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November 22, 2023 | 12 Mins Read

 Field Service Connect 2023 Recap

November 22, 2023 | 12 Mins Read

 Field Service Connect 2023 Recap


Sarah gives a synopsis of what stood out to her most from the presentations and discussions at Field Service Connect in Denver, CO last week.

Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. This week was my last travel of 2023. If you can't tell, I'm pretty excited about that. Looking forward to being home for a bit and spending time with my family for the holidays. But I had the opportunity to head to Denver, Colorado for the WBR Field Service Connect event. And in today's podcast, just wanted to share some of the things that came up at the event that were things I took note of, things that stood out to me, things that I thought were good points.

I want to make the comment that having attended a lot of these events, not only this year, but over the last number of years, decades actually, sometimes what stands out to me might be a little bit more nuanced than what would stand out to someone else. I mean, obviously we all take different things away from these conversations, but what I mean is sometimes it's these little light bulb moments that stand out to me more because I've heard conversations quite frequently on similar topics, if that makes sense. So the notes that I took are in no particular order. I'm just going to go through some of them and share. So Mark Scherzer, who is the event coordinator of the Field Service Connect event, actually shared a story in between sessions of a billboard that he had seen. I can't remember the company, but the billboard said, "AI took my job... To the next level."

And this stood out to me because I think it came up in multiple conversations, panel discussions, workshops, et cetera, that obviously companies are all working toward optimizing their operations and looking for ways to automate certain tasks, looking for ways to better leverage remote service, self-service, AI, et cetera. And we know that there can be this fear among field technicians and other service employees, that those technologies or that technology will take their jobs.

The conversations I have are far different than that. The conversations I have are with leaders who are battling to find talent at all, certainly to find talent at the pace that folks are retiring and set to retire. And so they're really not striving for a world where they aren't doing field service at all, or they are trying to get rid of things. They're really just looking to work smarter. And so that wording I thought was really brilliant, in thinking about how we need to communicate the role of these technologies to our teams. And frame it just that way, that, listen, AI and these things are not here to take work from you. They're here to take you to the next level. So I really like that. Kind of an interesting little ad that Mark threw in that really stood out to me.

I led a session on Tuesday talking about the differences between change management and change leadership. I'm not going to get into that specifically on this episode because I think I could either do an episode dedicated to what I shared, or share that in an article or a different format here on Future of Field Service. But I led that session and had some good feedback on it. Obviously, we know change is a topic that comes up in every conversation, and I think it's just a way to sort of reframe our thinking around how we navigate that.

Haroon Abbu, who is with Bell and Howell, had a couple of great presentations. The one that I sat in on was Uncovering the KPIs and Metrics That Enhance the Performance of Your Service Operation. And this was a combination of Haroon sharing some of his thoughts, but also an interactive discussion among the audience. And what was interesting to me is that there was some things that came up that you would expect; first time fix, mean time to repair, but there was also some discussion around those more traditional metrics, and debate around do they represent everything we're trying to do? Do they tell the story of success in the way that they did historically? I thought that was interesting.

And then there was also some KPIs that came up in discussion that I think we really haven't heard much before. For instance, looking at how many hours of allotted vacation technicians took in the last year and thinking about that from the lens of their work-life balance and possible burnout, et cetera. And so I loved that those things are being incorporated, and I think that the conversation lended itself toward the need to take a more holistic view of how we define success and what aspects of performance we're really trying to enhance. So really liked that.

The same day I led a panel discussion on remote and self-service with Jeremy Scholl of Dish, Matthew Kohut from Lenovo, and Sequoia Murray from Baker Hughes. And we talked about where each of those organizations are in their use of remote and self-service. Obviously three different industries, three different types of use cases, but they shared a bit where they are and also where they see their organizations going. And then we just sort of talked about the landscape as a whole, what we expect to see over the next 12 to 18 months, et cetera.

So I think some of the things that came out of that discussion are, number one, the need to meet customers where they are. We talked about the fact that most companies that are serving the public have customers that range significantly in age and therefore typically preference of how they communicate and interact with these organizations. And so while we most likely want to strive to adopt more sophisticated technology and look for different ways to promote self-service and incorporate remote service, we have to be careful that we don't ostracize any of the customers that aren't ready for that or just won't embrace that.

Ensuring the experience is smooth, so this came up when we really talked about incorporating more AI into remote and self-service and the need to make sure that we are protecting the customer experience as we innovate using those technologies. We all know we've had experiences that are smooth and experiences that are not that are automated. We talked about, as I mentioned with the point Mark brought up from the billboard, mitigating technician anxiety or concerns, and really just how this use of remote and self-service is going to continue to evolve as AI is layered on and embraced, et cetera.

Stephen Goulbourne of Mettler Toledo, who has been on the podcast before, led a session on, it was A Candid Conversation on Assessing the Outcomes of Your Technology Investments. And I really liked that, number one, Steven was willing to get onstage and share honestly about his own experiences and some of the missteps and successes, but also folks in the audience contributed to that conversation as well. It was funny, because I actually had a chat at lunch earlier that same day with a company, a service leader at a company that is really struggling with what I would call their technology debt. So they have an older, incredibly customized solution that is just proving really, really difficult to get away from. And they know they need to, but they have so much time, money wrapped up in it, and making that decision to move forward, it can be really challenging. And so I think it's a really interesting topic to have some open discussion on.

Adam Gloss gave a keynote on day three around hiring and retention, and this again is a topic that comes up at almost every conference. So what stood out to me could be different, but he talked about pathway building, and meaning, creating partnerships with different organizations to help funnel folks into the company's apprenticeship program. Now, the concept obviously isn't new. What was really interesting to me about the examples Adam shared is one, some of the level of detail, but also the level of commitment. And so I think this is sort of along the lines of, you get out of it what you put into it. So I think a lot of companies would say, oh yeah, we partner with tech schools or we recruit from the military, this or this.

I think what McKinstry is doing is really putting time and money into supporting these organizations and building not just cursory partnerships, but real relationships to help the organizations themselves, but influence the community on the potential that exists within service. So a couple of examples were they have a STEM Academy, which is an afterschool program for middle school students that they fund, and they actually send technicians there on a regular basis to engage with the children, to talk about their careers, and those technicians are on the clock to do that. They're paid to do that, and I think that's a really good tactical example of having an impact.

He also spoke about, I don't remember the specifics of the award that McKinstry won, but they had the opportunity to send someone, I think, to the White House to introduce Vice President Harris. And when they were considering who best to send, the CEO of the company asked Adam, "Who do we have as a field technician that's a woman that we could have go and speak? Because this seems like a really great opportunity to show girls and show the world that this isn't just what they might have a preconceived notion of." So they had, I think she's 23, a technician named Cameron Bowers go and speak. Adam mentioned that her comments are on YouTube, so I'm going to try and find those, and I'd like to look into this a little bit more, but I thought that was just such a smart moment of taking an opportunity to think about how to have an impact on people's perception of what a field technician is and that relatability.

Adam shared a lot about how McKinstry really struggled with employee engagement during COVID. They actually had 15% turnover. And since then, they took that as obviously a point to really dig into it and figure out what was going on, what they could do differently and do better. And they have reduced that to 1.5% and held there consistently for quite some time.

One of Adam's personal learnings that I don't think he would mind if I shared is that he realized that the field technicians during COVID felt very isolated. So most of McKinstry's staff was working from home, but obviously the field technicians are still in the field. They're at risk, and they felt really alone in their roles. And so Adam felt badly obviously, that he couldn't do a lot of the things he would typically do to engage with those workers. He couldn't do ride-alongs. He couldn't go and visit them. But he had a technician ask him, "Why didn't you just pick up the phone?" And he said it just was such a moment for him, because there is no reason. It's just he didn't think of it. And so thinking about how to be intentional in how you're connecting with your teams was a huge learning for them. Also, creating cross-functional groups to work on eliminating silos, increasing empathy among functions and among employees. So some really good points in there.

Adam was followed by Ty Parker, who was formerly with Pitney Bowes, and Ty talked a lot about, you can't have a positive employee experience, which he believes and I agree leads to a positive customer experience, without strong leadership. He talked about how leaders sometimes lose track of the importance of caring, and he talked about the need to ensure we're focused on that and also focused on having fun, and he talked about putting fun back into the business.

A couple specific points he gave that I thought were really good were, he said as a rule, he always started every single business review with people discussions first, because he said number one, it illustrates the importance of it. And number two, it ensures that if it isn't the last thing on the agenda, you're protecting that it doesn't get rushed through or missed entirely. Pitney Bowes did a thing he shared called Cultural Conversations, where they had different leaders get together with different folks and talk about, really call attention to cultural differences, particularly in communication, so that leaders understood that when they're looking to connect with their teams, they know they can't do that with everyone in the exact same way, and they understood some of the things that from one culture to another would be the norm or would be things that maybe could be misinterpreted, or approaches that would work particularly well, et cetera. So really just increasing that insight into those differences.

And the other thing he talked about that I loved is he said, when you think about employee experience, make sure you're also thinking about the experiences you're creating for your employees' families. Okay? So the example he gave is that they actually created a call center and field technician incentive trip, where the employees that met those goals and their families were taken on a trip. Obviously I love this because we talked about this, I've mentioned this before. You see this with sales leaders. You don't see this with service teams. And so if we're looking to reinforce the impact they have on the business, why wouldn't we do this? So I love that. But I think there's also the point of thinking about those experiences if they're not positive, right? If you have employees that are stressed and they don't feel appreciated and they don't feel valued, they're taking that home with them. So making sure that you really think about what the experience is you're creating, not only for your employee while they're on the clock, but for them and their families when they're not. I love that point.

There was a panel after that on hiring and retention that was moderated by Adam of McKinstry and also featured Brian Craft of Alcon, Brenda Kahl of Illumina, and Cathy Klein of Sensormatic. There was quite a few things that came up in this discussion that I would expect to come up. The importance of employee engagement surveys and following up on feedback, the importance of having career paths and career ladders, the importance of course of communication.

One of the things that really stood out to me is Brenda shared that at her company, Illumina, they have reached 35% female technicians, which is, I have no idea what the average would be, but I know that anecdotally from the conversations I have, that's really high. And one of the ways that they've done that is she said they made the decision to phone screen every single female applicant no matter what qualifications they do or do not meet on their application, because it's proven that women often under represent themselves. I just thought that was such a really smart thing to do and really good point, and it's a way to take something we know is true and combat that with action. They did unconscious bias training. They've created Lean-in support groups for their female employees and also sponsors and supporters of those female employees. And she said they also focused on making sure they were having one-on-one discussions with people who were negative toward or resistant of these efforts. Adam also shared that at McKinstry, every single employee of the organization has a diversity goal as part of their annual review. It's a goal they set themselves because obviously some of those employees have teams, some don't, et cetera. But it's a way to ensure that everyone across the business is focused on having a positive impact, which I really liked.

So I know that was a little bit all over the place, but those are some of the things that came up that stood out to me. I was actually only able to be in sessions at the conference for part of the time, so I certainly didn't catch everything, but enjoyed what I did. I chatted with some folks that commented that coming to events like these help them feel connected, less isolated, reassured that they aren't alone in the challenges they face, which is input I've shared that we've received at the Future of Field Service live tour events as well, and I think it's really a big part of the benefit of coming together like this is not only to share information, but to have that sense of community and connection.

So that was Field Service Connect. So that will be, I think, the last event recap of the year, but we have some exciting end of year and look ahead at 2024 content coming for you all. We'll also have information soon on the 2024 live tour, so stay tuned for all that and more at The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at As always, thanks for listening.