By Aly Pinder, Program Director, Service Innovation & Connected Products, IDC
The front-line field force is often held as being the face of the organization, or to a degree, the best link to the customer a service organization or manufacturer has. Field technicians' daily interactions with customers are viewed by those of us who are passionate about field service as the cornerstone of the customer relationship, which adds value to the customer experience. But too often it ends there, with puffery or marketing speak.
As manufacturers and service organizations transform into true partners with their customers, the technician must play a bigger role in the innovations that connect the customer with the OEM. As new products and services are created to tap into new value-added offerings for customers, technicians should have a place at the virtual table of ideas. Neglecting to include them in this discussion could lead to avoidable, costly errors or, at a minimum, a missed opportunity to tap into their insights for the good of the company. However, this cannot be a burden to the field team; it must just be part of what they are already doing. To foster a culture of innovation with the field team, I believe there are three things you should consider:
Create a forum and tools to hear from the front. Make it easy for the field team to contribute. The last thing technicians need is another task in their day. We're already asking them to do a lot – close the work order on a first visit, engage the customer in a conversation that adds value, help peers if they don’t know an answer, and on and on. Because the field team is already busy, service leaders and the IT team need to make it easy for them to help with innovation.
This should occur seamlessly with their job. Within the applications the technician is already using, they should be able to log opportunities to improve the product or customer experience and be provided with a notification that this insight is seen by the appropriate teams and their peers. The insights should be able to be ranked by the field team, as they won't be able to sit in a room and "ideate" like white-collar workers. This seamless process will help make it easy for technicians to contribute without taking away from their already busy days.
Highlight ideas both good and those that help get to good. All ideas should be heard, and the technician must be recognized for contributing. Failure to do this will lead to the field team holding on to ideas that may aid in the iterative process of innovation. Too often, ideas that could be helpful aren't shared because team members may be shy or feel like no one will listen. This perception must be avoided if innovation is to come from the field. They are removed from the day-to-day activities in the office, and this isolation can only stifle new ideas unless recognized and addressed.
Let customers know the field is a part of the innovation loop. The idea of the trusted advisor technician must lead somewhere. This relationship shouldn’t just be a sales opportunity. Customers need to know that the interactions they have with the field service team will be used to improve the services and products they are buying. Otherwise, it's just another wasted interaction in an already too-demanding day for the customer.
To really benefit, each interaction and engagement must lead to something of value, or those interactions will cease to occur. Making customers aware of the importance of the field team in the creation of new products and services will also raise the technician in stature in the minds of the customer. This can have the added benefit of making customers more willing to have additional in-depth discussions with the technician that will capture much more insight.
The technician obviously has a day job that they mostly love, and this doesn’t always include them taking on my work. That being said, the front-line service team is an invaluable resource that should play a role in the innovations and new products being created.
Technicians should be one of the voices, along with the voice of the customer, that help in making smarter decisions about what the market needs and is willing to pay for. Disregarding them is a wasted opportunity to be as informed as possible and, more importantly, misses another channel to give the design team and engineers a boost in being more successful in the new products that get introduced to the market.