[This companion piece to Field Technologies Online‘s August, 2016 Technology Update focuses on the impact of introducing “new” Millennials into the existing service technician workforce. It contains the full text of Bill Pollock’s submitted responses to the seven questions originally posed by Brian Albright, contributing editor, Field Technologies magazine. As is the case in the magazine’s multi-analysts interviews, most of these responses are not included in the published article. As such, please consider this Blog as a more detailed companion piece that provides additional “between the lines” thoughts and opinions.]
BA: What are some of the key staffing issues field service companies face when it comes to replacing retiring technicians?
BP: Historically, the replacement of a retiring field technician was nothing more than the “changing of the guard”, that is, hiring a new, typically younger, individual to serve in his place (i.e., given that, historically, most field technicians were male). This would require the presence of a sound and professional Human Resources (HR) operation and, once the new hire was selected, a full round of training, certification and company orientation classes to ensure that the replacement technician could move into his predecessor’s slot without any major disruption either to the quality and consistency of service delivery, or to the customers’ ongoing business operations.
In general, the only area where the replacement technician would not be up-to-speed from the get-go would be with respect to the retiring individual’s accumulated knowledge and familiarity with the installed base of equipment, company policies and procedures, and – most importantly – with the experiential knowledge of the individual customer interactions that had taken place in the past. The retiring technician would have undoubtedly learned all the “tricks of the trade” and “secret sauces” for managing his customer, obtaining parts, making quick fixes and otherwise taking care of the installed base of equipment.
However, he would also have an accumulated knowledge of the customers themselves, in terms of their names and nicknames, their requirements and expectations for service, their position and roles within the company, how involved their supervisors would normally get with respect to service calls, etc. They probably also knew the names of their family members, their favorite sports teams and, generally, what it would take to make them happy.
It is typically in these “softer” areas of customer service where the new hires would find themselves to be most disadvantaged. This would not necessarily be the end of the world for them and, for those individuals who are basically user-friendly to begin with, would not represent a particularly long-term problem. Of course, this may not apply to all of the millennials just now entering the services workforce.
In the past, the accumulated knowledge of each individual technician was generally quite extensive (i.e., both from a technical aspect, as well as from a customer relationship vantage point); also, the technician training and certifications undertaken were typically routine (if not boilerplate) and easy enough to apply to the next generation of hires.
However, in today’s world, instead of sending new hires to the same types of training classes and certification exams as their predecessors, there is a much more fragmented set of alternative training scenarios available (e.g., on-site, distance learning, self-administered PC training, etc.). Further, with the growing use of Augmented Reality (AR) in support of field technicians, some organizations are likely to cut back even further on training, since the Internet and/or AR could be used as impromptu “on the job” instant training, whenever the case warrants.
Still, there will always be numerous geographic, skill set, personal interest and training considerations that will need to be addressed whenever new hires are brought into the mix. This will not likely change over time. However, a proficiency for utilizing new technology will separate the “good” new hires from the “bad”; but there will always remain the question of chemistry – both with respect to dealing with their peers, as well as with their customers.
BA: How are incoming techs (who are often much younger) different from the technicians they are replacing? How can field service organizations prepare for this new generation of millennials?
BP: It’s not so much how the services organizations will be able to deal with the new generation of millennials; but, rather how the new generation of millennials will be able to deal with the services organizations – many of which are likely to be firmly entrenched in somewhat old and archaic, not yet fully automated (if at all) service delivery processes; and outdated policies, procedures and guidelines for assisting them in doing their respective jobs.
Most millennials will already be proficient with today’s (and tomorrow’s) technology and will be poised to fully utilize AR, Virtual Reality (VR) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to assist them in doing their job. However, if the organization they work for does not utilize a commensurate level of technology as an integral part of their service delivery model, the millennial technicians may find themselves effectively disengaged. Even a simple matter of millennial technicians favoring an Apple platform for personal use, but finding themselves saddled with a company-deployed PC-based or Android device may serve as a potential disconnect. In other words, they may end up loving their technology more than they love their new jobs – and this, too, could lead to a potential disconnect.
As the technology of AR progresses and is more deeply integrated into the normal course of performing field service, those millennials who had previously believed they were merely “slacking off” when playing their favorite VR and/or AR-based games, may now, instead, revel in the idea that are going to be paid to use the same technologies in their new jobs – how good is that!
The older generation of field technicians may also be different than the newer generation that will be replacing them in a number of other areas as well. For example, the older generation may be more amenable to taking orders or directives from their supervisors, even when they believe they are wrong in their guidance or decisions. However, millennials will probably be less likely to follow orders without raising a fuss every once and a while.
The older technicians will also likely to be more politically correct than their millennial replacements. To what degree this will impact their relationships with customers will ultimately depend on the specific individuals that are hired as replacements, and will not likely constitute a major problem. What this does suggest, however, is that the screening process for hiring new field technicians will need to be particularly on point!
Longer-tenured technicians may also have more annually accrued vacation days, and may need to utilize more sick days than new hires; but the new hires will likely require more time off for maternity/paternity leave, etc. They will also not have the same mentality with respect to considering this job as the one they will hope to keep for their entire working days. However, this is nothing more than reflective of the changing characteristics of a changing society, and should easily be handled as a matter of course by HR – and not necessarily by you!
BA: How can companies attract and retain these new technicians?
BP: The best way to attract and retain these new technicians is the same way that has always been used by services organizations – give them what they want! Historically, technicians wanted job security, a steady paycheck, a sound pension, ample vacation time, some respect within the organization, and a fair degree of freedom as to how they can relate to their customers. They also wanted support from the organization in terms of tools, training, documentation, product schematics, repair guidelines, call histories and the ability to control their own destiny with respect to ordering parts, checking in on the status of a work order, and an open input/feedback channel with management.
The new generation of technicians want the same things – but with a few omissions, and a bit of reordering. For example, most millennials probably do not believe there is such a thing as job security anymore – maybe not even a steady paycheck or a financially sound pension. Since most of them will have already been fairly immersed in various new technologies, they will likely want to be able to use the same technologies that they have been familiar with to be a part of their new job. This is where BYOD (i.e., Bring Your Own Device) may be somewhat more important today than it was years ago. Through these devices, the newer generation of field technicians will be able to more easily access all of the traditional tools for training, documentation, product schematics, etc. and, as a result, these resources will most likely be made available to them on a more flexible and less formal basis than in the past.
The best prospects for retaining new hires will be for the organization to keep pace with respect to assuring that the technology used at work is at a commensurate level with the technology used at home (i.e., for personal use, shopping, gaming, etc.). In the past, many of the “older” technicians were technology-averse; however, at present (and in the future), technology will be an added incentive for keeping the millennial generation happy.
BA: What knowledge transfer challenges do these companies face during this transition?
BP: Knowledge transfer between the retiring generation and the new generation of field technicians is likely to be somewhat problematic in that the older generation is more likely to be categorized as “analog” with respect to their accumulated knowledge, experiential interactions (i.e., both with products and people), work-related notes, diaries, etc., while the newer generation is more likely to be defined as “digital”.
The retiring technicians may each have years of experiential knowledge that it would take years (or, at least, months) for their replacements to match in terms of breadth, depth and content. They may also have scores of notes taken on yellow pads, post-it notes and scraps of paper, as well as numerous documents constructed and printed out in a Word or Notes file. However, the millennials are more likely to use electronic means for capturing notes through a variety of iPad, iPhone and/or Android devices.
In the former cases, the transfer of information may be difficult due to the analog nature of the recording means used. However, in the latter cases, it may simply be a matter of transferring digital files from one technician’s devices to another’s.
The outgoing technicians may also have more of a propensity for collecting – and using – personal notes on each of their customer accounts than the incoming crew. Historically, most field technicians have had a full appreciation of how to “manage” their customers – even before the advent of Customer Relationship Management (CRM). To many, it made good sense to work just as hard to “fix the customer” while they were “fixing their equipment”. However, this may not be as prevalent among the new crew of incoming field technicians. It’s not that kind of world anymore!
BA: How can technology help make this transfer and transition easier?
BP: Technology will be the key to an easier transference of knowledge between the retiring technicians and their replacements – but the process should be started well in advance of the technicians’ retirement dates. For example, it will most likely serve the organization well to move to an environment where their field technicians are gradually (or, in some cases, more quickly) brought up-to-speed with respect to the new technologies and mobile tools that are generally available to them.
Providing them with the mobile tools (e.g., iPads, Tablets, etc.) that will make it easier for them to record their activities, check on the status of work orders, post notes and reminders, etc. will serve to migrate them from an analog to a more digital world. This, in turn, will allow for an easier transfer of data and information from one technician to another – not necessarily an easier transfer of knowledge, but at least enabling the transfer of the data and information that will ultimately become knowledge once in the hands of the newer technicians.
Another way that some organizations have been able to transition through the “changing of the guard” with respect to field technicians has been by retaining some of their top technicians beyond their retirement from the field, and appointing them as trainers, mentors and/or advisors to the incoming crew of millennials. In the absence of more formal training programs (e.g., off-site classes, distance learning, self-study programs, and the like), these more personal, one-on-one, resources have been used by many organizations to fill a void that may otherwise surface during a period of transition.
Having a veteran (or two, or three, or more) accessible to mentor new hires is not new to the world of business – or sports! For example, it is quite likely that a professional sports team will have one or more veterans on their roster who can still play the game, while also serving as role models and mentors in the team clubhouse in support of the incoming batch of “rookies”. In fact, using this model will likely lead to an ongoing process where today’s rookies will become tomorrow’s mentors as they move through their careers, and accumulating their own experiential knowledge over time.
BA: How can the presence of younger workers affect mobile and other technology deployments?
BP: Simply by their nature, younger workers are typically more mobile than the existing service force – both physically and with respect to their use of technology. In the past, many of the traditional field technicians have been somewhat resistant to change with “Technology” representing the “T” word. However, millennials, by and large, are technology-friendly and well-prepared to utilize the state-of-the-art technology that is made available to them – both at work, as well as in their personal lives.
The use of mobile tools such as Augmented Reality (AR) in performing their service calls will be more natural to the incoming crew of technicians than it ever was for the technicians they are about to replace. However, there is more to the introduction of younger workers into the organization’s technician force than just technology – there is also the matter of chemistry!
In most cases, where a mentoring approach is utilized, the mix of younger and older technicians is not likely to present a problem; however, in some cases, the mix may look more like a dysfunctional Father-Son or Mother-Daughter family situation where there is often an underlying tension leading to periodic explosions of emotions! It will ultimately be up to the Services Manager and HR to work together to monitor and/or supervise such situations where the chemistry looks more like a dysfunctional family than a “band of brothers (or sisters)” all working together toward the same goals.
Overall, the presence of younger workers will almost certainly help in the deployment of new tools and technologies – but it will also require the presence of some of the older, more seasoned technicians to assure that the incoming crew has the same level of respect for the way things were done in the past with regard to customer interactions and other customer-facing situations. It’s not all just about the technology!
BA: What other comments about this topic do you have that our readers should be aware of?
BP: The transitioning from a more mature, traditional (and fairly analog) service force to one that is more technologically-advanced is nothing new. We’ve all been through it before when, for example, we migrated from handwritten notes to Word Processing; from pen and ink spreadsheets to Excel spreadsheets; from telephone reminders to e-mails and texts; from printouts to electronic files; and so on.
Not only will we be able to get through this transition process again – but, it will be even easier than ever before as, for the most part, data, information and knowledge collected via yesterday’s technologies can fairly easily be leveraged into today’s (and tomorrow’s) technological world – simply via the clicks of a mouse and the use of memory sticks (or the Cloud). However, once again, the transition from analog to digital must be started sooner, rather than later, in order for the transition to be as seamless and smooth as possible. It no longer takes a generation for an existing team of field technicians to find themselves behind the technology curve – in fact, it may only take a few years, or less!
As a result, services organizations will continue to find themselves in situations where they are faced with the need to transition data, information and knowledge from a retiring team to the next generation’s millennials – on a virtually continuous basis! It is for this reason that services organizations must put into place a sound process for enabling these transitions over time, including an increased focus on the automation of all service processes; the introduction of new mobile tools and technologies, such as Augmented Reality (AR); the introduction of an internal mentoring program that encourages interaction between the outgoing and the incoming technicians; and the recognition that this will be an ongoing process over time.
[To access the published Technology Update Article, please visit the Field Technologies Online website at www.fieldtechnologiesonline.com.]