Written by 6:00 am Feature, Service Leadership, Service Operations

Do You Have a Replacement Strategy for Customer-Facing Employees?

In this new article for Field Service News, Sam Klaidman, Founder and Principal Adviser at Middlesex Consulting, analyzes the advantages of hiring for attitude and training for skills.



According to ToolingU-SME “Relentless turnover in the manufacturing industry is threatening companies focused on driving productivity and profitability. Finding talent is one of the biggest challenges in the industry, so losing employees, whether entry level or seasoned, significantly compounds the problem.” And the same dynamics apply to field service and technical support technicians. And according to Forbes, “Companies that create annual budgets will find their 2021 budget busted because of the rapidly increasing rise in the price of talent – both for internal employees and for talent provided by third-party service providers”.

Why do you need a replacement strategy?

In the May 5, 2021 issue of Thomas Insights, I published an article titled The Silver Tsunami: As Older Employees Plan for Retirement, It’s Time to Plan for the Future of Your Workforce. The article went into detail about older employees preparing to retire and what you can do to prepare for that inevitable situation. Now we are seeing the effect of what some people call “the great crew change.” This is the voluntary churn of large numbers of employees from all disciplines in their business. Why is this churn happening now? While you may have reduced your workforce because of the pandemic, the voluntary exit will accelerate within the next few months. Here are some of the reasons:

  • As the situation at home returns to normal, many older workers will feel comfortable moving into the next phase of their lives
  • As jobs open up, many people will convince themselves that “the grass is greener” at another employer
  • Companies more desperate than yours will offer large pay increases or sign-up bonuses to fill their vacancies
  • Companies that used the last 18 months to improve the tools and processes they provide their employees will attract the younger employees who grew-up with digital technology
Where Will I Have a Problem?

If your technology is old, somewhere between 5 and 10 years, expect trouble with your younger and technical savvy employees. You can also expect turnover in clusters if you have some managers who do not relate well to their employees. And most importantly, expect employee churn in the customer facing sales and service departments.

  • Sales because their world has changed from face-to-face to virtual meetings and customers who now reach out to potential suppliers when they are about 75% of the way through their buying journey. Also, in many industries trade shows are now obsolete!
  • Service because the technicians are reading about remote support and if you implemented it, some will miss the travel and in-person customer interactions and will look for a company that has not yet caught up with competitors. And if you did not implement it yet, the rest will look to work at a more advanced company.

To make matters worse, Sales and Service people are extra important to your business because they interact with all your customers. And the Service people interact during the whole time the customer owns your equipment while the Salespeople only interact with customers when there is a new selling opportunity. This means that replacing, or preparing to replace, your service team is the most impactful area for you to focus on.

What is the single most crucial decision I can make when I prepare my Service technical employee replacement strategy?

Good service people have a lot more skills and attributes than just knowing how to fix inoperative equipment. These are the areas where customer facing field and help-desk engineers (in person and virtually) must excel:

  1. Technical skills
  2. Understand business; basic finance, logistics, P&L, Sales, and Marketing
  3. Understand business processes and systems
  4. Customer relationships. They should be their customer’s trusted advisers.
  5. Negotiating
  6. Communications
  7. Creativity and problem solving
  8. Soft skills including listening, empathy, and how to avoid confrontation
  9. Self confidence
  10. Accountability
  11. Adaptability
  12. Loves learning
  13. A sense of urgency.

Considering the breath of skills, abilities, and personality traits in the list, I recommend that you make a firm commitment to hire for attitude and train for skill. In the opening paragraphs of the 2011 Harvard Business Review article Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill, the author describes the reinvention of a primary-care clinic that was producing great results. They did it by redefining the jobs and throwing away the old playbooks. When asked how he found the right people for these unique positions, the practice’s leader, Dr. Rushika Fernandopulle, said “We recruit for attitude and train for skill,” … “We don’t recruit from health care. This kind of care requires a vastly different mind-set from usual care.”

And the July 1, 2021 issue of Industry Week included an article titled One Job, Two Good Candidates – Would You Hire for Attitude or Aptitude? The key conclusion was:

“And what are they finding? That “hard” skills are increasingly transient, and “soft” skills — or “personal habits and traits that shape how you work on your own and with others” — are what’s worth investing in when it comes to human capital.“

What is the single most crucial decision I can make when I prepare my Service technical employee replacement strategy?

There are only two things you have to worry about:

  1. Before you start the hiring process, you must get HR on board
  2. After you hire someone, you must have a detail training plan to on-board the new hire

As you start trying to hire candidates based on their attitudes, soft skills, and personality, you will need lots of help from HR. Here are some of the areas where HR will be critical:

  • Training the interview team on how to evaluate these soft attributes.
  • Figuring out how to compare post-interview notes and fairly evaluate all candidates.
  • Identifying sources of candidates. When I was hiring field service engineers, I loved hiring people who were leaving the military. My first preference was the nuclear navy followed by air force line mechanics. People from both groups had a terrific ability to quickly learn complex technical topics with minimal instruction and they excelled at many of the soft skills and attributes you will need.
  • Communicating with these non-technical people and learning to not dismiss a candidate because she doesn’t physically meet your image of a great field service technician.

By the time you are ready to make an employment offer, you will need a detail training outline, schedule, and list of resources. In fact, an outstanding candidate should ask you how she will receive her technical training before accepting an offer. No really suitable candidate will accept an offer unless she is convinced that you will build on her skills and help her succeed in this new role. Once your new hire shows up for work, you must make sure that she has a productive on-boarding experience that reinforces the idea that she made the right decision to join your business. There is nothing worse for an organization than to have a new employee quit in the first days after joining the business.


It may take a while for your business to learn the advantages of hiring for attitude and training for skills but keep working at it because this is the future!

Further Reading: