Companion Piece to Bill Pollock’s Field Service Experts Interview, Posted by Mobile Reach

[This companion piece to the Field Service Experts interview series posted by www.MobileReach.com focuses on “The Future of Field Service Management”. As is generally the case with interview pieces, most of the 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.]

Questions for Bill Pollock:

Q1: You’ve seen field service evolve over the years in your various roles. In what ways is field service management changing now? 

BP: I’ve seen the Field Service segment evolve 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 a “truck roll” 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 even 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 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. 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 technology that will ultimately reduce the cost of performing service – for both on-site and remote repairs – over time.

Also, with technology visionaries like Elon Musk, who started out with his Tesla 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, 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.

Q2: What are the strategic opportunities you’re seeing for field service organizations?

BP: The greatest strategic opportunities for FSOs will be to gain additional efficiencies as they use the IoT to power their field service operations. Of course, the converse is equally true, in that those FSOs that do not step up to the challenge will ultimately find themselves falling further and further behind the technology curve, their customers’ expectations for quality of service delivery, and their ability to compete head-to-head against not only the market leaders, but any small, medium or enterprise-sized services organization that has already embraced the new technologies.

There may still be a “wait and see” attitude toward AR, VR and MR at this time, as no single solution provider has come out with an industry-leading solution just yet. Anyone remember the decision as to whether to go with the Sony BetaMax or VHS? For many organizations, it’s the videotape wars all over again!

However, regardless of the organization’s size, vertical industry segment or geographic coverage, there are ample opportunities for ALL services organizations to take advantage of the IoT and Cloud-based FSM solutions to take their operations to the next level.

From our most recent Field Service Management Benchmark Survey Update, conducted in December/January 2017, we find that the top two drivers influencing the global services community, as cited by a majority of respondents, are (1) customer demand for quicker response time, and (2) need to improve workforce utilization and productivity. The question arises, then, “How can the services organization adequately address these two key issues without the strategic advantage of an IoT-powered FSM solution? ”The answer, of course, is increasingly. “It can’t!”

Other strategic opportunities can also come through strategic partnering with complementary technology solution providers. PTC is doing this with ServiceMax, and their respective relationships with GE Digital (ServiceMax’s parent company); and many smaller FSOs are involved in supporting partnerships with either Microsoft, for its CRM capabilities, and/or Salesforce, for its sales and marketing management tools; etc. Customers want what they want, and in most cases, they don’t care whether their primary FSM solution vendor is offering its services directly or indirectly through strategic partnerships. In fact, many customers like the fact that their FSM vendor is linked in some way to GE Digital, Microsoft, Salesforce or other industry giants.

Q3: What features in field service platforms are critical now and what will be necessary in the future?

BP: For many FSOs, a standard scheduling functionality is simply not doing the job anymore, and many have set their sights on solution providers that can offer optimized scheduling, etc. The same applies to standard business analytics vs. advanced analytics, as well as for the various components of spare parts and inventory management. In fact, what used to be “passable” in the past, now looks a little bit “dusty” and, as such, some FSOs have elected to move forward with more robust functionalities made possible through the integration of the IoT into their FSM systems.

Nowadays, legacy platforms may not be able to accommodate such new technology apps as AR, VR and MR, and, as a result, newer platforms need to be implemented to power these new capabilities. The same goes for implementing predictive diagnostics and remote diagnostics capabilities for most FSOs.

Mobility is also important, particularly with respect to real-time data collection, sharing and transmission to relevant parties within the organization. Can the organization’s existing platform handle all of these new technologies? Probably not! Therefore, newer platforms will need to be implemented, and they will need to be pretty much state-of-the-art.

Q4: What role do you see the Internet of Things playing in field service management?

BP: The Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming an integral component of ANY FSO’s desire to be able to improve its services processes, streamline its services processes, collect and share business analytic data, and serve the customer better. It’s already here!

FSOs will be greatly behind the technology curve if they do not have existing IoT-powered FSM capabilities – or at least a primary FSM solution provider that does. The IoT is quickly becoming the chief differentiator that divides those FSOs that can meet the challenges of the present, let alone the future; from those that cannot.

Without the IoT, there can be no predictive diagnostics; there could be no AR, VR or MR; there could be no chance of being able to compete directly against those FSO who do have these capabilities. Just as Cloud-based FSM solutions normalized the playing field across all services industry segments, the IoT is now doing the same – but on steroids!

In the past, falling behind the technological curve still gave the FSO an opportunity to catch up in another year or so. However, there is not that much time available for catching up anymore. Falling behind for just a few months may represent too much of a gap to make up.

The IoT allows all FSOs to keep pace with the market leaders, regardless of their size, reach or reputation, etc.

Q5: How are mobile technologies changing the way field service organizations interact with and serve customers?

BP: Mobile technologies are, of course, also of critical importance to FSOs. Without a full complement of mobility, it would be as if you’ve got all this technology “hidden” in your office, but you can’t share the benefits with your field force or customers. This is particularly true with respect to customer engagement activities and business analytics.

For example, competitors may already have the capability to generate customer contracts, invoices and other types of paperwork right at the customer site. They can obtain a customer’s signature immediately and, by doing so, eliminate much of the “float” that has been historically associated with paper-based forms management and USPS “snail” mail, etc.

Mobile technologies can also make an FSO’s business analytics capabilities much more vibrant. What good does it do to collect real-time data if you can’t share it in real time? In other words, a full-bodied mobility platform can improve any FSOs “velocity of service” by shaving off days, if not weeks, of delays and potential paper-based mistakes, etc.

Having the IoT generate data in real time, but not getting relevant data and information out to the field in real time, is a big mistake. The combination of the IoT and mobility can help FSOs avoid this opportunity cost.

Q6: How are you seeing field service organizations use mobile technologies to drive revenue and maintain a competitive advantage?

BP: The float issue is only one small component of how mobile technologies can assist in driving revenue and maintaining a competitive advantage. There are many others, as well.

However, it is important to note that, if all you’re doing is automating bad processes, then you’ll only be doing all of the wrong things faster – but not better! That’s why it’s so important to use the tools of a Cloud-based FSM solution, powered by the IoT, to improve your processes first; empower your field techs with real-time data, information and analytics; empower your customers through customer portals and self-help platforms; and generally perform all of your services activities better. Then, you can see additional benefits by doing it all faster – that is, through the functionalities of the IoT, etc.

By doing so, customers will recognize the improvements you have made and, therefore, will be more reliant on the organization for future services needs and requirements, upsells and cross-sells, etc. This will have the combined impact of reducing the cost of customer acquisition, while simultaneously increasing the existing revenue stream. Then, increases in customer satisfaction metrics can be used to promote the organization’s competitive advantage, which can also benefit from the fruits of social media coverage and word of mouth. But, it all starts with making improvements to the processes!

Q7: How can field service organizations better capitalize on sales opportunities?

BP: One area where many services organizations do not do a good enough job is in the area of contract and warranty management. It’s so simple; but it’s not “sexy” or “glitzy” enough.

However, by using an FSM solution that has a contract management and warranty management capability built into it, or by finding a reputable warranty management solution provider, an FSO can focus directly on contract attachments, contract renewals and contract management, all of which can contribute to generating not only an increased revenue stream, but one that is also a more predictable revenue stream.

The increased use of business and customer analytics can also provide the organization with increased insight into which customers may require expanded services agreement based on anything from surpassing their throughput limits for existing equipment, repetitive failures for the same problems; or to make adjustments for an expansion of the business, a recent acquisition or merger, or the increase in the number of daily shifts using the equipment; etc.  This is something that the organization’s field techs can recognize either through the customer analytics they have access to, or simply by being at the customer site on a recurring basis.

Many FSOs also do not have the expertise for upselling and/or cross-selling their existing customers. This is a critical component for any business – not just for field services. If you do not already have these capabilities, you may need a new, highly-trained salesperson, or a process for ensuring that no sales opportunity goes unrecognized.

Q8: How is the broader economy affecting field service management?

BP: The broader economy affects businesses of all types, including field services. However, field services has one thing going for it that many other industry segments don’t (i.e., particularly manufacturing and product sales) – that is, while not necessary recession-proof, businesses will always need their systems, equipment and devices to be up and running for the duration – in many cases, in spite of what it may cost to do so.

Even at reduced capacity, factories will need their production lines to continue to operate; hospitals will need their medical devices to be readily available; banks will need their transaction-related systems to run continuously; and so on. However, Business-to-Consumer, or B2C-focused services organizations may feel the full brunt of any economic downturn, as a majority of consumers may opt to wait until they can afford to have their home electronics serviced until they can better afford to pay for those services.

A broadly robust economy can stimulate increased product sales, which in turn, can stimulate increased services opportunities; conversely, a poor economy can dampen everything – including the field services segment.

However, the sign of a truly progressive services organization is one that has already taken into account the effects of a weakened economy and planned on how to best deal with a temporarily reduced workforce (through the use of a Freelance Management System, or FMS, solution); temporarily diminished service call activity; or the like. If these types of economic-influenced events occur, those FSOs that have already taken measures to address these temporary downturns can more effectively “roll with the punches”.

Q9: How is the role of Chief Service Officer evolving?

BP: The role of the Chief Service Officer (CSO) has already evolved significantly over the past several years. In many cases, today’s (and tomorrow’s) CSO must also be a Chief Data Officer (CDO) willing and able to manage the data and business analytics that drive the operations of the services business.

He or she must also be a Chief Customer Officer (CCO), once again, willing and able to interface with the customer directly when customer problems need to be escalated. As you can imagine, the role of the CSO can also be expanded to be the Chief Operations Officer (COO), Chief Business Development Officer (CBDO), Chief Social Media Officer (CSMO) and …, well, you get my gist!

The days of simply managing a staff of dispatchers, field technicians and administrative assistants are long over. From this point forward, all CSOs must also be accomplished and experienced in a much larger variety of customer-facing, analytics, business development, sales, marketing and social media functions.

Q10: What are the top three KPIs that you recommend FSM organizations focus on? How might those KPIs change five years from now?

BP:  Basically, the rule of thumb is that you should be measuring all of the metrics that focus on areas where you are underperforming, or have recognized (or suspected) problems in service delivery. For example, if your customer satisfaction ratings are lower than desired, then you will need to measure and track customer satisfaction ratings; if your on-site response time is deficient, then you will need to measure things such as on-site response, providing an Estimated Time for Arrival (ETA); etc.

There are also several Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, that a majority of  FSOs measure, based on the results of our 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey. For example, the top KPIs currently being measured by a majority of FSOs are:

  • (73%) Customer Satisfaction
  • (62%) Total Service revenue
  • (61%) Total Service Cost
  • (53%) Field Technician Utilization
  • (50%) On-site Response Time
  • (49%) First Time Fix Rate

However, it should also be noted that a majority of Best Practices FSOs (i.e., those that are attaining both 90%+ Customer Satisfaction and 30%+ Services Profitability) typically measure twice as many KPIs as the average FSOs.

Five years from now – actually, even sooner – there will also be an entirely “new” way of collecting data and reporting KPIs as a result of remote diagnostics, Augmented Reality and the growing influence of the IoT. It will be analogous to keeping two sets of books – that is, one set of KPIs, like Mean Time to Repair (MTTR), Elapsed Time from Problem Identification to Correction, etc., for the way service has historically been performed (i.e., having a field tech dispatched on site), vs. the “new” way via remote diagnostics and repair. Combining the two will not make sense, and will need to be measured, monitored and tracked separately.

[To access the published Mobile Reach feature, please visit their website at http://info.mobilereach.com/blog/field-service-expert-interview-bill-pollock.]

Market Outlook: The Impact of the Convergence of Field Service and the Internet of Things

[Excerpt from our upcoming Feature Article in the April 2017 issue of Field Service News.]

There have been myriad times in recent years when a new technology seems to control the conversation in the business world – and, particularly, in the services sector. And, field service is typically one of the first areas where customers and users catch their first glimpse and initial understanding of what each of these “new” technologies can do for the industry. However, it usually takes a while longer before they truly understand what these new technologies can do specifically for their respective organisations.

Many of these new technologies enter the mainstream of the business world – and the global services community – after some initial fanfare, trade press, blogs, tweets and white papers, etc. However, most of them will actually take years to be fully accepted and deployed via a more staggered and drawn-out basis over a lengthy period of time. For example, 10 to 15 years ago, RFIDs were all the rage, with seemingly every article and white paper talking about the potential use of RFIDs for everything from tracking parts shipments, to identifying personal items that consumers send to the dry cleaner for laundering.

The evolution of RFIDs, however, was fairly steady to the point of almost being modestly linear over the next decade and a half. But, fast forward to 2017, and Tesla Inc. founder and CEO, Elon Musk, has recently announced the formation a new company, Neuralink Corp., which The Wall Street Journal describes as a “medical research” company that plans to build technology “through which computers could merge with human brains”, essentially using embedded chips to upload and download thoughts directly from humans. In less than a couple of decades, RFIDs went from the “talk of the town”; to a backdrop of steady (albeit non-glitzy) market adoption and deployment; to a virtual science fiction-like catalyst between the technology of today and the advanced future.

That is why the introduction and accelerating proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT) in field service is such a big deal. Because, as most industry analysts tend to agree, the projected growth path for the full integration and convergence of the IoT into the global services community – particularly in field service – are stunning!

[Watch for the complete article, including findings from SFG‘s 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey, in the April 2017 issue of Field Service News. I’ll also be presenting some toppling data as part of my opening Keynote at the 2017 Field Service Summit in Coventry, UK, on April 11, 2017.]

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.]

Bill Pollock to Conduct Workshop at the 13th Annual Warranty Chain Management Conference in Tucson AZ, Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Bill Pollock, president & principal consulting analyst at Strategies For Growth℠, to conduct Workshop on the topic of “Transforming Warranty Management Into Improved Customer Satisfaction and Revenue Generation”, Tuesday, March 6, at the 2017 WCM Conference in Tucson, AZ

[Reprinted/Edited from the February 16, 2017 issue of Warranty Week]

From March 7 – 9, 2017, warranty professionals will gather in Tucson, Arizona, for the 13th annual Warranty Chain Management Conference. And as always, the opening day is taken up by a series of pre-conference workshops.

Many times, at past conferences, people arrive too late to attend any of the workshops, but wish they had. So while there’s still time for attendees to switch to an earlier flight, we wanted to provide some detail about what’s on offer.

This year, there will be six workshops — three in the morning and three in the afternoon on Tuesday, March 7. They’ll be followed by a welcome reception in the evening, and then the main conference proceeds on Wednesday and Thursday.

What these workshops provide is a deep dive into a single topic, such as transforming effective warranty management into improved customer satisfaction and the bottom line. They’re run by experts in the field, but the attendees are from all levels. And what they all know is the fundamental value of conferences like these: none of this material can be learned from books.

Bill Pollock‘s workshop is one of the three workshops scheduled for 9 AM to 12 noon, MST.

 

Raising Customer Satisfaction Levels

Pollock’s workshop is entitled, “Transforming Warranty Management Into Improved Customer Satisfaction and Revenue Generation“.

Pollock, who is a repeat presenter of WCM workshops, said he’s aiming this year’s presentation at managers and executives who need to improve customer satisfaction, drive revenues, and gain competitive advantage through improved warranty management.

“The perfect attendee would be anyone who deals both internally and externally with customer satisfaction, revenue generation, revenue management, or sales and marketing,” he said. “They’re the people who have the mandate — all their merit increases, their bonuses, are going to be dependent on how efficiently they run their part of the warranty management organization.”

Pollock said companies want to see both a contribution to the bottom line and an improvement in customer satisfaction levels. “But they’re almost diametrically opposed to one another,” he said. Deny more claims and satisfaction drops. Approve more claims and profits drop. So there has to be another way: increase revenue.

“One of the best things you can do to improve your revenue stream and to satisfy customers is to focus on warranty management, contract renewals, and attachment rates,” Pollock said. “You’re going to have increased revenues, and they’re going to be more predictable.”

Once the revenue increases, the money can be invested in automating and improving processes, which will ultimately raise customer satisfaction levels, Pollock explained. The goal is to turn a warranty claim into a more pleasant encounter for the customer, rather than adding insult on top of the injury.

“If you can’t make them feel better virtually immediately, then you’re going to allow a bad situation to get even worse,” he said. “What you need to do is build a warranty management program that can generate increased revenue, then take that revenue and spend it on improving the processes.”

Pollock said his advice is backed up by surveys he’s conducted both recently and in years past. “The first part of the workshop is going to be me presenting what best practices organizations are doing that are different from what the average organization is doing. But we also introduced some new questions into the survey this year,” he said, such as whether your organization has recently upgraded its warranty management solution. “What we’re finding is that there’s a big difference,” he said, in metrics such as claims processing time, service profitability, and supplier recovery rates.

More basically, Pollock said, the companies that recently upgraded their warranty management solutions are better not only at measuring themselves, but also at reporting the improved metrics. “Now, through more automated processes, through the cloud, powered by the Internet of things, you can build algorithms that allow you to more quickly identify than ever before, what’s really making a difference,” he said.

For more information on this workshop, or to register for the 2017 WCM Conference, please visit the conference website at: http://www.warrantyconference.com

Looking forward to seeing you in Tucson!

Bill

Strategies For Growth℠ Announces March 1, 2017 Warranty Management Webcast, to be Hosted by Tavant Technologies

Westtown, PA., February 16, 2017 – Bill Pollock, President & Principal Consulting Analyst, Strategies for Growth℠ (SFG℠), the Westtown, Pennsylvania-based research and consulting organization, today announced its upcoming Webcast entitled, “How the Right Warranty Management Solution Can Help Improve Your Organization’s Bottom Line!“, largely based on the findings from the firm’s third annual Warranty Chain Management Benchmark Survey Update.

The Webcast will be hosted by Tavant Technologies, “the world leader in providing Warranty Management Solutions”, and will be held on Wednesday, March 1, 2017, from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm EST. A complimentary White Paper will also be available for download by Webcast registrants at that time.

According to Pollock, “The findings from Strategies For Growth℠’s 2017 Warranty Chain Management Benchmark Survey clearly reveal that services organizations that have acquired and/or upgraded their Warranty Management solutions within the past three years have begun to see significant improvements among key factors contributing to their respective bottom lines.”

“For example, since the acquisition or upgrade of their Warranty Management solutions, these organizations have realized:

  • A 9% improvement in Warranty Claims Processing Times (and are now processing their claims at a rate more than twice as fast as all others); and
  • A 6% improvement in Supplier/Vendor Recovery (as a percent of total warranty expenses).”

Led by Pollock, this Webcast will focus on the specific challenges that Warranty Management organizations are facing, the strategic actions they are taking to address those challenges, the technologies they are using, and the key drivers that are pushing them to strive toward Best Practices status. The importance of warranty analytics and the establishment of an effective Key Performance Indicator (KPI) program will also be addressed.

The Webcast is intended to provide Warranty Chain managers with the guidance they will need to build an effective Warranty Management operation that can take them to the next level with respect to increased revenue generation and improved customer satisfaction. Among the key areas to be addressed are:

  • What Best Practices Warranty Management Organizations are doing to attain the highest levels of Customer Satisfaction, Warranty Claims Processing Times and Service Profitability
  • What drives these organizations to aspire to higher levels of performance, and what challenges they are likely to be face along the way
  • How to emulate the strategic and tactical actions presently being taken and/or planned by these leading Warranty Services organizations

To register for the Webcast, simply click on the following Weblink: http://info.tavant.com/WCM_Warranty_Webinar_2017.html.

Also, please be sure to watch for more information from the SFG℠ survey results in upcoming issues of Warranty Week: http://www.warrantyweek.com.

About the Presenter

Bill Pollock is President & Principal Consulting Analyst at Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM), the independent research analyst and services consulting firm he founded in 1992. In 2015/2016, Bill was named “One of the Twenty Most Influential People in Field Service” by Field Service News (UK); one of Capterra’s “20 Excellent Field Service Twitter Accounts”; and one of Coresystems’ “Top 10 Field Service Influencers to Follow”. He writes monthly features for Field Service News and Field Service Digital, and is a regular contributor to Field Technologies Online and Warranty Week. Bill may be reached at +(610) 399-9717, or via email at wkp@s4growth.com. Bill’s blog is accessible @PollockOnService and via Twitter @SFGOnService.

About Tavant Technologies

Headquartered in Santa Clara, California, Tavant Technologies is a specialized software solutions and services provider that provides impactful results to its customers across North America, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. Founded in 2000, the company employs over 2,000 people and is a recognized top employer. Tavant is the world leader in providing Warranty Management Solutions. The company offers ‘Tavant Warranty’ – a globally leading, complete service lifecycle – on premise warranty management software and, ‘Tavant Warranty On-Demand’, The only 100% native warranty management system on Salesforce. Find Tavant Technologies at www.Tavant.com, and on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Transforming Market Research into Customer Satisfaction and Retention

Leveraging Market Research into Customer Satisfaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Should You Focus Your Market Research Efforts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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