By Bruce Breeden, President, Field Service Resources, LLC
I firmly believe personal success, fulfillment, and business results are clearly based on how we commit to being proactive on self-development. In my book, The Intentional Field Service Engineer, the 7th critical focus area for field service technicians, engineers, and most importantly managers is self-development. All functions of field service must be committed to self-development and continuing education to effectively adapt, perform, grow, and lead. Here are three areas of continuing education that are critical for field service organizations.
#1: Understanding Your Customer
Success in the field service industry begins with customer expectations, and the genesis of continuing education is to understand your customer as their needs and wants change. The customer’s processes, revenue models, and service expectations change rapidly. Service organizations that stay in tune with their customer processes are better able to recruit, develop their workforce, and provide service delivery structures and processes to meet these changing expectations. These service organizations also usually enjoy a more strategic relationship with their customers versus one that is solely price-sensitive.
A common practice to engage the strategic customer is to conduct alignment and value sessions to educate the service organization on their customer’s industry, value proposition, and core processes. This form of education, when ongoing, enables the service organization to adapt and continue to perform valuable services aligned to the pulse of the customer.
Another daily activity is to engage your field service technicians in soliciting customer feedback, as well as sharing their own insights based on what they are seeing and hearing from the field. Technicians are the closest to the customer will provide excellent input, are usually glad to be included, and embrace the need to educate and change.
Service management systems, telematics, intelligent dispatch, mobility, IoT, predictive analytics, time reporting/HRIS, expenses, drones, and embedded product programs are all common in today’s technology-driven field service operations. Technology is critical to operational success, the customer experience and value, and competitiveness. Continuing education helps lead to a clear and articulated common service vision for how technology will be used in the organization. The need for innovation and the adoption new technologies and skills also drives the development of continuing education and self-development plans throughout the organization.
People can best relate and commit to development plans when they understand the company’s big-picture vision, as well as how their roles, processes, and technology will work together to achieve this vision. A best practice is to engage your employees with clear work objectives that include self-development and continuing education. Think about how you’ll support these desired outcomes with recognition and career advancement based on their development of new skills.
As leaders, we have the responsibility to ensure that the organization is engaged, learning, adapting, and improving the technology platforms that exist to drive value. How many systems do you have in place that are only partially utilized? Continuing education is the action to overcome fear and comfort. Sure, there will be failures, but we all know failure is a necessary element of success. Fear is normally our biggest obstacle and taking action by building a culture of continuous learning will overcome fear and stagnation.
Every organization also needs to have a group of “explorers” so to speak that constantly troll the service industry and technology suppliers for new technology options. I personally like having a rotating business process and technology team that is tasked with introducing process improvement and technology solutions. This structure provides accountability and a platform for innovation, and supports the customer-focused organization vision. Often so-called “skunk works” projects uncover yet further ideas based on the non-formal structure and overcome internal barriers to innovate and improve.
Reading trade journals, with real-life business case reports, as well as attending field service conferences with the associated speakers and networking groups are necessary external influences that should be constant. Frankly just getting away from our daily environments to be able to see new or different technologies in action is another good practice. One of my favorite ways to explore innovative ideas is simply being a consumer and seeing the B2C type technology in use. I find B2C leads B2B applications because they are interfacing with the general public and focus heavily on the customer experience.
Finally, there is enormous value in technology supplier partnerships that bring best practices and other experiences to my company. These partnerships introduce technology solutions that I would not have otherwise known through their application specialists and business segment leaders.
Above all else, leaders must continue their education and through projects, benchmarking, courses, technology exploration, and cross-functional work, set a high performance bar in order to add value to their role.
I encourage you to follow Steve Jobs on leadership. In his famous “bozo” interview, he told of his Apple experiences with hiring professional managers and their lack of leadership. My favorite is his statement that top performers need to be able to learn from their leader. I don’t think he meant in a specific technical discipline but in general. We recognize the need to attract, develop, and retain top performers, and the quality of leadership is of the ultimate importance in doing so.
Leadership quality is built by action as well as commitment to continuing education in the industry — about their customers, their specific skills, and above all, to be able to articulate a common vision and engage their organization in the activities to achieve that vision. If a leader is stagnant, the entire enterprise slows down, experiences high turnover of top performers, and is less engaged with strategic customers.
I personally draw energy from leaders and role models that know how to address their strengths and weaknesses and who are committed to learning and adapting.
There is a system for leadership that starts with a common vision, clear objectives and measures, and is grounded by a system of self-development and continuing education. This system of learning creates innovation, high performance, and the ability to adapt for the changing business landscape.
Bruce Breeden is the author of the Intentional Field Service Engineer, speaker and creator of the Field Service7℠ service development program. His company website is www.fieldserviceresources.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org