Matching Your Services to the Customer’s Total Service and Support Needs

The customer’s need for basic product service and support is quite simple; essentially, when their equipment is down, and they need it back up and running as soon as possible. You may typically consider this as being the customer’s “core” need for basic systems and equipment service and support.

In most cases this will involve a simple, rather than complex, repair process; typically the kind of repair that the service technician has made countless times, over and over again. For repeat customers, the service technician will already be familiar with the equipment, along with its respective service history, as well as having some insight with respect to how the customer actually uses the equipment on a day-to-day basis. He or she will probably also have all the documentation and tools they need to make the repair and, probably, all of the necessary parts as well.

For most customers, this will be all they need – plain and simple. However, there will always be the chance for exceptions, and you should be prepared to address them as quickly as possible. Some examples include cases where the customer believes that what they are asking for is “basic” equipment service and support, but it is really value-added, or “over and above the call of duty” support.

For example, once the field technician arrives on-site, some customers may ask it to perform the next scheduled preventive maintenance at the same time since it was already scheduled for later in the week. While this may seem like a reasonable request from the customer’s perspective, it could possibly wreak havoc with the day’s service call schedule and, if no additional time is available, cannot easily be done. At times like this, the service technician will typically check in with its dispatcher to see whether performing an impromptu PM call is even feasible.

However, in most cases, all that is typically required in cases such as these is to inform the customer that the exclusive goal for this particular visit is to get the equipment up and running as quickly as possible, and that their scheduled preventive maintenance can best be accomplished at its pre-designated time.

While the service technician may have a clear understanding of the difference between “basic” and “value-added” equipment service and support, it cannot always assume that the customer will share the same understanding. It all comes down, ultimately, to the basic understanding of the difference between customers’ wants and needs, and the service technician’s ability to manage them appropriately.

By understanding the difference between the customers’ various needs and wants, and handling them accordingly, the service technician will already be far along the road toward matching the company’s services to the customer’s total needs. There is generally a big difference between customers’ “basic” and “value-added” product service and support needs; however, we may define their “total” needs as essentially encompassing everything they want, need, and expect to receive from their services provider, in general – and their field technician, in particular.

For example, the customer’s total needs may be nothing more than the coupling of their basic and value-added needs, all delivered to them in a timely, skilled, courteous, and professional manner. As such, the service technician’s performance at each of these levels of customer service becomes very critical. For example, if the customer perceives that the technician is unable to satisfactorily deliver even their most “basic” equipment service and support needs, they will be even less likely to believe that it can meet their “value-added” needs. Compounding the issue would be their perception that the field technician can’t even comport itself in a professional or courteous manner.

Ultimately, customers will be depending on their field technicians to not only provide the physical repair of their installed equipment, but to also serve as a technical adviser, trainer, applications specialist, service call scheduler, customer service representative, and primary go-to person for general inquiries, new product information, parts ordering, and anything else they can think of. Again, while it is not necessarily the technician’s responsibility to serve in all of these roles, they should at least be prepared to serve as a “channel” between the customer and everyone else within the organization who actually has these individual responsibilities.

In this way, the service technician can also position itself in the minds of its customers as someone who is “personally” responsible for supporting their “total” service and support needs, even if all they are doing is supporting their equipment on-site, and acting as an intermediary between and among the other various departments within the company’s service and sales organizations.

It is important to remember that even if the service technician is doing everything it is supposed to be doing within their specific service responsibility, the customer’s needs will generally always be greater than services alone, and they will continually be counted on to point them in the right direction, make the appropriate recommendations, lead them to the right people within the sales or other services organizations, and generally support them in all of their “total” service and support needs.

Bill Pollock, of PollockOnService, to Conduct Pre-Conference Workshop at 2019 WCM in Orlando

[Partial excerpt, written by Eric Arnum, publisher of Warranty Week. Reprinted from the February 22, 2019 issue.]

Warranty professionals heading to Orlando for the 15th annual Warranty Chain Management Conference could arrive a day early to attend any of six different workshops on topics such as fraud detection, claims handling, customer satisfaction, and how to launch or expand a commercial or consumer service contract program.

The Warranty Chain Management Conference, less than three weeks away, officially begins with a welcome reception the night of Tuesday, March 12. But for those who can get to town a bit earlier, there are six different pre-conference workshops on the schedule, covering an array of product warranty- and service contract-related topics.

There are three workshops in the morning and three in the afternoon. For attendees looking to strengthen their knowledge of how things work in the service contract industry, there are excellent choices in both timeslots.

Increasing Customer Satisfaction and revenue generation

In the afternoon, from 2 to 5 PM, Bill Pollock, the president of Strategies for Growth, will deliver a workshop entitled, “Transforming Warranty Management Into Improved Customer Satisfaction and Revenue Generation,” which will also be aimed at commercial products.

Pollock said that a central theme of his workshop will be the need for warranty managers, especially those in the business-to-business sector, to not only do a good job, but to also get the word out to customers that the company is doing a good job with warranty.

“A lot of organizations and a lot of managers within those organizations look at improving the processes they use to deliver services as the end-all, be-all,” he said. “But if you’re doing something really good, and you’re not letting the world know about it, then you’re missing an opportunity.”

Pollock said he sees much the same story with many companies that do a good job with fleet management or reverse logistics: they don’t tell their story well, so customers don’t know what makes them better than other companies. On the other hand, those that promote what they do, creating some market awareness about it, find that it draws some customers in who might not otherwise be engaged. And for existing customers, it results in improved customer satisfaction, which leads to better customer retention levels.

“My goal is to be a value-add for warranty managers who are immersed in their activities,” Pollock said, “to let them know there’s the marketing and the promotions that you have to get out there. And if you do that, then you’re going to improve customer satisfaction, and you’re going to generate more revenue.”

Pollock said he’s not suggesting that companies become tedious and off-putting through their constant self-promotions. “But if you’ve done something good, if you’ve upgraded your processes, if you’ve moved from a premise-based system to a cloud-based system, or some sort of hybrid, let the market know about it.”

During the decades he’s been studying companies, Pollock said he’s seen three big themes recur in the surveys and in the research studies he’s helped to produce: 1) companies improving the processes they use to deliver services, 2) companies focusing on the needs of the customer, and 3) the financial costs. When times are tough, cost-cutting takes the lead. But when times are good, and the funds are available, process improvements tend to become priorities. What he’s saying is “don’t forget the customer”.

“Right now, we’re at an interesting time,” he said. “Our 2019 Warranty Management Survey Update has shown for the first time in the last five years, that the number one focus is back squarely on the customer. The number two focus is on improving processes. And the number three focus is on financials. So it looks like, as an industry, we’ve got our act together.”

The first half of the workshop, Pollock said, will focus on ways to promote your process improvements to the market, and how to turn that into improved customer satisfaction and revenue increases. The second half will show the correlation between these suggestions and the actual results of the company surveys Pollock has performed in recent years. And he will ask attendees where they see their organizations fitting into the results.

“Toward the end of that series of charts and interactions,” Pollock said, “I’m going to show the mean averages that warranty managers have been attaining for customer satisfaction, average claims cycle time, and profitability. What I want to do is show attendees that once you start falling behind the curve, the way everything’s moving so quickly, and the way your competitors and peers are embracing new technologies, you’re going to fall even further behind the curve – unless you take the appropriate actions.”

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

[Before you read our latest Blog, why not spend 15 minutes or less taking our latest Field Service Management (FSM) Tracking Survey? This is our fifth FSM Survey since 2011, and we would love to share the results with you once we’re finished with the data processing and analysis – sometime in late March! The survey link is: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2019_FSM. And, oh yeah, after you finish, please don’t forget to read our Blog!. Thanks, Bill] 

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 via a 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 an SLM 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!

Revitalizing a Mature Product/Service Line Can Add Life to the Cycle

After a while, even the most innovative product/service lines may begin to lose some of their luster and appeal, ultimately being perceived by the marketplace more as a commodity-like offering, rather than as a unique or differentiated product or service. Classic examples range anywhere from cameras, to computers, to consulting services. What was initially offered to the market as an innovative product or service, without any direct competition, can soon become just another product or service alternative among scores of increasingly competitive offerings.

It is for this reason that it is critical to understand where your organization’s service offerings stand in the perceptions of the marketplace at any given point in time. In many cases, it will be the new, innovative, “upstart” companies that are doing the bulk of the research and market testing prior to launching their new products and services, and not the companies that are still selling their older, more mature commodity-like offerings.

However, there may still be a great deal of life left in the more mature business lines that comprise the majority of your company’s product or service portfolio. Even better, these lines generally tend to be “proven” with respect to market acceptance, and may only need a gentle marketing “push” every once and awhile to stimulate additional market interest and sales. Even NASA uses a “mid-course correction” every now and then to ensure that its space vehicles get to their targeted destinations.

A further complication may also arise from the fact that many businesses that provide both products and services to the market often find that when sales or market share takes a downturn, they are unable to determine whether the decline is more related to problems with their products, problems with their services and support, or a combination of the two. However, more often than not, it is generally a combination of the two. While this is typically a fairly easy matter to resolve, it is one that can often lead to a costly and ineffectual failure if not approached properly.

Whenever a situation like this takes place, the organization should examine a number of critical areas through the execution of a carefully orchestrated research program, focusing on issues such as:

  • An assessment of the changing, evolving or emerging customer/market needs, requirements, preferences, perceptions and expectations associated with its mature product/service offerings;
  • The identification of specific new or value-added product features, characteristics and attributes (e.g., functionality, quality, reliability, modularity, packaging, etc.) that could redefine the mature products; and the corresponding features, characteristics and attributes that could similarly redefine the levels of service required to support these products from the customer’s perspective (i.e., professional services, Web-based self-support, etc.); and
  • Suggested, or recommended, improvements to the existing products and support services required to address these changing and evolving needs.

The results of a program of this nature would be extremely useful to the organization’s sales and marketing management in terms of their ultimate ability to:

  • Modify and enhance the historical product and service offerings to address the changing levels of market demand and requirements;
  • Project the likelihood of customers switching to new, redefined or replacement, products and services in the near- and long-term future;
  • Develop a plan for migrating to new product and services offerings to reflect the evolving needs and requirements of the market;
  • Identify and cultivate expanded and/or redefined target markets based on the identified patterns of “core” vs. “value-added” product/service preferences and user perceptions;
  • Strengthen the overall product/service awareness and image in the marketplace through a program of heavily promoted refinements, enhancements and/or modifications based on the study findings; and
  • Monitor the ongoing positioning of the product/service offering in the marketplace in order to determine when it may no longer be profitable to support it.

More specifically, the primary objectives of the organization should be to first, identify the changing customer needs, requirements, preferences, perceptions and expectations that can be used to assess and “fine tune” the overall strategic and market position of the company’s historical product and service lines; and second, to ensure that the company can continue to effectively market these mature products and services, with a compelling promotional “spin”, and to the appropriate market segments.

A comprehensive examination of these key issues could lead to the development of a set of strategic and tactical recommendations for action with respect to defining/redefining the preferred product features, characteristics and attributes, and the corresponding customer service and support requirements. The recommendations would be developed to address:

  • The magnitude of the impact on the organization’s existing product/service lines resulting from the projected differences between historical and future market demand and purchase patterns in an expanded/redefined market base; and
  • The identification, assessment and prioritization of expanded/redefined product/service features, characteristics and attributes that would serve to support any recommended changes, modifications and/or enhancements to the company’s existing product and service lines.

There are many ways in which a business can determine exactly how much “kick” its historical product or service offerings still have in them – or, conversely, whether it is time to “kick” them out of the company’s portfolio altogether, and replace them with newer, more innovative and competitive products and services.

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

Putting a “cash cow” off to pasture before it is time can cost your company money in terms of lost potential. However, keeping it on as an active component of your business portfolio may cost even more in the long run, in terms of giving your company a perceived market image as either being “dusty” itself, or no longer offering anything but commodity-like products and services.

Assessing where your business lines stand today in terms of market perceptions, image and their ability to meet your customers’ changing and evolving needs, will allow you to determine just how much “dust” is actually on your existing portfolio of offerings, and exactly what you will need to do to “shake it off” and compete more effectively in the future.

[BTW – Are you a Warranty Chain Management Professional? If so, we invite you to participate in SFG℠‘s 2019 Warranty Chain Management Benchmark Survey Update! Take the survey, and view the final results during our January 17, 2019 Webcast (and accompanying complimentary Analysts Take summary report! Share your knowledge and learn from your peers! To participate, please click here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WCM_19]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Knowing What and How to Cross-Sell and Upsell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[This companion piece to the Field Service Experts interview series posted by www.MobileReach.com focuses on “The Future of Field Service Management”. As is generally the case with interview pieces, most of the responses are not included in the published feature. As such, please consider this Blog as a more detailed companion piece that provides additional “between the lines” thoughts and opinions.]

Questions for Bill Pollock:

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

BP: I’ve seen the Field Service segment evolve several times over the years, from break/fix, to network services, to software support and such. However, the introduction of the Internet of Things, or IoT, is going to have a much greater and profound impact on the global services community than anything else that has preceded it! In fact, it already is!

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

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

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

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

Also, with technology visionaries like Elon Musk, who started out with his Tesla business, branching into solar panels and, of course, SpaceX, we are likely to see more and more technological advances coming down the pike. For example, Musk’s new venture, Neuralink, has set its goals on attaining the ability to “merge” the power of the human brain with the power of the IoT, in order to upload and download “human thoughts” onto chips, and vice versa. Imagine the impact that new ventures like this will have on all aspects of business, if successful! All of a sudden, veteran field services technicians will become just as important as the influx of computer-savvy millennials with respect to their experiential value to the Field Service Organization (FSO).

The process goes on and on, and field service management will continue to evolve over time, as a result.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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