Lessons Learned as VP of Service Operations


We all learn in our roles, through success and through failure.  The era of digital solutions has impacted service operations more than anything we have ever experienced in our industry.  Here are my top 5 lessons learned in leading today’s digital, service operations teams.

  1. Service Leadership Team

The quality of the senior leadership team reporting to the VP/Director is still the centerpiece of operational excellence.  While the VP/Director should provide direction and spark innovation and execution, the same is true for the senior leaders reporting to the VP/Director.  Management teamwork and initiative is a must.   In my experience, the best senior service leaders ask for support, not direction.  It’s a sign of working on the business, not just in the business.  The VP/Director may have a lot of new ideas and vision, but without the entire leadership team also having ideas and ability to execute, the team will fail.

One team I was part of committed to having 3 major initiatives to improve the business per year.  It was a cultural norm over time.  This was a great source of pride over the years.  In contrast, I’ve had teams where the senior leaders were functional experts in the current method of business, which is of less value than a leader who is currently innovating, improving and learning.

Making leadership staff changes is disruptive and difficult, but always paid off in the longer term.   In my experience, addressing the performance of the service leadership team is the first priority of the VP/Director.

  1. Digitalization

All service leaders must have a digital plan.  In the digital era, it is more important than ever for the leadership team to continuously learn and champion the opportunities technology provides.  Digital technologies impact all aspects of the service business from recruiting, tech/management learning and development, customer experience, field productivity, service delivery models, safety, fleet management, inventory and contract management.  Aside from a modern field service management system, we also interface with mobile apps, drones, wearables, machine to machine learning, augmented reality, IoT, data collection and analysis, APIs to other systems, and the list is growing.

The need for continuous learning is more critical for a service leader and senior management team than ever before.  No longer can we separate B2B and B2C field service models.  Consumerism drives the context of technology leadership.  A B2B field service customer is also a consumer outside of work and has experience with popular platforms such as Alexa, and Uber.  Customers are influenced by the technology they experience, and then want the same in their business experiences.

If a leader settles and considers having a modern field service management system as being technically adept, that is a mistake.  Quality leaders follow how customer experiences of all types are impacted by mobility, messaging and machine to machine language to create a sound strategy and platform.  Executive leadership ensures there is a digital strategy for a field service operation and the supporting service leadership team is continuously learning and developing.

It’s been said that we are in the knowledge economy and others now say we are in the “experience” economy.  I do value studying experiences, both from an external customer perspective but also from an internal or employee experience.  Both are important to produce results and have the competitive edge.  I saw my role as service VP to bring these topics into the management agenda and evaluate leadership talent on how they act on this information.  Make sure you have a plan for the team to step outside the organization and understand how customer and employee experience strategies are creating innovation and business results.

One hesitation I personally experienced and had to coach myself to change, was Return on Investment calculations.  My hesitation was to resist many projects given the price tag, both in IT and resources.  What I learned was the value of investment vs. expense.  Doing diligent ROI’s proves the value of investment and changes the discussion from how to absorb the expense to how can we leverage strategic investments to grow and better position the service investment.  Service executives need to have this discipline and consider frequent investments.

  1. Change Management

Who said service marketing managers lead organization change? Nobody that I know of either, but I had such an experience.  My company had 12 major product lines that generated service agreement revenues of nearly $80MM.  In my role as service marketing manager, the data analysis clearly reported a concerning trend.  Most of the revenue and profit was generated by a 3rd of the product lines, and our skilled resources were deployed accordingly.  However, the trend was declining, and the serviceable installed base was shifting to the other product lines because of technology factors.  A strategic change had to be made in the business or revenues, profits and culture would never recover.  The cash cow effect was significant because almost 300 FSE and critical customer support processes were oriented to the cash cow product lines.  The service leadership team had to lead the change to redeploy and train FSEs, to redesigning new service interaction processes, systems and metrics.  That’s one example, other common change includes acquisition, divestiture, ERP upgrades, skilled labor shortages, generation workplace preferences and mobility.   Change management is an essential practice for service leadership teams.  Change is everyone’s business.  

  1. Development of Line Management – Field Service Managers

Field Service Managers are the critical link to leading change, on-going performance and development of FSE teams.  Without effective service managers, there is no chance to coach techs and FSEs.  Top service organizations have strong tech/FSE analytical abilities.  Service organizations with FSEs acting as problem solvers, earning “trusted advisor” status with customers have far greater performance results.    Service managers ’s must coach the tech/FSE performance each day and also constantly develop their team of FSEs both technically and for soft-skills.  In my experience, providing field service managers with service-specific coaching skills to build a team of trusted advisors is frequently overlooked.

Field service managers have a tough job.  They need attention and extra support.  Like myself, most came up through the ranks and were your best FSE.  With so many digital tools and changing processes and customer expectations, a critical mistake is not investing in service manager training.  FSE’s require effective leadership and managers will also burn-out if not fail immediately without being developed as leaders.  A typical problem is the manager (new or seasoned) acts as the team’s primary problem solver.  Just like he/she did as a great FSE.  However now their role is to lead and support, sometimes solving problems but more importantly developing their team to solve problems and leading change.  An effective FSE and service manager training and development program that is specialized for service operations is necessary.

  1. Other People’s Agenda

There’s a balance between being a great team member and leading a service operation.  As VP, you are teammates with the CFO, CIO, Sales and Marketing VP, Manufacturing VP and Human Resources VP.  All of those functions and corporate initiatives have agendas that typical touch service operations.  For example, a new HRIS project will impact techs work time and PTO reporting.  IT is updating cyber-security and other architecture.  There may be a new product launch requiring service to generate leads, obtain new training, participate in launch team activities – all good projects.  In my experience, it is easy to support every project while losing sight of customer experience innovation which very well may cross into other functions as well.

The leader must navigate, prioritize and collaborate to ensure the right focus on their business.  The leader’s skills and cross-functional relationships matter to be effective for the company and for their function.  It’s very important to be aligned and support other projects.  But to do so correctly, the service-initiated programs should also be positioned on the table with supporting business positions for the team overall to have the right project roadmap.

Summary – The strength of senior leadership and field service managers is the centerpiece to all digital transformation and operational excellence.  In the digital and experience economy, VP/Directors must succeed with leadership and continuous learning.

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