5 Ways to Keep up with (and Stop) Technician Churn

field service worker sinking

Let’s say a tech walks into your office looking for a raise. The problem is, you just can’t make it happen. He then asks to have his service schedule trimmed down around the holidays. But things are just too nutty for that to be feasible. Maybe the same employee even asked dispatch to log service parts more accurately. But dispatch is overloaded and often forgets – leaving him stranded in the field and unable to complete many jobs during his first-visit.

What now?

He quits. And sadly, the goodwill of at least a handful of customers follows him right out the door.

Of course, this is just one side of the story. Management faces more challenges than just keeping their techs happy. Field service management is a tough business, after all.

But despite challenges, far too many organizations are still facing technician churn rates that are simply unsustainable. Research from Aberdeen group confirms this, reporting that nearly 40% of field service organizations are not meeting their turnover goals.

The other cold hard truth is it’s hard finding technical talent. So hard in fact, that 55% of service employers report struggling to fill open positions. But there’s more brewing in this perfect storm.

The service sector is graying, which means the most experienced techs will soon retire. According to the Service Council, a full 70% of service organizations report they’ll be facing a pinch from retiring workers in 5-10 years.

Turnover costs us all big bucks. And hiring takes significant time for management. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that in the United States, productivity losses linked to employees who miss work cost employers $225.8 billion each year.

So, what’s the answer?

Technology? Hiring best practices? Training?

Most certainly, all of those will help. But if your ship is sinking, let’s start by plugging some holes. Here are five ways you can slow technician churn.

1. Training

Training your field techs is as much about self-motivation and ethics as it is about technical skills. Developing higher skills that satisfy customers and keep the business humming requires leadership that’s dedicated to long-term training.  Here are two training frameworks to try:

The Forever Framework

As professionals, we can always get better. It’s the belief that we’re “stuck” that gets us into trouble, or makes us quit. Encourage your employees to document short-term (months), medium-term (years), and long-term career goals that are both technical and non-technical. Encourage them to see the connections between these goals and their satisfaction and advancement in your organization.

Periodic Workshops

Zappos is renowned for their customer service. It’s so good that customer service leaders and professionals fly in from all over the world to be trained in their service methods. Consider developing a similar program at your organization. Maybe your best techs could teach newcomers a thing or two every few months.

2. Nurture Your Top 15%

An all-too-common mistake in service organizations is focusing on problems instead of positives. As the best employees are increasingly neglected, it becomes more likely that they’ll quit.

The National Business Research Institute confirms this fact. In recent research they reported the major causes of employee turnover were salary (85%), career advancement (71%), and relationships with supervisors (50%).

Identify your top 15% of techs, and make an effort to get them everything they need. A raise. An extra day of PTO. If you can’t afford those, then public recognition and praise should be doled out on the regular.

Spend time nurturing deeper relationships with your top 15% to ensure they feel valued.

3. Work Perks

Your employees pull a paycheck. That should be perks enough, right? Wrong.

This is about deepening engagement through basic human psychology. Engagement is key to unlocking big returns for your company. Organizations that improve employee engagement report significantly higher profits, higher customer loyalty, and above-average productivity.

Developing a perks program can take many forms. But here are a few things to try:

Simple Perks

Start with low-cost incentives that make techs feel like VIPs. Front-row parking, free dry-cleaning day, or a bring-your-dog-to-work-day all cost you relatively little. But they make employees feel appreciated.

Work Merch

Offer logoed t-shirts, hats, and other simple fun merchandise in return for specific achievements. These low cost rewards are tangible and a friendly reminder that the company is willing to recognize employees.

Gift Cards

Gift cards are simple but effective. They allow employees to use “free” cash at their discretion. Running fun monthly or quarterly contests are a great place to start. Or, consider setting a threshold for monthly customer satisfaction ratings that result in gift card rewards.

4. Set Specific Expectations

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, famously reported that every year the bottom 10% of his organization should be replaced. If he hadn’t set specific performance expectations, he wouldn’t have known who was at the bottom of the list.

Trimming the fat is no fun. But living in the dark when it comes to performance is what leads to layoffs and miscommunication in the first place.

Set specific expectations for your techs at specific intervals in their career advancement. Break the job down for them, and hand them the roadmap to advancement. With this knowledge in hand, your techs are far more likely to succeed.

In his famous book, First Things First, Stephen R. Covey outlines two key components of advancing your career and life, which he dubbed The Clock and The Compass. Here’s how to apply both for your techs:

The Clock

How long should it take a tech to get up to speed? A month? A year? A week? Give your techs specific time intervals for learning specific skills, both customer-centric and technical.

The Compass

Where will the skills your techs learn take them? To higher pay? To management? To more jobs in less time? Connect with your techs and collaboratively develop a set of goals based on the techs interests, and the company’s needs.

5. Profile & Replicate Successful Techs

Every organization has rock stars. Your best techs are likely resourceful, energetic, a positive force with customers, and capable of handling last-minute changes. Do you know what makes your best techs stand apart?

As a leadership team, develop profiles of your best employees. Identify the hard skills, soft skills, and personality traits that make this pro valuable. Reduce churn by only hiring techs that fit this mold, and help your current employees learn lessons from your best techs.

Of course, always be pragmatic in how you apply feedback to lower-performing techs. You don’t want any employees feeling slighted. Use insights from top employees to inspire, not to shame.

Looking for more insights and tips on how to streamline your field service operations? Head to our process section of the Field Service Matters blog.

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Field Service Matters is about framing new conversations in field service management. We invite a variety of industry thought leaders and specialists to share their perspectives on various areas in workforce management, and explore the big ideas that power service excellence and innovation.

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