By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service
We often discuss the ways in which the role of the field technician is evolving and what the job might look like in a year or two or five. But, perhaps in doing so we are overlooking an important question: how are you handling the demands of the present day? Forward-thinking is important, but the reality is that many organizations have yet to modernize technician utilization enough to meet today’s demands.
I recently sat down with Ian Pattinson, who's the former vice president of technical operations at Rogers Communications, to record a podcast on this topic that will publish this week. Ian has spent more than 25 years in telecommunications and has a wealth of knowledge on what it takes to evolve technician utilization to meet today’s customer demands. While his knowledge is born of telecom experience, the points are applicable to many industries.
Today, the moment of service presents an opportunity for strategic differentiation for companies in telecommunications and beyond. But delivering on that moment of service in an environment that is increasingly complex isn’t possible without evolving and modernizing business strategy, processes, and technology. Taking on this change is necessary not only to keep pace with today’s pressures but most certainly to be able to compete effectively as the future we’re all envisioning unfolds.
Recognize Field Technicians for the Key Strategic Asset They Are
The reason the topic of technician utilization is imperative is because of the technician’s role in the service experience that is now – in most cases – what sets one company apart from the next. This importance is compounded by the fact that technicians are becoming harder and harder to recruit and hire, making utilization even more critical. “In a world where we've got advanced self-installation by customers themselves, and then increasingly more technically complicated customer homes as we begin, the technician has really become that key strategic asset for the service provider,” says Ian. “The technician is the trusted technical advisor that is welcomed into a home by customers and really becomes the face of the brand. It is also one of the biggest operational costs, which presents a massive opportunity to drive compounding material improvements across the P&L. Looking at the greater marketplace, there are several iconic consumer brands out there that have already delivered on new spectacular service experiences. These factors, combined with pervasive social media, mean that customers’ expectations have really increased, and their tolerances for problems have really decreased.”
(Re)Categorize Service Work and Technician Skillsets
For organizations like those Ian is referencing, where the service environment is becoming increasingly complex or the role of the technician is expanding to trusted advisory, the concept of categorizing technician work into various levels may be worthwhile. “As those customer homes become more technically complex, so does their work and their tools, the skills required and the training that's needed,” explains Ian. “Not every technician can be a top-level expert on all skills and all points in time, and then in the future, with technology changing so quickly. By breaking down the install and repair process into several technical skills and levels, joined with all the disposition and telemetry data that is widely available now, this enables the matching of the skills of the technician to the specific attributes and needs of the customer. This categorization dramatically increases the probability of getting it right the first time, first time right being really, really critical, and eliminating a lot of the breakage and the inevitable downstream costs that create a much better customer experience.”
In categorizing or tiering technician skills and work, you create the potential to more easily incorporate the use of contract workers if you choose. As discussed in this podcast, some organizations are leveraging contingent workers to complete some foundational tasks so that they can work on upskilling their salaried talent to take on more of the trusted advisor role.
Align Technician Compensation to Customer Centricity
One of the most important points Ian and I discuss during the podcast is that, while most organizations have adopted a strong customer focus, many have not introduced changes in technician compensation to align their performance to that focus. “Strong cross-functional collaboration is required to evolve the compensation model and career development, frankly, from what has been traditionally a tenure-based model to a skills and quality-based performance model,” says Ian. “Quality levels need to be determined and continually monitored based on a variety of different data points. My experience has been that after only a short time, the data clearly demonstrates the correlation between specific quality problems, and skill and compliance gaps.”
This data gives organizations invaluable insight into where within its talent pool attention is needed to address issues in training, knowledge, buy-in, or compliance so that customer outcomes are prioritized. “Automatically tagging under-threshold performers for management triage and attention of retraining is really, really important,” explains Ian. “It's beyond just the compensation and career development and rewards; delivering this new model also requires investing in a new training curriculum, data analytics reporting, and moreover allocating the right amount of task time to do the work properly, and then empowering individual technician discretion when additional time is required. Now they're being measured and performing based on quality and, when that quality gets delivered, it just pays back in spades. It takes senior management conviction to drive this change management program and to create what can be slightly more complex order stratification, and increasing and decreasing task codes, but the total cost of ownership improvements do come from what are reduced downstream, repeat calls, repeat visits, more satisfied customers with higher retention, higher tenure, and frankly, more satisfied the technicians that do a better job.”
Modernize Your Digital Toolset
The final area to address is that optimizing technician utilization cannot be accomplished without modernizing your digital toolset. Particularly in high-volume applications such as telecommunications, sophistication in the scheduling and dispatching of technicians is key to achieving customer satisfaction with today’s expectations. Understanding the capabilities of today’s software choices, which have evolved significantly in recent years, will help you to see how powerful of an enabler technology is in the customer experience. “My experience has been that moving to a standard-based, cloud product resolved three key issues with an old on-prem system. The first is that the old platform just couldn't deliver on the new strategy. It had been so highly customized, was no longer standard product, and hence was incredibly slow, expensive, and risky to change. Secondly, the infrastructure on-prem became quickly outdated, had slow latency performance from more and unpredictable usage, with no option to change quickly which is important in today’s landscape. The last key area was around stability and availability problems.”
While legacy technology can be a major barrier to customer satisfaction, prioritizing the modernization of your digital tools can drive momentum. And when you leverage a system that helps you ensure the appropriate matching and prioritization of technician to customer, not only do you positively impact the customer experience, but you improve employee satisfaction as well. “Moving to a cloud-based standard product resolved those three key areas. System availability went to over 99.9%, we built credibility with frontline technicians, and we enabled the ongoing rapid delivery of new features and capability to keep the platform current.”
Be sure to listen to Ian’s interview on the Future of Field Service podcast this week to hear more.