By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service
At last week’s Service Council Symposium in Chicago, much of the conversation centered around people. Whether discussing how to better attract and empower talent, how to address and alleviate burnout, or how to give customers the connection they’re seeking, the Service Council’s Service is Humanity focus took center stage.
This isn’t to say there weren’t ample informative conversations on digital transformation and opportunities to engage with those providing the industry’s modern solutions, but simply that the conversation broadened into some of the very important but often less clearcut topics companies are grappling with. I think this is important because, as I’ve often said, technological sophistication isn’t what is holding companies back from achieving their objectives around innovation – the layers of change and complexity involved are. And while no one attendee at events like this has all the answers, collectively as a community we can inspire, inform, and uplift one another to go back to the day-to-day reinvigorated to solve challenges and keep the ball moving forward.
With that said, and in no particular order, I wanted to share some of the moments and insights that stood out to me at the event:
Elizabeth Dixon, former Principal Lead of Strategy, Hospitality and Service Design at Chic-Fil-A delivered a keynote based on her new book, The Power of Customer Experience: 5 Elements to Make an Impact. Elizabeth said during her session, “We have to remember that Customer Experience is nothing more than the overflow of our Employee Experience.” This is a reality I think many in our industry are reconciling currently. After many years of being very focused on cutting costs, we began to see the potential of service as a profit center – which shifted our focus to the customer. Now we’re realizing that we can’t deliver the customer outcomes we want, to drive the profits that are possible, without a frontline workforce that is engaged and satisfied. When you couple this with the shifts we’ve seen in the workforce and the challenges organizations have recruiting and retaining talent, it is clear that getting employee experience right is absolutely critical for service success in the coming years.
Customer Centricity Can Require Organizational Change
Bob Feiner, SVP of Global Services and Jason MacIver, VP of Services Procurement at DELL Technologies delivered a great presentation on what happened at DELL when the company began focusing on Customer Experience. They learned that their siloed approach, where support, field service, and parts management all worked toward individual objectives and measurements of success, although effective historically, didn’t stand up to the needs of a customer-centric business. They shared how DELL worked through the complexities of organizational change and invested in technology to ensure that each function of the business is unified in strategic vision, approach, and measurement of success.
Recognizing how imperative the employee experience is – and sharing stories of how disruptive change can be – leads us to the conversations around humanity. How are company cultures shifting to fit the needs of today’s workforce? In what ways do both organizations and leaders need to evolve to embrace the need to nurture and empower versus drive and demand?
Stefano Folli, EVP and Head of Global Services & Solutions at Philips shared some of the ways Philips is working toward a human-centric company culture, but he also shared how he as an individual leader has had to self-reflect and grow. I really appreciated the way he surfaced the importance of individual leaders not only being willing to “change with the times,” but putting in the work to do so. He drove his points home with some specific examples of issues within his team where he realized he needed to shift his thinking or augment his skills. He also discussed how he practices reverse mentoring, because he realizes he has as much to learn from those he mentors as they do from him.
The Role of Leadership in Human Centricity
I would argue that the role of leadership in human centricity is even more important than a company’s commitment to any sort of programmatic approach. This point surfaced in the workshop I moderated on Monday afternoon on Workplace Mental Health & Wellness. I was joined by Emma Jellen, Interim Director of the Center for Workplace Mental Health; Chris Westlake, Director – Service Process and Digital Transformation at Generac Power Systems; and Sasha Ilyukhin, SVP of Customer Service Operations at Tetra Pak. We had an outline of prepared points to center the discussion around, but as soon as we introduced ourselves, questions from the audience started flooding in:
- How do we make this more than a check-box exercise?
- What is a leader supposed to do when they notice an employee is struggling – how do you handle those conversations?
- What if a leader is “old school” and feels that being personal has no place at work?
The questions were excellent and prompted a very lively discussion around the fact that while a company focus on this is needed, and most evidenced in its culture, the role of the individual leaders is most important. Emma shared some excellent advice on what goes in to building programs, training managers to handle tough conversations, and alleviating burnout. All of the free resources she referenced in our session are available at www.workplacementalhealth.org.
We know that one important facet of employee engagement is for employees to feel valued, appreciated, and heard. Karin Hamel, VP of Services, US Digital Buildings at Schneider Electric, demonstrated her commitment to improving employee engagement among the company’s frontline workforce at least year’s event by sharing about her creation of the Service Hero award. At last week’s event, Karin shared how she’s continued looking for ways to not only keep the field workforce engaged, but also to create an outlet for their valuable insight, and this past year has created a Field Service Advisory Committee to ensure the field service teams at Schneider can share their input, ideas, and feedback.
Another element of employee engagement that was discussed repeatedly at the event is having a sense of purpose. Sasha Ilyukhin of Tetra Pak, who won this years’ Service Council Humanity in Service Award, gave a presentation that tied in another very important area of focus in service: Sustainability. Sustainability gives companies, employees, and customers a sense of purpose and, as Sasha expressed, has become a license to operate. For Tetra Pak, this is a significant area of focus both in how the company itself continues to focus on its environmental impact, but also how it helps its customers do the same. As such, Sasha spoke to how sustainability is such an area of opportunity in service.
Technology Streamlines Complexity to Allow People Focus
These are just a few of the excellent points that were surfaced during last week’s event. At the close of day three, the Advisory Board answered a few questions around lessons learned, what they’re excited about, and what their top areas of concern are. Many of the members responded that their biggest concerns surround talent. Laura Mather, VP and GM, Global Services at STERIS Corporation made such a good point – she said, “Service is becoming ever more complex. If we want to have the capacity to focus on humanity, we must embrace the technology available to us.”
I could not agree with her more – the sophisticated technology at our disposal today can simplify some of that complexity. If you can leverage it in a way that gives you clear insights, automates menial tasks, and increases efficiency, it augments your ability to pour more time and effort into your people – which is a clear imperative for the industry.