Essential Characteristics of Successful Field Service Businesses

It’s a safe bet that when Greek philosopher Heraclitus mused, “Nothing endures but change,” he wasn’t referring to Field Service. Yet this ancient observation about the continuous changing of reality couldn’t be more apropos to this industry that has experienced remarkable evolution and growth in little over a decade.

For instance, The Service Council’s 2016: 5 Major Transformations Impacting Service Businesses reports that Field Service has been in the middle of a metamorphic period over the last 10-15 years. The study marks 2016 as being particularly progressive due to developments TSI maintains “hastened the pace of transformation” in customers and their demands, service modules and products, technology and the workforce.

IBISWorld identifies this era as a “growth stage,” forecasting that Field Service’s contribution to the economy will grow disproportionately by 2021 (12.9% annually) – as compared to the US GDP (2.1%).

While some service organizations admittedly struggle to keep up with this growth – and ever-changing innovations and demands of the industry – many excel at managing all the moving parts of a successful field service business.

In fact, TSI’s report shows that 47% of the organizations they surveyed considered their performances in service to be a “success”, while the remaining 53% put themselves either in the “work in progress,” or “failed” categories.

No matter which category a company falls under, there are several essential characteristics that owners, executives and managers should align themselves with in order to keep their service businesses successful, or help them get on track.

Work To Identify, Train, and Nurture Talent

Now more than ever, talent management is essential as changes in the industry and growing demands place more importance and responsibility on front-line service personnel. That’s not always an easy task with reporting that 55% of companies experienced trouble in 2014 filling installation, maintenance and repair positions.

TSI’s study shows that “workforce and talent issues” topped the list of challenges companies experienced in 2015, with training, recruiting, and knowledge management being top concerns. This data confirms why leading service organizations that follow a strategy to IDENTIFY-TRAIN- RETAIN are successful in building and maintaining top-flight teams.
Not every worker is great at every skill. A successful service business will IDENTIFY each team member’s skill set, play to his or her strengths, and develop a clear strategy for improvement. They make a commitment to TRAIN each employee closing any gaps in specific skills, and then add talent to the team.

With millennials accounting for one third of the workforce, and rising to 75% by 2030, there are many things successful service businesses are doing right now to RETAIN this growing workforce demographic. Moreover, on-going training, transparency, and technological support will not only boost job satisfaction among millennials, but also will be appreciated and valued by good team members of all ages.

Develop Strategies To Determine And Measure KPIs

Field Service organizations that do it right are proactive. Instead of having a “Let’s just go fix stuff” approach, they start with a metrics-driven strategy to establish and measure KPIs, focusing on the success of the service, rather than on the process of the service.

Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, put it this way in his 2017 Letter to Shareholders, “Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful…the process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right.”

Successful service organizations often get the results they want by recognizing universal truths about customer service. Field Service industry expert Michael Israel stresses that certain traditional KPIs will remain constant, and can be used to formulate a solid strategy for lasting success.

From a broader customer service perspective, Jeff Bezos advises, “…you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.'”
Foundational KPIs for Field Service can include: increased travel efficiencies that translate into faster customer wait times, lowest possible repair costs, qualified techs with necessary skills being assigned to tasks, and having the parts and equipment to get the job done right the first time.

Metrics-based strategies to set and measure KPIs help companies detect problem areas and troubleshoot solutions. They also provide qualified data to identify specific areas of success. So, rather than a company assuming they’re doing well because they have a pile of work orders, they can isolate specific areas of strength, and pinpoint the reasons why they are succeeding.

Trade Suspect For Respect

In an occupation that allows a certain amount of freedom, some techs may not be very disciplined about time tracking. Others may even be tempted to “cheat” if left unchecked.
A study conducted in 2015 by the American Payroll Association (APA) reports that a whopping 43% of hourly workers exaggerate the time they actually work. The APA advises that time theft can rob companies of 7% of their gross annual payroll, and costs American businesses $400 billion in lost productivity every year.

Mobile technology offers a solution to this problem with continuous field visibility. Punch-clock software provides field techs a fool-proof way to be accurate and honest, while fostering a mutually respectful relationship between the field and back office.

Whereas in the past, if an organization had only suspicions and no proof that an employee was inflating hours on a traditional timesheet, field service management software allows supervisors to know where techs are at all times, and – with a phone call – determine whether the tech is out having an extra long lunch, or running to get a necessary part.

When Field Service companies openly share their vision of the enterprise with their workforce, and the mechanisms that will help it thrive, everyone has a stake in the business’s success. In an inclusive environment such as this, workers feel respected, and buy into the importance of using software that keeps business practices ethical and productive.

Empower All Stakeholders

All three stakeholders in a successful service operation – the back office, the tech, and the customer – benefit when they are supported and empowered.

The back office is empowered with visual scheduling software that allows them to make quick and accurate scheduling decisions based on real-time information they receive about location, tech skill sets, parts availability and more. The entire order process is streamlined from call-taking to quoting, to creating work orders, to dispatching. Older processes subject to transcription errors – such as keying handwritten notes from a tech, and filling out paperwork – are eliminated as well.

The field technician is empowered with tools and resources they need to be productive and efficient all day long, helping them get the job done quickly and fixed the first time. From GPS-enabled navigation, to instantaneous service and account history, to collaborating with the field workforce, to having access to manuals and instructional videos, to paperless transactions and more, successful service businesses keep their techs “turning wrenches” and not bogged down with outdated administrative tasks.

The customer is empowered by best in class service from both the field and the office. Field techs provide better and faster service, while the back office has the information they need to follow up with the customer, offering proactive maintenance, and options to save money on new contracts, services and other options.

Take Ownership And Embrace The Future

Successful Field Service organizations work on their businesses, not just in their businesses. They are tirelessly committed to finding new methods and technologies to improve their operations in order to serve their customers better, and make their businesses more successful in the process.

A hallmark of a truly successful company is to accept and embrace change as a constant in business, and not fight against it. Instead of being fearful of the future, they meet it head on, and go with the flow.

Image: Flickr

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Bill Pollock is President & Principal Consulting Analyst at Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM), the independent research analyst and services consulting firm he founded in 1992. In 2015/2016, Bill was named “One of the Twenty Most Influential People in Field Service” by Field Service News (UK); one of Capterra’s “20 Excellent Field Service Twitter Accounts”; and one of Coresystems’ “Top 10 Field Service Influencers to Follow”. He writes monthly features for Field Service News and Field Service Digital, and is a regular contributor to Field Technologies. Bill may be reached at +(610) 399-9717, or via email at Bill’s blog is accessible @PollockOnService and via Twitter @SFGOnService.