Why the Future of Service Depends on Putting People First | Future of Field Service
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Why the Future of Service Depends on Putting People First

In this episode, from the Paris Live Tour, Sarah speaks with Jean de Kergorlay, Digital Buildings Services Director – Europe at Schneider Electric who has been with Schneider Electric for 34 years. Jean shares his unique perspective on how service has evolved as a part of business differentiation and strategy. While he fully recognizes the value and immense potential of digital, his opinion is that the future of our industry depends on our people.

Sarah Nicastro: Jean, thank you for being here.

Jean de Kergorlay: Thank you for having me.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes.

Jean de Kergorlay: It’s a pleasure.

Sarah Nicastro:

So Jean is the digital buildings service director for Europe at Schneider Electric. And we’re going to be talking about your thoughts on why the future of field service depends on putting people first, okay? It’s a good statement.

Jean de Kergorlay: I think it’s a good way, yes.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. Okay. So before we get into that, tell folks a little bit more about yourself, your background, your journey, and your role at Schneider.

Jean de Kergorlay: Oh my goodness. You see that I have some gray hairs, so it could be a long story. But no, in short, I joined the Schneider Electric now 34 years ago– already, my goodness. And Schneider was my third company. So what is interesting is I think I worked about 20 years in the industry business. I started as a field services engineer during the maybe five years or so, first France, and then very much across many, many countries. And then, because this company gave me a lot of opportunities, and finally I moved to R&D, then product management, then whatever things. I don’t want to be too long, but since the past 17 years now, I am more in what is new and entrepreneurial business in our company. So that means creating new businesses and especially in services, and mostly the past 12 years in digital. Because let’s say, we had kind of an interesting problem to solve. Let’s be clear, when we were talking about digital, it is not because it was trendy or kind of buzz word at all, we had a big issue that we had field services technicians, and maybe I shouldn’t say that, but as a company we were seen or perceived at too much expensive by our customers. Oops.

Jean de Kergorlay: And as a fact, the idea was, okay, how can we maybe provide even more value, maybe less rolling the truck and going on site and thinking about, okay, what kind of data we could get from buildings. I’m very much in the buildings business, okay? Where you live, where you work, whatever, but it is the non-residential business I’m talking about, non-residential buildings. And it was interesting because when we started digital journey, it was more about how can we get some relief to our guys, that means getting before going on site, what is working well or not working well, having kind of a to-do list or whatever, and not discovering at the very last minute, what should be done on site.

Jean de Kergorlay: So this was the first idea. When I started this, saying, “Okay, have we something in Schneider?” No, not at all. And then I started working with some startups in the US, and this is where we started this journey, move for solving our own problems. And after a few years, we said, “Hey, by the way, could it be interesting also for not only us, but also for our customers?” So this is where the journey started a few years back. And what was interesting and I’m sure we will more talk about that later on is the more we were talking about digital as a word, the more we had resistance, reluctance from mostly the technicians saying, “Ooh, those kind of tools could make me losing my job. Maybe I will be replaced by some kind of AI or things like in the sci-fi movies.”

Jean de Kergorlay: It was interesting because funnily, we started with the technology and very quickly we discovered, maybe the hard way, that it is all about the people, and finally digital or whatever kind of technology is only a tool or being tools. And in the end, you can have the best tools in the world, if nobody is using them or it, useless. This is where it has been a long journey now, the past eight years of transformation, and I would say not yet completed at all, that we are really now putting people in this. This is our focal point. That means, it’s not a question about talking about digital or whatever, it is how could you make the best of your job using the right tools. That’s it.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, good. I think transformation is a very misleading word. We talk about digital transformation or service transformation, but in reality, we’re all on a continual journey. There’s no finish line that you’re going to cross, right? So it’s not complete because it won’t really be complete, you’re going to learn and change, and then learn and change again, right? So you’ve been with Schneider 34 years, in service for quite a long time. How would you describe Schneider’s view today on the potential of service for the business? Right, so I talked about how in my experience, when I started, it was a lot of cut costs and that has shifted to it being seen as more of a potential for growth. What is your company’s view on that?

Jean de Kergorlay: I think if I compare even few years back, so I’m not going back to 34 years ago, but I think maybe many changes the past five or six years when any kind of service providers, and we have some of them in the room today, is when we realize that if we are only providing to a customer blocked hours, blocked days, and finally just ticking things, checklist or whatever, in the end, there is not that much value for the end user or for the services provider. So I think this is one point. I think the bigger change, maybe we realized in a very humble way that finally we have guys on the field, maybe they meet even more often customers that our sales forces meet on a regular basis. And they should be the guys, as ambassador, knowing maybe the best our company, and thinking, and being also in the shoes of the customers.

Jean de Kergorlay: What do I mean is, okay, what is important, what matters, what is at stake? And finally you are more looking not to execute tasks, but finally having a plan could be a yearly plan or half yearly plan or whatever, it is about, okay, what is at stake for those six month or for this one year? What do we want to achieve? Maybe reducing the number of complaints in a building, in a shopping mall, or making the patient more comfortable in hospitals, as an example. Finally, what are the business drivers of the customer I’m working for? And I think this is the big shift, moving from technical things, very important, very important, even details, moving from reactive to something more proactive. And finally, does it feed or not the business of my customer? And I think this is the big shift of those past five years. And as you said, learning, changing, learning, changing.

Sarah Nicastro: And I don’t want to speak for you, but I think when you look at the opportunity you have to leverage service as a way to get closer to your customers, okay, that requires different types of relationships with your customers, less transactional, more customer intimacy, more trust those sorts of things. And I think that is the root of where this people focus comes from, because we can’t expect our people to go out and foster those types of relationships without first fostering relationships with them, right? So going back to your statement at the beginning, the more you, at Schneider, have leveraged digital, the more you’ve recognized the opportunity to put focus on your people. Tell us a little bit more about that.

Jean de Kergorlay: I would say maybe one or two things. And I think, as you said, change transformation as a word, it could be only a word. Now there is [inaudible], that means we can have KPIs or whatever, and sometime in our companies or in mine, I will not that corporate today, we have many KPIs. But in the end, what matters? Point number one is we can have the best tools, once more if there is no adoption of those tools, those tools being used less, and you are wasting your money. Okay, so it’s a basic statement. And very often it is because we are not spending the right time not to explain, because explaining is not enough, but to leave those tools with the guys. And it has been interesting because we have an interesting slogan the past five years now, ‘from the technical room to the boardroom and the other way around.’

Jean de Kergorlay: And what is interesting is very often in the past, technicians talking only to the technicians in the technical room. I oversimplify a bit, but this was the point. What is interesting now is in the management chain, how things being escalated, and there is less and less reluctance now that what is captured on the field could be back up to the boardroom, and finally discovering that if I’m a facility manager for this customer, I’m spending more time in managing complaints from the occupants. And in the end, I try to satisfy the occupants, but as a result, I’m not executing my contract.

Jean de Kergorlay: So this is where having KPIs, having analytics, having whatever is a good way more often now to step back, what’s the situation, facts based, and no more with the emotion. And I think as a Latin people here in the room, we can seem kind of good sometime to be very emotional and we just forget the facts. And I think data or digital is a way very often to come back to the facts and decide what could be the next step. What is the plan? And I think this is one of the key points.

Sarah Nicastro: So the focus on people, here’s a question I’m curious about – do you think it’s something that we had and lost or something that we never really had to begin with that we need to create?

Jean de Kergorlay: Maybe two thoughts about that. The first one, maybe we will come back later on, is that the scarcity in resources. Maybe this is something we can come back later, or do we want to elaborate now?

Sarah Nicastro: He knows the notes better than I do. Yes, okay, all right. Yes, no, that’s okay. We’ll come back to that part.

Jean de Kergorlay: Okay, perfect. And the other point is I think we lost it in the very simple way. I try to be more corporate, and sorry, I’m unable. What I mean is, no, I think we lost it. I think one more, those past 20 years, you saw that in the cost cutting things, in the whatever things. As a result, we kind of lost our mind, is what is the importance about the people doing really the thing… The doers, what I mean. And I think this is something we very much lost, and what I see that it is across countries, it is across type of customers, and we finally discover that, oh, this guy now getting retired, but he has all the knowledge in his head. And nothing, there is no transitions or no handover way of doing it, and in the end you lose everything. I’m sure you have experienced that somewhere in your different jobs here.

Sarah Nicastro: I think part of what happened is that as organizations became really focused on customer experience, which was part of that shift in the perception of service from just cost center efficiency to, okay, maybe this is an opportunity for a profit center, which means we need to be thinking more about customer experience. But that focus was almost a hyper focus to where the connection of employee experience to customer experience got lost a bit. And so I think two things I wanted to say, so the very first podcast I recorded was with Otis Elevator, and Tony Black, the gentleman that I interviewed, he used a phrase that has stuck with me, which is that their field technicians are the company’s most treasured resource. And it’s tough because with the scarcity, which we’ll talk about next, I think a lot of organizations today know that they need to say those things, but they don’t necessarily believe those things.

Sarah Nicastro: And so you’re checking a box by saying, “Oh, we have a great company culture, we really focus on employee experience,” and some are and some aren’t, but from his perspective and based on the context of that statement for him, it was genuine. And I think that’s a really important lens through which to look at the employee experience is thinking about how important a resource those frontline workers are.

Sarah Nicastro: So transitioning into… I’m going to be so bad at keeping time today. But transitioning into the scarcity of resources, right? So this is putting even more focus on people because they’re really hard to come by. So how does this factor in, and what do we need to be thinking about or doing differently, knowing that we need to kind of change how we’re recruiting and hiring and training and retaining our talent?

Jean de Kergorlay: So I think a lot of things change. And once more, I’m coming to the digital side of things, because this is super interesting that point. Point number one, what we discovered the past few years is before we were more discussing with technical people, I mean, on the customer side. One more, we are now implementing digital capabilities, the more we are talking with IT people because of the cyber, because of whatever things, we are talking even more with the board at the C-suite level, and even more with HR. And I think this is important because finally it is, and when we are starting, even with historical customers, point number one, we established a digital road map with them. What does that mean? That means, what is your willingness really to change the way you work compared to before? If there is no willingness, let’s stop, let’s not waste our time. Point number one.

Jean de Kergorlay: Point number two, because there is some needs about efficiency, sustainability, whatever, the other point is, finally what is the age profile of your resources? And I can tell in quite 100% of the time, and even working with HR, when they discover the reality of their age profile, they’re scared, saying, “Oops, oops, we have an issue.” If I take in, let’s say, field services industry, very much in the buildings business I would say at the moment, I’m just talking about what I know, just think in 2025, 60% of the existing technicians and engineers getting retired across countries. Sorry, not across countries, Europe, North America, a little bit different in Asia. So that mean it is kind of scary. And if there is no anticipation the way we are replacing those guys, there is a big issue. If I take our friends, our homeland friends, just think in our business we’re talking about, there is about 1500 new graduates a year out of which 120 engineers. The market need is 10,000. Do we have an issue? I think so.

Jean de Kergorlay: So that means that digital may mitigate, but it shows even more how and why we don’t have so many graduates, just because our business is not appealing at all. When I say my business, I’m not talking about Schneider, I’m talking about field services. It’s not appealing. It’s not attractive at all. Working with dirty hands, climbing on ladders, going things on ceiling, fixing things on cabling, so boring, and the younger generation is not at attracted at all. And this is where, when we add this layer of digital, finally either we are attracting new people having a new approach of this kind of business point number one, we are creating new job. Think about the customer success managers, if I would have spoken about customer success managers few years back, I think many of you will have told me, “Hey, for startups, good for startups, not good for me.” Now it is key because it is not only executing field services, it is also how do we keep this intimacy, and finally strengthening the trust you were talking about. Sorry, I’m stopping because otherwise I’m too talkative.

Sarah Nicastro: It’s okay. No, I think this is a really important topic. We don’t have time to get into all of it, but show of hands, is there anyone in the room for whom talent, so recruiting, hiring retention is not an issue. No? Okay. I mean, I thought so, but I just wanted to double check before I start making assumptions. So, I mean, this is a topic that I create a lot of content on because I think it is one of the biggest challenges that you all are going to face this year, next year, in the coming years. And so I think there’s a lot of opportunity to change, not to have that challenge disappear because there’s just facts, there’s number data facts. But we also can’t just have a defeatist mindset of, okay, well, we’re in trouble so we’ll just keep doing what we’re doing and cross our fingers, right?

Sarah Nicastro: I think there’s a lot of opportunity to change how we recruit, hire, train, retain, and so that is a lot of our content. That being said, I’m getting time counts all over the place, but I do want to get to one more question, Jean, and it ties into the scarcity of resources. So you mentioned earlier on, digital, it is important but it is a tool, right? And so there can be resistance, even resentment, I think from the workforce sometimes related to digital, and a lot of that stems from a point you mentioned, which is fear that it will cost them their jobs. The reality though is that in a lot of cases, that’s not the fact at all, right? I mean, there’s more jobs than we can fill, and so I think there’s a lot of ways to change that narrative so that that fear is removed. And I think that’s part of what needs to happen in terms of retention. But in your experience with the resistance to change and some of the reluctance to adopt these tools, what has been most successful in overcoming that?

Jean de Kergorlay: So very quickly, maybe two things. Point number one, what we have implemented now the past two years, we discovered that we were delivering kind of good training for the technicians and the engineer, but technical tracks or technical curriculum, in the end, we discovered that we never shared or trained them or coached them or support them what are really the sales selling to the customers. And you know that sometime there is two sides of the story, what the sales guy is saying and what the services guy is executing. I don’t know why, sometime there is a gap. So what we decided to do two years ago, and it has been kind of a big impact in the changes, is giving them sales training about this, point number one. Point number two, I’m driving at the moment, a super interesting initiative because… And this is in UK, just because the UK was more willing at the moment, let’s say, to go to this initiative.

Jean de Kergorlay: What is the point? The point is super basic and simple. We have about 500 field services technicians in the UK, Schneider, I mean. What we are driving at the moment, because we have some resistance, it is what it is. And we have a very interesting proof of concept last year with southwest of UK in Devon and Cornwall, and we just worked with those technicians, and we asked them to identify the right time. Let’s say the time where they think they’re not providing the value they can deliver. It was kind of very basic sessions, very pragmatic, and in some cases going on sites as well with them. And finally they realized, or we all shared that more than 60% of their time was, I wouldn’t say useless, it was very useful, but they were not delivering what they could deliver.

Jean de Kergorlay: And it has been now let’s say a point there, now each [inaudible] of them introducing part of the digital tool only tackling those low value tasks. This is where now we are seeing the change, and this is interesting. One of the most, let’s say the older guy, now driving, let’s say, this old wise fox now driving the others say, “Hey, I’ve been able to do it. Hey, you young guys, hey rookies, now you can do it.” We have now this transformation, kind of a snowball effect, which is not really led by the management or the top management, it has been done more in a horizontal way, acknowledging what the situation is, what can we do with what we have, testing the things, executing them, and then spreading the word. That’s it.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think simplicity sometimes means there are things that get overlooked. And if you just think about, if you in your job, like if no one ever asked you what you thought ever, would you feel that you mattered to the company? No. So sometimes it’s the simple things of just listening, and it doesn’t mean you have to meet every need or address every complaint or anything like that, but just whether or not you treat your employees like a treasured resource or like a valued member of the team comes down to some really quite simple things. Okay, I’m going to get in trouble. So does anyone have a question for Jean? I’m not going to let you out of here before I make sure that if anyone does, they have a chance to ask. Anyone? Anyone? Yes.

Jean de Kergorlay: In English or in French, as you wish.

Speaker 3: It’s a remark, it’s less a question. You said [inaudible] right, that there’s more customer studies than sales people, so [inaudible], but what about the trusted advisor role and [inaudible 00:25:50] and the fact that they are key in the sales [inaudible]? And what about helping them to be more sales oriented, customer centric? It’s goes to the [inaudible] system as well, because most of those people have the same incentives. So I know that’s difficult sometimes to have somebody very technical, to become a killer in [inaudible], how can we make them more active in the decision making process? Because they’re doing it, the customer is trusting them more than our sales reps.

Jean de Kergorlay: Very often, they are… Yeah, exactly. And I think this is a great point and a great question. So just in short, and I’m just sharing what we are doing, and I’m not saying that we are perfect at all. Point number one, during the COVID period, we made kind of a weird initiative saying, “Hey guys, it’s not because this is the COVID that there is no more service on sites so maybe there is another way to deliver services.” I will not come back to the digital side of things, obvious, but point number two, by the way, we need also to grow. You may know that in our companies, we are not really a charity. We need to make money, let’s be clear. And in the end, the idea was finally wound up having more sales coverage using our field services technician. Sorry.

Jean de Kergorlay: And finally, we decided to create what we call the field quotes initiative. No, no, no field quotes. That means we were asking our technician across countries to sell when they have an opportunity meeting customers. “By the way, can you upsell? Could be software upgrades, could be fixing… Let’s say upselling few things.” It has been a fantastic success. And then came the problem or the question about incentives, because either it could be, let’s say, regulated or on the law of things, or it could change the way wages or salaries being done in some countries and the rules being very different.

Jean de Kergorlay: Finally in France, we decided, let’s say, to run more kind of… How could I say that? Fitness or sport registration things, it was more appealing. We asked in the different countries what matters for them. Surprisingly, in none of the countries, the technicians told about money, they told about recognition. Sometime recognition was a nice word, even from our CEO. Thank you.

Jean de Kergorlay: And it was interesting. Finally, money matters for sure, but thinking about what is the culture that drives this recognition even more important. And it forces us as managers and leaders finally better knowing our people. Sorry, I don’t want to be longer, we can have an off-site discussion after, but I think your point is super important.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And again, I mean, recognition is something that in theory is very simple, but doesn’t happen enough. I think there’s also a lot of conversation around upskilling, reskilling, career paths, and giving people options to go in different directions. Paulie, we’ll come back maybe in the fall and do another session. Okay, great. All right, Jean, thank you so much.