Recently, we held a panel discussion on the topic of “FSM software: It’s time to make technicians happy”. The panel was headlined by:
- Chris Oldland, Editor-in-Chief at Field Service News
- Marek Pajączkowski, Business Development Manager from Samsung
- Arunas Eitutis, CEO of Frontu
- Janis Balodis, VP Sales at Frontu
The panel followed a question/answer format and explored some of the hottest topics in the Field Service Management industry. Let’s dive right into the discussion.
Field service management work has become more expensive due to reasons like salary tax increases, gas, etc. How do hardware and software impact cost savings, and revenue increase and how can it increase field worker productivity?
I frequently speak to service leaders and we’re in this dichotomy at the moment trying to challenge them to do more. We have fewer resources and we need to start collecting data so we can get ready for this connected field service world.
That’s coming down the line but the other thing that I think often gets overlooked in this is actually the layer of technology that can play a role in attracting the new workforce as well. I think there’s a bit of a sea change in that regard with some of the most successful organisations doing two separate things: they’re going out because there are not enough engineers.
To be perfectly frank every company we come to has got an Asian workforce crisis I’ve seen a lot of companies have been very successful going to ex-military, using those and working with people coming out of the forces but that’s not a solution either because we need younger people coming through so we need the gen zeds. We’re past the millennial generation in the workforce, so we need to be looking further down the line, and the generation Alpha um so I suppose for me it’s about having that nice device – whether it’s glasses, tablet, or a phone, but having the latest technology.
I think the biggest problem the industry has is still this image of the guy carrying the wrench, being a mechanical job. That’s not appealing to the younger workforce and as people look for jobs, it’s much more appealing to know they will be working with software and technology and the latest tools.
For starters, let’s think about those technicians. If we think they are aging and we want the younger generation to come to work for this industry, we should think about what they are using at home. If they are used to using the best apps and a world dominated by YouTube, and Tik Tok, or and then they’re coming to work and need to learn using an outdated, legacy system, that’s not appealing. We should think about prospective employees in their natural habitat and try to recreate that same feeling at work.
Another important thing is that we are concentrating on the back office and automation of the back office. We are already good at things like scheduling, and route optimisation but the difference between the dispatcher to technician ratio is 1:20 for the enterprise. We are not emphasising on frontline workers enough so if we want to increase productivity, we need to empower those technicians a lot more.
We need to get them more data, more permissions and more features, as well as better UX. Technicians, need to feel more autonomous and they will, in turn, bring us back data and answers. Then we can think and talk about reporting.
We have trouble with people aging and the aging experts are not used to the new technologies. Frankly speaking, I don’t think anybody is used to the new technology because it’s changing so fast . What we have to do is actually change the consciousness of the people who are managing teams because they first need to be aware of the abilities of the cloud back-end and application front-end and the usability of the device.
The good thing is that these devices provide a lot of deployment and control features so we don’t need to worry about our experts having to get additional training about how to set it up. These devices set up themselves and can be managed automatically.
When it comes to productivity, using these devices means we can do so many things with a mobile – connect frontline workers to a process, enable software scanning, collect signatures on a tablet, and digitise the paper flow. Even the basic thing like increasing the communication quality between the front and the back end of the organisation is very important.
Many companies fear that digitisation will cost a lot but all they really need is a proper device and a little bit of knowledge which can be brought by experts from Samsung or anybody else who knows how to help.
How could we work on motivating frontline workers? Can we give them a device as a gift or for personal use?
I have this really simple example where one of our heavy machinery customers with 70+ technicians showed their workforce how a completed job should look like, how a well-completed job should look in order to motivate them to complete jobs accordingly.
Whoever delivered the job as per the instructions, was rewarded with a bonus. The result? In the first year, the company earned 180k more just because the productivity increased just because of the new motivation system that was implemented.
I agree that in field service operations it all comes down to how we get more from our technicians whether it be less windscreen time, more technician utilisation, or increased first-time fixed rates.
In terms of motivation I find that overwhelmingly engineers have a fairly solid mindset – they are problem solvers and that is what attracts them to the role of being an engineer in the first place.
The one thing I think is critical is making sure that they get access to the information they need and this is where it comes down to the software for me. Make sure that the software is designed accordingly and any customizations or any changes that take into account the feedback from the field workforce so those screens that they need to get to every single job they’re not hidden behind two or three pages.
Accessing information about the customer’s history, and problems gives them the advantage to know how to approach each customer. Don’t forget that these engineers and technicians are the only physical human-to-human touchpoint that we have with our customers creating an opportunity for them to be brand ambassadors. We need them to win over any problem clients but I think all of those bits that come together and obviously the hardware part of that as well is absolutely vital in making sure that the tools are fit for purpose.
If they’re working in an outdoor environment for example, then they’ll need a device that has a high net rating so it can be seen in the sun. That’s a very important conversation to have and I strongly advise any service organisations and the number of service organisations I work within a consulting capacity, is to lean on guys like you to turn to guys you and say “how do we make sure this device is right for these engineers?” or “how do we make sure that we work in the feedback from my engineers? I think that a very important point is just being able to ensure that the tools we use can empower the engineers to do their job. If they’re doing the job, they’re happy.
We saw over the pandemic that there were an awful lot of service organizations that had to just put a lot more weight of responsibility on their people to be able to make their decisions on their own in real-time because the lines of communication were very fractured in those early first few months. That meant they were empowered even further and that’s something those organizations have held on to that. Having their engineers empowered in the field and be able to make decisions, has made them more productive as an organisation but it’s also meant that the engineers are buying more into the organization and so they become more loyal.
Marek the same question goes out to you: “What is the link between devices and technology and motivation?
So, to be honest, I was a field force employee once and I was working for a telco, signing contracts with customers and it was a hard job to do. The most annoying part was that i never had a chance to get the tools that we could have today so I was working with paper and it was incredibly annoying because at least two visitor customers needed to finalize a deal.
Today we can completely digitalize the document flow, we can digitalize the process and as Chris mentioned, we need to hear the voice of the people in the field and we frequently need to ask for their feedback to make that process more effective. The software itself needs to be ready for adjustments at any time. This is crucial because the way we build our projects is always starting with identifying the problem, and the pain points in the process and then trying to design a solution to address those issues.
We have a customer in Poland with 36 000 field employees and we started working with them a couple of years ago. Their problem was that their people were carrying heavy bags with documents and they didn’t want to do that anymore. The first issue was to digitalize paper and we can do that as there’s an EU regulation on digital signatures and our devices can support signatures in collaboration with Frontu.
After the change, we can safely say that people are very happy and motivated to work why because they don’t have to carry an additional 20 kilograms of paper with them every single day to every customer. Once the change was implemented, the company built some kind of a chat to gather feedback from the customer. When all the changes are deployed into the system employees can work more effectively and enjoy a better overall working environment. By doing more work they can record their productivity and get themselves a higher bonus. The motivation is evident.
At the end of the day what you’re looking for is a reliable, professional tool that listens to both customers and users, can incorporate feedback and create a motivational environment for everyone. A tool you can change very fast and easily without any costs. If you’re a big organisation with a huge legacy of old IT systems, change is not actually that easy, takes a lot of effort and involves a lot of costs.
It’s sometimes easier to update to a newer system, an entirely new environment built on the side of a legacy system that can handle things faster more effectively and cheaper. One very quick thing to add is that giving technicians what they need, builds or company loyalty. Employees can see that the company is listening and is trying to make their life easier. Digitising operations is not an investment that will just affect the company’s bottom line but an investment that will improve the lives and daily work life of technicians.
We have another customer that came back to us after a closed project of digitisation and they said that their experience was incredible. What seemingly was a small change caused the biggest satisfaction amongst workers as well as company growth. They mentioned that theye never had this kind of increase in satisfaction and they just digitalized one part of the process. The impact was so evident that customers were deeply satisfied their voices could finally be heard.
A common mistake during these transitions is striking out with choosing the right technology. It’s important to find the right experts advising you on how to do it and somebody with experience. Also, discuss with your workforce before taking that first step and make sure you understand their pain points.
One simple thing about the feedback is that we, as software providers also need feedback from our customers. How do we get the feedback from the ones who are using the software the most, meaning frontline workers? We monitor field workers for a whole day and we monitor how they’re using our software, asking them different questions and giving us the opportunity to incorporate feedback into our product roadmap.
What do you guys think about the notion that Field Service Management is a supportive function of business and not a separate business?
I used to be a quality services manager and then I moved into publishing so just over a decade ago just before we launched Field Service News, the big conversation in the industry was how we move from a cost center to a profit center. Field service operations were a necessary evil to help companies that wanted to shift boxes. 10 years on, the conversation has evolved around advanced services that are not just in manufacturing. Although that’s where it started, we’re seeing that more and more in the SMB sector. You can now pay a monthly subscription and if you want an electrician, if you want a plumber or somebody to just come and do some hardware work for you, they come in with that fee and do the job.
Everything is a service solution and you can see a massive shift societally – we’ve moved into a different style of economy we’ve moved into a much more experiential economy. For example, you go to Starbucks and they write your name on your coffee cup. Service is ingrained and service excellence has become a differentiator. Take that out to bigger organisations and you can see the shift away from SLAs and standard service agreements.
Field service news research is proud to say that we have been at the vanguard of keeping companies ahead of this curve and we’ve worked with academia for many years to help this shift. Now, the overwhelming majority of service organizations look at service operations as a strategic revenue generator and if they haven’t yet, then they really need to start doing so.
You need the software and the hardware that can empower your engineers to be the most efficient. You can’t afford to be sending out an engineer for a second and third visit. You know you can’t afford to have that that that situation like Marek talked about when he was a field worker where he had to go out just because there’s paperwork. You need to solve an unstructured process that isn’t smooth, isn’t digitized and you need to reduce the service the cash cycle. When that engineer is on-site, they can simply hand over the tablet or phone to get that signature then we have the automation that sends that straight to accounting and generates the invoice.
We can now justify the investment and as I touched on earlier, whether it’s hardware or software or a combination of both, investment in FSM technology almost always sees a very quick ROI compared to other areas because FSM is mission-critical and it’s got huge untapped resource potential of service revenue generation.
COVID pandemic as an FSM driver
Iagree with Chris a lot and one thing i would like to add is that if a company used to see field service as a cost center, the COVID situation has definitely changed their minds. It has now become a critical department and a revenue-generating department.
COVID caused a big jump for FSM because companies lost traditional channels that were normally generating the revenue and it was all about facing the customer with critical services in the field. For example, if your internal Internet line failed, you’d normally call the company, they’d send somebody to fix it for you.
This trend is going to keep rising and we will need those engineers, those people in the front line to help us out with the critical stuff that we are not able to do ourselves – the plumbing as Chris mentioned the electricity failures, and stuff like that.
If we will keep working in remote settings and use our own private infrastructure, more and more, it’s basically going to build a big pipeline of services needed to support us.
If you are a field service organizations and you don’t see your services as a profit center, I think that you’re already losing the competition. Everybody is thinking about the civilization which is the next step but if you are not making business from services, I would say you’re already behind.
How can FSM work with AI and in a remote setting? Can an electrician do their work sitting in their office?
Your point is a great one. We can’t expect somebody to just send in an engineer, or an electrician and do the work remotely. Just imagine the health and safety risk and challenges involved. Just the sheer paperwork of trying to get an end-user to do some electrical work. There’s always going to be a role for hands-on technicians. What this means for service organisations is that the future will involve remote service.
When that initial call comes in and there is an issue, I think it’ll be troubleshooted in a remote manner and I’ve already seen some organizations saying now we will not dispatch an engineer until we’ve got one of our remote technicians look at the problem. If it’s something that can be resolved easily, that saves a huge amount of time for the customer which is the important thing that we need to get across here. How quickly can we get the customer back up and running?
Another important benefit of remote services is that it increases the success of the first-time fix rate massively.
Barriers to remote FSM & combining physical/remote operations
Arunas I think that’s the big problem that the whole software side of FSM has – how we work out the scheduling of remote and physical so if you guys get to that first I think you’ll nail it. The biggest barrier to remote service was the customer. I think the customer felt that there was intrinsically less of a value for them with some guy telling them what to do on the phone or via a headset or whatever. It’s not the same as having somebody come and see your problem personally.
That changed during the pandemic because people couldn’t physically go, they couldn’t break biosecurity they couldn’t go to offices and so suddenly the customer realised this is quicker. All they want is their asset up and running and they want it quicker because they’re losing time.
That was the trigger point that has changed the mindset around remote services. What this has done is increase the importance of the field service visit even more because it doesn’t happen that often.
The technician visits clients as an ambassador. They’re not just coming in as a representative of the company, they’re coming in as the subject matter expert, they’re coming in as a guy that’s brought in to fix the problem that couldn’t be solved remotely.
Again, we need to make sure they’re fully empowered, they have the tools they need, they have the latest technology and the information they require. Data is becoming an even more vital part of the service relationship.
Do customers really want to fix things they are paying to be fixed?
From my perspective, I will play devil’s advocate and I’m going to be the angry customer that doesn’t want to be engaged in the process of fixing things. It’s not my issue and I want to pay for it and get rid of the problem so if it’s so then it’s all about the process
What I suggest is using AI and remote services for entry-level diagnostics on whether there’s actually a problem or if it’s something that we should just reboot. We want the customer to feel like they’re not doing much, they’re not fixing the problem but rather helping identify it.
There’s an entry-level tool provided by the company to help them out but when things get serious, someone from the company will come and fix it. Remote support is a very important option but we need people with the appropriate experience tackling these issues remotely. This is the kind of remote support I can see right now in the field force that will not damage the customer relation the quality sense and the brand offering the service.
As a customer, I don’t want to be engaged in fixing things that I’m paying for.
Aging FSM workforce: the challenges
Most companies have a challenge with an aging workforce within their field technicians and engineers um so that’s a challenge. We’re struggling to attract younger engineers and technicians into the industry and then we have the challenge of getting them out in the field so we have to spend two years you know training them before they can actually be a productive member of our team and actually generate any revenue.
By utilising remote service technology we can go save older engineers from scurrying down holes and traveling all across the world and or climbing up pylons or whatever. That engineer can now be repositioned working from home or a central location serving maybe instead of serving four or five customers a day, they can be simultaneously solving the problems for those guys that are coming through from the academies.
That way, they don’t need to spend two years making sure they know every single thing. We can get them that over-the-shoulder help they need.
What happens to the data, if the user loses the device? How do we secure the device from data leaks?
This is the biggest challenge for android ever since it’s got its way into the enterprise. The first question if the device is suitable for enterprise use was always security and Samsung was aware of that so we started in 2014 with Knox. This was the first product that actually brought the government a great level of security with encryption to an android-based device and it’s growing constantly so now we have even more tools because Knox has become a platform over the years and it’s not just a single tool. It’s a set of tools so not only can it provide security but it can also provide the security in the range that it’s definitely needed for these kinds of processes.
The new trends with the mobile threat defense solutions will automatically check the system and application activity and then pop up with a notification to an administrator that there’s something wrong.
Even if we lose a device, we have a tool that will provide you the ability to lock down the device without erasing the data. This is very important because what we have in the market now is to wipe the device and lose the data to prevent someone from stealing it.
Tools are available in every range of security and we need them to be there the most important part is to make people understand that security is not a cost, but an investment. Data leaks now are the easiest way to ruin a company’s reputation and bottom dollar.
You have to be aware of the threats out there and you have to be aware that you can potentially you can lose the database of your customers by just a simple error.
The threat might sometimes be internal
What most of the time gets overlooked is that disgruntled employees can pose a massive threat to cyber security especially when we can talk about taking data and data privacy. That’s something that needs to be considered. Something that we can all do as organisations make sure we’ve got robust processes in place to think about this and then lean on our technology providers to be able to put together a protocol for when an employee leaves the company.
We need to have the same transparent protocols in place and lean on our technology partners to make sure that we can put those processes into action.
Takeaways and recap
We’re moving away from break-fix, we’re moving away from transactional nature service towards the experiential service, the forward-looking preventative service to advanced services and service is a key revenue generator.
Digital transformation doesn’t have to be one big hit and there’s a phrase my American colleagues use all the time that “we can’t boil the ocean” so I think with this digitalization journey let’s look at how we can prioritise things in an order that matters.