Service Lifecycle Management: The Catalyst for Integrating All of the Organization’s Services Operations

The concept of Service Lifecycle Management, or SLM, has been around for some time now; however, the tools and technologies used to actually make it work within the organization are still emerging and evolving. Not only that, but as they continue to evolve, they also build upon themselves to provide users with more power and flexibility to manage their services operations than ever before.

The upside of this growth in empowerment is that if your organization has already implemented SLM, then it is already on the fast track toward being able to effectively manage its total base of capital equipment, mission-critical assets, and human capital. The downside, however, is that if you have not already embraced the concept, you may be wasting precious time.

We define SLM as “a solution that supports the complete service lifecycle, from lead generation and project quotation, to service and billing, through asset retirement”. We further define SLM to encompass the integration and optimization of critical business processes including the contact center, field service, depot repair, logistics, professional services, and sales and marketing. We believe a comprehensive SLM suite also extends into portal, business intelligence, data analytics, dynamic scheduling, and mobile solutions; and must be applicable to services providers supporting customers in all vertical segments, and in all geographies.

While we have witnessed a great deal of growth in the acceptance of SLM over the past several years, many services organizations still find comfort in relying on their existing solutions essentially on an à la cartebasis. That is, they may have a Field Service Management (FSM) solution already in place, along with Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Services Parts Management (SPM), Supply Chain Management (SCM), Warranty Management (WM), Asset Management (AM) and others. The problem is, however, if these individual solutions and applications do not interact with one another, the organization will not be benefiting from the full value of their collective – once integrated – impact.

In an age where FSM, CRM, SPM, SCM, WM, AM and all of the other acronym-based solutions simply cannot cut it in and of themselves, only SLM addresses each of the factors that are important to services organizations for whom downtime is not an option, and resource utilization directly impacts financial performance. This is what SLM is designed to do, and an SLM solution is what the most progressive types of services organizations are now using to differentiate themselves from the also-rans.

The servicesmarket is constantly looking for proven solutions, based on practical business operations functionality, and powered by the latest technologies, to maximize their respective bottom lines. As such, the primary drivers behind the growing acceptance of SLM are also fairly universal – and quite compelling – as business managers across-the-board are essentially looking for the same things. Things like the ability to:

  • Streamline and automate their business processes;
  • Compress the contract-to-cash cycle;
  • Identify incremental sales opportunities and improve revenue recovery;
  • Collapse non-value-added workflows;
  • Enhance resource utilization and reduce downtime;
  • Coordinate the efforts of their sales, marketing and service organizations;
  • Improve compliance with Service Level Agreements (SLAs), contracts and warranties; and
  • Synchronize every customer touch point for increased customer satisfaction and retention.

While other disciplines like CRM, SCM, WM AM, et al, may only address one, two or more of these drivers, only SLM addresses them all – and this is critical, as no organizations in today’s business economy either have the time, resources or money that would allow them to build an effective service delivery model, piece- by-piece, on a non-interrelated basis, and hope to have it function as an all-encompassing solution. Only SLM affords them this opportunity.

Service Lifecycle Management is a fluid, or dynamic, discipline. It is also an agile tool that can evolve with the trends in the market, the needs of the user, the integration of new technologies, and the evolving goals and objectives of the customer. Choosing the right SLM solution to get started is critical; but so is the need to choose the right vendor, as well as the appropriate technologies to make it all work. It is not just another acronym – like CRM – to simply be tossed around interchangeably with customer service or satisfaction, asset or supply chain management, or any of the other “acronym” solutions and applications.

SLM is virtually a living, breathing entity that helps poorly run businesses run better, marginal businesses run more profitably, and well-run businesses excel in their markets as acknowledged leaders in customer satisfaction and profitability. The concept itself is sound, the technology is readily available, the need is irrefutable, and all you need to move forward is the recognition that there is an SLM solution out there that meets your organization’s specific – and often, unique – needs. By choosing the right solution, fully supported by the right vendor, and empowered by technology, your organization will certainly have a better chance of thriving in an increasingly complex and customer-focused business environment.

Advertisements

The Importance of Truly Knowing Your Customers

The field technician’s role in supporting its customers may be extremely varied, and no one job description is likely to be able to describe or define everything he or she does – either from the customer’s perspective, or from the organization’s. In some cases, a field technician is called on to be nothing more than the repair person – they arrive on-site, fix the equipment, and leave without causing any undue disruption; however, in other cases, they may serve as anything from a consultant (i.e., being asked to provide advice on how to most efficiently use the equipment), to a trainer (i.e., being asked to teach the customer how to operate some of the equipment’s more advanced features), to a sales person (i.e., being asked to suggest what new types of equipment should be acquired to replace the existing model), etc.

If the question is “Which one of these roles is the field technician supposed to play when interacting with its customers?”, the answer is – simply stated – “All of them!” The customer will, at one time or another, expect their field technicians to serve in all of these roles, as they will typically be the only representative of your company that physically visits or speaks to the customer once the original equipment sale has been made (save for an occasional sales call made as the equipment nears the expiration date of the warranty or service agreement, etc.).

Basically, field technicians need to serve in whatever role their customers expect them to serve as they will be their only “true” connection to the company that provides them with their operating systems and equipment service and support. The irony is that, if all they do is repair the customer’s equipment whenever it fails, they will typically be perceived as “not doing their job”. However, by also becoming their customers’ systems and equipment consultant, advisor, and (pre-)sales person – if only on a casual, or as-needed basis – they will certainly place themselves in a stronger position to become the most important individual to the customer with respect to any and all of its systems and equipment service and support needs.

It doesn’t take customers a very long time to get to know who their field technicians really are. In fact, with just a few on-site service calls under their belt, they probably will get to know them very well in terms of how well they communicate with customers; how quickly they react to what they would define as “emergency” or “urgent” situations; how quickly they tend to arrive on-site; and how much attention they pay to the details once they get there.

Can your organization say the same for each of its customers? If the answer is “no”, you may find yourself in a situation where your customers are “managing” their relationships with you better than you are with respect to managing them. If this is the case, you may ultimately find yourself at a relative disadvantage in dealing with your customers in the future – especially if they believe that you don’t really know who they are (i.e., what makes them “tick”; what “ticks” them off; etc.).

So, what do you really need to know about your customers? It once again comes down to having a basic understanding of their specific and unique needs, requirements, preferences, and expectations for the types of service and support you provide, and the way they react when their equipment goes down. And, how can you best get to know your customers on this basis? By listening, observing, and thinking before you speak!

However, while understanding the customer’s need for basic systems and equipment service and support is relatively simple, understanding their need for “value-added” service and support may be a bit more complicated, as their interpretations of exactly what “value-added” means may be “all over the place”.

From the customer’s perspective, “value-added” may mean anything from performing additional maintenance service on peripherals hanging off of the equipment; to servicing additional equipment while the service technician is already on-site; to installing new software; to installing another piece of equipment they had recently purchased from your company that you were not even aware they had; to walking them through an unrelated problem that they might be facing; to anything else in-between.

While these may all represent realistic “needs” from the customer’s perspective, it will ultimately be up to company policy (and the service technician’s daily schedule) to determine what really represents acceptable “value-added” service and support while the service technician is already at the customer site – and what will require an additional, or separate (and, sometimes, billable), work order.

Some examples of the various types of value-added service and support that both the service technician and its customers may agree on while the tech is already on-site may include:

  • Answering questions or inquiries about other installed equipment that they presently have covered under a service agreement with the company;
  • Double-checking the integrity of the connectivity and/or interfaces that the equipment that was just repaired has with other units in the user’s network;
  • Ensuring that everything that was just worked on is operating properly, doing what it is supposed to do, and interfacing properly with other systems and equipment; and
  • Assessing whether there are any other potential problems or possible “flags” that both the service technician and the customer should be aware of before closing up the equipment and leaving the customer site.

Other types of value-added service and support that may be requested include showing the customer how to operate the equipment more efficiently after they have told you what they were doing that ultimately caused the machine to jam, crash, or otherwise stop working in the first place.

While it is not necessarily the service technician’s role to provide on-site, on-the-job training to its customers, it is still within the realm of his or her responsibility to ensure that they are operating the equipment properly, and performing their own equipment maintenance and management (as permitted) in an appropriate manner (i.e., neither neglecting nor abusing the equipment during the normal course of operation).

The bottom line is that you really do need to know your customers, because they probably already have you (and your service technicians) figured out!