Dispatch podcast: transparency and visibility

19 min read

Interviewee:

Jonah Hacker, Product Manager, Field Nation

Questions:

Resources mentioned:


Full Field Nation Dispatch podcast transcription

Nora Hartman:

Welcome to our first episode of the Field Nation Dispatch. The Field Nation Dispatch Podcast gives technicians a look behind the curtain at what’s going on here at Field Nation. We’ll be sharing upcoming plans for the Field Nation web and mobile apps, tips and tricks for success on the marketplace, and market trends and insights. My name is Nora Hartman and I’m on the Product Marketing team here at Field Nation. For our inaugural episode, I will be interviewing Jonah Hacker. Jonah is a Product Manager here at Field Nation, and he’s got some exciting things planned for you. Welcome, Jonah.

Jonah Hacker:

Thanks Nora. It’s great to be here.

Nora Hartman:

All right, first things first. I know that product, as a function, is pretty specific to the software industry. So can you tell us what exactly the product team does here?

Jonah Hacker:

Certainly. So the product department of Field Nation is responsible for making improvements and maintaining the Field Nation platform and marketplace. I’m one of six product managers who are all responsible for working on different parts of the product. For example, we have a product manager who’s responsible for the integrations with other enterprise systems. We have another who focuses on our Provider Pro offering, and we work with user experience designers and a team of software engineers that help us realize the improvements to the marketplace and the platform.

Nora Hartman:

Very cool. So, you mentioned what a few other of the product managers do. What is your role as a Product Manager?

Jonah Hacker:

Sure. I should have mentioned that earlier. I’m the Product Manager for a product called Talent Discovery, and my role covers a wide range of product features. But our primary goal as a team is to build features that facilitate successful connections between technicians and buyers posting work on the marketplace. With that in mind, we don’t just work on improvements to the software that the buyers use, but technicians as well, because we’re all about facilitating that connection between two parties. It’s really important that we’re considering the needs and perspectives of both. I would say it’s a critical function because without connecting buyers with providers, the work itself can’t get done on our marketplace. So we’re thinking about all the ways that we make a good match: identifying technicians that have the right skills, certifications, equipment, and experience. Furthermore, because we’re doing service work that’s happening out in the field, the match also needs to take into account geography and availability for both parties in order to get the work done on the schedule that’s required.

Nora Hartman:

Awesome. That is such great context, I appreciate that. So I understand that you’re working on a project to improve reliability on the Field Nation platform. What exactly does that mean?

Jonah Hacker:

Yeah, the notion of reliability in a marketplace like Field Nation is all about maintaining the agreement between the service buyer and the technician to do the work as it’s described in the work order. That agreement really starts when a work order or work orders are assigned to a specific technician or service company. That agreement ends either with a completed work order or when one of the parties backs out of the work order before it can be completed. We think about reliability in terms of the commitment to that agreement. So when that assignment falls through, or that agreement falls through, we refer to that as a backout. What we found in conversations with both buyers and technicians is that backouts can be fairly disruptive depending on the circumstances surrounding it.

For technicians, for example, a cancellation or a change in a work order schedule can mean that the work you were planning to do on a given day is disrupted. And similarly, when a technician unassigns himself or herself from a job, it can set off a scramble at the service buyer to find a new technician to do that work on what can sometimes be a short timeframe.

Nora Hartman:

And what is your perspective on Field Nation’s role in decreasing backouts?

Jonah Hacker:

As a platform, we as a staff recognize there are a number of reasons that a work order might need to be canceled, that unexpected events like car trouble or illness can keep technicians from being able to complete the work that they’ve agreed to. When unassigning, technicians and buyers can choose the appropriate unassignment reason, but ultimately, as a platform and as a company, we want to encourage that commitment to the agreement that is made on the original work order. Like I said, these can be disruptive and they disrupt the efficient functioning of a marketplace like ours. So our perspective is that, ultimately, we want to have fewer of them, regardless of the reasons that result in a backout, that result in that agreement being reneged on. We want to have more reliability. Ultimately, that’s what we’re aiming for.

Nora Hartman:

Absolutely. That makes sense. And I know that you did a lot of research to learn more about reliability, especially on the Field Nation platform. Can you tell us a little bit about what you found?

Jonah Hacker:

Certainly. In our research, we looked into causes and effects of backouts and cancellations on our platform. What we uncovered is that buyers and providers both have behaviors that lead to backouts and lead to issues with their overall reliability when it comes to those agreements that they’re forming. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I think it’s worth emphasizing that this is not strictly an issue with technicians, nor is it strictly an issue with the buyers pulling out of jobs before they’re complete. We found three major reasons for backouts. One is schedule management – so not realizing that there are conflicts, intentional or unintentional – and that results in the two parties having to break off that agreement.

We also found that when rates don’t necessarily line up with the scope of a project or the length of the travel that’s required for a work order, that leads to backouts and lower reliability. The other item that we find time and time again is unplanned events. So not something that we can necessarily control or plan around, but it does make up about 10 to 20% of the backouts that we see by our estimation.

Nora Hartman:

That is super interesting, especially those percentages that you mentioned, I’d love to dive a little bit deeper into those. You said that 40-50% of backouts are the result of poor schedule management. What exactly do you mean by that?

Jonah Hacker:

So by our estimation, poor schedule management is estimated to be the biggest factor on both sides and something that my colleagues on the product team have been working to address. So one of the things that we see is an issue is visibility and clear warnings when it comes to conflicts that may be occurring. What we’re hoping to do in order to resolve this issue is to provide better schedule management tools. The hope is that, by providing those tools, we drive down the number of instances where schedules conflict between work orders. When that happens, someone has to make a choice between one job or the other. Because you have to be in a location, you can’t do two jobs at once.

Ultimately, that leads to someone having to unassign themselves or be unassigned because they’re not available. We know that there are instances where that is intentional, but the vast majority of what we see and what we’ve heard from technicians, and we’ve spoken with them about in interviews, is that this is largely an unintentional thing. So what we’re hoping to do is provide a set of tools within our platform, within our mobile app, that would allow a technician to actively avoid those things, see where there may be a conflict, and take action accordingly.

Nora Hartman:

Absolutely. That sounds like a great solution. The next thing that you mentioned was hourly rates, and that’s something that we get a lot of questions about from both sides of the marketplace. How exactly do hourly rates contribute to backouts?

Jonah Hacker:

Sure. I’m going to talk to you about a specific case that we see where there is some friction in our marketplace and what we’re planning to do to address that. The case I’d like to talk to you about specifically is that of bundled work orders. For technicians, especially those who want to get a majority of their work from our platform, the prospect of lining up two or more jobs on the same project can help them be more efficient. It can also help them develop a good relationship with the buyer who’s posting that work. However, there’s a lot more information to consume when you are requesting the work on two orders, five orders, 15 orders at a time. When you’re doing that on a mobile device, it could be a bit of a job to estimate how much travel is going to be needed. How much is this bundle ultimately worth?

So there’s a little bit more calculation required to understand the effective rate of the set of jobs for a bundle. Well, it’s the responsibility of the buyer to accurately and completely communicate the scope of work, including the tasks that need to be done, pre-site and post-site. By the same token, technicians should only request work when the pay matches their requirements for the type and complexity of the work. So bringing that back to bundles, we found an opportunity for us to give some more capabilities in the platform related to bundled work. In the short term, we’re going make it easier to understand the full scope of a work order bundle by displaying the sites that you’d need to visit for that bundle of work on a map. That way, you can see your geographic area and ask yourself, where do I need to drive to? How far do I need to go afield in order to do all of this work? Do I see that as being worth my time as a professional?

The other piece that we’re going to do in the short term is we’re going to show a roll up view of how much it would be worth to you. So instead of requiring technicians to pull out their mobile calculator and add that up, we’re going to do that right there in the mobile app so that it’s easy to see. It’s easy to understand, given this much travel, given the amount of work, here’s what I’m going to be paid. I think that’s worth my while, or I’m not going to request it because I don’t. Or I’ll make a counter offer, which I’ll get to more later.

Nora Hartman:

Awesome. That example of bundled work orders is really a perfect explanation for how marketplace pricing contributes to backouts. The last component of backouts that you mentioned are unplanned events. You said that 10 to 20% of backouts are due to unplanned events. Like you said, that’s stuff that you really can’t control: a flat tire, a sick family member, anything and everything that’s unexpected. Can you tell me a little bit more about what you found?

Jonah Hacker:

Yeah. Like you said it’s a big driver, and given our platform’s focus on onsite work, it was particularly affected by state shutdowns that happened due to COVID restrictions last year. Because of our interviews and analysis, we know that illness played a big role in technicians, families, and people having to turn down jobs or drop off of jobs because they were unwell and they were considering public health when they decided they couldn’t go because they didn’t want to spread COVID-19 or whatever else they might have been sick with. Ultimately, our stance as a platform is that when these situations arise, the best thing that technicians can do is communicate clearly and in a timely fashion. When people are unexpectedly unwell or they are unable to perform the work for whatever reason, the most important thing to do is to let the service buyer know as soon as possible through the platform so there’s a record. It’s your responsibility as a professional to do that.

The nice thing for our service buyers is that, because we have a lot of really great, talented techs on our marketplace, most jobs can get filled really quickly. But the buyers need to know. So if you’re unable to make it, if something comes up, it’s just a matter of being timely. There’s not a lot from a product perspective that we can necessarily do to keep those events from happening, but all we can do is count on people acting professionally in our marketplace and making sure that they’re communicating when they’re not able to make it to a job.

Nora Hartman:

Absolutely. If Field Nation could prevent anyone from getting a flat tire we would be all over that, I’m sure. I know that we always get feedback from our buyers that they’re so impressed by the quality of the talent on our marketplace. So my last question about your research is related to scope and the pervasiveness of this issue. Are backouts an issue with most providers?

Jonah Hacker:

What we found is that most of our backouts are not coming from a majority of providers. We know that most providers don’t contribute significantly to this issue. So that maybe begs the question, if it’s just a small number of providers, why would we make changes across our entire marketplace? Why not just penalize those providers? So for the most serious infractions or repeated infractions, we do have our Provider Quality Assurance policy that addresses some of those. However, as we think about this case of reliability, we’ve found that the problem has some causes that need to be addressed in a little bit more nuanced way. You heard that possibly when I was talking about some of the features that we’re thinking about building. So thinking about this question of bundles, there’s a specific case, and it needs a specific solution.

But at the core, being highly reliable as a technician, sticking to the jobs you’ve said you’re going to do, is a sign of professionalism. And ultimately, we want to reward highly professional behavior on our platform because we know that it leads to good outcomes for the technicians, for the buyers, for our marketplace in general. So with that in mind, we’re going to be working on features that emphasize how often someone does complete the jobs assigned to them. These features would recognize behaviors from the more recent past and weigh those behaviors more rather than focus on an entire history where there might’ve been a stretch where you were getting sick and you had to back out of jobs that you wanted to do. We want to create visibility into providers that are highly reliable, highly professional, and prioritize the fact that these are the more reliable providers so that people couldn’t say, “Well, I want to work with people that I know are going to stick to their agreements.”

We also want to show the other side of the coin, if there are buyers where the scheduling of their projects is somewhat flexible or it needs to move around a lot. That would be something that’s also important to know. So we’re focusing really on increasing visibility and incentivizing the right behaviors. I said it before, but my team is looking at this from both perspectives so we know that it’s not a problem that resides with one party or another. This is an agreement between two parties. What we’re trying to do is make sure that both parties stick to that and are getting incentivized to stick to that original agreement or work out a way to change that agreement around where one party doesn’t have to back out. Because you’ve already gone to the trouble of requesting it, they’ve already gone to the trouble of assigning you and making sure what you need to do. We want to maintain that and we want to keep both parties locked into that work order.

Nora Hartman:

Absolutely. I know that elusive platform equilibrium is something that your team is always trying to go after.

Jonah Hacker:

That’s the truth.

Nora Hartman:

So I understand that there will be some platform changes this year that are designed to improve transparency in the marketplace. I’d love to have you walk through some of those and give our providers a little bit of a sneak peek into what’s coming. The first thing that we have is the new start time experience, and I understand that most of our providers have already seen this. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that looks like?

Jonah Hacker:

Yeah, certainly. So for the new start time experience, this is mostly live already. We recently launched some of these changes. We’ve added some features related to schedules and work time in the next quarter of the year. This important change relates to having a better view into your scheduled jobs on Field Nation when you’re requesting new work. When you’re requesting, you want to see the jobs you have on that same day to make sure that you’re not setting yourself up for a situation where you’re either going to be very late or need to back out of the job entirely. So that’s a big one. Obviously, we’re really excited to see the impact that that feature has.

There are some other features that have been on the platform for some time that I’ll just make a quick plug for as well. One is related to calendar syncing. We’ve heard from a couple technicians out there who export their Field Nation calendar into a personal calendar, but there’s also the other option to take your personal calendar in (it’s all masked) and make it clear where you’re not available. You can use that feature as you are requesting work. Maybe you already have something. Maybe you are an employee somewhere and you have that time blocked. You can set that up so that you’re not going to accidentally request a work order or be assigned to a work order where you’re unavailable. As product managers, we love feedback on features as you start to interact with them. That’s how we know that either the feature is hitting the mark, or it needs some additional tweaking in order to have the intended effect on our users. So we’d love to hear all that feedback and those are the big things that we’re looking at for the immediate future related to start time.

Nora Hartman:

And how can providers give you that feedback to make sure that it gets in front of you?

Jonah Hacker:

We’ve got a question form on the same site where you found this podcast. So fill out your questions there. Any comments, we’d love to hear them and we’ll be back in touch.

Nora Hartman:

Awesome. I also understand that you’re going to start showing technicians their own performance metrics, which is super cool. I know that we have something actually kind of similar for buyers, where they can see how fast we’re approving work orders and other similar things like that. What kind of metrics are you looking at for providers?

Jonah Hacker:

Yeah. The kinds of metrics that we’re looking at are related to reliability, this commitment to assignments. The other thing that we’re looking at is timeliness. A provider going on their profile would be able to see their recent performance when it comes to sticking to assignments, getting to assignments on time when they have a fixed start time, etc. We’re measuring timeliness with a grace period, and similarly we’re measuring assignment commitment only on those instances where there’s some action taken: someone unassigned themselves actively, the job wasn’t completed elsewhere, it was created in error, things like that. So these are some ways that we’re asking ourselves, what are the metrics, what are the instances or the situations that really count?

What we’re really concerned with is that assignments are being stuck to, and that the work is being done on the timetable that’s getting set out by the buyer. So the buyer can say, this is a flexible work order, it can be done within these two weeks or it can be done within these business hours. But sometimes it’s really important that it happened at a given time, and we want to show the technicians: here’s when you were late, here’s when you had a job that you’d agreed to and backed out of it and how much that’s happening over time.

Nora Hartman:

Very cool. And the last thing I understand that you are working on that’s related to transparency, visibility, and timeliness are badges. What would those be?

Jonah Hacker:

Yeah. So thinking about the view of providers, they’re concerned with the details of where they unassigned themselves. That’s obviously a way that they can consider how they might manage their schedule better in the future and make sure that they’re requesting the right kinds of jobs for them so that they’re not having to agree to things and then renege on those agreements. But when it comes to the badges, what we’re really thinking about is rewarding those positive behaviors. So technicians that maintain a high level of professionalism on our platform are those who we want to recognize. The badges are not intended to penalize. We have other ways that we impose restrictions on providers if they have recurring or very egregious offenses on the platform. The badges are intended to highlight those that are highly engaged and highly professional by presenting that information in the form of a badge or something that you see on other platforms like Airbnb – people get flagged as super hosts, for example.

Other labor marketplaces, like Field Nation, have similar concepts. We want to highlight those technicians who have committed to doing the work, show up on time, and then don’t have issues with the work after they’re done with it. So more to come on that, some of the details are still getting hashed out. But ultimately what we want to do is recognize those technicians that are really true professionals when it comes to the work that they’re doing through Field Nation.

Nora Hartman:

I really love that everything you’re doing is really designed to reward reliability without any extra work for really great technicians or any punitive measures. I know that a big part of your job, like we mentioned, is trying to maintain that marketplace equilibrium between buyers and providers. Are we doing anything on the buyer’s side to help facilitate positive connections?

Jonah Hacker:

We’re always looking at ways that we can be better platform mediators for buyers and providers alike. This means that we’re improving the pay rate insights for type of work in a given geography. We’ve already given some tools to buyers around that. This is centrally addressing one of the big drivers for backouts as we talked about earlier. Another thing that we want to do is improve fair transactions by developing the functionality to counteroffer on bundles. Beyond the short term, there is a friction point that we, as the mediators on the marketplace, need to address, and that’s making it easier for buyers and providers to negotiate around a specific, fair rate for a bundle of work. Right now, that functionality doesn’t exist: for all bundles, no counter offers are allowed.

It’s a more complex problem, but we’ve already done some really great research and we’re looking at how to make this simpler so it doesn’t create a huge drain on people’s time to hash out the details of a bundle. We also know that this is something that people have asked for. We want to be able to negotiate about these bundles of work rather than individual work orders, because, if I’m a technician, I want to get a bunch of work at a time, but I need to make sure that I’m getting compensated for the work that I’m doing.

Nora Hartman:

Absolutely. All of these platform changes are really awesome and I know you and your team have put a ton of thought into them. The last thing, possibly equally as important, is what is not changing when it comes to reliability on the Field Nation platform?

Jonah Hacker:

Sure. The first thing that comes to mind is the Provider Quality Assurance Policy, that PQAP policy. Those have not changed. So when there are recurring quality issues, we’re going to address it. Those guidelines haven’t changed, our stance on those has not changed, that’s remaining all the same. The other thing that isn’t changing is the confirmation window. So a confirmation window still from 6:00 AM to 12:00 PM the day before the work is scheduled to start, that’s not changing in the slightest, there is still that same expectation. That doesn’t necessarily relate to the timeliness of a work order, but there’s still the same cancellation policies that come into effect once that confirmation window has started.

So those two things, those are the biggies where we aren’t making any changes. We’re concerned more with the time leading up to that confirmation window. Are our buyers and technicians maintaining their agreements? And when it comes to the time to be on the job site, are technicians showing up on time for when the work is scheduled? So, yeah, lots of big changes are coming, but many things are remaining the same at the same time.

Nora Hartman:

Perfect. That is such a good clarifying point. And all of this has really been super helpful information. Thank you so much for being brave enough to be our first guest on this podcast. This concludes our first episode of the Field Nation Dispatch. As Jonah mentioned earlier, we would absolutely love your feedback. You’ll find that at the bottom of this podcast page, we will have a survey or a form. And we’ll also link some resources from our support portal that mention some of the current policies and features that we have in place, as well as some of the ones that we’re starting to roll out soon. Thank you all so much for listening.

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