Expert Interview: Sarah Nicastro and The Future of Field Service

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Pete Humes Head of Content

Sarah Nicastro is optimistic about the future of service.

As host of The Future of Field Service podcast, she engages in weekly conversation with field service professionals who work on the front lines, behind the scenes and everywhere in between.

Sarah’s interview style is perfectly suited for digging into the day-to-day details and challenges of service organizations. Her episodes cover the trends and topics that really matter for companies faced with transforming the way they connect with customers.

If you’re looking for all-access into the minds of the world’s most successful service leaders, all you need to do is hit PLAY.

We were curious to hear Sarah’s take on the current state of field service and how leaders and teams can get ready for everything that comes next.

So we called her on the phone and asked her to start from the beginning…

What was it about field service that got you interested?

It happened serendipitously.

I was in grad school getting my MBA when I got a job as a writer for a company that publishes a variety of B2B industry publications. I was randomly assigned to the publication that I ended up running, which was called Field Technologies. When I started, I didn't really know what field service was.

It’s a hard thing to define.

As an industry, we still battle with that a bit. When I got my first few assignments, I honestly thought, oof, this is gonna be boring.

What changed that thought?

I have an innate curiosity. All of the content I've done has primarily been focused on interviewing service leaders about their challenges, initiatives, transformations, lessons learned, et cetera.

And when I started talking with people, it was at the beginning of a whole lot of evolution. The industry was starting to recognize the potential of service as a profit center versus a cost center.

It was the beginning of shifts in how technology was leveraged and the start of digital transformation as we know it today.

That brought on a lot of the change related to focusing on customer experience and the role of the frontline workforce. The fact that things were starting to shift, helped me quickly get perspective on how much potential there was and how cool of a journey it would be.

How did you go from Field Technologies to the podcast?

I had the desire to do a podcast for a while.

I loved the pressure of running a print publication. I thrive in a deadline based environment for sure. But I always felt like I was having these great, long conversations with leaders who had so much wisdom. Then I’d have to go through the process of editing all that wisdom into something that fit into a four or five page article. It was a hell of a lot of work and I felt like I was leaving so much on the table.

When I was approached by IFS to start The Future of Field Service, I knew it would be a really good opportunity to bring those conversations to life. People could take away what was most relevant to them, rather than me picking and choosing the bits that would end up in an article.

We started with the website and weekly articles to get things going in January of 2019. Four months later, we launched the podcast and we've done one a week ever since.

I think seeing and hearing people on the podcast also adds a layer of humanity that sometimes gets lost in B2B conversations.

Yeah, and I also think the pandemic changed the way we show up to work in a more human form. That shift has allowed the podcast to get into some pretty personal conversations. Not every episode is “How did you do X, Y, or Z?” and “What have the benefits been?”

There's certainly a place for that, but I also have a lot of conversations that get into leadership mentality and approach, vulnerability, and mental health in the workplace. Things that are very real in the lives of, not only the leaders I'm interviewing, but the people they work with. I've really enjoyed that.

What do you see as the biggest opportunities for field service?

I think I'm still here because a lot of the potential in field service remains unrealized. And it’s not because that potential is unrecognized.

It’s because of all the layers of change it takes to really evolve and modernize service. Leveraging service as a revenue generator and brand differentiator takes time.

It's really exciting that there's still a lot that can be done with the move to deliver outcomes instead of products and services. For some organizations, that change has to do with shifting the business model, which I think is a really interesting conversation.

Customer expectations continue to evolve and expand, and the industry's ability to meet those needs differently is exciting too.

The idea of incorporating a remote-first service model and leveraging more automation is intriguing. And doing so not to reduce the work for the field technicians, but to change what that could look like to be more customer-centric.

Also, and this is not necessarily specific to field service, but I think we’re in the midst of a new era of leadership. There are a lot of cool things that come up in conversation that I think are indicative of a whole lot of opportunity, still to be uncovered.

What about challenges?

To a large degree it all points back to change, right? And change is hard. I just finished recording a podcast with Kristoffer Brun, Service Operations Product Manager at Electrolux, who talked about how much courage transformation really takes. And that's really true.

I think for many leaders and many organizations, complacency holds a lot of appeal. For lots of different reasons.

There are always going to be challenges. Right now it's economic turmoil and pressure. There’s the challenge of attracting and retaining talent. And as companies become more customer-centric, how do they manage costs without sacrificing the customer experience or the employee experience?

Because as we've become more and more customer-focused, a lot of companies have overlooked the correlation between their employee satisfaction and their customer satisfaction. I think there's a lot of work to be done digging back into that.

What do you see in terms of technologies that have had the most impact?

I think from a technology standpoint, there’s a huge degree of sophistication available to companies today.

But I think what technology providers sometimes fail to realize is that just because it's there, doesn't mean everyone is ready to use it all right this minute.

I think the real change we're going to see from a technology standpoint is in the end users catching up to the technology.

When I started, it was a lot of assembling a bunch of different things together. Today that's not as necessary.

More functionality is available in a way that can be a lot easier to manage and maintain. So the challenge starts with just getting onto these modern platforms, and then looking for the practical uses for the capabilities that exist.

I think AI and machine learning and augmented reality all hold a lot of potential. But they require a strong foundation. I think some companies are still working on getting that strong foundation in place.

There was an era when modernization and transformation meant moving from paper to digital.

But right now, it’s about foundation and establishing a solid, capable platform on which to build these more sophisticated capabilities.

You travel and have conversations with service leaders from all over the world. Are there similarities and differences in how these companies are handling service challenges?

Digital transformation and the journeys, challenges and opportunities companies face are very similar. Change management? Absolutely the same. Talent gap, very similar.

Maybe it's because of the premise of the platform I run that I look for similarities, but I believe that global companies have much more in common. The differences pale in comparison to the commonalities.

Is there a misunderstanding about field service?

Well, it's an industry that’s hard to explain and I think that's the challenge, right? Defining it clearly is a big part of what you need to do to get people interested in field service careers. The tricky part is that it's not AN industry. It's a lot of industries. It's complex. I definitely don't know that I've nailed it.

What further complicates things is that field service continues to evolve. If you talk about appliance repair or commercial equipment repair, people tend to visualize what that job looked like 10 or 15 years ago, not necessarily what it's becoming today.

Do the most successful service leaders (and companies) have qualities or attitudes in common?

I think there are a couple of things.

The companies that are leading the way when it comes to realizing the potential of transforming service? They have a leadership mentality that is enthusiastic about the possibilities that come with change.

They are able to look at the potential, not just the problems, that will arise during the transformation. That's one thing.

And when we talk about managing change, I think the biggest difference between people who are getting it right and people who aren't, is that the people who are getting it right listen more than they speak.

They truly take the time to understand what the stakeholders need.

And when we think about field service transformation, I'm thinking primarily about the workforce, but depending on the type of transformation, it can also be the customers.

Industry leaders are aware that to be successful, requires a lot more input than just their own. And they're willing to spend the time getting that input and they respect the voices, views and needs of other people. In the end, they can put a solution together that meets those needs, instead of just forcing something.

Okay, one last question. You mention your love of hip-hop in your bio, so I have to ask, what rappers are in your heavy rotation?

I would say primarily classic stuff. Nineties era hip-hop is my comfort zone. I'm not opposed to newer things, but I definitely tend to get in my car and put on something from that era versus looking for the new stuff.

I'm pretty open to different artists, but my cornerstones are artists like Jay-Z, Biggie, Nas and Wu-Tang Clan.

I hate sounding like one of my parents when I say “They don't make it like they used to.” But I'm hard pressed to think of someone super recent who I think is incredible.

At this point, when it comes to new stuff, I’ll need to rely on my children to force me to modernize my musical tastes once they get a little older.

Is your company ready for the for the future of field service?

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