UK/Europe vs. U.S./Global State of Field Service Management (FSM) Survey Findings Infographic

The attached Infographic presents and compares the key survey findings from Strategies For Growth℠s 2017 Field Service Management (FSM) Benchmark Survey for the UK/Europe vs. the U.S./Global FSM markets.

The U.S./Global survey findings were presented on November 8, 2017 in a Webcast hosted by CSDP, the leading service relationship management software developer that commences every client engagement with consulting. Bill Pollock, President & Principal Consulting Analyst at Strategies For Growth℠, was the featured presenter.

See below to find out how you can view the archived Webcast in its entirety, and obtain a complimentary copy of the companion Analysts Take paper.

The Infographic provides a synopsis of how the UK/Europe FSM market differs from the U.S./Global FSM by comparing key survey findings in an easy-to-follow graphical format. By viewing the Infographic, learn how the UK/Europe FSM market compares to all others for each of the key survey findings. Then, register for the 6 December, 2017 Webcast to drill down for more detailed information!

[Download the Infographic at: UK-Europe vs US Infographic (November, 2017).]

[To register for the 6 December, 2017 Webcast on the topic of “UK/Europe Field Service Organisations Are Closing the Global Service Delivery Gap!“, please click on the following Weblink: http://bit.ly/2zt4eu0.]

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The State of Field Service Management (FSM) in 2017 – and Beyond!

[This Blog post contains a sampling of the content and information that will be presented in our upcoming Webcast, Wednesday, November 8, 2017 from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm EST. To register for the Webcast and receive a complimentary copy of the full Analysts Take white paper, please go to: http://bit.ly/CSDPWebinarNov8.]

As we near the end of calendar year 2017, many Field Service managers have begun to wrestle with the question, “What lies ahead for us in the next 12 months and beyond? Of course, there is no quick and easy answer – and everything can change in a heartbeat due to unforeseen internal and/or external factors.

As such, it becomes increasingly important for Field Service Organizations (FSOs) to understand the specific impact that the next 12 months (and beyond) will have on the quality and performance of their field service operations. In fact, the future state of Field Service Management (FSM) will depend largely on what strategic actions FSOs plan to take in the next 12 months or so. Since these actions will be directly linked to the multitude of drivers that are most likely to influence decision making within the global services community, this would be a good place to start.

The results of Strategies For GrowthSM‘s (SFGSM) 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey reveal that the top drivers cited as influencing FSOs today may be categorized into three main areas:

  1. Customer demand and/or preferences
  2. Need to improve service workforce utilization, productivity and efficiencies
  3. Internal mandate to drive increased service revenues

When asked to cite the top three drivers currently influencing their ability to effectively manage field services operations, 56% of respondents cite customer demand for quicker response time, and nearly one-third (32%) cite customer demand for improved asset availability.

However, the need to improve workforce utilization and productivity is also cited by a majority (51%) of respondents as a top driver, followed by the need to improve service process efficiencies (39%). An internal mandate to drive increased service revenues is then cited by 31% of respondents as one of their top three drivers.

Once the key market drivers are clearly identified, FSOs need to create – and implement – the most effective strategic planning actions to address them head-on. As revealed in the SFGSM survey, the most commonly implemented strategic actions, currently, are:

  • 48% Develop and/or improve KPIs used to measure field service performance
  • 40% Invest in mobile tools to support field technicians
  • 36% Automate existing manual field service processes and activities
  • 31% Integrate new technologies into existing field service operations
  • 30% Provide additional training to field service technicians and dispatchers
  • 26% Improve planning and forecasting with respect to field operations
  • 25% Increase customer involvement in Web-based service process
  • 24% Provide enterprise-wide access to important field-collected data

These data strongly suggest that there is a pattern of synergy among the top four cited strategic actions that builds a foundation for all of the other actions that will ultimately be taken by the organization; that is, that nearly half of the FSOs comprising the global services community already recognize the need to build and/or improve their KPI measurement program – this is essential! This is the first step!

Based on the SFG survey data, Jerry Edinger, President, CEO and Chairman of CSDP Corporation, a leading Service Relationship Management software developer, explains, “This is why we start every one of our client engagements with consulting. We ensure that your business processes are designed correctly before automating them. Software alone cannot improve KPIs. We design the exact Field Service Management solution based on the needs and requirements of the organization.  We detail how a solution automates the entire service delivery and customer service processes into a fully integrated field service management system and maps it into the overall enterprise workflow. Once the consultative effort is completed, we then have a detailed roadmap of how to build the most effective solution to meet the organization’s field service goals and objectives.”

However, along with the development and/or improvement of a KPI program, nearly as many organizations also recognize the need to invest in state-of-the-art mobile tools to support their technicians in the field, while concurrently, automating their existing manual field service processes and activities to provide an enterprise-wide foundation for collecting data and information, and disseminating this process to field technicians (and, in many cases, to their customers) on an as-needed basis. Further, about one-third of FSOs recognize the need to integrate new technologies into existing field service operations to make it all come together.

This synergy is built on, first, ensuring that there is an effective KPI measurement program in place, and using that program to establish a benchmark, or baseline, for measuring the organization’s current field service performance. Second, there needs to be a comprehensive internal effort to bring the technical aspects of services operations into the current (and future) timeframe – this can be done mainly by investing in an effective package of mobile tools to support the field force.

Finally, it will be the integration of these new technologies (e.g., mobility applications, the IoT, wearables, 3D printing, Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), etc.) into the overall mix of resources and tools deployed by FSOs that will empower the field force do their jobs more productively and efficiently. The desired results, of course, would be the improvement of service delivery performance and the resultant improvements in the levels of customer satisfaction (and retention).

The data make it clear that there is no mistake – that is, if your services organization already finds itself behind the curve with respect to:

  1. The automation of its existing field service management processes (or lack thereof);
  2. Its ability to meet (if not exceed) its customers’ demands or requirements;
  3. Its ability to support its field technicians and customers with real-time data and information; or
  4. Dealing with escalating costs associated with running its services operations; this gap will likely only get larger over time – unless it considers implementing a new, more state-of-the-art, field service management solution;

SFG’s 2017 FSM survey results clearly show the impact that doing so will have on the organization – as well as on its customers and its bottom line.

[For more information on this topic; to register for the companion Webcast hosted by CSDP on Wednesday, November 8, 2017; or to download a copy of SFG’s companion Analysts Take report, please visit the registration Webpage at: http://bit.ly/CSDPWebinarNov8.

How to Sell Services to Individual Vertical Industry Segments

You Need to Understand Their Unique Needs and Requirements – and Be Organized to Meet Them!

A.  Introduction

All vertical industry segments continue to undergo significant change, and along with this change comes evolving needs and requirements for field service and customer support. In addition, the competitive landscape of the global services community is in a phase of constant acquisition, merger, partnership, consolidation and realignment, and no two experts can agree on where it will end, and what it will ultimately look like.

Still, Field Service Management (FSM) solution users expect, and demand, consistently high levels of service and support so that they can deal more effectively with their own growing economic costs, shifting customer demographics, advancements in new technologies and changing patterns of growth. There are, however, some easy guidelines for getting started on the path to being better prepared to support these highly demanding and, oftentimes, heavily regulated industry segments.

The best place to start is to first gain a strong working knowledge of the unique needs for each of the individual vertical industry segments you are targeting, typically comprised of manufacturers/OEMs, third-party maintainers and independent service organizations, professional services organizations, in-house services organizations, consumers and others; who in turn, support their respective systems, equipment and devices – either on-premise, in the Cloud – or both!.

B.  Understanding the Unique Needs & Requirements of Individual Industry Segments

Knowing the specific services business of your customers and all of their general terminology, “buzz words”, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and acronyms is not only an admirable goal, but a “given” just to participate in a segment-specific sector (i.e., terms like Manufacturer/OEM, TPM/ISO, MTTR, FTFR, etc.). However, each individual market segment also has its own unique set of terms and acronyms, as well as its own structure and organization, patterns of purchasing and decision-making, and means for evaluating the needs and requirements of service

This is the level of understanding that is ultimately required in order to succeed in building a solution that meets the needs of any individual specific industry segment – keeping firmly in mind that the same acronyms (e.g., ATM) may mean something entirely different in different industry segments  (e.g., the communications and banking segments, etc.). Also, you will need to keep in mind that some segments (e.g., medical devices, aerospace, government, etc.) may be much more demanding than others.

While there are many guidelines that can be used to facilitate an understanding of the specific needs and requirements of individual segments, there are essentially six (6) which provide a sound foundation. They are:

  1. “If you don’t speak their language, they won’t think you understand their business”

All of the FSM solution provider’s sales, services and marketing personnel that have any contact, either direct or indirect, with customers and prospects must be familiar with the terminology, technology and “buzz words” of the targeted segment. They will be required to communicate articulately with company management and personnel at each prospect organization, typically coming from a variety of related fields, sometimes with vendors supporting their segment, and are now serving in the roles of department heads or purchasing managers, equipment operators and/or technicians, etc. They already speak the language, and, as a result, the entire FSM solution provider sales team will need to be trained to understand and speak to key customer issues in their own words, names and examples.

Every industry segment has its own vocabulary and terminology – and, as an example, the medical device segment is no exception! In fact, with as diverse a composition of medical systems, equipment, instrumen-tation and devices that populate this segment, as well as the many departments or groups that get involved in the solution acquisition decision-making process, simply learning the acronyms themselves can be almost overbearing. Medical systems, equipment and instrumentation that can be found in a medical center’s imaging department can include x-ray, ultrasound, MRI, CT scanner (i.e., don’t call them cat-scanners!), nuclear medicine, PETT, and many others. There are also blood gas chemistry analyzers, patient monitoring systems, surgical suite systems and a full range of accompanying consumables and reagents, in addition to parts.

Further, although their Hospital Information System (HIS) may look similar to you as many other types of data centers or repositories – they will also have their own set of “buzz words”, acronyms and terminology, as well. Although most segment-specific medical services organizations may already understand these names, acronyms and terminologies, the more general IT services organizations will need to ramp up to learn them in order to be perceived as credible for supporting a medical systems and equipment installed base.

  1. “If you know who to sell to, you can shorten the overall sales cycle”

Knowing who to sell to within the prospect (and customer) organization is critical to the success of the overall sales effort. The fewer referrals you get within the organization before you reach the right decision-maker, the less likely you will be in getting “brushed off” along the way.

However, in order to be in a position where you can effectively differentiate between the decision-influencers and the decision-makers, you will first need to understand the segment’s (and each prospect’s) organizational structure, hierarchy and roles. This will require an enlightened understanding of the various titles, responsibilities and roles of key segment decision-makers in general, as well as the specific names relating to each within the prospect organization.

Who are these decision makers? What are their pain points? What gets them “excited” about service? What is a typical structure at companies in their industry segment?

Every services organization has its own characteristic structure, organizational hierarchy and roles. That is why it is so critical that the FSM solution sales team understands exactly how each of its targeted prospects  is structured and organized – especially with regard to who the principal FSM solution acquisition decision-makers (and decision-makers) are.

For example, at some organizations, all IT and software solution acquisitions are screened, managed, negotiated and overseen by a senior IT program team and/or committee. It is often the case where this would represent the starting point of entry for the solution vendor sales team; however, in other cases, it might commence at the CFO’s, or CIO’s, office, Finance and/or Purchasing Department. Again, it all depends on each organization’s unique structure and hierarchy of decision-makers.

The mode of acquisition will also likely have an impact on who within the prospect organization will constitute the ultimate decision-making entity. For example, under a perpetual license scenario (i.e., typically involving a large, up-front, capital expenditure), the decision-making team is likely to include Finance and Purchasing, Department Heads, as well as Service Operations.

However, under a subscription pricing model (i.e., where there is no large, up-front, capital outlay required), regular monthly (or quarterly) usage-related payments are typically substantially lower and, accordingly, the ultimate acquisition decision may not need to involve all of these departments. Since Cloud-based FSM solutions are typically sold via subscription model, the purchase decision-making process will likely be less involved.

  1. “If you know who is involved in making the decision, you can ensure that they have everything they need from you”

The decision-making process, and ultimately the entire solution sales cycle, can be both expedited and facilitated if the solution sales and marketing team has a prior understanding of who is involved in the decision-making process, how many individuals get involved, who “calls the shots”, how long the process takes, what they need to know, and when they need it. Any incomplete information provided will simply extend the overall length of the process, and any extraneous information will create “noise“. In some cases, information given to the “wrong” individual may be worse than not providing it at all.

This is an area where a more complete understanding of the specific individual(s) you will be selling to will be helpful to ensure that you fully understand all of the needs, requirements, constraints (i.e., both IT and budgetary), preferences and “pain points” that will come into play. It will generally be this individual (or group of individuals) who will convey to you the business’ main acquisition and usage considerations that may include anything from implementation timeframe and training; to initial cost vs. Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), Return-on-Investment (ROI), and other financial aspects, etc.

  1. “If you understand their cost constraints, you can package your solution more attractively”

All prospects are likely to inform you of their various cost constraints right from the outset. However, all solution sales personnel should be trained to distinguish “real” from “perceived” costs as a result of the initial prospect meeting and needs assessment. They should be able to establish prospect thresholds for cost vs. value and build into the equation the best timing for spreading out the total program costs.

Sometimes total cost is the principal determinant; sometimes regularly scheduled cash expenditures are more important. In either case, the most appropriately “packaged” and priced solution must be developed for each prospect and customer, and your solution sales personnel must be equipped to do this.

Some potential examples of cost constraints may include departmental limits imposed on monthly expenditures (e.g., where the Department or Services Manager may only be able to approve up to a certain amount of expenses per month, etc.). Under a subscription pricing model, this constraint may disappear entirely; however, in a perpetual licensing scenario, the approval for the solution acquisition may need to be escalated to the attention of the CIO and CFO, etc. Of course, sales of Cloud-based FSM solutions will likely avoid this level of complexity.

  1. “If you know how your customers support their users, you can better understand their solution needs”

This requires a full understanding of how the users’ systems and equipment are being supported, in addition to what specific types, and how many units, of equipment comprise the overall base (again, either on-premise, Cloud-based, or both). For example, a laptop, tablet or mobile device used in a hospital setting, or on the factory floor, etc. may have substantially different service requirements than one used in a retail or hospitality environment.

Equipment used in three-shift cycles in life-critical medical applications requires very different service than the same equipment used in a nine-to-five office shift. The impact of downtime, both scheduled and unscheduled, on process throughput (and revenue stream) is also an important consideration, and should be evaluated primarily on the basis of each type of equipment’s application. These are important considerations that you will need to learn from each prospect.

A full understanding of the ways in which the prospect organization, in turn, supports its customers will also place you at an advantage with respect to showing them that you “get” their business model – and can build a solution that directly meets their – and their customers’ – needs, requirements, preferences  and expectations for service.

  1. “If you understand how your customers are growing, your solution should grow along with them in meeting their evolving needs”

If you are aware of your customer’s plans for growth (i.e., organic, via merger and/or acquisition, etc.), you will be better able to “tailor” your solution specifically to that customer’s needs. By understanding your customers’ plans for growth, along with their anticipated timetables for change, you will be better prepared to gauge the expected impact of those changes on their services model, and suggest an appropriately scalable solution that takes the anticipated growth (or downsizing) into consideration. If you can anticipate these changing needs (and convey your understanding to your prospect), you will find yourself in a much better position to propose a solution that meets their expectations.

As many individual industry services segment are typically characterized by high levels of market growth; technology adoption; and prospects for merger, acquisition and consolidation, you must let your prospects know that you understand their evolving needs for functionality, features and scale, and are able to convey that the solution will scale along with their evolving needs.

As a result, a strong part of the overall sales message should always focus on the scalability aspects of the solution that is, that it can keep up with the expanding needs of the organization – and its customers – over time.

C.  Summary and Conclusions

In summary, the most successful solution providers in 2017 and beyond will be those that:

  • Understand the unique language, terminology and “buzz words” that characterize the segment;
  • Understand both the current and evolving needs of the segment, in general; and for each of their individual customers and prospects, in particular;
  • Are organized and structured to address the unique needs of the segment (i.e., through a segment-specific sales approach, supported by segment-specific sales, marketing and promotional collateral;
  • Are prepared to grow along with, or ahead of, the overall growth of the prospect;
  • Are prepared to “partner” with their customers in order to ensure that all of their services goals and objectives are being met.

The most successful FSM solution providers will be those that can work as partners with their customers – and that partnership must be developed from the initial dealings with the prospect, and carried out through all successive interactions during the course of the entire sales cycle.

The main key to success, however, will be the ability to show your prospects that you truly understand their needs and requirements (i.e., you “get” it), and that you can offer an FSM solution that supports all of their goals, objectives, customer satisfaction and retention, and financial targets.

[To download a complimentary printed version of the full Analysts Take paper (i.e., including the six (6) guidelines for organizing to meet customers’ services needs, requirements, preferences and expectations), please click on the following link: @@@ How to Sell Services to Individual Industry Segments (Draft-17-06-23-01.]

Leveraging Customer Survey Data Directly into Practical, Tactical Applications

Most business talks about conducting Customer Surveys, but not every one actually conducts them. What is even worse is that too many companies do not really know how to fully leverage their customer survey results into practical, tactical applications. In the first case, it’s mainly an opportunity loss; however, in the second case, it’s a waste of both time and money! However, it’s not that difficult to develop practical, tactical applications from the results of your customer survey initiatives.

Every business, regardless of its type, size or market focus, can benefit from the results of a survey-based research program designed to identify, assess and evaluate its performance in meeting customer needs, requirements, preferences and expectations for the products or services that it sells. These surveys can usually provide valuable data and insight reflecting:

  • Overall market demand, or need, for the company’s products and services;
  • The specific product and service components, both “basic” and “value-added“, that are desired, or preferred, by potential customers;
  • The identification of areas where existing products, services and/or customer service can be improved; and
  • The need for implementing required changes and/or improvements to the organization’s existing service delivery model.

However, in conducting any survey research program, an organization must first ensure that it has established and identified both the appropriate research objectives as well as the proper methodology for carrying out the program. Common research objectives include collecting customer/market data that can be used in the:

  • Identification and assessment of customer needs, requirements, preferences and expectations with respect to the company’s products and services;
  • Identification of the specific features, characteristics and attributes that define the desired products, services and customer support that will meet the market’s overall needs;
  • Identification of customer/market perceptions and opinions with respect to the quality and availability of the products and services they are receiving from their present suppliers (including your organization); and
  • Development of suggested, or recommended, improvements to the existing products and services in order to maximize both new sales and existing customer satisfaction.

The analysis of the findings from this type of market research program can be extremely useful in providing an organization with both a strategic and tactical “roadmap” to:

  1. Modify and enhance its existing product or service lines to address the highest levels of market needs and requirements;
  2. Develop new products and/or services to reflect the most important “value-added” requirements of the market;
  3. Identify and cultivate new target markets based on identified patterns of market decision-making and purchase behavior, product preferences, user characteristics and customer/market perceptions; and
  4. Strengthen the company’s overall product awareness and image, sales and marketing, advertising and promotion, and PR activities through recommended refinements and enhancements based on the study findings.

In this way, the use of customer surveys can be much more valuable than simply for measuring “how well are we doing?”. They can – and should – also be used to identify new business development opportunities in new or emerging markets as well as cross-selling, or up-selling, opportunities within the organization’s existing customer base.

A general method of approach for carrying out a survey-based research program of this nature can generally be accomplished in terms of the following seven tasks:

Task 1 – Initial Liaison and Coordination

  • The first task typically involves the creation of a designated internal project management team to establish team members and key points of contact, identify any existing data resources and work with any outside consultants. Under this task, the project team would coordinate and develop the overall research plan and schedule, checkpoints and milestones, and means for monitoring the ongoing progress of the program.

Task 2 – Internal Management Interviews

  • Task 2 would involve more detailed interviews with designated company customer-facing management and staff with respect to gaining an internal overview of the organization’s goals and objectives; its strengths and weaknesses; perceived service delivery performance, reputation and image; desired market and planning targets; existing problem areas; and opportunities for gaining a more competitive market position through the refinement, improvement and/or expansion of its existing business lines. From these discussions, the project team would gain a full understanding of the internal company perceptions and expectations which could serve as a benchmark from which external (i.e., customers, market prospects) perceptions and expectations can ultimately be identified, compared and evaluated.

Task 3 – Qualitative Interviews with Customers/Prospects

  • As part of this task, a limited number of qualitative, in-depth interviews would be conducted within the existing and/or prospective organization’s customer base. The principal purpose of these interviews would be to determine the potential range of needs and requirements, preferences, perceptions and opinions that the market may have with regard to the company’s existing product and service lines, and to identify the primary issues to be quantified in the large-scale survey of customers/prospects to be conducted as part of Task 4.

Task 4 – Customer/Market Survey

  • Based on the results of the first three tasks, the project team would then develop an overall survey design for a customer/market survey to extend the original qualitative interview phase (Task 3) to a statistically valid quantitative customer/market base. The survey could be conducted electronically and would target the universe of present and prospective customers representing a desired, or targeted, market base. Sufficient responses would be collected from all targeted respondent segments to ensure a statistically valid survey sample. The subsequent analysis of the survey data would then be used to develop specific study findings and strategic implications that would be of direct value in refining, modifying, augmenting and/or expanding the organization’s existing product/service lines.

Task 5 – Strategic Analysis and Findings

  • The fifth task would involve a comprehensive analysis of the full survey results on both an aggregate, and individual vertical and/or horizontal market segmentation basis. This would also take into account the results of the first four tasks and would involve the development of specific study findings and strategic recommendations for action with respect to defining the optimal product/service line features, characteristics and attributes to offer to the marketplace.

Task 6 – Executive Report and Presentation

  • The sixth task would involve the preparation and presentation of the overall study conclusions to company management in terms of a comprehensive report and executive briefing. The report and briefing would focus on the key findings of the overall survey analysis, the strategic market implications resulting from the analysis, and specific recommendations for improving existing levels of customer satisfaction and market penetration.

Task 7- Development of Practical Tactical Applications

  • The final task would take the specific findings from the survey analysis, and translate them directly into practical, tactical applications for improving and expanding existing customer relationships; identifying and cultivating new market opportunities; and rolling out targeted sales and marketing activities using a tactical “roadmap” based in part on the survey results.

The only effective market research programs are those that are well-planned, well thought out, and well executed. By following these steps, your organization will be much better prepared to take full advantage of the practical, tactical applications made available through the execution of a targeted market research program.

Transforming Market Research into Customer Satisfaction and Retention

Leveraging Market Research into Customer Satisfaction

Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary defines market research as ”the investigation and analysis of consumer needs and opinions about goods and services”. However, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, market research is defined more as “the gathering and evaluation of data regarding consumers’ preferences for products and services.” Thefreedictionary.com complicates matters by defining it as “research that gathers and analyzes information about the moving of good(s) or services from producer to consumer”.

While the three of these distinguished resources provide different “takes” on what market research really is, we prefer to define it essentially as the sum of all three, taking into consideration each of the implicitly stated nuances, by defining it as: “the data collection, analysis and assessment relating to customer needs, requirements, preferences, expectations and perceptions with respect to the goods and services they acquire and use”. In this way, we believe that market research can always be relied on as a tool to support a service organization’s ability to measure, gauge and assess what it will take to understand its customers – and ultimately keep them satisfied and loyal.

We prefer to define Market Research as the data collection, analysis and assessment relating to customer needs, requirements, preferences, expectations and perceptions with respect to the goods and services they acquire and use.”

Regardless of which of these definitions you prefer, one thing remains perfectly clear – market research is a powerful tool that can be used to:

  • Collect and analyze all of the data and information you need to understand your market better, and make your products and services more appealing to your customer base
  • Assist you in identifying and prioritizing market targets that can be exploited to meet your business development goals
  • Provide a foundation upon which all of your customer-focused activities may be supported, measured and tracked
  • Enable you to define, quantify and articulate specific goals and objectives to all affected parties – internal & external
  • Support your ability to measure, monitor and track your customer relationship management successes (and failures) on an ongoing basis.

Measuring Customer Satisfaction Is Important; But, How Do You Do It?

Many services managers mistakenly use “customer satisfaction” and “customer retention” as interchangeable terms; however, they are two entirely separate and distinct things. Customer satisfaction is, basically, “keeping your customers happy”. However, even satisfied customers may consider switching providers for better prices, greater coverage, or just because “it’s time”, etc. As a result, the best way to define customer retention is essentially as “keeping your customers – customers”.

Among the most commonly used alternative measures, or surrogates, for tracking customer satisfaction are typically things like:

  • Increased sales/account revenues,
  • Increased profitability,
  • Repeat services sales/contract renewals, or
  • Improved levels of customer retention.

However, not all of these measures may be either relevant – or accurate, as:

  • Sales/account revenues may be growing more as a result of inflation and/or increasing services prices, rather than as an indicator of customer satisfaction;
  • Increased profitability may be more a result of improved internal services operations and/or cost-cutting, than anything the organization has done to make its customers happier;
  • Repeat services sales may be more the result of customers feeling “locked in” to existing service contracts, or believing it will be easier to “re-up” with your organization than it will be for them to find a new vendor; and
  • Customers may stay with you longer than they want, simply because it is easier than switching.

As such, the primary goals of a Customer Satisfaction research program should primarily be to:

  • Identify the specific product and service attributes that are proven to be important to customers;
  • Provide baseline measurements of both importance and satisfaction for future trend comparisons;
  • Determine the relative strengths/weaknesses of the organization’s current products, services and support offerings;
  • Identify the critical areas requiring improvement;
  • Collect data that can be used to set targets and goals; and
  • Provide a scientific and statistically valid means for measuring and tracking customer satisfaction over time.

Where Should You Focus Your Market Research Efforts?

In considering launching a new (or refining an existing) customer satisfaction/market research program within your organization, there are essentially four questions that you will first need to answer. They are:

  1. Does your organization already have a formal customer satisfaction measurement and tracking program in place? Is your survey research plan designed to yield the specific types of outcomes that are needed to support the organization’s business development plan?
  • Some organizations have no formal customer satisfaction measuring & tracking program; surveys are performed only on an ad hoc basis – if at all!
  • As a result, customer service improvements are probably not supported in a consistent manner, or with all of the necessary data and information to justify making changes – in fact, some problems may go unnoticed, and realistic priorities may not be easily set.
  • If the research plan is not specifically designed to support the subsequent action plan, then you may end up not collecting adequate information to make key decisions.
  1. Should we conduct our customer surveys internally, or should we use an outside market research/consulting firm to design, conduct and analyze our surveys? Which methodology will yield more actionable results? Which way is better?
  • By conducting your customer surveys internally, you may lose the perception of objectivity and, thus, credibility; plus, you run the risk of administering what may appear to your customers to be either an “unprofessional”, incomplete – or even worse – misdirected survey.
  • An outside market research firm generally has the ability to design, execute and analyze surveys more efficiently than your own organization – and can maintain an entirely objective posture throughout the course of the research (e.g., collecting and analyzing responses, providing customer feedback, etc.).
  • Most internally conducted customer surveys turn out to be little more than exercises in public relations, and generate neither statistically valid nor actionable survey outcomes; especially in cases where your service performance is poor, or major improvements are required, it is generally better to go outside.
  1. What type of survey methodology should we use? In person, telephone, mail, e-mail, or a combination of methodologies? How can we tell what will work best with our particular mix of services offerings and customer base?
  • Alternative survey methodologies may reflect substantially different levels of costs, coverage, response rates, statistical reliability and skewness, effectiveness, usability of outcomes, and applicability to the overall business plan.
  • Accordingly, the methodology you choose will dictate – to some degree – the likelihood of generating actionable survey outcomes.
  • E-mail surveys have become relatively inexpensive to conduct, but may not always be the best way to reach all of the customer base that you want to reach; telephone and mail still represent alternative methodologies for some organizations.
  1. Should we be surveying our existing customers, or should we be focusing more on surveying the market prospects that we hope to convert to customers in the future? Where should we be focusing our market and survey research efforts in the short term?
  • The answer is “yes” – to both!
  • In general, customers always come first – you cannot afford to lose the customers you already have (for any number of reasons).
  • However, you may also want to survey the general market base (i.e., prospects) in terms of their awareness and perceptions of your organization, as well as the likelihood of their buying/acquiring your products and services in the future.
  • As a surrogate, you can also survey “New Wins” and “Lost” Prospects” in combination with existing customers to determine what brought them in – or what drove them away – in addition to what makes them happy.

Regardless of which research methodologies you ultimately choose, there are certain guidelines that must also be followed as you begin to collecting the desired customer data and information:

  • First and foremost, do not abuse your customers. Don’t survey them day-in and day-out; they are not on your payroll!
  • Focus on the “need-to-know”, rather than the “nice-to-know”. “Need-to-know” data will always pay off in the long-term, whereas “nice-to-know” data can be particularly expensive if you ultimately do not get much of a return for the amount of time and money you have invested in the research.
  • Collect as much customer data as you can internally, from as many sources as possible, including service activity reports, call logs, call center metrics, KPIs, etc. However, you must remember that while internally collected data is your “reality”; it will be “perceptions” that are your customers’ “reality”. You will need to carefully reconcile these two often disparate sets of objective and subjective findings.
  • Use complementary methods of data collection wherever possible:
  • Ongoing communications is a two-way street; stop … and listen.
  • Get everyone involved – sales and service reps, CSRs, Managers.
  • Utilize trade shows, seminars, workshops, webinars, users groups.
  • Leverage Blogs, tweets, newsletters, e-mails, Website – all with “real” feedback channels.

Once you get started, the key areas you will need to address as part of the customer satisfaction measurement and tracking process will include:

  • Customer attitudes and perceptions toward the importance of the products, services and support they are using, and the levels of performance they are receiving from your organization.
  • Identification and ratings of the principal selection and evaluation factors customers use to rate those services.
  • Customer needs and requirements for those services in total, as well as by key customer/vertical market segments.
  • Levels of satisfaction with your organization’s performance, identification of areas where improvements are required, and what it would take to become their “Total Services Provider”.

Among the key questions that will need to be answered from the results of the customer survey analysis are:

  • How satisfied are your customers with the organization’s existing portfolio of products, services and support?
  • What additional areas of service and support do they need, want, or expect?
  • What can be done to improve current levels of customer satisfaction?
  • How can your organization become more responsive to the needs of its customers?
  • What areas need to be specifically addressed in order to provide customers with “total service and support”?
  • Who makes the decision to purchase your company’s products and services? What message do they need to hear?
  • What are the primary, secondary and peripheral factors used by customers to evaluate service performance?
  • Are all of your customers’ needs being met? To what degree? What are your specific (and relative) strengths and weaknesses?
  • How vulnerable is the organization to losing customers to the competition? For what reasons? How can this be avoided?

What Are Some of the Potential Outcomes of Conducting Market Research?

The key outcomes of a baseline Customer Satisfaction survey program would be the strategic identification, analysis, assessment and profiling of your organization’s existing customer base, in total, and by principal customer market segments, including:

  • Determination of the principal purchase decision makers
  • Relative importance and “weights” of key services attributes
  • Satisfaction with the quality of your products, services and support
  • Correlations between product and service quality, and their
  • respective impacts on overall service performance satisfaction
  • Satisfaction with your organization’s pricing perceived value
  • Perceptions of customer loyalty to the organization
  • Customer usage/purchasing patterns
  • Other key factors likely to impact customer satisfaction

Other key market/business development factors that can also be examined include:

  • Principal types of products/services being used/planned
  • Plans for future purchases/upgrades/migrations
  • Primary “value-added” features used/required
  • Factors of importance used to select/evaluate vendors
  • Satisfaction with present product/service providers
  • Loyalty to present vendors likelihood to switch
  • Overall awareness/perceptions of the organization’s total portfolio of products, services and support offerings
  • Others, TBD

When conducted on a routine, periodic basis, tracking customer satisfaction over time can provide:

  • A comprehensive benchmark, or baseline, analysis, complemented by regular tracking/trend survey “waves”
  • A series of detailed analyses that explain key patterns, trends and areas requiring improvement over time
  • Executive-level management reports and trendsheets that address key patterns and their strategic implications
  • Identification of specific problem areas and recommendations for improving levels of customer satisfaction
  • The ability to develop both strategic and tactical “fixes”, both in total, and by individual customer/vertical segments

Knowing your customers can be an extremely effective marketing tool. The more you know about your customers, the more responsive you can be to their needs and requirements. In fact, we believe that you can never know too much about your customers. Your customers will tell you when they are satisfied, and when they are not; but you have to ask them directly, as they may not always volunteer to provide this information.

That is why customer survey research is so important – because, if you do not regularly ask your customers about their specific needs and requirements, they may think you are either uninterested or – even worse -– incapable of performing better.

The applications and uses of Customer Satisfaction survey results are multifold, including:

  • To establish a formal input/feedback mechanism to obtain critical data/information directly from customers
  • To use satisfaction trend data to improve, or otherwise modify, existing product, service and support features
  • To use the specific results of the survey as marketing tools (e.g., publish an article in a services trade journal, offer a “white paper” on the Web, integrate results into company marketing collateral, etc.)
  • To use the statistical findings, verbatim quotes or other survey results in promotional materials, handouts or mailings

The following represent just the “tip of the iceberg” with respect to what some of your peers have already been able to accomplish:

  • A Help Desk Software company combined a joint User Needs & Requirements Assessment/Satisfaction Survey with a New “Win”/“Lost” Prospects Survey to identify the differences in the way they support existing customers how they attract “new” ones (and also “lose” some along the way).
  • A High-Tech OEM conducted an in-depth, qualitative survey among its machine operators to identify whether both their key product and technical support issues were being adequately addressed – and coordinated.
  • A CRM Software company established a baseline survey, and then tracked changes in its service delivery performance over a 3-year period until all of its quantitative goals for performance improvement had been met.
  • A Medical Device company conducted concurrent surveys of prospects who chose them their competitors to identify patterns of vendor selection criteria and any potential “kick-out” factors that may have been driving some prospects away.
  • A “Brand Name” Third Party Services company conducted routine competitive intelligence updates used to “spin off” competitive vendor New Service Product Action/Reaction reports to assist its services sales force.
  • A Field Service Management (FSM) solution company conducted vertical market research to identify and prioritize new (to them) verticals to target for future business development.
  • A Print/Publishing OEM surveyed customers of a company they planned to acquire to see whether there was a “match” between the two customer bases in terms of customer needs and requirements for the merged service product offerings.

All told, there are dozens of different customer satisfaction- and retention-related issues that can best be identified, measured and analyzed through a specific market research program. As such, the versatility of market research should never be understated, as it can be as narrowly or broadly defined, as necessary; as formal or informal, as required; as expensive or inexpensive, as the budget permits; and as general or customized, as is required.

Summary

In summary, there is a big difference between merely “keeping your customers satisfied” and “keeping your customers – period!” We believe that only by conducting an appropriate series of market research activities can you keep sufficiently up-to-date with the market’s evolving needs and requirements for service, and their corresponding levels of customer satisfaction with their vendors.

Similarly, only by conducting ongoing competitive intelligence research can you fully understand how your organization is positioned in the overall marketplace, and how it can best compete in an intensifying competitive environment. And, only by conducting periodic customer satisfaction measurement and tracking surveys can you measure your own organization’s performance over time, and make the necessary changes to keep your customers satisfied and loyal.

No services organization ever went bankrupt as a result of investing money in market research that delivered actionable results, and provided a positive return on investment (ROI). It is only those organizations that have wrongly invested a great deal of money in “untested” areas that could have been better served by conducting the appropriate market research first.

Are You Satisfying Your Customers Today? If Not, What Can You Do About it Starting Tomorrow?

Establishing a process for improving and maintaining the ability to satisfy your customers does not have to be a daunting effort. It can actually be quite easy – if you plan accordingly, rally the necessary resources together, execute effectively, and manage the results over time. While conducting a large-scale customer survey may take a few months to develop, implement and analyze, there are still many things you can start tomorrow, to provide you with some actionable customer data in the short-term. Read on to see what you can begin doing tomorrow to improve the way in which you are able to satisfy customers.

Many services organizations have found that by routinely conducting customer satisfaction measurement and tracking surveys, they are continually able to

  • Determine the defining characteristics of service and support that best meet their customers’ total needs;
  • Identify, measure, and track changes in their corresponding levels of customer satisfaction;
  • Determine the relative strengths and weaknesses of their customer support organization;
  • Identify all of the critical areas requiring improvement;
  • Collect data that can be used to set targets or goals for improvement; and
  • Recommend changes to their existing customer support processes and organization.

All of these objectives are admirable, important, easy to implement, and will ultimately lead toward the ability of the organization to “fix the system” (i.e., the business processes, operations, and infrastructure) that will empower it to deliver expected levels of customer service and support. However, while it is working hard to “fix the system”, there is always the risk of losing some of the organization’s most “vulnerable” customers in the interim since systemwide improvements typically take a long time to design, implement, manage, and maintain. For this reason, we believe that the most effective customer survey programs are those that also provide all of the information and guidance needed to “fix the system” – and “fix the customer” – both at the same time!

That is why we have developed a unique survey approach that also generates individual Customer Relationship Case Study Profiles that may be used to supplement the overall survey findings, strategic implications, and general recommendations for moving forward with a systemwide “fix”. In this way, while your organization is spending the time and dollars required to correct its systemwide problems, it can also address the specific problems that are impacting individual customers well before they become “kick-out factors”.

Strategies For GrowthSM‘s (SFGSM) Customer Discovery Survey program is designed to help services organizations identify the root causes of problems and recognize “real” opportunities for customer support improvement that will enhance – or bring back – their desired levels of customer satisfaction and profitability by focusing on the key customer-oriented issues that directly affect the business, including:

  • Customer Needs & Requirements for “Total” Customer Support
  • Customer Perceptions, Preferences and Expectations for Service and Support
  • Product/System Evaluation Factors
  • Service & Support Evaluation Factors
  • Gap Analysis/Unmet Customer Needs
  • Existing/Potential Problem Areas
  • Areas Requiring Improvement
  • Changes in Service Performance Over Time
  • Likelihood of Recommending the Vendor
  • Closing Thoughts/Verbatim Comments

Using a time-tested approach consisting of preliminary client management interviews, questionnaire design, and conventional survey research, each Customer Discovery Survey program is tailored to the organization’s specific needs and situation to achieve the maximum output and return on investment. If your organization is ready, it can typically best be served by implementing a full-scale Customer Satisfaction Measurement, Analysis & Tracking Program that can be used to identify, prioritize, and assess the specific actions required to “fix” systematic problems in its overall customer service and support operations.

However, if you are not quite ready to address systemwide change, you can still benefit by identifying the specific areas that will allow you to “fix” specific customers through a Customer Discovery Survey program. In either case, you will still be able to benefit from a detailed analysis and management report that tells you what needs to be fixed, how vulnerable you are to losing customers in the interim, and what timeframes for resolution will likely be required.

In general, SFGSM‘s Customer Discovery Surveys seem to work best for organizations with either a relatively finite customer base, or where a small number of customers represents an important component of the total customer base. Some clients prefer to survey their most valuable and/or “vulnerable” customers as a way of stopping major problems “dead in their tracks”, or preventing minor problems from growing larger. The general rule of thumb is that in cases where there is a large enough sample of the customer base (e.g., let’s say 25 to 30 or more customers), we can prepare both:

  • A detailed analysis of the total respondent sample, thereby providing the organization with a general customer base overview, as well as
  • A set of individual, case-by-case, customer-respondent profiles – thus, providing the ability to “fix” the customers while you’re “fixing” the system!

Many of our clients like the way these individual profiles present detailed, case-specific information that may be used to “fix” customers on a one-by-one basis, as they move forward with the systematic “fixes” that are otherwise recommended by the strategic findings of the survey. In fact, many clients use this information on a prioritized, case-by-case basis as they move forward – concurrently – with their systemwide improvement initiatives.

Basically, each profile presents the key findings from a single customer interview, including side-by-side comparisons of perceived importance vs. vendor performance for all of the performance attributes tested. As such, these profiles are enormously helpful toward gaining a better understanding of exactly how your services offerings (or your dealers’ offerings) are being perceived by individual customers, and where particular points of vulnerability, disconnect, or other potential problem areas may be occurring.

Through these Customer Relationship Case Study Profiles, we can also identify and “flag” areas of moderate, significant or severe customer “vulnerability”, as well as the root causes for why these problems may exist in the first place. Potential “kick-out” factors can also be easily identified. Ultimately, these individual case study profiles afford our clients a unique opportunity to utilize a customer-centric database that allows them to focus on the specific concerns of each interviewed customer, as well as from the results of the analysis of an aggregate, or representative, survey base.

Customer Discovery Surveys are a cost-effective way to determine the current levels of satisfaction – and vulnerability – of your most important (or representative) customers without having to engage in a full-scale customer survey effort. This program allows you to put your major concerns to bed quickly, while giving you a better understanding of where you need to focus – immediately – to get your systemwide support organization running more effectively.

SFGSM’s Customer Discovery Survey program is offered at a fixed price and can be completed in usually in less then one-to-two months, so you can get fast results and know exactly where you stand without incurring any major delays or expenditures. Results are presented in terms of executable actions accompanied by a set of case-specific Customer Relationship Management Profiles that can help you to better understand – and “fix” – each targeted customer.

For more information on SFGSM’s Customer Discovery Survey program, or Customer Needs & Requirements/Satisfaction Surveys, please visit our Blogsite at: http://wp.me/P3Q70i-3o

Going For The “Gold” Is An Olympic Event — Especially for Services Organizations!

In light of the current proceedings of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, I thought this piece would be relevant to all those Services Organizations striving to be “World Class” (i.e., “going for the Gold”)

Even Gold May Have a Silver Lining

For Field Services Organizations, “going for the gold” may mean very different things. For some, it may mean nothing more than struggling to generate increased service revenue (i.e. “gold”). For others, it may mean attempting to upsell existing service level agreement (SLA) accounts from “bronze” to “silver” to “gold” levels (is anyone out there still offering “platinum”-level services?). However, another good way to define “gold” levels of service performance is to compare your organization to the athletes striving for their own version of “gold” — an Olympic gold medal!

The Olympic and the services communities share many things in common, ranging from striving to attain perfection to generating a profit after the scheduled event is over. However, they also share another very important attribute in that both communities typically go into an event (e.g. a 200-meter freestyle or an on-site service call, etc.) with some pre-event expectations.

For example, Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecki are, arguably, the world’s best male and female swimmers and, as such, went into the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro with extremely high expectations. However, it was never a certainty that each would win Gold medals in all of the competitions for which they were qualified to compete. Nonetheless, the expectations were high for each swimmer — even before they arrived in Rio.

While Michael Phelps ultimately ended up winning five Gold and one Silver medal; and Katie Ledecki won four Gold and one Silver medal, each are still acknowledged as the best of the best in their respective fields.

The same situation also exists for services organizations. If your organization is one of the larger ones in the field or has won numerous performance awards in the past, the community will expect it to perform like a world-class provider (i.e. one that is able to meet its customers’ total service needs while delivering world-class levels of performance). By performing reasonably well in the past, the marketplace will also expect you to also perform well — and even better — in the future. The bar is constantly being raised.

For Michael Phelps, the defending champion in the previous two Summer Olympiads, the prospect of not winning several gold medals was unthinkable – although he did not seem to be all that phased that he had to share his Silver medal with two other swimmers. He has won both Gold and Silver medals before, and performed about the same in his most current Olympics.

For Katie Ledecki, for whom this was her first (and, possibly, last) Olympics competition, the bar has been raised again for all female swimmers who will ultimately enter the Olympics in her wake. World class does not necessarily mean “perfect”! There can still be a Silver lining wrapped around your Gold standard.

By the time this Blog post is published, it is also certain that other gymnasts — from the U.S., and around the world — will excel in their competitions as well. However, merely having the goods does not assure Gold in the Olympics — and it is exactly the same for services organizations. You still need to execute — and strive to be as close to perfect as you can.

The Role Of Social Media In Service

Finally, in this year’s Olympics, social media will be expected to take on an even more prominent role than in the past. Virtually all of the Olympic events will be accessible to viewers all around the globe through various forms of Cable and Broadcast TV, Social Media and other types of digital transmissions. As a result, Twitter, FaceBook, and independent blogs will, once again, take up the slack on presenting (and editorializing) all of these Olympics-related events — all in real time! Again, the similarities between the Olympics and the services community abound.

Just as many Olympians are encouraged by their trainers to communicate often — in real time — with their supporters and fans, so must the services community adapt to the practical uses and applications of the available social media. It is truly time to recognize that social media is not merely an acquired taste, but a way of life — especially when it comes to communicating about service.

The 2016 Summer Olympics are nearly over, but already, athletes from all over the world are preparing for the next summer games just four years away. All of the medalists for these upcoming games will ultimately win their respective races by first choosing a field, then acquiring the necessary resources and skills, preparing for the race, and aggressively moving forward.

This is also how most services organizations have historically approached service, especially with respect to meeting — and exceeding — customer requirements. However, you won’t necessarily need to have a medal draped around your neck to be recognized for good service — you simply need to perform at a level of performance that is higher than an ever-raising bar, and let your customers place their perceptual medals around your neck.