The Aberdeen Group recently produced a document called, ‘Five Steps to Drive Innovation in Service,’ which is based on their study, ‘Innovation in Service: Take a Leap Towards Value’. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that most of the steps toward successful innovation coincide with insights I’ve accumulated over my thirty-one years as a field service technician.
Below I’ve listed Aberdeen’s five steps along with how I interpret the points they made.
1. Listen to the field team
I might be a bit biased, but I can definitely understand why this point is at the top of the list. With any ground-breaking innovation that takes the service industry by storm, there will always be a few “hiccups” that come along with it. In my career, I’ve had at least a dozen managers, and I’ve witnessed two reactions to complaints. There’s the “get over it and get with the program” response or the “that’s a good point; let’s work together to change that” reply. I’m sure you can guess which one I prefer, but do you understand why?
One of the primary goals of any new technology is to get the most value out of the investment. If a service rep is not able to express his or her frustrations and ideas for improvement, it’s likely that he or she will begin to feel indifferent. The next stage for the service rep is to feel minimal engagement, which will be difficult for him or her to get past. To have fully engaged service techs converts to the new process, the field service organization must have an openness and willingness to listen to their employees that goes beyond the platitude of this is a “Good idea. I’ll stick a pin in it,” or “I’m sure that will be fixed as we move forward.”
What many managers mistake as employees complaining is most likely them pointing out a flaw that should be addressed. A wise manager can spot the defect that’s been disguised as a complaint.
2. Invest in resources to turn field insights into new offerings
Service reps are master improvisers. They can do amazing things with a little bit of JB Weld and some duct tape. They see flaws in the system. And when it comes to these flaws, service reps tend to have great ideas on how to fix them or can find unconventional ways of improving performance. The challenge is to capture the innovation and turn it into an improved product. There needs to be a way that techs can submit ideas as they come up with them. This should be something easy and immediate. I would suggest a site where techs can submit videos filmed on their smartphones (and also maybe a way to submit text for the camera-shy), so that those who freeze in front of a keyboard can upload a video of their tip for approval. It’s also a good idea to hand out rewards for the ideas that are truly innovative.
3. Engage customers in deeper conversations
Aberdeen suggests conducting forums and detailed interactions with customers, rather than surveys.
But I advocate for more.
The primary technician should attend any meeting or forum that is planned with their customers. The tech should be debriefed prior to the meeting, so that both the tech and you--the organization-- are on the same page, and encouraged to take an active role. After all, they are the ones who will deliver any promises made, and they also know the customer’s needs, quirks, and complaints better than anyone.
4. Establish a CSO with a vision for change
I hate to admit, but I hadn’t thought of this one. (I even had to research to find out that CSO is short for ‘Chief Service Officer.’) It makes a lot of sense though. This should be someone who has an open ear to both the customer and the field service technician – someone who has regular meetings with both sides. They should be customer-centric VPs whose jobs are to ensure that any changes in policies and or service processes improve productivity without negatively impacting customer satisfaction and retention.
5. Work collaboratively to find new uses for old offerings
One of the easiest and most productive ways to achieve collaboration across an organization is to establish regular meetings between service reps and sales reps to discuss customer needs and complaints. Just keep in mind that the thought processes of the service team and sales team are polar opposites. The meetings will need to have a competent moderator, and sales should NOT be allowed to dominate the discussion.
A blog post cannot cover all of the ways to drive innovation in field service, but Aberdeen has given us five steps that are certainly worth considering.
Donald B. Stephens is a field service technician with 30 years of experience with the Xerox Corporation. He is also a freelance writer, blogger, novelist and humorist.