With the labor shortage proving one of the industry’s biggest challenges, there’s much discussion around the extent to which contract workers are a viable option to help organizations address the problem. There are some major differences of opinion on this topic among service leaders – those who are for the contract worker model are emphatically so, and those who don’t see it as a fit for their operations are firm in their stance.
In my opinion, any reasonable solution to a real challenge is worth evaluating. I also think that some of the greatest concerns around the contract model – namely a lack of control and the potential for negative impact on the customer experience – can be alleviated with a combination of strategy and effort. Australian media company Foxtel is a really good example of an organization that is successfully leveraging a contract workforce for field operations and has mastered the art of engaging and empowering those workers in a way that allows the organization to benefit from the flexibility and savings of the model without sacrificing its service or brand experience.
I recently talked with Nunzio Bagnato, Director of Home Service and Advanced Servicing at Foxtel, to understand what he’s learned in 23 years of overseeing Foxtel service and managing the company’s contract workforce. He shared some valuable lessons learned which you can catch on this week’s episode of the Future of Field Service podcast, but let’s summarize here some of the key points.
Lesson #1: Focus on Collaboration, Not Control
The concern companies have over not being able to control contract workers is reasonable in some ways, but to achieve success with the model Nunzio explains that you have to shift the thinking from control to collaboration. “If you treat your workers like a contractor, you’re going to get contractor results. It’s about building a partnership and working side-by-side,” he says. “Traditionally, a contractor model is transactional, it’s a master/servant sort of arrangement, and that drives a certain behavior and culture. We’ve changed that culture.”
In evolving the way Foxtel views its contract workforce and focusing more on collaboration than control, the company has been able to improve those working relationships and create a contract workforce that is highly engaged and empowered to deliver the level of service Foxtel wants its customers to experience. “We have two-way communication and collaboration with our contractor workforce,” explains Nunzio. “We pressure test ideas with our field leaders and then with a focus group of technicians to get their feedback. We don’t just make decisions and expect them to fall in line. They’re the ones that are actually going to be delivering our service, so we need to consider their viewpoints and hear their voice.”
Lesson #2: A Positive Approach Will Yield Better Results than a Punitive One
About five years ago, Foxtel realized the need to provide a more sophisticated customer experience and shift away from transactional service. The company knew that to achieve this goal, the contract worker relationship needed to evolve away from a transactional relationship as well. “Previously, our technicians focused on the traditional metrics like the completion rates and we drove a volume-based behavior,” says Nunzio. “In the past technicians were penalized for not hitting those KPIs or milestones. We did away with that. Our view was that we’re dealing with adults.”
Foxtel introduced a scorecard model focused on driving behaviors if felt mattered most in improving the customer experience and service delivery. It did away with the idea of punitive action for subpar performance and instead shifted toward positive reinforcement of desired behaviors and outcomes. “We wanted to focus on the positives. We wanted to look at what the technicians were doing really well, how they achieved that result, and promote more of those behaviors,” says Nunzio.
The scorecard was centered around incentivizing those behaviors by rewarding the contract workers who achieve the greatest results. Their performance on the scorecard determines a rank between platinum, gold, silver and bronze technician and platinum workers are rewarded by getting the highest volume and best schedule of work from Foxtel. Focusing on positive reinforcement for good work versus punishment for poor work has proven effective. “When we first started this journey and launched the score card model, 70 odd percent of our field workforce were bronze technicians,” Nunzio explains. “We’re really proud that right now, 70 odd percent of our field workforce is predominantly platinum and a little bit of gold.”
Lesson #3: Clear and Simple Expectations Are Critical
So, with a collaborative mindset and positive approach, the third area that is key to success is to keep expectations around performance clear and simple. The Foxtel field technician scorecard has four quadrants: customer, cycle, finance, and quality. “We introduced the scorecard that focused on four quadrants,” explains Nunzio. “The first quadrant is all about the customer – customer surveys and arrival on time. The cycle quadrant is your traditional metrics, like completion rates. The third quadrant is finance, which looks at free issues and inventory. And then the last quadrant is quality, where we look at revisits.”
Four quadrants and only two metrics each at any given time; that’s it. “There isn’t a lot of KPIs and that is by design,” says Nunzio. “We don’t want to have too many, and we’ve identified the key areas of our business that we want the technician to focus on. You can have a laundry list of KPIs, you can really get carried away, but we chose the eight to keep it simple. We chose the eight because we wanted to shift the way we operated, shift the way we serviced our customers, and we felt these KPIs did that.”
The quadrants and KPIs in each which dictate the technician’s score and therefore tier make what’s expected of them clear and easy to understand. The quadrants never change, but Foxtel does update the two KPIs per quadrant as needed when focus on a certain area becomes important. Note they swap them out, though, versus add a metric in because it is important to keep the measurement targeted and simple.
If you use a contract workforce and are looking for some tips to drive performance or if you’ve considered a contract model but have some concerns, be sure to listen to Nunzio’s podcast for more detail on how Foxtel has mastered this model using its scorecard system.