In the latter half of the inaugural Field Service News Think Tank, the conversation evolved to discuss how delivering service excellence has a direct on a service relate revenue, and thus was a mission critical objective...
In the part one of this feature we concluded with an excellent point being made by Keith Wilkinson, VP of Sales for ClickSoftware who commented that in today's field service environment the 'field service engineer, from a digitisation perspective, needs to have all the tools, all the knowledge and information possible at his disposal so he can be empowered - so he can become that brand ambassador.'
Wilkinson’s point is a hugely important one and indeed is one that is becoming a serious consideration for many service organisations.
Whether you are offering outcome based solutions and service is crucial to your primary revenue stream or whether you are still running your service operation as a cost centre within a product-centric business, the fact remains that good service can go along way to retaining business, whilst poor service will drive your customers into your competitors arms.
"There is nothing more powerful when it comes to engendering brand loyalty, than facing a real customer service challenge and bringing the client with you through that issue and into resolution...” - Kris Oldland, Field Service News
However, as Darren Thomas, Service Manager Northern Europe, Waters Corporation points out, whilst the field service engineer is perhaps the most important part of this equation he isn’t the only factor.
“What about the follow up as well though?” Thomas asked the group.
“Constantly informing them [the customer] about the progress that is being made? For me it is very much about how you bring that customer with you through the resolution journey - how you outline to the customer how you will solve their problem – and that can come down to communicating across the management chain as well just the field engineer.”
“It’s an information train isn’t it – and that is dependent upon transparency and honesty,” concurs Kris Oldland, Editor-in Chief, Field Service News.
“Personally, I think more companies need to perhaps embrace that notion. More companies need to say to their clients ‘this is the process we are going down to resolve your issue, we can’t get this fixed right away but we are moving heaven and earth to get it fixed and here is what is being done.’ Because there is nothing more powerful when it comes to engendering brand loyalty than facing a real customer service challenge and bringing the client with you through that issue and into resolution.”
“Turning around a bad experience and transforming it into a good experience is something that can make that customer become a customer for life – mainly because it is making them feel valued and understood,” he adds.
“I think we need to remember the old maxim about quality over quantity,” comments Vasu Guruswarmy, the recent former VP of Global Service for Schlumberger.
“Whether it’s people or automation each one brings its own power.” He adds.
“Definitely the bar on automation is rising; and there is no getting away from the fact that knowledge systems are critical. But we had the problem before we went worldwide [with their own knowledge bank] that everybody believed in reinventing the wheel because that was the value that they sought for themselves - and so the idea of putting knowledge in a system was an anathema for most people and it took us a long time to turn this culture around.”
“In fact, I had to take a slightly provocative approach.”
“We had people that were facing challenges asking ‘what do I have to do in this condition?’ And some guru in the world would answer their problem - which was great because the first time around as it adds enormous value, but then there was a slightly negative impact on the business because there was little checking to see if what was being added was repetition, had it already been covered before?”
Indeed, this is often the problem with implementing knowledge bases, as Thomas had previously alluded to - it can become a challenge to stop the tail wagging the dog if left unchecked with multiple articles covering the same ground. However, for Guruswamy and Schlumberger the issue went deeper than just one of inefficiency.
"As the bar keeps rising with automation it is even more important that the quality of people remains high – because when the automated solutions fail, that is when the engineer must bring resolution..." - Vasu Guruswamy, Former VP Global Service, Schlumberger
“Once everyone in the organisation began to realise that they just had to go to the system to get answers, then our ‘experts’ who were used to answering bulletin board questions had to be challenged with ‘you are an expert because you can solve new problems not just because you keep parroting the same solution’ to change their mind-set.” Guruswamy explained.
“For us the quality of people that we engage who are facing the customer is absolutely vital. And so as the bar keeps rising with automation it is even more important that the quality of people remains high – because when the automated solutions fail that is when the engineer must bring resolution. They need to know the customer and they need to know what the problem is – and then find the resolution.”
“There is no point in having 200 field service engineers running around with 180 of them being inefficient – and that is the biggest challenge that many companies face,” he concluded.
Again it was an excellent point for consideration.
“It is a fair assumption to say that for most companies when an engineer is ultimately sent out, when the truck rolls, that this is the end result in a chain of events that have led to diagnostics and remote or self-repair having failed?” Oldland asked the group.
“Is the engineer is now expected to have an additional level of knowledge and experience to provide the expert resolution that couldn’t be delivered via any other means?” He added.
“For us we are looking at automation to get better efficiency for the engineers that we’ve got,” replied Robin Bryant, Service Director of JCB Scot.
“But in our industry we are dealing with companies that may have one machine or they may have ten machines and when they have an issue they may be doubting if they buy any more. So when the engineer comes out and makes a good impression, turns it around, fixes it and is positive about the product it can have a huge impact on whether that next purchase is our equipment or a competitors.”
“We’ve always had some guys around the depot that are really good at that stuff and they are great guys, but then there are those that aren’t so good in that part of the role and so we are looking at how we get training out to the team to bring everyone up to that upper level. Ultimately, the engineer can have a hugely positive impact with the customer but they can also potentially have an equally negative impact as well, so for us automation is as much as about brining service standards to a consistently high level as it is about the efficiency gains we see from it.” He added.
“For us also, we have a very prominent parent brand in JCB and they set high standards in our service delivery expectations that are a reflection of the importance of their brand. They set us targets in terms of where they want us to be in terms of service level, the quality of our engineers and the amount of training that we have to do, but they are also incredibly supportive at the same time.”
Again Bryant’s comments were echoed across the group, reflecting the general acceptance of the importance of the role the field service engineer plays within an organisations ability to retain business from their clients.
Dr Wilhelm Nehring, CEO thyssenkrupp Elevator, UK and Eire summarised the group’s discussions so far neatly saying “Of course, one of the nice thing about this group is that we are all from different industries and from companies of different sizes, but one thing for us in our industry is that we cannot allow our clients to maintain or repair a lift – it is a matter of health and safety.”
“For us we have constant contact with our clients through our engineers, and I very much like the phrase Darren [Thomas] used earlier of ‘brand ambassadors’. This is exactly what our engineers are for us. To a certain degree I think the role of the service engineer has become more important, I would also agree with Steve’s [Smith] point that it has always been an important role, but the competitive market out there has made the role of the service engineer more visible and so things like training and teaching your staff to be that brand ambassador have become vital.”
“It’s a different thing to do, to engage with the client. You need to be able to have the technical skills to actually fix the lift - but you also need to interact with the client. What else does the client want? What else does the client need?”
“For us at thyssenkrupp, our engineers are the most important asset that we have – so when we get feedback from clients about how brilliant or impressive our engineers are, this is our lifeblood. This is what we do – so it is incredibly important to us.”
“Coming back to how we enable that, we invested heavily in what we call ‘International Technical Service Centres’ because we also undertake third party maintenance on other companies assets. We have 1.2 million units under maintenance – and about a third of them are other makes and brands so we need to enable our people to maintain these other units as well.”
"For us Automation, IoT - all this digitalization that we’re talking about is not something to replace engineers, or even to have less engineers - it is for us to enable our engineers to do the job better than they could before..." - Wilhelm Nehring, CEO, thysenkrupp Elevators
“We do this through technical services, with reverse engineering etc and this is why we are the first in our industry to take this approach and we have by the far the best technical services because we invest so heavily in these centres. We have them all across the world as a support for the engineers and technicians – and that is what gives them the platform for them to do their job.”
“If you then come into the client experience, so lifts as a commodity, a lot of people don’t care toomuch about the lift as long as it goes up and down, most people don’t think about a lift until it breaks down,” he adds
“So one thing that we have done is to invest heavily in IoT. In part, this is to be ahead of the game, but it’s fiercely competitive because the developments in IoT are so fast. For example, twelve months ago I thought wow; we are so far ahead of the game, then this year I feel already that the world is changing so fast that we really need to be on our toes to stay ahead.”
“For us Automation, IoT - all this digitalisation that we’re talking about is not something to replace engineers, or even to have less engineers - it is for us to enable our engineers to do the job better than they could before. Today our engineers, before they arrive on site know already why the lift is not working so they can make sure they have the knowledge and parts to hand to drive that first time fix.”
“Then as we move to the second phase and we talk about the IoT and Machine learning, and we now have over 110,000 units connected to the system, which allows us to enter this predictive phase which means that with all the data we have from these installations, we can define patterns, build clusters with similar installations, similar components, similar locations, like a hospital for example – so we can then go to our clients and say ‘this part is likely to fail within between seven and seven and a half years.’”
“It’s no longer a conversation based around a gut feeling from our engineers on site, we are now able to have that conversation backed up with solid data and insight that allows us to fix it before if fails. In theory we want to move to completley pre-emptive maintenance.”
What is interesting across the discussion is that whilst the reasons may be varied as are the industries represented in our small but highly knowledgeable group, the central theme remains the same.
Automation is a reality in all corners of maintenance and service delivery.
For some like Scot JCB it is a tool to ensure the highest standards delivered by their engineers become a consistent norm across their workforce, for others like thyssenkrupp it is at the heart of revolutionary change both within their organisation and indeed in their wider industry.
For Waters, automation offers an opportunity to reduce costly truck rolls whilst improving mean-time- to-repair through knowledge bases and remote diagnostics, something Schlumberger have also embraced in the past.
However, as Nehring expressed automation doesn’t necessarily mean fewer field service engineers, it means field service engineers better placed to do their job.
So as we move into a world of outcome based contracts and a world of remote diagnostics - the field service call becomes increasingly important.
As Guruswamy alluded to - what is the point of having a large field service workforce if only 10% of them are truly experts?
Perhaps somewhat counter-intuitively, automation and digital transformation have raised the stakes even further for the field service engineer.
By the time a truck roll is scheduled, the issue should be either fully diagnosed so a first time fix is now expected by the client or the issue has proven to be more complex in which case the field service engineer is now being seen as your organisations leading expert, the top guy sent to not only save the day, but also to potentially save your organisations reputation and retain your customer’s business.
Today’s engineer it seems not only needs to be a ‘true expert’ as Guruswamy discussed, but also a friendly face, your ‘brand ambassador’ with softer people-skills in his locker as well.
Has the importance of the role of the field service engineer grown in an age of digital transformation and automation?
The consensus from our Think Tank is absolutely, the field service engineer has become one of the most critical roles within an organisation - and recruiting and retaining good field service talent has become more important than ever before.
In attendance in this edition of the Field Service Think Tank Sessions were:
Steve Smith, CTO, Astro Communications
Darren Thomas, Head of Service, Northern Europe, Waters Corporation
Keith Wilkinson, VP Sales, ClickSoftware
Vasu Guruswarmy, Former VP Global Service, Schlumberger
Robin Bryant, Service Director, Scot JCB
Wilhelm Nehring, CEO, Thysenkrupp
Kris Oldland, Editor-in-Chief, Field Service News
Want to know more? Read our full executive briefing report from this edition of the Field Service News Think Tank Sessions now and get the full insight from the senior field service executives taking part within the conversation.