Ian Pattinson, former VP technical operations at Rogers Communications, talks with Sarah about how the perception and responsibilities of a field technician have changed, the need to prioritize use of your most skill resources, and how compensation can make – or break – performance.
Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we’re going to be talking about an important topic, which is modernizing technician utilization. We all know that today’s field service objectives are far different than they were five years ago, even in some instances a year or two ago. What are the ways that we can modernize how we’re leveraging our field technician resources? I’m excited to welcome to the podcast today, Ian Pattinson, who’s the former vice president of technical operations at Rogers Communications. Ian, welcome to the podcast.
Ian Pattinson: Good morning, Sarah. And thank you very much for having me.
Sarah Nicastro: Thanks for being here. Before we get into the meat of the conversation, tell our listeners a little bit about yourself.
Ian Pattinson: Oh, great. Good morning. Well, I’ve loved working in the telecom industry for the last 25 years. I started out in technology development, network operations and technical support, and then grew into a VP roles and product development, new business general management, and most recently completed field technical operations with the very large Canadian cable and wireless operator that you just mentioned. I’m really an executive that thrives on driving change transformation with a very hands-on delivery of achieving the plan and its results.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay, great. Well, we’re excited to have you here sharing some of your experience. We’re going to talk about how to maximize utilization, but before we do that, let’s talk about some of the ways that the perception of, the use of, the responsibilities of field technicians have changed in recent times.
Ian Pattinson: Yeah. Yes. It has been a massive change, and I really look at it both in two ways, that it’s changed both internally within companies and externally in the industry. Firstly, internally, from a service provider perspective, it’s really changed from being what was a necessary installation obligation that we had on a hundred percent of orders being done by generalist technicians. Now in a world where we’ve got advanced self-installation by customers themselves, and then incredibly complex homes because the customer’s homes are coming increasingly more technically complicated as we begin to 15 plus devices and beyond in homes. The technician has really become that key strategic asset for the service provider who is the trusted technical advisor that is welcomed into a home by customers and really becomes the face of the brand. It’s also one of the biggest operational costs.
Ian Pattinson: It’s a massive opportunity to drive compounding material improvements across the P&L. Then looking at stonewalling at the greater marketplace, there are several iconic consumer brands out there that have already delivered on new spectacular service experiences. Combined with pervasive social media and these increasingly more complex homes, customers’ expectations have really increased, and their tolerances for problems have really decreased. That has really increased the technical needs and skills required by technicians. I think if we even look more recently and you touched on it there, the pandemic has really created a massive public visibility to the frontline technicians who have taken on great personal risk to actually keep delivering on the essential home services that we all now rely upon. They are very much front and center part of a service provider brands.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. What’s interesting to me, and on this podcast, we have folks from a variety of different industries. Even as you look outside of telecommunications, that key concept that you brought up, which is technicians being leveraged more strategically, that might look or feel a little bit different industry to industry, or whether you’re servicing consumers versus businesses, et cetera. The reality is, in almost every situation, every industry, every organization that we’re talking with that is a key objective, is to evolve that relationship from one that is transactional, obligatory, as you said to one that is strategic and value added, and more relationship-based and really a way to differentiate the brand. I think that’s a really exciting change, but it’s one that requires a lot of evolution in terms of evolving what that field technician role looks like. I want to talk next just about what has that happened first? Which, in my opinion, is this recognition of the potential that that role can hold beyond that transactional historical duty.
Sarah Nicastro: What do you think is the difference between organizations that adopt this mindset or this belief that they can leverage technicians strategically versus organizations that don’t necessarily see that potential?
Ian Pattinson: Yeah. I think that’s a great question. It’s a big change and it’s an enormous opportunity for companies. In my experience is that the change starts with the text being seen truly as that new strategic asset opportunity and formerly becoming part of the corporate strategy so that it spreads company-wide to get that buy-in and becomes embraced as that key opportunity, because it needs full cross functional collaboration, everywhere from finance to marketing and, and beyond. It’s not just about the operations groups going in and doing something new that might be marketed. It is a true cross functional collaboration, because it’s really about evolving the entire service model from recruiting, training, compensation, career development, rewards, process redesign, and then the critical dispatch systems that are actually the lungs, particularly a service providers business. It’s also really critical to transparently involve the frontline workforce themselves to help collaborate on the new strategy and achieve that real buy-in where they really believe in it and live it. When this all comes together, it’s really amazing to see the sea change that gets delivered for customers, employees and the company.
Sarah Nicastro: Right. But the coming together part is not so simple. I have a couple of questions on that. The first is just, you mentioned the buy-in of the frontline workers themselves. In your experience, I’m just curious, if you had to maybe tie a percent to how many are excited about that opportunity versus hesitant or resistant to doing something different than that more historical model?
Ian Pattinson: Well, it certainly starts up, starts out and it’s a multi-stage process. This is not a one-time thrown speech to the front line that they’ve all heard multiple times and it’s lip service. It has to be a change management program that is organized advance with those cross-functional teams, because again, it involves changes to compensation and rewards and process redesign, et cetera. Like any large change management activity, you’ve got to go through those different phases. In the initial stages, there are going to be a third, a third, then a third. There’s going to be a third of the group that are really pumped and really get it and, are really bought in right at the very beginning. Then there’s going to be a group that’s kind of in the middle, and then there’s a group that has seen it before, done before, it isn’t going to work. So, the change management strategies that have to really address each of those different constituents, because you’ve got to have everybody on onboard.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. The other question I wanted to ask is, we talked about the importance of this being a cross functional effort and there needing to be alignment company-wide on the evolving use of service and the technicians themselves. What’s your advice on what it takes to achieve that alignment?
Ian Pattinson: Well, again, I think it’s back to that formal change management program. My experience has been that we’ve got some incredibly great suggestions and techniques that have come from some of the cross functional teams. If I go back several years to when I was in the product organization, I didn’t even know what the name of our dispatch system was. Now, that’s a really critical component of it, and we really got some great, great suggestions and techniques that came from the different cross functional groups. Confidence breeds confidence. If it’s just coming from the operations team, it’s not as real as when it is becomes part of the vocabulary of the entire organization in terms of what the opportunity is, and then it becomes electric and contagious, and you receive tremendous buy in.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. All right. So the next thing I want to talk about is, we’re talking about maximizing the use of our field technician resources to really evolve our service model to one that is more strategic and more focused on customer experience, customer relationships, being seen, as you said, as a trusted advisor. To do that, there’s an element of re-skilling or up-skilling, and getting your technicians to the point where they’re confident enough to handle those interactions, but there can also be an element of eliminating some of the work from their plates that isn’t that value add work. I want to talk a little bit about that idea of how do we prepare our technicians for this new role, and then what’s the opportunity to leverage contract workers or to offload some of the duties from them that are not that value add strategic work that we want them to focus on?
Ian Pattinson: Yeah, I think you’re right. As those customer homes become more technically complex, so does their work and their tools, the skills required and the training that’s needed. 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. I think if you just look at the wifi, for example, how much wifi has changed in the last three years with WiFi 6, 6E, pods, dynamic channel selection, bands tearing, et cetera. It’s a complex world. With generalist texts and generalist orders, this creates a growing risk that the order may not get implemented with the [PFO Spalding 00:15:17], and the reality is that there is a stratification of complexity of orders, and this is a big opportunity, both at the more complex at the orders as well as at the lower end.
Ian Pattinson: 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 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. I think if we continue the example of wifi and using your example there with contractors, there’s a big difference. If we look at two different kinds of homes, there’s a really big difference between the installation and troubleshooting and training needs that are required for a fairly low value order that is just basic wifi in a small home versus a high value order that has near a gigabit Wi-Fi speed needs and intermittent interference issues from a large home.
Ian Pattinson: With dynamic skills-based dispatching, the highest skilled technicians are dynamically dispatched to these complex overs, and the lower skill resources are a lower task and time order, and can be assigned. Those technicians are also creating a career development opportunity for those lower skilled technicians. Lastly, with the dynamics skills dispatching, simple orders don’t end up getting overpaid if you’ve got just a single task for types of orders, and then the complex orders don’t end up being underpaid where quality gets risked because not enough time has been allocated.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Ian, over the coming years, how do you see the use of contract workers evolving? Do you see it growing? Do you see it staying the same? What do you think the role leveraging that type of workforce plays in this quest to become more strategic?
Ian Pattinson: Yeah, contractors are a big asset, and I think there is a bit of a false word out there that contractors just do the low-end work. My experience has been that some of the best quality work is done by contractors, but the contract partners really enable the ability to post in terms of capacity and can be an opportunity for other types of low value work as well, based on dynamic dispatching.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. All right. Okay. Let’s talk next about compensation, you’ve brought up compensation a couple of different times, and the need to consider what your compensation model and strategy is as you work to evolve the role of the field technician to become more customer centric. What’s your advice around this topic?
Ian Pattinson: Oh, yes. This is absolutely critical. This is probably one of the penultimate examples of where that strong cross-functional collaboration is required to evolve the compensation model and career development, frankly, from what has been a traditionally a tenure based model to a skills and quality based performance model, truly cross-functional. Quality levels need to be determined and continually monitored based on a variety of a bunch of different data points, like day of the install success rates, task codes usage, post-install device telemetry performance in terms of how well the home was actually operating after the installation was done, along with correlations with the post-install technical support call dispositions and customer satisfaction surveys. 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.
Ian Pattinson: Automatically tagging under threshold performers for management triage and attention of retraining is really, really important. 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 is fundamental, and that moreover allocating the right amount of task time to do the work properly, and then empowering individual technician discretion when additional time is required, because now they’re actually being measured and performing based on quality. When that quality gets delivered, it just pays back in spades. It takes senior management conviction to drive that change management program that we were talking earlier on 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.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. I want to come back to that, but I have one question before we talk about the impact on employee and customer satisfaction, which is, you mentioned a lot of metrics, and so when you start measuring on quality, there’s a lot of ways that you can look at that quality and a lot of those metrics that give you insights, as you mentioned, on where are the gaps. What do we need to address? How do we improve this overall? What that makes me curious about though, Ian, is from an employee perspective, how are those, or are those metrics, do they need to be simplified in a way where maybe the company is looking at 15 different criteria to glean the insights they need to determine who needs training or where do we need to intervene? Or what are the common themes, if any, that we see?
Sarah Nicastro: But I assume you don’t want the technicians having to follow 15 metrics of their own performance to gauge their level of success. Is there an internal versus employee facing way that you would order those things, so that for the technician experience, it’s a little bit more streamlined and they’re able to easily see how they’re tracking? What would that look like?
Ian Pattinson: Sure. I think it starts with that the scorecard has to be transparent, and it has to be easily explainable, otherwise it’s not credible and you won’t get that buy-in. I mentioned a couple of the different dimensions that are fairly well understood by the front line, and you would give them full visibility to that. And then the more complex, deep analytics that is going to cause the model to keep evolving, is really the more private side of the ongoing analytics. But credibility of that is absolutely critical. It impacts people’s compensation, and so it’s got to be credible, it’s got to be transparent and explainable and easily understood.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. You mentioned that this takes a lot of hard work, but when it’s done well, there’s a positive impact both on employee and customer satisfaction. The customer satisfaction part seems pretty straightforward to me. You’re evolving the model to focus more on quality and really focus more on the customer experience, so I can see how that would have a positive impact on them. I’m curious, though, if you can speak a little bit to that, and then also, how and why does this impact employee satisfaction so much?
Ian Pattinson: Certainly. Totally agree. It’s fairly straight forward on the customer side that more satisfied customers are going to call less, tenure is going to be higher, et cetera, and that flows through the entire P&L. On the employee side, I don’t think it’s well known in the industry that most techs really do care about the work they do and they want to get it right for customers. I think this is starting to become more visible. If you think about it as a tech, and I’ve been there, it’s quite demoralizing when you don’t have the skills or the tools to be able to fix the problem. Nothing worse than being embarrassed in front of the customer that you can’t fix the problem, or you’ve got to have someone else come back to do the work. Again, conversely, when you do have the skills and the tools to fix that complex for the customer, you become the hero with the customer. To me, it’s a bit of a simple philosophy that happy customers stay longer and drive less trailing costs, and having employees stay longer and do better work.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, it’s really the ultimate story of teamwork, because they want to do well, but perhaps in certain situations, they’re just not set up process-wise or system-wise to have that opportunity to always be doing well. If you recreate the process and you put systems in place that essentially do this element of matching the right skills with the right roles, then they have almost a bullet-proof chance at success when they arrive. That makes sense. They feel more fulfilled because they’re showing up, they’re getting work done, they’re making people happy, and then they’re moving on to the next thing, instead of being at jobs that they’re not equipped for, or what have you. Yeah. It’s a win-win. We’ve talked quite a bit on Future of Field Service about the correlation between employee engagement and customer satisfaction, and I think there can tend to be… I don’t want to say an overemphasis on the customer side because it’s critical, but sometimes companies overlook the real importance of, how does all of this impact our employees? How do our employees feel? What do our employees need?
Sarah Nicastro: Because if we can get that right, our chances of success getting the customer side right are infinitely higher. That makes sense. All right. Ian, the last thing I want to talk about is the role of modern technology in all of this. There’s a lot of internal alignment, which we talked about. First, you have to have the right mindset that this evolution is possible and it’s a fit for your company. Then you need to get everyone on the same page, including the front line and cross-functionally, and look at how do our processes need to change? How does our compensation model need to change? Et cetera. But the other big element of this is leveraging modern technology. Talk to us a little bit about how important that is in this ultimate mission.
Ian Pattinson: Certainly. I think earlier used the term that the dispatch systems are truly the lungs of the service provider organization. Yes, the billing system may be the heart, but dispatch systems are the lungs. It really is a massive enabler of a lot of the customer, employee and financial opportunities that we’ve been talking about here today. My experience has been, moving to a standard based product that was cloud-based really resolved kind of 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. It’s just a horrible, dangerous combination there. Secondly, that the infrastructure on prem became quickly outdated, had slow latency performance from more and unpredictable usage, needing expensive hardware, uplifts, and then, of course, corresponding software dependencies from the new hardware changes, again, driving millions of dollars of costs and moreover orders to implement. Change quickly is absolutely critical. Come to the last key area was around stability and availability problems.
Ian Pattinson: I know the on-prem systems typically around 98% availability, when you do the math on that, that’s seven days of downtime per year where no appointments can be made, technicians stuck in customer’s homes and thousands of frontline staff waiting for systems to come up and extremely frustrating for customers. Again, my direct experience of moving to a cloud-based standard product resolved those three key areas. System availability went to over 99.9%. That’s less than 10 minutes per month, which is just huge. We’ll talk about building credibility with frontline technicians, systems stability is one of the top three for them. Number two, incredible system latency performance, because the cloud-based platforms can dynamically adjust to sudden increases in demand. But I think, most importantly, that the standard ultra-low customized product really enabled the ongoing rapid delivery of new features and capability that keep the platform current with constant new product development improvements and security updates.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. It’s interesting when you talk about the use of technology here, it can’t do all of the hard work for you, but without it, all of the hard work is for not. If you did all of that hard work, all of that alignment, all of that change management, and then you still had outdated, unreliable technology in place, it’s all for nothing. It is, like you said, the ultimate enabler of having success with making the most of your technician resources and your service objective. Good. Ian, before we close, do you have any other comments or words of wisdom that you want to share with our listeners?
Ian Pattinson: Well, I don’t know if it’s wisdom, but let’s face it. I think you’ve pointed out there, dispatch systems haven’t historically been sexy to work on and frequently seen as non-strategic cost centers. They don’t really get changed that often. Frankly, I mentioned earlier on most people don’t know the name of the platform. Even when I was in the product team, I didn’t know the name of that platform, but moving to that standard product cloud platform is just so enabling of improving the entire service model. It is, again, just amazing to watch the results both financial, customer and employee, like we’ve talked about, that get delivered when the company embraces and collaborates around the new platform. Frankly, it’s something, having done it, I’m really proud of what our team delivered.
Sarah Nicastro: Good. For those listening that are using really outdated technology, now is the time to do some research and find something that will take you into the modern era. Good. Well, Ian, thank you so much for being here and sharing your experiences and insights. I really appreciate it.
Ian Pattinson: You’re quite welcome.
Sarah Nicastro: You can find more by visiting email@example.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @thefutureoffs. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more about IFS technology at ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.