By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service
Companies leading the charge in capitalizing on the strategic potential of service are all looking for ways to break away from break/fix and advance their service offerings, customer experiences, and revenue streams. Innovation abounds from industry to industry, with a common focus on bringing customers the utmost simplicity, peace of mind, and outcomes – whatever that looks like for each organization’s market. Companies are realizing the immense opportunity that exists in not only introducing more evolved iterations of its core service offerings, but advanced services that incorporate complimentary areas, sharing of expertise, and utilization of data.
As this focus on advanced services increases, the skillsets needed to execute on the outcomes customers desire change and grow. In a break/fix service environment, organizations have traditionally sought very mechanically inclined workers who were incentivized to fix fast and well but not really expected to think about or do much else. In this new world, a host of new skills are needed – the soft skills necessary to be seen by customers as a trusted advisor, skills outside of the historical competencies of the business as companies expand into adjacent areas, and skills that are well positioned to maximize the impact of data.
So how do contingent workers fit in where the necessary skills are becoming more – not less – sophisticated? Hear me out.
I talked recently with Chris La Fratta, Vice President & Head of Professional Services and Solutions Delivery at Philips, who is taking action to evolve and expand the customer outcomes that Philips enables. Chris and I talked at length about many factors related to the evolution to outcomes, and you can stay tuned for our full-length chat on this week’s podcast. That said, one of the points that stuck with me is how Chris is incorporating greater use of contingent workers to free up his W2 talent for the more sophisticated and value-add work that is fueling Philips’ service growth.
“At the end of the day, you can only focus on so much, and you must define what your core competencies are,” explains Chris. “And our core competencies have shifted from people who are really good mechanically and electrically to people more IT oriented, as I said, or people more consultative, which I think is even more kind of a unique skill.”
Being clear on what the focus is for skills allows Chris clarity on where to enlist help from contingent workers. “We've determined over time where we want to focus and develop folks. But guess what? At some point, when we ship product, there's a loading dock where there's tons of boxes of our stuff. We used to pay our staff whatever their hourly rates are to unbox things, and to stage things, and to prep them so that they can go into the hospital. That's a really easy example of where we've used third parties to supplement,” he explains. “It's not a skill that's highly specialized, it's not something that we want to develop a core competency in, and there's some variability around demand. So, if we have a really big fourth quarter, I don't want to hire 100 people and have them part of my fixed costs as we enter the next fiscal year, I want to be able to ramp them up and down as needed. It's really helped there.”
The examination of what’s value-added and what’s more basic can be applied throughout various service offerings and across the customer journey to determine where there are opportunities to free up your most valued resources to focus more on core competencies and development of their skills. “For instance, we do a lot of staging of servers and equipment that's pretty standard and can even be done remotely. So, there, even in the IT space, when it's something fairly basic like loading an image onto a server or doing some configuration, we work with third parties as well,” Chris says. “If I have a third party that shows up on site, they are part of the Philips team, they get treated as if they were a Philips employee, they get the same training, in many cases, that our employees would get. We really do a lot to ensure the quality is there. It's a little bit more difficult to control, if I'm honest with you, but we have a process to check in and make sure that the quality is there.”
While not without its challenges, the incorporation of contingent workers is a viable option to consider as you realize you can’t be a master of all and need to focus on developing skills around the core areas that will impact customers most. “The main benefit is being able to focus on what's core, and it offsets some costs and allows for a lot more flexibility,” says Chris. “It can be a tricky road to go down, but I think it's important. Like I said, the approach we've taken is we're allowing and promoting the development opportunities for our internal folks, so as we shift, they can grow. At the same time, it doesn't make sense for them to unbox equipment and to do basic configurations, so there we benefit from contingent help.”
I think we have to consider the fact that as service continues to advance and expand, we will have to make decisions around what skills are most important to invest more in than others. That will look different for each industry and each company, but how Chris is approaching this at Philips is great food for thought. Be sure to check out his podcast this week for far more insight into how Philips is evolving to deliver advanced services and impactful customer outcomes.