the connected AI of the future to manage all of your systems efficiently, your systems need to connect to one another. Does your routing system speak to your order management system? Does your inventory management speak to your fleet management? Interconnectivity is no longer a nice-to-have. The AI-powered future calls for a unified system.

With these things in mind, you will be on the right path to set yourself up for AI success.

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April 10, 2019 | 1 Mins Read

Is The Field Service Talent Gap Partially Your Fault?

April 10, 2019 | 1 Mins Read

Is The Field Service Talent Gap Partially Your Fault?

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Roy Dockery, VP of Customer Care at Swisslog Healthcare, joins Sarah to give his take on why field service organizations need to take more control over the talent gap. Roy has an interesting perspective that we don’t, in fact, have so much of a talent gap as an experience gap. He shares practical insights for more effective recruiting.

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