Every field service job has a lot of moving parts. Technicians and service leaders share the responsibility of getting the right skill set in front of the client at the right time. Jeff Novotny, who recently joined the Field Nation team as Director of Network Development, knows plenty about this important duty. We recently sat down with him to talk about his experience in setting teams up for success, and what he sees as the biggest sources of opportunity for field technicians today.
You recently joined Field Nation to lead our technician network development efforts. Tell me more about your experience working with Field Service technicians.
I’ve been in the Field Service Industry for 22 years. I started on the Telecom side of things and then shifted to an IT Managed Service Provider, CompuCom, where I spent the last 17 years of my career. I started in first-line management and then gained experience through the ranks of field management, program management, business systems management, and then, ultimately, returning to the field. I spent the last four years as CompuCom’s Vice President of Customer Field Services, leading an organization of about 2,500 field dispatch and onsite service personnel across North America.
What characteristics are unique to technicians who work in the field?
Well, when we say “the field” we have to define that. Sometimes you can have field techs that are dedicated onsite at a single site or between multiple sites for a specific client. And then you can have shared field techs that are in a dispatch environment servicing multiple clients at multiple locations. These dispatch techs are more frequently leveraged by platforms like Field Nation. The unique thing for these technicians is that their days are very dynamic. There’s not a single day that is exactly like the last one. They have to be very flexible and cross-trained for multiple environments. I like using the term “Swiss Army Knives” when speaking about field techs – they have talent in multiple disciplines and can do it all. Some example skill sets a field tech might carry with them include knowledge in laptops or desktops, servers, networking, cabling, etc. They’re problem solvers – walking into any environment and leveraging their technical talent to save the day. Field techs love challenges and finding solutions to them, which means they’re typically very customer focused.
“Good technical skills can get a tech a job; but adding great soft skills guarantees a professional career.”
What are the must-have skills for field service technicians today?
Soft skills is number one. Field techs have to be people-people and problem-solvers. The ability to engage a client, converse, actively listen, really dive into the root of the problem – these skills are key to understanding their clients and what they are asking them to do. The technical skills come into play after that because experience is certainly important to clients too. Techs are generally in this business because the technical side of things comes naturally. We’re on a mission here at Field Nation to help techs showcase their experience to our clients, both on and off the platform. Certifications always help as well. That’s a quantifiable way to understand a technician’s skill set as much as their past experience. Still, it all starts with soft skills. I would offer that good technical skills can get a tech a job; but adding great soft skills guarantees a professional career.
Tell me about some of the best field service technicians you’ve worked with. What made them stand out to you?
Often, the thing that makes new technicians stand out is their eagerness to learn: wanting to learn new tools, new technologies, new methods for solving problems. When it comes to somebody that’s been in this industry a while, what makes them great is their connection with customers. They already have the base skill sets, plus they know how to really connect with their customers and delight them. For example, I’ve seen techs go in to fix a problem and they discover additional peripheral problems that add almost zero time-to-task, so they fix them. That takes customer satisfaction to the next level. The best field service technicians are really client enablers. They quickly solve technical problems enabling their customers––bankers, healthcare workers, teachers, retailers, etc.––get on with their day.
You’ve led field teams for over two decades. What are the most important factors when it comes to setting them up for success?
It starts with your core: the people on the team. Continuing the previous discussion, the team must have solid technical and soft skills. If both are present, then you have the foundation. Second, you have to equip and interconnect the team. The team requires access to systems and tools that allow them to communicate effectively, prioritize their clients, and triage incoming work based on urgency. The ultimate goal is to get the right tech to the right place at the right time, and platforms like Field Nation can really help with that. The client needs to have the confidence that somebody’s going to come out and fix or install their equipment right the first time so they can focus on their own work. So I would say in summary, you have to have the right people with the right training, and you have to have the right equipment and systems to connect techs with their customers.
“The best field service technicians are really client enablers. They quickly solve technical problems enabling their customers––bankers, healthcare workers, teachers, retailers, etc––get on with their day.”
What are some things about the world of field service technicians that most people probably don’t know?
That’s an interesting question. I don’t think the world fully understands the true passion of the field tech––the pride they get out of fixing or installing something correctly the first time. There is a level of satisfaction there, and they chase it by asking themselves, “Where’s the next job? What tools do I need? I know I can complete that job…how do I fit it into my schedule?” There is also a lack of understanding of the logistics required to be a field tech. If they work independently, the field tech has to build their own schedule, equip themselves correctly for the next job, keep themselves trained on every new generation of technology, and get themselves daily from point A to point B. All of those behind-the-scenes logistics are handled solely by the field technician. They are incredibly self-sufficient.
What would you tell people entering the job market about the opportunities available in field services?
I would say that there are more opportunities today than ever before. Techs have an unprecedented opportunity to grow in the industry, to be in one field and easily expand into another market. They could be a laptop/desktop specialist that expands into printers and servers. Working on point of sale equipment in the retail environment could introduce a tech to digital signage in the retail space, which could lead to a more corporate environment installing audio visual equipment. They could have a rack and stack skill set that expands into low voltage cabling, which could eventually expand into higher caliber power skill sets, which could take them into electrical vehicle markets. There’s so many cross-compatible skill networks. The workforce is changing, and it’s a really exciting time to be a skilled field technician.