Companion Piece to Field Service Experts Interview in the May, 2017 Issue of Field Service News

[This companion piece to the Field Service News May, 2017 issue focuses on the impact of the recent spate of events (i.e., mergers/acquisitions, strategic partnerships, new entries to the FSM competitive landscape, etc.) that appears to be transforming the global services industry. As is the case in the magazine’s multi-analysts interviews, most of these responses are not included in the published feature. As such, please consider this Blog as a more detailed companion piece that provides additional “between the lines” thoughts and opinions.]

Q1: Why do you think that Field Service Providers have recently become an attractive target for investment – is this indicative of the growing importance of field service to the wider economy?

The current spate of acquisitions of Field Service Providers is long overdue. In fact, it should have happened years ago! However, the acquiring organisations seemed to have other priorities in mind with respect to broadening and strengthening their existing offerings, and tailoring them to a more narrowing-defined market space.

For example, CRM vendors tended to focus more on expanding the functionality of their respective CRM platforms, while ERP vendors tended to do the same with theirs. Remember, there were days – way back when – when a Field Service Management (FSM) solution provided only the functionality required to run a services operation – but not a services business (i.e., no accounts payable/billable or accounting functionality; no reverse logistics; no human resources; etc.). In those days past, a services business would also need to acquire ancillary software packages (e.g., anyone remember Peachtree Software) in order to manage the entire services business.

However, it’s a bit different today. As more and more software providers expand their offerings to run the entire business, they now market themselves as offering a “new” type of platform for doing so.

In general, it will be those organisations that move into (or buy into) the field services arena – for all the right reasons – that are most likely to be successful. That is, if a field service functionality makes sense as a logical extension of their existing offerings, then they will be more likely to succeed. However, those that attempt to “ram their way” into what is already a fast-growing and vibrant market sector, some without even having a complete FSM offering, will find themselves “busted” in the eyes of their targeted market base.

Q2: The FSM solution space has seen huge innovation in recent years, is there a danger that with so much M&A activity this innovation will plateau, and if so is the technology now available suitable to empower field serve organisations to meet growing consumer demands?

Currently available technology, coupled with newer technology that always seems to be lurking “just around the corner”, is already sufficient to meet (and exceed) all of the FSO’s requirements for managing their field service operations – and then some! It’s already here!

As such, the global services market is not likely to experience a plateau in terms of recognition, adoption and/or deployment of these new technological advances anytime soon. In fact, as the proliferation of technology appears to be eclipsing adoption by the marketplace, there is no plateau in sight. There is still a “mountain of growth” ready to be conquered!

As such, this accelerating growth is likely to bring more FSM provider suitors to the forefront rather than less. For example, three or four years ago, how many field service managers thought that Microsoft would acquire itself into the fray? Many industry analysts missed the signs that Oracle was about to acquire TOA Technologies. However, with several major players already having acquired, licensed and/or organically entered the field services market, the question arises: Who will be next?

On the demand side, where has Apple been? What about SAP? What about any of the large, global, systems integrators? On the supply side, what, if anything, will ultimately happen with ClickSoftware? What about the “tried and true” historical vendors, like Astea? And what about all of those Venture Capital and investment firms that seem to be gobbling up one FSM vendor after another?

The technology is already here! Watch out for the impending approach of more acquiring organisations!

Q3: Finally, the comments from each of these acquisitions almost universally refer to FSM “platforms” and certainly there is a growing trend for Field Service Management tools to be part of a wider service platform solution. Do you think that ultimately we will see FSM become as integral to business systems as ERP and CRM?

The difference between an FSM solution and an FSM platform is that the former is essentially used to run the services operations, while the latter is used to run the entire business. As far as marketing and market positioning go, doesn’t “platform” sound more important than “solution”, anyway?

CRM-based solution providers have long touted their products as full “platforms” that may be used to run an entire business; ERP-based solution providers have essentially marketed their offerings in the same manner. By incorporating an FSM solution into their respective offerings, they can now all claim (and, probably, rightfully so) that their offerings represent a complete (or near-complete) platform upon which future services functionalities can be built – whether strictly in support of field service operations, or any other business activity.

However, it is not necessarily a “slam-dunk” that FSM will become as integral to business systems as ERP and CRM, as not all businesses have field service offerings – while all have (or should have) an ERP and/or ERP capability. Further, as remote and predictive diagnostics, powered by the Internet of Things (IoT) and Augmented Reality (AR), make further footholds in the general services arena, running a field service operation may become more important, while become less cumbersome to run (and, as such, more likely to be outsourced, possibly, to a third party).

For the time being, FSM will likely remain subservient, in most cases, to CRM and ERP – but will only become more important to those FSOs for whom FSM is basically the whole business to them.

[To access the published Field Service News feature, please visit their website at www.fieldservicenews.com.]

Building Your FSM Solution on an IoT-Powered and CRM-based Platform

[Excerpt from our upcoming Feature Article in the March/April 2017 issue of Field Technologies Online.]

According to Gartner, the “IoT is not one thing; it’s the integration of several things,” requiring “advanced integration skills and end-to-end thinking.” As such, Gartner makes it quite clear that the IoT, alone, does not make field service operations work. There are still many other aspects of Field Service Management that must be addressed – although the IoT, as it stands today, is eminently ready to serve as the foundation of the FSM platform.

However, to truly benefit from an IoT-based FSM solution, the organization must also meet some key requirements that reflect its readiness for utilizing the power of the IoT in a connected FSM application. It may also be argued that there could be no servitization without the IoT; and that there could be no complete FSM solution without its integration with a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform. Only in this way, could the FSM solution work together – in concert – with each of the other components of the CRM system to manage and run all aspects of the business itself – and not just its services operations.

[Watch for the complete article, including preliminary results from SFG‘s 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey, in the March/April 2017 issue of Field Technologies Online.]

The Evolution of Enterprise Field Service Operations

Enterprises Embracing On-Demand Workforce to Drive Growth in a Hyper-Responsive Service World

[Excerpted from the SFG℠ White Paper of the same name, sponsored by Work Market.]

Historically, Field Service Organizations (FSOs) within enterprises had a relatively easy time dealing with the staffing and management of their own field service workforce – basically, they recruited, hired, trained and placed their service technicians in strategic locations situated within a city, throughout the region, and across the country.

However, in the last several years, the field services market has grown ultra-competitive. Increasing customer expectations, pricing pressures and growing talent shortages mean enterprises are facing a perfect storm. They must find new ways to adapt in a rapidly evolving market or succumb to being left behind. And this is especially true for enterprises that are supporting a large installed base of equipment, comprised of a large variety of products, distributed in multiple geographic locations.

Historically, almost every major platform, device or piece of equipment had its own set of metrics, or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). It was by these KPIs that services organizations – and their field technicians – could track their performance over time to ensure that the customer’s equipment was always running as smoothly and efficiently as possible – and with as little downtime as possible.

Equipment performance was optimized, for the most part, by strict adherence to a periodic schedule of both routine and preventive maintenance. KPIs such as MTBF (i.e., Mean Time Between Failures) and MTTR (i.e., Mean Time To Repair) were the two most commonly used metrics in an age when equipment typically failed up to several times a year.

Fast forward to today. The field services landscape has changed quite dramatically – largely as a result of the introduction of new and improved technologies, an intensely demanding and volatile market economy, and an increased emphasis on technician skills, training and certifications. For these reasons, many enterprises and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) now find themselves either overwhelmed by the demands typically associated with the recruiting, training, on-boarding, managing – and paying for – their respective field service technicians. Others have decided to get out of the direct business of performing services themselves – even on their own equipment.

[Click here to read the entire white paper, compliments of Work Market, the company that provides an end-to-end Workforce Solution to help organizations manage their freelance workstream.]

[Click here to register for our July 29, 2015 Webcast on the same topic, also compliments of Work Market.]

The Internet of Things (IoT) Is Here to Bring Smarter Technologies to Your Organization!

 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is not a new “thing” in and of itself, but rather a pervasive resource that may be used to help run your company’s business. What it does is empower you to leverage all of the tools and resources that had previously been available to you; combine them with newer Web-enabled tools, technologies and resources; and help you manage your services organization in real time.

The explosion of practical – and affordable – Cloud technology has made the IoT even more important with respect to its ability to support all things service, mainly due to its ability to offer the same levels of support to any and all services organizations, regardless of type, size, vertical or geographic coverage.

In fact, the results from Strategies For Growth’s (SFG) 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey clearly show that the global business community is experiencing a “sea change” in the way services are being packaged, delivered, utilized, monitored and managed, and that services organizations prefer Cloud-based delivery by a margin of nearly three-to-one – and growing!

When you think about it, your company is in business for three main reasons: first, to Mobilize your products, services and acquired knowledge to, in turn, enable your customers to discover, select, use and share your products and services by providing relevant information, at just the right time.

Second, and possibly even more important in today’s world, is the ability to Transform the customer experience, i.e., to make it better by simplifying customer interactions and delivering better value and utility throughout the entire customer experience lifecycle.

And, third, relating directly to the bottom line, Monetizing the opportunities for growing revenue and profitability through meaningful metrics, like realizing higher revenue per customer by reducing churn, increasing repeat purchases, and growing incremental sales of related products and services.

However there are many other aspects to also consider within each of the components of Mobilize, Transform and Monetize; namely,

  • Offering customers an enhanced ability to effectively connect, engage and help them on a personalized basis, wherever they are, whatever they’re doing, and with the end result of delivering a personalized and optimized customer experience.
  • Personalizing and socializing every customer touch-point to delight customers by saving them time, money and effort; making customer engagement fun and rewarding, using proven gamification models such as points, leader boards, and badges; and increasing customer conversion, loyalty, referenceability and retention ratings through a customer-centric approach.
  • Up-selling, cross-selling and re-selling products and services utilizing the knowledge gained from capturing these customer insights; and realizing greater Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) for your existing customer base, while lowering the cost of customer acquisition via better customer ratings, reviews and advocacy.

This is where the IoT comes in – as the facilitator to the ability of the organization to connect, engage and help customers, resulting ultimately in a more effective way to acquire, delight and retain customers.

[Click here to read the entire article, compliments of m-ize, the company that directly connects customers and extended enterprise with brands, enabling easier access to products, knowledge, and services.]

It’s 2015 – Time to Revitalize Your Services Portfolio!

After a while, even the most innovative services offerings begin to lose some of their appeal, ultimately being perceived as commodity-like offerings, rather than as representing a differentiated portfolio. What was initially offered to the market as a specialized service, often without much competition, soon becomes just another service commodity positioned ineffectively among scores of increasingly competitive offerings.

Regardless of your organization’s market share or position, it is important to gauge exactly where your service portfolio stands at any given point in time with respect to the perceptions – and expectations – of your targeted market base. In most cases, it is the new, innovative upstart companies that are typically conducting the bulk of the market research and competitive intelligence prior to launching their new products and services, not necessarily the companies that are still selling their older commodity-like offerings.

However, there may still be a great deal of life left in the more mature business lines that comprise the majority of your company’s product or services portfolio. Even better, these lines tend to already be “tried and true” with respect to market acceptance, and may only need a gentle marketing or promotional “push” every once in awhile to stimulate additional market interest and sales. Even NASA uses a “mid-course correction” every now and then to ensure that the rocket gets to the proper destination!

There are many ways in which a business can determine exactly how much “kick” its services offerings still have in them, or, conversely, whether it is time to “kick” some of them out of the portfolio altogether and replace them with newer, more innovative and technologically-competitive lines.

The path recommended to evaluate the overall health of your present portfolio of services, is to conduct a strategic business assessment that focuses on:

  • An assessment of your customers’ – and the market’s – perceptions,
    needs, requirements, preferences and expectations with respect to your existing portfolio of services offerings.
  • The specific features and characteristics (e.g., attributes, benefits, value, cost, etc.) that currently define your services lines, and what it will likely take to “ramp them up” to the new and/or emerging market requirements (i.e., the Three R’s: Refine, Re-design and/or Re-package).
  • Customer/market perceptions and opinions regarding the current quality and performance of the services offered – both from your organization and its competitors.
  • A set of recommended improvements to your existing portfolio in order to better position it against the competition, and to maximize both sales potential and ongoing customer satisfaction.

The assessment and evaluation of the findings from such a study would be extremely useful in terms of providing your company management with the strategic, marketing and promotional tools it needs to:

  • Identify the basic customer/market needs, requirements, preferences and perceptions that can be used to assess and “fine tune” the overall strategic market positioning of the organization’s existing service lines.
  • Ensure that the company is effectively marketing the right services; to the right market segments; by communicating the right marketing, branding, and promotional messages; all through the right media.
  • Modify and enhance existing product/service lines to address the highest levels of customer and market demands.
  • Develop new products and/or services to address the emerging needs and requirements of both the existing and prospective customer bases.
  • Identify and cultivate the most attractive target markets based on identified patterns of customer decision-making and purchase behaviors, and product preferences and perceptions.
  • Strengthen the company’s overall product/service awareness and image, advertising and promotion, and sales activities through the execution of the recommended refinements, enhancements and/or modifications based on the study findings.

While your present business lines are probably the key factors that helped
your company grow to its current size and market position, they may have become “dusty” over the years and may now be in need of a good “dusting off” – or even, retirement.

Putting a “cash cow” off to pasture before it is time can cost your company a great deal of money in terms of lost potential. However, keeping it on once its gone “dry” may cost you even more in the long run in terms of giving your company a perceived market image as being less than innovative, or no longer offering anything more than commodity-like products and services.

Assessing where your product and services portfolio currently stand in terms
of market perceptions, and your ability to meet the market’s – and your customers’ – changing and evolving needs, will allow you to determine just how much “dust” has collected on your existing offerings – as well as what you will need to “dust off” in order to compete more effectively.

Running a Global Services Organization

Globalization is becoming the norm in the services industry. A market once content with relying on a local, regional – or even national – services organization is increasingly becoming even more reliant on a global support infrastructure. Continuing advances in technology and the proliferation of cloud-based Services Lifecycle Management (SLM) solutions have empowered even the smallest of services organizations with new and expanding possibilities to improve their global service and support operations.

For example, as a result of this trend, we have seen a growing customer demand for global service agreements that result in uniformity in the delivery of service to customers all around the world. In many cases, the unique local or regional service and support needs are rapidly disappearing for many customers who no longer wish to deal with local organizations anymore but, instead, are looking for consistency in global service and support performance, as well as (relative) uniformity in pricing across regional territories based on single contract negotiation.

Customer requirements for service and support will never be the same from one country to another, any more than they will be the same from one customer to another. However, one thing remains very clear – the requirements for service are becoming increasingly standardized on a global basis. A growing number of businesses are going global each year in terms of sales, marketing and services capabilities, supported not only by the proliferation of new Internet-based tools and multinational strategic partnering, but also by the increasing demand for global services and support as evidenced by the market as a whole. However, there are many key functions that will need to be consolidated into a global organization.

Another factor supporting the movement toward globalization is the ability to improve internal efficiency. In a typical decentralized organization, many functions are duplicated and performed independent from each other, which leads to increased communication efforts and differing ways of operating. We have seen organizations where product support documentation was developed by at least three different regional organizations, in some cases, providing conflicting information. For these organizations, operating on a more uniform basis would serve to both improve efficiency dramatically and, at the same time, provide a higher level of consistency in the way in which certain activities are performed. Through improved information and communication technology, new opportunities are also being created that allow services organizations to perform certain business functions more efficiently at a global level, while maintaining local control over their individual market segments.

A third factor supporting the case for globalization is the ability to reduce costs while maintaining or improving service level. The greatest area of opportunity involves the logistics operations where local policies have historically resulted in high investments in inventory, especially for slow moving items. Based on what we have seen in the industry, it makes sense to elevate certain of these functions to a global level in an effort to:

  • Meet customer requirements
  • Increase efficiency
  • Improve consistency

The details of each of these functions obviously will vary by company, but the basic functions do exist in virtually all of the companies in the services sector.

There are many functions that may be offered on a global basis

The best way to determine which functions can be offered on a global basis is to evaluate them from both an efficiency and consistency point of view. However, this does not mean that all tasks must be performed at a global level. Dependent on the individual situation, certain tasks may still be outsourced, or executed at the regional level. A good example is training, where the overall structure of the training programs and material should be consistent all around the world, although the courses can be fine-tuned and provided at regional or local training centers to reduce travel cost. Still, there will likely be increasing pressure on services providers to ramp up to their customers’ increasing global needs by offering a full range of global service and support solutions.

Among the principal functions that may be offered on a global basis are:

Business Development

The Service and Support function is critical for all businesses and has to be an integral part of the overall business strategy. For this reason, it is important to be actively involved in the planning activities that result in the development of a Service and Support Business Development Plan that addresses:

  • Service and Support product portfolio
  • Global marketing plans
  • Global Customer Care and Sales

This business function is most critical at the global level because it ties everything together and establishes a framework for setting the goals and objectives for the other parts of the organization.

Product Management

The Product Management function is also critical at the global level. Historically this function has been highly technology-oriented, and tied very closely both to the business’ development and manufacturing environment as well as its regional and local operations. With the implementation of global systems, this function can now be most efficiently managed at the global level. The function includes tasks such as:

  • Lifecycle management
  • Product documentation
  • Product analysis
  • Sustaining engineering

As stated earlier, the information and communications systems presently available allow for a faster and more reliable information flow to be managed at a central point, thereby requiring the need for only minimal additional investments in research and communications tools to support a global operation.

Logistics

The Logistics function probably represents the greatest opportunity from a cost reduction point of view. Historically each segment of the organization was responsible for its own planning and execution, which generally led to the implementation of multiple independent logistics systems requiring additional safety stock and a huge risk for obsolescence. Based on our consulting experiences, and supported by information culled from our ongoing surveys, creating a Global Logistics System, supported by the right automation systems, commonly reduces the inventory requirement by 20% – 30% without jeopardizing customer service levels.

At the same time, the risk for obsolescence is reduced which also creates additional cash for a company on the basis of lower reserves kept in the books. Dependent on the situation, most of the specific operational aspects of the logistics function may be outsourced to logistics service providers, which ultimately changes the focus of this function from one of execution to basically one of managing the function. At a global level, the Logistics function should include, at the very least:

  • Forecasting and inventory planning
  • Procurement
  • Repair management
  • Inventory control
  • Vendor management

The benefits of a global operation are obvious through the elimination of safety stock at all levels, automatic replenishment based on planning and forecasting, alliances with global parts and services vendors, etc.

Training

Training also needs to be consistent on a global basis. However, the development of good training programs and tools requires specific knowledge in addition to product knowledge. For this reason, it is most efficient to develop training programs at a global level, which will allow for specialization where required, and will improve the overall quality of the individual courses and material. This would encompass:

  • Customer training, and train-the-trainer
  • Technical and Partner training
  • Licensing (if services are outsourced to other companies)

Newer developments in training techniques via distance learning and the Internet are just an extra motivation to centralize this function at a global level.

Field Service

The Field Service function should also be managed on a regional or local level. The principal reasons are that labor restrictions and language barriers are still important geo-centric issues. The challenge is to determine what the appropriate service level should be from a management and support perspective (i.e., second/third line support).

In most situations a hybrid model may be developed where first-line support is provided at the local level, while second- and third-line support are concentrated at the regional or global level. Dependent on the specific type of business, the availability of new technology and expanding Internet capabilities may offer opportunities to increase operational efficiency in an environment where the location of the actual support person becomes less important.

Customer Support

The Customer Support function is a front-line function that is very dependent on the regional and local situation. Similar to the field service function, the level of centralization will be dependent on the local situation and culture. It remains important, however, to link all of these functions together via centralized automation systems and rolling out the appropriate communication systems to allow for local optimization.

Regional and local functions must also be carefully integrated


Because of key factors such as cultural differences, language barriers and the importance of a local presence, certain functions may still be best performed on a regional or local level. Although the trend is typically geared more toward the centralization of certain functions at a regional level (e.g., Pan-European, ASEAN) some cultures still require a local presence to do business. The challenge is to determine which front-line functions are absolutely necessary at the local level, and which can be combined at a higher geographic level.

Although some customers will do business on a global basis, the majority of sales will still occur at the local level, dependent on the culture of the region or country. Some markets might even have local requirements that point to a local sales function. However, all local sales functions supporting the business’ service and support products should be in line with the company’s global programs.

How does your organization get there?

Looking at each of these business functions and determining which can more effectively and efficiently performed at a global level is easy – you simply take a step back and apply some common sense, and the conclusion is almost the same for every business. However, in most cases, managers have to deal with an existing organization that has historically grown to where it is now operating on a non-global basis, and the change to a global environment is likely to greatly impact both the organizational structure, and all of the people in the organization.

In addition to these more tangible effects, there will also usually be many underlying issues that have to do with other, harder-to-define issues, such as philosophical and geo-political factors, changing roles and responsibilities, new reporting structures, etc. To address these issues, a careful approach will be necessary, and it might take some time.

The transition from a regionalized to a globally-managed operation is not easy. There will be a great deal of roadblocks that require attention, and the sensitivity of certain solutions will require a well-crafted and thought-out approach. For this reason it is generally helpful to seek assistance and support from an external party to manage the overall effort and ensure the development of the most appropriate global business model.

Are You Successfully Managing Your Customer Relationships?

Most service technicians have at least a fair understanding of who their customers are, and what kinds of relationships the business has with them. However, even the “good” technicians are often deficient in their full understanding of exactly how to manage those relationships. (Remember – these are the three key elements of CRM: customers, relationships, and management.)

In some cases, it may be that the technician has the basic understanding – but not the tools – to fully manage his or her customer relationships. In other cases, the technician may have neither the tools, nor the understanding, to make it work. Of course, the latter is the worse of the two scenarios, although in either case, it is abundantly clear that without proper management (i.e., M), there can be no “real” relationships (i.e., R) and, ultimately, there will be no customers (i.e., and C)! There is no question about it -–  services organizations cannot afford to let management be the weak link in their customer relationships – and neither can you.

Managing your customer relationships is comparable to managing any other aspect of your business – with the one main difference being that successful execution will be a critical component of your overall performance evaluation. If you do not manage your customer relationships effectively, you will still have your customers to deal with on a day-to-day basis, and you will definitely have relationships with them – although they may be bad ones, or ones that will ultimately make your own day-to-day job that much more difficult to handle. This is why every service technician out in the field needs to pay a considerable amount of attention to the management of their customers – to foster the most optimum relationships possible with them, thereby making everybody’s job that much easier.

We have seen many organizations implement a CRM software package from a major CRM vendor and think that they now have everything in place to effectively manage their customers. However, many of them have yet to see the desired return on their investment because the CRM solution will only work if it is integrated into all aspects of the business – particularly those areas that directly “touch” the customers, such as field service and technical support.

To improve your own chances for success, and to be able to manage your own customers better, you will first need to:

  • Start with a solid customer-focused CRM philosophy;
  • Translate this philosophy into reasonable and achievable goals and objectives for success;
  • Understand the processes and tools that you have available;
  • Become aware of the data and information resources available to you; and
  • Prepare yourself to utilize all of the resources that your company’s organization and infrastructure provides.

You will also need to be able to measure and monitor your performance over time to ensure that you are continually meeting your goals.

Let me explain further.

CRM Philosophy

The impact of technology, the “real-time” accessibility of data and information directly off of the Internet; and instant access to e-mails, texts, tweets and cell phone calls; has given all of us the tools we need to manage our customer relationships much more quickly and efficiently than ever before. But these tools will only work for us if we use them to a dedicated purpose – and use them effectively.

Ultimately, everything we do, we do for our customers. Given that we already have a good understanding of their specific services and needs requirements, we should just naturally attune ourselves to provide them with any of the information they need as quickly as we receive it ourselves. We already know what they want; now it is time to deliver it as quickly and completely as possible. They expect it from us, and they will settle for nothing less. We have the tools and empowerment to support them completely, and the philosophy of CRM demands that we do so.

Goals and Objectives

The next step is to translate your personal understanding of the CRM philosophy into specific goals and objectives for the way in which you would like to manage your customer relationships. At the individual level, you may wish to set your own CRM goals and objectives for key things such as:

  • Communicating with your customers better – and more frequently (i.e., utilizing the LOTS approach as much as possible);
  • Providing those customers who require more detailed information with the level of detail they require;
  • Following-up quicker, particularly for specific customers and/or problems that require immediate attention or quick resolution;
  • Taking better notes to ensure that you never walk into a customer site either unprepared, or uninformed;
  • Taking advantage of all of the internal company tools and resources available (i.e., company memoranda, e-mails, newsletters, customer/equipment databases, documentation, etc.);
  • Taking additional technical and/or customer service training courses to improve your existing skill sets; and
  • Taking whatever steps are necessary to improve your ability to get your job done, and manage your customer relationships better.

Processes and Tools

In most situations, your company will already have a defined set of business processes and tools readily available for your use. These may include anything from the more traditional resources (e.g., product documentation, hardware specs, repair guidelines, on-site policies and procedures, etc.), to the availability of more sophisticated real-time customer and installed equipment databases, Web-based technical support, and the like. Use these resources as a matter of course; they have been designed to help you, and they will – if you use them.

Data and Information

Information is the key to successful CRM, and is also crucial for the ultimate success of your own customer service performance. Just remember, the majority of the data and information your company makes available to you will essentially be “global” in nature, and may not be as customer-specific as you would probably like. This is why it is so important to collect your own customer data and information on a regular basis, to augment what you already receive from the company. Again, this does not have to be a formal database – just an aggregation of important notes, comments, and observations that will ultimately help you to understand your customers better, and improve your ability to provide them with the best technical support and customer service possible.

Organization and Infrastructure

Whether the company you work for is large or small, it is probably fairly well organized and comprised of a formal infrastructure designed to support you and your peers out in the field. Take advantage of this infrastructure by getting to know all of the resources that are available, how you may gain easy access to them, and how you may use them to support your customers. This may require attending internal company seminars or workshops, or simply asking questions of your supervisors or managers with respect to what resources they feel would be of value to you.

Also, make sure you’ve read all of the internal memoranda and e-mails you receive so you can be continually updated on any internal changes that may ultimately impact you and your customers. The more lead time you have with respect to any impending changes, the easier it will be to deal with them at the customer level.

Monitoring and Tracking

Last, but not least, the key to your own success in implementing your CRM philosophy will be your ability to monitor and track your own performance over time – you cannot manage it, if you don’t measure it! This is why it is so important to set specific goals and objectives in advance. For example, one goal might be to reduce the number of complaints your manager receives each month from customers regarding your on-site performance; or increase the number of monthly commendations you receive. Another goal might be to work toward responding to all customer inquiries within 24 hours rather than in two days or more. There are many other goals that you can set as well, based on your own personal experience in the field; but, whatever the goals, make sure that you can measure, monitor, and track them over time to see whether you are truly making any improvements.

All of the efforts you put into managing your customer relationships better will ultimately bear fruit if you are sincere – and serious – about succeeding. You will be amazed at how much valuable information you can obtain directly from the input and feedback you receive from your customers if you build the proper two-way communications channels between you and them.

CRM does not need to be a complex exercise. It is not “rocket science” – it is just managing the relationships you already have with your customers better. Sometimes you will need to go “outside the box” to find all of the tools and resources that will make it work, and you will almost always need some outside help to get started, or to take your understanding of CRM to the next level.

CRM is not just for the mild-mannered, nor is it strictly for the progressive over-achievers. It is for every employee that deals with customers – and within your own organization, this will probably apply to you most of all.