The Right Field Service Workforce: Technology meets Human Capital
Guest post: Sumair Dutta, Research Director, Service Management, Aberdeen Group
Aberdeen research has often highlighted the importance of technology in empowering field service agents. In 2012, our field service research series (Workforce management in January and Mobile in June) talked about the role of scheduling and planning solutions in selecting the right technician for a service task and then the value of mobile technology in providing those technicians with the right information to get their service work done. In most instances, the information is tied to customer information, service history, resolution best practices, and work order/task administrative data.
In determining the right service worker, and the right field service workforce, our research has also pointed to the trend of increased collaboration between service and human resources in hiring, training, retention, compensation, and engagement practices, ideas that weren’t applied to service workers in the past. In fact, our past two Chief Service Officer (CSO) Summits have featured presentations from organizations such as Pitney Bowes and Avnet on the role of employee engagement in improving field service and customer service performance. Why is this important in field service? Well, only because in industries such as industrial manufacturing, medical devices, utilities and telecommunication (particularly on the B2B scale), field engineers or technicians are the truly handful of employees who end up actually meeting with and engaging with customers after the sale. In the case of the industries mentioned above, our research shows that 58% of all incoming requests eventually involve a field technician visit, making these agents the representatives of the organization’s brand and identity (in addition to the CSRs and service appointment schedulers). What happens in the field, in addition to the eventual resolution of the service issue is extremely vital in the maintenance and building of the customer relationship. While not a high number, 27% of field organizations polled indicate that customer preference for a technician is a major factor leveraged in scheduling service agents, inferring that organizations are sometimes forced to ensure that the preferred agent makes the service visit even though another agent might be closer or more available.
Therefore, we aren’t surprised to see an increasing amount of attention being paid to service-human capital collaboration to hone in on improved hiring, training, compensation and other practices to develop brand ambassadors, disguised as field service technicians. It is important to note that mobile technology continues to play a central role in each of the following areas:
Engagement – In January 2012’s State of Service Management report, leading organizations indicated that workforce engagement was ‘very important’ (4.1 on a 1-5 scale of importance,1 being not important at all and 5 being extremely important) in raising customer service, and 78% of these organizations were looking to adopt practices to improve engagement in 2012. For this, these leading organizations were prioritizing
- Improved access to self-service information for their field agents,
- Defined career paths for customer service and field service agents
- Increased visibility into organizational performance goals, progress towards goals and the technician impact of these goals.
Hiring – In Field Service 2012: the Right Technician, responding organizations assessed their ability to find and hire the desired field agents at an average 3.3 (1-5 scale of importance,1 being not important at all, 5 being extremely important). Of more interest was the fact that these organizations weren’t just looking at technical expertise or professional accreditation or past experience in their hiring profiles. These organizations were prioritizing customer interaction skills and experience in their hiring strategies, to ensure that field technicians just didn’t resolve customer issues, but were able to exceed customer expectation and enhance the service experience. Of note, the Best-in-Class placed a slightly higher level of importance on sales skills (2.6 vs. 2.3 for all other organizations), thereby considering the abilities of their field service agents to recommend additional solutions to their customers based on service history, customer need, or more. While in the field, leading organizations were much more likely than all others to provide their field agents with up-sell or cross-sell recommendations in order to enhance customer value and drive revenue streams. These recommendations are provided via their mobile field service applications.
Training – While most field organizations combine classroom with on-the-job training, as per our Field Service 2012 research survey, the tools to deliver training materials are changing. 50% of organizations indicate that they use videos (online streaming or downloadable) that can be accessed via a mobile device. Nearly a quarter are also sampling with the use collaborative community-based learning sites across knowledge forums or social media channels. In an attempt to connect field technicians with one another in order to boost field service resolution, 40% of organizations are also looking to increase the ability for service technicians to communicate with one another over collaborative channels
Compensation – In field service, leading organizations are 13% more likely (59% vs. 52%) than all others to provide variable performance-based compensation to field service workers. The Best-in-Class not only tie variable compensation to individual productivity (49% vs. 38% for all others), but also align compensation with team-based productivity (39% vs. 33% for others), customer satisfaction (39% vs. 26%) and profitability metrics (37% vs. 28% for all others). Field service agents are also compensated for additional leads and closed business that they funnel in to sales as a result of their conversations, discussions and observations on customer sites. As a result, technicians are encouraged to drive their own production numbers, enhance the customer experience and improve the service organization’s overall performance.
Knowledge Retention – Of organization’s polled in 2012’s field service research, 44% indicated that they were concerned about the loss of knowledge from a retiring workforce. Given that the average age of technicians was approximately 36 years, knowledge attrition due to retirement wasn’t a big factor or challenge to the business, at least yet. For those teams where the average technician age was 50+, 80% of organizations were sweating knowledge loss. For these organizations, the top steps prioritized to retain service knowledge were –
- Invest in knowledge management systems or tools
- Provide workers with mobile tools to record service resolution practices
- Formalize mentoring and/or coaching programs to facilitate knowledge transfer
All of this leads to the fact that Best-in-Class field service workforce management is more than just improved scheduling or increased access to information. Those form vital elements in an entire spectrum that encompasses the understanding of current workforce shortfalls (quantity and skill), the hiring of the right workers, the provision of the necessary tools and training, the planning of desired labor levels, the execution of optimal schedules (for your organization), the provision of necessary tools and information, the alignment of necessary compensation practices, and the retention and sharing of service knowledge.
For further access to Aberdeen’s field service research, please visit:
Aberdeen’s 7th Annual CSO Summit will feature sessions on the use of data to pick the right service team. To learn more and to register for the event, please visit: www.chiefserviceofficer.com