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.]

You’re in the Business of Customer Happiness — But Are You Delivering?

[An edited version of this article was originally published in the April 14, 2016 issue of Field Service Digital.]

Customer service has always been important, but never more important than it is in today’s services-oriented environment. More and more companies are measuring customer satisfaction, and the tools for monitoring field service performance are becoming both more sophisticated and more pervasive among the leading businesses in every field.

Undoubtedly, your organization is already measuring, monitoring, and trending customer satisfaction performance on a regular basis. However, it is important to acknowledge that it is actually the field technician that is the principal, if not sole, representative of the company to ever set foot at the customer’s site (after the initial equipment sale) and, as such, each customer’s degree of satisfaction will be largely dependent on its relationship with the field tech – personally. Fair or unfair, this is the case, and the organization’s overall customer satisfaction ratings will ultimately depend on its field technicians’ ability to deliver exactly what will make their customers happy.

Past studies have shown that what really makes customers unhappy is having to deal with someone who does not take ownership of the situation when a problem has occurred. Since, in most cases, the field technician will typically only be called to the customer site after a problem has occurred, the customer will be waiting for him or her to arrive to fix all the problems, make everything work, and leave them much happier than they were when they first arrived on-site.

They will be looking for an informed and well-prepared service technician to arrive on-site – one who can articulate what needs to be done, communicate in a language they can understand, and make the repair as quickly as possible – without disrupting any of the ongoing business operations. Therefore, the more information the field technician has available in advance with respect to the customer profile, the equipment history, and any previous service call activity, the better prepared it will be to deal directly with the key concerns of the customer – and this, in turn, will likely set the stage for able to making the customer happy.

Most companies look for a variety of character traits, skills, and experience when they are hiring for customer service and support-related positions (especially for field technicians). These typically include:

  • Problem solving ability
  • Skill in handling tense, stressful, and multi-task situations
  • Strong sense of responsibility and accountability
  • Good communication skills
  • Business writing skills
  • Knowledge of relevant processes
  • “People skills” with both customers and co-workers
  • Compassionate, customer-oriented attitude
  • Strong desire to help customers
  • Computer skills or aptitude
  • Data entry, processing and other diagnostic skills
  • Vocational training degrees are desirable and oftentimes required
  • Technical and/or Services-related certifications

If the field technicians already have all of these character traits, skills, and experience – plus a strong commitment to providing customers with “total solutions” for their service and support needs – they will find themselves in a good position to deliver exactly what their customers want to make them happy.

However, being able to deliver what will make customers happy also requires having the proper frame of mind for doing so. For example, if the field technician is personally not happy when it arrives at the customer site, then chances are it will also be unable to make its customer happy. While no one can be expected to be in a good frame of mind all of the time, it is more a matter of putting on your “game face” whenever there is contact with customers, than trying to hide anything from them.

There have been many studies conducted to measure the degree to which a service technician’s attitude influences the customer’s satisfaction – or dissatisfaction. This is commonly referred to as the “transference of satisfaction”. What this basically means is that an unhappy service technician is more likely to make his or her customers unhappy, whereas a happy service technician will be more likely to garner higher levels of satisfaction from customers.

Of course, making the customer happy is not exclusively dependent on the service technician’s frame of mind; however, this is always likely to have at least some impact on the situation – and usually not in a good way. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the service technician, as the principal on-site “ambassador” for the company, to make sure that its interactions with customers are always cordial, constructive, informative, and resulting in the main task at hand – namely, fixing the equipment, and letting the customer get back to business as usual.

[For more articles on similar topics, and for a wealth of field service-related information, please be sure to visit Field Service Digital.

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.

Selling Services – How to Recognize Customer Buying Signals

Understanding your customers’ needs, and knowing what is available for sale, complete one key equation; however, there is still one other key unanswered question: How can you tell when your customer is ready to buy?

Recognizing a customer’s buying signals is one of the most difficult things there is to teach. In fact, many will argue that this is an innate trait that only “true” salespersons are born with. Whether this is true or not is really only a side issue. The main issue is that every one of your customers and prospects sends out signals that you can rally around with respect to determining when they are ready to buy. Some will be “hard” signals that you can practically take right to the bank; although most will be “soft” signals that will vary from customer-to-customer, person-to-person, and situation-to-situation. Let me explain.

The various types of buying signals “transmitted” by your customers may typically be classified into the following categories:

  • Overt
  • Passive
  • Observed

Overt Buying Signals

An overt buying signal is the closest thing to a gift that you may ever receive from your customers. This is when the customer calls you, or comes right up to you, and says something like, “Our copier is pretty much shot, and it simply won’t handle all of our volume anymore. Don’t you guys have a newer machine that you think can do the job for us?” Or, “You know, our machine will be coming off warranty soon. Don’t you guys offer some kind of extended warranty contract? If you do, we’d really be interested.” While these opportunities may seem just like manna fallen from the heavens, the problem is, if you do not take immediate advantage of them, the opportunities themselves may either fade over time, or go away altogether.

For example, given an opportunity like one of these, it may simply be a matter of speaking briefly with your customer, showing him or her a new brochure or directing them to your company’s web site, and casually discussing the enhanced features of a new system or service offering on a face-to-face basis. However, if your response is more like, “I have a few ideas. Why don’t I get back to you in a week or two when I’m not so busy, and maybe we can work out something.” By the time a couple of weeks go by, the thought of acquiring a new piece of equipment or service offering may have moved from your customer’s top-of-mind to their back-of-mind – and once there, it may involve much more work on your part to get it back up front.

Overt buying signals do not happen all the time; but when they do, you pretty much have to take advantage of them as they occur, rather than run the risk of having the customer push it far back into the recesses of his or her mind – or even worse, allowing them to have the same conversation with a competitive vendor’s sales or services person.

Passive Buying Signals

Passive buying signals may not be as obvious; however, they are still fairly easy to identify, and even easier to take advantage of. The tell-tale clues that your customers may give to you typically manifest themselves in comments or questions such as, “Man, this old machine keeps breaking down, and breaking down, and breaking down. I don’t know what I’m going to do if it shuts down during one of our big production runs”; “Ever since this machine came off of warranty, whenever we call for service, we end up paying you guys on a time and materials basis. There’s got to be a better way”; or “I don’t know. It just seems like our other division on the next floor gets their copy work done a heck of a lot faster than we do. I think they have a new machine up there, and they just keep making us look bad in comparison”.

Any of these comments or questions represent just as valid a selling opportunity as any of the overt buying signals we just talked about earlier. The only real difference is that, in these cases, you will typically need to be the one who initiates the conversation about replacement units, new machines, and/or enhanced service level agreements – and not the customer.

Even so, you may still be surprised as to how receptive your customers will be in having such a conversation. What’s more, since you already understand your customers’ needs and requirements for business imaging systems and equipment, and you know what your company has available for sale, you can probably step right in, provide some specific suggestions or recommendations, and convert a potential customer problem into a potential company sale.

Observed Buying Signals

Sometimes the customer does not even have to say a word. Since you already visit the customer’s site, on average, about once a month or so, you are probably in an excellent position to observe how one or more of their machines are routinely being overused, misused, or otherwise used improperly. You have probably also seen some of your customers reach new levels of frustration in dealing with machines that simply cannot ratchet up to their increased levels of volume or throughput, or effectively deal with emerging areas of business imaging applications.

We have all heard the expression that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. In both the overt and passive buying signal situations, it will primarily be the words that are either conveyed to you, or conveyed by you to the customer, that will ultimately lead to the potential sale. However, in an observed buying signal situation, it is the “picture” you observe at the customer site that will ultimately tell you the “story” that you will need to focus on in order to ultimately make the sale.

At the end of the day, it really does not matter whether the buying signal you get is overt, passive, or simply observed – what does matter though, is that you get the signal, you know what to do with it, you take advantage of it, and you serve effectively in your role as an intermediary between what your customer needs, and what your company offers.

Converting Satisfied Customers into Loyal Ones

Just because a customer is satisfied with the technical support and customer service they receive from your organization does not necessarily mean that it will be loyal to you in the long run. Moreover, even “great” service does not necessarily result in customer loyalty. Customers have a large number of service options available to them, from a large and diverse variety of sources. They can use the manufacturer’s or dealer’s services to support their business systems and equipment; they can use the services of a third-party maintenance provider; they can support some of the equipment themselves; or any combination thereof. The choice is theirs – not yours. And they know it!

Not only are there many options for each of your customers to consider, they are constantly being “bombarded” with information about alternative sources of products, services and support from many of these sources. They go to industry trade shows; they read industry trade publications; they read Blogs, posts and tweets; they talk to their peers, both within their own organizations, and at other organizations in the area; and they surf the Internet. As a result, customers are more knowledgeable today than just about ever before with respect to the various options that are available to them.

Using the business imaging systems segment as an example, the service technician may find that for many of his or her accounts, the company’s products and services are not the only ones used to provide equipment service and support solutions. For example, when the technician arrives on-site to perform a preventive maintenance call, and they get off the elevator at the customer’s floor, there may be some comfort in knowing that when they get to the copy room, all they will see is their company’s machines – all up and running, all in heavy usage, and all clearly valued by the end users who use them. However, in some cases, if they were to get off of the elevator at any other floor in the building, they may be just as likely to see a similar configuration of equipment – however, all with another company’s brand name and logo on each of the machines.

Even if your company has already sold and installed all of the business imaging systems and equipment on one floor (or one department) at a particular customer’s facility, and has provided satisfactory technical support and customer service since “day one”, there may still be another company doing exactly the same thing for the customer on another floor (or for another department) at the same facility.

You can assume that the various end-users of this equipment probably talk to one another, compare notes, and ask each other for recommendations regarding new equipment, upgrades, or customer support on an ongoing basis – perhaps over lunch, or at interdepartmental meetings, or with regard to companywide budgeting purposes. In situations where companies move to consolidate their many equipment vendors, someone ultimately has to go – regardless of the level of service and support they have historically been providing – and that someone may be your organization!

From these examples, you can see that even high levels of customer service and corresponding high levels of satisfaction do not necessarily lead to a high level of customer loyalty. Many services managers mistakenly use “customer satisfaction” and “customer loyalty” 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 loyalty is essentially as “keeping your customers – customers”.

So what does this all mean, and how can you use these examples to ensure that you are best able to convert as many of your “satisfied” customers into “loyal” ones? What it means is that we, as an industry, continually need to provide our services to our customers even better, faster, and more efficiently than before. And we will probably need to embrace – and embed – new technology into all of our customer-facing processes and offerings (e.g., Cloud technology, remote services, the Internet of Things/IoT, etc.).

You will also need to follow-up with your customers after the call is completed to make sure that everything has been completed fully, and to their total satisfaction. The marketplace – and your customers – have no tolerance for anything less than superior service and support, anymore; and if your organization does not already provide it, they will find another organization that does!

But, how do we do this? How can we move our customers all the way across the “satisfaction” continuum to “customer loyalty”? There are many ways – but it will take a great deal of work, and it will have to be a company-wide effort.

First, you will need to take a hard look at exactly what your customers require – and expect – from the organization, matched against your current and evolving services capabilities, and addressing such questions as:

  • What are our customers’ specific product, service and support needs and requirements? How do they differ from one type of customer to another? How well are we able to meet these specific needs?
  • Does our organization’s current service and support portfolio match its customers’ needs? All of their needs? Their real needs? How can we make sure we are able to design, promote and deliver the right services to meet their specific needs?
  • Where are there gaps, or disconnects, between what we are presently able to do on behalf of our customers, what they truly expect to receive from us?
  • What vendor options and alternatives do our customers presently have? And, how many? What do some of our competitors do better than we do, and how can we best compete against them in the eyes of our customers?
  • What do our customers believe are our greatest strengths and weaknesses? Are we doing everything necessary to promote our strengths while we attempt to improve our weaknesses? Are we providing our customers with all of the information they need to make a fair assessment of our service capabilities and performance? Are we successfully getting our message across?
  • Why does a customer choose us in the first place? Are they getting from us what they were expecting when they first purchased our products? Or signed their original service level agreement? Where do they think there are gaps? Do we know where they are? And how can we best fill them?
  • At the end of the day, how do we want our customers to think of us, our services, and our capabilities? Are we there yet? If not, what do we need to do in the eyes of our customers to get there?
  • Are we using all of the data, information, tools and technologies available to provide our customers with the levels of service they expect? Are there any additional tools or technologies that we should also be using?
  • Are we focused enough on our customers’ needs? Is our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) training good enough – or do we require more training in this area?
  • Do we have our customer service “act” together? How can we ensure that everything we do in behalf of our customers yields a well-defined, positive and measurable outcome (i.e., one that our customers will both recognize, and appreciate)?

These are critical times in the global economic community, and the services segment has never been more serious about its choices – nor more educated in its ability to distinguish between the customer service leaders and the numerous “wannabes”. More end users are getting more information – faster – about your company, and your competitors’ – than ever before. Your ability to gain “true” customer loyalty will be greatly dependent on the ability to live up to the promises your company makes at the original point of sale. If you do not live up to those promises in the eyes of your customers, you will never be able to gain their loyalty, let alone attain high enough levels of customer satisfaction.

The true test of customer loyalty is the ability to keep your customers as customers for the long haul, even if your prices are not always competitive, or your marketing campaigns are not necessarily the most “glamorous”. What the customer ultimately wants is for its systems and equipment to work uninterrupted, and rarely break down. However, when it does break down, they want to have the confidence that its services provider (i.e., your organization) can get things back up and running as quickly as possible (or prevent them from breaking down in the first place via remote monitoring and predictive diagnostics, etc.) – all while continuing to handle high volumes of throughput with ease, minimal interruptions, and little need for human intervention.

If your organization can provide its customers with these high levels of service and support, you just may have a chance at keeping them both satisfied – and loyal.