Written by 6:00 am Feature, Service Leadership

What do we need the next generation of field service leaders to understand? 

Experts from Aquant, Salesforce, ServiceMax and Syncron give us their perspective on this complex topic.

After a period of detailed in-depth interviews with service leaders to better understand their needs, one of the core areas of understanding we uncovered that was often overlooked was how do we build a coherent succession plan for the next generation of field service leaders? Are their best practices regarding succession planning for field service leaders?

It is a complex topic, but one that is further complicated by the fact that our industry is going through a period of technological revolution. With this in mind, how do we develop the service leaders of the future and how do we interweave an understanding of technology that may not be in place today into their development? How do we ensure that the progression of continued service evolution moves beyond our role of service leaders today so that the service leaders of tomorrow have modern foundations to build upon?

How much support can a service leader expect from their solution providers?

Rob Ballantyne, Director of Product Management, Salesforce began the conversation, “I’d argue that the solution provider’s role isn’t purely to sell a solution, but instead are there to partner and ensure mutual success. This can mean anything from a delivery of a tactical project through to full digital transformation. This of course means maintaining a trusted relationship between both parties, sharing product updates, best practices, and of course emerging technology trends (e.g Augmented Reality, IoT, Sustainability).” “In addition to a maintained partnership, leaders should expect to buy into a larger community. For example, our Trailblazer Community allows customers to engage with one another, allowing them to learn from and collaborate with one another. This also includes Trailhead, our learning platform which allows customers to learn the skills they require to build and maintain their Field Service Solution.”

Sarang Sambare, Senior Director, Industry Solutions, Syncron added, “Service organizations have always had to deal with many challenges, but today there economic, business, and technology trends fueling growth and a changing operational environment. Sales might sell the first machine or service contract, but the experience a customer receives from a service organization sells everything else. We are in a transitionary period where service is becoming the face of a business and the focus is on providing seamless, on demand support to the end customer. Business leaders understand the path to differentiation and being a leader is through the customer experience and developing trusted advisor relationships.”

Sidney Lara, Service Principal, Aquant highlights “Solution providers enable teams to bring the best of their talent and strengths forward. These partnerships are becoming more and more necessary as leaders realize how fundamental third-party providers are to improving business outcomes. With the right provider(s), service organizations will be able to leverage an integrated service team to deliver one version of service excellence to all of their customers. Having access to the best possible information and support is what makes or breaks a customer interaction, but technology and knowledge alone cannot guarantee a positive outcome when interacting with customers. As equipment and assets become more complex, continuous learning will become more important in the service world. With technology like Service Intelligence, service leaders have a holistic operational view into their business including insights into their workforce. For example, the AI will notify leaders when a particular worker may need additional support or training, and can even distinguish the training needed by asset type and symptoms versus traditional retraining. With this, leaders are better able to optimize and upskill their workforce and keep up with customer demands.”

“I believe that the expectation should be raised given the increasing importance of service to critical business objectives. While feature functionality is important in a solution, those items are becoming table stakes, what is really important is domain expertise and knowledge that can really propel the service leader to leverage the technology to drive meaningful change. We see this as a major missed opportunity in the service automation space.” says Sumair Dutta, Senior Director of Product Marketing – Customer and Market Insights, ServiceMax.

Can technology help in the transmission of knowledge at a management level in the same way it does at the engineer /technician level?

Dutta starts “While the knowledge required at an executive level is different, the real promise of technology is to develop trust in the data being surfaced so that you can then proceed to make the next decision or have automation determine that decision for you. Without trust, there is no knowledge or knowledge transfer. In that sense, technology plays a similar role for a service leader as it does for the technician. The type of knowledge being transferred, once that trust is established is different.”

Lara adds “Technology has the potential to help in the transmission of knowledge at not only the engineer/technician level, but also the management level. Artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies have the ability to store, filter, analyze and generate insights by pulling information from a number of data sources.”

“Technology that helps with the transmission of knowledge improves operational efficiencies by leveraging an organization’s pooled knowledge. To do so you first need to capture and then distribute this knowledge. Capturing information includes everything from traditional structured data like case files, work orders, and asset information to unstructured data like chat logs, and technician notes to subject matter expertise such as problem-solving methodologies and troubleshooting from an organization’s top employees. Having all of this information in one place will enable better and faster decision making, quicker problem-solving, increased rate of innovation, supported employee growth and development, better communication, and improved business processes.”

“Even someone at the management level, who has years of experience and knowledge, will find value in technology that provides such a holistic operational view of things. By having the information at your fingertips, presented in easy-to-read dashboards, service leaders and managers can use the data to drive quicker actions and make decisions based on data, not hunches. It also gives everyone in the ,organization time back to focus on the areas that matter most. With more freedom of time, everyone in the company will feel more energized and productive.” Says Lara.

Sambare highlights “Businesses will have a difficult time building strong customer relationships if the service leaders of tomorrow are not enabled and don’t have the right solutions to tackle complex challenges. Over the past two years I’ve talked with service leaders across numerous industries. When I ask them what three things they are worried about for the future, attrition and enablement is always number one on the list. Many teams are coming to the realization if they want to provide best-in-class customer experience they must invest in new service leaders and create an environment for success.”

Do we need to rethink service leadership in a world of infinite data and remote connectivity?

“Enabling future service leaders requires businesses to look outside their organization. They need to examine their relationship with solution providers and determine where they can build true partnerships. Service leaders should expect solution provides to guide them on the digital transformation journey, help to develop and support key business initiatives, and provide a network of trusted advisors. In a time where many service leaders are dealing with data overload, solution providers should help to make sense of all the information and provide actionable insight. Many times, solution providers focus on the value they can bring to a business, but they also need to prioritize personal value and align to the career goals of service leaders.”

“Technology plays a massive part in transmitting knowledge. Due to it’s single platform architecture, Salesforce Field Service joins the full spectrum of service data together such as customer, asset, IoT, service contract and field engineer. This intrinsically delivers management with full knowledge into how their field organisation is performing, and crucially, delivers insight into how it can be improved. At Salesforce, that means capabilities such as AI recommended parts for specific work orders, all the way up to bigger picture analytical tools showing where bottle necks are in engineering, or providing insight into root cause analysis, for example.” Says Ballantyne.

Do we need to rethink service leadership in a world of infinite data and remote connectivity?

Steve Mason, VP of Customer Success at GPS Insight highlights “The time of “trickle-down” leadership in the field service industry is fading away at light speed. Truth be told, C-suite and VP-level staff often don’t have the same boots-on-the-ground situational knowledge as engineers and field technicians performing the day-to-day tasks that keep business moving – most of these tasks are accomplished using FSM solutions with remote connectivity. This organizational disconnect is becoming more and more problematic as competition intensifies from industry to industry.”

“Situational knowledge as it relates to field services is now a game changer and should be leveraged by leadership to not only offer better customer solutions, but to engage workers so they perform at the highest level with maximum job satisfaction. Afterall, it’s employees who understand the challenges, efficiencies and contingencies involved with their job. Who better than the field technician traveling from job to job to offer the situational perspective and supporting data to better inform processes, shape policies and streamline operations?”

“Middle managers play an integral role in the “trickle up” of information to senior leadership through the aggregation of on-the-ground data – offering their own perspective – to provide actionable insights and recommendations. In most cases, a manager or supervisor will have a better understanding of how different roles and departments interact during the workday and how digital solutions play a primary role in streamlining operations from field to back office. For instance, a manager may notice (through data analysis) a significant reduction in customer disputes stemming from use of an FSM solution’s automatic documentation functionality. This reduction in customer disputes results in a reduction of lost time and revenue “redoing” work that was completed as contracted – on time and to plan. Informed leadership can then make automatic documentation a priority in technician training.” Says Mason

Ballantyne adds “From a solution provider perspective, infinite data and remote connectivity certainly drive how we shape our technology. Core themes we discuss with customers hinge around customer engagement (devices, channels, places), connection (technicians, customers, support centre are all on the same platform) and automation (proactive alerts, responses to IoT events, auto scheduling and re-optimisation of resources). None of this would be possible if we weren’t leveraging connectivity and data.”

“However – this is something which providers shouldn’t be doing solo in a vacuum. It’s back to the earlier point of partnering with service leaderships as to drive genuine, relevant innovation, and in turn achieve mutual success.”

“Organizational silos between upper-management and workforce are not uncommon and often difficult to break down. However, remote connectivity and data aggregation/analysis in field services is now helping bridge the gap – reinforcing that informed leadership is effective leadership.”

Dutta says “The challenge for service leaders of today is determining how they can leverage the data at their fingertips to drive decision-making but also support a larger level of buy in across the organization. Given the progress of digital initiatives, service leaders not only have to be more comfortable with data but also have to have the ability to use that data to broker partnerships across their organization