Field Service Expert Interview – Jim Baston
As part of our Field Service Management Expert Interview Series, we ask industry experts for their views on the market and what the future of field service management holds. We recently talked to Jim Baston, author and field service consultant at BBA Consulting Group. Jim works with service technicians, project managers, salespeople and other customer-facing personnel to fully engage them as an integral part of a service company’s business development strategy. He also works with service managers to help them be better coaches and developers of their teams and with senior management to ensure that their processes and policies support exceptional service delivery. Jim is the author of the book, “Beyond Great Service — The Technician’s Role in Proactive Business Growth,” a book about how any service company can transform the service experience by integrating the service technician as an integral component of a dynamic and proactive business development team. As a speaker and trainer, Jim leads seminars and workshops in conjunction with several industry organizations across North America.
You’ve seen field service evolve over the years in your various roles. In what ways is field service management changing now?
I think that the emphasis of service management is changing from being technical management to brand management. As technology has helped to address some of the organizational, logistical and technical concerns of the service business, the challenge for service providers today is to differentiate on the service experience and ensure that the service experience is on brand. That means that service management must translate their service experience strategy into customer engagement approaches. They must then train and support their teams to ensure that they do their technical work while engaging with their customers in a manner that is consistent with their brand strategy.
What are the strategic opportunities you’re seeing for field service organizations?
To me, the greatest opportunity for field service organizations today is to engage their field service teams as part of the overall business development. By this I don’t mean “getting the field service technician to sell,” but rather to help the field service professional recognize the value that they provide when they use their experience and expertise to recommend products and services that will help their customers achieve their business goals. This is a subtle difference to be sure, but an important one. Getting field service personnel to “sell” is a tactic to earn more business, whereas encouraging them to make recommendations that will help the customer meet their business challenges is a service strategy. This “giving our customers our heads as well as our hands” can be a significant business differentiator.
How are mobile technologies changing the way field service organizations interact with and serve customers?
I think that mobile technologies can have two very different outcomes when it comes to interacting with and serving the customer. On the positive side, it can alleviate time spent on some of the logistical aspects of the business and enables the field service professional to devote more attention to how they deliver the service and interact with their customers. On the not so positive side, it allows some field service providers to hide behind the technology and avoid personal contact with customers. For example, they can easily email the service report rather than stopping by the customer’s office and explaining the nature of the repair and how to prevent problems in the future. They can send a text or email rather than making a telephone call. Although this is not “bad” behavior (and may be entirely appropriate in many cases), by relying too heavily on technology instead of human interaction, they miss the opportunity to make the service personal and build upon the bond of trust between themselves and the customer.
How are you seeing field service organizations use mobile technologies to drive revenue and maintain a competitive advantage?
For those companies who engage their field service teams in business development, mobile technologies allow them to streamline the recommendation process. Quoting applications can enable field teams to quickly create and deliver proposals in the field and, when the nature of the proposal requires management oversight, this can be handled seamlessly.
How can field service organizations better capitalize on sales opportunities?
First, by not thinking of the opportunity as “selling” but rather as “serving.” The field service professional is in the best position to recognize actions the customer could take to help them achieve their business goals. They understand the technology, they see how the technology is being applied in their customer’s organization, they have some understanding of the customer’s goals and objectives, and they have a relationship with the customer. Who’s better at recognizing ways to help? The challenge is to help field teams understand that by making recommendations based on their intention of helping the customer, they are providing a valuable service. A service every bit as important as their ability to install, troubleshoot and repair the existing equipment. When we treat the field professional’s efforts of promoting products and services in this way, we are helping them realize that this is part of their job and will likely get much better buy-in.
How is the broader economy affecting field service management?
I think that the service business is becoming more competitive and technology is a major driver of this. Customers are more informed today and rely less and less on the service provider for their information. Technology is enabling more companies to compete for the same business. Technical expertise is being embedded in the tools and in the equipment and there is less reliance on the individual technical and troubleshooting skills of a technician. As a result, I think that the successful service firms of the future will be those that can define and deliver their brand promise through the interactions their field service teams have with their customers. It will be their ability to differentiate on the service experience beyond just making customers feel good, but help those customers realize that they are better off for having known the service provider.