Avoiding the Four Biggest Mistakes FSOs make when using Contingent Labour

This article first appeared in the June 18, 2018 online issue of Field Service News.

Michael Blumberg, President of Blumberg Advisory Group  and founder of FieldServiceInsights.com discusses  some of the most crucial mistakes field service companies can make when utilising contingent or seasonal labour…

Field Service Organizations (FSOs) in North America, UK, and Europe are increasingly turning toward crowdsourcing platforms and subcontractors to augment their field workforce.

This type of outsourcing strategy enables FSOs to become more agile in meeting customer demands for service. As a result, they [FSOs] are able to reduce costs and improve service productivity. In addition, crowdsourcing and contingent labour helps solve the problem of finding skilled labour on a rapid basis.

However, turning to subcontractors and crowdsourcing platforms does involve relinquishing some level of control over the labour force. Naturally, questions emerge about the reliability, expertise, and quality of technicians that are sourced through these options.

Over the last two years, we have spoken with dozens of companies who have or currently utilize contingent labour to either augment their existing workforce or gain greater agility and efficiency over the entire field service delivery process. The majority are satisfied with their external providers and report positive results on key performance metrics such as First Time Fix and SLA Compliance/Onsite Arrive Time.   On the other hand, a few anomalies exist where the performance of contingent labour did not meet the FSOs expectations.

Quite often, FSOs who experience subpar performance make critical mistakes when retaining and managing contingent labour.

Here is our perspective on the biggest mistakes they need to avoid:

1. Failure to fully vet individual technicians doing the work

Don’t assume that every contract technician (e.g., subcontractor, freelance, crowdsource) you dispatch has the skills, training, and experience necessary to complete the work properly and in a timely manner. Insist on viewing background checks, certifications, and credentials of every contract technician assigned to your company.

2. Failure to train and onboard technicians

Quite often companies issue work orders without to contract technicians without training or guiding them on how they’d like the work to be performed.

For example, they do not explain how they’d like the tech to greet the customer and/or notify the customer when the work is complete.  Fortunately, Internet-based learning systems make it possible for companies to train and onboard contractors in a cost-effective and rapid manner.

3. Failure to communicate with contractors

This is the biggest mistake that a company can make is hand off work orders as if they were tossing a hot potato over a fence.

This will result in problem with respect to key service performance metrics such as SLA compliance, First Time Fix, and No Fault Found.  It is important that companies provide contractors with detailed and specific instructions about the activities they need to perform on each assignment.

At the same time, contractors also need to communicate with the companies that hire them on the status of calls, issues or problems they are experiencing, and results of their actions.

4. Failure to integrate contract or crowdsourced technicians into their service delivery process

Problems can occur when there is too much of an arm’s less relationship between the company and the contractor.  In other words, there is little accountability, visibility, and control between the company and contractors/technicians, and vice versa.

The key to success lies in treating contractors as an extension of your company.  Companies can achieve this outcome by leveraging communication technology, collaboration tools, and workforce automation software.  Relying on these systems will ensure the company achieves best in class service performance through its contractor network.

In summary, FSOs experience challenges to crowdsourcing when they underestimate the level of due diligence, systems, and processes they need to put in place when utilizing this type of labour. This does not necessarily mean that they must make huge capital investments.

Rather, they are urged to design and implement processes and procedures by leveraging existing infrastructure when they can.

Devoting the time and effort to this initiative will pay off. Our research suggests that FSOs who have an unpleasant experience with contingent labour do so because they rush into the decision without much thought, planning, and preparation.

Basically, they are looking to solve an immediate problem with no consideration to future. In other words, they are taking a tactical approach to labour shortages where a strategic solution is required.

Embrace Your Competition: A Critical Success Factor

A client was recently the target of negative advertising by one of his competitors. The two-page ad depicted a cartoon image of a shark in business attire wearing a Rolex watch with the caption “Some Suppliers need a Vice President of Service because they depend on Parts and Service Dollars…”  The second page described how the advertisers’ product engineers are measured on customers use of their parts and services including a 5-year warranty,

From my perspective, these types of claims are troubling for several reasons:

  1. These type of advertisements “trash the competition”.   Sales and marketing professionals understand that going negative is not good for business.  Most manufacturers would not use this approach when it comes to selling their equipment in their primary market. Yet some believe anything is fair game in the Aftermarket.
  2. It demonstrates negativity on the advertiser’s part with respect to the role and value of service to the customer.  Their claim overlooks the importance of service to KPIs like First Time Fix rate or Customer Satisfaction.  This implies that service is not necessarily needed and not strategic to the customer or the manufacturer.  This is just flat out misleading.

I have also seen negative advertisements and claims made against Third Party Maintainers (TPMs) and generic parts manufacturers, and I don’t like it either.  Trashing the competition is just wrong.  The quality and reliability of products and services from these third party suppliers can be just as good or better as those form the OEM.   Furthermore, many OEMs also market and sell 3rd party services of their own.

The bigger issue is not about whether OEMs are better than TPMs, or if genuine parts are better than generic, or even if creating a VP of Service and/or operating service as a profit center is good for business.  Rather, the issue is competition is good for both business and in the Aftermarket for several reasons:

  • Legitimizes the market– Markets are defined by the presence of competition. To win business, competitors must actively market their products and services. As a result, customers are aware of options available to them.
  • Creates choice– Competition offers customers the freedom of choice. The theories of capitalism and free trade are built on this basic premise.
  • Improves quality & efficiency– Competition in the Aftermarket forces third parties and OEMs to continue to find ways of improving the quality of products and services offered while at the same time finding ways to cut costs and improve efficiency.   In other words, competition raises the bar and results in better prices for customers.
  • Leads to innovation– In addition to raising quality and improving costs, competition drives service providers to become innovative. Without competition, it is hard to know whether service providers would focus on finding ways to add value. Would service providers be just as compelled to invest in new systems and technology like SaaS, Mobility, and IoT if not for the impact that competition has on innovation?
  • Leads to greater cooperation– OEMs have the choice to subcontract service to TPMs/ISOs. This helps them improve their cost structure, service delivery and obtain capabilities that they may not otherwise be able to build themselves. Under this scenario, OEMs and ISOs can gain knowledge from each other and use this towards driving innovation, reducing costs, and improving quality

In summary, competition provides benefits for the customers, OEMs and third-party providers. Technology vendors can also benefit from competition in the Aftermarket.  Based on my perspective, if a company resorts to trashing their competition, they are probably troubled in some way.  On the other hand, if a company is concerned about their competition, they should probably focus within their organization to find ways to leverage forces to their strategic advantage and develop a higher value proposition.

Post your comments or questions below!