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.]

Knowing How and When to Cross-Sell Your Company’s Products and Services

It is important to understand the difference between cross-selling and up-selling. Cross-selling is basically the art of selling additional items to existing customers on a “horizontal” basis. For example, if any of your company’s salespersons were to sell additional parts, consumables, software, or peripherals/attachments to an existing customer, that would be considered as “cross-selling”. Similarly, selling additional units or devices to the same customer would also be considered as “cross-selling”.

Other examples of services cross-selling may include:

  • Selling a preventive maintenance contract to an existing T&M or service agreement customer
  • Selling training or consulting services to an existing services customer
  • Selling software updates to an existing product customer
  • Selling telephone hotline support to a customer who has historically only been using on-site field support (or vice versa)
  • Adding other customer facilities (on other floors, or other buildings) to an existing service level agreement
  • Selling service agreements for additional installed equipment at the customer site as a “package” with the existing covered equipment

Of course, there are numerous other examples of services cross-selling that would also apply; but it will ultimately be up to the onsite services technician (i.e., in many cases) to identify these opportunities on the basis of his or her direct experience in supporting both the customer and its installed base of equipment.

Cross-selling does not only apply within the product-only and services-only segments; in fact, some of the strongest cross-selling actually occurs between these two segments – going both ways. For example, if the service technician’s observations and experience suggest that a customer may have outgrown the capacity and capabilities of one of its units, then they may suggest that the customer considers acquiring a second, or third, unit. If this is the case, then it would be considered as cross-selling; however, if the most effective solution is to upgrade to a new machine, then that would be considered as “up-selling” (more on this later).

Examples of cross-selling between product and service may include:

  • Selling any existing customer a service level agreement of any kind
  • Selling any existing customer a preventive maintenance agreement
  • Selling any existing customer advanced or remedial training, consulting, or engineering services
  • Selling any existing customer any other types of services or support of any kind

Examples of cross-selling between service and product may include:

  • Selling any existing services customer a product of any kind
  • Selling any existing services customer parts, consumables, or other physical items
  • Selling any existing services customer product and service “bundles”, or packages, of any kind

In addition to these various types of cross-selling, there are also many opportunities for simple, direct product-to-product and service-to service sales as well.

There is never really a bad time to cross-sell your customers. Chances are, if they’ve already got one of your company’s products, they are already using some of its services. If they are not using all of them, however, it may be either because (1) they don’t feel they need anything else from you in support of the equipment; (2) they are already acquiring these services from another vendor, or performing them themselves; or (3) they were unaware that your company offers them at all.

In the first two cases, it is simply a matter of your providing them with the relevant information for the first time; finding out whether or not they are interested in acquiring these services from your company; and, if not, simply making a note of your conversation for use at a later time. As situations change, the service technician may want to bring up the matter with them again in the future.

However, in the third case, it will be up to the technician to let them know that the company does, in fact, offer additional services; find out in which areas they may require additional support; and then match the company’s services offerings to the customer’s specific needs in the most effective manner. This methodology works well in both product-to-product and service-to-service sales, as well as across each of the two segments.

Some of the more opportune times to consider cross-selling the company’s products or services would be at the following:

  • Leading up to, and within 90 days of, a service level agreement expiration
  • When an existing unit’s warranty coverage is about to expire
  • After one or more occurrences of equipment failure due to significantly increased volume, throughput, or overuse
  • When a customer’s business is about to merge, or has just acquired, another business
  • When a customer is about to relocate, consolidate, or expand its existing department or facility

Other times when cross-selling opportunities may abound include at the beginning of the customer’s annual business planning cycle (i.e., this is different for individual companies, but typically in the fourth quarter, or just after Labor Day), or at the end of a financial quarter or the company’s fiscal year. However, the service technician will need to check with each individual customer on a case-by-case basis to see what their respective financial planning cycles are before they can get a good feel for the proper timing for these potential opportunities.

Cross-selling is an integral component of any business’s sales and marketing program. It is generally embraced by most businesses, as the relative cost for doing so is typically quite low.

The benefit to the service technicians, however, regardless of whether the company currently has a cross-selling incentive program in place, is that they can assist in consolidating the installed base of the equipment that they will be servicing and supporting in the future by playing a part in the “clustering” of the respective installed bases of some of their customers, and this will probably result in less travel time required to support the same customer installed base. In any case, both the customer and the technician, and your company, win in any “cross-selling” scenario.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Identifying the Differences Between Customers’ Wants and Needs

In many cases, there may be great differences between a customer’s wants and a customer’s needs; but sometimes there may actually be only very little difference. It all depends on the specific customer. However, the way in which you manage each customer relationship will ultimately make the greatest difference with respect to your prospects for gaining customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Typically, the more knowledgeable customers are about the equipment they are using, the more their wants and needs are likely to be the same; however, less knowledgeable customers may not really have a clear idea of the distinction between the two.

For example, a copying machine customer may want you to clean the equipment while you are on-site if they had been noticing black marks or spots on the copies coming out of the unit; when, in fact, the main reason for the black marks may have entirely been due to a worn-out roller or other part that needs to be replaced. In a case like this, what the customer really “needed” was clean copies coming out of the machine; however, what they thought they “wanted” was simply for the machine to be cleaned.

If you had listened only to the customer, you might have embarked on a faulty corrective action with respect to satisfying their needs. Remember, when it comes to repairing the machine, you are the expert – not the customer!

Similarly, a customer may want you to take the machine apart and put it back together again, or replace a part that is not really defective, simply as an exercise to ensure that the copier continues to run “smoothly”. However, what the customer may really need is a more effective preventive maintenance schedule for the equipment that would otherwise negate the need to actually have to take the machine apart or perform a parts swap, etc.

In this case, what the customer “wanted” was for you to take the machine apart and put it back together again; however, what they really “needed” was a machine that would not break down in the near future as they were preparing for a major copy run. Properly scheduled preventive maintenance would have accomplished this, making any further corrective actions entirely unnecessary.

The best way for you to understand the differences between customers’ wants and needs is to help them to understand the differences in the first place. It all goes back to the “Listen, Observe, Think, Speak”, or LOTS, approach. By listening to the symptoms that the customer is describing once you arrive on-site, and the problems that they tell you they have been experiencing until you got there, you will probably already be in a good position to surmise what is needed. However, upon further observation with respect to the machine, you will undoubtedly have an even clearer picture. In fact, by this time, you should probably already have a good idea of exactly what the customer “needs”.

This would also be a good time to explain to the customer what the initial diagnosis is, what you plan to do about it, and the anticipated amount of time it will take for you to repair it. By providing this information early, you can avoid running into situations where the customer is telling you they “want” one thing and being forced to tell them they really “need” another.

In other words, the best way to avoid a “debate” about what is “wanted” vs. what is “needed” is to identify the problem and appropriate course of action as soon as possible, keep the customer informed on an as-needed (or as-requested) basis, and let them know what they “need” upfront, before they feel compelled to tell you what they “want”.

Of course, it may not always be this easy. There will always be situations where what you feel the customer needs is not what the customer wants. This is where an ongoing educational process between you and your customers needs to take place. This does not mean to say that the two of you need to sit down, read the equipment manuals together, compare notes, and enter into “philosophical” discussions about equipment maintenance; but, rather, that a series of ongoing, brief discussions should take place every time you are on-site to repair the equipment to ensure that the customer understands why the machine failed, what they could do to lessen the chances for failures in the future, what the recommended “fix” is, and why your way of addressing the situation is better than their way. Sometimes, the solution may be as simple as upgrading to a newer unit.

Basically, what the customer really wants is a piece of equipment that is always up and running, ready to use, unlikely to fail, easy to repair, easy to manage, and easy to use. The details with respect to how each of these is accomplished should really be of no consequence to the customer – although they usually are!

Your role, over time, will be to make sure that you always communicate to the customer about what is “needed” to the point where they have full faith in your knowledge and experience, and are willing to defer to your judgment. The more communications there are between you and your customers, the quicker they will get to the point where they will defer to your recommendations, and the quicker the distinction between their “wants” and their “needs” will disappear.

Are You Successfully Managing Your Customer Relationships?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me explain further.

CRM Philosophy

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

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

Goals and Objectives

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

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

Processes and Tools

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

Data and Information

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

Organization and Infrastructure

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

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

Monitoring and Tracking

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

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

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

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

The Importance of Serving as an Ambassador to Your Customer Base

Your company may have thousands – or even tens of thousands – of employees working for it all over the world; however, as far as your customer accounts are concerned, you are the principal individual through whom they will have any contact once the initial sale has been completed. While they may speak with a sales associate of the company from time to time with regard to parts, consumables, upgrades or new equipment purchases, you are probably the only one they will actually see on a regular basis. As such, you are basically serving as an “ambassador” for both the equipment manufacturer and its services arm.

The role of the “ambassador”, while important, should not be a difficult one to play. Who more than you within the company could possibly do a better job? You are the one who makes regular service calls to the customer site; you have met and interacted with all of the principal equipment managers and operators at the customer site; you are familiar with the entire equipment service history; and you probably have all of the product literature and service documentation readily available at your fingertips. Plus, you are the one that also has had years of experience in supporting a wide variety of business systems and equipment, including new models, “end-of-life” equipment, and everything in-between in a variety of business applications.

So, you know the customer, you know the equipment, you know how the customer uses the equipment, and you know how the customer reacts when the equipment goes down. As a result, you already have everything you need on the “input” side; now all you need is some guidance with respect to using this information to your advantage on the “output” side, so you may truly serve as an ambassador to your customer base.

The first step in your role as an ambassador to the customer is to familiarize – or re-familiarize – yourself with all of the data and information you already have at hand. This will require reviewing the contents of your various customer service and support materials, such as product documentation, service guides, service-level agreements, internal and external documents and memoranda, company e-mails, recall notices, new product announcements, and any other items that you believe may ultimately have some impact with respect to customer needs and satisfaction. Every once in a while, it will also be to your advantage to visit your company’s web site to see if there have been any recent press releases, product announcements or the like that will help increase your overall understanding of what your company presently offers to its customers.

In today’s world, technology is constantly changing, and these changes often lead to the development of new products, new services, new software functionality and new business alliances between and among traditional companies. You should also spend the time to make yourself aware of any changes in these areas as you deal with your customers, since many of them will be reading the same websites, trade journals and business newspapers as you should be.

Given that your customers already look at you as their primary go-to person with respect to their business systems and equipment support, it is only natural that they will look to you for additional information and guidance as well. For example, your customers have probably asked you countless questions like “Who do I need to talk to in the company to see about adding components to our existing system configuration?”, “What do you think are the best types of consumables to use?”, “Our monthly throughput has really been increasing; do you think it’s time for us to consider upgrading to a bigger unit?”. None of these questions necessarily fall within your specific area of equipment service responsibility; but, you have probably answered them every time in the past – and, if not, you should get yourself to a position where you are able to in the future.

The best way to position yourself as a customer ambassador is to think – from the customer’s perspective – what other types of questions they would want answered if they had their company’s ambassador right there on-site, at their disposal, at any time. These questions would almost certainly involve information on new products, new services, new contracts, and almost too many other items to list.

Still, the more insight you have into your customers’ needs, usage and operation of their business systems and equipment, the better prepared you will be to pre-suppose what those questions might be. This can also provide you with some guidance as to what specific types of data and information you should be obtaining and reviewing on an ongoing basis in order to be able to respond to any and all of your customers’ questions “on the fly”.

Another thing to remember is that the more information the customer believes you have readily accessible, the more likely they will be to ask you more questions. Consequently, the more questions they ask you, and the more information you provide them, the more likely they will be to move forward on your suggestions. This, in turn, will probably lead them to buy more products and services from your company and, ultimately, become even more reliant on you for additional support. Very quickly, any existing relationship can become an even stronger “win-win” situation for both the customer and the service provider, as the customer now has a more direct source of data and information that it may use for future purchase decision-making. Effectively, from the customer’s perspective, the company has an added sales and promotional arm already out in the field – i.e., you.

There will always be multiple communications channels between your company and the customer – going both ways, from top to bottom and side-to-side, and throughout both organizations. However, by stepping in at the appropriate times, either when asked directly by the customer, or when a specific situation arises where you believe you can be of assistance, you will ultimately strengthen your role as the principal communications channel between the two parties. In fact, you probably already are serving in this capacity for most of your customers!

The way to determine if this is not the case, however, is to find out how many times, and how often, your customers go around you to obtain information on new products, new services, service level agreements, etc. If this happens quite frequently, the message that you should be getting is that you have not been making yourself as accessible to the customer as they would like, and that they would like to see more interaction and intervention on your part in order to make their job of managing their installed base of equipment a bit easier.

Again, nobody is asking you to do more than your designated responsibilities in terms of managing the service of your customers’ installed base of equipment and providing a full measure of support to your customers; however, if your primary job responsibility is to attend to your customers’ overall needs and requirements, and maximize the corresponding levels of customer satisfaction, then by serving as a principal channel between them and the company, you will only be making your own job that much easier.

The primary role of any ambassador, ultimately, is to serve as an intermediary who can make things easier for each of the parties it represents – in your case, bringing the customer and your company together in a true partner relationship. The beauty is that you probably already have most of the tools you will need to serve in the role of an ambassador, coupled with a fair measure of historical credibility among your customer base as well.

Now, all you have to do is be just a bit more proactive and interactive with your customers so they will know (if they didn’t already) that they have this additional resource in you. Thus, by simply doing what you do already – just in a bit more open and organized fashion – you can easily become a much more valuable resource to your customers – and your company.

Communications Before, During, and After the Customer Site Visit

Communications before, during, and after the customer site visit are all important – and all essentially the same, just with some variations upon a theme. However, you will find that the common threads that go through all of the communications between you and your customers are typically based on the “Listen, Observe, Think, Speak”, or LOTS, approach (that we previously outlined in one of our earlier blogs). It really does not matter when you are having communications with your customers – what matters is that when you do, you are consistent and responsive. This is where the LOTS approach can truly help.

Communications Before the Customer Site Visit

Of course, the types of communications you have with your customers before, during, and after the on-site visit are likely to differ significantly by content. By content, we mean what you will be speaking to them about, rather than how you will be speaking to them.

For example, prior to an on-site call, there will probably only be a few different types of conversations or exchanges that you will be likely to have with your customers. These may include areas such as scheduling or confirming an appointment, alerting them in advance that you may be late for an appointment, asking them to describe the symptoms of an equipment failure so you will know what you will be dealing with once you arrive, or any other number of informational courtesy-type exchanges.

For most pre-visit conversations that are essentially courtesy-based, much of the “pressure” will be reduced, and it will simply boil down to a matter of confirming dates, times, places, and other pieces of information that will allow you to quickly get to work as soon as you arrive at the customer’s premises. However, as easy as these types of conversations could be, if you do not pay attention to what the customer is saying, or if you let something “slip through the cracks”, you may end up paying dearly for it before too long.

You have probably heard of some cases where a field technician has called the customer from the road to let them know they are on the way to the site; but once he or she arrives, there is nobody there to let them in. After waiting five or 10 minutes, the field technician leaves. However, if they had truly “listened” to the customer during that initial telephone conversation, they would have noted that the customer had asked to call them on their cell phone upon arrival, since they would not be at their own desk at the anticipated time of arrival. The end result of not listening carefully in this case is (1) an incomplete service call that now needs to be rescheduled, (2) a piece of installed equipment that remains unusable, and (3) a customer account that started off frustrated, but now has become angry because the field technician didn’t listen to them.

It is generally understandable – and mostly forgivable – to miss something when the communications are difficult, rushed, complicated, or otherwise out of the ordinary; but, when you let something “slip through the cracks” on an otherwise simple, yet important, item of communication, you have only yourself to blame – and your customer will let you know it! That is why communications prior to the on-site visit are so important, even though they may be so simple. Nonetheless, they set the stage for the entire customer relationship throughout the duration of the service call – and well beyond.

Communications During the On-Site Visit

Different customers are just like different service technicians – some like to talk a lot, and some don’t like to talk much at all. In most cases, you will have to be the judge. However, there are still some guidelines for communications during the on-site visit that may be helpful, as follows.

You must remember that when you are making an on-site visit, it is typically because of a specific reason – and one which is most likely negative, such as an equipment failure, software problem, or another circumstance that is making the equipment unusable. Even a scheduled PM will make the equipment unusable for a brief period of time. While you and your customer may be genuinely happy to see one another and share your thoughts on anything from the weather, to the local sports team results, to the latest stock market report, the primary order of business – and remember, you are both managing portions of your respective company’s businesses – is to get the equipment up and running as soon as possible.

The best types of on-site communications are, again, those based on the “Listen, Observe, Think, Speak”, or LOTS, approach. Keep in mind that as soon as you arrive on-site, this will be the customer’s first opportunity to tell you – sometimes at great length – exactly what they think went wrong, when it happened, what they were doing when it happened, and why it is important that you get it fixed as soon as possible. In many cases, this is nothing more than the customer’s best opportunity to vent to you once you arrive.

Just as a courtesy, you will probably have to listen to most, if not all, of what your customer has to say at this time; however, these introductory communications will also serve to set the stage for where you will need to look, and what you will need to do, in order to perform the fix. If the customer hangs around while you are performing the work (although this is generally not advised), there will be additional time for the two of you to engage in “small talk”.

However, regardless of where the customer “hangs” while you are performing the work, you can count on only one thing – they cannot wait until you have finished the work, and are able to tell them the magic words, “Everything is fixed. The unit works perfectly. You can begin using it immediately.” This will always be your first priority while you are still on-site. But they will also expect you to tell them why the failure occurred, what they may have done differently to have avoided it, and what they can reasonably expect to experience in the future (i.e., in terms of related or anticipated equipment failure, etc.). Accordingly, this may also be a good time to talk to them about possible equipment replacements or upgrades, extended warranty agreements, or the like. These will generally be considered as appropriate types of communications to engage in at this time – even from the customer’s perspective.

Communications After the On-Site Visit

Communications after the on-site visit can oftentimes be categorized into communications following a “good” call, a “bad” call, or an “incomplete” call – but, however you classify them, they are all really the same in terms of what you will ultimately be required to do. Regardless of whether it was a “good” (i.e., the repair went well, and the machine is working again) or “bad” (i.e., the repair did not go well because you did not have the right spare part with you, or you arrived late, etc.) call, the customer will always want to know “what happens next?”

Following a “good” call, the customer will probably expect to hear from you in the next day or so regarding whether the machine is still running as expected, and whether there have been any other problems that they may have encountered since you completed the call. For a repeat service call, the customer may be waiting to hear from you with respect to whether or not a replacement unit or an equipment upgrade would either be required or recommended. As such, this may also represent an excellent opportunity for you to cross-sell or upsell this particular customer.

However, for a “bad” call, all the customer will really want to hear from you – and, as soon as possible – is what are you going to do to resolve the problem. In cases like this, it will be to your advantage to be as proactive as possible, calling your customer with the proposed solution before they feel they have to call you to ask about it.

It always pays to remember that the communications that occur after the most recent on-site visit will pretty much set the stage for the communications that transpire before and during your next on-site visit with that customer. In a classic television commercial for an automotive oil filter, the tagline was something like, “You can either pay me now, or you can pay me later.” When you’re dealing with your customers, believe me, it is always better to pay attention to what you need to do upfront so you do not get caught having to pay for it later – because you will!

Until next time – keep your customers satisfied!