For decades, the field service industry has been plagued with stigmas and misconceptions that have been hard for technicians and field service professionals to shake. While many of these stigmas are mere myths, they’ve had an impact on this industry and have helped contribute to the growing skilled trades gap. While help to bridge this gap may be in the pipeline as enlightened education and government programs paint a brighter future, many myths about the skilled trades still persist.
Our education system has instilled a mindset in the current generation that a college education is the only true path to success. There is lingering public perception and peer views that tradesmen and women are basically undereducated dropouts. So, resolving the shortages of skilled trades technicians will require some determined myth busting on the part of educators, government sponsors, and, most importantly, service industry providers.
In this blog, we’ll touch on three of the most common myths (and challenges) that the field service industry must bust and overcome.
Contractors will frequently boast that they have the best technicians on their websites. In private, however, they air their true feelings.
“Techs are lazy. Managers can’t get them to do anything. They are late when hooking up with customers, and they show up with scant information about the work that needs to be done.”
But, in reality, the technicians are generally the opposite. They are far from lazy, and like anyone, they take pride in their work. Oftentimes their main grievance is that they are simply not empowered to have the attitude many managers want them to have.
That empowerment can come in the form of helping a tech level up their skill set to improve their knowledge and expertise. And managers need not worry, providing greener techs the knowledge and training they may need is easier than you think. It can even be done while on the job. Connecting a greener tech with one of your more advanced, senior technicians is the fastest way to help advance their training. XOi helps you facilitate this crowdsourcing of knowledge by facilitating real-time interactive video calls to help techs troubleshoot while onsite, while also allowing your techs to create and share a knowledge repository of valuable training content. Bonus: centralizing and sharing this knowledge throughout your organization will help you avoid any tribal knowledge gaps should one of your senior techs retire or leave the organization.
The proof of successful application of that empowerment is in a history of positive service manager, field technician, and customer testimonials.
From a Long Island, NY Air Conditioning Servicer: “We think giving our employees the ability to instantly tap into the collective wisdom of technicians, who jointly have thousands of years of experience, is an invaluable resource.”
From a Dallas, TX Construction & Facilities Services: “Our technicians use [your app] to collaborate visually, in real-time, with other technicians for a more efficient solution to a complicated issue. This library of information coupled with the video documentation, will ensure greater customer communication, solid documentation, and increased training and engagement.”
From a Franklin, TN commercial repair technician: “I’ve been using the technology for approximately 3 years now. Customers really like the way they can actually see inside their HVAC units and what we are doing. Also, it protects the company against false accusations from other companies and customers.”
“I wanted to let you know that I really find [your technology] useful. I rarely get out on the roofs to see the work that is being done, thus having the opportunity to see and hear about the repair through the video and photos is extremely helpful.”
“I was able to open the links attached to the work orders and view them without difficulty. I think this new feature is wonderful and believe it will be very beneficial with future repairs/maintenance issues!”
“I can’t believe every contractor doesn’t offer this. The photo and video component is a great feature for record-keeping, maintenance logs, and clarification on the work being performed.” So, the myth about lazy, dumb, and stubborn technicians can be shattered with good vibes. When jobs run smoothly, technicians show up on time and do great work, and you have an alchemy where technology can combine all the parts to produce the pure gold of customer satisfaction.
Myth #2—Nothing about the trades appeals to the new generation of workers
Next, we have the most vital ingredient in the mixture of what is needed to solve the skilled trades shortage. Busting the myth of a false choice—that younger generations must decide between college or menial, low-wage jobs. We have alluded to this phenomenon previously as a large obstacle in solving the skilled trades shortage and motivating the newest generation of trades workers. Busting this myth must happen one student at a time through education and a proactive recruitment strategy. This must occur at high schools, community colleges, and the previously described apprenticeship programs.
The reality that overcomes the myth is this: For the next generation of workers who don’t want to work in cubicles in front of a computer screen, there are attractive alternatives in the skilled trades. The following are just a few of the benefits of a career in the skilled trades:
Forgoing student loan debt can be a tremendous incentive for younger generations to learn a trade. Student loan debt has grown to nearly $1.5 trillion, surpassing credit card loans. Going to college often requires the one thing parents might not have enough of: money. With a student loan interest rate of nearly 6 percent, taking out that loan will, for the average four-year student, mean beginning a work career with a monthly repayment of over $450.
Josh Zolin in his book Blue is the New White: The Best Path to Success No One Told You About—Until Now shows the sobering math and consequences of student loan debt. He demonstrates that “five years after graduation, the college graduate is making less than the [skilled trades] apprentice and just barely more than the trade school graduate.” Josh arrives at that conclusion by subtracting the burden of college debt from the college graduate’s annual income.
One difficulty for many new college graduates is finding an entry level job that’s in line with the arduous coursework and studying they just completed. There’s no guarantee that a degree in any field will automatically open the door to a high-paying fulfilling career. In the trades, the opposite is true. Apprentices are typically well paid and on track to advance to journeyman status with union wages.
The skilled trades profession is a golden opportunity for those who want to work with their hands, solve problems, and fix things. It’s all about doing something you love and getting someone to pay you to do it.
Josh Zolin highlights those benefits in Chapter 3 of his book. The chapter is aptly entitled, “It’s More Than Money.” Helping people, says Josh, is one of the favorite parts of his job. Getting someone out of a jam that could have ruined a day’s business and just experiencing the warm glow when someone says “Thank you!” are the bonuses beyond the security of good pay.
According to Josh, “One of the best things about the trades is the career flexibility they provide.” A career in skilled trades lures workers to every corner of the country. Qualified plumbers, electricians, and HVAC workers, for instance, are needed everywhere in positions where workers have a say about their hours of work. “You want more time to spend with friends and family?” asks Josh, “The trades can give you that.”
Anyone looking for career flexibility can find a path in the trades. Josh describes those options in terms of people who choose to remain technicians throughout their working lives, while others transition to teaching or management roles. Some find careers tangential to their original trade, while others, like Josh, go on to become entrepreneurs, business owners, and CEOs.
An opportunity to use innovative technology
Technology is having a tremendous impact on skilled trades workers. Modern technology is making skilled trades workers more productive, competitive, and in greater demand. In fact, tech-savvy workers have to be at least as good with a smartphone as they are with a wrench.
From project or construction management software to running 3D virtual/mixed reality applications, skilled trades workers are becoming more effective in their jobs and placing them at the cutting edge in their specialty.
This part applies especially to our current global climate, but no matter the times, trades jobs will almost always be essential. Electrical, plumbing, and HVAC equipment will readily require maintenance, repairs, or installations, making technicians jobs essential to day to day life. And with the ongoing pandemic, we’ve learned and implemented innovative ways to incorporate technology into the typical service call in order to adapt to the growing need for distanced communication.
Example #1: Dustin is a former field service technician. He now works in XOi Customer Success to help technicians use the platform to make their lives easier and provide an exceptional customer experience.
Example #2: Mark is another former technician. He loved forming interpersonal relationships in the field and acting as a trusted advisor to the customers he served. He expanded his reach by working for XOi as a sales representative.
Example #3: Looking for a career change, Bethany, Josh Zolin’s Tucson, AZ branch manager, had to drop out of nursing school to care for her son. Bethany wishes she had known back in high school “how a woman can succeed in the trades…If you’re a hard worker, you’re going to be respected by your peers just as much as a man is.”
Here’s another area where perceptions can frequently outpace reality. The lack of trust in field technicians is unfortunately not completely a myth. As myths go, it is a wobbler, an example of the old military aphorism that one “Oh crap!” can outweigh one thousand “Atta-boys!”
And this lack-of-trust issue adds another layer to the negative perception of trades nowadays. Trust is something that must be earned through performance and verification. Technicians who perform honestly and connect with their customers are trusted, but rarely receive gushing kudos for meeting expectations and doing competent work.
Nevertheless, we’ve all heard anecdotes or have a personal experience of field service techs spoiling it for everyone. They either show up late or misinformed, or they engage in disreputable upselling when simpler, less expensive repairs would suffice.
One customer we know relates a typical incident. His water heater pilot light would not stay lit. The technician suggested a $2,000 replacement of the unit. When the customer said he’d think about it, the technician left without reigniting the pilot light. The customer subsequently got a second opinion after reigniting the pilot light himself. A more reputable company was able to diagnose the problem as a simple, less costly issue, and replaced the wind shield on the unit’s ignition mechanism for just $70.
Bad Result: The problem was ultimately solved, but trust in the industry was diminished.
So, the truth of the matter is that some consumers don’t trust technicians—and it only takes a single “Oh crap!” experience to permanently damage a customer relationship. However, since lack of trust can travel far and wide on social media long before reality can get its shoes on, it is not unreasonable that, along with Myths #1 and #2 already discussed above, people considering going into the skilled trades might perceive a lack of customer respect as another disincentive to entering the profession.
How do we both restore full trust and convince people that the trades have earned and deserve public respect? It is through education and convincing skilled trades recruits that they are at the cusp of an exciting, high-paying career and that their work is required and appreciated.
In fact, our author and successful HVAC CEO, Josh Zolin, makes a cogent and impactful observation about trades: “You can’t throw a rock in this world without hitting something connected to the trades.” Everything from our homes to the roads we travel on, observes Josh, resulted from trades people receiving good pay to build and maintain them.
Secondly, anyone who believes that trades people are unappreciated has never endured a power outage during a snowstorm. When the power returns as the winds howl, those skilled and hardy electricians and linesmen are the most important people in the lives of consumers.
Educating Our Customers by Combating this “Half-Myth”
The second half of the education quest is to target customers with service and performance fueled by high tech and transparency. The notion that the trades industry is inherently untrustworthy can be overcome by competent field technicians, coupled with customer education. We can leverage technology as a doorway to customer education and trust.
In our water heater incident, our skeptical consumer didn’t trust the field tech for two reasons:
Unfortunately, for the tech trades industry, in this instance the customer’s suspicion and lack of trust gave the water heater repair company a black eye. This is how the bad actions of a few bad field techs can morph to myth and a lack of trust.
Let’s flip the narrative here, and imagine an alternative hypothetical technology game changer. Sequentially, it would go like this:
The Result: The problem was solved to the complete satisfaction of the customer; trust was established with repeat business guaranteed.
Again, the Proof Is in the Feedback
The above six-step dream scenario can be achieved by any tech services provider with a field service technology app like XOi. We have already provided several examples of feedback illustrating that. We’ll end this section with another testimonial from a Chicago commercial/residential servicer:
“This is cutting edge technology. It allows us as the HVAC experts to quickly and easily show clients what we are doing. It provides value by justifying our work and also teaching clients along the way. In addition, the support team at XOi is fantastic! We always see quick responses and thorough solutions.”
The above are just a few of the most common falsehoods that have plagued the field service industry for decades. Check back next week for part 2 of our Field Service MythBusters series.