The simPRO Blog


A metric is a measurement – not a goal

by Don Stephens
May 10, 2016

Improve first-time fix

First-time fix rate, response time, parts expense, reliability, customer satisfaction – these are all ‘big hitters’ in the list of key performance indicators (KPIs) for field service. Many service organizations look to these and other KPIs as a means to determine effectiveness and profitability.

However, just as teaching to improve test scores is a sure way to keep a child from getting a well-balanced education, creating poorly thought-out KPI improvement programs or setting KPI goals for service techs can lead a service team to take a lopsided approach to their jobs.

It’s important to keep a proper perspective when it comes to using metrics in the field service world, or you might end up sacrificing one KPI to improve another.

Checking the health of your service team

A company should look at a metric much like a doctor looks at a yearly blood screening that is used as an indicator of potential health problems. A doctor doesn’t tell his or her patient that next year’s screening better show some lower cholesterol numbers or things are going to get ugly, and leave it at that.

The doctor uses the data, combined with other indicators like diet, weight and exercise habits, before prescribing a regimen of lifestyle changes and accompanied meds.

Unfortunately, many companies treat their service techs like it is up to them to get the KPIs back in-line. If a critical indicator like first-time fix rate points to a problem with the way techs are finishing service calls, some companies’ plans for improvement often include one or more of the following (unproductive) actions:

  • Sending out emails berating service techs for sloppy call taking

  • Calling a special meeting to beat it into the heads of techs why FTF is so important

  • Making FTF a part of your techs’ performance reviews (because they will surely change their ways if it affects their pay).

Consider a well-balanced approach

The best way to approach any poor-performing indicator is to analyze it further to uncover all of the contributing factors. Parts availability and reliability, along with customer needs, shift coverage and manpower shortages can all factor into the first-time fix rate metric.

Asking technicians to turn the FTF metric around without considering the critical widget that has been on backorder for most of the year will not only frustrate the service team, it will lead to questionable practices that have a negative effect on that all important KPI: customer satisfaction.

Numbers sometimes lie

Almost every KPI that service organizations use can be manipulated by service techs through creative practices and reporting. Tell them to get first-time fix rate in order (or else) and they will stop documenting the follow-up call. Parts expense a problem? They will turn into MacGyver and repair machines with paper clips and duct tape, or just not report all of the parts they use.

This is why it’s important to keep the metrics that you want to use to gauge your service team’s performance separate from individual performance appraisals. You can’t have accurate data if your team is manipulating the results to seem like everything is fine.

The service tech’s role

Please, don’t mistake my advice as an attempt to excuse service techs from playing an active role in turning negative metrics around or from holding them responsible for lazy or irresponsible practices.

Once the failing metric has been dissected and a plan has been made to correct it, it’s the service techs who will need to embrace the change and put it into practice. If discipline is needed to stop a poor practice that is affecting a metric, then do so, but point out the behavior and leave the metric where it should be – a measurement – not a goal.

Donald B. Stephens has over 30 years of field service experience working for the Xerox Corporation. He is also a freelance writer, novelist, blogger and wisecracking humorist. His hobbies include: hiking, dark beer, fine Scotch and getting schooled by either of his two children on the Xbox.

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