A Canon Service Engineer in a branded jacket unloads their equipment from the back of a white estate vehicle.

More is more: time-tested ways to manage multi-skilled teams

How many skills does one person need? Plenty, as it turns out. At the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting earlier on this year, there was much discussion about the future of work and the need for a ‘reskilling revolution’. This is to address a scenario where some skills become obsolete, yes, but it is also to ensure that the future workforce do not ‘skill in isolation’ and has a broad set of capabilities which complement each other and smooth the path for collaboration. In a future where it will become the norm for employees to wear many different hats for their role – be that customer service, IT and data analysis, or problem-solving, critical thinking and negotiation – how can organisations effectively manage a workforce that transcends traditional skill silos?

Our 3500-strong service community is a source of much pride in Canon EMEA and has been reliably and consistently solving problems for our customers for decades. Each day, alongside their toolboxes, our engineers carry with them encyclopaedic technical product knowledge, immaculate customer service skills and an understanding of their customers’ – and Canon’s – commercial needs. EMEA Head of Service, Iain Maxwell (himself with over thirty years of ‘on the road’ service experience) has seen his teams rise to the challenges of progress and become truly multi-skilled as technology and expectations change.

“Our devices are now so reliable that the traditional ‘break and fix engineer’ visits the customer a lot less than they used to, but they can still see three or four customers per day,” says Iain. When they arrive at a customer’s site, they are immediately in a position of trust, sensitively working to repair business machines that may process confidential commercial information. In investigating the problem, they may need to speak to several people and once the issue is solved, debrief the customer so that they understand what was required and know how to prevent it happening again. It’s an opportunity to help the customer learn how to do things more efficiently or offer them a new solution to a problem they’ve observed.

Knowing how to find a resolution in the best way for the customer is key. Ideally, this lies in supporting them in making quick fixes themselves, or could be a combination of remote diagnostics and physical visits. This means that engineers ideally need to have helpdesk-style customer service skills, as well as face-to-face. “The company that can do this the best will be the one that customers look to and want to engage with,” explains Iain.

A Canon service engineer holds a piece of paper and inputs some information into a business machine.
Canon Service Engineer, Martin Würsch.
A Canon service engineer fixes the inside of a printer.
Canon Service Engineer, Remy Revaz.

The world has changed a great deal since Iain and the first Canon EMEA engineers began visiting customers (“When I was in the field and managed remotely by my Service Manager, we didn’t even have mobile phones – I used to have to go to a phone box!”), but the WEF’s concept of ‘multi-skilling’ has been with them from the beginning. Across Iain’s career, he has observed that some management fundamentals have stood the test of time.

Let the information flow

Not only are the service teams eminently multi-skilled, but they also work remotely, which, while a structure that many organisations are currently wrangling with, has been ‘business as usual’ in Canon Service since the 1970s. Maintaining a connected and collaborative workforce in this way cascades from the top to Regional Managers looking after the needs of their Service Managers, who in turn have close working relationships with their engineers. “The Service Managers know their individual engineers,” says Iain. “They know the levels of attention each needs and who to touch base with and when.”

View effectiveness through results, observation and feedback

Having a strong relationship with your team is the bedrock, but measurement cannot simply be subjective. This is a tough ask, as engineers must be clear communicators, have extensive and practical knowledge of each of the machines, the ability to identify where customers require further support, the commercial nous to understand the most appropriate fix and, increasingly, knowledge of IT security and networks. Therefore, it’s approached in three ways: Engineers receive performance related bonuses, which are based on measurable KPIs around their core successes – average cost of the parts used per visit, quality of the fix by how long it stays running afterwards and productivity by average jobs per day. They are also assessed on their softer skills, such as communication and lead generation. Customers are surveyed on their experience of an engineer visit for an additional perspective and, as Iain points out, there is an important hands-on element. “The Service Manager will also do field accompaniments and visit the customer with an engineer to check and test that their skills and competence are everything they should be.”

Maintaining a connected and collaborative workforce in this way cascades from the top

If skills aren’t siloed, development shouldn’t be either

It is vital to keep your teams on top of best practice, familiar with new technologies and to sharpen existing skills – while, of course, adding new ones. When your employees cross skill streams, then naturally your learning and development programmes must reflect that flexibility. Mandatory ‘core skills’ for the role can be supplemented – and complemented – by those from other business areas. In the case of Canon Service Engineers, that means regular training in new products and customer service excellence sit alongside areas such as commercial skills, communications, Information Security, networks and complex diagnostic tools. Canon Europe Learning and Development Manager, Toby Hornett favours “a blended learning approach, which can see engineers in a hands-on classroom environment, tutored through e-learning and using on-line platforms to support their own self-directed learning.” Through their performance measurement framework and review process, managers are able to identify where their people are excelling, if they need some extra support, what kind of targets they have set themselves and where they want to be in the future. Service Managers also receive training on areas specific to their responsibilities, which includes performance management, mentoring and coaching.

Recognise the complexity of the human experience

You can never care too much. Especially when there is a risk of an employee feeling misunderstood or undervalued in the organisation, which might happen when one person has many specialisms. The supportive relationship that Service Managers maintain with their teams is critical to wellbeing. They understand their challenges clearly and reach out regularly – not just when there’s a problem. In a remote workforce it can be difficult to foster a sense of ‘team’, so to tackle this Iain has traditionally favoured a good old-fashioned get together. “They’ll have regular contact through telephone, email etcetera, but they have also had monthly morning meetings where they’ll all get together and their manager will buy them breakfast. There may be a presentation on a topic that’s important to the team and then one-to-ones with individuals.”

Have a ‘one organisation, one goal’ mindset

“If a manager needs help, they can call upon other parts of the organisation,” explains Iain. “Especially if they are working to support a skillset that they are unfamiliar with.” This works both ways, in that Canon Service colleagues are also open to helping each other and the rest of the business by sharing their expertise. “We have a very knowledgeable workforce who have been field-based engineers for many years. They can help to develop the skills of new joiners, acting as ambassadors and coaches. All with one goal – delighting our customers and giving them an experience beyond their expectations”

Written by Anna Shaw

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