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May 3, 2023 | 15 Mins Read

Thoughts on Field Service Palm Springs 2023

May 3, 2023 | 15 Mins Read

Thoughts on Field Service Palm Springs 2023


Sarah shares her observations from the 20th anniversary of Field Service Palm Springs, which she attended last week. She also summarizes the “5 Lessons We’ve Learned in the Last 20 Years That Will Help Forge the Future of Service” that she presented in her keynote.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. So this week, I was at Field Service Palm Springs. I wanted to record this onsite, but I ran out of time and you can tell by my heavy sweater that I'm back in Pennsylvania. But it was the 20th anniversary of the Field Service events, and I'm sure some of you that listen have attended before. They have Field Service Palm Springs, a Field Service East event, which typically used to be in Amelia Island, last year was in Hilton Head. There's Field Service Europe, and then they have a series of Field Service Connect events in different areas. And so it was the 20th anniversary. I was asked a couple of times and was racking my brain to try and remember what was the first year I attended. I'm thinking it had to be 2009 or 2010, I certainly don't remember for sure, but it's been quite a long time.

And when I first attended the event I was typically one of two, maybe three, women at the entire conference. So that's certainly something that sticks with me because I remember, and I shared this a bit this week, the first presentation I ever gave, and it was horrible. It was horrible. I was very nervous and certainly some of those nerves came from being in a room where I was the minority. So we've come a long, long way. The attendance this year was really good and certainly consisted of a lot more diversity. So there's a long way to go. We're not where we need to be, but one of my observations was just looking around and thinking about how much that aspect has changed in the time that I've been attending.

I really enjoy this event every year, not only because it's in a beautiful setting in Palm Desert, which is nice to look at out of the windows, you're not spending a whole lot of time enjoying it per se, but it's a really nice backdrop. But there are people in this industry that I have now seen year after year for over a decade, and it's given me an opportunity to build some really great relationships. And it's always nice to see those people and have a chance to catch up. And it's also nice to have an opportunity to meet new people every year. So it's a great event, and the attendance was good this year, the energy was good, and I think it was a really great 20 year celebration for WBR and the team that puts the Field Service events on.

When I think about the progress the industry has made, it was representative to me in the diversity in attendees. Now, if someone from outside of our industry walked into the event, I'm not by any means saying they would take note of how diverse the crowd is. We're not necessarily that far, but comparatively speaking, I guess is my point. The other thing in terms of progress though that stood out to me is the topics being covered. So this year it felt like there were a lot more conversations related to leadership, to employee engagement and company culture. And those things to me show that service is becoming less of a silo and more a foundational aspect of the business because when service is or was a silo, it's easy to just focus on more of the operational things, and that's what this event used to be primarily about.

But as service becomes perceived as more of a path to growth, those other aspects start making a bigger and bigger difference because the responsibilities you're giving to your team are different. The, not ability, the responsibility you have to create a culture where innovation can thrive becomes a consideration. Obviously, there's a lot of conversations about talent. And I think that's not only because companies are struggling to find talent, but also because the type of employee field service organizations want today is different than it used to be. They want people that are more self-starters, more entrepreneurial in spirit, more empowered, more creative, and that's something that just demands some of these other changes when we think about leadership and things like that. So I really enjoyed hearing about that.

There was a session on the first day of the event from Darren Elmore of RICOH, and that session was primarily about how they are incorporating a remote first service approach, which I'm hoping to have him on the podcast to talk about. But he also talked about five essentially excuses that companies use to not innovate. And I shared a recap of that in our article on Monday. And I really liked that portion of his presentation even on its own before he got into their journey with remote service, because that's where we are. We're not necessarily talking as much about how do we incrementally improve. We're talking about how do we innovate and how do we evolve to what the next generation of service and field service will look like. So I love that. On day two, I think, yeah, day two, Charles Hughes with High Wire gave a presentation on the realities of employee burnout and the responsibility leaders have in creating better work-life balance for their teams and for themselves.

I thought it was a great session, and I also think the fact that a topic like that is on the agenda is just representative to me of progress and evolution in the space. Josh Zolin was at the event, so Josh was on the podcast before, I should have looked up the episode number. He wrote the book, Blue is the New White, he is the CEO of Windy City Equipment, and he took over his family business and he is a huge advocate and evangelist for the skilled trades. And he gave a very powerful presentation on day three talking about how we use stories to paint a better, sometimes a different, sometimes just a picture, to people about the opportunity for careers that services represents. So that was, I think, a really great session as well. So there was some great things that took place, and I gave a very short keynote presentation on day two.

I took the opportunity with the 20th anniversary theme to talk about if I were to step back and look at my observations in the time that I've been in this industry, what are the five macro lessons from the last 20 years? So really we'll say 15 years. I haven't quite been in this space 20 years, but what are the five lessons that we have learned that will really need to remain top of mind as we forge the future of service? So for those of you that weren't able to be at the event, I thought I would go through what I shared and share some of that with you. So going back to Josh Zolin's point on day three about the power of stories, I mean, I talk about that a lot. For those of you that listen to this podcast with any regularity, that is really the premise of this podcast. It's sharing the stories of service leaders, what's on their mind, what are they working toward, what are they grappling with, what lessons have they learned, et cetera.

And I think the fact that I am in a position to hear those stories, day in and day out, over a really significant amount of time at this point, because it's stories they stick in my mind. And so there's a quote, "If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten." It's Rudyard Kipling, and I really, really like that quote and like Josh, I am a big believer in the power of storytelling. And so when I think about reflecting on the years I've been in this space and what were these macro lessons that stood out, I'm sort of consolidating a lot of different stories to present to an audience about what are those core themes. And the reason that I can pull those together is because there's a lot of different stories that stand out that really illustrate some of these points. So let me share with you the five lessons. So the first one is service is a path to brand differentiation and revenue growth.

So I'm sure to some folks, that sounds very obvious, but when I started in this space, that was not an obvious statement at all. Service was perceived as a cost center. All services that I was talking with folks about were very transactional. The revenue model put a lot of focus on speed and efficiency versus value or customer experience, which meant that the workforce, the emphasis was really on productivity and technical skill versus things like soft skills and the customer journey, things like that. So it's one of the most fundamental shifts that I've witnessed in my time in this space, this recognition that service holds so much power in terms of our brand identity. It really is an ability to differentiate your business and a path to grow revenue. And I think most organizations that I speak with today have learned that lesson. They've had that recognition.

However, I think when it comes to taking that lesson and turning it into capitalizing on that potential, there's just still a lot that can be done. So there's so much more opportunity for organizations to put a focus on service, to use it, to create that brand experience and that differentiation, to move toward outcomes-based models, to leverage technology that exists today to be more predictive and to really transform the value proposition that they offer to customers, which can lead to new types of digitally focused and digitally driven offerings. It can lead to new lead to new service models and new revenue models. I think there's still a huge amount of opportunity for co-innovation with customers.

So it's a lesson that I think most have learned, but one that we need to keep thinking about because the potential that exists, the potential that this lesson could teach us, is only limited by the restrictions a company puts on itself. So that was the first one. The second one is the frontline worker is a powerful position. So tied very closely to the first, but here's where I think in terms of the continuum, the recognition of service as a path to differentiation came first. The recognition of the role the frontline workforce plays in doing that came after and for some, is still a work in progress. So historically, employees were viewed as assets, and the focus within organizations was more so on controlling them, getting them to comply with whatever change was happening, getting them to execute on the job that the company wanted them to do.

There wasn't a whole lot of acknowledgement between that correlation between the employee experience and the customer experience. And again, I said this before, there was more focus on technical aptitude versus the incorporation of soft skills and how that changes the customer relationship. So when you think about that evolution combined with the challenges companies face today around talent, this is an area where we really, really need to be thinking about that frontline worker is a very powerful person in terms of our customer experience and our brand identity. So what does that mean in terms of what that role looks like, what their experience looks like, how we treat them, all sorts of things. So we know that we can't exceed in our goals for service growth without the frontline. And as our service delivery evolves, the frontline must evolve with it. And the way that we treat our frontline workforce, the way that we leverage that position, the way that we empower them, et cetera, has to change as well.

I think a big part of that is moving beyond that inclination to want to control, and instead focus on what it takes to empower those workers and create more of a sense of ownership. So that is number two. Number three is technology when applied well is a great enabler. So this is obviously another very clear lesson we've learned. However, the point I talked about here is that, again, if you look back to when I started, a lot of the interviews I did were companies moving from actual paper to their first generation of a field service management solution. I would say that's very, very rare today. Most companies have been through that evolution, and they're now moving to their second generation, third generation and beyond of their service management systems. The technology though, has come a long, long way in terms of the sophistication and the functionality and the capabilities that exist. I mean, it really is impressive what technologically speaking, is possible today. I think what is happening is that a lot of the organizations are catching up to being able to use the capabilities that exist today.

So I think as organizations, there's a lot of layers of change that come in to digital transformation. And so I think we're at a place where really the technology providers are a bit further ahead than, not all, but some of the organizations in terms of really putting the internal change in place, refining workflows, all of those different things, to make sure that they have a good really well working foundational service management solution in place before they start to look for ways to augment that. So when you think about some of the more advanced capabilities that are in use today, augmented reality, machine learning, AI, all of those things, they all have very attainable practical applications for businesses today. And you see certainly some organizations that are ready to leverage those capabilities and are doing so with incredible success. When I look at the industry as a whole, I think there are also a lot of organizations that are catching up to being able to put those tools in place and really leverage them to their full capacity.

So there's been a lot of change, and certainly there's a lot of variety from business to business on where people stand. But there's just this idea that the technology has changed so much that some organizations are still trying to move beyond maybe a first or second gen solution to a more modern solution that's fully functional based on today's standards, and then leverage some of the more sophisticated capabilities. The companies that try and rush through that foundational step and they're on maybe an outdated or a poorly deployed foundational system, and then just try and layer in these new capabilities, tend to see issues in doing so. So it's just one of those things where it is a great enabler. It's not only a great enabler, I mean it's really, really just a necessity for today's businesses. It just needs to be handled in a way that aligns with business objectives.

So that was number three. Number four, the most successful companies change before they have to. I skipped ahead of myself. I guess going back to the technology point, the main point I wanted to make is that while there are so many powerful capabilities that exist today, they're only as powerful as an organization's ability to manage change. So I guess that's the conclusion of what I was trying to say. The companies that have gone through the school of hard knocks in managing change and coming up with a good way to do that, they're a bit ahead in being able to implement some of the more advanced technologies today. There are other companies that are still working on managing that change well so that they can leverage everything that exists today. So all right, onto lesson four. The most successful companies change before they have to.

So again, when I came into this space, things were really stable, maybe even a bit stagnant, and then things started to progress at a far slower pace than we've seen in recent years, but we started to see changes in our consumer lives from a technology standpoint. We had the introduction of the iPhone and Amazon and all of these different things that really started to put pressure on customer expectations across any industry, even those that are not really consumer centric. And so digital transformation has changed our ability to have always on constant real-time communication across the organization and with our customers. And that has just snowballed the amount of change that has taken place. Of course in the last couple of years, we've had a whole lot of other things that have forced organizations into other degrees of change, and the reality is it really isn't slowing down.

It's only getting faster. So there are companies that embrace that reality and have reconciled the fact that they need to be a lot more flexible, nimble, agile in how they work. And there are some who are still maybe looking back with longing on what was 15 or 20 years ago. So I think the message here is, you don't want to be forced to change. You want to be making the decision to do so before it becomes a necessity. Again, Darren Elmore from Rico had a great message within his session that I shared some of in Monday's article, but this idea that you want to do the disrupting, you don't want to be disrupted. And I think complacency is really at odds with creating competitive advantage. So we need to get comfortable with that reality. We need to be thinking outside of the box, looking outside of our own industry for inspiration and information and really thinking about from a company culture and leadership perspective, what are we doing to create a culture of innovation and eliminate fear of risk or fear of failure.

So I think that's a big opportunity for the industry going forward. Number five, we must prioritize people first and profits will follow. Again, when I started out, this was all very cost center conversation. It was very just like I said, employees as assets. It was very cut, cut, cut, minimize, et cetera. And that maybe worked for the place that businesses were in then. But today, with the opportunity for service as an opportunity to differentiate and to grow, we need to think a bit differently about how we juggle that or how we strike the balance and how we think about not just short-term objectives or the quarterly goals, but the big picture. This is true in how we treat our customers as people and how we focus on building better relationships with them and understanding their needs, to a degree where we can innovate from the outside in. And it's certainly incredibly important when we think about how we engage with our employees, our talent, our people internally. So I'm not saying this in the sense of profits don't matter, numbers don't matter.

They absolutely do. I just think that the companies who are focused solely on that are taking a very shortsighted approach. And I think that there is a lot of ties in with this lesson to the realities of what's important to attracting, attaining, and retaining talent today, what customers value from the companies they do business with in terms of its authenticity, it's commitment to them and to its people, et cetera. So I think this is a big trend going forward as well. And again, how that ties back to company culture, individual leaders, et cetera, will be really interesting to watch. There's another quote I shared that says, "The purpose of knowledge is action, not knowledge." So I think there are certain situations where these are lessons that have been learned, but maybe not applied as much as they can be. So that's why I wanted to reflect back on some of them because I think they're not only representative of the biggest changes I've seen, not only attending this particular event year over year, but just thinking back on all of the conversations I have and all of the things that I've witnessed.

They're representative of that change, but they're also really five of the keys to unlocking the potential that exists as we move ahead. So that's what I shared in a much faster manner, by the way, at the event, and I hope that you can take some value from that as well. So it was a great event. If you haven't had a chance to read Monday's article that talked about some of the points from Darren Elmore's session related to embracing innovation, please have a look at that and stay tuned. Hopefully I'll have an opportunity in the coming months to get some of the folks that I connected with at the event to come here and share their stories with you firsthand. So that's it for now. You can find more at While you're there, be sure to sign up for the Future of Field Service Insider so that you don't miss any of our weekly articles or podcasts.

Also, make sure you take a look at the live tour schedule. We have events coming up in Birmingham UK on May 17th, Paris on May 24th, Minneapolis on June 15th. Yes, June 15th. Dusseldorf, June 21st, and Stockholm, September 7th. So if you are near any of those areas and would like to come and join us for a day of conversation and connection, I would love to see you. All of the events are free to attend. You can register for the location nearest to you on the website, so As always, the Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at Thank you for listening.