Choosing the Right Technology Is Only Half the Battle to Managing Your Services Lifecycle

Technology isn’t new – it’s what makes things new. It’s like that old BASF television commercial – “we don’t make the products you buy; we make the products you buy better“. Well, when it comes to Service Lifecycle Management (SLM), technology is the primary tool you can use to make the services you sell better – but there’s much more to it than just the technology!

One of the greatest opportunities we have in the services sector is the ability to use technology as an enabler to make our offerings better. R&D is used all the time to make products better; but for most product manufacturers, R&D typically takes years, costs tons of money, and involves a great deal of rebranding and market re-positioning. The advantage we have in the services sector is that we generally have a much faster turnaround, and it’s far easier to improve our existing service offerings than it is to, say, reengineer an entire product line.

However, one of the greatest fallacies in the services business is that if you simply embed technology, you’ll be in a better position just for the sake of having done so – that you’ll automatically be able to make your customers happier, and you’ll make more money. But that isn’t always true. If all you’ve got is an old, archaic services delivery model, and you apply the newest technology to it, you’ll just end up with a quicker, more automated, archaic system – but not necessarily a better one.

What we have found is that only by applying the right technology, to the right functions and applications, will you be able to provide your customers with exactly what they want, when they want it, and all the while reducing your internal costs, and ultimately keeping both your customers – and your CFO – happy!

There have been some stunning examples of the misapplication of SLM technology over the years involving businesses that have implemented “brand name” technology just for the sake of implementing technology. They have built some enormous infrastructures – state-of-the-art – but as impressive as they may have initially appeared on paper, they generally end up being only anecdotal to what the real mission of the business is in the marketplace. Even with all the technology they have put into place, they’re still not running efficiently! They didn’t “get it” before they implemented the new technology, and they still don’t “get it” – they’re just more automated than they were before.

The sad thing is – what should have been a tremendous business transformation opportunity for them, generally turns out – instead – to be nothing more than an expensive technology implementation with no real value-add to either the organization’s business operations – or its competitive market position. And, this is sad, because, in most cases, they’ve spent a great deal of time – and money – for the technology, but without any plan for how to actually use it. So all of their time and money spent ends up going for naught. That’s why technology without a purpose is just an expensive – and disruptive – toy. But technology – with a plan – will undoubtedly yield some positive results for those who know what to do with it.

But technology is not the only thing that a services organization needs in order to succeed – and thrive. There are many other things that are also needed to make it strong – and successful – in the marketplace. It certainly needs people, because without people, it has no “face” to show its customers.

However, in recent years, an organization’s “face” may no longer be merely visual. In fact, what has historically been the service provider’s “face” is increasingly being transformed into a “voice” – and that voice, text or chat doesn’t only have to be located right here in the United States. It can – and is increasingly being – distributed all over the world, regardless of where the organization’s customers are actually located themselves. People will always be important to services organizations; but where they’re located – and who signs their checks – may be quite different tomorrow than they are today.

Services organizations also need customers. It’s a fact of life – without customers, they’ve got no one to sell their products and services to – no one to complete the transaction. However, the days are long since gone for when manufacturers would only support those customers that had purchased their products. Today, not only do most services providers support multi-vendor products, but they also find themselves selling services to completely different types of customers, such as consortiums, group purchasing organizations, and other “new” types of buyers.

Services organizations also need infrastructure – both in terms of organization and operations – in order to ensure that the transactions between their people and their customers are executed and managed effectively. To run their operations efficiently, services organizations must also have the right mix of business processes, policies, and procedures to provide the levels of support that are required – and expected – by customers.

Each and every one of these needs – at first blush – may look to be standalone, independent elements that all organizations face; but, there is a common thread that runs between and among all of them – and that is technology. Technology is the great facilitator – the great expediter that ties everything together: the people, the customers, the infrastructure, and the processes – and it is the one element that most directly impacts all of the others.

It impacts the people, because it empowers them to do things that they would not otherwise be able to do on their own – that is, without the latest IT systems, communications, or software applications. It impacts the customer, because it allows the services providers to deliver the levels of support that are expected, and empowers the customers to assume some of the management and accountability that may go along with it. It impacts the infrastructure, because it ties together all of the otherwise separate and distinct components of the business that now need to “communicate” with one another – generally on a “real-time” basis.

However, technology, in and of itself, has no value. If it isn’t being used effectively, it adds no real value to the organization. But, if it is being used effectively, it can be the single greatest empowering tool that any organization can have – empowering people, supporting customers, and facilitating the infrastructure to get the job done.

Technology also enables us to do things we never dreamed we could do. Services providers can now resolve equipment problems either remotely, on-site, by phone, over the Web, through social media or through any combination thereof. They can wait to hear from the customer before initiating the “fix”, or they can fix the problem before the customer even knows there is a problem. They can fix the problem themselves, or they can partner with others to get the job done. Services providers have many alternatives to accommodate their customers’ needs, and customers have their choices, as well.

Even last year’s technology may just not cut it anymore in today’s business environment – certainly not in a segment that is as demanding as the services industry. The technology that abounds today runs circles around yesterday’s technology – and it is almost frightening to think about what tomorrow’s technology will bring to the table. But what’s even more frightening, is where your organization will be if it doesn’t also evolve technologically along with the times – and the demands – of the marketplace.

Making the Move from “Poor”, to “Good”, to “Awesome” Service

The real distinction between “poor” service and “good” service is often only “in the eyes of the beholder” – that is, the customer. However, for some, all it takes to be considered as a “good” service provider is to show up when you promised you would; carry the right parts with you; fix the equipment quickly, and without disruption; and leave them with equipment that works. This is probably what your field engineers are already doing in most cases – however, it may not be “good” enough for all of your customers. There will still be any number of additional areas where you will need to focus in order to make – and keep – your customers happy.

Services organizations that are only capable of providing “poor” service (by the way, don’t worry too much about them – they won’t be around very much longer) have forgotten about how important it is to treat their customers well. Many of them may have grown complacent over the years, forgetting that they continually need to “raise the bar” on their services offerings as their customers “raise the bar” on their service expectations. The main reasons for why their levels of service may be so “poor” is because they DON’T:

  • Pay attention to either the stated, or the observed, needs of their customers;
  • Observe how their customers use their equipment, and what impact it has when a system goes down;
  • Organize themselves in the most effective way to manage different types of customers with different types of needs; and
  • Respect each of their customers for who they are, what they want, and what it will take to make them happy.

However, those organizations that provide “good” levels of service and support have already figured out that they need to:

  • Get a good understanding of who their customers are, what makes them “tick”, what “ticks” them off, and what they can do to make their customer service experience better;
  • Observe how they operate, what they need, and what makes them happy;
  • Own the entire customer service and support process by practicing good Customer Relationship Management (CRM); and
  • Do everything it takes to keep the customer satisfied with their level of attention and customer support performance.

However, there is still a long way to go before a services organization is able to bridge the gap from merely providing “good” service, to providing “great” service. The means for doing so, however, are actually quite simple – all you have to do is follow a standard set of guidelines:

  • Assess the situation from the customer’s perspective (i.e., through his or her eyes). Understand how they use the equipment in their day-to-day operations, and exactly what happens when the equipment fails. Know who within the customer organization is impacted the most, and what it will take to make – and keep – them happy.
  • Welcome the customer’s input and feedback relating to the way in which they want to be supported. They may not always want reasonable things from their services provider, but it is still important to know what they are. Listen – and respond accordingly – in order to ensure that you are setting the proper expectations for the levels of service and support you will be providing.
  • Educate them as to what they are likely to experience with respect to your ongoing customer service and support. Address all of their questions, and provide them with honest answers to the best of your ability. Also, be prepared to discuss what other options they may have with respect to upgrading either their equipment, their service level agreement, or both.
  • Start thinking from the customer’s perspective – not the company’s – as you track your customer service and support performance over time. While you will always need to follow company guidelines and policies when delivering support, it is always helpful to gauge the situation from the customer’s side so that you will be less likely to be surprised by any unforeseen reaction on their part.
  • Own the customer – as well as the service process. By taking ownership of the entire customer relationship, you will always be in the optimal position of strength whether you are dealing with a one-of-a-kind, systemic or recurring problem. The customer is paying your company a great deal of money to support its equipment, and they want you – not themselves – to take ownership of any problem until it is resolved.
  • Meet their expectations fully, continuously and consistently. Nothing satisfies customers better than knowing that all of their problems will be resolved completely, quickly and seamlessly. They know your people have the training and expertise, and they want them to reflect it at all times. They are looking for consistency, and if anything is perceived to be different this time (as compared to the last time), they will notice it – and it will be of concern to them.
  • Entertain their every request and demand. That does not mean to say that you will have to honor every one of them – that may neither be feasible nor possible in every case. However, you must at the very least be able to show them that you are willing to listen, and able to respond to their every request in an honest and attentive manner. Providing them with anything less will show them that you really don’t care what makes them happy.

Every day your people deal with a multitude of customers that may vary by type, size, installed base, usage, personality and everything else that ultimately differentiates one customer from another. However, one thing always remains constant – your service and support is critical to their day-to-day business operations. By following these guidelines, your organization will not only be prepared to provide its customers with “great” service – it will almost certainly also be perceived as “awesome”.

Service Is a Global Concept

Customer requirements for service and support will never be the same from one country to another, any more than they will be the same from one customer to another. However, one thing remains very clear – the requirements for service are becoming increasingly standardized, even on a global basis.

This is particularly true as more and more local companies are going regional, regional companies are going national, and national companies are going international in terms of sales, marketing and services capabilities.

Just a few years ago, only the largest services organizations had credible worldwide service and support portfolios. However, today, mainly through the proliferation of Cloud-based technologies; Internet, tablet and social media tools; and the use of strategic alliance partners, even the small and medium-sized services organizations are finding themselves empowered to support their customers on a global basis.

Still, the perceptions of what it might take to be a “world class” services provider remain inconsistent even among some of the most sophisticated vendors. For example, while some services providers may believe that their mission-critical customers in Europe require exactly the same level of support as their mission-critical customers in the United States – nothing more, nothing less; there are still others who believe that the only differences between required levels of service in the U.S. and the UK are the substitution of an “s” for a “z”, and an occasional “u” stuck inbetween an “o” and an “r”. However, regardless of each individual organization’s approach or perceptions, it can safely be said that services requirements are both every bit the same, and every bit different, in each corner of the globe.

Further, many services providers in the United States have discovered over the past several years that there is more than one language spoken in global service. This was a lesson learned years earlier by most European and Asian providers, as well as by Canadian services organizations that have been dealing with bilingual support for decades. However, the globalization of service and support refers to much more than simply language differences – it must also focus on the cultural, economic and business differences that are manifested in varying forms all over the world.

As most individual businesses continue to grow larger, and larger businesses continue to acquire, merge and consolidate, there will be increasing pressure on services providers to grow along with their customers’ needs for a broader and more sophisticated range of services – both in terms of breadth and scope (e.g., a full array of professional services in addition to traditional break/fix and help desk support, etc.) and geographic coverage (e.g., cross-border capabilities). The conventional wisdom is that some of the services providers that presently offer very high levels of service and support, but only among the basic, or “core”, types of services, or only in a limited geographic area, may actually end up losing out to other, less high performing providers that offer a wider array of services over a larger geographic (i.e., global) area.

The general rule of thumb is often, “why settle for varying or erratic levels of service and support over the whole of our enterprise by relying on the use of multiple vendors, when we can ensure a more standardized mode of delivery – all at satisfactory levels – provided across our entire system?” While the former mode of service delivery may range from “excellent” to “average” depending on the type of service provided, or the location of the end user, the latter mode generally ensures that, at least, there will be consistent levels of service provided enterprisewide – i.e., with no geo-by-geo “surprises”.

In today’s services environment, the true measure of a provider’s ability to adapt to its marketplace is no longer answered strictly in terms of how well it can deliver different types of support to different types of customers, but in how well it can provide desired levels of service and support to each of its customers, regardless of their size, industry segment or geographical location. This requires a full understanding of both its individual customer bases and the global marketplace, and can only be successfully addressed through a painstaking effort to learn to know each market better – that is, better than the knowledge that was previously available, and better than the competition.

The word “global” should no longer simply conjure up images of field technicians trudging through the wilds of the Great Australian Outback, or cross-country skiing through a harsh Canadian winter terrain (although this may also be the case from time to time), nor should it be interpreted solely as fostering a company mentality of trying to be “all things to all parties”.

Rather, “global” should be defined as “offering the full complement of desired services and support, either directly or through strategic services partnerships, to support the enterprisewide needs of the customer.”

It has taken the services industry the last century to get to the point where it is today. However, it will be around this definition of “global” service and support that the future of the industry will be based. Where it will ultimately take us will, as always, be heavily dependent on how the services marketplace believes its providers are responding to its “global” needs.

If You Train Them, They Will Sell!

Many people think selling physical products, like computers, printers, or industry-specific equipment (i.e., medical devices, bank equipment, HVAC units, etc.) is easy. Companies can include photographs and hardware specs for their products in brochures, catalogs and on their website; and demos can often be conducted right at the customer’s site.

But, in reality, selling products is actually quite difficult, especially for individuals who have never sold anything in the past. This may be particularly true for services technicians, regardless of how much experience they have in the field. And yet, it is these technicians that in most cases have long and ongoing relationships with many of the company’s product and services customers.

So … the question often arises, “Why can’t our services technicians also sell to our existing customer base?” The rationale behind this is, if they can be taught to “sell” extended services agreements, equipment upgrades and professional services on already installed equipment, they can become a vital source of new revenue.

For example, some customers may only vaguely be aware or understand that their warranty service on a specific piece of equipment lasts for only one year (or less) without fully recognizing that any post-warranty support may need to be billed on a time and materials basis – which could end up being quite expensive.

This is a classic case where existing customer accounts may be clamoring for enhanced coverage or extended service agreements – or for various other types of professional services that your company may offer (i.e., user training, train-the-trainers assistance, custom documentation, etc.) – but they do not always have easy access to the information that might ultimately “sell them” on a specific product or service upgrade.

However, if your field technicians are properly trained in cross-selling and upselling the company’s services, they will be able to, first, identify which accounts might be “ripe” for selling extended maintenance agreements, etc. and; second, point them in the right direction to get all of the information they need to support their pending purchase decision. Further, if they have been keeping up-to-date with your company’s portfolio of product and service offerings, they will also be ready to speak directly to the needs of those accounts with respect to additional product and/or services support.

What your field technicians could conceivably contribute to the company’s overall services sales effort – at the very least – is a good understanding of what their customers need, and the ability to help match those needs with the various types of products and services your company offers. This information, of course, will then need to be communicated to the appropriate sales groups within the organization (i.e., those that have direct responsibility for overseeing the communications). As such, once properly trained, your services technicians may be able to assist the company in tapping into a previously untapped – and potentially very large – additional source of revenue.

From the customer’s perspective, customer service, technical support and sales support go hand-in-hand. Ultimately, you cannot be a successful services organization if your field technicians do not have a fair mastery in all of these areas. Your field technicians have already received extensive training on how to fix various types of systems and equipment, and have probably taken remedial training courses from time-to-time (or whenever the company introduces a new product line). Customer service should be no different for them. They should also be incented to take follow-up courses in this area over time – possibly with the inclusion of services cross-selling and upselling training. That is the nature of the business, and they are directly immersed in it – day after day, situated right at the front lines.

Whether you call it “Customer Service”, “Technical Support”, “Field Service”, “Customer Relationship Management”, “CRM”, or whatever – it just makes sense that by providing your customers with a full measure of technical, sales and customer service support, you can improve their overall levels of satisfaction and loyalty. It is a win-win situation for everybody involved. The best-in-class services organizations have already learned how to accomplish this – and now, with the proper technical support, cross-selling and upselling sales support and customer service training, your field technicians can learn as well.

When you think about it, there is nothing difficult about building customer loyalty – if your employees receive the proper training. In fact, if you do it right, it can be argued that training your service technicians to fix the customer is really a lot more productive than merely training them to fix the equipment.

What’s in a Name (Part 2): What Type of Solution Are You Using to Manage Services Operations?

Only a small percentage of us in the global services community can remember way back when our organization’s services operations were powered simply by solutions known as Field Services Management Systems, or FSMS. Shortly thereafter, following the introduction of Depot Repair service offerings, most solutions providers dropped the “F”, rallying around the shortened acronym of SMS, standing for Service Management Systems.

Throughout the 1980s and early ‘90s, many providers offered their solutions via an increasing number of “new” names or acronyms, ranging from Customer Interaction Systems (CIS), to Customer Facing Systems (CFS), to … well, just about anything else you could think of. The acronym soup was clearly being served to the industry.

Sometime in 1995, Gartner was largely acknowledged as being the creator of the term “Customer Relationship Management”, or CRM – the name and acronym still most widely used today to serve as an umbrella over all major aspects of services management.

However, today, there are even newer names and acronyms being used – oftentimes for similar, if not identical – services management solutions. Among the more popular are: Services Lifecycle Management, or SLM (with or without the “s”); Customer Experience Management, or CEM; Customer Experience and Service Management, or CESM; and, I am sure, still others.

SLM ties in nicely with PLM, or Product Lifecycle Management; and CEM brings services management and sales management closer together. CESM … well, let’s just say that in today’s attention-deficit culture, we don’t really need another 4-digit acronym anymore (i.e., even ADD only has 3 digits!).

So, where does that bring us today? Despite the fact that CRM has already spawned other like-sounding acronyms, including VRM (Vendor Relationship Management), PRM (Partner Relationship Management) and DRM (Device Relationship Management), I still like CSDP’s “Service Relationship Management” – the name under which all of the company’s services management offerings reside.

CSDP uses its copyrighted SRM© nomenclature to house all of its field service, reverse logistics, customer service and end-to-end service management solutions. And, this is not just a new way in which the company is trying to cash in on the CRM terminology – it actually copyrighted the term back in 2008!

According to Christina Wilczewski, Senior Marketing Manager at CSDP, “We’ve built all of our solutions offerings under the Service Relationship Management, or SRM, banner because we believe in the power of delivering service excellence. You can’t maintain strong customer relationships if your technicians don’t have the right parts or have limited or no access to customer history, knowledge management tools, or what services the customer is entitled to receive. That’s why our software spans the entire service delivery lifecycle, including Field Service, Reverse Logistics and Customer Support so all services interactions can be coordinated. And in the end, when customers are happy, companies see it in their bottom line.”

So, whether you call it SRM, SLM, VRM, PLM – or whatever – one of the following two things should be perfectly clear:

a.    If you’re a services management solutions provider, you need to offer it; or

b.    If you’re a services organization, you need to use it!

And, it needs to be comprised of the full complement of services management tools that are required to effectively – and efficiently – run your services operations.

So, what’s in a name? Why don’t you share with us the name you believe serves as the best all-encompassing label for the various types of applications and functionalities required to manage your company’s services operations. We’d love to hear your suggestions!

Oh … and by the way, please try to keep it to only a 3-character acronym, if you can!