Why Knowledge Discovery? Your Organization May Be Sitting on a Goldmine of Data!

These days, more than ever, businesses are operating in data rich environments. Data emanating from every-day business operations, sales and customer account activities, service call activity, financial and economic transactions, regulatory reporting and all the other business-related events of the world are routinely captured and stored in databases. Existing global databases are adding terabytes of new information daily. Every moment of every day bank transactions and electronic funds transfers, point-of-sale systems, hospital tests and procedures, factory production lines, airline reservations, service calls and even electric meters and gasoline pumps are creating digital records that are stored somewhere in a database.

The vast majority of these data, however, will never see the light of day. More often than not, these data will be stored for a specified period of time, in some cases as required by law, and then “purged” to make room for more current data of the same kind. This process is likely to repeat ad infinitum, each time replacing the “old” data with “new” data until the “new” data itself becomes “old” and must once again be replaced. Yet in many cases these data can represent a “rich ore” of valuable information and knowledge about the domain from which it has been taken.

What better source is there to learn about patterns of customers’ preferences and buying habits than from the customers themselves; not just what they tell you they need or like in a Customer Needs and Requirements/Satisfaction Survey, but what they actually buy. What better source is there to learn about equipment failures and service requirements than from the equipment itself; not just from what your field technicians tell you, but directly from the equipment. What better source is there to learn about the risk in lending or extending credit than from your business’s own financial successes and failures; not just from what your banks or creditors tell you, but from your own financial experiences, both good and bad. The list goes on and on.

Organizations are always searching for knowledge that can advance their cause and keep them abreast of the market, anticipated trends and the competition. Marketing managers would love to know what makes their customers “tick”. Manufacturing managers would do anything to find out how they could improve the quality of their products, even by just a fraction of a percentage. Not to mention the securities traders who would “sell their corporate souls” just to keep a half-step ahead of the pack in being able to detect a change in trends or receive an “early warning signal”.

Oftentimes the answers to these questions are contained in the data that businesses routinely collect, store and discard from their ever-growing databases. Many companies have already recognized the potential of this source of knowledge and have invested substantial effort and significant amounts of resources to uncover the precious knowledge “hidden” in their data. Among the various emerging technologies being utilized, some employ a combination of both the traditional and newer, more “exotic” paradigms in a field known as knowledge discovery, or database mining.

Credit card issuers are using advanced knowledge discovery methods to identify usage patterns that indicate fraud in an attempt to execute more effective fraud avoidance systems and, ultimately, minimizing their exposure to losses. Warranty management organizations are using similar methods to detect fraud in an attempt to reduce their traditional losses in this area.

Digital marketing companies use related methods to create more targeted and effective lists for the products and services they are promoting to improve their overall effectiveness. Automotive companies use the same techniques to discover patterns of failures and corresponding information to incorporate into the proprietary knowledge bases that they distribute to their authorized dealers and licensed mechanics. Many more applications of a similar nature span across businesses and industry segments of all types under the banner “Let The Data Work for You”.

The analogy of database mining to quarry mining is very appropriate too. In ore mining the process goes through tons and tons of dirt in order to extract one precious gram of gold. Similarly, in database mining, one may also need to go through very large quantities of data just to get to the “one piece of information that makes it all worthwhile”.

However, it is typically at this point where traditional analytical methods and approaches have failed, and the businesses that have historically used them have pretty much “given up”. Going through a large “mine” of raw data only to transform it into a somewhat smaller pile of statistics or summary tables is of very little use and often quite discouraging, and questions like; “What do the data mean?”, “How can we make use of it?”, and “How does it relate to our bottom line?” are all hard to tell.

Traditional statistical methods make assumptions about the data used and require a model in the form of an hypothesis that one can then either accept or reject. Quite often the data do not conform with the assumptions and there is no model. In addition statistics excludes from its realm many forms of data that are quite common in the expression and representation of some of the phenomena that are around us. To overcome these drawbacks, the process of extracting knowledge from data has turned to machine learning techniques.

Machine learning techniques, developed under the umbrella of Artificial Intelligence (AI), were originally patterned after a unique human intelligence trait – the ability to acquire and create new knowledge. From this basis, new and highly sophisticated AI techniques have been developed using a broad array of disciplines and strategies, and reflecting various levels of success.

In later stages of research some of these techniques have been incorporated into a knowledge acquisition process which represents a critical step in the process of building and maintaining knowledge-based systems. Prior to the development of such a process, this was typically the area that represented the largest “bottleneck” in terms of actually having the capability of building and using knowledge-based systems in practical business applications. Moving from this point forward (i.e., to expanding the use of learning mechanisms to database mining knowledge discovery), the distance is very short.

Today, knowledge discovery tools and methods employ a broad range of technologies and methodologies. Neural networks are probably the best known and most widely used approach to machine learning. The technology is quite versatile, relatively mature and has been used very successfully in a broad array of applications ranging from the screening of credit card applications, to placing geographically-based advertisements in national magazines, to reading handwritten addresses and routing the mail. Other discovery methods are based on technologies such as information theory, fuzzy set theory, rough set theory, nearest neighbor metrics and others.

Finally, with respect to the question “Why knowledge discovery?”, the answer should be more apparent by now. Your organization may be sitting on a “goldmine” of data which could be converted into useful knowledge – knowledge that can be used to help you focus your strategic and marketing planning efforts; monitor and improve the quality of your production and service delivery processes; and explain your customers’ sensitivity to your competitive pricing structure, customer service performance, brand name recognition, advertising and promotional campaigns or anything else you would like to learn about the markets in which you operate.

Many organizations have already recognized the potential benefits of these new technology applications and are utilizing these tools to lead them to smarter, more efficient and more productive operations. The list of such companies is growing every day – and your organization should also leverage the knowledge to join them.

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Knowing What and How to Cross-Sell and Upsell

Every business has a portfolio of products and services that it markets, promotes, and sells to customers. In fact, most businesses make their product and service portfolio information available through a variety of means, including published product literature and general marketing collateral, service guides, company catalogs or brochures, and various other types of printed matter. In addition, most of the product and service information is also typically accessible viathe Internet through company and/or dealer Websites, trade association or other industry clearinghouse Websites, online commercial buyers guides and/or directories, and others.

However, even your own company’s brochures or Website may not be 100% complete – or completely up-to-date – with respect to the information it provides on its portfolio of products and services. In fact, in a competitive marketplace where new products and services are being introduced on a virtual daily basis, it is more than likely that some product and service information may be missing – and most likely, these will be the newest additions to the overall portfolio. Further, what the company may make available to the general marketplace, may not yet have landed on the desks – or the desktops – of your customers.

You can probably assume that most of your customers do not keep running tallies of the various advances that are being made to the products and services that have been using for some time. Nor do they typically keep brochures or copies of new product and service information in a readily-accessible file folder. Outside of your more sophisticated and organized accounts who monitor such things as the ongoing cost of utilization of their systems and equipment, or expected product life spans and/or life cycles, and build all of this information into their annual planning processes, it is a safe bet that most customers will not begin collecting information on new products or services until their older products stop working, or the existing service level agreements are no longer doing their jobs.

For this reason, your company will be depending largely on its field technicians to make sure that you are always current, up-to-date, and well-informed on the various types of products and services it offers. In fact, if they are doing their jobs properly, they should have a more current, comprehensive, and accurate “read” on the company’s products and services than any other single document, brochure, web site, or other piece of marketing collateral.

After all, the technicians are the ones who are out in the field every day dealing with dozens of customers and all types of equipment – small, large, new, old, and everything in-between. They have probably already attended all of the most relevant training classes, or have seen a demo, for all of the new types of equipment well before the market base has even learned of their existence. They have probably even installed some of the newer products for which your company may not yet have released a formal brochure or product spec through its typical customer, dealer and/or media channels.

As a result, who better than your field technicians to know what products are available, why they may be better in some business applications than some of the company’s historical products, and which of their accounts may benefit from adding some of these new products to their own installed base of equipment? The answer is, of course, nobody else does – certainly, nobody else who deals directly with the company’s customer base on a day-to-day basis.

The bad news is that they may never actually gain access to all of the company’s new product and service information on an automatic basis. There are just too many products and services to keep track of – both new and old, and too many individual sources of information that keep passing across their tablets, through texts, or via e-mail.

The good news, however, is that it should be relatively easy for them to keep their own tabs on what new products and services are becoming available, and immediately see opportunities for where it may be beneficial to make some suggestions to some of their accounts with respect to replacing older equipment, upgrading to higher-volume machines, or generally stepping up to a more efficient business system.

They should also already have a good understanding of what the specific needs and requirements of their customers are with respect to their existing products and services; and by keeping current with the new products and services that are continually being made available, they will find themselves in an excellent position to assist their customers in matching these new products and services to their evolving needs – or basically upselling them to a more efficient operating scenario.

When you think about it, upselling should be a lot easier than making the original sale. The rationale behind this is that in order to make an initial sale you’ve got to take non-customers, and convert them into customers by selling them something for the first time. However, in order to upsell, all you have to do is sell an existing customer an additional one of your company’s products or services. What makes this easier is that once a customer has already been “sold” on your company’s reputation, qualifications and capabilities, it does not have to be “re-sold” on the company before it makes a second, or third – or twentieth – purchase.

By the nature of the word itself, “upselling” is different than “cross-selling”. When you “cross-sell” a customer, you are typically selling them a companion piece of equipment or service to what they already have. For example, if one of your customers already has an extended warranty contract on one piece of installed equipment, but not on another, you may find it relatively easy to “cross-sell” them an extended warranty on the second unit as well. Or, if a customer is already receiving preventive maintenance support on two of their three units, you may be able to sell them a PM contract for their entire installed base. Basically, in these cases, “cross-selling” simply means selling the customer “more of the same”, or more variety for the same base of equipment.

However, upselling is more vertically-focused than cross-selling. By that, we mean that upselling goes beyond simply selling your customers “more of the same”, typically involving the sale of upgraded, enhanced, and/or upscaled products and services. For example, if a customer currently has three older units installed, but you believe that they can actually handle more throughput, at less expense, by upgrading to two of your company’s newer units, this could conceivably lead to an upselling opportunity. In addition, if one of your customers is repeatedly calling for service on a time and materials basis, this may represent a good opportunity to upsell them to an extended warranty service agreement instead.

The best way to decide whether a customer sales opportunity would be better represented as a “cross-sell” or upsell situation is to first determine what the specific customer needs are. In situations where a customer’s business systems and services needs are fairly static, and the existing equipment appears to be meeting most of their requirements on a regular basis, you may still be able to “cross-sell” them additional units, or certain add-on coverages to an existing service level agreement (i.e., more frequent PMs, remote diagnostics, extended hours of coverage, etc.) as a means for making them somewhat more productive in the way they utilize their equipment (and the company’s services).

However, for customers whose businesses are continually growing or expanding, whose needs are becoming much more demanding (i.e., using new technical applications, increasing throughput quotas or expanding the number of daily shifts, etc.), or who are continually outgrowing their existing installed base, perhaps these represent situations where upgrading to an entirely new suite of business systems, or moving to a much more all-inclusive extended warranty agreement, would be a more logical solution.

Sometimes a cross-sell solution is all that is required to keep the customer operating at full efficiency; however, in some cases, it will only be an upsell solution that takes the customer to where it needs to be in order to utilize its equipment at maximum, or optimal, efficiency. The better you understand your customer, the better prepared you will be to determine whether a cross-sell or upsell solution is required.

The Global Warranty Services Community Is Reflecting a Return to Growth – and Profitability!

[The following Blogpost is an edited version of the article originally published in the May 3, 2018 issue of Warranty Week (i.e., accessible at: http://www.warrantyweek.com/archive/ww20180503.html.) For more information on the “The State of Warranty Management in 2018 – and Beyond”, we invite you to register for our upcoming Webcast on Thursday, May 24, 2018. To register, simply click on the following Weblink: http://app.demand.ptc.com/e/es.aspx?s=2826&e=2100908&elqTrackId=c346145430f045a9a4a8ab0ad69df3d1&src=View_Online&elq=ec4b7ad031c5442e85dca16a47774a24&elqaid=29101&elqat=1.]

After conducting its fourth annual Warranty Chain Management Benchmark Survey, Strategies For Growth℠ president and principal consulting analyst, Bill Pollock, has put together a results package consisting of an Analysts Take paper and companion Webcast on the subject of “The Global Warranty Services Community Is Reflecting a Return to Growth – and Profitability”. The Webcast will be hosted by PTC iWarranty on May 24, 2018. PTC will also be making the companion Analysts Take paper available via download at the same time.

According to, Pollock, “The 2018 survey results reveal that nearly three-quarters (71%) of respondents believe effective warranty chain management to be at least ‘very important’ to the overall financial performance of the business, with just under a quarter (22%) believing it to be ‘extremely important.’ The results further reveal that this sense of importance continues to increase substantially, year-over-year, as one-quarter (25%) believe effective warranty chain management to be ‘more important than one year ago,’ compared to only 3% believing it to be ‘less important’ – a ratio of roughly 8:1 citing ‘more important’ over ‘less important’. As such, we know the segment is based on a sound foundation moving forward.”

Managing Extended Warranty Programs

Presently, 85% of respondent organizations manage at least some portions of their extended warranty programs in-house, including 78% that do so entirely. As such, it becomes incumbent to ensure that they have the most effective tools and resources available to maximize the impact that sales of extended warranties can bring to the bottom line. Metrics such as warranty accrual and warranty renewal rates become critical in their respective efforts to maximize projected revenue streams and build a stronger customer account portfolio over time.

The survey results also reveal that, presently, more than a third (36%) of respondent organizations expect their annual warranty budgets to increase over the next 12 months – with 20% expecting increases in excess of 10%! During the same period, only 17% expect decreases, with most (i.e., 14%) being of less than 10%. All told, the ratio of organizations expecting increases in their annual budgets is more than twice that of those expecting declines. 

Warranty Management Organizations Are First and Foremost, Customer-Focused

The respondents to the survey have also once again clearly identified the specific drivers that are pushing them to aspire to the attainment of higher levels of performance. In fact, they have provided responses that solidify that there are three main “clusters” of factors that drive their respective businesses: Customer-focused, Product Quality-focused and Revenue/Profit-focused – and in that order.

For example, among the Customer-focused drivers, post-sale customer satisfaction issues (58% – up from only 42% in 2017!), the desire to improve customer retention (42%) and customer demand for improved warranty services (35%) remain as the top three drivers with respect to optimizing overall service performance. No other drivers are cited by more than just over one-quarter (28%) of respondents.

The next “cluster” of drivers is Product Quality-focused, and is represented solely by dealing with inferior/deficient product quality at 28%. The third “cluster”, Revenue/Profit-focused, is comprised of two closely-related drivers: internal mandate to drive increased service revenues (26%) and internal mandate to improve service profitability (25%). As such, the warranty chain management community has made it clear that it is squarely focused on, first, satisfying – and retaining – its customers; second, dedicated to improving product quality-related issues; and third, mandated to drive increased warranty revenues – and profitability – through improved warranty management services – again, in that specific order.

These results signify a continuation of the relative “normalcy” that has characterized the Warranty Chain Management segment over the past several years – that is, a return to focusing on customers, rather than spending most of their time and resources wrestling with cost reductions and other financial issues. Obviously, while financial considerations are still critically important, the industry focus has shifted back, as it always does, squarely on the customer’s needs, requirements, preferences and expectations.

The Benefits Realized by Improving Warranty Management Activities Are Many

The number one benefit realized by warranty management organizations through the improvement of their respective activities is improved customer satisfaction (62%). No other single factor is cited by more than 38% of respondent organizations. The next greatest benefits cited by respondents include: reduced service and warranty costs (38%), enhanced product and service performance (35%), improved warranty operational efficiencies (33%) and improved customer retention (33%).

Based on the survey results, Pollock suggests that, “the top benefits realized by improving warranty management activities closely align with the key drivers that influence services organizations; namely, that they need to continue to place their principal focus squarely on the customer, with the end goal being to improve customer satisfaction and retention.”

Complacency with Their Current Warranty Management Solution

However, building upon the survey findings from previous years, a majority of warranty management solution users are notas duly impressed with the vendors that are currently providing these solutions. For example, Pollock claims that “only 40% of respondents are presently ‘satisfied’ with the services and solutions provided by their primary warranty management solution vendors – including a stunningly low 2%, or only one-out-of-50, who are ‘extremely satisfied’. These percentages reflect a further downtick from just one year earlier.”

Pollock believes that there are probably a number of reasons for why users are not particularly happy with their current WCM solution vendors: “In talking to a number of warranty chain managers over the past several months as part of our benchmarking program,” Pollock claims, “many have said they are unhappy with their current provider because their needs for this year and beyond are simply no longer being met by their existing warranty management solutions that may have been implemented a number of years earlier. Basically, their needs have raised the bar regarding what they now expect out of their solutions; but, in many cases, their vendors have not raised their own bars in terms of performance delivery.”

Madhu Kunam, director of software development at PTC for the iWarranty product, concurs with Pollock, but adds that, “Even with an implemented warranty management system, the “still manual” processes may make the overall system inefficient or unproductive.” He goes on to say, “Other reasons may include that the features and functions of the existing vendor-supplied solution do not work as advertised, due to a poorly implemented system, or one that has been constantly plagued with bugs.

“It may also be that the vendor-supplied solution simply doesn’t deliver the expected value, or that the vendor is either unable or unwilling to help with consulting or professional services support – or is not able to provide other types of customer-specific support. Then again, it might all just be about cost – although a solution structured for small and medium businesses and sold on a subscription pricing basis can certainly mitigate any problems in this area!”

However, these are only some of the potential problems that he believes PTC’s iWarranty solution can help its customers avoid. For example, Kunam explains that, “PTC’s warranty management approach defines, manages and analyzes all of the organization’s warranty processes from initial product registration through to the end of the standard or extended warranty period. This unique approach to warranty analytics and service lifecycle management focuses on a product-centric data model that allows users to manage warranty information and capture service history in the context of the product itself, thereby allowing this important data to provide feedback to the enterprise for continuous product and service improvement.

“In this way, no matter how high the customer raises the bar, or how customer-specific the solution needs to be, PTC stands ready to support its customers in all facets of their warranty operations. PTC believes that this is one of the key areas that can make a difference between a satisfied customer, and a dissatisfied one.”

On May 24, 2018, PTC will be hosting a complimentary hour-long webinar featuring the executive-level results of this survey, to be presented by Bill Pollock. It will also be making available the companion Analysts Take paper that provides further insights relating to the findings. To register for the Webcast, or to obtain a copy of the companion Analysts Take paper, simply click here: http://app.demand.ptc.com/e/es.aspx?s=2826&e=2100908&elqTrackId=c346145430f045a9a4a8ab0ad69df3d1&src=View_Online&elq=ec4b7ad031c5442e85dca16a47774a24&elqaid=29101&elqat=1.

The IoT Is Changing the Way in Which We Approach Field Service Management (FSM)

The impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on Field Service Management (FSM) has already been significant – and will continue to grow in magnitude over time. This applies to all services organizations, of all types and sizes, covering all world geographies, and supporting all product-service lines. Yes – it’s that pervasive!

This is especially true for organizations supporting certain vertical industry segments (e.g., aviation/aerospace, energy, factory automation, medical devices, etc.), and is beginning to have a similar impact on all other segments, even going beyond the traditional field service B2B segments, to now include many of the emerging B2C services segments, such as consumer/home medical devices, home security systems, HVAC/electrical and plumbing services, among others.

In fact, the pervasive use of Cloud-based platforms, coupled with the integration of IoT-powered FSM solutions, has expanded the relevant market size to a near-ubiquitous universe encompassing all types and sizes of solution providers, as well.

However, as we sit here and read about IoT-powered FSM solutions, the means with which the IoT is supporting these systems is constantly growing and evolving as well. Even more, if a services organization has not yet embraced and incorporated the IoT into its services operations, they are already a step or two behind the market leaders. For example, for any one of the organizations that are still examining the potential value of incorporating Augmented Reality (AR) into their services operations, there are many others that are already looking to implement Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) – and, increasingly, Blockchain!

The time is now for ramping up on all things IoT, reading IoT thought leadership articles, attending IoT conferences, viewing vendor demos, establishing “long lists” and reducing them to “short lists” for vendor consideration, etc. Gaining management buy-in is also a must – in fact, it is basically a must for all things services management anyway – but, especially with respect to the IoT and the “new” technology it brings to the table.

The most progressive – and aggressive – solution providers have already embarked on the road to an IoT-powered FSM or Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) solution scenario. As such, now is also the time for all other FSM solution providers to do so. Many of your competitors have already done so, and many of your customers (and prospects) are already at least somewhat familiar with what the IoT can ultimately do for them. When the global services management marketplace is more fully transformed (i.e., when the IoT is a ubiquitous factor in every organization’s services operations), your organization will also need to have made the transformation. If the market leaders are already several steps ahead of you, you cannot afford to fall further behind.

Proliferation in the use of Cloud-based and IoT-powered FSM solutions have also led to a major consolidation of the global competitive landscape. The “new” competitive landscape is now comprised of a combination of all types, sizes and categories of solution providers. Most (if not all) of the enterprise services providers are already offering FSM (or SLM) solutions (or, at the very least, “enhanced” Field Service Management solutions). They “get it”, and they’re doing something about it.

Over the past several years, we have also seen many of the large Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) companies (e.g., SAP, Oracle, etc.) acquire their FSM solution capabilities. For example, Oracle acquired TOA Technologies, IFS acquired Metrix, Microsoft acquired FieldOne, and so on. Some larger companies have also elected to go more organically, such as Salesforce by introducing its Field Service Lightning solution based on ClickSoftware technology. ClickSoftware went private again, but still is a strong competitor in the global FSM marketplace, while also licensing some of its software apps to other organizations.

For the most part, the mid-sized services organization market is only a step or two behind the enterprise services providers in terms of embracing and incorporating the IoT into their FSM and SLM solution offerings. Some are already on an equal footing with their larger competitors. However, where the most “confusion” and uncertainty lies is in the landscape populated by start-ups – and what, in some cases, I refer to as “upstarts”!

In addition to the ongoing spate of mergers, acquisitions and alliances, and organic development, there has also been a significant increase in the numbers of “new” entries into the FSM solution marketplace. In fact, probably more of this type of activity has occurred in this segment recently than in the past many years – or decades!

These “new” start-ups can essentially be divided into two main categories: (1) FSM Start-ups, that are trying earnestly to find a way to enter – and successfully penetrate – the FSM market, by leveraging new technologies, experienced leadership, deep (enough) pockets, investment capital and a bit of luck into a services growth segment where they believe they can actually make a difference.

However, it is the FSM Upstarts, that are basically trying to ride the Cloud-based, or SaaS, solution wave into a “new” market opportunity (for them), in order to make a quick buck when all they ultimately plan to do is to be acquired by a larger organization in another year or two. As such, it is truly a “buyer beware” market, as there are a great number of “new” upstart FSM solution providers that will not be around for very long.

Yes – the IoT is definitely changing the FSM marketplace – both rapidly and pervasively. You can blame it on the IoT for this rapid evolution (and disruption); however, you will also need to share some of the blame yourself if your organization is not keeping up with the advances in services management technology!

The Future of Field Service Management (FSM) – What Lies Ahead for an Industry that Is Constantly Evolving and Reinventing Itself

[The following is a first page excerpt from SFG℠‘s Analysts Take paper on “The Future of Field Service Management (FSM)” originally published this past July, 2017. Following the conclusion of our current, updated, survey research on the topics of Field Service, Service Parts Management and Warranty Management, we will be updating this document later in Q2, 2018. In the meantime, to download the entire original document, simply click on the Weblink provided at the bottom of this page.]

The global Field Service Management (FSM) segment has re-invented itself several times over the years, from break/fix, to network services, to software support and such. However, the introduction of the Internet of Things, or IoT, is going to have a much greater and profound impact on the global services community than anything else that has preceded it! In fact, it already is!

For years, services managers have been talking about ways in which to reduce the number of “truck rolls” in order to save money, and repair the customer’s equipment remotely – first, by phone, or assisted self-help; and, now, via remote diagnostics and predictive diagnostics.

Truck rolls are not necessarily a thing of the past; however, they have greatly diminished in frequency as a result of the integration of the predictive diagnostics, remote diagnostics and the IoT into Field Service Management (FSM) systems.

“Improvements in business analytics have also assisted field service managers in their ability to manage their entire business operations – and not just the field service aspects of the business.”

Improvements in business analytics have also assisted field service managers in their ability to manage their entire business operations – and not just the field service aspects of the business. There are more analytical tools available now than ever before, and most managers are actively engaging their dashboards, so they can intelligently manage their field service operations.

Through the use of Augmented Reality (AR) apps, now actively being combined with Virtual Reality (VR) to form a more complex and robust “Mixed Reality” (MR) capability, we are likely to see even more advances in the types of technologies that will ultimately reduce the cost of performing service – for both on-site and remote repairs – over time. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) immediately come to mind.

Also, with technology visionaries like Elon Musk, who started out with his Tesla automobile business, branching into solar panels and, of course, SpaceX, we are likely to see more and more technological advances coming down the pike. For example, Musk’s new venture, Neuralink, has set its goals on attaining the ability to “merge” the power of the human brain with the power of the IoT, in order to upload and download “human thoughts” onto chips, and vice versa.

Imagine the impact that new ventures like this will have on all aspects of business, not just in field services, if successful! All of a sudden, veteran field services technicians will become just as important as the influx of computer-savvy millennials with respect to their experiential value to the Field Service Organization (FSO). The process goes on and on, and field service management will continue to evolve over time, as a result.

[To download the entire Analysts Take paper on “The Future of Field Service Management (FSM)”, simply click on the following Weblink: The Future of FSM (Draft-17-06-29-01).]

Key Takeaways from SFG℠’s 2017 Warranty Chain Management (WCM) Benchmark Survey

[Strategies For Growth℠ (SFG℠) is currently in the process of conducting its 2018 Warranty Chain Management Benchmark Survey Update. The survey will remain “live” until the end of the first week of February; and the topline results will be presented – for the first time – at the 2018 Warranty Chain Management (WCM) Conference to be held, March 6 – 8, 2018, in San Diego, California.

Please feel free to read the key takeaways from our 2017 WCM Benchmark Survey, below. In the meantime, we invite you to take our 2018 WCM Benchmark Survey Update by clicking on the following link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2018_SFG-WCM]

The key takeaways from SFG℠’s 2017 Warranty Chain Management (WCM) Benchmark Survey are:

  • Roughly half (49%) of the warranty management community has either implemented a new, or upgraded their existing, warranty management solutions in the past three years or less
  • More than three-quarters (77%) of current warranty management processes are at least partially automated; however one-in-six (15%) are still entirely manual
  • Organizations with “new” warranty management implementations have realized significantly greater performance improvements than all other categories of respondents with respect to warranty claims processing time and supplier/vendor recovery (as a percent of total warranty expense)
  • Warranty management organizations are being driven, first, by Customer-focused factors; second, by Product Quality-focused factors; and third, by Cost/Revenue-focused factors
  • The most significant challenges currently faced by warranty services managers are identifying the root causes of product failures, followed by product quality issues and claims processing time and accuracy
  • Currently, as well as in the next 12 months, warranty services managers are focusing primarily on developing and/or improving their KPIs and warranty analytics programs, fostering a closer working collaboration between product design and service, and instituting/enforcing process workflow improvements for supplier cost recovery
  • The top uses of data/information collected from warranty-related events are basically to improve processes (i.e., field service, depot repair, parts returns, etc.), and effect changes (i.e., product design, manufacturing, etc.)
  • Customer satisfaction and warranty management-related costs are the top two categories of KPIs used by warranty services management organizations, followed by warranty costs, per product
  • The 2017 warranty management survey results reflect slight to modest declines in year-over-year performance, except for those organizations that have implemented a “new” (to them) warranty management solution in the last three years or less
  • While the overall survey results seemingly portray a fairly high level of warranty management performance across all respondent segments, there are many – in fact, too many – individual organizations that are not performing anywhere near as well (i.e., 25% to almost 50% of survey respondent organizations)

Historically, the primary factors cited as driving the warranty management community to improve its operational efficiencies and overall performance have essentially been customer-driven; that is, with a focus primarily on meeting – and exceeding – customer expectations for returns processing, claims processing time, replacement units and the like. However, the economic bust of the past decade changed the way warranty management organizations think by also placing increased emphasis on warranty costs and related issues. Still, the number one factor, overall, is to meet their obligations with respect to keeping their customers satisfied.

The bottom line for 2017 and beyond is that organizations that have implemented new (or at least upgraded) warranty management solutions are experiencing significantly better performance ratings for key metrics including warranty claims processing time, cost recovery from suppliers/vendors and, ultimately, both customer satisfaction and their respective financial KPIs.

There is no mistake – if your organization finds itself behind the curve with respect to (1) the automation of its existing warranty management processes (or lack thereof); (2) its ability to meet (if not exceed) its customers’ demands or requirements; (3) its ability to recover costs from its suppliers/vendors; or (4) dealing with the costs associated with running its warranty management operations; this gap will likely only get larger over time – unless it considers implementing a new warranty management solution. The 2017 survey results clearly show the impact that doing so will have on the organization – and its bottom line.

The leading warranty management organizations (i.e., those that have already attained, or are poised to attain best practices status) are doing so mainly by taking steps to:

  • Automate their existing manual or partially automated processes
  • Develop and/or improve the KPIs they use to measure their performance over time
  • Foster closer working collaboration between product design and service
  • Institute/enforce process workflow improvements for supplier recovery
  • Streamline overall operations
  • Streamline parts return processes to improve overall efficiency
  • Restructure for improved warranty management oversight and accountability
  • Purchase and/or upgrade to an fully automated warranty chain management solution

The survey results clearly show that the gains made in performance improvement among those organizations that have implemented a “new” warranty management solution in the past three years or less have been substantial, essentially making the case that the most effective means for driving performance improvements is via the automation and integration of all key warranty management functions, facilitated through the implementation of a state-of-the-art, warranty management solution.

[Don’t forget to take our 2018 Survey! https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2018_SFG-WCM]

Lessons Learned from WBR’s 2017 Field Service Fall Conference

FSM Is Taking a More Innovative and Progressive Approach to Meeting Evolving User Expectations

Introduction to Field Service Fall: Innovation. Progression. That’s Field Service!

There were a great many lessons to be learned about field service and customer support so far in 2017 due to a number of factors, including responses to multiple natural disasters (i.e., hurricanes, floods  and earthquakes); evolving patterns of customer needs, requirements and expectations (i.e., as a result of the introduction and proliferation of new technologies); a changing competitive landscape (e.g., the consolidation and/or acquisition of many of the “traditional” Field Service Management (FSM) solution providers, as well as the influx of many new start-ups); and so on.

That’s what’s makes the WBR 2017 Field Service Fall conference at Amelia Island, Florida, so important – especially as it immediately followed the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma only a couple of weeks earlier. Innovation and progress were certainly at the forefront of those services organizations proximate to Amelia Island (and Texas only a couple of weeks earlier) that were tasked to deal with the devastation that was brought forth.

General Conference Theme

First, as conference host, Sara Mueller, WBR’s Event Producer for the conference, stated in her opening remarks, that after speaking to a number of Field Service executives leading up to the event, most suggested that they were interested in learning more about what their peers were doing (or thinking of doing) with respect to dealing with major challenges and establishing priorities for moving forward.

To that end, Sara summarized the “Big Picture” that her executive interviews painted as consisting of the following four components:

  • Business Model Transformation – moving towards selling outcomes rather than selling a product;
  • Having the Right Field Force in Place – with the right information and tools at their fingertips;
  • Leveraging Digitalization and Connected Products – for better efficiency and service; and
  • Achieving Customer Satisfaction – and growth!

The main premise behind all of this “learning”, Sara said, could be summarized in a single quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” The next three days certainly bore out Franklin’s thoughts – all with clear examples and background provided.

However, there is always additional, or incremental, “learning” that can be attained by participating in events such as WBR’s Field Service Fall. The following is our “take” on the primary lessons learned over the course of the three day event.

Advancing Service Together

Before delving into specific topics relating to lessons learned from the conference, first, we believe it would be helpful to. Take a more broadly-defined look at what constitutes the basis of field service and customer support.

In his keynote presentation, Martin Knook, CEO at Gomocha, defined the components of “Advancing Service Together” as being based on the the responses to a series of questions, including:

  • What can I do for you today?
  • What can I do better this time?
  • What solution do you need tomorrow?
  • Do you have any pain points that you can share?
  • Are you happy with my product/service?
  • What else do you expect?

While admittedly, this list of questions is not complete, it at least establishes a base, or basis, for both the solution provider and the customer to begin the process of working together to a common end. “It’s not rocket science!”, Knook exclaimed. But it does begin the process of information exchange.

Knook also cited W. Edwards Deming, who said that, “Without data, you are just another person with an opinion.” However, data alone does not do the entire job – the data must, first be accurate and relevant, but it must then be converted into usable information and, ultimately actionable knowledge.

The challenges, according to Knook, are:

  • Servitization
  • Technology Capabilities
  • Existing Business Processes, Products and Services
  • Innovative Learning Organization

One of the greatest challenges is predicated on the fact that “only 18% of the companies interviewed have clear performance metrics in place.” This is also supported by Strategies For Growth’s (SFG’s) most recent survey data tree along that a similar percent do not currently even have a formal Key Performance Indicator (KPI) program in place.

However, these alarmingly low percentages may be somewhat offset by the fact that up to 62% of the organizations surveyed in SFG’s 2017 Field Service Benchmark Survey are currently establishing or enhancing their existing KPI programs to include more metrics measured, more sharing of data/information and the better application of those measurements into strengthening their ability to measure and improve existing levels of performance.

Denise Rundle, GM and Partner at Microsoft, took the discussion a bit further by discussing “Turning Customers into Raving Fans.” In her keynote presentation, she cited a quote from Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, who stated the company’s mission statement as, “Achieving our mission requires us to evolve our culture and it all starts with a growth mindset – a passion to learn and bring our best every day to make a bigger difference in the world.”

It’s all there: culture, passion to learn, bring our best, make a difference via the execution of our “growth mindset”. And, not the other way around!

  1. In order to execute on its mission, Microsoft has identified three breakthrough experiences that it believes will take it to the next level:
  2. Artificial Intelligence – the technology that will make the virtual agent more human and helps agents be more effective,
  3. Collaborative Delivery Model – based on the simple routing to groups of experts who solve cases collaboratively, and before and after sentiment to understand how  customers feel.
  4. Achieve More Conversations – through the application of machine learning, predictive analytics and targeting, and campaigns.

Rundle also spoke of the things that Microsoft has already begun implementing in these areas including: (1) extending conversations with customers by 30 seconds in order to “add real value to customers; (2) eliminate “painful routing” and “frustrating bounces” by channeling customer calls directly to “groups of collaborative product specialists” (i.e., rather than to a worldwide assortment of engineers, etc.): and (3) provide customers with an “end-to-end” user experience to create new opportunities to customers (as well as cross-sell and upsell opportunities to Microsoft).

Greatest Lessons Learned

Perhaps the greatest lessons learned from WBR’s 2017 Field Service Fall conference were focused in the following areas:

  • Digital Transformation
  • Connected Services / The Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Augmented Reality (AI) / Artificial Intelligence (AI) / Machine Learning (ML)
  • Outcome-Based Services
  • Dealing with a Changing Workforce / Leveraging a Contingent Workforce

[To download a complete copy of SFG℠‘s “Lessons Learned from WBR’s Field Service Fall ConferenceAnalysts Take report, please click on the following Weblink: @@@ 2017 Field Service Fall Analysts Take Report (17-10-16-01).]