The battle for field service talent is heating up.
As thousands of aging field service workers across dozens of industries retire each year, service organizations are struggling to fill their positions. As early as 2012, PricewaterhouseCoopers reported that over 30% of utilities workers were within five years of retirement.
In 2014, a Service Council study revealed that 70% of service organizations indicated loss of talent and knowledge as a major challenge, which is further evidence that this trend escalated in a few short years.
Today, customer expectations are higher than ever, and service organizations simply cannot afford to operate amidst a massive brain drain. If left unaddressed, this could have a vastly negative impact on service organizations, including:
- Customer satisfaction decreases with too many inexperienced techs in the field
- Training costs ballooning due to an increase in the amount of techs needing attention
- Profit decreasing as organizations pour even more resources into finding, training, and retaining top technical talent
But amidst this crisis, there’s great hope and opportunity in using knowledge management best practices. Top field service organizations are waking up to the fact that they must capture their aging tech’s brain power, and use this knowledge to train techs for decades to come. And time is running out.
According to Aberdeen, organizations that leverage knowledge management centers outperform those that do not by nearly 20% in service level agreement (SLA) compliance rates. They also have 14% higher first-time fix rates.
But wait a minute, what the heck is knowledge management?
John P. Girard, Ph.D, a speaker, writer, and award-winning professor defines knowledge management as:
"The process of creating, sharing, using and managing the knowledge and information of an organization."
More specifically for field service organizations, this includes creating a formal process, culture, and when relevant, adopting software that can help gather and spread aging field tech knowledge, including:
- Organizing service knowledge, distilling past expertise and presenting this information in a timely, relevant, accurate and simple manner to up-and-coming techs
- Getting the right information to the right field tech, at the right time
- Leveraging both tacit and explicit service knowledge in a systematic way
- Using all information delivered, whether customer or tech knowledge, to enable more informed service-based decision making
Not every organization will need to use software to achieve this. But larger service organizations may benefit from using a specific tool to ensure field tech knowledge is appropriately logged and passed down.
The Knowledge Center is Your Golden Ticket to Avoiding Brain Drain
Now that we understand what knowledge management means, let’s discuss how you can enable knowledge center best practices to ensure knowledge transfer takes place at your organization.
1. Build a centralized repository
Building out a centralized repository where management, techs, and dispatch can gain insights and best practices, will ensure valuable knowledge won’t walk out the door with retiring techs. This repository can take many forms, including something as simple as a spreadsheet or as complicated as a software as a service (SaaS) database. In any case, we recommend working with IT to ensure this repository is secure, and accessible to the right employees. Here are some things to consider including in this database:
- Training manuals
- How-to videos
- Step-by-step resolution advice
- Common mistakes that field techs can avoid
- Highly specific directions on how to manage parts, equipment, and more
- Best practices for interacting with customers
2. Invite experienced techs to participate in knowledge sharing
Experienced techs are in high demand. Give them a break from the grind by inviting them to participate in building your knowledge center. Consider setting up a structured environment where they can share parts knowledge, best practices, undocumented equipment quirks, route strategies, and more.
They’ll appreciate getting asked for advice, and get a well-deserved break from service activity.
3. Organize the knowledge center
Once you feel you have logged a sufficient amount of historical, tacit, and explicit knowledge in your central repository, it’s time to make your knowledge center user-friendly. If your knowledge center is simply a file folder of items, consider organizing it in one of the following ways:
By experience level
If your organization has field techs with varying degrees of experience, consider segmenting knowledge into folders for techs by experience level. For example, consider developing beginner, intermediate, and advanced service folders with tech knowledge for each.
By service type
Your organization likely focuses on a single vertical. But even within a single vertical there are a variety of service tasks to be performed. Organize folders and content based on the type of service being delivered. One method is to group content based on the brand or type of equipment being serviced, or the problem being addressed (e.g. heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) outage, HVAC parts replacement, HVAC installation).
By technician type
If technicians with varying skill work at your organization, consider grouping the content of your knowledge center in folders that will be applicable to specific types of technicians.
Finally, if you’re using a knowledge center software, or working in-depth with your IT department on building a custom database, consider implementing search functionality, or a forum of some kind. This will allow your techs to discover knowledge in the same fashion they would at home (e.g. search engines).
4. Evangelize the knowledge center
According to McKinsey, by using social technologies, companies can raise the productivity and knowledge of workers by 20 to 25 percent. Furthermore, Aberdeen reports that best-in-class field service organizations are 52% more likely to have invested in mobile tools that can provide techs better access to information in the field.
Just imagine for a minute what would happen if field service organizations embraced knowledge management best practices, filled these knowledge centers with insights from experienced techs, and empowered less experienced service reps with access to this knowledge while in the field.
The results would be significant, to say the least.
While the impact of knowledge management can’t be demonstrated overnight, field service organizations that find ways to funnel knowledge from most experienced techs to the least experienced stand to win big in the coming years.
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