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January 30, 2023 | 4 Mins Read

Is Crisis a Tipping Point for Technological Innovation, or Far Too Late?

January 30, 2023 | 4 Mins Read

Is Crisis a Tipping Point for Technological Innovation, or Far Too Late?

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service 

Air travel has gotten more frustrating every year, and 2022 was already on track to be one of the worst on record in terms of flight cancellations when a winter storm downed thousands of flights just before Christmas. Then as the weather cleared, Southwest Airlines continued canceling flights because of a failure in its scheduling system, leaving thousands more travelers stranded. Shortly after that, a damaged database file in a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) system led to even more flights being grounded across the U.S.

Poor weather aside, the issues at the FAA and Southwest point to a bigger problem – technology has become a foundational element of every business, but far too many companies take a major gamble by relying on outdated, obsolete, and seemingly fragile systems to manage their operations. 

You do not have to look far for similar examples in other industries. There was the clunky software that led to a half-billion-dollar mistake at Citigroup, and the rats nest of HR software mucking up how Amazon manages employee leave. A Ponemon Institute study estimates that nearly 60% of cyberattacks could have been prevented by installing available software patches. Companies large and small are not doing a very good job of keeping their IT infrastructure up to date, and in a business environment where the pace of innovation, new customer demands, and the need for greater flexibility are constantly increasing, that is simply unsustainable.

Service organizations – even those that were early adopters of key technologies – should take a lesson from these failures. Technology investment is not a one-and-done proposition; software and hardware infrastructure need to evolve right along with your business needs and the general IT environment. Like a garden, or a marriage, or your children – whatever metaphor you care to deploy – technology investments need tending to.

Sometimes, of course, a crisis can be the catalyst that shakes an organization out of its IT languor and prompts action. IDC published its annual Future of Digital Innovation predictions back in November, and the very first one was, “By 2024, the top 5 companies in each sector will be those that used technology to innovate their way out of a global crisis such as recession or supply chain disruption.”

A technology investment by itself is no panacea, though. Back in 2002, department store chain Kmart filed for bankruptcy, in part because of a botched supply chain management system deployment. In an effort to regain ground against Walmart, the company attempted a rapid rip-and-replace approach to its IT platforms. Nothing worked the way it was supposed to, and Kmart entered a decades-long downward spiral.

The Power of Proactiveness

A reactive approach to aging technology is always going to be more disruptive and costly than addressing the problem before a failure. What should service leaders take from all of this? The first step is to acknowledge if your reality is that critical technology investments or updates have been put off and then work to remedy that as quickly as possible. 

Yes, that can be easier said than done. There are a lot of reasons that important upgrades are skipped – budgets may be tight, and your IT staff may be overloaded. The thought of training employees on a new system may seem daunting. There may be institutional roadblocks to change. A previous deployment may have not gone as well as you wanted. Or the old systems may be working just fine, trapping you in the warm embrace of complacency.

The problem is that many of these systems were designed for maximum efficiency and low costs, but without much in the way of resilience. And to be fair, the “if it's not broke, don’t fix it” attitude many companies had about their aging technology was enabled by a long period of (relative) peace, economic growth, and low interest rates. Unexpected disruptions (disease, war, unpredictable weather) can rapidly expose the faulty wiring underpinning these systems. 

If your organization is coasting along on technology that hasn't been meaningfully revisited for five years or more, you may be setting yourself up for a costly business disruption. And it isn’t only about investing in new technology, but also making sure that existing solutions are properly maintained and upgraded. That does not simply mean applying regular security patches or version upgrades, but also evaluating these systems on a regular basis in the context of your business. Can your technology solutions keep up your current rate of growth? Can they handle an increase in business volume or a larger number of employees? Is there redundancy built into the system in the event of a crash or a cyber attack? How much support does the vendor provide (and does the vendor even still exist)? Are your hardware and software upgrades staying in sync? Do your solutions equally support your customers and your technicians?

The key is to ask those questions early and often, before a crisis occurs. Hindsight may be very clear, but it is also expensive (Southwest took an $800 million hit to its quarterly earnings in the aftermath of the holiday season). At many organizations, it takes an existential threat before leadership will even consider making a critical technology change. In field service – an industry where agility and continuous evolution are increasingly table stakes for competitiveness – no one can afford to wait that long.

January 23, 2023 | 4 Mins Read

Leadership Sets the Tone in Service Transformation – What Tactics Are Most Impactful?

January 23, 2023 | 4 Mins Read

Leadership Sets the Tone in Service Transformation – What Tactics Are Most Impactful?

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Change management is a huge challenge when it comes to business transformation initiatives, and one that can easily be glossed over by managers who are caught up in agenda setting, technology purchasing, financing, and the general logistics of these projects. To be successful, though, service leaders need to leverage their interpersonal relationship skills to ensure that every team member understands, supports, and contributes to these efforts. Change is disruptive, sometimes painful, and leaders need to display a degree of empathy, understanding, and openness, along with creativity and drive.

On this week’s podcast, I talk with Adam Gloss, VP and GM of Service at McKinstry, a facilities management company based in the Pacific Northwest. When you listen to our interview, one thing that you will immediately notice is Adam's enthusiasm for service innovation, for problem solving, and for the potential for business transformation in service, and what that can mean for customers and service organizations. 

The shift from cost center to profit center has changed service delivery approaches, customer expectations, and expanded the role of technology up and down the service chain. The pace of this change is invigorating for some, but can be exhausting for others.

Adam’s enthusiasm is one of the reasons I wanted to talk to him about service transformation, and the role leaders play not just in initiating change, but also shepherding their team through the process, particularly since not every team member is going to be equally as happy about these projects.

Gloss says that managing perceptions around change is an important part of leading team members through it, helping them move past identifying a problem to seeing the potential impact in the solution. "And that's the exciting part to me, is seeing that impact that you're having on a client or customer on a segment of the market, on your own team members or employees, on the world around you,” he says. “Being able to wake up one day and look at something and go, ‘Wow, I helped do that.’ That's really exciting and engaging."

As facilities owners are faced with some steep belt tightening in the wake of the pandemic, changes in building usage, and economic turmoil, McKinstry has been focused on changing the mindset of customers and employees alike as it shifts to an outcomes/solutions-based service model. Both the company and its customers must adapt to a new reality in facilities management that will affect the sales process, procurement, service delivery, technology, contracting, and billing.

“If I'm really going to help a customer, I need to understand their problems,” Adam says. “But you take that a step further. If I'm really going to help them solve that problem, I can't look at old metrics or KPIs or ways of procuring and say, ‘Okay, this is how we're going to do it.’ I need to align my solution to that problem and I need my KPIs or my measurements to align to theirs.”

This can be difficult for an organization that is used to delivering service a certain way. Leaders not only have to be cheerleaders for these new concepts, but also have to acknowledge the frustration people experience as these changes occur, or they aren’t going to feel included or invested in the process. But you ultimately have to push past focusing on the problem and focus on the customer outcome you are trying to achieve, rather than your own internal discomfort. That changes the energy around the whole process, but it requires a more sympathetic approach to leadership.

“As a leader, you need to balance confidence and vulnerability,” Adam says. “I can talk to my people about something being hard and challenging and acknowledge the reality of it, but I still have to be incredibly positive about the outcome we're working towards.”

That balance is also critical because there are going to be people who will take longer to embrace change, and few who are completely resistant to it. It's too easy for leadership to get wrapped up in the excitement around change, to focus on logistics, and to try and push the entire organization across the finish line as quickly as possible to reach those outcomes. 

That approach can be overwhelming for team members that may need to move at a slower pace or that need some convincing about the value of what you are doing. Adam says it's important to know when to dial it back a bit, actively listen to what team members are telling you, and empathize with their experiences – educate, inform, and give people an opportunity to feel like they had real input.

"So, there's a way I communicate with my leadership team. There's a way that we communicate down to managers. There's a way we communicate down to the frontline. And the messaging, it will change," he says. "Now for me, I can sometimes be frustrated that change doesn't happen fast enough or things were more challenging than I think that they should have been, or I didn't quite get the outcome or result that I wanted. And I have to again remind myself it's not about me. It's about us. It's about getting there together and it's about the outcome."

In other words, an effective service leader in this situation will focus on setting the right tone rather than setting a fast pace. You also have to celebrate small, incremental victories along the way to acknowledge the progress the team has made during what can be a very lengthy journey.

Listen to the full podcast to hear more about how Adam has harnessed both his enthusiasm and his vulnerability to help lead McKinstry through the changes and challenges during the past several years and to harness the potential he sees on the horizon. 

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January 9, 2023 | 5 Mins Read

Is a Focus on the Frontline Causing Your Talent Strategy to Fall Short?

January 9, 2023 | 5 Mins Read

Is a Focus on the Frontline Causing Your Talent Strategy to Fall Short?

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Attracting, attaining, and retaining talent has been one of (if not the) top challenges for service organizations for a couple of years running and there’s no end in sight. The talent problem isn’t a simple one to solve and I think organizations have accepted that it isn’t an issue that will blow over or be addressed with a few simple tweaks, but a significant shift that requires far more creativity and far broader change. 

What I wonder is if the current focus is inhibiting some of the success companies could see in achieving better success in not only their talent acquisition but also talent retention goals. We’ve thus far focused the conversations – and actions – quite heavily on the frontline workforce, and within that mostly on the quest for new talent. While continuing to look for new sources of talent (and further evolving a company’s ability to farm ability into experience rather than expecting to find experienced new hires) is important, I believe our focus on finding new frontline workers is too narrow to adequately address the talent problem we have. 

There are a few reasons why. First, the challenge to find talent is compounded by the significant change that most service organizations are in the midst of in terms of what their service offerings are and how service is delivered. As such, the role of the frontline is evolving in parallel with the company’s need to find more workers – it’s a moving target in some ways. Second, focusing only on talent acquisition, even when successful, is like putting a band-aid on the bigger problem. If you can bring new people in, great – but then what happens? We need to put better attention on understanding what employees want and evaluating the reality of the employee experience so that we can make changes that will allow both the new hires and existing employees to be fulfilled and want to stay. 

Are Your Managers Engaged, Enthusiastic, and Effective?

These factors should call attention to how important managers our in your talent strategy. Are they capable? Do they feel engaged and invested? Are they able to articulate your company’s vision and strategy to the frontline in a way that conveys enthusiasm and inspires motivation? Or are they confused on where the company is headed? Are they frustrated? Are they part of the “old guard” that thinks a focus on company culture and employee experience is silly? When you start asking these questions, you can begin to envision how critically important management is in whether you are able to deliver what’s needed to today’s talent. 

In this HBR article by Erica Keswin, To Retain Your Best Employees, Focus on Your Best Managers, we’re reminded that employees don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. The author illustrates the importance of a focus on managers, saying, “Managers are really having a moment. Between the Great Resignation, a lingering pandemic, employees demanding flexibility, skyrocketing mental health challenges, a looming recession, and general uncertainty, more and more employees are turning to their direct supervisors for direction and support.” 

She goes on to point out, though, that ample focus on the management level is a missing link in many organizations. “Unfortunately, managers aren’t always prepared to meet their moment because they’re woefully under-trained and overworked while tasked with leading their teams during heightened turbulence. In fact, new research by Future Forum found a record 43% of managers say they’re burned out — the highest of any job level,” Keswin writes. The article suggests three ways to invest in the development of your managers that are worth a read, but I’d like to make my own suggestions as well. 

  • Measure manager performance. It’s important to find ways to gain an objective view of the impact your current managers are having and to understand the reality that you cannot measure success simply on their ability to meet financial KPIs. While these measures can provide some of the picture, a way to gather input from the frontline on the effectiveness of their managers is important in overall assessment. When BD invested in eNPS, the company gleaned incredibly valuable insight that helped address issues and make changes that significantly improved employee engagement. 
  • Be willing to have the hard conversations. If you are truly committed to improving company culture and employee experience, you must be willing to content with leaders in place that aren’t helping achieve those objectives. Sometimes there are managers who have some great qualities, but as leaders are not capable of promoting a positive working environment and adeptly uplifting and supporting others. Allowing these leaders to stay in place because it is a tough situation to handle only harms culture, causes employees impacted by this leader’s negative qualities to become frustrated and even leave, and sets a bad example for what you are willing to tolerate. 
  • Accept that tenure doesn’t indicate ability. Many organizations promote employees to manager positions based on their success as an individual contributor or their time in a role. However, tenure alone doesn’t indicate leadership ability. You can take this into consideration, but you should also be ensuring you are taking steps to validate competence. And don’t forget interest! You want managers who feel called to lead and find fulfillment in doing so, not managers who are taking a role simply because they see it as the only way to grow their paycheck. It’s important to seek the desire, but also to invest in the development. Investment in manager education, training, and continuing development is far too low and this needs to change. 
  • Ask for feedback. It’s so important to learn how your managers feel about your company, their roles, and your leadership! If there isn’t open communication or they don’t feel comfortable speaking up, they can have frustrations or desires that they bottle up and let build into leaving the company or, maybe worse, becoming a negative energy to everyone around them. If you recognize the importance of your managers, you need to be willing to understand their wants, goals, and feedback and put actions in place to help them feel appreciated, supported, and empowered. 
  • Prioritize 1-1 communication. There are many ways to ask for feedback from managers and employees, but when it comes to your employees at all levels feeling the company is invested in their success, it’s important to invest in 1-1 communication to really build relationships and human centricity. Managers should have this outlet, and they should provide it for their direct reports. This is an important part of getting to know employees as people, making them feel they are important to you and to the company, and understanding their goals so that you can retain talent over a long period of time by giving them the opportunities they want to evolve, grow, and progress in their careers. 

What would you add to the list? Does your organization do a good job of focusing on managers or not? I’d love to hear from you and share your insights. 

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December 19, 2022 | 3 Mins Read

The Future of Field Service Year in Review

December 19, 2022 | 3 Mins Read

The Future of Field Service Year in Review

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

I’m still reconciling the reality that 2022 is drawing to a close, but here I am writing a Year in Review summary. This year has been a whirlwind with a flurry of activity that, after years of Covid-induced slow down, brought both overwhelm at times and immense fulfillment. When I reflect on the year I feel immense gratitude for the opportunity to reconnect and re-engage with so many of you in so many different ways. My interactions throughout 2022 have shown me how the challenges we’ve faced the last couple of years have only drawn the service community closer together. 

To summarize some of the highlights, I must begin with the first-ever Future of Field Service Global Live Tour! When Future of Field Service was first created, I had dreams of evolving the content platform into a basis for connection and community, and this year those visions came to life. In our first tour, we visited five wonderful countries and in each location were joined by industry-leading expert speakers and highly engaged attendees. The events featured podcast-style interviews and a lot of interactive discussions, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive – it reinforced for me the value that exists in coming together across industries to discuss common challenges, trends, and share not only information but inspiration. Across the five cities we had 20 speakers and more than 150 attendees. If you weren’t able to join this year’s Live Tour, you can find summary insights here – and stay tuned for exciting information to come soon on the 2023 Tour!

In-Person, Audio, Online and Everything In Between

In addition to hosting our own events, Future of Field Service had a presence at many other industry events including Field Service Palm Springs, Field Service Hilton Head, The Service Council Symposium, IFS UNLEASHED, Field Service Connect Austin, and Field Service Europe. The ability to spend time with so many people within our community, in person, this year was really a joy – and I think that feeling was shared among those who attended these events. While there are still challenges to face, the overall energy among attendees at these events was positive and there is much shared excitement about the potential that exists in service.

When we weren’t traveling, we kept the content flowing with more than 50 articles and 51 new podcasts. Here are some really cool stats according to Spotify’s “Wrapped” review for the Future of Field Service podcast:

  • 1,503 minutes of new content
  • 40% more listeners and 28% more followers in 2022
  • Listeners across 37 countries with the top five being the United States, Sweden, the Philippines, Germany, and Spain
  • Among the top 15% most followed podcasts
  • Among the top 15% most shared podcasts globally

Last week I shared my Top 10 Episodes of 2022, which is always a challenge because there are so many great interviews to choose from. If you missed that recap, it’s worth having a look – the topics featured vary from leadership and sustainability to labor and predictive service. You can find the list here.

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December 12, 2022 | 3 Mins Read

Make It a Priority to Master Knowledge Management

December 12, 2022 | 3 Mins Read

Make It a Priority to Master Knowledge Management

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

At Field Service Europe, Tim Burge of Aquant shared some findings from the company’s recent Service Intelligence Benchmark study. One insight he shared stood out in my mind, which is “if all employees had the knowledge and skills to perform like the top 20% of employees, service costs would be reduced by 21 percent.”

Based on the discussions at the event, companies aren’t nearly where they need to be when it comes to having a modern and effective knowledge management strategy for field service. Compounding that fact is the sheer volume of frontline employees within service who are approaching retirement age, presenting a significant risk to organizations in loss of incredibly valuable knowledge. 

Knowledge management is defined as “the process by which an enterprise gathers, organizes, shares and analyzes its knowledge in a way that is easily accessible to employees. This knowledge includes technical resources, frequently asked questions, training documents and people skills.” While the concept of knowledge management isn’t unique to field service, there are some challenges specific to field service that make it uniquely important to get a better handle on:

  • As mentioned, there is a large quantity of very knowledgeable workers nearing retirement age and a huge risk of losing their tacit knowledge 
  • The types and volume of insights needed by frontline workers in field service has expanded as customer expectations have evolved and grown
  • Digitalization has made information more accessible, but has also in many instances caused data overwhelm without quick and easy access to the insights really needed at any given time
  • An inability to retrieve the necessary knowledge in an accessible, digestible format in real-time when it is needed causes costly return visits and negatively impacts customer satisfaction

In the coming year, with cost pressures on the rise and frontline workers leaving the industry and taking valuable insights with them, improving our focus on and strategy around knowledge management must become a priority. For service success today, having access to meaningful insights is just as important for a field technician as having their toolbox or the correct spare part. 

Knowledge management is often discussed with three types of knowledge in mind: tacit, implicit, and explicit. While most organizations have strong documentation of explicit knowledge and processes for distributing it through training, manuals, etc., we need to consider how well (if at all) we are capturing and making usable the implicit and tacit knowledge of the frontline workforce. 

Automate Knowledge Capture

At the event, numerous attendees shared frustrations around getting the frontline workers to agree to document their insights or “offload” their knowledge in some way. And I don’t blame them! It’s cumbersome for an employee with years of experience and countless interactions that have culminated in that tacit knowledge to try and distill it down into some sort of manifesto. 

If we realize the imperative to improve knowledge management, we then need to consider the best approach. As much as possible, we need to find ways to capture and leverage knowledge as it is being organically used and shared among the workforce – this reduces the burden on any one individual to spend (non-productive) time documenting or downloading. You likely already have technology in place that you could be deriving these insights from, such as:

  • Your field service management solution
  • Augmented reality or video collaboration tools
  • Help desk interactions
  • Many others!

Before you ask an employee to spend time documenting or sharing their insights, be sure you are embedding the wisdom already being shared within your organization. You may have areas where you find you have gaps to fill, and then you can get creative about gleaning additional insights from some of your most experienced technicians. 

This is one of the examples of AI use that makes me chuckle at those who say, “one day, AI will take the jobs of the field technicians!” Doubtful, particularly when many companies aren’t even putting to good use AI to make accessible some of their knowledge. We have a long way to go! But knowledge management is a perfect example of where AI can play a practical and very impactful role within field service – an area that you need to be putting a concerted effort into mastering. 

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December 5, 2022 | 3 Mins Read

A Field Service Battle Cry: Stop Reacting to Change, Start Driving It

December 5, 2022 | 3 Mins Read

A Field Service Battle Cry: Stop Reacting to Change, Start Driving It

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

At Field Service Europe in Amsterdam last week, Jean-Claude Jobard, VP EMEA at Marmon Link, gave one of the most impassioned keynotes I remember listening to. He stated in his introduction, “I love service. Service is my life – I’ve been in this industry for 36 years.” As someone who is also quite emotionally connected to my work, his genuine statement really resonated with me and I believe with many others in the room, too. 

Jean-Claude went on to talk about his belief that service has no limits – but that there are ways companies are limiting themselves. He began by discussing some of the change that has occurred since March 2020 – recapping of course Covid, but also Supply Chain disruption, mass exits in the job market, inflation and economic turbulence, the energy crisis, and even war. You may be thinking, wow – what a depressing speech! But it wasn’t. Jean-Claude was quick to point out how crisis has made service stronger. 

This is where his excitement for the potential that exists in service comes in – and that excitement is contagious. It’s really cool to see a leader who, even after 36 years in their industry, is so bullish on the amount of opportunity that is on the horizon. Jean-Claude isn’t dissuaded by the idea of change; he’s emboldened by it. And that was really the crux of this keynote – it was a battle cry of sorts for service leaders to stop reacting to change or resisting change and begin embracing and driving it. 

It’s Time to Hit the Gas on Areas of Service Opportunity

Jean-Claude went on to discuss some of the areas of service that, on the surface, have changed since Covid began. But the question he begged is, “what has really changed?” In his view, not as much as we like to think. The areas many point to as having gained traction, he feels, are more of a reactionary change than an intentional, and therefore longer-lasting, change. Here are some of the areas Jean-Claude reflected on to consider how much opportunity remains for those willing to take the initiative:

  • Remote Service. “We saw an uptick in use of remote support when Covid hit, but use eased when travel began again,” says Jean-Claude. “Its use has increased, but it isn’t embedded yet and this is an area we need to push because there’s immense potential.”
  • Advanced Services. “I don’t think there’s been a significant change here – companies on the journey continue the journey,” he says. “But we know that delivering outcomes and sharing risk is important to customers, especially in times of uncertainty. We 
  • Resources. “Has it ever been easy to find field service resources?” Jean-Claude asks. “No. If you look at job descriptions from 20 years ago, are they different? How are we making this industry attractive to new hires? Today’s FSEs are more Customer Service Engineers. We complain, but we really need to change how we market, treat, and reward these jobs. We should also be examining the possibilities that exist to share resources among companies. Why not?”
  • Sustainability. “There has been no significant change here overall,” says Jean-Claude. “We’re still sending technicians all over the world, we’re not helping customers reduce energy consumption. Remote capabilities play a huge role here, and so does reducing energy consumption, remanufacturing, and recycling.”

As Jean-Claude said at one point, “We’ve learned that what we thought to be impossible in March 2020 is possible now.” Rather than ignoring that knowledge in favor of complacency, Jean-Claude’s message is to become excited about what we’ve proven we can do and harness that excitement into forward momentum. Service has no limits, except for those who choose to sit still. 

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November 28, 2022 | 7 Mins Read

5 Levers for Achieving Service Excellence and Standout Customer Experiences

November 28, 2022 | 7 Mins Read

5 Levers for Achieving Service Excellence and Standout Customer Experiences

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

We know that delivering excellence in the moment of service is crucial in achieving customer satisfaction, but what exactly goes into making the most of those moments? Honestly, quite a lot. Today’s customer expectations are no small feat to deliver – they want seamlessness, simplicity, personality, reliability, peace of mind and much more. 

To stay focused on achieving service excellence and delivering a standout customer experience, it’s important to think both about how you can make incremental improvements but also how your service value proposition will need to evolve to keep pace. I’d suggest you focus in on these five levers, because they represent some of the biggest areas of opportunity for customers looking to differentiate through service. 

Lever #1: You MUST Master the Basics

If standout service is your goal, you must run before you walk. There’s no shortcut past mastering the basics of service excellence. Today’s customers won’t tolerate long appointment windows, late arrivals, and repeat visits. They expect far more from their service providers, yet many companies have yet to master the basics – and often this is because they’re trying to rush ahead to more advanced transformation without first setting a strong foundation.

Begin by ensuring you’re fully leveraging your service management solution to capture accurate data, arm field technicians with all the knowledge they need on site, dynamically schedule and route your workforce to maximize utilization, execute on-time arrivals, and increase first-time fix. Ensuring you have nailed the basics prevents you from making customer missteps that are unacceptable in today’s service climate, but also sets you up to add more sophisticated layers of capability successfully

In a session from the Future of Field Service Live Tour in Stockholm, Berit Hallgren, Program Director at Tetra Pak shared, “We have a clear vision where we want to go, but we need to do that in a step wise journey, always putting the customer and employees first. We went a bit wrong 10 years back, it was all about the ‘cool’ stuff, but what will you do with the cool technology if the backend isn’t working? And that’s exactly what happened. The transformation we’re doing now is really to get the foundation in place for the future and then we can build on that.”

Lever #2: Respect the Correlation Between Employee Engagement and CX

I saw Elizabeth Dixon of Chic Fil A present at the Service Council Symposium in September, and I really appreciated this quote from her session: “Your Customer Experience is the overflow of your Employee Experience – it will never be better than the experience your teams have working for your company,” she said. 

The field technician of yesteryear and the field technician of today are very different. Today, your frontline workforce is the face of your brand. They are the ones you’re relying – depending – on to execute your customer experience vision. Are they engaged? Satisfied? Companies who are getting it right have realized that we must ensure our workforce is satisfied if we aim to deliver a competitive CX. 

There are many contributing factors that go into employee engagement. Technology is one – if it is cumbersome, viewed as a draw on their time versus the enabler it should be, engagement will suffer. Employees appreciate having a voice in what tools are selected and how they are used – and they often have insights that benefit not only their end experience, but the company’s initiatives. 

But this lever goes far beyond technology use to more deeply rooted and often philosophical company and leadership elements. Everything from company culture to management style to communication methods to recognition and appreciation factor in. As the field service workforce continues to change, and companies quite universally struggle to recruit talent at the pace they need to, putting ample emphasis on all of these elements of employee engagement is an absolute imperative. 

Lever #3: Focusing on Outside-In Innovation

If you’ve ever felt like your organization is beholden to its legacy, you aren’t alone. It isn’t uncommon to get stuck inside the box – sometimes habits, processes, and even assumptions can get in the way of a truly stellar CX. Even with the best of intentions, if we assume we already know what our customers want and need, we may miss the mark. Outside-in innovation is really important in delivering customer satisfaction, not only today but into the future. 

Let’s look at four factors to keep in mind about innovation:

  1. It must be clearly defined within your organization so everyone is working toward the same objective 
  2. Service innovation often means business transformation when what’s changing in service impacts the value proposition, go-to-market strategy, or revenue model
  3. Companies too often narrow their view of what’s possible – look outside of your own industry and remove restrictions on creative thinking
  4. Customers, not your company, define value – and today’s customers value outcomes

While you should innovate outside-in, you must also innovate inside to keep pace with what’s demanded. Many customers today value outcomes more than they do individual products or services. Delivering outcomes is an evolution that depends on not only customer intimacy, but infrastructure. 

Take, for example Rema Tip Top who is migrating to outcomes based on the needs of its customers. As Thomas Moser, Head of Product Management for Digital Solutions points out, companies often cannot meet the modern demands of customers, like delivering outcomes, without investing in technology that enables new capabilities. 

“The functionality of the IFS platform is what allows us to execute on our claim to keep our customers’ systems up and running. Further, it allows us to maximize the efficiency of our service delivery through the intelligence and automation build into the system,” says Thomas. “We can’t accomplish this evolution by selling service packages and offering manpower, because with manpower alone is far too expensive to meet outcomes. By monitoring the condition of our customers systems and then using the intelligence and optimization within IFS when manpower is needed, the value proposition of outcomes becomes achievable.”

What each of your customers wants and needs from you, and how you’ll get to delivering it, is different – but the need to innovate with their perspective at the forefront is universal. 

Lever #4: Focus on (Truly) Becoming a Trusted Advisor

To this dismay of many a marketing organization, “Trusted Advisor” isn’t a status you can simply claim – it is a reputation you earn with your customers. If you think about building up to that status with your customers, the first concept that should come to mind is – you guessed it! – trust. 

But what does it take to build trust?

For some external perspective, PwC reported in its Trust in Business Survey what respondents said were the top drivers of trust in company (asked of both employees and consumers). The top responses were:

  • Accountable to customers and employees – 50%
  • Clear communications – 48%
  • Admits to mistakes – 40%
  • Delivers consistent customer experience – 39%
  • Appropriate employee compensation – 32%

To deliver that consistent customer experience, it takes intimate knowledge of their business, the ability to collect and analyze data that is relevant to their business AND the expertise to translate that analysis into simple, actionable insights they can benefit from. It also takes trust. 

For many of our customers, achieving trusted advisor status is the next level of innovation they are focused on beyond delivering outcomes. Having that foundational, single source of truth plus customer intimacy and deep knowledge of desired outcomes sets companies up to consider what insights they can provide that will progress them to be viewed as a trusted advisor by their customers. 

As Klaus Glatz, Chief Digital Officer of ANDRITZ states, the role of the frontline is imperative – and so is arming them with technology that enables them to act in the trusted advisor role. “Field service is key in our mission to expand and build upon our service offerings. Downtime wreaks havoc on our customers, and better managing our service operations is critical in minimizing and preventing that downtime,” he says. “Furthermore, equipping our frontline workforce with more sophisticated technology allows them to take on more services responsibility, create greater trust among customers, and act as a business advisor.”

Lever #5: Master Continuous Change

Jack Welch said, “When the rate of external change exceeds the rate of internal change, the end is near.” It can be overwhelming, but change isn’t slowing – we must learn to keep pace.

Companies who excel are embracing this fact. They are learning how to manage change more adeptly within their organization and with their frontline and are working to create a culture where change feels like a shared experience versus a directive. They are creating more agile processes around strategy setting and decision-making and they are using today’s technological capabilities to remain informed, to leverage automation, and to assess opportunities for growth. 

Mike Gosling of Cubic Transportation, who has helped lead the company in the transformation from break-fix to outcomes-based service, has a great outlook on continuous improvement. “This journey is one of continual improvement. If you pop the champagne and put your feet up as soon as you hit your success criteria, you’ll fall back below quickly. When you master one area, you keep watch of it and move on to another,” he says. “You constantly assess where you are and where you’re going next, and out of this process is where the new innovative ideas are born. But you must be in a constant state of assessing and looking ahead.”

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November 21, 2022 | 4 Mins Read

Themes from Field Service Connect Austin

November 21, 2022 | 4 Mins Read

Themes from Field Service Connect Austin

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service 

My lucky streak of relatively smooth travel this year ended last week with my trip to Austin to attend Field Service Connect. Despite a delayed arrival, the event was enjoyable. This is one of WBR’s intentionally small sessions, which creates a lot of lively dialogue. I am sometimes asked if I ever bore of attending these events, and the dialogue is what allows me to answer that question with an honest “no.”

I know the mainstage topics by heart, that’s true. And there are times where I feel a deep urge to really shake things up, which I try to do in my own way. But the dialogue, the side conversations, the layers of detail are where I find the really interesting nuggets that keep me engaged, invested, and passionate about where this industry is headed. 

So, what stuck out from Field Service Connect? I had an opportunity to host a roundtable discussion on opportunities within service to drive sustainability and moderate a panel alongside Roy Dockery of Flock Safety, Haroon Abbu of Bell and Howell, and Curtis Novinger of P3 on what it takes for businesses to create a digitally focused identity. 

Driving More Sustainable Service 

The sustainability discussion raised some good points of consideration. Participants mostly reported their organizations as having a “medium” level of focus on sustainability, but all agreed that the level of focus will inevitably need to increase in the next few years. Some of the top-of-mind topics for those who participated included:

  • That while environmental initiatives are getting more attention, they haven’t yet begun to factor into decision making 
  • Putting practices in place to measure and track environmental impact – only two of thirteen companies participating do so currently
  • Awareness of looming changes in policy and regulatory pressures. The US lags behind Europe in how sustainability is being measured and improvements driven, but nearly everyone expects that will come soon
  • How to lower waste and improve recycling, reuse, and remanufacturing
  • What role remote service can play in alleviating unnecessary travel and reducing carbon footprint – and the challenges of adoption, customer acceptance, and how to monetize remote service vs. traditional break-fix
  • How Servitization lends itself to more sustainable product and service practices
  • Greening of fleets – discussion around how practical the use of electric vehicles currently is for commercial fleets in terms of availability, cost, infrastructure to support, and practicalities of how employees would access and use 

Overcoming the Burden of Digital Debt

During our panel discussion, we focused a lot of the discussion around a metric that Curtis had shared in his morning presentation from McKinsey stating that 70% of digital transformation efforts fail. In considering why this is and how to combat common missteps, we talked first about how investment decisions within the businesses are made. While most decisions are driven by either an opportunity to reduce cost or increase revenue, there’s a category of investments that need to be made of necessity and/or disruption. 

This brought up the topic of digital debt, where Roy shared that at Flock Safety, they have an issue of having almost too many tools in use, some of which aren’t effective. Taking the time, and spending the money, to streamline, improve, and re-introduce technology is something companies often don’t do because they see those dollars as already spent and a thing of the past. While that’s true, if your existing systems aren’t effective and driving value, you cannot simply forge ahead or layer new things on top – you must face the burden of that digital debt and do the work of creating an effective digital stack. 

We also talked about the role of leadership in driving success with Digital Transformation and other forms of innovation. Haroon spoke about the importance of having leadership who is technology adept, but not to the point of being too technically “in the weeds,” who also deeply understands the business and it’s needs to work on creating a true digital strategy and roadmap as well as owning much of the process and continual improvement. Businesses who are investing in leaders to drive innovation, versus expecting leaders with responsibility for the day-to-day business to also find time to innovate, seem to be much further ahead. This also helps in breaking down siloes, which is one of the most common reasons digital transformation efforts fail. 

These were just two of many excellent topics discussed at the event. Sessions around AI, augmented reality, As-a-Service, attracting talent, company culture and people centricity, effective communication and much more rounded out the agenda and gave today’s service leaders an opportunity to share what they’re learning, working toward, and struggling with. 

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November 14, 2022 | 5 Mins Read

Reflecting on the State of Service in 2022 to Plan for 2023

November 14, 2022 | 5 Mins Read

Reflecting on the State of Service in 2022 to Plan for 2023

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

IFS recently published its State of Service 2022 Global Report, which surveyed 400 CIOs, COOs, VPs, and Directors of Operations, Field Service, Digital Transformation, and Information Technology across Manufacturing, Service Provider, Telecommunications, and Utility Organizations in 24 countries. I had the opportunity last week to reflect on some of the State of Service 2022 report findings on a live webinar with WBR, but I also wanted to share with you here some of the points that stood out to me most. 

The first point is how respondents describe the top competitive differentiators in service. Companies across industries have recognized that service has a powerful impact not only on customer satisfaction but also competitive differentiation. What did respondents feel contributed most to their competitive differentiation, though? Companies reported that technological superiority has become a deciding factor (29%), followed by CX (26%) and operational excellence (18%). 

What’s perhaps most interesting here is that the last time this same question was asked, in 2018, technological superiority was ranked fourth – and it’s now first. We know that when well-embedded and adopted, today’s technologies help companies master both operational excellence and CX. It has an immense impact on both of those points, which is why I think its capabilities as a differentiator are ranked first in responses. 

These areas of technology superiority, operational excellence and CX are all intersected – and it would be highly unlikely for a company to be strong in one area without being strong in the others. Companies are learning that technology-enabled service delivery is key to meeting today’s customer expectations, which include the operational excellence that leads to on-time arrivals, first-time fix, and knowledgeable frontline workers. 

The Top 5 Issues Facing Service Organizations Today

So, what stands in the way of companies achieving competitive differentiation? According to survey respondents, here are the top five issues facing service organizations today:

  1. 46% struggle to meet customer SLAs
  2. 40% are struggling with a lack of skilled workers
  3. 37% struggle with change management
  4. 37% are dealing with outdated or insufficient service management technology
  5. 29% are grappling with how to create as-a-service offerings

How do you relate to this list? Maybe you feel some solidarity. 

There are a number of factors to consider in solving each of these challenges, but since this is an IFS study let’s stay on the technology topic for the moment. No, technology can’t singlehandedly solve each of those challenges, but it certainly plays an important role. If you take, for example, IFS’s Planning & Scheduling Optimization solution, it directly impacts three of these five top challenges – by maximizing efficiency, it helps combat the skills gap by maximizing utilization of the existing workforce. With its self-learning and dynamic scheduling capabilities, it considers a wealth of criteria to ensure you meet customer SLAs by eliminating unnecessary travel, increasing first-time fix, and leveraging automation. 

And for companies like Cubic Transportation Systems, tools like IFS Planning & Scheduling Optimization are setting the stage for the creation of new service offerings. You can read here about how Cubic has successfully migrated to delivering outcomes-based service. 

Upcoming Areas of Technology Investment 

The challenges companies are facing are reinforced when looking at the top areas of focus when it comes to technology investments across respondents: 

  1. Remote Assistance Using Augmented/Virtual/Merged Reality
  2. Wearables
  3. Knowledge Management
  4. Simulations
  5. Scheduling Automation & Optimization 

Personally, I’m really excited to explore more the potential that Remote Assistance/Augmented Reality brings when it comes to the challenge of recruiting talent. Not only can the technology have a significant impact on how companies train new employees and offer them expert support on the job to speed time to value, but I believe in the coming years we’ll see significant development in remote service as a first response, reducing the burden on the frontline and eliminating unnecessary on-site visits. 

Roel Rentmeesters, VP of Digital Transformation at Munters, describes the potential of remote service well, “When you want to reduce downtime, you cannot permit yourself to send a technician who goes on site, has to travel for two hours, does a diagnosis, comes back, orders a part, goes for a second time to fix it. You don’t have that luxury anymore,” he says. “Remote Assistance can help reduce downtime, because that technician that did one visit during the day, using remote technology can maybe serve 20 customers that day.” 

Top of Mind for 2023

So, based on where we are – where are we going? IFS asked survey respondents, ‘Over the next 12 months, which will be key areas of focus for your service business?’ and identified three clear top initiatives:

  1. Sustainability
  2. Updating Legacy Service Management Systems
  3. Leveraging Emerging Technology

I think numbers two and three are quite self-explanatory based on what we’ve already discussed – and the need is likely exacerbated by economic turbulence and a recognition of the improvements in efficiency and productivity that can come from a technology investment. 

In terms of sustainability, I am happy to see this was listed as number one. While there’s ample reason to put better emphasis on sustainability strictly for the sake of our environment, we’ve discussed on the podcast several other reasons companies need to be putting more thought into this area. There are regulatory pressures that are heightened already in some regions and will be ramping up in others, and there are also concerns around investment decisions – some investors are putting sustainability into their criteria. It’s also important to consider customer preferences and opinions – in many industries, customers are now demanding visibility into a company’s sustainability initiatives and choosing where to spend their money based – at least in part – on that insight. And finally, there does exist for some service organizations the ability to develop new offerings around sustainability to help your customers with their initiatives – creating a new potential revenue stream. 

There are plenty more interesting insights in the full State of Service 2022 report, which you can download here

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November 7, 2022 | 7 Mins Read

The W2 Vs. 1099 Field Workforce Conundrum: Addressing Struggles on Both Sides

November 7, 2022 | 7 Mins Read

The W2 Vs. 1099 Field Workforce Conundrum: Addressing Struggles on Both Sides

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

This week’s podcast is a really interesting one – I am talking firsthand with an IT service technician who is an independent contractor. There’s so much discussion and debate around what the service workforce should look like and how best to leverage W2 and/or 1099 workers to meet the needs of each company’s demands, but I’d never sat down with an independent contractor to ask some of the questions I believe our audience would want to understand:

  • What, if anything, would make you consider going back to a W2 role?
  • The #1 concern I hear about contract workers is protecting the employee experience – is this valid?
  • What steps do companies take in working with you that make your relationship with them most successful?

Tamika Fields, the independent contractor who specializes in IT services, happily answered those questions and more – giving her honest and thoughtful input. To hear all her answers and the deeper discussions we got into, you’ll have to tune in on Wednesday. But there are a few points that I want to discuss a bit here.

We Aren’t Giving Our W2 Workers What They Want

Recruiting and hiring full-time technicians is a major challenge across industries and geographies today. And while there are several reasons for this, it’s important to stay focused on how to control what you can to get the best results possible given all circumstances. With that said, I think the issue is that companies know the needs and desires of today’s workforce are different than those of the incumbent workers, but many (probably most) aren’t taking action to change to better deliver today’s wants.

I asked Tamika, is there anything that would entice you to go back to a W2 role?

She said, “I know there are some things that are beneficial when you have W2 employment, but the only thing that really would make me reconsider a full time employment role would be if I was in a position where the organization allowed me to have the exact same growth opportunities, flexibility, and autonomy to get the job done with an efficient manner in the standard of the white glove service that I provide irrespective of office politics, which is virtually impossible. I've only had that as an independent contractor.”

There are some key words here that stand out immediately to me, but I wanted to understand a bit better, so I asked Tamika about what some of those “office politics” feel like or prohibit.
She shares, “I find myself to be more proactive when I'm working 1099. I'm focused on the process and improvement. I do that anyway, but there's so many things that limit that in a W2 role because there's so many steps and approvals and people who don't see what's really happening and what really would change things and scale things to what they actually need. They see things on papers, it's abstracted, it's not tangible. They're not dealing with the forward-facing aspect of it, nor are they dealing with the actual infrastructure and what it is that they're doing or trying to do based on the industry that they're in.”

Tamika also identifies herself within our conversation as a creative (which I love). So, if we begin to break this down a bit, there are some core concepts that I believe many of today’s workers want that most of today’s service organizations aren’t finding ways to deliver:

  • Flexibility. Yes, I realize it can be challenging to provide flexibility in the sense we often think of it (work from home, flexible hours, etc.) given the need for service organizations to react adeptly to customer needs – especially so in some industries where SLAs are tight and responses urgent. However, I do believe that if companies were to force themselves to become more creative, they would find a way to delivery some flexibility.
  • Autonomy. Today’s workforce – OK, basically everyone – doesn’t want to be micromanaged. Sure, you are working hard to protect efficiency and to improve the CX, but you have to build trust with your employees that gives them some freedom to do what you need them to do in a way that feels right for them, because no one wants to feel they have no control over how they do their jobs.
  • Voice. When Tamika brings up how far away some decision makers are from what’s really happening on the frontlines, she’s emphasizing the incredible knowledge your field workers hold. By not giving them an opportunity to share what they are learning in their customer interactions – what problems or opportunities they see – or, even worse, giving them the voice to weigh in but then not listening, you are essentially saying you don’t respect the knowledge they have. Not only does this kill employee engagement, but it prohibits you from benefiting from really smart individuals who are having a higher volume of firsthand customer interactions that many others in your company (probably including you).
  • The ability to contribute to innovation. A creative like Tamika has keen observations, strong ideas, and a drive to implement improvements. But she doesn’t feel like in a W2 role, she’s able to contribute to change or innovation within the business because of all the “politics.” We need to work on creating a culture of creativity, collaboration, and innovation that allows those who incline toward these characteristics to have an outlet so that their ideas are channeled toward positive improvements instead of into frustration.
  • Empowerment. Tamika likes feeling she can take pride in what she refers to as her “white glove” service, and this is because she’s able to make it her own. When your employees feel empowered to be themselves, to bring their personality to what they do, to make (reasonable) decisions on their own, they give more of the CX you’re looking for them to give.
  • Growth. As Tamika says, she feels she has more growth opportunity as an independent contractor than she would in a W2 role. This is probably because most companies haven’t modernized the trajectory of their frontline roles to be in line with what many of today’s employees want – opportunity to progress. A worker who comes in with initiative and drive but is entering a system where they are expected to be at the same level of work for five, 10, 15 years likely won’t stay long. We need to evolve to providing growth opportunities within our own businesses rather than strong talent needing to go elsewhere to achieve their aspirations.

We Aren’t Giving Our 1099 Workers What They Need

Ok, so we can take from Tamika’s input some valuable perspective about why a worker who is often approached to take a full-time role after she provides contract service emphatically says, “No, thank you.” But what did Tamika share about what we can do better in working with independent contractors?

We discussed a few different points, but the one I’ll share here is around the #1 concern companies have when deciding to use contract technicians: that it will negatively impact CX. I asked Tamika her thoughts on whether this concern is valid.

“We are the unintentional mascots for any organization,” she says. “I've worked for hospitals, nonprofits, schools, government agencies, contracts, subcontracts, security teams. You name it, I've done it. And you are the person the customer remembers, you are the face, so yes, it is a valid concern.”

While she agrees it is a valid concern, she goes on to explain that it is one that really isn’t too hard to address – companies simply don’t often do the work. We aren’t investing the effort to set our contract workers up for success.

“If you have a professional who's adept and at a certain level in the industry, there's a level of embedded communication skills and decorum just by virtue of being in the industry at that level,” she explains. “So, then you have to think in terms of whoever the HR person is or whoever the temp employee services person is that are bringing these people on and onboarding them. Are you sharing the expectations? If you have time for people to sign NDAs, you have time to have them sit down and even just have a meeting, like, "This is our company, this is our vision. We know this is a short project, short turnaround, but you represent us at all phases, and these are our mission statements. This is what we bring to the table. Our customers are used to this expectation. This is our standard operating procedures."

It sounds simple, right? According to Tamika, it is a simple step often overlooked or skipped. “It’s a 15-to-45-minute moment of communication. Bring everybody in, make space for that, lay it all out, have them repeat it back to you. Maybe add another 30 minutes to role play, and then you're done,” she says. “So, what have you invested? Maybe an hour and a half of somebody in HR and communications time to do that with a contractor. But most people don't think that way. It's not even the fact that they don't have the skills and resources available, they don't think about it. They're just like, ‘Well, we only want people who already know, who are already working here.’ You've got people working there 10, 15, 13 years who don't even understand the vision and the brand of the company, who could care less. That's just a fact.”

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