The future of work is a topic that comes up in almost every conversation I have in one way or another. Service leaders are grappling with a lack of available talent, working to determine how the field service role is changing, and balancing the management and retention of both older and young workers who have significantly different needs and desires. There are many layers to this conversation, all of which we will continue to dig into here at Future of Field Service. The common understanding, though, is that preparing for the future of the service workforce will be one of the biggest challenges among our audience in the coming handful of years. Today I’m going to discuss five pillars of preparation that are key to setting your company up to navigate this massive challenge with the highest chance of success.
Pillar #1: Redefine
The role of the field technician has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. You need to work hard to consider how the role is being redefined based on your company’s journey toward Servitization or leveraging advanced services as a competitive differentiator or path to revenue growth. What does this mean for your needs today as well as for your needs over the next five years?
For most organizations, what’s happening is that the role is evolving to require more than the traditional technical skill sets. Today’s field technicians are needing more soft skills to succeed in the role of trusted advisor as customer relationships and service value propositions evolve. This trend will only continue, so it’s essential to map where your company is heading in terms of what services you’ll be providing and how and then how that translates to the skills needed from your field technicians to accomplish those goals.
Perhaps you can evolve the role of your field technician to meet your future needs; perhaps you’ll need to add new roles as your business model matures. Being clear on the redefinition, though, from what was required historically to what you’ll need over the next five years gives you the insights needed to determine where the gaps lie, how to reframe job requirements and postings as well as training programs and progression paths, and prioritize greatest needs.
Pillar #2: Redesign
Once you have better defined your current state as it relates to talent and what’s needed to meet your service objectives, you can work to redesign your recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and progression processes to be in line with what you need – versus what you’ve always done. As skill sets needed change, so too should job descriptions and recruiting practices. Training may need to focus more heavily on soft skills and relationship management, as well as use of technology, than it has in the past.
Many companies complain of a “talent gap” when really what they’re frustrated with is an “experience gap,” meaning they are accustomed to being able to hire technicians with years of experience and those tenured technicians are becoming harder to come by. This doesn’t mean that talent doesn’t exist, though, it just means you have to work harder for it than you have in the past. This is a new normal you need to adjust to, and it means redesigning your definitions of talent, experience, and fit.
Some of the top areas of “redesign” underway when it comes to creating a workforce for the future are modernizing job roles and requirements to attract a more diverse pool of candidates, being sure to create appeal for the younger generation, introducing new roles based on your redefined requirements, and – perhaps most importantly – thinking about how to foster more talent versus simply attracting it.
Companies like Tetra Pak, for example, have created programs to foster future talent. This need to become more creative, and take more ownership, around meeting the needs you have for your field workforce teams is I think one of the biggest areas of redesign that’s essential. You cannot continue to post jobs and expect a wave of ready-to-hire applicants; you need to become more inventive around how you can take smart, capable people and meld them into the talent you need to exceed.
Pillar #3: Outsource
Outsourcing field work isn’t for everyone, but it is a growing trend. And here’s why – what many companies are doing is outsourcing the more basic, traditional break-fix work in an effort to have more time and energy to focus on upskilling and developing their in-house talent to do some of the more sophisticated work around advanced services.
There have been some reservations around leveraging third-party workers, and I don’t think those reservations are entirely without merit. But as the gig economy grows it becomes a more practical choice for many, and with today’s technologies, many of the concerns around the management of those workers and the control over brand experience are being minimized.
Perhaps for you it isn’t a move to outsourcing, but to creating a hierarchy of field technician within your company – an entry level position that handles some of the basics and a progression of positions that tackle more sophisticated service offerings. However you decide to tackle it, you shouldn’t rule out outsourcing without doing some due diligence.
Pillar #4: Automate
Another critical element of the future of work strategy is automation. How can you leverage predictive technology to anticipate versus react to needs, and to better prepare technicians for the work they’ll do on site? How can you leverage AI for knowledge capture and management, so that as your most experienced technicians retire you don’t lose a lifetime of knowledge along with them?
How does remote service fit into your service strategy? Using remote assistance and AR for a remote-first approach can act similar to outsourcing in the sense of eliminating the most basic level of service requirements by handling remotely tasks that can be resolved easily and quickly.
How enabled are your customers with self-service? Self service fulfills the customer’s desire for more control and autonomy, while often reducing the burden of the service provider in some ways.
Today’s technologies are powerful, sophisticated, and ready to help you morph your workforce into the future. Examining your options around automation, what can be automated and how, is key to managing the significant demands on service organizations that are only increasing.
Pillar #5: Innovate
Like all areas of service transformation, the conversation around the workforce is one that requires an innovative mindset. Break free of the “this is how we’ve done it” and you’ll be halfway there. Your business is likely changing (or it should be!), and therefore your workforce needs to change too. Look at how other businesses in your industry but maybe more importantly outside of your industry are tackling this universal challenge. Be open to new ideas, new roles, new processes, and new technologies. Those that exceed at creating the workforce of the future will do so by thinking out of the box, by creating a unique culture and challenge for their teams, and by understanding that your frontline workforce is absolutely imperative to your success as a service organization.