Utilities Face a New Mobile Workforce: Tech Savvy and Collaborative

The maturing workforce has been a subject of concern in the utility industry and the implications this has as these workers, with their knowledge and experience, reach retirement age.

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By John Cameron

The maturing workforce has been a subject of concern in the utility industry and the implications this has as these workers, with their knowledge and experience, reach retirement age. As the industry continues to evolve, however, a trend is the emergence of young, tech savvy and collaborative workers. According to Aberdeen Group's recent report, Emerging Workforce in the Field: Tech-savvy to Technician, approximately one-fifth of the current workforce is under 30, with the average age of a mobile technician being 32 years old. Fleet and field service organizations must recognize what the needs and motivations of this new, up and coming workforce are to keep them for the long run as well as to attract a new pool of young talent.

Flexibility and Mobility

Technology is recognized as an enabler to achieving key strategic objectives. It is important for utility companies to understand how the influx of young workers use, process and engage with technology. A key factor to consider is flexibility and mobility. Tech-savvy workers do not want to be tied down by outdated, legacy technologies. They want the freedom to engage with the latest technologies they have been using in their personal lives. As a result, the mobile landscape for fleet and field service organizations is evolving and the emerging worker is helping to speed up this transformation.

There has been much debate about the bring your own device (BYOD) strategies, where employees have the ability to connect their own technical devices, such as smartphones, laptops and tablets, to their company's network instead of using a device owned by the company. BYOD is often considered the only way forward for businesses looking to compete effectively and offer the most efficient customer service and increased employee satisfaction.

Aberdeen Group's report found that 62 percent of the top performing organizations with fleets have incorporated a BYOD strategy as a result of a more tech-savvy workforce and 43 percent are more likely to give technicians access to social media and collaborative tools to facilitate knowledge transfer.

Visibility and Collaboration

A major characteristic of the emerging mobile workforce is the ability to be collaborative, and this is a trait that will help transform service and the relationship with the customer. Organizations should capitalize on this by developing the collaborative tools needed to help the workforce perform as experts in the field and resolve work issues as quickly as possible.

Collaborative tools, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, offer the opportunity to take advantage of mobile apps. There are a number of custom apps on the market that are tailored to helping manage a field service operation and simplifying the business processes.

Mobile apps offer utility service technicians the ability to share, store and view job data while in the field, providing them with a virtual link to the back office. Critical information such as daily tasks, customer histories and billing can be accessed on demand. In addition, locations of nearby teammates can be accessed on a mobile device and a real-time connection provided through social networking, enabling them to seek assistance or help resolving a problem.

Having the tools and capabilities to work more collaboratively, and having access to real-time insight, empowers workers to make more strategic decisions. The speed of communication through social and mobile allow them to solve problems quickly and ensures resolution is not hampered by lack of information. Technicians can easily recruit help from co-workers and are better enabled to reach appointments on time and achieve first-time issue resolution, leading to increased customer satisfaction and worker productivity while reducing operational costs.

An additional advantage of recruiting workers who are already well equipped to use mobile solutions, such as smartphones and social networking, is that they are well placed to teach other workers. Mobility solutions can then be adopted throughout the workforce.

Customer Service Excellence Evolves With the Emerging Worker

According to the Aberdeen Group, the next generation of workers will be different when it comes to the evolution of excellent service, and they may just be what is needed to improve customer relations.

Customers today want a quick fix. The service technician is often the only contact a customer will have with the organization, so their role is one of necessity as well as strategic significance. They are regarded as the hero when the job is resolved.

As a result, utility organizations want mobile workers who have positive attitudes and an awareness of the importance of customer service. There is an increased focus on emotional intelligence as an enabler to dealing with the changing customer relationships. Aberdeen Group found that top performing field service organizations outperform their peers in retaining their field heroes, but almost as important is that they are able to find, hire and train the next service heroes.

Best-in-class utility organizations do this by capturing knowledge from seasoned workers before they retire so they can pass it on to younger workers. Some 70 percent of top performing field service organizations are more likely to provide technicians with a knowledgebase of training videos and images. In addition, they understand what values/skills are needed to be a great service technician, so they are prepared as one generation retires and another emerges.

About the author: John Cameron is the general manager for Trimble Field Service Management (FSM). For more information about the company, please visit www.trimble.com/fsm.

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