The way field service organisations are not only managing but also building their field workforces today is in the midst of a rapid revolution. There are of course major shifts behind this cross-industry transformation that we are seeing in the very make-up of the field workforce. Some of these changes are technology led, others are being driven by sweeping societal shifts that impact more fundamentally the role employment plays in the always connected, always on-demand society that has emerged in the early decades of the Twenty First Century.
The gig-economy has blossomed, service-centric strategy has become the norm and the experience economy has risen to replace the cold transactional world of the past. Each of these shifts have been driven in tandem by the passing of the baton from ‘boomers to millennials and the current fourth paradigm of industrial innovation. The zeitgeist has firmly shifted, and we are truly now living in the age of information.
But what does this all mean for field service organisations, well in fact it means we are set for seismic change.
A new dichotomy of excellence and efficiency…
Levels of customer expectation have reached an all-time high to the extent where good is no longer enough, service is so integral to the wider whole that it needs to be excellent, always. Yet, at the same time, organizations continue to demand their field service operations do more with less. We are in an age of automation after all? Obviously, this is an untenable position for any company to hold for too long.
The issue for many field service organisations is that companies like Uber and Amazon have set the precedent for what is possible in
terms of efficiency, while also driving customer expectations of convenience, ease of use, and simplicity even higher. Damn those blasted disrupters! However, the ultimate end point of such positive market disruption from my view is that the operational efficiency that for such a long time was expected to be better in the world of business, became out paced by the solutions of the consumer world. As a result the lines between B2B and B2C have become significantly blurred.
It may be an unfair expectation, it is significantly more challenging to get a qualified field service engineer, with available parts to a job than it is to get a taxi drive, this is of course self-evident, yet as service delivery becomes more aligned with top-line revenue, and as the seamless, efficient use of tools like Uber, Deliveroo or even TaskRabbit, drive us to draw the parallels between our consumer lives and our professional lives, it is one that must be acknowledged and tackled head-on.
And all the while internal expectations for service delivery continue to rise making this a dangerous double-edged sword of Damocles hanging over many a field service manager. In fairness, companies seeking to achieve more for less is nothing new. According to Field
Service News research in 2018, 73% of field service directors stated that “their field service organization was being pressed to achieve a higher workload with the same size or smaller field workforce.” But still it does seem a dichotomy that many field service organisations now face, and one which may never fully be balanced out.
The Changing of The Guard:
If the backdrop weren’t challenging enough we then have to factor in perhaps the greatest generational shift between an outgoing and incoming working generation ever.
‘Boomers and millennials are chalk and cheese. They really are very different as a card carrying member of Gen X, with one foot in both camps I can absolutely confirm this to be true.
At the heart of this lies the disparity between how the outgoing and incoming generations both view knowledge.
The boomer generation wears his knowledge proudly on his sleeves. For the ‘boomers knowledge is inherently aligned to experience. experience. It is something gained over time, learned the hard way, and acquired the ‘honest’ way. Knowledge is something they spent their lives accumulating; it is what makes them feel, and act, like the experts they have grown to become.; trusted advisors to their team and to customers. For the ‘boomer, knowledge is an essential part of their value proposition. It is at their core, and it is tribal.
For Millennials, knowledge is something very different.
Knowledge is a resource, something to tap into when required — something to access quickly and share freely. For the Millennial field worker, the answer to the tricky repair they have yet to tackle lies a few taps away on the device in their pocket.
The same goes for the way the two generations view their career paths.
The career ladder of the Baby Boomer was straightforward, if somewhat boring and predictable. It generally progressed rung-by-rung, often within one company.
The Millennials’ career path is more adventurous and meandering. The millennial is more likely to cross multiple industries and organizations. The ‘boomers ideal was a ‘job for life’. The average Millennial expects to stay in an organization for just two years.
So the 64 Billion Dollar Question has to be “how does an organization seamlessly replace a retiring workforce with an incoming one that is so inherently different, whilst managing to continuously excel customer expectations, while delivering consistent profits for their shareholders?”
It’s one hell of a question and the simple answer is they don’t
However, let’s reframe this situation slightly. Field Service companies currently have a hitherto an unprecedented opportunity to re-imagine their field workforces and in doing so they may be able to reduce financial risk, increase new revenue streams, adapt to the societal shifts that are driving the gig economy, whilst still retaining consistent, efficient and effective service delivery standards that allow them to wow their customers.
The blended workforce is becoming an increasingly popular route for field service organisations to take which allows them to ‘blend’ a smaller core of internal field service workers who are true industry experts with a deep level of knowledge for the more challenging of service tasks alongside a contingent labour force that draws from 3rd party and gig-economy labour pools full of technicians who are able to undertake the large majority of the ‘day-to-day’ maintenance work.
In essence it is a simple application of the Pareto or 80/20 principle and it is in my opinion the way the majority of field workforces will be made up in the not too distant future.
If the challenges outlined in this article sound familiar and the concept of the blended workforce is something you think you should be exploring in your organisation, or even if it is something you are currently utilising but want to refine the process, then I’d suggest you check out a documentary me and the team here at Field Service News have recently published in partnership with Field Nation which looks at this topic in great detail.
The 45 minute documentary explores the challenges that I’ve outlined above and the potential means of overcoming these challenges in greater depth and features exclusive warts and all interview with Doug Lacy, CEO, Pivital an IT FSM company that have embraced the blended workforce and are thriving because of it where we discuss the pitfalls Doug can help you avoid.
There is also an interview with Mynul Khan, the CEO of Field Nation and possibly one of the most influential figures within the rise of the blended workforce as the man that brought forward the technology that enables it all to happen and Mynul talks about all of the various factors you should need to consider regarding the technology that can allow you to harness the gig economy.
The documentary is available exclusively to fieldservicenews.com subscribers but if you are a field service management professional then you can join 30,000 of your peers in claiming a complimentary industry subscription and access this documentary and a whole host of other educational resources.
If you to want view this document, you can gain it directly from Field Service News here.