How to successfully support Engineers and their Tech in the Field

How can an organisation successfully support Engineers and their tech in the field? This article focuses on software systems to support field engineers onsite.

Dan Cefaratti, North America Field Service Lead for Velrada. Dan’s role is to work with Field Service customers and prospective customers on how Velrada’s industry expertise and Microsoft business applications can streamline their field operations.
Dan is from Ohio but now lives in Georgia, USA.

Dan Cefaratti North America Field Service Lead successfully support Engineers and their tech in the field

How software can successfully support Field Engineers

Background

Why did you study accounting and finance and then an MBA?
I like to say I’m a “recovering accountant”!
My undergraduate degree was in Finance and Accounting and my first job was as a cost accountant for a bank. I liked numbers and spreadsheets, and as ‘the new guy’, I was asked to learn new technology and build reports on a mainframe report writer. That is where my interest in technology started.
What attracted you to the world of business and sales?
Realising I wanted my ‘clients’ to be external versus internal (my first boss told me I needed to be in sales), I moved into a consulting role. This role was implementing Treasury Workstation banking software for banking clients to help manage cash position. Enjoying the consulting world and still working in finance/accounting, I moved into implementing Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software.
When did you first start to work with field service applications?
The rigour of travel as a consultant and wanting to get off the road to start a family, meant that I moved into a pre-sales role, primarily selling financial systems. That is where I got my taste of field service applications 22 years ago.
Then Microsoft came out with Microsoft CRM and Field Service software which really was the best of both worlds. Field Service is really an extension of customer service and is even more of a passion for me now than ever with all the tools available for the technicians and service operations overall.

Current role as North American Field Service Lead, successfully supporting engineers

What attracted you to this role with Velrada?
My excitement to be at Velrada is that I’m at an organisation that has a sole focus on asset intensive industries.
You are the north America field service lead for Velrada. What exactly does your job involve? In particular how is it split between the ‘different hats’ you wear?
I’ve been fortunate where I’ve been able to work across multiple areas of organisations as well as multiple industries. My accounting background really helps me relate to multiple individuals in a sales cycle to build relationships and not have to bring in too many other individuals and lose continuity. I’ve even had a marketing stint and it brings tremendous value when it comes to helping organisations leverage their database. This means that they can cross-sell and upsell their products – including the all-important field engineer/service ambassador/trusted advisor/voice of the customer!
How much travel do you do?
A lot of my work is remote at the moment with some planned travel. However, as we grow the North American market this will probably change and be more.
How do you manage working remotely in terms of work life balance, people contact, time off from work?
I’ve been working from home since 2009, so pre Covid, and know how to make the most of it now. To be honest, it’s easier now without my kids interrupting as they did during Covid. I have my office to myself again – it’s just me and the dog.

Challenges of working across time zones and cultures

How do you cope with working with the UK and Australia in terms of time zones?
Trying to get everyone to agree to a time for a meeting can be difficult! Eventually, everyone needs to ‘take one for the team’ and work or meet at odd hours. I use the time zone feature in Outlook (multiple time zones on the time side of the calendar) and that certainly makes life easier.
In terms of culture?
It’s fun to share and learn in multiple cultures and it really increases the human impact of the job. We’re all people trying to make a living in something we love – so enjoy each other!

Opening up a market to successfully support Engineers in the field

Velrada is established in Australia and the UK, what has it been like to open up the North America market?
Opening a new market has been exciting, but having the backbone of a strong and reputable partner with existing strong Microsoft ties certainly makes it much easier.

Technical side of the job

This is really the exciting part! It’s almost like hearing from your parents or saying to your kids “I wish I had this capability when I started doing this…!“
Advances in machine learning have been critical to increasing asset up time and lifetime. To me, field service is all about the asset – it’s what has been sold, it’s why you are in business, and why field engineers have awesome jobs.
Having a mobile field device THAT WORKS is critical to user adoption. It must be configured in a way that makes technicians want to use it; to want to make their lives easier and more efficient.
Tools like Remote Assist or Guides from Microsoft help reduce truck rolls (industry term for sending out a truck to fix something), increase 1st time fix rates and provide more adequate and even in-field training.
Reducing truck rolls is especially important in a warranty situation where you really don’t want to send a truck on a second trip because it wasn’t fixed the first time!

Advice to field engineers

What advice would you give to a field engineer about their value?
Use your voice. You are a trusted ambassador to your client. Be the feedback loop for continuous improvement both on internal processes and product. Think carefully about taking a new job somewhere else simply because of the money. You may end up better off in the long run by staying put. Successful organisations that I’ve worked with are constantly taking input from the field. I’ve seen many Field Operations executives that started in the field many years ago.
What advice would you give to field managers and team leaders?
My advice to managers/leadership is to listen to the field. Get their input at every opportunity and reward your field for a job well done. Finally, embrace technology and embrace change because the only thing consistent about change is change.

Future for the tech industry successfully supporting field engineers

How do you think the industry will change over the next ten years?
There is a lot of talk about AI and Machine Learning. This is great and tools like Copilot from Microsoft will be the tools to enable the field to perform not only more efficiently, but more safely. However, we are still going to need skilled professionals to be the voice of the customer to provide superior customer service. Customers are aware of what capability is out there and will demand fast and quality service. People will continue to support and buy from people they like, and no technology will change that.
How do you use the system to reward and incentivise field engineers when you are working with field engineers from different cultures? So, for example, some cultures may like public praise and others not.

CRM systems

Field engineers are a lot like salespeople when it comes to using a CRM system. They feel that they just need their phone, and not much else.

So a salesperson will feel that they can go in, then make the notes and move on to the next call.

So, will a field engineer feel that they just need to fix the equipment and then get on to the next job. However, you still have to capture what you did, what parts you used, did you have issues, etc. It’s important to capture the issues for the next engineer or for product design so that it goes into a feedback loop.

Then, if you don’t know how to do something, what’s available “out there” other than calling the technical support. For example, are there any articles that the field engineer can get quick access to. The purpose of all this is to allow the field engineer to fix the issue there and then, so that they or another engineer don’t have to come back another day. The issue is fixed that day, and the customer is happy too as they can move on to other matters.

Data

How do field engineers input all the data they have gathered from a service call? For example, that they spoke to an operator who mentioned a strange sound just before the equipment started to malfunction.
Ideally you need to be able to use a phone or tablet to record this type of information.

Then for the future how can you, as the field engineer, search for this type of information. This is where Copilot helps as the field engineer can search all the work orders to find out not just the standard information but also other things which have been recorded by their fellow field engineers. Another advantage is that the field engineer can complete their record keeping as they are finishing the call at the customer site. It is easy to input into Copilot what they have done, which parts they have used, any issues they encountered. So, then at the end of the day after a number of calls, there is no more work to be done, and the field engineer has free time instead of having to sit in a hotel room or at home, and input the information and data related to each call that day.

Old software systems

Old software systems were attractive to management and leadership because they could keep track of parts and properly invoice. So field engineers were providing the data but weren’t able to enter anything which would be useful to them or their fellow engineers in the future. There was no feedback coming back from the field.
Field engineers want a system which helps them and doesn’t hinder them.

Remote support

Systems which offer good remote support mean that field engineers can come in from the field because of changed family circumstances, changed health, age or choice. With good immediate support, a field engineer can go out alone sooner.

Rewards programme

There is satisfaction from finishing a job, updating the system, and closing the work order. This is where I encourage leadership to ask their customers to complete surveys to measure their satisfaction.
Then you can have some sort of feedback score to the engineer and then a rewards programme. The rewards programme may be monetary, a gift card or recognition of a job very well done.
With a system which is giving immediate feedback from the customer, we can have a much more effective rewards programme. The reward may not be monetary but there will be acknowledgement of what the field engineer has achieved or contributed.

How can a good system make sure that field service engineers are valued?
Sales reps get commission, leadership get bonuses. Unfortunately, the field service engineers are often not treated as being as important as they are. The field service engineer is the face of the customer and interacts with the customer much more than anyone in the sales team. The FSE is the reason that the customer stays or doesn’t stay.

Can an FSE pass on information to the sales team?
Yes, they can create a new lead. The system has a customer service aspect and an accounting aspect.

Lonely

The role of a field service engineer is a lonely one and having a system of immediate support means that the field service engineer can feel part of a team. Collaborative tools are included in the system.

Is the system difficult?
There’s a time in the industry which is ‘the silver tsunami’. This refers to those engineers who’ve been out in the field for years and have seen the transformation from a paper system to an immediate system.
The idea is to make the app as simple as a game. If it’s easy to use, then they are gaining time.

Global support

If an FSE is using an old piece of equipment and they need support. However, remote tech support only knows the more recent pieces of equipment, how can we access people’s memories?
Even if you don’t have the information within your own organisation, Copilot can search the internet and find some of these memories. Or the field engineering team could use a search engine like Sinequa. Once this is set up it can provide links to the manufacturer’s site, the manufacturer’s documentation. It’s a more precise search than Copilot or ChatGPT.

Velrada – successfully supporting field engineers

Velrada is a leading Microsoft partner that provides implementation and development services across all their Dynamics Applications (CRM, Finance & Operations, Business Central) and the Microsoft Power Platform (Power Apps, Power BI, Power Automate). In short, Velrada specialises in Asset Intensive industries and has built several applications for the Dynamics platform for these industries. You can learn more at PowerWorker.

Velrada company image

Further reading

How to build successful global technical field support teams
Building, leading and recruiting excellent teams of field engineers


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