Soft Skills in the Field Service Industry: Problem SolvingBy My Service Depot on Tuesday, May 4, 2021
Many experts revere problem solving as one of the most important soft skills, especially in the field service business.
Today we’ll continue our review of the most important soft skills that business owners and managers in the field service industry can cultivate to make sure that their business has the best chance to succeed. Specifically, we’ll look at the problem solving subset of soft skills. In this context, problem solving refers to the process of finding solutions to difficult or complex issues. Already, you can see why many consider this one of the most important subsets of soft skills.
The first two things we will discuss today are teamwork and troubleshooting, two items that often (but don’t always) go hand in hand. Let’s define teamwork as qualities and abilities that allow you to work well with others during conversations, projects, meetings, or other collaborations. Consider the saying, “you are only as strong as your weakest link.” Keep this in your mind when evaluating your team. Usually, your newest people are the weakest in terms of skill sets or job duties. By properly training new hires, you can get them up to speed much quicker.
Having a team buy in and use teamwork is something that can be very hard to accomplish. Like most things in business, this starts with management. Your office staff and your field techs might have very different examples of what constitutes teamwork. Some companies have techs flying solo around a city doing work as needed, and some companies have a team or crews of people. Teamwork works differently for all parties. The tech flying solo seldom has to work with others, so their teamwork skills might not be as strong as the people on a crew-based team. The crew-based team will start to bond, eventually growing into a well-oiled machine.
Office workers usually interact with other members of your staff (and with each other) much more frequently. With office staff often located in the same building, they will often start to develop a stronger bond that the crew out in the field does.
Office or field, teamwork doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Consider some of things you can do to get better:
- Mimic others in your life that do have great teamwork skills. Once you have determined what qualities are best, you should implement those.
- Set goals early on to have something to measure yourself against.
- Get feedback from others about what aspects of teamwork need to improve.
The troubleshooting soft skill can be hard to come by and can be one of the most useful traits that anyone can have. Troubleshooting is defined as attempting to solve a problem for a company or organization OR discovering why something does not work effectively and making suggestions about how to improve it. We will focus on the second definition today. Fixing a problem is one thing, but being able to speak about it afterwards and make suggestions are two very different things.
The ability to troubleshoot a problem that a customer has reported is one of the most important things that a field technician can do in their day to day job. Most of these careers have a longer training timeline, so the ability to learn as you progress really fine tunes this skill. The troubleshooting skills of field workers usually become evident right out of the gate. But what about office workers?
Office workers, depending on their role in the company, may or may not have this skill set inherently, like we assume with field staff. Some people assume that certain roles do not require the troubleshooting skill, but having people with that skill will allow your processes around the office to consistently improve. One of the most important ways that an employee can become better as an employee is to become more efficient. Allow employees to become involved in improving work processes, and they will feel more valued and will put more effort into their responsibilities. The biggest thing that someone can do to start fine tuning their troubleshooting soft skill is to simply practice it. This will allow you to start to start breaking down your common, everyday processes and to grow your troubleshooting soft skill.
Often, new hires won’t have strong decision-making skills right out the gate. Usually this skill comes with experience and nurturing. For the field tech, their jobs depend on them making decisions to determine how to proceed with their tasks, what parts to get, where to get them, and when to install them. The best technicians are the ones you can rely on to make good decisions (without supervision) in these scenarios.
Newer techs may need to phone the office more frequently to resolve things. Telling them to “just take care of it” or “make it happen” is not the best option. Without standard operating procedures, you could end up spending more money overpaying for parts. Techs should know you don’t always want them to pick up parts from the nearest hardware store, especially if you have a regular supplier that offers equipment at a discount. Making sure that you have procedures in place will ultimately save you on time and parts.
For the office staff, the same principles apply. You want them to make decisions within set procedures and parameters. Bad decision making here could result in becoming over or under booked, missing parts for the techs, or even missed appointments. Without guidelines or mentorship, the office staff will not fully understand their end goal. As with most things in life, you need balance. Scheduling too lightly leads to less revenue and more down time for techs, a real double whammy. Over scheduling can cause frustration and even lead to the techs getting burnt out. Losing good employees can cost you morale and time. Remember, it costs money to get a new tech up to speed with your process and systems.
While resourcefulness goes somewhat hand-in-hand with decision making, we should still consider it separately. It its simplest terms, resourcefulness is defined as the ability to find quick and clever ways to overcome difficulties.
Of course, “quick and clever ways” can sometimes lead you astray. For example, let’s say a tech is at Mrs. Robinson’s house fixing a leaky pipe. When the tech gets to the source of the problem, they realize that they do not have the exact part. We have two paths here. We can order the part and it should arrive in a few days’ time, or the tech can go to the van and see what they have there that they can put to use. Once they get to the van, they find a pipe, but it’s not long enough. They could glue a few pieces together and cut it to length, but the fitting is slightly off so it gets packed with extra glue. While this may fix the leak, how long will it hold? Is this the quick fix or the correct fix? Resourcefulness here can save the customer a few days’ time, but it means providing a less than stellar solution to the customer. Make sure that your team knows you value resourcefulness without cutting corners.
For the office staff, resourcefulness is pretty similar. The office staff will often get emergency calls. These calls fall into two buckets: real emergencies and routine problems that the customer feels are an emergency. So what do you do?
Let’s say two customers call to go over something they call an emergency. One has a busted sewage main in the basement, and the other has a leaky faucet that has turned into a steady stream. Both of these represent real problems, and you may find yourself tempted to dispatch someone to deal with the faucet first, since it represents a quicker, more solvable problem. First, however, you should put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Which of these problems now seems more dire? The sewage issue can cause real and lasting damage to the customer’s property, and represents a true emergency.