Aaron Salow On How XOi Revolutionizes Data Gathering From The Field

SBM 630 | Data Gathering

SBM 630 | Data Gathering

 

Safety is of utmost importance in any construction project. To provide seamless remote support to workers on-site, XOi utilizes the latest technology to revolutionize their data gathering process from the field. Tersh Blissett by the CEO of XOi, Aaron Salow, discusses how they empower techs to collect information critical to the job site, all while ensuring quick response time and safety compliance. He emphasizes why this process must be episodic, given a more mentorship approach, and not just an opportunity to flaunt cutting-edge technology at your disposal.

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Aaron Salow On How XOi Revolutionizes Data Gathering From The Field

I hope you’re having a great day. In this episode, we have Aaron with XOi Technologies. If you have not heard of it before, we did a co-interview. That has been a couple of years ago. I can’t believe it has been that long ago, but it’s super awesome technology. If you’re on LinkedIn, you probably see this stuff a lot. It’s always in my feed anyway, but it’s cool stuff. There was also an announcement that they’re partnering up with another vendor that we use, Schedule Engine. Everything is intertwined. It’s super awesome to have you on the show. Welcome to the show, Aaron.

Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it.

Tell us a little bit about who you are and what XOi is.

I’m happy to do that. XOi is based here in Nashville, Tennessee, the home of hot chicken, country music, and some good whiskey that’s made across the street. If you ever want to come to Nashville and visit, it’s a good thing. XOi was founded on the principle that we can help solve the skilled trades gap in technology. I’m from Michigan.

My wife says I’m picking up a few words here and there after living here for so long. My upbringing was blue-collar, as it can be. You had to work on stuff growing up. We had a lot of respect for people in the trades, and it was core to our family. My grandfather’s a farmer and my dad’s in manufacturing. It was the whole thing. Every aunt and uncle worked with their hands.

For me, that experience and that pride were built in. A lot of kids in my generation weren’t taught the same thing. It was interesting for my career path, which is in manufacturing construction, that it’s hard for me to hire and find good people. It was clear that the skilled trades problem was real. We started XOi several years ago to address that pretty big, audacious goal and develop technology around it to allow technicians to communicate in the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing industry more effectively with the customer and with the office, and ultimately, consume the information they need to get the job done. That’s who we are. It’s core to what we’re about. That’s our history.

How does XOi work exactly? What do we do as a technician?

It’s always helpful to look at the most important stakeholder, which in our world is the technician, and look at their journey with technology. There are 300 field service management solutions out there. It’s really saturated. They do a great job greeting the technician with dispatch, activity, information, and maybe notes about the site. A lot of times, once they get on the job site, that technology is lightly used. Depending on what they have, not at all. We think about XOi sitting in the technician’s journey from curb to curb from time to get out of the van and the time to come back. If you conceptualize that gap in time, everything we’ve developed and designed is around impacting that time. That’s where the skilled trades gap is a problem.

The interesting thing is that not only do they not have good information for young techs, but it’s also poor communication to the end customer and to the various stakeholders in the office. We learned as we continued to develop in that space or that gap if you will, but those opportunities to surface better information were important.

Companies do not need to fire up their coolest technology whenever they can or want. No one should do an AR call if the problem can be solved with a simple text message. Click To Tweet

This is inherently a mysterious industry to most people. Most consumers who buy this commercial and residential don’t understand when you say, “You got pinholes signs on the rest of your heat exchanger. We recommend you replace that.” All they see is a number, and they’re like, “What does that mean? Let me check with my husband. Let me check with my wife. Let me get three more quotes.” Those are some of the ways that we provided a holistic communication platform, not just a live video point solution, knowledge repository point solution, or workflow point solution. You see companies who built their whole platform on that. We try to encapsulate that into an all-in-one communication tool for that gap.

I’ve purchased training and support programs in the past for technicians, and then no one used them. How do you curb that as a business owner? A lot of times, we as business owners set it and forget it, like, “We’ve spent this money. Now, it’s your problem to figure it out.” How do you battle that between technicians? Do they find so much value in it that they’re using it all the time and it becomes their best friend? Explain that a little bit.

A lot of those point solutions, whether it’s knowledge repository, live video, or augmented reality, it’s a word my team makes fun of me for using, but it’s episodic, meaning you only need it when you need it. As a technician, sometimes I don’t need to see the wiring diagram, don’t need the manual, and don’t need live call support. A lot of these point solutions are providing the technicians as a, “If you build it, they will come. We’ll give you this awesome tool and you’re going to use it.”

We look at how XOi looks at the world and that gap as three C’s. They are Capture, Coach, and, Collaborate. Coach, the smart knowledge base, and collaborate, the live video piece, are episodic in nature, so you have to go, “What am I driving for the technician that’s valuable to him or her at every single job site and drives them to more episodic use cases?” It captures that. Capture is a workflow engine where a technician takes a picture of a data plate.

We use optical character recognition and pull off making a model serial number. No tech likes typing in 29-character alphanumeric. As a result, the industry has really bad asset registration. Especially in commercial, they don’t know what’s on the roof or how old it is. They don’t go up there. It’s the ability to do things like that to take video content to show a customer why you recommended a repair, and show them that you can be trusted.

When you’re driving value on every single job and then you can drive to coach and collaborate as needed through a consistent workflow, you’re giving the technician a, “What’s in it for me?” which also benefits the customer and the company, but also, you’re able to drive into those shinier objects in terms of use cases because you’re giving them value. We think that’s an important key and a special ingredient on how you get adoption back to your question. It’s what’s in it for them and driving value on every single job, and not this special thing they remember they have or not to use sometimes.

We were trained dealers, and there are trained support out there, but then they forget about it. They have a special app or website for tech support, and then they have to spend 30 minutes figuring out how to work it because they’ve forgotten how to work it because it has been so long since they used it last or they’ve updated it. Not using it consistently creates more of a pain point in the long run because of that.

They tie together. There’s an OEM we’re announcing a relationship with here soon that uses capture to send a support request to their call center. When you take a picture of a data plate and a 30-second video of the problem, our system OCR’s that data plate and goes make a model. I know the expert that needs to help with the system.

I’m going to route it to that person with a video of the problem so they can do a live call back to the technician. They have context because right now, people look at AR solutions or live video and they’re like, “Fire it up and we’ll see what’s up,” but there are people that have different disciplines and skillsets based on the piece of equipment and our ability to route it automatically.

SBM 630 | Data Gathering
Data Gathering: Point solutions must have a special ingredient of being episodic. You only get it when you need it.

 

Plus, there’s something to be said. People put shiny object things out in the world and they go, “Let’s use the AR as much as possible.” Let’s use it when it’s needed. If I’m sitting in a call center as an expert and I get a video, first of all, I know what the equipment is and I have a good context of the problem. If I can make a phone call, a text message, or an email back to that tech, do that. If I need an AR call, then do an AR call, but this idea of we’re going to fire up the coolest technology every time just because we have it doesn’t solve the problem. Sometimes, you can solve the problem with a freaking text message that goes, “Do this,” and you’re done.

Many of us are guilty of that shiny object, like, “They are perfect. Let’s do it. Let’s try it,” and then you forget about or don’t utilize text messages where you can save yourself and the technician time and the hassle of doing it all. I was in the field when Bluetooth gauges first came out. I was a very early adopter, but I was also a young technician at the same time. I dealt with and still see it in group chats where your older guys are like, “Analog is the way to go. Never go digital.” Do you have that battle within businesses and companies ever?

Yeah. I’ll use a story of a customer to illustrate how we’ve learned from this. We’ve done this wrong too and had to learn from it for sure. One of our customers set up a virtual service center where they’ve got experts sitting in a virtual service center and they’re there to support exactly what we’re talking about. It’s interesting. They got to a point where older guys coming in would go, “All you’re doing is getting on calls with these guys whether it’s AR or live video and you’re just telling them the solution.” Use that opportunity to be a remote mentor versus a remote easy button.

You become a crutch, and then they don’t learn anything. They’re like climbing up on the roof calling you, “What do you think this problem is going to be?”

Also, back to the point of capture, how many times are they like, “Have you put your gauges on it yet?” You’re like, “No,” then they’re like, “Stop wasting my time. I need information.” When you have that capture mechanism, you can guide the activity of that collection of content. You can be like, “This is step 1, step 2, step 3, and step 4. This is how you submit a request to get it to the right person. They can help you.”

Back to the mentor point, the same guys that were saying analog gauges versus Bluetooth are the same guys that are saying, “Get on a live call and give me the answers.” They were right to some extent. It’s not that we can’t use technology, it’s that those should be mentorship opportunities. This particular company changed their methodology to say, “We’re going to ask good questions and train this person remotely versus just giving them the answer.”

They’ll say, “What have you done so far? What do you think is next?” The person they’re training is like, “I should do this,” and then they’re like, “Why?” The persons’ answers, “It’s because of this, this, and this.” They’re like, “Do that,” and let them do it. They ask, “What are you seeing? What does that tell you?”

You’re guiding them through a mentorship process. The key there on how this cycle provides value, our system records all those live calls. We use natural image processing to listen to the conversation and tag it, and then every other technician has access to this now. A lot of people would say, “I got FaceTime. It’s free.” You’re right. It’s free. There are a lot of solutions out there, but you are having single-serving interactions with someone. Those experts are answering the same question by someone else the following week over and over. You’re not building an asset as a company.

My really smart people that are about to retire soon have a ton of information in their heads, when they retire, a library burns down. If I can put them in a position where they got a bad back and bad knees, they’re not getting on a rooftop anymore or running a job site but they’ve got this which they can use their brain and help the young guy on the field, let’s capture those interactions and build an asset as a company. Let’s not have those be one-off interactions because what you’re doing is you’re creating a better call center. That’s it. When that person retires, those 2,700 calls they did, hopefully, are in those young guys’ heads, and that’s it.

We have to figure out better ways to educate ourselves and have that information as training opportunities. You can also use that to guide how you train. We took 26 calls on a home compressor change-up. People don’t understand this, or how to replace a thermal overload sensor, burn contact, or whatever the case may be. We need to do some training on this. This is a problem based in the field. That’s one way to answer.

The ultimate collateral in remote job support is knowledge. Click To Tweet

That’s perfect because that’s exactly what we deal with. Even as a small business owner, you might feel the same call from the three service techs that you have over and over again, and then you don’t realize it because you’re putting out other fires. You don’t realize that you feel that call ten times in one week, so you need to train on that. For you to keep track of that, that’s really cool too. What you said leads me to another question. On the communication aspect of it, does XOi have tech support somewhere that they offer, or is this where you connect me, the business owner, with my service techs?

We’ve looked at both options, and we have technicians in the business that are doing some support and a lot of information like data analysis for us because our customers have created tens and millions of pieces of recorded content. We’re building towards a product that we have had for years that we’ll release in the fall 2022. I can tell you more about that. It’s called Journeymen.

I see a lot of companies having the idea of inside technician support. It’s valuable. There is some sense by customers that we’ve spoken with A) Liability, and B) Who owns the data. To the point that we’re making, is that third-party taking the data and building a repository, or do you have access to it? Do you want to maintain it? The ultimate collateral in this business or the ultimate value of any service business is knowledge.

It’s not so much that I can send a van and a truck faster than someone else. It’s not that those are things that aren’t valuable, but at the end of the day, what I’m selling is knowledge and skillset. That’s why it’s an hourly cost. It’s why I pay hourly for a lawyer or for all these different services because they’re special skillsets. It’s the same thing I’m doing when I get an HVAC technician onsite for example.

How am I protecting that? That to me has always been the barrier of going, “XOi is going to have a call center and you just call us.” I know for small businesses, that could be impactful. I wonder how sustainable it is given those considerations. One piece that we’ve decided to do is empower and build in. With that being said, it’s powerful when someone’s in a peer group, and most people are, where you can start trading off that skillset. Meaning, if I’m in a peer group with 500 companies, and we’re working with one right now with 900 businesses, I don’t have to contribute very much expertise on a yearly basis and the whole peer group can be supportive. We keep the information and build the data set in-house and I’m not giving that away to someone else.

The gears in my head are turning. We are HVAC and we’ve talked about HVAC. Are you HVAC specific or are there other trades that you do?

Yeah. We do mechanical, electrical, plumbing, commercial, and residential. We also are getting a lot heavier into food service as well. We’re seeing a lot there that’s driving into commercial contribution.

I see you on Josh Zolin’s LinkedIn. He’s a good friend of mine, so I see anything he posts. I see a lot of your stuff on his page.

Josh is one of the best dudes around. I love that guy.

SBM 630 | Data Gathering
Data Gathering: Client calls must not be one-off interactions. Do this and you are just creating a better call center. You have to figure out better ways to educate them and use your call as a training opportunity.

 

He is really a good dude, and he loves the industry, so that’s cool. Tell me more about Journeymen and what’s going to be introduced in the fall 2022.

This is the vision from the beginning, which is this idea that there is a conversational interface that a technician can have a conversation with and get the information they need. I mentioned Capture and the fact that we’re taking data plate pictures. We’ve taken millions of data plate pictures, which means we’re really good at pulling off information on data plates. That solves a short-term problem of, “I don’t want asset registration.”

I would say this leans in on the commercial side a little bit more because you got salespeople doing ten RTU quotes, and there are lots of equipment. It was a great identifier to have all this data video content asset-centric, but the long-term vision of that was, what if I can have a technician simply take a picture of a data plate? That simple, quick action would provide them with the manual to the unit, the wiring diagram, premium training content, the asset history, and anytime anyone in their company or their peer group has ever visited that unit with video content attached to it. If all that doesn’t help, a live video link to an expert on that unit.

That’s what we’re releasing in the fall 2022 where that simple action will surface 98,000 manuals and wiring diagrams that we’ve taken years to collect together and premium video content that we created with our customers, so that’s high quality or high-definition premium content. We’ll not only take the picture of the data plate, but we’ll look at where you are and start to provide premium content based on, “You’re in Miami. You’re working on this unit. These are typically the problem sets that you’re going to have and here’s video content to help solve it. If that doesn’t help, here’s a live video.” This idea is that it’s a very small action by the technician, and then an empirical data set to help them solve the problem. To me, that’s that first big step.

It took years of machine learning, modeling, and content gathering, and bringing that to a point where you could do that in an effective way. We’ve got OEM relationships with some of the biggest OEMs to be able to surface the information you can’t find online. We’re pulling that into one central source. To me, every kid in a trade school and everyone that’s learning in the system should have access to the Google of mechanical, electrical, and plumbing. Right now, it’s ad hoc content here, a wiring diagram here, a manual here, or a help guide here. It’s not a central location.

It’s one of those things where you’ll finally find it online, and then it’s, “Pay $30 for this one wiring schematic.” You’re on an old unit, old carrier, or old train, and then you open up the wiring diagram and it crumbles in your hand. You’re like, “I’m going to have to figure this one out.” That is amazing because what you’re introducing is something that we’ve needed. If I had it whenever I was in the field, I don’t know if I would’ve gotten out of the field.

It’s one of those things that’s a definite pain point. That is going to be amazing to solve that pain point. I’m still stuck on the peer group stuff because I’m in a couple of them, and there are lots of guys in these groups that will call and ask me questions all the time. If you had this where you’re sharing it between each other, that’s amazing to me.

Think about a large peer group and how quickly they would have a world-class data set and how attractive that is for new hires and for growth. This is arguably the industry’s biggest problem. If you have that crowdsource mentality and a platform that automatically identifies it, indexes it, and pulls it together in a smart way, you have the opportunity to be head and shoulders above your competition pretty quickly.

Do you integrate with any CRMs out there?

Remote job support should have a conversational interface, where a technician can have a conversation with the client. This makes the process engaging and not just another boring call. Click To Tweet

Do you mean a service site in a field like an FSM type? There are so many acronyms in the industry. FSM is what we say internally as Field Service Management. We integrate with about 40 of them. There are over 300 in North America, if you can believe that. There are lots of options. On the residential side, service site, and integration, we’re going deeper there. There are a bunch that we integrate with, like Salesforce. It does make them a much more seamless experience because if I take a picture of a data plate for an asset, we can route, make milestone number back into the FSM. It makes it seamless.

If I take a video for a customer, replace the filters, tighten the balance, clean the coils, and recommend that you look at a replacement on this particular unit, we’ll take everything that’s said in that video and put it into text and put it into the notes field. Again, what’s in it for the technician? Most technicians take crappy notes. Some are too verbose and take too many notes. How do we allow them to whip their phone out, take a 30-second video and do the rest of the work for them, and be done?

That’s such a pain point for the office, because even if you go to a call, we’ve been out there before, and be like, “Let’s be prepared. Let’s take the air filter that we need,” but nobody put the notes in there the last time. Notes are missing from it. That’s a massive pain point that could be solved. That would be amazing.

Most good technicians can talk through anything they’re doing. They just don’t want to sit there and type in a bunch of things. It’s interesting because this transcription thing, I think our customers are like, “I still need the notes.” I agree that those are important for people that maybe don’t see the video, but to an extent, we’re evolving to does the customer really want to read two paragraphs or would they like to see and hear the technician walking through what they did and why they did it or why they’re recommending it? It’s part of the mental block of getting past that too.

Social media in general is pushing us. Everything’s going video. You’re getting trained. Mark’s training us all to watch more videos. You’re exactly right. People will prefer to see video versus reading two paragraphs of explaining, but then there are people out there that want to read it as well and spell check you and grammar check you. I love those customers.

One of the biggest questions we get from contractors is, “I got some technicians with pretty big potty mouths. What does your system do?” First of all, it’s interesting. I can’t say I have the cleanest mouth all the time, but when I hit record, I’m not going to be dropping F-bombs. We’ll throw in a dang or a heck, but it’s nothing crazy. We used to do replacement words.

Now, we do explicit filter screening on those NLPs to pull that out completely. One of my favorite stories is we’re reading this transcript. I’m like, “This guy likes his truck. He’s really getting into his truck,” but listening to the video, he wasn’t saying truck. We were replacing another certain word with truck, and we’re like, “Got it.” Instead of trying to translate it to truck, it just says four asterisks. It says something else was here.

I have a couple of guys that have really thick accents. I have a couple of friends in New Orleans, and I have to listen to them very intently. How does translation work with them? Is it okay or is there a struggle with that?

We do a couple of different things. We’ve trained our natural language processing across nothing but technicians across the country speaking about mechanical, electrical, and plumbing issues. We’ve been able to fine-tune to capture all different kinds of accents to listen for specific words in the same way that we do keyword extraction.

We have this 8,000-word dictionary we listen for that’s relevant to the industry, and we extract and tag that content with keywords. In order to do that, you have to have a pretty good translation. Nothing’s perfect. We’re always looking to get better. There are times we miss things. We’re working on Spanish to English translations as well.

SBM 630 | Data Gathering
Data Gathering: Large peer groups quickly getting a world-class dataset that attracts new hires is arguably the industry’s biggest problem.

 

A lot of customers with Spanish speaking technicians have a hard time communicating with the customer, so allowing them to speak Spanish on a video and then have it translated into English so that the customer can see the video but read the transcript next to it is pretty important for certain parts of the country. We always show a video of one of our favorite guys named Kelly. He’s in West Virginia, but I don’t know if there’s a thicker Southern accent than him. It works pretty well.

I appreciate all of this. There’s a ton of awesome, amazing information. If you’re not following Aaron and his team on LinkedIn and on any other social media like Facebook, you got to be following them. Where should they reach out to you little or more about XOi?

XOi.io is our website, and then you can reach me directly at ASalow@XOi.io.

Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Once we can travel again, anyone’s welcome to come to Nashville.

Come check out the stuff that’s across the street from you.

That sounds good. Thanks so much. I appreciate it.

I appreciate it. Have a wonderful day.

You too.

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About Aaron Salow

SBM 630 | Data GatheringWhen I walk through a manufacturing facility and smell the sweet mix of coolant, metal shavings, and oil, it takes me back to my childhood. The family factory was my play land, an escape in which you could build, experiment, and experience.

As a 15-year old, my Father told me if I could run the (less than safe) screw machines as fast as the small handful of guys that worked for him, I could make $7/an hour too. It was a challenge. It was rewarding. It made me feel like a man. That work continued through high school, college, and almost every school “break” I had growing up.

As a professional, I continued to pursue work in manufacturing and construction. As an entrepreneur and an employee in these industries, I continued to grow my experience and admiration for the people that make this country run. Whether it was hub components for heavy truck, or a clean room for the Department of Defense, the fingerprints of hard work and resolve was evident everywhere I spent time.

My entire life has been marked by learning from and spending time with blue-collar men and women. When you think blue-collar, you probably think about a job…I think about the mindset. Blue collar people are loyal, work hard, and care about the most important things in life. They use their hands to make a difference and they are proud of what they create.

The problem is, there are less and less people that want to do this job. To put a number to it, there are over 7 million unfilled skilled trades positions today in the United States…this is no joke.

I started XOi to solve the biggest problem every company in blue-collar industries are facing today: a skilled trades gap. They are struggling to answer the question: “in the face of a growing skills gap, how do we grow?”

Our mission at XOi is to help companies answer this question, and we are humbled to do it every day with field service customers across the globe.

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