Episode 13

Five Questions for a Field Service Expert Podcast

Chris Gera – The Service Council

In this episode of the Five Questions for a Field Service Expert Podcast, we chat with Chris Gera, executive VP and general manager at The Service Council. Chris explains how to capitalize on the human side of the equation in field service management. He also discusses best practices in field technician enablement and engagement. The episode runs about 28 minutes.

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If you prefer, you can read the full transcript below.

Mobile Reach: [00:00:08] Welcome to the Five Questions for a Field Service Expert Podcast. This is the show for field service professionals where we dig into the big questions about field service delivery and management. Every episode, we ask a field service expert five questions that can help you do your job better.
Mobile Reach: [00:00:26] Well, we’re lucky enough to have Chris Gera with us today. Chris is the executive vice president and general manager at The Service Council, a global community where service executives sharpen strategy through research, data analysis, and insights. In his work with The Service Council, Chris is responsible for managing and expanding the vast store of research and knowledge that allows service executives around the world to benchmark operations and gain critical insights into improving their service operations and their organizational performance. Prior to his role at The Service Council, Chris held a service leadership position at Vivant Smart Home, where he managed more than 1,000 field techs across North America working on installations, troubleshooting and customer service. He also spent more than a dozen years at Nielsen, where he led global strategic field initiatives including technology and process improvements for a $1 billion service business supporting 15,000 field professionals in more than 100 countries. With extensive expertise in service operations, Chris is a frequent speaker at major field service conferences. He is sitting down with us today to talk about all things field service and technician enablement. Chris, welcome. We are so glad to have you with us today.
Chris Gera: [00:01:42] Thank you so much for the opportunity to be here and to all of you who are listening. Thanks for the opportunity to be part of this with all of you in this discussion. I’m looking forward to it. I spent a lifetime in the field service industry, so I think I can share a few insights and nuggets that people can take away and do something with.
Mobile Reach: [00:02:03] Well, that’s exactly the point of the podcast, thank you, Chris. So, we have five questions for you as we do for all of our field service experts. These, of course, are tailored to your areas of expertise and experience. Are you ready to get going?
Chris Gera: [00:02:18] I am ready Dan.
Mobile Reach: [00:02:23] So, when you get right down to it, field service is people business, right? It’s a human business. It gives field service personnel unparalleled opportunity to differentiate their offerings through personal connections and the human side of the business. What are some of the best ways you’ve seen field service organizations compete using this unique human advantage?
Chris Gera: [00:02:45] So, it’s interesting because my experience doing this as well as talking to others who are doing it today it really comes back to a couple different things. One is visibility and connection to the client’s history and really the ability for our frontline folks to be able to walk in the shoes of what that customer has experienced, right? Be able to make it personal and whether that be experiences that that client has had around the product, around the performance of the product, around billing. Really being able to understand as you walk in on-site whether that be someone’s home, someone’s office, a shop floor, understanding a full 360 view of what that customer has experienced allows you to be empathetic and really engage with your end client for the purposes of delivering that experience that will differentiate yourself from your competitors. Being able to personalize the greeting, set common ground, and ensure personal success through those efforts. That’s one thing that I’ve always mentored through the organizations that I’ve been part of which is, this is about you and the person who is in front of you as the client, right? So take personal responsibility as the service person who’s representing our large organization to the success of that client when you leave. Not only just go there to fix what’s on the work order, but ensure that they’re fully connected and engaged with the product and the performance that they’re receiving from the services that we’re providing.
Mobile Reach: [00:04:26] That makes a ton of sense and it’s easier said than done. But what you’re touching on there is really aspects of the experience economy. So I want to kind of dig into that a little bit. This requires a good deal of design thinking and no small amount of training on the part of the organization. So tell us a little bit about some of the best ways to bring this to life, this experience economy to life in a field service organization. How does it feel to get started with something that?
Chris Gera: [00:04:54] Well before you can even think about designing training or operationalizing this you really have to set the organization on a path, right? As a service leader, it’s part of your job, part of your leadership role amongst your peers to bring that information and that reality of what the customer is experiencing back into your leadership team, right? You’ve heard the phrase over the years, it takes a village. And that’s really a great way to set up a starting point here. The service leader, in the way I try to visualize it, your the guy or the gal who’s the knot at the end of a long rope right. And then it is the client who is somewhere on that rope but at the end of the day, you are the one part of the organization who is going to be in front of that client at their location with the product or service that you’re ultimately delivering. And you’re dealing with a person face-to-face. Right? So, that not at the end of the rope is you’ve got to work up and across the organization in order to cast this vision. To cast this vision about the experience that you want to deliver. And you’ve got to be able to work across your leadership to get buy-in. Which is important but even more important is ownership. So starting with a crisp, not perfect, but a crisp understanding of where you are today. Understand your baseline know where you are ensuring alignment with your customer right being able to bring the voice of the customer into your organization. And there are different ways of doing that. Companies you know do everything from NPS, they do phone calls, they do text messages, right? But if you don’t have anything like that, I think it’s important to go get it. If you do have it, it’s important to review it and baseline it, right? And then talk about with your team what the desired outcome was versus what you’re actually hearing again between your folks in IT, your folks in finance, folks in sales, human capital management, the engineering team. Everyone across the organization has a role and getting them there together is important right because you can’t do this alone as the service leader. There’s too many there are too many factors coming to bear in what you have to deal with as that knot at the end of the rope. So deciding where to start. That’s always the important question to ask after you kind of understand where you are today. I always try to look at my largest pain points. I look at where the voice of the customer is coming back completely dissatisfied. I’m looking at where we’re losing customers to the competition or in some cases where the customer or the clients have given up on us, right? And they’re just literally suffering through a long long term contract until they can get out of it. So when you find those opportunities, discuss them openly. Discuss the source. Discuss the contributors to the pain. And once you have that, you’ll have your number one target to get started. That helps you drive your number one deliverable but it doesn’t mean you can’t have multiple streams that support that going on simultaneously, right? But once you know you have that you know what the voice the customer is telling you, you know how you’re going to go about delivering improvement as a group. Then you have to share across your organization with broad communication. Everybody’s got to own their downstream piece. The leaders have to take that communication to the street. They’ve got to put in a sense of optimism, buy-in, and excitement for their teams. And you have to increase communication around this. If you want to, when you’re starting this when you’re starting this new, just focus on that number one deliverable. Focus on it. Make sure people understand what it is that you’re fixing. Understand when it’s going to happen. Understand how they can help get that done. And then track the performance across the organization for everybody to see. Because doing so helps them fan the flames for ongoing support when you get to initiative two, initiative three, initiative four, right, as you’re moving forward to drive that experience into your organization and deliver that experience economy output for your client.
Mobile Reach: [00:09:25] A highly sophisticated approach to thinking about it. I think it underscores something really important. You talked about a field service or not people not being able to do it alone including you know a range of different stakeholder groups and really a good summary of how to get kicked things off from an experience standpoint, that’s really valuable. So you also talked to that in that piece about the importance by IT. And of course, no technology goes up into production without the help of IT. And I’m wondering if you’ve seen examples of organizations using technology to actually make their businesses even more human and more personal encounter, maybe intuitive as that may be. Talk a little bit about how technology can actually further personalize that experience.
Chris Gera: [00:10:20] And you know what, this goes even beyond service, right? I think service is still getting into this personalization component. I think there are some huge disruptors out there in adjoining spaces folks like Amazon, Uber, Tesla. They’ve changed the way you buy items, get a ride, buy a car. Right. And it’s changing what customers expect, customers like you and I. And so when we as customers now have that expectation of being able to track when our new pair of shoes is leaving the factory arriving at the FedEx facility being able to track the guy that has it in his truck and then takes a picture of delivering it to your house. So you know exactly when all of that has happened. Right. That’s the Amazon experience. Or the ability with Uber or Lyft to be able to see the kind of car that’s going to pick you up who the driver is what is rating is, right? That’s really personalizing that whole experience around “Hey, I just need to get from point A to point B. So that changes what your customers expect. But when you look at how those organizations have done it, and it’s the same way for service organizations, technology plays a central role. It’s at the core to ensure that the client has multiple ways to reach and interact with you as well as to get feedback on what this experience is going to be like. So if we isolate for a minute just on service, right? This is not just about having a contact center and you know used to be you could just pop up a 1 800 number that was open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., that’s not going to win. Those days are gone. The world has moved on. Right. So we have to think about technology as a platform and being able to ensure that the clients or your customers are comfortable doing some of the work themselves, which most are these days. But it’s a slippery slope, right? You need to but you need to be able to provide them with a way to keep it frictionless and keep it positive ensuring that it’s an outcome that’s satisfying to them. And that technology now starts to envelop many different components. It could be apps, it could be Web sites, it could be auto or auto-bot type engagements. It’s social connections. But it’s a myriad of things that now as a service organization or as a service leader from a technology standpoint, you’ve got to be proficient and you’ve got to be tied in to all of these different inputs and you’ve got to provide them to your customer and client base to be able to access you because everybody has different wants and needs and there are different times of the day. And frankly, you’ve got to be able to meet all of that. And if you have that ability to use your data and your systems to take it one step further and be predictive and proactive in order to intervene prior to even a disruption or dissatisfying customer experience, that’s what we’re seeing as the emerging trend around service right now. It’s not good enough to have something happen or have a client understand they have a need and reach out to you. It’s now about using all this information that’s available to you about your client and about how your products working or how your service is being delivered and taking it one step further and actually being able to reach out proactively or in a predictive manner. Right. So that the client feels cared for. They certainly feel like you’re paying attention and they’re more likely to do business with you going forward.
Mobile Reach: [00:14:00] Again, it makes a ton of sense and the core element here we’re talking about no services as a human business and the core element here, of course, we haven’t talked much about that but we’ll hear in this next question is the technician. So let’s talk about technician engagement for a minute which I know The Service Council has done a lot of research on, what are the key trends you’re seeing in technician enablement and technician engagement and how it is affecting the profession of field service technicians in terms of employee development and retention.
Chris Gera: [00:14:35] Well, it’s not only important right. It’s something that The Service Council, yes, is studying today. But it’s something as a service leader for the decades that I’ve done it, I’ve always placed a huge emphasis on. Right. It’s the old adage that one of my peers told me years ago, that happy cows give more milk and that. That in and of the surface may sound funny it’s not meant to sound demeaning, but it’s the idea that when you’re happy as an employee when you’re part of an organization that values your contribution, you’re more likely to continue to, a, speak well of the organization, b, remain with that organization, c develop your skills capabilities and add value with that organization such that that organization is able to reap the benefits of your time, energy, effort, wisdom, and knowledge and you’re also able to drive that out to your customer right and have an impact on your market different than your competition who may not be paying attention to employee engagement. So we know that engaged people in teams at organizations drive speed, they drive innovation, they drive competitive advantage. And we’re seeing that in some of the early research, and we’ve just published our summary findings of our most recent report this month, but we’re seeing in some of the summary findings that about one in five of the folks who we surveyed which was a broad cross-section of service employees, frontline service employees, are dissatisfied. And when you think about that, Dan, and as I do I tend to think about it I say, if they’re dissatisfied, right, they’re disengaged. They’re going through the motions. And when that happens, let’s add up the impact. Right. Let’s add up the impact that if you’ve got a thousand field people and each of those field people is making you know four or five or six visits a day your customers to your clients and they’re sharing that perspective or they’re exuding that level of engagement. And if it’s one in five, right? That’s a lot of people that you’re touching when you take the day and multiply it by the number of days in a week the number of weeks in the year multiplied times the number of people in your service organization that is feeling that way the 200 or so that are feeling that way. It’s impactful, right? It’s having an impact on your business. So, engagement is not just a buzzword, it’s a style of business right. It’s a way that organizations pay attention to their employees. They set them up for success, they look at what’s important to them. They evolve with them. And they also create a path to success for the organization. So there’s much more to be learned about this right. I know we are just touching on the surface here and we are going to continue to dig into this at The Service Council. We’re going to be having an ongoing discussion around this. We launched the whole concept of services humanity at this year’s symposium in Chicago back in September and we’re going to be continuing to focus on that as we go into 2019. So, people in service, specifically the frontline people, are the quintessential important lock in that chain that allows you to be successful with your clients and delivering your goods and services to the market. We absolutely believe that.
Mobile Reach: [00:18:20] That actually brings us really nicely to the last question we have for you today and that’s about training really. It’s about enabling a tech from a skill set standpoint. So let’s let’s end with this with this piece of the conversation about a technician and an impact on organizational performance, So there is a lot of debate about of course technical skills and developing know how. So any tech can apply his or her skills in a job then there’s also the soft skills side of the customer engagement and CSAT. When it comes to developing a field tech skill set, what is your position, or what is The Service Council’s position, on the types of training that have the most impact on operational excellence? Are soft skills really as important as technical skills? How would you think about that?
Chris Gera: [00:19:13] Well the way I think about it is I always try to apply it to my own life. And if you think about all the different things that we as people do throughout the course of our day, whether it be boarding an airplane for a flight to our next business meeting in a different city or walking into a restaurant and being seated and asked what you know what you’re going to have for dinner that night all of those things are functional. Deliverables that have to happen right. You have to move through security in an airport. You’ve got to board the plane. You’ve got to sit in your seat. You’ve got to put your seat belt on right. You can do all of those things functionally correct. But what’s missing, what differentiates whether you’re on carrier A or carrier B or carrier C typically it’s the experience right. Is the seat clean? Was I greeted with a smile? Do I have all the necessary tools and technology that I need to be successful in streamlining my movement through this transportation process? The same thing can be said of a restaurant right. How am I treated? Are they happy to see me? Do they treat me as though they’re welcoming me into my home? So the functional aspect of, here’s the menu, I’ll take your order, somebody will bring you the food, and then you’ll eat it, right? That differentiation is critical and it’s showing up again much as we talked earlier with Amazon and Uber and Tesla and others who are changing the way consumers expect an experience that’s coming true and service as well. So soft skills are just as important as technical skills. I think having the know-how is important. The how to, right? We will always have to teach people how to do their jobs. But there is a component that you have to hire for and then continue to develop which is the curiosity of how do I continue to engage with my clients and my teammates in a way that allows us to move forward into a deeper engagement. And I don’t wanna call it personality but they are personal traits that people have and can develop to a point. But you’re hiring for those skill sets, and they’re becoming more and more important as service evolves. And I think, Dan, finally on this point is that as technology takes care of more of the how to’s, the soft skills are going to become even more important as to the delivery to your clients and your consumers of your goods or services. So that’s kind of what we’re seeing going forward. But it’s an exciting time for this because I think it creates an opportunity for folks in those worlds today. And I’m hoping, right, when asked people say well should my son or daughter you know make a career in service. And my answer is always yes by all means because the possibilities are endless as you get into this arena.
Mobile Reach: [00:22:18] A really interesting way of looking at it in terms of technology taking care of the technical side more and more. Not categorically but more and more, so the human side still needs to emerge as impactful as any technology ever could be. So, Chris, awesome perspectives, really insightful, truly appreciate your time with us today. I hope you enjoyed as much as I did.
Chris Gera: [00:22:42] Absolutely, Dan, thanks for the opportunity and thanks to everyone out there.
Mobile Reach: [00:22:46] You can learn more about The Service Council at http://www.servicecouncil.com Thanks so much for listening.