Join Bruce Breeden, founder of Field Service Resources, to learn proven best practices for attracting, hiring and retaining highly skilled medical field service technicians. In this previously recorded webinar, Bruce will also discuss how to develop technicians into top performers.
Throughout his career and in his work at Field Service Resources, Bruce supports field service leaders through research, training programs, and practical expertise. Bruce champions results in field service through comprehensive technician enablement at each step of their career.
Bruce Breeden has spent 37 years in the field service industry, having held multiple roles including field service engineer, district manager, training manager, global services director and vice president of service operations. He has nearly three decades of experience in the medical, laboratory and scientific instrument industries.
If you prefer, you can read the full webinar transcript below.
[00:02:59] Mobile Reach: Well good morning or good afternoon everyone. Thanks for joining us and welcome to today’s webinar. We’re very glad you could join us to learn how to recruit develop and retain highly skilled medical field service technicians. Just a few quick housekeeping items before we begin. I want everyone on the webinar today to know that a recorded version of the session will be made available and shared with you and you’ll be able to access the recorded women via the mobile reach Web site at Mobile which dot com. We also love to hear from you at any point during the Web and our we encourage you to ask questions along the way as they occur to you. Any time you’d like to ask our presenter a question you can submit it via the questions box on your GoToWebinar console under questions and we’ll answer all your questions at the end of the session.
[00:03:47] Mobile Reach: So without further ado, I’d like to go ahead and introduce our presenter for today. We’re very pleased to have Bruce Breedon of Field Service Resources with us to share his knowledge and proven best practices for ensuring your organization has the highly-skilled field. techs it needs to grow and thrive during a time of labor shortage. Bruce is the founder of Field Service Resources, a consulting organization that support field service leaders through research training programs and practical expertise. Field Service Resources’ mission is to attract talent to the field service industry and provide development pathways for field service engineers and technicians throughout their careers.
[00:04:29] At the very substantial foundation to Field Service Resources. Bruce has spent 37 years in field service having worked in just about every capacity you can imagine. Field service engineer, district manager, biz dev, call center operations training management industrial safety Global Services director and most recently vice president of service operations. Bruce has nearly three decades of experience in the medical laboratory and scientific instrument industries. And as if that weren’t enough to keep him busy, Bruce is also the author of the Intentional Field Service Engineer and the creator of the Field Service7 Development Program. So thank you very much for being with us today Bruce. We appreciate it.
[00:05:13] Bruce: Well thank you Dan and welcome everybody. And I appreciate everybody’s time to talk about this critical subject for our industry. Here is the agenda we have laid out today. We’ll ground our conversation first in the current business landscape for medical and life sciences. Before we start to plan any activities regarding recruiting and development, it’s important to orient those activities relative to the business models and how the landscape is changing for us. And then we’ll move into the core of the conversation which I bundle these three next bullets together to talk about the core and that is the technician considerations for selection, how we are on board, and how are we going to really develop field service talent in our organizations. Then we’ll switch over to a quick discussion on technology and how that impacts the recruitment and development of new technicians. And finally, we’ll sum it up with what we call the continuum in our recruitment retention and driving high performance works together.
[00:06:33] Bruce: So let’s get right into it and begin with the industry landscape. Starting with our customer base, obviously the regulatory environment continues to impact our customers process and their ability to comply with regulatory requirements as well as the changing revenue cycle and that perhaps varies for medical institutions or organizations from biotech, pharmaceutical and even academic. Even though it’s not revenue but there is a different business cycle relative to each one of those segments. But what’s key is how that is all changing and though the emphasis is still on regulatory as well as helping our customers achieve their goals. Then, recognizing the number one driver of a service business and in the need for customer retention it drives, it places emphasis on on our training how we adopt technology that that so fluent in our business models today and even defining our delivery structure for services, our roles within the organization and how we follow process to deliver value to the customer. I think we’re all interested in going beyond first time fixed rate type metrics in objectives as well as remote diagnostics to move onto predictive failure utilizing big data and having proactive and error-free resolution. Which drives the last bullet in terms of our workforce and having the tools, the toolset, to leverage a knowledge base and the existing skill set of our current people and our resources such as our technical support groups and training groups. So the knowledge base and retention of the skill sets are critical for operational efficiency. Certainly in terms of saving costs but also how work gets done. And we’ll touch on that relative to recruitment as well. So that provides a bit of a landscape while high level. Bruce: I think we can all relate with the changing customer market. How we achieve customer retention. How we move into using technology for our processes as well as moving into predictive failures and leveraging the knowledge strength of our organization to improve operating efficiencies. So moving on to the core, we’ll start with field service technician selection. Admittedly, my phrase here “focus on fit” is a broad term and perhaps a bit overused and I’ll drill down to into some specific here to give you a better example. But obviously we need to determine a fit for a individual relative to their technical skillset and experiences. But as we all address today, the customer interaction ability, the so-called soft skills, continue to become more and more important, particularly as technology changes how we get our work done and particularly also how customers’ business models are measured and processed. You know determining fit is really really key. But let me go into what I call the working environment to best characterize a good fit for medical and life sciences. Having spent a few decades in this career field starting out myself as a field service engineer, I thought it was important to position these aspects with our selection process. We all know that environments for laboratories are specific and they vary between a clinical lab, a hospital research lab, or even process manufacturing type environments. So what are you determining for your candidate and how well will they work in that environment? I’m not sure I read all the bullets here, they’re there for you to read, but let me just call out one aspect of that.
[00:11:12] The value of the sample and the value of a patient than having gone through a testing process or diagnostic is really important for a field service technicians to relate to. It gives them a level of appreciation and understanding that frankly fit right into a customer interaction soft skill and working with scientist and physicians, as we know, can be different than others. The level of technical detail they may have, the directness, the points relative to their experiment or their sample could be a lifelong study that that sample represents and how that technician handles that sample standard specimen maybe. How they involve themselves in the proper preparation of that to the handling of that to the storage of that to the analytical again of that specimen is something that typically doesn’t come out in most interviews. And I think as we look for fit, it’s an opportunity to really characterize our working environment not just from the physical sense but from the interaction sense. Certainly field service technicians and field service engineers have to operate with a level of stress and pressure. There’s a 24/7 response. There is the uptime. There are the production cost and process that may be tied up and not everybody is a good fit for that. And other people thrive on that.
[00:12:50] So again when you look for fit, I believe it’s important to to characterize the entire working environment from the physical areas they may be working in, to their concern for safety, their comfort with biohazard bloodborne pathogens and the like to working with a level of stress and being a solution provider as well as a broad range of work that that sometimes associates to their responsibility. Some service technicians just work on hardware others just on software. Some are doing it through remote diagnostics and others have specialty groups for applications, customer training, and perhaps even the validation. But others are all lumped together. So depending on your specific organization and how you’re structured and the roles are defined it’s important to probe into the range of work comfort level and what we call fit for that field service technician.
[00:13:52] Bruce: Moving on to onboarding. To me, this is like a flight ascent. It’s the most critical process and it reflects straight back into recruitment success. Before going into the bullets, in my experience the quality and preparation that go into planning to onboard a new recruit into the organization are paramount. That there is an organized plan as we look even in terms of how we get a resource to a productive state. Onboarding, obviously, is the pathway, the toolset, the direction to actually get there. I think it’s important to start off with safety as one of the onboarding elements. Obviously, there’s a responsibility we have been working within our industry and in the environments. But how well do we prepare somebody on how to access a facility. It could be a P3 lab. It could be a production environment. And what are the safeguards? What are the protocols for working around a facility? It may not be known to them. We all have different roles perhaps for our technicians and engineers working with our team. Like I just said earlier, some just work on hardware software.
[00:15:21] Bruce: Other ones go on and do applications the customer training and so on. So again it’s an opportunity to describe what their role is within your organization within that specific team. So they have a broad understanding of their role within the entire enterprise. 24/7 and up-time focus I believe hinge also on the value of the sample and the accuracy of the result. Essentially our business is working on samples and accuracy and so forth to provide a result. And I don’t recall a lot of discreet training on that. When I came into the industry as a young field service engineer, I had a great mentoring team that showed me the way with that. And I think that’s important. So you could coach and mentor people, you could have established formal training. But there needs to be some type of plan to bring people in from an onboarding standpoint. One of my personal favorites in heavily described in the book, “The Intentional Field Service Engineer,” as Dan said in the introduction, the attraction of talent into our field is critically important. And a lot of the candidates I’ve worked with don’t have a background in field service necessarily. And being able to tell a story about the responsibilities, the opportunities, and the development options they have that will make for a career field service is really important. And again it can come through in the onboarding plan. Service organization vision, could be a company vision, could be a subset of that with a service organization, but everybody must understand the entire vision that the organization has. And again what is the role of the teams and the individuals within that organization to achieve that vision and drive value for the customer.
[00:17:23] Last but not least is the whole aspect of systems technology. And my goodness that has changed over the years as we know. We’re all looking to incorporate technology to have a competitive edge, to improve our efficiencies, and to improve the customer experience. And the technician has to use all of that technology. In my current responsibility, I can tell you that in this year alone we’ve implemented, in addition to our service management system, which is fairly complex, a mobile solution a and expense reimbursement system. We’re doing an HRIS system with timely reporting and we are also implementing telematics. Our service technicians are DOT regulated so we do telematics, but that’s a lot of technology to take in. And so the critical feedback I got from our new hires is, “I wish I had more systems training earlier on as I started out.” And so we’re adjusting to that. But to make the point about onboarding to the recruitment is this is something you can expose. Your onboarding plan is something you can expose to your technician candidates as they come through the interview process. Because to them, they’re looking for help. Am I going to succeed? What’s in it for me? And how do I actually do that? And it can be intimidating. So the idea is to make it a welcoming approach and an informative and practical approach to coming into the organization.
[00:19:01] Bruce: And we’ve found that the productivity levels have dramatically increased, the retention rates have increased, and our recruitment success has improved because this is in our toolbox. And our competitors have not necessarily had a formal onboarding program that goes into this kind of background. And I think that’s really important. And so the last core element of recruitment is development. And again all of these things go hand in hand. But my phrase here, “the power gear,” I firmly believe that a service organizations ongoing development program truly is the power gear which will attract and retain top performers. Because people, particularly high performing people, even millennial population, not to say they are not top performers, but you look at a lot of people coming into the organization and typically they want purpose and a pathway for job fulfillment, career fulfillment, and advancement. And I think it’s a win-win, because, essentially, you’re outlining a pathway to a future. You’re outlining that this is a career which it truly is. It’s not just a task or a job. And we need ongoing development in the organization. Just recently in my organization, we recognized a senior field service technician for his 50th work anniversary. And it’s just incredible when you think back on 50 years of the technology that that person has associated with and all the management structures and all the systems and all the processes that have evolved in that tenure. And this person is a fantastic field service technician. He never had any aspiration to go into management and that’s perfectly fine. He wanted to be the best field service technician possible. And every year I see him in new product training classes and he’s continuing learning and so on. And he’s thrived and we’ve thrived because of that resolve. But that’s an example of ongoing development.
[00:21:22] It could be on the technical side, it could be on the system side, it could be on the soft skills side, but showcasing your ongoing development program is a number one technique for attracting, interesting, and involving your candidate into your organization and how it works. And as Steve Jobs often tells about in the early days of Apple, they would bring candidates in and show them a prototype Mac at the time and they would look at how excited that person was about the new evolving technology. And you said it is one of the criteria for selection. So I also think if you position the ongoing development program you have, you can also determine, “Is this somebody that really wants to make it a career? Is this somebody that wants to continually develop over the years?” Because it’s mandatory frankly. There’s no way to maintain expertise, even from a technology standpoint, without learning each and every year. Obviously, we all have our strengths and weaknesses and so there is a need for ongoing development for a lot of purposes. But certainly, we strive to have the energy of people that want to develop themselves and put some responsibility back to us as a company in providing that pathway. Because top performers will typically move on if they can’t get that from their organization or their leader.
[00:22:58] Bruce: So let’s talk about technology a little bit. Technology, you know candidates also look at what kind of technology organizations have. And technology is really important from a mobile standpoint as we know today. And recognizing the laboratory market and production facilities, often you can’t get an online connection. So you have to have the ability to work offline.
[00:23:27] So we typically look for baseline mobile capabilities in terms of how can we use the device in their native capabilities? How can we go between the Android, Apple, and sometimes Microsoft? For example, the telematics system and the time reporting system I mentioned, we’re implementing today are both operating via the smartphone on an Android platform. And so the native applications with GPS and such and the imagery even to take pictures and communicate with our tech support has been really critical for us. So we look for baseline technology capabilities. And as the business evolves and we want to drive more change through our process, we also look for advanced capabilities in our mobile systems in terms of making that task process driven on to the mobile device and being able to configure often as the business model changes. Again going back and reflecting on our customer process and therefore what do we need to do from our business process? What do we need to do for our technology in the hands of our technicians? We also usually have different CRM systems or ERPs and other major applications and have the ability to integrate with those different platforms. And finally, to the joke with the with the shoe there with the wings, you know, we need it yesterday. Because the business requirements are so rapidly changing that we’re needing to get these applications in the hands of our people because it results in productivity and enhanced customer experience. So technology is really key. Obviously, candidates are interested in and how they’re going to work.
[00:25:29] Bruce: And technology, just like company vehicles and other equipment, are evaluated and even the onboarding processes and the ongoing development process are utilized from the mobile platform. So everything today seems to be mobile and I don’t see it slowing down so I definitely talk about technology capabilities in terms of mobility with our candidates and how to use that platform to engage them in their ongoing development.
[00:26:05] Bruce: Switching to the development program. This is this is an example of a development program. Clearly, we’re positioning the fact that training itself is not sufficient. Training is training and it has its place, but frankly, it’s under the umbrella of an operating practice. So starting with the corporate vision, values, and goals that are linked to what the customer expectations are and how that needs to be adaptive year in and year out as the customer changes and we strategically change our organization. Then there needs to be a menu of content. It could be in the form of work objectives. It could be in the form of critical focus areas that we use as the Field Service 7. It could be technology. It could be customer service skills. It could be safety. The campaigns may vary year in and year out but there has to be a menu of content that supports the corporate vision and goals. The most important part is the engagement practices. Because if a corporate vision is truly understood and are articulated well, then the activities, also known as engagement practices, simply follow that to put the plan into action and people can engage through their daily work activities. It could be a form of job aids, micro-learning is important. We talk about knowledge networks earlier and that’s onboarding process.
[00:27:46] That’s a specialty process and it’s really helpful today as a lot of our organizations have a lot of senior people that are exiting the company. So that’s a form of engagement and engage the person that may be exiting that maybe wanting a specialized duty and early retirement to the line management and the technicians that are using that connection. Performance reviews are another example of engagement practices you know too often they’re broad brushed and not specific enough. And if the corporate vision is to use technology and get to this point in the business then there are work objectives and there are performance measures and reviews that determine how that’s actually getting done. So I touched on the measures a little bit there. But you can measure them in a lot of different ways. These are just some examples. But a true development program should incorporate these elements. Not just provide training. Not just provide soft skills training but broadly related to the overall organization vision goals. The continuum on the next slide is basically my favorite part because we’re all business leaders. We’re all involved in the service industry and I believe that continuum starts with telling our story. That we start with attracting talent to the field service industry in total. I truly believe it is a great career.
[00:29:26] It has done well for me and for so many people that I know as such a beautiful career and in terms of blending technology with business responsibility at least as many opportunities. And so I believe we ought to tell a story on how to attract talent. Which in these days with low unemployment and we compete with against manufacturing and other disciplines for access to skilled labor, combined with the aging of our workforces, it’s really important to tell the story and attract people to the field service industry. Then we peel the onion back if you will and talk about the medical and life sciences field. Again it’s a really valuable story there. And I can relate and explain years and years ago with a company I worked with as a field engineer. Our company tagline was improving the quality of life and we made scientific instruments. And so it was nice to relate to the little tagline that came out on every package that was shipped out and spare parts and such. That I worked for a company that was improving the quality of life and I had a role in that as a field service engineer and I addressed that proudly. I was not a scientist. I supported science and I supported you know life improvement, disease management, and such. And I think there is a story we have there, too. And it’s a great environment and it’s filled with high tech it’s filled with applications and it’s filled with opportunity. And I believe the first two things go hand-in-hand attracting people to field service and then into art or industry of medical and life sciences. Your service organization in your field service engineer technician program are your opportunity to advertise what you have under the hood. This is show and tell. It is talking about your technical support, your training, your development programs, your technology, your opportunities, and the development program is the how to. It’s the how to actually advance and progress in being the best FST or FSE that one can be. And, collectively, that retains top performers. Which frankly is what this is all about. And there’s no way as business leaders in service we can make our goals, unless our workforce is achieving their goals. And so how do we get that done? And that’s what I say through that continuum. And if you don’t have openings and you don’t happen to need to recruit people, this also is very applicable. Because we have to, as we know in the service you are in the business, we have to have retention and we have to sell our customer on the value that we’ve delivered. And so if we want to retain top performers and make our goals. It’s all about that continuum, in my opinion.
[00:32:29] Bruce: So, that brings us to a close here. In the practice of Field Service Resources, we provide staffing, training, and engagement support. Dan mentioned the book “The Intentional Field Service Engineer.” The book is in three sections. One is to attract people into the industry of field service. To explain the background behind it and all the various forms, not just life sciences and medical. The second section of the book goes into the Field Service 7 Development Program and how to excel as a field service technician or engineer. And the third part of the book is profiles and service. These are four people identified that I work with over my career and how they maximize their opportunity in field service and grew to what their career expectations were. So it’s more like a guidebook, it’s not so much a large book. It’s a guidebook or a manual to provide people inspiration to come into the field and how to best develop themselves.
[00:33:33] So at Field Service Resources, we provide training, we provide coaching. Certainly dealing with major change initiatives or first-time service managers. And that’s what we do at Field Service Resources.
[00:33:45] Mobile Reach: Outstanding. Thank you so much for those insights. Oh, excuse me I’m sorry to get one more comment?
[00:33:54] Bruce: No I just wanted to sum it up enough and transition to questions and answers and any Q/A that people may have.
[00:34:01] Mobile Reach: Oh please do. And we have a few in the queue so please go ahead and then we’ll jump into questions.
[00:34:06] Bruce: I’m sorry Dan I was just meaning that for any questions I’ll be happy to take some.
[00:34:18] Mobile Reach: Oh gotcha, I misunderstood. Thanks, Bruce. The first question we have is about training. It says “How often should field text be in training. Is there a cycle or a schedule you recommend?”.
[00:34:30] Bruce: I thank you for the question, whomever. In my opinion, there should be an annual training plan. I think that heavily varies on a company’s business model and the specific individual in mind. Frankly, I think there should be training on each and every year. That’s why I suggest an annual training program. Because if that is done thoroughly, in my opinion, it starts with what’s changed in the business was changed in that particular service team. You address the strengths and weaknesses of the field service technician. What are their interests? What are the opportunities what are the impacts that we have to address?
[00:35:20] So I think if an organization sits down and establishes an annual training process, that it will discover that there is always a need. It could be technology coming into the organization it could change over to a different product line responsibility. It could be going into a different territory to soft skills which are lengthy. It could be interaction skills. It could be selling services or could be safety. You know, we all have the performance record for our team and a good coach, a good leader, is always looking at how to how to set the bar a little bit higher and how to get the best out of their resources that they have and they are all different. And so, therefore, I think it’s somewhat personalized. But, obviously, if the company and the service organization is looking to implement X technology then that’s probably a common thing to do to train up on. But I can tell you that with my business experience, there is always something that we’re trying to do better. You know, retain customers better, to sell more contracts, to be more efficient at the ones we deliver. So there’s no shortage of training I would say definitely an annual training plan is the way to start.
[00:36:42] Mobile Reach: The next question, Bruce, is about productivity. What’s a realistic expectation for how quickly a new field service engineer should become fully productive in their role? I would start with fully productive. I think today’s best approach is to break it down by task. I think that if full productivity means the ability to provide service, and that can be broken down into, are you talking installation, are you talking about preventative maintenance or full troubleshooting.
[00:37:19] You can even break a product line responsibility down into tasks. And somebody can certainly be trained, usually, in a quicker fashion is just go out and do preventative maintenances, you know the type of inspections or things like that, where they will slowly but surely get exposed to other services and so on. So I think it begins with breaking large tasks down into small tasks and in finding a way for somebody to not only be productive but be training while somewhat productive if you will. And things like selling you know $30,000 worth of service contracts in their first year probably aren’t realistic. It probably comes back to your first year, you’re really trying to learn product lines you try and in your organization, your systems, and give people manageable achievable goals that are constantly progressing. And depending on your technology and your business model as a company, there may be some niche opportunities. Certainly with mine today we do have that. And so we have a fast track to get to a level of productivity. And then a longer-term plan to get to what we call full productivity of that resource. The key is to have it there.
[00:38:35] Mobile Reach: The last question, we were just about out of time. We’ve run over a little bit past half past but we have time for one more question, it’s about retention of field service techs. What are the potential issues to be addressed if a field service organization struggles to retain its technicians?
[00:38:56] Bruce: I firmly believe that typically involves the development program and the quality of our training and support. Because people need to see a pathway and they need to be invested in it.
[00:39:12] It’s a basic level of respect and appreciation, as well as there’s no way to be effective in our roles without constant direction and development. And I’ve always also found that a development program is probably related to an organizational vision and seeing that clearly understood throughout that organization. Because if that exists, then there’s usually a supporting development program to make that vision actionable and everybody’s engaged. Otherwise, it’s small groups talking and thinking and doing, and you really need the entire enterprise. So it usually revolves around the quality of the organization and its ability to develop talent for a combination of the company’s purpose as well as the individual’s purpose. There’s hopefully a match that one day there will be a need at X location and here’s how you get there. I had the good fortune of a wonderful series of supervisors in my career that engaged me in those conversations and helped me. We don’t do it ourselves. We do it as a collective group and I think that’s usually the cause of the turnover.
[00:40:33] Bruce: That makes makes a lot of sense. Bruce, your passion and your enthusiasm for the profession certainly come through loud and clear. Bruce Breeden, president of Field Service Resources, thank you so much for sharing all your insight and expertise with us today. Thank you, Dan. And thank you everybody on the call today. I wish everybody happy holidays.
Mobile Reach: Thanks for joining us, everyone. Have a great weekend.