Last week I boarded a flight to Chicago for my first in-person conference in more than 18 months. When I walked into the Smarter Services Symposium at the Loew’s Hotel, it was quite honestly surreal at first. Greeting others with masks and the uncertainty of whether or not to shake hands or bump elbows felt awkward and almost had me wishing for the home-office comfort zone of my leggings and Teams meetings. Almost. It didn’t take long for me to reacclimate and realize just how good it felt to be reunited with friendly faces and to meet some new.

The energy and excitement around being back together in person was palpable – there were proper precautions in place, and for those who did decide to attend the event in person, any initial awkwardness was quickly replaced with an appreciation for the reunion of the community. In-person attendance, which was lighter than pre-Covid events, was bolstered with video cameos and attendees viewing the livestream.

The three-day event was more than just warm-fuzzies and cocktails, though there was plenty of both. Sessions featured insights from members of The Service Council’s board and then some, and many were led by the energetic team of the Nour Group. Topics included the theme “Service is Humanity” as well as discussions on all of the major trends you’d assume be incorporated: customer centricity, employee engagement, diversity, innovation, digital transformation, the talent gap, the future of work, as-a-Service models, and more.

While these are all topics we cover regularly here at Future of Field Service, I didn’t spend the three days bored. As I find is typically the case at these events, even if what’s being discussed at a high level are key trends you’re familiar with, there’s always a new perspective, point, or nugget of insight to walk away with. That said, here are what stood out to me as my key observations from the event.

#1: Innovation Demands Accountability

I hosted a 90-minute workshop at the event alongside Joni Chapas, VP of Field Operations at Brinks Home. You may remember Joni from her podcast on how Brinks Home is fueling innovation, and this session was a more in-depth discussion around this topic. We shared some of each of our stories, and then opened it up for an interactive talk around what’s driving innovation within service, what key areas of strategy are essential for successful innovation, how is innovation most effectively tackled, and what are some lessons learned.

One of the most important takeaways from this session is that innovation demands accountability. At Brinks Home, Joni’s team was created to work alongside operations to collaboratively drive innovation. The company recognizes that the operational leaders need to focus on operational excellence, but that innovation is still imperative – so the team was created to extract insight from those leaders on what innovation is needed, but to work solely on driving that innovation and strategic alignment surrounding it.

Whether accountability at your organization is achieved through a dedicated team like what Brinks Home has done or in another way, the point is that we can’t expect to innovate at the pace we need to by simply expecting the leaders already responsible for so much to just add it on top and “get to it when they can.” It’s unfair to place the burden for your company’s future entirely on the shoulders of those who are already overtaxed trying to maintain its present.

#2: Pressing Pause is Better Than Racing Recklessly

Eduardo Bonefont, VP of Life Sciences Technical Services at BD, spoke on day one about the Future of Service and how the company’s people, processes, and tools play a role. He had some excellent points around the importance of manager accountability, creating a speak-up culture, and how to prioritize various projects and objectives.

Part of Eduardo’s discussion that I found especially impactful was him relaying how BD took a “pause year” of introducing new tools to gather feedback, clarify areas of priority, and create a cohesive strategy. While the idea of a pause year may sound challenging for some, the reality is that undoing the negative impact of racing ahead when you truly aren’t ready or aligned is far harder. I loved this idea of pressing pause long enough to examine, reassess, and align.

#3: Your Customers Don’t Want Service

To kick off day two, Mike Adams, SVP of Services Delivery at NCR Corporation, spoke about Servitization. One of the first sentences of his presentation is my favorite quote of the entire event: “Our customers don’t want service; they just want their equipment to work – all the time.” To me, understanding the significance of this statement – and the action it requires from service businesses – is the core of Servitization success.

Your customers don’t want your service – they want results, outcomes, peace of mind. They want guarantees, they want less stress. This doesn’t mean, of course, that they don’t need your service – but it changes the game in terms of what the value proposition is, how service needs to be delivered, and what will achieve customer loyalty. Mike went on to deliver far more gold in his session that illustrated the depth of his experience, but this was by far my favorite point.

#4: Disruption is Inevitable, By Force or By Choice

In a panel discussion on innovation, James Mylett, SVP of Digital Buildings at Schneider Electric, said of his company, “You have to dare to disrupt. Innovation is our middle name – we think fact and act faster.” This attitude alone takes energy and effort, not to mention the cultural, procedural, and technological steps necessary to make fast action a reality. But James is 100% right – you do have to dare to disrupt. Because if you don’t, the disruption will come anyway – by force. And it is far harder to come back from that type of disruption than it is to proactively master the art of disrupting by choice.

#5: The Story is More Important Than the Strategy

Karin Hamel, VP of Services for U.S. Digital Buildings at Schneider Electric, did a session on day three with David Nour and Lin Wilson of the Nour Group to discuss – and show – how she’s worked to visualize strategy to create employee buy-in. Karin spoke to how much unnecessary complexity and corporate speak are put into communications with the frontline workforce that work against the mission of clarity and authenticity.

By simplifying and illustrating key points, Schneider Electric has been able to create a message that resonates far better with its workforce. The focus is on the story, not the detailed strategy, which helps employees connect more and understand better the key aspects that are important and matter most to them. Obviously, there’s strategy here, too, but Karin’s point – and it’s a great one – is that the story is more important and often overlooked. Leading with story gets people to listen and care, which makes the strategy part far smoother.

Sarah Nicastro
Author

Creator, Future of Field Service