Bill Pollock’s Responses to Field Service News’ 2019 Big Discussion Questions

[This is the companion piece to Field Service News’ 2019 “Big Discussion”, published in four parts in its digital magazine. This Blog contains the full text of my responses to Associate Editor, Mark Glover’s four questions. Please visit the FSN Website to view my edited responses, along with those of other services industry experts, at: https://www.fieldservicenews.com/blog/the-big-discussion-what-challenges-opportunities-and-trends-should-we-expect-in-2019-part-1.]

FSN – Across the last twelve months what do you think has been the biggest shift in how we approach field service delivery? 

Pollock – The last 12 months have been quite a bit more active among global Field Services Organisations (FSOs) with respect to their acquisition and implementation of new technologies. For example, after having spent a number of years more as a perennial line item on an organisation’s “wish list”, Augmented Reality (AR) has gained a much wider acceptance, and is presently in use by more than twice as many FSOs as just a year earlier. In fact, the trend lines for AR adoption are have begun to increase at an accelerating rate. We are now also seeing the further incorporation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning into existing FSM systems. As a result, many FSOs have already begun the transformation from the traditional break/fix model to the use of predictive diagnostics and AI-powered chatbots to facilitate and expedite service delivery.

FSN – IoT has become an increasingly key discussion amongst field service companies in recent years – do you think it will soon be essential for field service companies to embrace IoT?

Pollock – I believe it is already essential for field service companies to embrace the IoT. That ship has already sailed – and those FSOs that run their services operations on an IoT platform are already beginning to see the return on their investment. The enormous amount – and wealth – of data that is now being generated through the use of an IoT platform is turning many of the traditional ways of thinking upside-down. For example, it has created an environment where the “old” (i.e., last year’s) way of measuring performance is becoming almost instantly outdated. For example, last year, an FSO might have been assessing its service delivery performance on the basis of asset uptime or SLA compliance, etc. However, this year, they may need to gauge their performance viaan entirely “new” set of KPIs! Measuring your performance in providing “power by the hour” or “airplanes in the air” is quite a bit different than measuring on the basis of the number of monthly site visits, PM calls and asset uptime.

FSN – What do you think should be the key areas of focus for field service managers across the next twelve months?

Pollock – The next most important areas of focus for field service managers in the coming 12 months will likely be among the following three items: (1) embracing the “new” technologies to support an expanded and enhanced capability to deliver their respective service offerings. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning have been around for more than 50 years, but are still relatively new to the services segment – but, it’s time to build them into your service operations! (2) Changing the way in which you deliver – and price – your service offerings. Traditional break/fix service is essentially “dead”. Long live predictive diagnostics and predictive maintenance! Have you spoken to any chat bots lately? Well, you will! (3) Re-engineering the way you measure performance metrics, or KPIs. Mean-Time Between Failures (MTBF) and Mean-Time-to-Repair (MTTR) will not mean anything in an environment where services are being performed remotely on an ongoing basis. It will be time to replace some of the old “tried and true” KPIs with new ones that can measure systemic productivity, rather than merely individual field technician productivity. It’s time to rethink the entire service delivery process – and adjust to it!

FSN – What is the biggest area of concern that field service companies should address in the next 12 months?

Pollock – The biggest area of concern for field service companies in the next 12 months will be, if they’re already somewhat behind the technology curve (or with respect to the competitive landscape), what do they need to do todayto ensure that they will not fall further behind? And, it’s not just a matter of technology either; many FSOs will need to alter their corporate philosophy and mentality as well. Technology goes hand-in-hand with the personnel that use it, so attention must also be given to how the organisation goes about replacing, and/or supplementing, its existing field force with new hires or the use of outside, third-party “feet on the street” support. The services world is evolving so quickly, that any missteps along the way can be devastating – so every step, every move counts. There will also be no time for any intra-mural infighting – only for collaboration and inter-departmental cooperation. Equipment will keep on breaking, and end-of-lifecycles are getting increasingly shorter. As such, there will always be the need for services organisations to deliver their support! However, only those that have the technological and corporate wherewithal to continually improve the way in which they deliver their services will rise to the top of the competitive order – and stay there!

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Invitation to Register for Two Webinars Covering the U.S./Canada & UK/Europe FSM Markets

To All Field Service Management (FSM) Professionals:

We invite you to register for our two complimentary Webinars on Thursday, February 7th – less than one week from today!
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  • Webinar #1*: UK/Europe Still Lags Behind the U.S. with Respect to FSM PerformanceThursday, 7 February at 13:30 GMT (8:30 am ET)
  • Webinar #2*: “The State of Field Service Management (FSM) in 2019 – and Beyond”; Thursday, February 7, at 11:30 am ET (16:30 GMT)

Click here to register for one, or both, Webinars

Based on the results of the 2018 Strategies for Growth℠ FSM Benchmark Tracking Update Survey, here are some of the key Market Drivers that will be revealed:

  • A majority of global Field Services Organizations (FSOs) presently manage their service operations as a profit center (60% for UK/Europe, and 55% for the U.S./Canada)
  • A majority of global FSOs are currently using CRM and Contract Management apps to drive their services business
  • The average services profitability realized by U.S./Canada FSOs is 32%, compared to 36% for UK/Europe FSOsx

[BTW – If you haven’t taken it yet, the survey link for SFG℠’s  2019 Field Service Management Tracking Survey is: 

Thank you in advance for your participation. Hope to see you there!
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Bill

Complimentary, Companion, SFG℠ Analysts Take Paper to Our “The Future of Field Service” Article

Sarah Nicastro, in her new position at IFSWorld, has just launched the inaugural issue of her e-journal, The Future of Field Service! It was my honor and privilege to have written more than 30 pieces for her while she was Publisher/Editor at Field Technologies and Field Technologies Online – and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to write for her in her new role!

Here’s wishing that Sarah continues to enjoy the success she has built all around her for more than a decade serving the Field Services segment!

In the meantime, please feel free to download this complimentary, companion, Analysts Take paper to our first (of many) The Future of Field Service articles; The Future of FSM (Draft-18-11-28-01)

The Benefits of SLM May Be Transformative For Your Services Organization!

Managing today’s service enterprise means planning and coordinating service on a global scale. It means delighting your customers – and your shareholders. And it calls for new technologies and business practices designed specifically to solve the Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) challenge. Based on these reasons, we believe that any services organization that strives to provide “best-in-class” field service in support of its customers must first implement a robust SLM solution in order to achieve its objectives.

While at first glance, it may appear that there are many alternative SLM solutions available; however, not all of them are designed with the same levels of functionality, applications, and comprehensiveness that the SLM market requires – i.e., the key ingredients for success. Simply listing and describing the potential benefits of SLM constitutes only half of the battle – prospective users will still need to “sell” the concept of SLM to management in order to gain their “buy-in”.

The benefits of implementing an SLM solution are many – and are fairly universal (that is, applicable for virtually every services organization, regardless of type, size, or geography served). Users typically identify the following five areas of benefits as the most compelling talking points in selling the concept to management;

  1. Reduced Service Costs
  2. Streamlined Workflow
  3. Improved Service Levels
  4. Enhanced Quality and Growth
  5. Increased Customer Satisfaction
  1. Reduced Service Costs

Simply citing generic data regarding potential cost reductions does not generally entice management to look any further. In order to truly gain their attention, it must be specified exactly where the cost savings will be coming from – and to what extent (i.e., provide them with hard numbers). The good news is that a robust SLM solution can manifest quantifiable cost savings from several specific areas including:

  • Improved technician productivity
  • Improved Inventory/parts management
  • Optimized service delivery
  • Reduced time in the “service-to-cash” cycle

These areas of cost savings will very likely peak management’s interest – as well as entice them to ask for more detailed cost-saving information. For example:

Improved Technician Productivity

Through SLM, improvements in technician productivity can be gained in a variety of ways including:

  • Providing field technicians with real-time, direct access to customer service history, equipment repair records, product information, and inventory and parts availability enables them to provide the best service possible in the most cost-effective manner by eliminating time-consuming paperwork and forms preparation. As a result, the technicians are able to spend virtually all of their time (i.e., billable time) providing their customers with the highest levels of service and support, rather than simply collecting information and filling out forms.
  • Providing field technicians with specific service level information for each customer they serve so that they never unknowingly provide their customers with anything less – or more – than those levels of service that are specifically covered in their respective Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
  • Reducing overhead costs through the elimination of most paperwork, delays in communications, and the use of outdated systems that had previously required manual data entry or redundant data input.

Empowered by the data and information made available through SLM, field technicians can also serve as the “eyes and ears” of the organization with respect to identifying potential cross-selling or upselling opportunities for the company’s various products and services. For example, armed with recent service call activity data, a field technician can provide customers with fresh information on new product or service offerings that would ultimately benefit their operations in the long-run – while at the same time, identify potential leads for the company’s sales team. By doing so, customers will not only look at their field technician as “the person who gets things fixed”, but also as a “trusted advisor” – or the one they can count on to both fix their equipment, and provide them with recommendations for acquiring new products and/or upgrading their service level coverage.

However, while improved technician productivity is generally an eye-opener to management, there are still far more compelling cost benefits that can also be gained through an SLM solution.

Improved Inventory/Parts Management

SLM can also result in “hard” cost savings through improved inventory/parts management, as summarized below:

  • SLM enables services organizations to enhance their Equipment Asset Management (EAM) capabilities by allowing them to track specific component/equipment relationships, and monitor their inventories for the purpose of automatic replenishment. By developing – and following – tightly integrated inventory management processes, users are able to significantly reduce inventory size and related carrying costs.
  • SLM also provides technicians with access to real-time inventory information, as well as the ability to order parts directly from the field, rather than having to wait until they return to their home base, or gain access to a telephone connection. The ability to work with real-time parts/inventory information provides both the technicians – and the customers they serve – with immediate access to parts availability, while simultaneously updating inventory levels and triggering automatic replenishments.

Some organizations may also wish to implement “vendor managed inventory”, or “just-in-time” inventory replenishment models to support their customer base, so that once a needed part is identified, it can be ordered and shipped immediately from the vendor source to the customer site. These types of fast-track inventory models can be easily implemented and supported through SLM.

However, while improved inventory/parts management ultimately benefits both the services organization and the customers it serves, there are still additional cost savings benefits that management can literally “take to the bank”.

Optimized Service Delivery

Optimized service delivery may mean different things to different people; however, the most compelling benefits of service optimization delivered through SLM are typically realized in terms of:

  • Minimized time to dispatch (i.e., quicker response time);
  • Increased first-time fix rates (i.e., fewer repeat failures and/or service calls); and
  • The ability of customers to perform self-diagnosis and problem resolution viathe Internet.

Ultimately, each of these benefits is realized through improved response time, decreased need for follow-up/repeat calls, and less equipment downtime. Even so, there are still several other types of benefits that will also be of significant interest to company management.

  1. Streamlined Workflow

Technology is the tool that assists services organizations in making their operations run more efficiently – but it is only a tool. However, SLM leverages best-of-breed service management solutions with industry best practices already built-in, thereby allowing practitioners to benefit not only from the automation of their current processes, but also by allowing them to redefine and improve their processes to deliver optimum results. These results are typically manifested in the following ways:

Integrated Processes and Technologies

Only through SLM can the practitioner benefit from a completely integrated and seamless solution that provides an instant 360-degree web-based view of the entire business. For example, when Sales or Marketing require information from Service Operations to develop targeted promotions to maximize cross-sell and up-sell opportunities, a robust SLM solution can give them exactly what they want– when they want it. Similarly, when Service needs real-time customer information from the Contact Center prior to making a call, SLM makes that information readily available.

A unified and modular approach, based on open industry standards, protects the users’ existing IT investments, lowers their Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), and paves the way for the deployment of the appropriate SLM modules – as required – as the organization grows.

Improved and Streamlined Processes

The end result of successfully integrating the organization’s processes and technologies is improved and streamlined processes – in otherwords, running the organization more efficiently. These benefits are typically manifested in the following ways:

  • Through an automated call management system based on CTI, IVR, dynamic scheduling and dispatch, and closure capabilities, services organizations can rapidly improve and streamline their call management process, thereby significantly increasing customer satisfaction and retention.
  • With the ability to apply contract templates, initiate automatic contract renewals, and build structured workflow processes, users can maximize their contract processing, resulting in more predictable revenues and improved productivity.
  • The capability to track, monitor, and automate stock based upon user-defined rules, in conjunction with the ability to support multiple warehousing strategies, also leads to improved and streamlined stock management levels at reduced inventory levels (also resulting in reduced inventory costs).
  1. Improved Service Levels

There are basically two ways to look at SLM – (1) as a tool for lowering the cost of doing business, and (2) as a means for improving existing service performance. While the cost savings may be very real, SLM can also be a significant contributor to the overall improvement in the levels of service performance for the organization. Complete charge capture, and maximizing cross-selling and up-selling opportunities are just some of the ways that play to both perspectives on SLM.

Complete Charge Capture of Service Delivery

SLM enables the complete capture of all parameters involved in delivering service (e.g., parts, T&M, expenses, ancillary services, extended warranties, etc.) ensuring that no billable charges are ever lost or overlooked, and ultimately improving invoicing accuracy. Through SLM, as soon as the technician closes a call and captures the customer’s electronic signature, that data can instantly be transmitted to the central billing system, thereby significantly streamlining and compressing Days Sales Outstanding (DSO).

An SLM system can also serve a useful role in assisting organizations in improving future product (and service) designs by identifying any flaws in their existing products based on both aggregate and product-specific service history. What’s more, by continually tracking product service history over time, any new or emerging design flaws can be identified as a particular product line moves through its maturity cycle, or as a new product line is introduced.

Maximized Cross-Selling and Up-Selling Opportunities

Through the capability of leveraging a Web-based customer self-service portal in conjunction with a dynamic self-learning knowledgebase, users gain the ability to offer new products/services at every customer interaction, resulting in increased revenues without increasing costs. A state-of-the-art SLM solution that embeds intelligent automation along with a robust product information management repository can arm all of the employees in the field with first-rate cross-selling and up-selling capabilities by prompting/alerting them of any potential sales opportunities (e.g., contract/warranty expirations, aging equipment, ancillary accessories, add-ons, etc.) at the specific time of interaction with the customer. Past Strategies For GrowthSM, “Studies have shown that there is no better place to cross-sell or up-sell than at the specific point of customer interaction – and SLM is the only solution that provides field personnel with all of the tools they need to make it possible.

Ability to Leverage Service as a Competitive Advantage

Through SLM’s Business Intelligence (BI) capabilities, users can identify, monitor, and track opportunities to offer customized and global service agreements based upon each customer’s unique usage levels. By doing so, the customer benefits from having its service needs and requirements fully met, and the services organization can maximize its total revenues in the field. SLM also supports the services organization’s ability to deliver proactiverather than reactivepersonalized service – at an affordable price – empowering it to exceed customer expectations and generate repeat sales.

  1. Enhanced Quality and Growth

While most of the benefits described thus far focus primarily on transitioning from the past to the present, enhanced quality and growth clearly looks to the future of the organization – and this is where SLM excels. The three main components of these forward-thinking benefits may best be summarized as follows:

Ability to Deliver Consistent Service Globally

The most effective SLM solution is one that is truly global, able to support customers using all types of equipment, in all applications, and in all geographies by using the same database. As such, the SLM solution must be designed to implement common business processes on a single system worldwide with support for multiple currencies, operation centers, and price books – and be able to support global, regional, and local views of the service operation.Even if your organization does not presently operate on a global basis, your SLM solution must be ready to step up to the opportunity if it arises.

Modularity for Supporting Growth

An SLM solution must also be able to grow with the organization. Few services organizations actively plan to reduce their operations over time; however, with today’s economic and competitive pressures continually limiting available growth opportunities, services managers have to take advantage of every real opportunity that comes their way – and the best way to do this is through system modularity. For example, few systems today can support a global deployment through a single application.

As the service business grows, it will also likely require additional solutions to support that growth. A robust SLM solution will be able to support the business through the availability of specific modules that can be easily – and seamlessly – added as it undergoes growth, or change. Only a scalable SLM solution can offer the precise configuration and functionality that can enable a services organization to continue to support a growing number of users as it, itself, grows in size and capability.

Improved Quality and Reduced Costs

Through SLM, users are also able toidentify defective, outdated, or unnecessary parts, resulting in both enhanced quality of service delivery and reduced costs. More importantly, the most cost-effective spare parts can be easily identified and stocked, and any individual line items that may be adding unnecessary costs to operations can also be identified and flagged.

  1. Increased Customer Satisfaction

Historically, for some operations managers, customer satisfaction has been nothing more than an inexact science that defies accurate reporting, consumes a great deal of time and resources, and is immeasurable in terms of actual results. However, the vast majority of services managers in today’s marketplace recognize customer satisfaction for exactly what it is – an essential building block for long-term, profitable relationships that ultimately leads to customer loyalty and repeat business.

Numerous studies have also shown that acquiring a customer is a great deal more expensive than retaining an existing one. What’s more, the level of service a company offers may ultimately be the principal deciding factor between whether a customer becomes loyal to its vendor, or decides to switch to a competitive vendor, platform, or service. By utilizing SLM to anticipate customers’ needs and requirements, improve responsiveness, and deliver consistent service, services organizations can improve the way in which their customers perceive the quality of their service offerings – and this will go a long way in their ability to transform customer satisfaction into true customer loyalty.

The principal benefits of facilitating the transition from customer satisfaction to loyalty are summarized below:

Ability to Anticipate Customer Service Requirements

SLM provides users with easy-to-use functionality, an intelligent knowledgebase, and a comprehensive customer repository to track problems and potentially identify many other problems before they occur. With this valuable information at their fingertips, users can offer more efficient scheduling for preventive maintenance (or implement an IoT-powered Remote Diagnostics / Remote Monitoring platform), and minimize the need for on-site visits and repeat service calls, wherever possible. As a result, customer satisfaction is increased, and costly unscheduled service visits can be minimized.

By having real-time, anytime, anywhere access to customer information, repair histories, parts availability, and technical product specifications, field technicians will always be properly prepared and empowered to complete all of their work during the first visit to the customer site, thereby saving both the service provider and the customer time and money.

Improved Responsiveness to Customer Calls and Service Delivery

SLM empowers Contact Center and field personnel with visual alerts, automatic escalation, scripting, and question trees, so they are able to respond to customers’ inquiries quicker and more completely. Through SLM, they will also have a full range of corporate knowledge stores readily available to optimize the customer interaction process. In addition, the integrated, multi-channel inbound/outbound capabilities facilitated by SLM provide for unparalleled customer support in all areas, including placing and tracking an order, updating records, making payments, receiving remote support, and scheduling a service call. As a result, there will be significant improvements realized with respect to first call resolution, decreased call center times and costs, and the ability to deliver consistent – and consistently high – levels of service.

Making It Easier to Do Business – Making It More Profitable

In today’s increasingly fast-paced business environment, customers have very high expectations, and they will take no excuses for poor customer service. They expect fast, relevant, and accurate information from the companies they do business with, and they will accept nothing less. The self-service capabilities offered through SLM provide customers with all of the information they need – when they want it, anytime, anywhere. This, in turn, ultimately results in improved customer satisfaction and strengthened loyalty throughout the user’s customer base.

By implementing a state-of-the-art SLM solution, services organizations can positively impact all aspects of their business through improved invoicing accuracy, automated contract renewals, and the ability to offer customized service agreements – all of which are geared to improving their relationships with customers while simultaneously increasing revenues and reducing costs.

Using Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) to Support Your Customers While You’re Servicing Their Equipment

Every day you deal with a multitude of customers who vary by type, size, installed base, usage, personality and everything else that ultimately differentiates one customer from another. However, one thing always remains constant – their business systems and equipment are critically Important to their day-to-day business operations. Despite this common thread that runs through virtually all of the customers you support, it is still important to recognize that each customer account will likely be different in terms of:

  • The various types, brands, models and numbers of units they have installed at their respective sites;
  • The ages of the individual units that are covered under their various Service Level Agreements (SLAs), or supported viaa Time & Materials (T&M) basis;
  • The usage patterns of the equipment at their individual locations (i.e., continuous intermittent use; single vs.multiple shifts; simple vs.complex multifunctional peripheral applications; and so on);
  • The volume, capacity or throughput they regularly execute; and
  • Many other unique and/or specific differentiators.

For some of your customers, their equipment is an integral component of what they do on a day-to-day basis. Customers in all industry segments, whether it be legal, financial, medical, real estate, government, or other highly-demanding markets, will tell you that their systems and equipment are essential to their business operations, and that when their equipment is down, their production is severely affected. For some, even a small piece of connected equipment may be the only means they have for providing their customers with a receipt, order confirmation, or other important transaction-generated documents. In fact, for many in the latter category, their reliance on the equipment you support may be even more critical to them (at least on a relative basis).

Regardless of the specific industry market segment or type of customer, there will always be a basic level of reliance on the business systems and equipment they have installed at their facility. In addition, you will find that your customers will also be relying heavily on your organization to ensure that their equipment is always up and running as required – and as expected. As such, it is important to recognize that in the customer’s mind, if the equipment is not working optimally – regardless of the technology that may have been built into it – it is worthless.

Since there is just so much that the customer is either inclined or permitted to do in order to get the equipment back in working order following a failure, in most cases, your field technicians will be the sole entities that they can count on to make that happen (that is, aside from remote monitoring and diagnostics, etc.). Accordingly, they will need to approach the servicing and support of the equipment with a great deal of professionalism and responsibility. Customers usually do not care whether the cause of an equipment problem is due to a hardware or software failure; a paper jam; or whether it was the unit’s fault, their fault, or nobody’s fault in particular. All they know is that when they needed to use the equipment, it simply did not work.

This is typically where the organization’s field technicians come into the picture. In many cases, they represent the only “real” physical manifestation of the service and support that keeps their equipment up and running – or at the very least, they may represent their first line of service and support defense. Your customers may rely heavily on the equipment itself to support their day-to-day business operations; but they rely even more on your organization and your field technicians to ensure that the equipment can continually do what it is supposed to do.

This is a unique area where most services organizations – and their dealers and distributors – can use some help! The good news is that there is a Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) software solution available for users in every industry, size and geographic coverage segment. The implementation of anSLM solution can provide a comprehensive set of integrated business solutions that empower strategic initiatives while driving tactical execution.

Companies that install, repair, and maintain business systems and equipment can increase their competitive advantage, grow top-line revenue, and bolster bottom-line profitability through the use of an effective SLM solution. Among the basic features and benefits of SLM functionality for a typical Field Services Organization (FSO) may best be summarized as follows:

  • Comprehensive Contract and Service Level Management
  • Service and Sales Integration
  • Increased Help Desk/Contact Center Effectiveness
  • Field Service Efficiencies

Comprehensive Contract and Service Level Management

Through SLM, customer contracts and Service Level Agreements (SLAs) can be structured in ways that best fit the business, as well as the businesses of their respective customers. Key items such as maintenance and repair service; preventative (or predictive) maintenance; remote monitoring, diagnostics and repair; and draw-down contracts can all be easily established and managed. As such, the organization’s services management can be assured that all of the obligations of its customers’ SLAs are well-planned for – and met – and that all of its mission-critical commitments to the customer are being honored.

In this way, services revenues are maximized, and there is little risk of experiencing lost revenues. Company representatives can quickly and easily verify both the customer and vendor entitlements, thereby eliminating any costs that might otherwise be associated with providing customers with parts, consumables or services they are not entitled to under the terms and conditions of any existing warranties or contracts. This also ensures that any and all dealer claims will be quickly processed.

Service and Sales Integration

The Service and Sales Integration functionality of an SLM software suite can be relied on to enable the manufacturer’s and dealer organizations’ field service technicians and contact center personnel to more thoroughly service the company’s accounts, while also driving increased revenue in the process. By placing intuitive, easy-to-use sales tools into the hands of the appropriate service employees, the number of new opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell equipment, parts and consumables to existing customers will increase multifold.

The organization’s service technicians are out in the field every day talking to, and interfacing with, its customers; why not also provide them with the tools and resources they can use to close – or at least open –additional sales opportunities within this virtually captive customer base!

Increased Help Desk/Contact Center Effectiveness

SLM can also allow the organization to increase its call handling efficiencies, especially in the areas of first-call resolution and call avoidance rates. This will ultimately result in the lowering of internal service costs, and commensurate improvements in existing levels of customer satisfaction and retention. In many ways, business systems and equipment services have been somewhat commoditized over the years, and the only way that one services organization (or its dealers) can establishment a competitive advantage over another is to differentiate (i.e., improve) the way in which they support the customer base after the initial sale.

The best way to do this is to provide superior levels of help desk and call center support empowered by a robust SLM capability. By arming your call center personnel with accurate and up-to-date customer and installed equipment base information – be it entitlement, configuration, or marketing campaign data – the organization will be able to greatly increase its ability to sell, cross-sell, and upsell its entire portfolio of products, services, parts and consumables.

Field Service Efficiencies

Leveraging the field service automation tools inherent in the SLM software allows the organization to optimize its field force capacity utilization, resulting in significant operational efficiencies as field technicians quickly become empowered to increase revenue generation and recovery. By streamlining and managing the invoice process, billing cycles will be lowered, as will other key areas, such as Day Sales Outstanding (DSO), etc.

These improvements will almost immediately go directly to the bottom line as you will be able to manage your cash flow and receivables much more effectively. Similarly, by streamlining and managing your service inventories (such as trunk stock) more effectively, you will also be able to realize significant inventory cost reductions.

What many OEMs and dealer organizations seek is an end-to-end, enterprise-wide SLM solution that addresses the complete equipment/service lifecycle, from lead generation and sales quotation, to service and billing, through asset retirement. They are looking for a solution that both integrates and optimizes the critical business processes that all services organizations have to face with respect to providing their customers with the levels of service and support they require.

Services organizations that provide their customers with any combination of products, parts, services and consumables must be able to not only fix the customers’ equipment, but to fix the customer as well; however, the ability to do so may vary greatly from one organization to another. However, the most successful organizations will ultimately be the ones that have the right mix of management, personnel, tools, resources and solutions (i.e., Service Lifecycle Management), all working together to provide their customers with the levels of service and support they require – and expect!

An SFG℠ Analysts Take: There’s Nothing Artificial About Artificial Intelligence

[After you read our latest Blog, below, please be sure to take the time to participate in our 2018 Field Service Management Survey Update. We’ve already sent out our “Last Reminder” and will be closing the survey shortly. However, we don’t want to miss out on receiving your responses and insight! Simply click on the following link to access the survey questionnaire: https://t.co/wbTKMLWdpP.] 

The global field services community is always looking for “the next big thing” to impact Field Service Management (FSM), and many research analysts (including myself) are far too willing to debate whether something like 3-D printing, wearable technology or Augmented Reality (AR) are merely new technology “fads” or, rather, transformative technologies that will ultimately (and quickly) change the face of field service forever. [Note: I believe they’re transformative!]

Whenever a new technology (or a new application for existing technology) is introduced, the initial discussions may range from “It will be the best thing since sliced bread” to “it will never be accepted by the marketplace”. Most, fortunately, find their way into the ability to support the increasingly expansive functionalities of today’s (and tomorrow’s) FSM solutions. Technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) have already established a strong foothold in field service, both as a standalone platform or, integrated with Virtual Reality (VR) into a Mixed Reality (MR) platform.

However, the one “new” technology for which there is virtually no debate, even among the industry’s diverse research analysts, is Artificial Intelligence (AI). For that matter, you can also include Machine Learning (ML) in this category.

What makes AI and ML so different from most of the “new” technologies we have seen talked about in the past is that, first and foremost, neither one is really a “new” technology. The term “Artificial Intelligence” was first introduced in 1956 at an academic conference. However, it was not until 1961 when mathematician Alan Turing (the lead character in the movie, “A Beautiful Mind”) wrote a paper on the application of machines to “simulate” human beings and their ability to perform intelligent tasks – initially to play chess (and to win at it!). [Even I co-authored a published article on neural networks and artificial intelligence applications for field service back in 1993!]

Fast forwarding to today, we see just about every services analyst writing about AI and ML. For example, analyst firm, Gartner, included both AI and ML among its “Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2017”, stating that, “AI and machine learning have reached a critical tipping point and will increasingly augment and extend virtually every technology enabled service, thing or application. Creating intelligent systems that learn, adapt and potentially act autonomously rather than simply execute predefined instructions is primary battleground for technology vendors through at least 2020.”

Further, Gartner “advises CIOs to look at areas of the company that have large data sets but lack analytics. AI can provide augmented intelligence with respect to discovery, predictions, recommendations and automation at scale” – a perfect fit for field service!

However, research firm, Forrester, believes that “there is still a lot of AI progress to be made before machines can truly understand and guide next best actions” and that “Robots, AI will replace 7% of US jobs by 2025 (i.e., “16% of US jobs will be replaced, while the equivalent of 9% jobs will be created – a net loss of 7% of US jobs by 2025.”)

UK-based firm, iTouchVision cites the following four areas where it believes AI will likely have the greatest impact on the field service segment in the coming years:

  • Customer Experience – Primarily through the use of chatbots, “it will be possible to help customers with more speed and accuracy. These bots containing the customer and their equipment information can find out the problem and suggest a quick fix”.
  • Work Productivity – AI overcomes the hurdles faced by manual dispatchers. In the near future, we may also see the replacement of human dispatchers with an AI virtual assistant that considers all the service event parameters including unexpected events. It increases the job completion rate in the first visit by ensuring the worker has right tools and skills.
  • Predictive Maintenance – Predictive, rather than Preventive, maintenance is “the way to increase asset life and quality. The machine-to-machine interaction and the connected devices drive predictive maintenance. It eliminates the unnecessary technician visits to check machine condition”.
  • Data-Driven Decisions – “AI is all about data. With AI in use, it is possible to take more strategic decisions. Reduced repetitive administrative work allows human operatives to focus on predictive analysis. It governs end-to-end work and data flows with automation. Continuous data evaluation and processing presents a clear picture with analytics.

Overall, AI (and ML) are certainly not “artificial” – nor are they simply current fads or trends that will eventually bite the dust. They are real – not artificial; and, as such, should be carefully – and quickly – considered for incorporation into the field services management solution your organization uses to run its services operations.

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

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

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

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

Managing Extended Warranty Programs

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

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

Warranty Management Organizations Are First and Foremost, Customer-Focused

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

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

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

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

The Benefits Realized by Improving Warranty Management Activities Are Many

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

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

Complacency with Their Current Warranty Management Solution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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