Guest Column | February 15, 2021

Digital Transformation Is Changing Everything, And Technology Is The Easy Part

By Paul Hesselschwerdt, Global Partners Training

Digital Transformation

Digital transformation of service is perhaps one of the most significant business trends to be accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, technical service organizations were already adopting new technologies to improve service delivery. For example, Augmented Reality (AR) tools such as smart glasses were being used to enable field service people to assist on-site engineers without incurring the time and expense of travel. Similarly, Virtual Reality (VR) reduced the time required for new engineers to be fully capable of completing highly technical service and installations by providing them with realistic simulations of service situations. For most service providers, however, adoption had been slow and cautious. At the start of 2020, for example, one industry survey reported that 52% of companies still used manual methods for most of their tasks.

The restrictions to customer sites caused by the pandemic created a new urgency to adopt remote service tools as quickly as possible. Although companies have stepped up their efforts, we find that companies are struggling to get their frontline service people to adopt the new technologies. Not surprisingly, the challenges for companies are less about the new technology itself and more about managing the required change in thinking and behaving on the part of both the field service providers and their customers.

Digital Transformation Is About Addressing The Needs Of All Stakeholders – One Case Study

The following case describes many of the challenges of managing the changes required to adopt remote service Augmented Reality tools across a large, regional service organization. The company, a leader in the hospital equipment and services industry, already had a long history of connecting machines and interacting with them remotely. They were also experienced at using technology to diagnose problems remotely and determine required spare parts, thereby further reducing the time required to fix equipment. Because of this experience using technology to support service, the company naturally expected that new AR tools would be readily adopted, welcomed in fact by their service and salespeople in the field. What they experienced, however, was something quite different.

As the hospital equipment company began to roll out the new technology, they quickly encountered resistance, initially from sales and service operations. From sales, the message was: “We are open to trying something, but first we need to see successful pilots before launching in the field.” This was even though the new technology was already being used with some customers. To the people in charge of rolling out the new technology, doing more pilots seemed to be unnecessary and largely a waste of time.

The service operations people, on the other hand, felt that their existing solution, which consisted of using video apps like WhatsApp and Skype combined with conventional file sharing apps, already met their needs for remote servicing. It was familiar, easy to use, and good enough. “Why fix something that isn’t broken?”

From the customer’s perspective, fundamental changes to things like service level agreements could become an issue when new technologies were introduced. If digital technologies seemed to benefit the service supplier more than they benefit the customer, shouldn’t the customer expect a price reduction?

Hearing this pushback from all sides made the manager responsible for the rollout realize that although the new AR technology was superior to what field service people were already using and would improve outcomes for the customer, the adoption would not succeed until all of the stakeholders’ real issues had been addressed.

Getting ‘Below The Waterline’ With Each Stakeholder

The first task for the responsible manager was to expand the thinking of everyone involved in the rollout (including the rollout team itself). They needed to focus not only on the technical challenges and benefits of the new technology but also to consider all of the non-technical issues that internal stakeholders and customers had, some of which they might be reluctant to discuss openly. To identify and address these challenges and barriers to adoption from the internal stakeholders as well as the customer, the manager used an active listening technique called the “Iceberg”.

The Iceberg technique assumes that most complex problems, such as implementing new technology, have both technical and non-technical challenges. Using an Iceberg to categorize these, the technical challenges are ‘above the waterline’, typically easy to identify and discuss openly. The non-technical challenges, on the other hand, are ‘below the waterline’, not easily revealed without sensitive probing in an open discussion.

The manager conducted a series of meetings with each stakeholder group in which he listened for the technical ‘above the waterline’ issues, and especially for those hidden below. For frontline field engineers, these issues included worries over switching from familiar technology to something new, and in their minds, unproven. For sales, ‘below the waterline’ issues included concerns that the new technology would disrupt the customer’s business in some unexpected way. Or that customers would use gains in service productivity to negotiate reductions in service contract prices.

Customers’ ‘below the waterline’ issues were, not surprisingly about risk vs. benefits from the new technology. Hospitals are known for their slow implementation of new technology. Even something as basic as the use of smartphones with cameras is not always a given in a hospital. In addition, the protection of patient data is a major concern for hospitals. These and other ‘below the waterline’ issues were anticipated and addressed by the rollout manager and team before they discussed them with the customer.

Once all these issues had been identified, they could be addressed and solutions communicated, again using active listening and open dialogues.

Shared Success Stories Is Key To The Adoption Of New Digital Technologies

A key lesson learned from initial adoptions of the new digital technology is that sharing success stories is highly effective at winning the support of all stakeholders. The rollout manager, therefore, encouraged the frontline people who were successful in selling and implementing the new AR-enabled approaches to share their stories. Every story not only helped build trust and confidence for this new approach but also created an openness for the many new digital technologies to come.

Coming Next: The next article in our series on Digital Transformation looks at the new skills your customer frontline needs to be effective in virtual environments.

About The Author

Paul Hesselschwerdt has been a senior executive in training and consulting firms for more than 30 years. He has designed and implemented programs in customer service, sales and marketing, leadership, and project management across a range of industries, including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and high technology. For additional insights, please visit