Field service must step up its game in 2018. Over the last few years, it seems like we’ve been discussing the same topics and not quite finding a worthy set of solutions. Last year, the key challenges were heightened customer expectations and the turnover associated with retiring service workers. My colleague, Sumair Dutta, wrote a great piece last year laying the framework for how service leaders can prepare their businesses to bring in new blood and to meet heightened customer expectations (here and here). So, with those issues solved, I think the service leader needs to prepare for these headwinds which will be in front of them in 2018.
Headwind 1 – Competition for talent
When you think of competition, you wouldn’t be wrong to first think about the ability to sell more products or equipment than your peers. But in 2018, we need to expand the role competition plays in our sustainability and success, field service leaders must now compete over finding, hiring, and keeping the service worker. A workforce and talent shortage was listed by half of the field service leaders we sampled in early results (Participate and weigh in).
Solving this challenge shouldn’t solely come down to paying higher wages, as pay alone isn’t a long-term strategy. The key is truly investing in your team and their individual success. Providing paths for career growth, offering training and certifications on the latest procedures and tools, and staying in tune with the voice of the employee are all ways to show the current workforce and those evaluating you as a place of future employment you are a fit. A well-rounded strategy around workforce development and continuous learning will not only help hold on to current workers but it is also a key factor to attract the next wave of workers and the millennial technician. Service leaders need to prepare to not only hold on to their valued employees but also attract new ones.
Headwind 2 – Losing good and tenured employees with no or little notice
Do you know who your best performers are? Do you know which technicians plan to retire next year or the year after? Too often service leaders primarily use the wealth of data points at their fingertips to manage current resources or problems, but not to consider the future. Most of us fall prey to putting out the fire of the day, not long-range planning activities. But as the crunch for workers, and more importantly high performing workers, becomes more cutthroat, service leaders need to take a closer look at worker performance and what makes a good technician or engineer. Service leaders need to evaluate which technicians have strong relationships with customers, which engineers quickly adapt to changes in the work environment, and which ones welcome interactions with customers that go beyond just fixing things and moving on. With this level of intelligence, service leaders can target employees that have strong relationships and are planning to leave, and allow those that want to continue working be retained in other capacities (i.e., remote expert). As the cost of living and life expectancies rise, we shouldn’t miss an opportunity to extend a bit of flexibility to an aging workforce to keep them on for another year or two, thus lessening the blow of them leaving the field.
Headwind 3 – Patchwork IT strategy shows cracks
The top challenge facing half of the field service leaders (51%) who have participated in our 2018 trends research was the inability to integrate data from the field with enterprise solutions. These leaders also point to an insufficient IT infrastructure to support the needs of the service team resulting in cobbled together solutions that aren’t ready to support today’s digital reality. What is needed is a true digital strategy which can scale with a growing team, with the introduction of more complex equipment, or meet the needs of an expanding network. The likes of artificial intelligence and augmented reality cannot truly be enjoyed by field service without a cohesive digital strategy.
Piecing solutions together causes breakdowns in data flows as more people across the organization use and need data. Field service leaders need to work with leaders from other functions and the IT team to create a unified technology strategy which solves the problem of the day and scales with the company’s growth.
Headwind 4 – Resistance to innovation
“This is the way we’ve always done it”, needs to become an outdated mantra for field service organizations. As customer expectations for service evolves, the service organization will need to find new ways to deliver value. Just showing up on time is no longer good enough. Also, primarily having technicians who want to just fix things and not interact with the customer in a conversation is no longer acceptable. So, to navigate this changing environment, field service leaders and their teams need to embrace change and innovation. This doesn’t have to be scary, but it will take buy-in and education around why it is necessary to think and act differently both on the front line and in service leadership. Change is tough, but the alternative will be worse in 2018 as the stakes continue to rise.
Headwind 5 – Customers (still) want more for less
This isn’t a new challenge, but it’s becoming more of a critical concern. The change is customers have (more) options, something they haven’t always had. In many industries, technology has opened up markets and suppliers that previously were inaccessible. Also, the revenue opportunity in service has led to entrants into the market to capture their perceived fair share. With added competition, the customer can pick and choose who gets their business, putting downward pressure on price. Those who aren’t able to offer varying levels of value (at varying prices) are forced to offer the same premium service at a reduced price. This pressure on margins impacts leader’s ability to make investments and add resources, making it even more important that the right decisions are made. To navigate this difficult relationship, service leaders need to leverage the data and tools at their disposal to make smarter decisions and deliver a heightened experience that customers are willing to pay for. Differentiation through the field experience will be key in 2018, as customers may be more open to paying for relationships and resolution.
2018 has a lot in store for field service leaders. The successful leader will be the ones that can navigate or at least create a plan on how to deal with the headwinds that are on the horizon. Failure to tackle these approaching tests will be difficult to recover from. To learn how some of your peers, and field service Champions, are tackling these and other challenges, participate in our 2018 trends research (survey). Also, we are holding a webcast on Wednesday, January 31 where I will share some findings and moderate a panel of field service leaders. Register to learn, share, and challenge the trends facing the field service leader.