Field Service Expert Interview – Nate Beckman
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 Nate Beckman, senior business analyst and acting product owner for the Fulfillment Team at Safelite AutoGlass. He was instrumental in launching the company’s award-winning mobile field service application and On My Way Text program. The Safelite Fulfillment team delivers solutions that make life easier for field leaders, technicians and customers. Recently, he drove the design and delivery of a new time management system and mobile route timeline. Prior to Safelite, Nate served as a Project Manager at Limited Brands and developed CRM solutions for Accenture.
How are companies using field service management technologies to create a competitive advantage?
First, people are the most valuable resource for any organization and no technology will change that. Where I see changes to how field service organizations (FSOs) are competing are around sharing knowledge effectively to combat the increasing complexity of work. The days of single sources of expertise are going away; field work is offering both a wider variety of products and services as well as more technically complicated repairs than ever before. Organizations will need to rely on their ability to leverage knowledge bases, including their associates’ skills, to be as effective as possible.
With regards to specific technologies, SMS/MMS communication is an area in which I’ve seen a lot of shift in the past two years. It is now a customer service qualifier as opposed to a nice-to-have feature, and that goes for organizations of all sizes. Its simplicity, cost and discretion allows for great flexibility when communicating in short bursts, which fits perfectly for a key element of mobile service: two people trying to meet.
To stretch this technology, I’m also seeing embellishments such as links to tech tracking on maps, tech profile images and location sharing infused into tech-customer communications. As these features become more mainstream, they will shift customer expectations even for non-urgent service events. Nothing is more valuable to customers than their time, and these tools help service providers give customers part of their day back. That said, competitive advantages because of tools eventually fade, but the competitive advantage of having a service mindset sticks.
How important are the technologies you choose to deploy as compared to the field processes you put in place?
I can’t think of a case in which a technology is more important than the organization’s process. It could certainly be true that a process is changed by or is set forth due to the advantages or limitations of a certain technology, but as a field organization you own the experience for both your associates and your customers. So if your technology doesn’t fit your customers’ ideal process, you need to figure out how you’re going to get there.
That said, the role of the field technician is going to face numerous headwinds in the next 5 to 10 years. Increased populations will put more stress on traffic systems, products will become more technologically complex and customer expectations of first time resolution and elegant, flexible communications will continue to rise. Selecting technologies that align with an organization’s vision for field processes will be critical to not only combating these issues, but to technician engagement and overall field morale. No one wants to be set up to fail each day, and without the right tools that’s exactly what will happen.
What technologies are vital to FSM organizations today? How do you see these changing in the future?
I’ll answer this first from a customer’s perspective and then from a technician’s perspective. First, any FSM organization should have a communication tool that allows their associates to interact with each other and with customers instantly. That is what I’d consider vital and bare-minimum. As a customer, I absolutely expect to be able to interact with my technician instantly on my day of service. This could take the form of a phone conversation, text messages, emails or a combination of those. In the next few years, I see customers expecting additional types of passive information. You already see some of this in the form of tech tracking systems that show techs traveling to one’s service location. Other self-serve features such as live order status or continuously updated arrival and service windows could become standard. The one certainty is that leading service companies will continue to find ways to give customers more of their personal time back.
As a technician, in addition to the aforementioned communication technologies, I also expect for my phone to work and to have unlimited, reliable data connection. In the future, more of the technician workforce will expect a deeper level of support from their organization. That may be in the form of routes that set up the tech for success, training documents and videos being accessible from mobile devices, remote support helplines and video chat or simply connecting technicians to each other via internal communication applications. More technicians will expect to feel cared for by their employers, and won’t be afraid to continue searching until they find one that does.
How can a FSO ensure its technologies are well fit for their field service personnel?
While a FSO’s management may feel like they know the right kinds of tools or changes needed in the field, there are a few techniques that will ensure their updates are well-informed and on target.
- Include field representatives in product planning and design. This could be in the form of a pilot or advisory group, but having their buy-in will be critical to adoption of the new updates. This may be obvious to many but it bears repeating.
- Release early, release often. This can be much more difficult than you might expect. Changing the release culture of a technology organization can be a huge undertaking, often requiring new physical environments, organizational changes and support. Releasing updates more often requires field personnel being more prepared for frequent, small changes to their systems or even processes.
- Measure impact. The ability to measure impact of updates is critical to being able to effectively steer future changes in the right direction. Do not leave morale and employee sentiment to the tools out of this equation! If you are building a more stressful process for your associates, it will most likely fail, disrupt customer service quality or both. Be brave enough to ask, “How would you rate the reliability of this tool?”, “Please indicate how easy it is to use this application on a scale of 1–10.” Few organizations ask their associates about how their tools make them feel, but those who do are showing empathy and strong leadership.
What important topics are often overlooked by FSOs?
I think many organizations lose sight of the human element in their work. In the race to serve more customers and push efficiency stats, they start eroding their original mission of being a great customer service company. I know for Safelite, field service is a constant challenge to get right. We ask our technicians to be on time around six times a day, to meet strangers with car issues that they’ll need to expertly fix the first time, all the while being patient and charming. That’s super difficult work! Field and corporate leaders need to recognize how difficult their ask is, and to keep ideating ways to ensure their techs are coming back to work each day energized and ready to serve new customers.
I also get the sense that many organizations leave the IT Service Desk out of the loop when it comes to feature enhancements. More generally, if all the impacted teams aren’t informed about changes it will definitely lead to confusion and frustration. I learned this lesson the hard way a while back, and now always invite a representative from all affected groups into the deployment process. With more technology teams moving to more frequent release schedules, it can be easy for folks to quickly be left behind.