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Technician Specialization - Building a More Efficient Service Team

14 Apr, 2008 By: Rob Sombach, Nexent Innovations imageSource

Technician Specialization - Building a More Efficient Service Team

Match the resources to the task. There's a strategy for field service
excellence in a nutshell. It doesn't make sense to dispatch your most
experienced technician for preventive maintenance on a small piece of equipment
and a novice to face a five-alarm meltdown. Nor is it efficient to have everyone
flying out in all directions over a large geographic area.

More and more companies are therefore optimizing their field service
operations through technician specialization.  The process often begins with
assigning technicians to certain territories to maximize response time while
keeping mileage costs down. The next step may be to dedicate individuals to
different kinds of equipment or segment them by skill level. Although every firm
will have to find the method that suits it best (there is no “one-size-fits-all”
solution), those that do so will likely reap significant rewards. These include:
increased first-call resolution, better response time, more motivated staff and
greater client satisfaction. All this adds up to an improved bottom line.

Let's look at two examples of companies that successfully specialized their
technician services, how they did it and what they gained.

>  Applied Imaging

Over the past two years, Applied Imaging, the largest independent office
machine dealer in Michigan, transitioned its field staff from general service
work to specialists focusing on defined segment groups. The driving force behind
this initiative was Joe Green, Vice President of Service Operations. Green
recently spoke of this experience at ITEX 2008 in Las Vegas.

Applied Imaging has 30 technicians, divided into teams that support different
territories. Each team also has specialists for different equipment types,
categorized by the speed and volume of the machine (low, medium and
high-volume). To decide how to segment the technicians, Green looked at who had
the best performance on which products. Taking specialization a step further,
each client and machine were directly assigned to a specific technician. This
system has made both technicians and customers happy.

"Our technicians get to do what they are good at and they enjoy it," Green
says. "And by focusing on one type of equipment they get better at it. They take
ownership of servicing specific machines and building a relationship of trust
with the client. This translates into savings through better machine
performance. We've seen First Call Effectiveness go way up.

Some specific payoffs Green can point to include:

  • Savings on carstock inventory. Specialized technicians carry just the
    parts they need, rather than parts for every type of machine. The company has
    been able to cut carstock inventory from an average of $7,300 per technician
    to $4,100 for a total savings of $96,000.
  • Carstock inventory accuracy went from 76% accurate to 95% accurate.
    Technicians no longer carry around parts they rarely use and can easily lose
    track of.
  • The hold-for-parts rate (the percentage of time a technician needs to
    reschedule a call to obtain the right part) dropped from 19% to 4%. 
    Specialized technicians are more likely to know what parts they will need for
    every job.
  • In addition, Green has data to show the company is clearly exceeding
    national averages in first-call effectiveness in four segments of the digital
    copier industry.

> The Printer Source

Based in Connecticut, The Printer Source is a leading nationwide distributor
of line printers, serial matrix printers as well as cut-sheet and continuous
form lasers. The company has 230 third-party and in-house technicians throughout
the U.S.    

The Printer Source has organized its technicians into three levels according
to their knowledge, skill level and training.

Level 1 - Break/Fix and Preventive Maintenance

Level 2 - Five or more years experience on high-volume printers, plus PC

Level 3 - Knowledge of PCs and networking, plus trained on document
management applications

This three-level system ensures that technicians work on problems that match
their skill level. The type of problem is quickly identified – whether it's a
data, network, machine or controller issue – and the appropriate technician

According to Ralph Nappe, Director of the National Technical Service Group
for The Printer Source, the company has benefited greatly from technician
specialization. Response time is faster, service calls are shorter, and the rate
of resolution has shot up.  As well, there is better use of parts and inventory
and staff resources. Technicians don't waste time on problems beyond their skill
levels or searching for someone who knows the answer.

"We can't control what's going to break and when," Nappe says. "The only
thing we can control is how we use our resources to optimally deliver on
response time, parts usage and customer satisfaction."       

He adds that the technicians themselves find it highly rewarding to
specialize. The company encourages them to continuously improve their skills by
paying for training courses and by pairing general technicians with more skilled
colleagues on some calls. As they progress, they can take on more interesting
and challenging jobs. Salaries rise as skill levels improve. The technicians
become more motivated, take ownership of problems and are able to boost customer
satisfaction as well as company profitability.  

> Tools to help with a specialization program

To achieve effective specialization, you need a clear picture of your
business, plus to know who among your staff is good at what. Both Green and
Nappe agree you can't just rely on gut feelings to determine such matters. You
need solid data such as that provided through copier-industry-specific service
management systems. In the experience of our two interviewees, automated
management systems, such as Miracle Service, proved invaluable in developing and
implementing their companies' technician specialization programs (Miracle
Service is a field service software with thousands of users worldwide).

Service management software can generate reports on the productivity of each
technician by model/class type and by service call type. Data may include
average times to complete service calls, average response times, parts used,
call-backs, problem alerts, and revenue generated per technician. Such
information helps you determine the strengths and weakness of your staff and
what tasks they do best.        

When you have determined how to specialize your technicians, the field
service software assists with dispatching the right people to a call. The system
should be able to automatically assign a default technician to certain
contracts. Systems that allow clients to request a service call through a web
portal are an added bonus. Clients get to see the names of their dedicated
technicians on-line and become more familiar with them.

Good automated systems are proactive too, alerting your field service
department about preventive maintenance due for each customer’s equipment, who
should make the call and when.

Once you have a specialization program in place, you need to know how it is
working. Are you getting the full benefits? Can improvements be made? Automated
management software tracks all kinds of useful statistics – such as first-call
effectiveness and parts usage – for analyzing the results of your specialization

Nappe says he regularly runs key management reports from his Miracle Service
software to ensure he has the information he needs to maximize the service
operations efficiency.  One important ratio he pays special attention to is
parts-usage-to-call volume.          

"If parts ordering is too high, I can tell there is an inexperience problem
that needs to be addressed and I bring a more senior technician on board."  

Statistical information generated by field service software can also be used
to motivate your specialists to aim higher. Technicians at Applied Imaging
receive monthly bonuses based on the number of clicks between service calls on
their specific machines. 

> Moving you from "good to great"

When he speaks about the importance of technician specialization, Green
likes to paraphrase management guru Jim Collins:

"To move your company from good-to-great you need the right people in the
right seats before you start to drive the bus."

Even a smaller firm should consider making technician specialization part of
its growth plans. As service call volume starts to rise, astute management of
human resources can make all the difference.

Rob Sombach is VP of Development of Nexent Innovations Inc., a provider of
Miracle Service™ and Service Accent™ field service software with thousands of
users in over 44 countries. To contact:

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