Field Service Expert Interview: Bruce Breeden
As part of our Field Service Expert Series, we ask industry experts for their views on the market and what the future of field service holds. We recently talked to Bruce Breeden, vice president of service operations at Fairbanks Scales. Breeden’s expertise in field service runs deep, having held positions in executive management, business development, service marketing, organization development, industrial safety, fleet management, training, and call center operations. He has worked in a wide range of industries, including clinical diagnostics and scientific instrumentation, irrigation system controls, banking equipment, homeland security optical readers, and industrial weighing systems. Breeden is the author of The Intentional Field Service Engineer and creator of the Field Service7℠ development program. He is also the founder and principal of Field Service Resources, an organization that provides opportunity, development and results to field service engineers and technicians throughout their career.
For highly regulated industries such as healthcare, medical devices and energy, how can field service organizations use technology to support compliance initiatives?
There are various uses of technology to address regulated industry compliance. In life sciences, healthcare and medical devices, a common service procedure is to perform validation services, such as installation qualification, operator qualification and performance qualification. Using skills-based technology dispatch systems ensures a properly trained tech is assigned to the service request and a copy of the tech’s training records and test equipment calibration certificates are attached to the completed service report. This addresses the FDA regulated criteria for training and calibrated equipment. I’ve had experience as a validation engineer, and another challenge is to follow proper quality documentation practices. Using technology can both control the procedural steps the tech needs to follow as well as proper quality documentation methods that are important in completing the validations and passing post-audits. Image uploads with time stamps are easily appended to reports and are forever part of the regulated document. Report completion is also more timely using mobile technologies and eliminating the delay in processing the final documents to the customer. In other regulated industries, referencing the tech’s license number and linking to reference sites or government regulations can be automated using technology and part of a professional report that demonstrates thoroughness, quality and value. Finally, customer portals provide self-service as well as controlled documentation.
What steps and actions can improve technician recruitment?
Of course, there are the traditional recruiting actions, good job postings, dedicated field service recruiters and being an advocate for the career. The broader issue is competing for a shrinking pool of skilled labor. It’s an industry-wide issue. We need to sell the career of field service, highlighting the attributes, advancement and fulfillment of being a field service engineer. Reflecting on my own career in field service and all the independence, responsibility, opportunities, and advancement the career provided, I think we all have a story within us to tell and inspire new candidates to join the industry. Leveraging the recent dialogue about the value of a vocational or technical education vs. a four-year degree program, now is perfect timing to tell our story and build excitement about the world of field service. Using our own perspectives, we can differentiate field service from other technical occupations that do not provide independence, decision-making opportunities, direct customer relationships and being involved with new technology.
What steps should field service organizations take to become more profitable?
While a broad question and certainly relative to the company’s business model and industry, I will start with the biggest cost element of any service business: the team of field service techs and engineers. I firmly believe profitability is related to organization proficiency; that is in three distinct parts. First are the hard skills, the technical skills the organization must have to complete field service calls in an efficient and effective manner. Second are the soft skills, the ability of the on-site field service technician to develop customer relationships, solve problems, and provide alternative options when needed. Third are the often forgotten but critical “job skills” of field service technicians. These include working safely, using the mobile technology platform, inventory management and teamwork. The balanced performance of these skills make the enterprise perform and yield efficiency which in turn improves profit. Let me give you a quick example on customer retention and contract sales. A tech with excellent customer service skills as well as technical skills drives customer satisfaction and impacts the contract retention rate. With a favorable retention rate, the company can increase pricing and add new contract customers based on references. Second, due to technician technical proficiency, contract costs are better controlled in labor, travel and parts consumption, not to mention customer satisfaction, again with less unexpected downtime. When I think of profitability, instead of headcount, wages and expenses, I think of organization proficiency, technician development and retention.
What newer technologies are you seeing become more mission critical for effective field service operations?
My daily thoughts are being dominated by our aging society and the need to transfer the enormous knowledge and experiences of our senior techs to our new techs. I am intrigued by the various connectivity and knowledgebase systems to drive real time troubleshooting and knowledge transfer. Second, along the same lines, smart devices and IoT technologies have a direct impact on customer experiences, convenience and service economics. Third, anything mobile. With the ever-increasing need to work in mobile environments, it has emerged from luxury status to must have, both for the customer and for the technician.
What are your top three service KPIs, and why do you identify these as the most important to measure?
KPIs are meant to be dynamic and update with the times, so there’s no perfect answer. Start with your company’s business model, markets and changes, and determine what’s most important to the business. I think most service leaders have experienced the dynamic aspect of measuring KPIs and may have learned, like I have, to be careful what you measure and to avoid metric conflicts. My top three are currently CSAT, on-boarding progress of new techs, and territory growth.