Medical device service organizations are experiencing growth while managing to keep costs in check, despite inflation and economic downturn negatively affecting other sectors. However, the industry isn’t exempt from other market disruptors, like the skills gap and retirement crisis, which continue to significantly drive-up costs.
Data from our 2023 Med-Device Benchmark report found that “Resolution Cost,” a metric that captures costs of all the labor, parts, and overhead invested to complete a service case successfully, was reduced by nearly 4% last year across the 44 med-device organizations analyzed in the dataset. However, while overall costs decreased, the skills gap is widening among teams that service medical devices — and that gap is expensive, with low-performing employees costing their organizations almost 86% more than top-performing employees.
Top-performing companies got ahead of the game by making fundamental changes. They steered away from traditional business models — investing in crucial technology initiatives like AI and adopting more remote- and self-service options. But many organizations are struggling to find ways to keep up with industry leaders.
Workforce challenges topped the list of pain points
According to another one of our recent surveys, which analyzed 100 field service leaders, hiring, retaining, and motivating workers is the most pressing pain point on most leaders’ agendas. Following that, our research found that leaders are struggling to upskill technicians and design effective training programs. And lastly, uncovering data and insights to understand organizational performance, improve efficiency, and cut costs is another challenge topping the list.
All three of these pain points have one common denominator: they all link back to managing today’s workforce.
So how do service leaders address these issues? First and foremost, understand your workforce and their needs. While competitive pay is a top priority, workers also want to feel supported by their employer, and feeling supported means having access to information and other resources so that techs of all skill levels can perform at optimum potential without burning out.
Challenge 1: Hiring, retaining, and motivating workers
Our Med-Device Benchmark report shows that the medical device service industry had a 6% increase in technicians and a 2.5% increase in field events. However, many companies still faced significant challenges this year; while teams may have seen a general uptick in hiring, that doesn’t mean they were hiring qualified people, and it doesn’t mean they were able to retain those employees. On top of that, more-tenured technicians retired faster than their replacements could enter the workforce.
The best way to foster a talented, motivated service team is to invest in technology that offers the best knowledge-retention tools and professional support. Tools like service co-pilot that share knowledge across an organization are the cornerstone of a successful service team. Job hopping is far more common now than it was 20 years ago. However, younger generations will tend to stay at companies that provide them with the technology, tools, and training to expand their skill set and successfully complete more jobs in less time.
Rodger Smelcer, Executive Partner at United Services Technology, has seen a positive impact across teams after investing in technology. “After equipping our workforce with intelligent technologies, we saw an uptick in employee morale, productivity, and retention, which has led to an overall improvement in customer satisfaction,” he noted.
Challenge #2: Upskilling technicians & designing effective training programs
Professional development is among the top priorities for Millennials and Gen Z, and it can only be achieved if leadership makes it a priority. Historically, this has not been common among most service leaders in the med device industry – but leading organizations understand the need for these programs and are starting to make changes.
Looking at the data from our report, med-device technicians completed 3.3% fewer work orders over this past year, signaling that organizations struggled to upskill less-experienced workers quickly. In the bottom 20% of medical device service companies, the knowledge gap between the most- and least-skilled technicians costs over 200% more. Our research found that boosting low-performing employees closer to average performers would decrease service costs by 7%. And, if everyone had the knowledge and skills to perform like the top 20% of the workforce, service costs would be reduced by nearly 30%.
If ignored, the skills gap will lead to a heavier workload on teams, especially veteran techs. It will also lead to an increase in service costs, a decrease in customer satisfaction, an uptick in customer churn, less capacity for organizational resilience, and a negative impact on growth. To address this, service teams should adopt knowledge retention and diagnostics tools, like service co-pilot, along with other digital tools that let them learn as they go and share their findings with colleagues.
Challenge #3: Uncovering data and insights to understand organizational performance, improve efficiency, and cut costs
When leveraged correctly, a company’s data holds a ton of insights into how to address challenges, but it requires “clean” data and the right analysis to reach a conclusion. Top-performing organizations use technology to ensure that clean data can be easily accessed and analyzed to inform more accurate decision-making. According to our report, top medical device service companies had key patterns in common. For one, they made more accurate fixes on the first try, resulting in over a 4.5% increase in “First Time Fix Rates.” They also provided more remote and simple fix-it-yourself options, leading to a 34% increase in “Time Between Visits.”
Those improvements in critical metrics can help organizations save on costs significantly. One large medical device company, for example, reduced the number of service return visits per month by 20% after implementing service co-pilot, subsequently saving them approximately $5.6M on an annualized basis.
Their achievements can be credited to consistent habits, including the utilization of AI and predictive technology models to glean insights and make critical decisions quickly. AI also upskilled technicians more quickly by successfully distributing knowledge on demand across teams. Successful organizations also use AI to optimize customer service journeys. AI offered personalized recommendations that were used to power other critical channels, like call centers and chatbots. It minimized downtime and created a unique, memorable, and flourishing service culture that prioritized customers — no matter what issues they needed help with.
According to a recent Salesforce report, nearly 80% of high-performing field service organizations use AI to drive productivity, cost savings, better employee experiences, and more. Lower-performing organizations have yet to invest in the tools, resources, people, and processes to help them keep pace with the top-performing organizations. This divide will continue to grow if suitable investments aren’t made now.