Field Service Digital Transformation, and the critical Field Service Engineer Skills

Bruce Breeden, VP of Service Operations, Fairbanks
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Bruce Breeden, VP of Service Operations, Fairbanks

Bruce Breeden, VP of Service Operations, Fairbanks

As a field service executive, I marvel at the latest field service management technology that improves operations and the customer experience. Automated notifications, IoT, customer portals continue to advance and engage the customer.

Given the advanced technology and ability to automate processes, service business leaders must emphasize the “people skills” to achieve the full effect of the designed process and system. Field Service Engineers make a direct impact to the customer experience and therefore the company’s brand and profit. The human touch is the most critical element in the customer experience and complimented by modern service technologies. To organize a proper on-boarding and on-going development pathway, Field Service Engineer development should address three primary job categories: product technical skills, soft skills to interface with the customer and finally, the “job” skills to interface with the field service management system, inventory control, and personal safety management.

When I was a field service engineer, there was a deliberate on-boarding plan to be a “professional service engineer”, not just to further my technical skills. My company leaders at the time knew they had to mold new engineers, often by mentoring and shaping into an already strong customer-centric culture. There was little formal training outside the generic customer service skills course, resolving conflict course, and a good Xerox learning program in professional interaction. But it worked, as a combination of outside training and a strong culture/ mentoring from the senior engineers. I also remember a very clear set of work objectives and emphasis to self-development that augmented the learning and mentoring. Today, I view this as a FSE development “system” to differentiate and achieve business results.

 The human touch is the most critical element in the customer experience and complimented by modern service technologies 

Those experiences and memories shaped a course I am on today, using modern technology and bringing digital processes to life.

Let’s start with recruitment and attraction of recent technology graduates to the field service industry. We clearly need new technologists to embrace today’s FSE role of being the field brand ambassador, problem solver, customer relations specialist, and sales consultant. These are the “soft-skills” often discussed today and required to be a fully functional field service engineer. Service engineer development must include an on-going commitment to specialized learning for the field service engineers on “soft-skills”. These soft skills contribute directly to your company’s bottom line; revenue, brand, margin, and net promoter score. Soft skills may be slightly different for a specific company’s business model, but they are generally represented in the above categories. Regardless, soft skills should be defined and addressed with training, knowledge networks, work objectives, development plans, training, and micro-learning action plans.

Another large element to a field service engineer’s job is what I call “job skills”. Job skills are organization and self-management as service engineer productivity is a KPI, as well as safety and inventory management. We certainly can’t be of value to our customer with being on the sideline with an injury or not having the correct spare part. What about technology usage? Let’s just step back a bit and recognize the numerous platforms of field service automation. If the service engineer doesn’t maintain customer records, service transactions, inventory, or escalations on a timely and accurate basis, our whole enterprise stops. Now we have mobile apps, remote diagnostics, knowledge bases, third party web sites for technical reference material and the list goes on. Just like we say in quality, if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen. Same is true for field service and the timely and accurate usage of our field service management system.

As I write this, I am thinking of my own company technology agenda in the next two months alone. Besides the field service management system, various data bases, and mobile apps that we already have, we are also implementing a new telematics system for DOT truck e-logging and hours of service compliance, a new HRIS with smart phone time reporting and a new electronic expense report system.

Another way to look at technology and skill development is there are three Pillars of Interaction and the technology and required service engineer skills to support these pillars.

1. The first pillar is how we interface with customers and field service management and communication systems

2. The second is interaction with our products and the required product technical skills required and use of advanced diagnostic equipment

3. Finally, the third pillar is within our organization and the core work processes we have for safety, fleet operation, time, and expense reporting using many I.T. systems and applications

As new journal headlines call out the importance of people-process-technology, digital transformation and the like, I am reminded of the necessary leadership commitment to think through the key processes and skills required to implement technology. It’s helpful to begin with the end in mind of course, but also to keep one eye on the engagement and learning plan. Engagement and learning is far more than a series of training, but the connection to strategic goals, work objectives, training, mentoring, metrics, and recognition of the business operation.

Whether the objective is to attract or develop field service talent, recognizing technical and soft job skills will help to aim the comprehensive engagement practice to differentiate your service organization and achieve desired business results.

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