In this episode of the Five Questions for a Field Service Expert Podcast, we chat with Nate Beckman, business analyst at Safelite AutoGlass. Nate offers his insight into mobile field service app development best practices as well as the future of field service management. The episode runs about 27 minutes.
If you prefer, the full transcript is available below.
Mobile Reach: 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.
Today we have Nate Beckman on the podcast. Nate is a senior business analyst at Safelite AutoGlass. He was instrumental in launching Safelite’s award-winning mobile field service app and the “On My Way” text program that lets customers know when they can expect a field tech to repair their windshield. Before moving over to Safelite, Nate was a project manager at Limited Brands, home of Bath and Body Works, Victoria’s Secret and other brands. Before that, he was developing CRM solutions for Accenture. So Nate has both broad and deep technical expertise in field service management.
Welcome to the podcast, Nate, we’re glad to have you.
Nate: Glad to be here.
Mobile Reach: So Nate, your expertise lies across a range of areas. The questions we have for you today are grab-bag in that they are multi-faceted. So, we wanted to put these in front of you and get your take on this like we do with all of our field service experts on the podcast. So let’s get rolling with the first one, what do you say?
Nate: All right, yeah, let’s go.
Mobile Reach: Cool. I know you are a strong advocate for ensuring the mobile apps you deliver solve customer needs just as effectively as they can. Tell us a story about an app that you helped create that went right to the heart of solving customer problems.
Nate: Sure. At Safelite, in 2007, we introduced a mobile field application for the technicians that are out in the field. At the time, we had around 2,500 technicians. That number has grown to more than 6,000 now. They needed to be able to change some of the work order on the fly and to be able to take payment on the fly right there with the customer instead of calling in a credit card, things like that.
And our dispatching group also needed better visibility as to who was where and the progress of the work orders. That’s what the app really gave us. It allowed us to have higher visibility within the entire field service operation. It also helped to drive a consistent process so things were done in the right order and all the activities that we expect are completed for each customer. That really helped to drive the customer experience. We went from a Net Promoter Score (NPS) of 73 to 87 with the advent of this mobile app. It was the foundation for bringing us into the modern era of mobile apps and field service from a technology perspective.
Mobile Reach: That is an incredible increase in your NPS. From 73 to 87, that’s remarkable. Nice work on that.
Nate: Thanks. I mean I surely didn’t contribute much to that. It was definitely the technicians in the field being more mindful of the kind of customer service we were trying to deliver. I think the platform really helped to guide technicians and allowed us to adapt as we went forward. As the needs and expectations of customers change, it allowed us to adapt to that. Things like you mentioned with “On My Way” texts, that really is impossible unless we have a smartphone solution from which to start. And eventually, customers not only expect to know when you are going to be there, they also, as of the last three or four years, want to be able to watch you drive your van all the way to the service location. So we’ve implemented that as of last year. There’s now a tech tracking tool so customers can watch a little Safelite van drive to you if so choose.
Mobile Reach: That makes sense. I guess Uber has trained us in that regard. So, I’m curious, obviously, adoption is key and usability is key. Talk to us about how you have gathered input from your users, or your expected users, when you’re designing and deploying mobile app solutions for the field.
Nate: We started in a user-first way. We brought in technicians from all over the country representing different geography groups. We have both repair and replacement specialists in our company so we brought all of them in. We had a 12 to 15 technician kind of mini-summit where for two days we just asked them all about their prior processes and then asked them what they would love to be able to do. So that gave us a really strong start.
Obviously, we couldn’t implement everything they dreamed of. But we at least got a chance to really listen to them and then go to the architectural stage and see what was going to able to be implemented from that perspective. Beyond that, there are lots of things we do operationally to make sure the mobile apps are still dialed in. I started sending out a five- to a seven-question survey that would go to all the technicians on their smartphones. I didn’t want to bug anyone too frequently, so I set it to go out at six-month intervals per person but split the surveys into two. So, essentially, every quarter, I was getting survey data back.
And you can kind of tweak some of the questions in the survey, but I would always keep the first two or three questions consistent. So, for instance, one question on the survey was “How would you rate the day-to-day reliability of the app?” That allowed me to get an answer to a feeling that they have about us, but then still measure it on a 1-10 scale and track performance quarter by quarter. I think that really helped to drive the message home that we were listening. And that if those figures were starting to go in the wrong direction, then we would be able to take immediate corrective action.
Mobile Reach: That’s great insight. Thanks for the tips on the questions you were asking and how you track those trends over time. I assume that once the app is in the technicians’ hands there’s a lot of changes and enhancements that would go on based on that feedback.
So, staying on this same path for a moment, what are some other ways to ensure your techs like the features you deployed either in the first place before the app is actually in production, or using that feedback ensuring that they are going to latch on and stick with what you deployed as an update?
Nate: It goes back to including them in the design process in the first place, but then closing that loop when you put something in that someone has suggested. We actually include a thank you message for people that made suggestions in the release notes. We don’t necessarily name the person who came up with the suggestion. A lot of times, multiple people make the same suggestion. But if something makes it all the way through, we like to indicate that this feature was suggested by a repair specialist or this feature was suggested by a dispatcher. We really want to reflect that this a partnership.
I know that in some companies there’s kind of a corporate versus field antagonism. I don’t feel that at Safelite at all. I think there’s a lot of mutual respect. I have had experience working both in the field at Safelite as a corporate trainer, where I would go from store to store to spend time with the store managers and technicians and dispatchers. And then I’ve spent plenty of time at the corporate office as well. So I have a kind of unique perspective on that. And I can say with confidence that it’s really a lot more productive when you work in that kind of partnership. I would also say that reporting can help when you try and monitor, change, or encourage certain behavior. However, we found that it needs to be at least weekly. Quarterly reports or even monthly reports were not frequent enough for our store managers to affect any change. So, those are some of the things that really work for us.
Mobile Reach: Nice. It sounds like a good egalitarian environment where you have people on the front lines doing what they do best, then metabolizing that feedback to good effect, right? You’re certainly improving numbers like your NPS score and others, so you are doing a lot right.
So, let’s pan the camera out for a minute and move away from app adoption and tech productivity and talk a little about market dynamics or even customer dynamics. How has Safelite adapted to the changing automotive market, customer demand and workforce dynamics in say the last couple of years? And then what kinds of issues, given the fact you are in this market where automobiles themselves are evolving as quickly as any consumer product it would seem, are you grappling with right now?
Nate: The rate of change always seems to be increasing, right? I would say probably at the end of 2015 or beginning of 2016, we really took a look at our dispatching model and that probably remains a real focal point for the field. I would say it was even a pinch point. Because so many field techs rely on the dispatcher to build a successful route but also to be available throughout the day to adapt as the tech runs into traffic issues, the customer calls in with changes to the schedule or things like that.
There’s plenty of things that can get in the way, as everyone knows, in a field technician’s day. Field services is really tough when it comes to that. But we looked at trying to build a tool with data that we already had that would provide sort of a dashboard look. Our dispatching software didn’t have Gantt chart views, so we applied some of the knowledge that we had about that the dispatcher didn’t yet have. That gave dispatchers and store managers a brand new look at today’s data. We didn’t really focus on tomorrow and we didn’t look at historical data. We said just for today, what can we help them do to manage all of the change that’s going on?
In that tool, we gave them the ability to see clock-in and clock-out info and that would overlay on top each technician’s route for the day. It would overlay their work orders and the sequence in which they received them. That helped dispatchers determine who was running late to an appointment, who was running on time, etc. That would show them immediately which jobs were being done out of sequence.
So our dispatchers called all of those customers who for whatever reason weren’t done in the right order or were skipped for the next customers. In a lot of cases, that was because the customer had something come up. We were able to retain those customers as dispatchers and other folks called them up, keeping those folks in the system. And maybe they reschedule them a little bit faster. That helps to really improve the situation for everyone.
The technician doesn’t have lingering jobs on their work order all day that they aren’t sure how to handle. It allows them to really focus on the customers they are servicing. At the same time from a macro level, we have a more accurate handle on today’s capacity and what’s available. If we can bring in more work and customers can get rescheduled faster, that really helped. I would also say we looked at ways to allow the stores to do a little bit more of their own scheduling. The store locations could do more of their own scheduling as opposed to the centralized dispatch model, which really exists in all of our markets for the mobile work. But we said the in-shop work we know that the stores themselves know how to handle. Giving that flexibility and autonomy back to the store locations is something that they really appreciated. It also allowed those dispatchers to focus on the mobile work that is so important.
Mobile Reach: It’s a balance, right, between sort of decentralizing and empowering and then also mandating and enforcing that notion of a consistent customer experience but then also the top line and revenue and these types of things you have to strike a balance between.
Nate: That’s very true. Now that you mention revenue, that made me think of a larger program that started last fall that we’re really just bringing to life now in Q1, which is on the fly sales. In our world, that means wiper blades and glass cleaner. If you’re at the grocery store and you’re checking out, these are the candy bars and the magazines you’re ready to buy as you going out, right, the impulse buys. In our case, they are very aligned with the safety of the driving experience. The better windshield wiper blades that you have, the more clearly you’ll be able to see down the road. Again, glass cleaner, same concept.
It’s kind of something that grew from the field that we listened to. Customers loved our glass cleaner. It’s something we always do at the end of our work no matter what. If you need a repair or to replace a windshield, we always clean the glass. Customers were asking to buy this item and it was really a supply issue. We didn’t really have the ability for them to buy it. Plenty of technicians would kind of hand it off and just say you can just have it. But we thought this was an item a lot of customers would appreciate. It’s Safelite branded, so it made sense to figure out how technicians could add that to the work order, then even be credited for the sale and credited for the installation of the wiper blades. It may sound simple to just be able to add those items at the end of the line, but it certainly wasn’t. That’s something that’s going to be moving out to all markets by the end of Q1.
Mobile Reach: That’s a classic example of empowering your field techs to not only delight the customer but to suggest product enhancement and expanding the portfolio of service offerings ultimately. As small as it may seem, glass cleaner, like you said, you have got a lot of brand durability there. If the repair experience is the last emotional connection with your brand, and if you’re able to carry that brand on with a spray bottle, what a great innovation.
Nate: It is, though you have to get those exactly right. We definitely had the internal debate. You know, what does it say about our technician? How does it change our customers’ impression of us as a brand and our technicians specifically when we have them offer something to sell? As opposed to being a technical expert, that’s a little bit different approach. But it made so much sense to us. And as an additional service offering, we couldn’t say no. It really made sense and in the test, it actually increased the NPS. So, at that point, we knew that our customers were telling us this was the right way to go.
Mobile Reach: Excellent. Last question of the five, we’ve come to that final question. You have been a field service practitioner for some time. Not a technician but somebody is understanding the pulse of what your techs need out in the field. You probably have one of the best vantage points at Safelite to understand where the market is going. So, if you had to look into your crystal ball, where do you see field service management in the next three to five years.
Nate: Well my crystal ball is actually a Magic 8 Ball. You know the kind you shake and ask questions? Haha. Signs point to Uber and Lyft, as you mentioned earlier, changing the expectations for customers out of mobile service providers. And the tech tracking app is part of that. I think some of the things that are offered through those services and others like it are smoothing out the payment process. So, this could be the customer choosing ahead of time the card they are going to use. Maybe it’s entering their credit card number ahead of time so the service provider can really focus on the work at hand and not be distracted or bothered by having to ask for money. There’s that human component of being able to simply fix someone’s issue without the burden of asking for money. It’s an awkward thing. It’s a social thing. It’s a personal thing that we love to be able to get to where our technicians are seen as simply the service provider and handing off of payment is handled in a different place and more at the customer’s convenience.
So at Safelite, I see an increasing complexity in the type of work we are doing in a couple different ways. We’re going to be able offering different services and especially the technology that comes with the windshield is coming more and more robust. There are lane departure warnings and automatic braking. Most of these types of safety systems are calibrated though cameras which we impact when we do a windshield replacement. I think in field service in general, this is going to be true.
The things you may not have been expected to do in the past are going to be an expectation in the future in terms of what you can do on the road, on the fly. And, that’s going to change the routing process, the scheduling process, everything upstream from that is also impacted. Obviously, the more autonomous we can make our field service associates and the more they can handle the job on the spot, the happier they are and the happier the customers are. But that’s going to require more skills, more tools for them in their truck, and that’s going to require more training.
It’s going to continue to be a challenge for field service organizations to keep their associates autonomous and not have them necessarily rely on, let’s say, a video training module which maybe they can now access on their phone. It’s great that they can access that but we’re going to need to be able to make sure that they can still handle most of the work without always have to refer back to something else in the first place.
I will tweak that with mobile video support as becoming standard within about five years. That’s where you’ve got an expert in the seat somewhere, and maybe a novice or someone needs guidance out in the field who’s able to pull up a panel, show it someone who’s remote and be able to have a live video conference about it and solve an issue. I do think that’s something that’s coming very soon
Mobile Reach: That makes a lot of sense. I appreciate those predictions. It’s always hard to make those predictions authoritatively. But based on the fact that you have a tremendous volume of work being done at Safelite every day around the country, there’s probably not anyone better to ask than you, knowing that you have that high volume of activity happening.
Well look, Nate, thank you so much for joining us on the Five Questions for A Field Service Expert Podcast. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you today.