Are Freelancers the Future of Field Service Staffing?

This interview by Derek Korte, editor at Field Service Digital and a senior editor at Original9 Media. It first appeared at  http://fsd.servicemax.com

Field service leaders have a lot to manage on any given day. But there’s one responsibility that’s often lost while  keeping the work orders flowing and vetting the latest technologies — talent. Sure, the IoT continues to reshape the service industry, but field service is still a people business. When something breaks, customers expect a skilled professional to show up and fix the problem quickly — hopefully the first time.

But it’s a challenge to maintain a trained, knowledgable service team. Experienced techs retire and are difficult to replace, and new technologies require new skill sets. As a result, service organizations are turning to freelancers to supplement their full-time workforce, while ensuring customers get a consistent level of service. We asked Michael Blumberg, president of Blumberg Advisory Group, to explain the most surprising takeaways from his latest research into the freelance phenomenon in field service.

You found that service organizations rely on freelance platforms to improve geographic coverage? Why did that surprise you?

I was surprised to learn that organizations are using freelance management platforms (FMS) for more than just handling a temporary surge in demand, or providing coverage in remote geographic areas. A significant percentage (61 percent) use freelancer platforms to expand their geographic coverage. They are using these platforms to facilitate strategic growth, not just to cut costs or solve a tactical problem.

You also found that organizations increasingly use freelancers to respond to emergency service requests — why?

The conventional wisdom is that freelancers are best suited to handle project work, such as installations and scheduled maintenance. Our research suggests otherwise. In fact, 53 percent of the respondents indicate they utilize freelancers to handle all types of work, including projects and emergency repairs. By relying on freelancers, service managers can ensure they have the right coverage when and where they need it.

What’s unique about a FMS is the crowdsourcing element, which leads to situations where technicians are often competing for the same service request. As a result, technicians know they have to be very responsive because their income depends on it. I’m not suggesting that company-employed technicians are lazy, but sometimes there’s no incentive to take on more calls. There’s no incentive for them to respond faster or get more calls done.

How are service managers using freelance platforms to improve recruitment and onboarding?

Even when organizations use freelance techs, whether for a long-term project or on-demand emergency work, they still have to spend time recruiting, training and onboarding those technicians. The crowdsourcing element of FMS platforms means that managers can find these techs quickly, so they can spend less time recruiting. And the digital nature of these platforms means that managers can train them, share work orders and outline what’s expected. A majority (59 percent) of companies using freelance platforms are able to recruit and hire new technicians in 14 days or fewer, while only 11 percent of non-FMS users are able to achieve this goal.

How do service managers integrate these freelancers into their regular workflows and explain service expectations?

They can be very selective about which freelancers they choose to work with, and they can request technicians who have certain qualifications and skills. Managers can also describe the procedures that the techs must follow when they go out on a call, which is something companies are already doing with full-time technicians. Lastly, some managers administer short quizzes and exams that the freelancers must pass before they’re assigned work.

Your research suggests that agility is the most important factor when deciding to use a FMS. Why?

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents indicated that their need for agility is the number one reason why their companies turned to a variable workforce. While cost savings might be the reason why these companies considered this alternative in the first place, agility is why they continue to use it. In today’s dynamic service environment, service organizations need to respond quickly to surges in demand and constantly changing technical skill set requirements. They can’t afford to spend a lot of time staffing up to meet demand because it is likely to change quickly.

And relying on freelance platforms can also improve service productivity and quality? How?

Freelancers are often more engaged with the service organizations that hire them because they see themselves as independent contractors. They’re running their own business.

Freelancers want to demonstrate that they’re responsive and effective so they will be given more jobs. There’s also a snowball effect — the more calls freelancers take, the more income they’ll have, which creates a productivity mindset.

Are there any quality and productivity tradeoffs?

Our survey results indicate that 65 percent of companies using a FMS model have experienced improvement in field service productivity. Furthermore, first-time fix rate is 18 percent higher among top-performing FSM users than the industry average, while SLA compliance is 16 percent higher.

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5 Barriers to Digital Transformation

Howard Tiersky is the President and Founder of FROM, The Digital Transformation Agency. He has a deep passion for digital innovation and helping each of client find success. This blog first appeared on his website.

You may be struggling to drive some sort of change, innovation, or digital transformation within your organization right now.

Why is it so hard? And what’s the secret to getting big companies to successfully transform?

There are five main barriers that large enterprises face when trying to innovate: change resistance, knowledge of customers, risk management, organizational agility and transformation vision.

Change resistance
Change is uncomfortable. Even if a change sets us up for a great future, most people won’t warm up to it quickly. To successfully drive change within an organization, create a burning platform for change so that failing to change is more painful than the change itself. Offer a compelling vision of the future once the change is complete, give people the confidence of success, and provide the opportunity to help create the change (instead of falling victim to it).

Knowledge of customers
You may think you have the answers, but how well do you actually know your customers? To incorporate your customers’ voice into your product development, you can use these five tactics:

  • Humility: Truthfully, we don’t even know ourselves that well, so it’s important to recognize that understanding someone else well enough to predict future behavior is no small feat.
  • Specificity: Figure out exactly what you need to know about your current or potential users that would make a difference to your product development. Use questions like: “What do you they like or not like about your product?” and “What are their unmet needs?”
  • Involvement: Get your whole team involved in customer research to allow the entire development process to include an understanding of the customers’ world and their current reality.
  • Iteration: One round of user testing is not enough — You need to continually study your customers to see how they’re reacting to your product and how their needs are changing.
  • 4D listening: Try to see past the surface of what your customers are saying to what they’re truly asking of you. Your customers may not be able to envision the more practical solutions that your product team conceives.

Risk management
Is it risky to transform your enterprise? Of course! The key to success is creating the expectation that innovation efforts are an iterative process. Successful innovation requires experiments, learning, persistence and, most importantly, the willingness to fail. Once you have alignment around the idea that some level of risk is necessary and appropriate, you can gain confidence from enterprise funders by envisioning the different types of risks your efforts might face and developing remediation strategies to combat those risks.

Organizational agility
As quickly as you can adapt, the digital world changes. Organizational agility is key to keeping up in the digital arena. There are five specific types of agility that are important for success in digital:

  • Sensing: This means knowing what’s going on around you so you can be aware of what actions might be required. How are customers, competitors and industry regulations changing, and what new technology exists that could impact your digital experiences?
  • Technology: Moving quickly from idea to live solution is important in supporting and growing your digital experience. Does your enterprise have technology stacks that are adaptable and easily maintained? Are your content and presentation capabilities accessible to your product owners and content managers?
  • Decision-making: Capital approval processes that take months to reach a final decision don’t work with the speed of digital. The people running your innovation projects need the autonomy and authority to make decisions on the ground-level so that they happen with the speed necessary to keep up with the digital world.
  • Strategy shifts: Embrace and expect that your innovation projects will go through a process of trial-and-error on their way to the kind of digital transformation success that you’re seeking.
  • Teaming: Despite a persistent myth, there is no one structure in which all digital work can be done by a single team of people operating under a single executive. The key to teaming agility is creating a culture with alignment across divisional silos, so that mobilization of the right people happens quickly and efficiently.

Transformation vision
Many organizations have a basic vision for growth: Optimize what already exists or expand upon current offerings. But to create a true transformation vision, one that encompasses your entire organization, you need to determine how the world is changing and how that will affect your customers’ needs. Only then can you determine what new products and services you can bring to market and the different channels you’ll need to deliver on them. You may even decide that the imminent changes will shift your focus to an entirely new set of customers! To be successful in the long-run, think in terms of transformation time so that you can get a few steps ahead.

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