By Sarah Nicastro, publisher/editor in chief, Field Technologies
Donald B. Stephens has been in the field service industry for 32 years. He is currently a Senior Customer Service Engineer with the Xerox Corporation. As you can imagine, in his time there he has witnessed the technology evolution and has learned a lot about how things can go right – and wrong. Stephens has taken his firsthand experiences and spends some of his time writing his own thoughts on those topics. He contributes regularly to Field Service Digital, and - fun fact – he’s even written three novels!
Here, Stephens shares with us his perspective on some of the biggest mistakes field service organizations make when evaluating, selecting, deploying, and using technology. Take good notes – this is a veteran voice.
Nicastro: In your opinion, what is the biggest mistake companies make when determining what role technology should play within their field service operations?
Stephens: Using technology to make decisions without taking a closer look at the results. What I mean by this is shown in a bit of service-tech lore that I heard about early on in my career. Supposedly, a certain type of switch had a high failure rate. Technicians realized they could order another, more reliable switch that was for a different part of the machine, and then make a minor adjustment to do the same job as the quick-failing switch, so they ordered the better switch in-mass. When the parts analysts ran the reports that showed usage of the reliable switch sky-rocketing, they put a halt to the manufacturing of the good switch and turned to the unreliable switch as the alternate.
There is a huge emphasis on metrics, KPIs, and big data these days. Technology has added innumerable ways to analyze what goes wrong with a machine, or how to make field service techs more productive and the business more profitable. The problem I see is that companies are still looking at the issues that come to the surface of the data stream, instead of exploring the deep-water issues that are the true causes of unproductivity and waste. The human factor is often the variable that is least considered, yet it is the highest contributor of potential problems with any new technology implementation.
Nicastro: What are some of the missteps you’ve witness with technology selection?
Stephens: Ignoring mobile technology durability, usability, and likability. So much of what a service rep does is now dependent on his or her mobile device that having an inoperable laptop or handheld is no longer an option. There’s also a problem with companies loading durable products with bargain-basement software. If the techs hate the programs that run on their mobile devices, they’re going to find less productive ways to do their jobs without them.
Nicastro: Even if technology selection goes smoothly, issues can arise with deployment that can derail even the best laid plans. What issues have you witness with technology deployment that caused major pains?
Stephens: We’re back to usability and likeability. I’ve seen a tech keep the laptop he was given in the box it came in because the encryption software it came preloaded with slowed a good machine down to a crawl. If a laptop or handheld is slow, or the software it runs is ‘buggy’, technicians will find work-arounds that won’t be as efficient, but will get them out the door and on to the next service call.
Nicastro: Where have you seen companies get off track once they’ve completed a technology roll out with their field service team?
Stephens: If there isn’t extensive training and a follow-up plan to ensure the devices are usable and being used, there’s a good chance the technology isn’t going to be utilized to its full potential. Beside the usability and likability factors is the comfort factor. It’s human nature to resist change with something we’re very comfortable with. Field service techs are no different. Training isn’t there just to show how to use; it also makes techs feel comfortable when they’re in the field in front of the customers. It’s important to technicians to be able to walk through the door and know exactly how to use the tools they’re given; it’s also just as important to the customers.
The follow-up plan should monitor engagement, but it should also be designed to uncover software or hardware problems that are frustrating technicians. An open channel between field service and the software developers is essential.
Nicastro: If you had to list 3 things you think most service engineers feel about using technology in their jobs but won’t say out loud, what would they be?
Stephens: “Please, only send software upgrades to my service laptop after you have thoroughly tested them.”
“Give me a device that has an extra, hot-swappable battery. Sometimes I’m in the middle of an important adjustment when it goes dead and there isn’t always a place I can plug in the power cord.”
And “Stop with the passwords already!”
Nicastro: Based on your experiences, what other advice can you provide our readers to help them avoid some of the common mistakes made with technology use?
Stephens: The best advice I can give is to make sure you invest in hardware that is as resilient as the techs using them, and the software that won’t make your techs want to test how much damage their mobile devices can actually take.