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November 22, 2021 | 5 Mins Read

My Thoughts from Field Service Palm Springs 2021: 5 Barriers to the Service Revolution

November 22, 2021 | 5 Mins Read

My Thoughts from Field Service Palm Springs 2021: 5 Barriers to the Service Revolution


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

When Field Service Palm Springs 2020 was cancelled, I wondered when we’d ever be at the point of being able to return. It’s an event I look forward to every year and last week, that return happened with Field Service Palm Springs 2021. I can’t explain how happy I was to be back in California, sharing thoughts, ideas, smiles, and, yes, drinks with so many colleagues, co-workers, friends, and new connections. The sentiment of not being able to replicate the energy you get from an in-person event any other way is one I heard shared by many attendees. 

The event took place over three days and included mainstage keynote sessions, panels, fireside chats, and afternoon breakout track session and roundtables. It was interesting to hear stories of how companies weathered the storm of the pandemic and what’s top of mind as we move ahead. There were some great success stories shared by folks like Larry Blue of Bell and Howell, Tim Spencer of BUNN, and Gyner Ozgul of Smart Care Equipment Solutions. And while I think it’s important to listen to how others are making progress and learn from their journeys, I think it’s also critical that we work to examine some of the barriers holding field service back from its ultimate success. 

So, with that in mind, I’m sharing here the five barriers I heard this week that seem to be in the way of companies deriving the full potential of service. 

Barrier #1: No Service Identity

We know there’s a continuum of service maturity that companies are progressing through, from break-fix on one end to outcomes-based service at the other. And no company matures in one big leap. However, the barrier here seems to be a lack of service identity for some organizations. To achieve true outcomes-based service, you’re talking about a fundamental change in how business is conducted. In reality, it’s a change in company identity versus service identity – or the incorporation of service identity into the overall company identity.  

The evolution to outcomes cannot be achieved in the service function alone – it requires a top-level recognition of the opportunity service presents for the business and a company-wide commitment to the journey of adopting that identity. I believe that for us to witness a surge in progress through that continuum, we need greater and more pervasive acceptance of the fact that service must become a part of the company’s identity. We made strides when we moved from perceiving service as a profit center versus a cost center but what’s needed now is the elimination of the silo in total and for it to be seen as an integral aspect of the company value proposition.   

Barrier #2: Digital Alignment

This is tied to business identity in a way, because as companies work to create a more cohesive and service-centric value proposition, the realization occurs that greater digital alignment is required. Rather than a disparity of digital tools in use across the business, however well-functioning they are, companies need to become more cohesive in their digital strategy and digital investments. 

We discussed this need here where we explored the barriers to digital transformation success and the idea of building the Digital Dream Team. To create the customer experiences we need to, we must look at digital more holistically so that we ensure a seamless customer journey, so we gather the right data at the right time, and so we set the stage to be able to leverage that data as a strategic differentiator. 

Barrier #3: Legacy Company Culture

The need for innovation has never been greater, but for many organizations there’s a legacy culture really stifling creativity and employee empowerment. This disparity was evident in some of my discussions where you could see almost two entirely different worlds exist – on one end, you have companies that are embracing change and working to create environments where employees feel valued, know they can provide feedback and share ideas, and feel comfortable speaking up and trying things because failure is seen as an opportunity not a disaster. 

On the other hand, you hear people talking about how rigid the management is, how narrow the focus, how outdated the employee experience. And I would say that, right now, this is sadly still the majority. But I do believe it won’t be for long. There’s simply no way to remain relevant without adapting and adopting a more modern culture. Your customers will demand it and your employees will, too. There are so many resources on employee engagement, company culture, and modern leadership and my opinion is that these topics absolutely need to be woven into the event agenda more going forward because this is an area that needs attention. 

Barrier #4: The Talent Gap

This was one of the number one topics of discussion, and of course we do a lot of content on this topic. You can read my advice on how to control the controllables around the talent gap here, but while on site I also recorded a podcast with Roy Dockery of Swisslog that you’ll see soon. Roy has strong opinions on this subject and at the heart his though is, “There isn’t a talent gap, companies are just lazy in how they hire.” He’s not wrong.

What he means is that companies have always hired on experience, and that experience is quite frankly becoming extinct. We must then become more creative and, yes, work harder to find talent and develop it versus expecting experienced workers to show up in droves. There are layers to this to explore, including more modern recruiting practices, the importance of the employee value proposition, company culture and employee engagement and retention, and how technology can ease the burden. It’s a topic that will continue to be important, but I hope the audience is willing to listen to Roy’s point and begin to think differently about how to close the gap.

Barrier #5: Data Aggregation vs. Storytelling

There was a lot of discussion at the event around collecting data and leveraging ML and AI, but the barrier I believe is that companies are still focused on the aggregation of the data rather than the stories it can tell. Of course, the aggregation must come first, but ample attention needs to be put into knowing what you can do with that data and ensuring you have systems – and talent – to appropriately translate your data into valuable business insights. 

This isn’t necessarily a barrier, but more data storytelling and a deeper understanding of how to use data to drive customer value is absolutely key to the future of service and I think there’s a lot of exploration to do on best practices around this topic. 

If you attended the event, I’d love to hear your thoughts and takeaways! Also, the event is back to its normal schedule for 2022 and will be happening April 26-28. If you missed last week’s event, stay tuned here for the agenda and perhaps I’ll see you in the Spring.