It’s Not Difficult Being Green!

According to Jim Henson’s Muppet character, Kermit the Frog, “It’s not easy being green” – or is it? However, for many businesses, being green may now also have an unexpected economic benefit. Let me explain.

Most of us already have incorporated various facets of environmental awareness into our day-to-day lives, including the mandatory sorting of household recyclables, and the prescribed use of the omnipresent blue or green curbside recycling containers. Many of us also are striving to drive less by working some days from a home office, and generally becoming more aware of the alternative options of telecommuting and the use of remote workspaces. Others make use of public transportation. Some of us even have switched to more mileage-friendly vehicles for both our personal and work-related travel. For example, by now, virtually all of us know at least one person who drives a hybrid vehicle.

This heightened sense of environmental awareness – and protection – is great news, regardless of our individual motives or reasons for applying ourselves. As a society, we are becoming “greener” on a daily basis, even as our pocketbooks are continually being squeezed due to the historic rises and fluctuations in gasoline prices over the past several years.

However, in reality, how much of our environmental consciousness has actually spread to the corporate world? Certainly, there are many mandates governing interaction with the environment in high-risk areas including construction, renovation, waste management, and demolition, among others. There are also the passionate corporate leaders who wish to act as good global citizens. Further, there are many organizations that make it easy for employees to ride-share, encourage turning down the thermostat a few degrees, or simply make benevolent corporate donations directly to environmental causes and foundations chartered with helping to raise environmental awareness and/or deal with specific causes.

In today’s economy, it is increasingly common to find real initiatives where being environmentally-friendly also directly benefits the corporate bottom line. For example, the question arises, “What if your field technicians could drive a million miles less per year in the aggregate?” Depending on the specific types of company vehicles (or, their own) they drive, that could result in savings of roughly 100,000 gallons of gas! Current gas prices are typically in the range of US$3.00 to US$3.50 per gallon, often reaching in excess of US$4.00 in some areas of the country. As a rule, gas prices are even more expensive in other parts of the world.

For many services providers, the reduction in their gas bill alone resulting from reduced travel requirements would be extremely impressive; however, when you factor in the savings on highway and bridge tolls, wear and tear on vehicles, and other vehicularmaintenance-related costs, the savings can be downright staggering(i.e., you can do the math!). This is exactly what some field services organizations have been able to realize through the use of state-of-the-art Service Scheduling Optimization supported with street level routing.

But this is just the tip of the proverbial melting iceberg. As service executives, we all attempt to balance the dual requirements of growth and cost containment, while also striving to meet – and exceed – our customers’ expectations. The added desire to be socially responsible has only complicated the age-old quest for balancing growth against cost-savings. However, the advent of optimized scheduling now makes it easier than ever to accomplish both – while also contributing to the greening of the environment.

Since it ultimately costs far less to solve a customer’s problem remotely, or allowing the customer to use the tools of a customer portal to perform their own “fixes”, many organizations have invested heavily in Remote Diagnostics and Remote Monitoring solutions. The use of these “new” platforms and applications has facilitated and expedited the management of field service and support, and has also served to reduce the number of historical truck rolls and on-site visits.

For many users, the initial customer call is simply the launching point for the full service event. When a customer calls – for whatever reason – no amount of talking can help fix a broken pipe, install a new cable line, or repair a failed part. In all of these cases, the service provider’s field resources must quickly spring into action, travel to the customer site, show up on-time, and assess the existing situation, sometimes generating an entire new set of challenges and – even if handled efficiently – can still lead to potentially huge internal costs.

For the services provider, the questions then arise: “What are my contractual obligations to my customer?”, Who are our best-qualified field technicians?”, and more importantly, “How can I delight the customer by meeting – and exceeding – their overall service expectations?” Through the advent and proliferation of Remote Diagnostics and Remote Monitoring, all of these questions can be accommodated while still delivering greener service.

It is also not uncommon for services organizations and their customers to spend thousands – and in some cases, hundreds of thousands – of dollars relating to the printing, copying, sorting, and mailing of their service work orders every year, ensuring that all necessary documents are sent to the field, and the appropriate work instructions are being followed. A large percentage of an organization’s overall return on investment can be attributed to the automation of these processes – not to mention the saving of thousands of trees every year!

Using handheld devices in the field to collect call data and information also eliminates the errors that can be compounded during the historically required retyping/re-entry process, while improving the company’s Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) through the quicker turnaround resulting from real-time invoicing and faster collection cycles. Implicit in these savings is the enhanced efficiency of automated data and information processing in place of the previously required human intervention.

When any of these “green-friendly” platforms, solutions and tools are embedded into an organization’s overall Field Service Management (FSM) operations, everyone benefits – the services organization, the field technicians, the customers and, oh yes, the environment! It is exciting when capitalism and environmentalism can overlap to produce mutually beneficial – and profitable – results! The move toward service optimization clearly reflects a case where “going green” can also generate more “green” for your organization.

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How to Make Your Field Service Management (FSM) Solution Rock!

[With a Little Help from My Friends in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame]

[Reprinted from Field Service News. Enjoy!]

Whenever one of your service customers hollers “Help”, you not only need to respond quickly, you also need to Get It Right the First Time – because you certainly won’t want to waste the time and expense of having one of your field technicians Truckin’ to the customer site unnecessarily – and you also won’t want to have to Do It Again later! If you’re not careful, it will all be Wasted Time!

By the way, this is why many of the leading services organisations are incorporating Augmented Reality (AR) into their Field Service Management (FSM) solutions – because Every Picture Tells a Story, don’t it? With all of this “new” technology being integrated into FSM solutions supporting the global field services community, The Times They Are a Changin’, for sure!

For a majority of users, the decision as to which type and brand of equipment to acquire is based more on the quality of service that will be provided after the purchase, rather than on the acquisition of the piece of equipment itself. Plus, it’s not only based on Money, Money, Money –  it’s more often than not based on things including Promises, Honesty and A Matter of Trust!

However, once selected, after the services provider asks the user to “Take a Chance on Me”, it will need to, first, make sure that its new customer has a Peaceful Easy Feeling, and that it hasn’t spent a whole lot of Money for Nothing (or you could end up in Dire Straights)!

Further, whether the customer’s equipment is located in Allentown, or Katmandu, the services provider must be sure that there Ain’t No Mountain High Enough to keep it away from delivering the services that have been promised. If you cannot cover all of the geographic areas where your customers’ (and prospects’) equipment is located, you may end up with an unhappy customer in Massachusetts, requiring your field techs to work weekends on Tulsa Time, finding a suitable contractor in Sweet Home Alabama, being stuck in Lodi (again), authorizing a costly flight to Kokomo, Going to California yourself – or even worse – having to deal with a Panic in Detroit! One way or the other, you’ll never want to hear one of your Colorado customers tell you to “Get Out of Denver”!

Communications is also a critical component of any services relationship – and the last thing you will ever need to experience with your customers is a Communications Breakdown! Customers will want you to be their “Nights in White Satin”, consistently being able to provide them with what they want, “Any Way You Want It”, so they will always feel Glad All Over.

Customers hate it when they call their services provider and get No Reply! There’s a Fine Line between being only casually responsive and treating your customers with a full measure of Respect – and you don’t want to cross that line the wrong way, otherwise your customer will feel like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and end up in Misery!

If you get your communications right with your customers, you’ll find that The Winner Takes It All (i.e., your services organization); but if you Try Too Hard, you might end up just Livin’ on a Prayer, waiting for another opportunity to make it up to them – and they may simply tell you, “Not a Second Time”! It’s also important to remember that even if your customers have already asked you 65 or 66 questions, you will still need to be prepared to answer Questions 67 and 68!

So, … if you consistently deliver the expected – and desired – levels of service to your customers, and your field technicians remain Cool, Calm and Collected with respect to managing their customer relationships, then you may be in it for The Long Run! If so, then Long May You Run (that is, in circles around your competitors)!

However, for every services organization that actually “gets it”, there are probably a dozen or so more that don’t! That’s why it is so important to make sure you properly train – and arm – your field techs (i.e., with mobile tools and accompany technology, etc.) with everything they need All Down the Line, so they can satisfy their customers consistently, and go home every day after their last call feeling Free as a Bird and ready to Rock and Roll All Nite!

The Need to Address Accessibility in Field Service Management (FSM) Product Software

[As a small contribution to National Disability Awareness Month (October, 2018), we are reprinting an original draft of our article in Field Service Digital published earlier this year. The Field Services segment is comprised of a highly skilled and very diverse global community of mobile and office workers, each of whom deserves to be supported by a full complement of tools, resources and support so they can, in turn, support their respective customers. Please take a few moments to read our take on the need to address accessibility in Field Service Management (FSM) product software!]

Accessibility is an important component of any business offering, and it seems to be growing in importance at a relatively fast pace. For decades now, individuals with physical disabilities have benefited from sidewalk ramps and graded building entrances and exits; the sight-impaired have benefited from audible street crossing systems; and the hearing-impaired have benefited from special telephone apps; etc.

However, accessibility considerations are not only limited to the external environment; they are increasingly being – or should also be – incorporated as an integral part of product software functionalities as well – especially in the various technical support and customer services segments. And, increasingly, accessibility also plays a role in field service!

However, when evaluating the need for accessibility in the Field Service Management (FSM) software used by an organization to run its services operations, there are a number of questions that should be addressed, including:

  • What is the current awareness, perceived importance, market adoption/likelihood to adopt, likelihood to consider as a sales/acquisition influencer, etc. of accessibility with respect to the potential acquisition of a specific software product (or line of products) (e.g., Service Management (SM) applications, IT Service Management (ITSM) applications, Project Services (PS) applications, etc.)?
  • What is the current/emerging demand for accessibility as a build-in to the software products that an organization uses; (i.e., is it merely a “nice-to-have” or a “need to have” component)?
  • What is the market’s perceived importance with respect to being simply compliant (e.g., with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and/or other similar country-specific regulations, etc.); being usable (i.e., by any and all disabled members of the organization’s user base); and being universal (i.e., to be used by all in the organization’s workforce)?
  • What is the degree to which accessibility may be used as a sales and/or marketing tool, both internally by the offering organization (e.g., to gain management buy-in from the CIO, CFO, current users, etc.) and externally among the various customer/prospect segments (e.g., to promote the fact to their respective potential user/customer base that the organization plans to support their entire workforce, including meeting the needs of the disabled individuals that will be using the software, etc.)?

Accessibility should also be defined to include both permanent (e.g., blindness, color-blindness, hearing-disabled, etc.) and temporary disabilities (e.g., broken arm, cataracts, etc.); as well as situational disabilities (e.g., working from home, “working with one arm while holding an infant in the other”; and others. For each of these cases, a set ofadditional drill-down questions will also need to be asked – and answered – as part of the organization’s due diligence in selecting an accessibility-based FSM software product, including:

  • What are the existing levels of awareness of accessibility as a purchasing influencer in the software product markets that your organization supports?
  • What are the current definitions/perceptions of accessibility in your relevant market space (e.g., is accessibility broadly defined, more specifically defined, all-inclusive, etc.)?
  • What is the perceived importance of accessibility among the various customer organizations and users that you support?
  • What is the current extent of disabled personnel/users among your customers’ respective workforces?
  • What is the current degree of compliance with regulatory mandates, etc., both internally and among your customer or user base?
  • What is the perceived demand and/or preference for accessibility within the market segments in which you offer your software products?
  • What are the perceived benefits/advantages of building accessibility into your existing (and planned) lines of software products; what are the perceived disadvantages?
  • What is the likelihood of your customer/user base considering an accessibility-based software application in the future; would they be willing to pay a premium for additional built-in accessibility functionality – and, if so, to what degree?
  • What role does accessibility play as a desired attribute in the software product evaluation/selection process; for example, will an accessibility-based software product move a vendor under consideration from the acquiring organization’s “long list” to its “short list” with respect to potential purchase/acquisition?
  • How important is accessibility with respect to serving as an internal and/or external sales or marketing tool?

Whatever the specific outcome is with respect to the degree to which your organization builds an accessibility component into its FSM (or other business) software, one thing is for certain – the needs, requirements, opinions and preferences of the marketplace will be largely different on virtually an individual customer or prospect basis, depending on the degree to which they place importance on accessibility. Accessibility is clearly not an issue where one-size-fits-all.

However, by properly addressing each of the above-listed considerations, your organization – whether on the FSM software product supply side or demand side – will at least be off to a good start in ensuring that its final strategy will be well thought out, and as all-inclusive as possible. The field service segment is a large, fast-growing and highly diverse community, and many believe that all parties should be empowered to perform at their best – some through the assistance of an accessibility-enabling software platform.

The Benefits of Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) Are Likely to 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 – prospectiveusers 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.

2.     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).
3.     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.

4.     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.

5.     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.

Best Practices FSOs Operate Differently to Maintain Their Best-in-Class Status

What Makes Best Practices FSOs Different from All Others? And How Do You Get There in the First Place?

[A Weblink for downloading the archived Webinar plus the companion Analysts Take paper is provided at the end of this Blog.]

Each year, Strategies For Growth (SFG) conducts a series of Benchmark Surveys among its outreach community of more than 29,000 global services professionals. Total responses for the 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey were 419, of which 43, or just over 10%, are classified as Best Practices Field Service Organizations (FSOs) (i.e., those attaining 90% or higher customer satisfaction ratings, and 30% or greater services profitability).

Overall, survey respondents identify the following as the top factors, or challenges, that are currently driving their ability to optimize field service performance:

  • 53% Need to improve workforce utilization and productivity
  • 42% Customer demand for quicker response time
  • 42% Need to improve service process efficiencies

Based on the special Best Practices data cut from SFG’s 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey, the key takeaways are:

  • Best Practices FSOs are driven to improve workforce utilization, productivity and efficiencies; meet customer demand for quicker response and improved asset availability, and increase service revenues
  • Nearly half of Best Practices FSOs are adding, expanding and/or refining the metrics, or KPIs, they use to measure service performance
  • Over the next 12 months, more than three-quarters (81%) of Best Practices FSOs will have invested in mobile tools to support their field technicians, and 61% will have integrated new technologies into existing field service operations
  • Field technicians are increasingly being provided with enhanced access to real-time data and information to support them in the field, as are customers through Web-enabled self-help capabilities (i.e., to order parts or initiate service calls, track the status of open calls, etc.)
  • All FSOs face myriad challenges; however, Best Practices FSOs are better equipped to deal with them

[To learn more about this topic, we invite you to download our September 12, 2018 Webinar on the same topic, hosted by global FSM Solution provider, Astea International (www.astea.com). To download an archived copy of the full Webinar, plus the companion Analysts Take paper, simply click on the following Weblink: Webinar Registration]

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.