How Were You Planning to Use Market Research Data as Input into Your 2021 Strategic Plan?

Just after the Labor Day holiday, every year, businesses begin their planning processes for the coming year. This is typically the time when internal planning teams are created, planning deadlines are set, and marketing goals and targets are established. But what types of market research data are you planning to use in your planning process? And how are you going to get it in the first place? Now is the time to plan exactly where your customer research will come from – and how to use it most effectively in supporting your strategic planning process.

In today’s upended business environment, even the most skeptical services managers will agree that “the customer is always right”. Still, there are too many organizations that do not – or will not – go directly to their customers for input and feedback. A reporter once asked the legendary bank robber, Willie Sutton, why he robbed so many banks. Without hesitation, he replied, “Because that’s where all the money is!”. While Willie’s business practices may not have been either legally or politically correct, there was one thing that you had to give him – he knew where to go to get what he needed. In the services industry, the place where we need to go, to get the information we need – is the customer.

Some managers argue that internal call activity data, information and reports are all they need to measure and track their organization’s performance over time, and identify unmet user needs and requirements. They claim that these internal data are more objective, accurate and statistically valid than anything market research may derive from conducting customer needs, requirements and satisfaction surveys.

Objectively speaking, they may be right! However, the customers your organization supports are typically not objective in the way in which they assess and evaluate your performance and, in most cases, the internal data you are able to derive do not adequately reflect their true perceptions of satisfaction – let alone loyalty – with respect to your organization’s performance. It is primarily for these reasons that we believe the only true source of customer-focused research comes from the customers themselves – and that the most effective means to collect this information is to interact with them through a customer survey.

Customer Survey Design Components

Customer surveys, in and of themselves, are not new. They have been used for decades. What is new, however, are the ways in which the data are collected, processed, analyzed and applied, as well as how the information is ultimately integrated into the strategic planning process.

Traditional modes of conducting customer surveys via mail, telephone and personal interface have now been essentially replaced by e-mail or Web-based surveys. Newer data processing tools, coupled with the increased speed of collecting and processing data through electronic means, have also made it much easier – and quicker – to analyze the collected survey data. What used to take months to design, execute, process and analyze now only takes weeks.

Still, one thing remains unchanged over time; in order for any customer survey program to be effective – especially with respect to supporting the strategic planning process – it must address each of the following key survey design areas:

  • Business Objectives, such as “Why is the research being conducted?” and “How is it going to be used?”
  • Information Objectives, such as “What information do we need to support our business objectives?” and “How can we most effectively obtain it?”
  • Organizational Structure, such as “What areas do we want to measure?” and “Which areas require separate, or more detailed, analysis?”
  • Customers and Customer Groups, such as “Which customers should be surveyed?” and “Who within each customer organization represents our most appropriate contact?”
  • Competitive Environment, such as “Who are our direct and indirect competitors?” and “Who should we be benchmarking against?”
  • Operational Information, such as “How do we obtain current lists of customers?” and “How can they best be reached?”
  • Statistical Requirements, such as “What is an acceptable margin of error?” and “How can the data be most effectively reported?”
  • Previously Conducted Research, such as “What have we learned from our past studies?” and “How can we integrate what we’ve learned into the new survey process?”
  • Internal Measures, such as “What mechanisms are currently being used to measure and track performance?” and “How can we reconcile the external findings with our internal data?”
  • Customer Relationship Management (CRM), such as “How can the customer survey program support our overall CRM initiatives?” and “How can the results best be communicated internally and externally?”
  • Tracking and Monitoring, such as “How should we track our customer needs, requirements and satisfaction performance over time?” and “How frequently will we need to update our information base?”
  • Timing and Scheduling, such as “When will the baseline results be required?” and “How quickly can the survey be designed, executed, processed and analyzed?”

A Customer Satisfaction Measurement and Tracking program can successfully address all of the areas as described above, as well as provide management with a comprehensive analysis of the baseline, or “benchmark”, customer needs and requirements/satisfaction survey results, and the analysis of trend data that could be used to identify key patterns of change, or movement, in customers’ perceptions of service performance over time. These would include, but not be limited to:

  • Detailed analyses of the overall survey findings that establish baseline needs/satisfaction levels, and track trends and shifts in customer needs and satisfaction from period-to-period;
  • The identification of specific areas requiring improvement and/or enhancement;
  • Generation of executive-level summary reports, detailed survey data and regular (e.g., quarterly) tracking reports;
  • Assessments of the strategic implications for the organization based on the analyses of the overall survey findings; and
  • Development of specific recommendations for improving the existing services portfolio and corresponding levels of satisfaction.

Survey Research Applications and Uses

The applications and uses of the findings from a customer satisfaction measurement and tracking program of this type would be multifold:

  1. The organization could acquire new and useful input and feedback directly from its customers regarding their perceptions of the value, need and levels of satisfaction associated with the acquisition and use of the company’s products and services.
  2. The survey results could then be used to monitor trends in both company performance and customer satisfaction over time. This information could contribute directly to the ongoing improvement of the company’s products and services as part of an overall marketing plan, and could ultimately lead to the development of new, or modified, products, services and support features designed to meet the total needs of the customer base.
  3. The results of the survey could also be used as a marketing tool for promoting the company’s various product and service lines through a number of means including:
    • The creation of an executive summary, or “white paper” report, based on the general survey results, for distribution to targeted customers and prospects via mail, e-mail, insertion in corporate literature folders, or at industry trade shows;
    • Development of a series of promotional and public relations-oriented news releases targeted to key business publications and trade papers; and
    • Publication of a “genericized” summary of the survey results in an appropriate industry trade journal or magazine that serves the organization’s general customer/market base.
  1. The results of the survey analysis, as well as a sampling of selected verbatim quotes and comments, could also be incorporated directly into the company’s advertising and promotional programs, corporate brochures, testimonials, newsletters, etc.

Any business that has put off conducting a customer needs and requirements assessment, or customer satisfaction survey, for a year or more allegedly to “save money” or wait for the “right time” may now be experiencing a dramatic decline in customer satisfaction. since they haven’t really tracked it over time, or implemented any corrective actions before things began to deteriorate.

However, by the time an organization typically realizes that there has been a significant downturn in customer satisfaction, it may take another year or more before it can effectively reverse the trend (i.e., through problem recognition, identification, correction, and tracking). That may seem like a long time, unless you consider that if they didn’t forego their customer survey tracking in the previous year, it could have corrected all of the problems by now!

Measuring customer satisfaction is a necessary process for all businesses, and not one to be taken for granted. Simply because your customers appear to be satisfied with you today does not ensure that they will remain satisfied forever. Why not let them tell you exactly what makes them “tick”, and what “ticks” them off?  You can only do that if you take the effort to design, execute, analyze and track your customers needs, requirements and corresponding levels of customer satisfaction, through an orchestrated process, on an ongoing and focused basis. If you haven’t already, now is the time to make customer-focused research a regular part of your ongoing strategic planning process. The time to start is now!

SFG℠ Makes Four eBooks and 15 Analysts Take Papers Available for Licensing and Distribution

Today, July 27, 2020, Strategies For Growth℠ (SFG℠) announced that it has 4 eBooks and 15 newly-written Analysts Take papers now available for licensing and distribution.

These papers range in topics from transitioning your customer base from customer satisfaction to customer retention; the positive impact of “great” communications (i.e., as opposed to only “good” communications), and how to get to that level; how the leading services organizations are planning (and executing) for future growth and sustainability; Warranty Management patterns and trends for 2020 and beyond (i.e., the results from SFG℠‘s 2020 Warranty Chain Management Benchmark Tracking Survey); and many others.

If there is any interest at your organization, please contact Bill Pollock, president & principal consulting analyst, directly at 484.620.2711 to discuss further, or feel free to e-mail Bill at wkp@s4growth.com. Also, be sure to ask about the companion Webcasts available for each of the eBooks and papers.

Simply click on the following link to download a summary description of each available paper, along with their associated licensing fees, etc.: Available SFG eBooks and Analysts Take Papers

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Bill

IFS Adds Astea to Its World: Established Best-of-Breed FSM Solution Provider Joins IFS’s Long List of Key Global Field Service Acquisitions

[The following Blog entry is an excerpt from SFG℠‘s Analysts Take on the impact of IFS’s acquisition of Astea on the FSM competitive landscape. You may either read ahead, or simply “click” on the link provided below to download a complimentary copy of the entire report. Please note, however, that since this is still a developing story, follow our Blog for updated information as it becomes available. Happy reading!

To access the complimentary Analyst Take paper, please click here: @@@ IFS-Astea Analysts Take Paper (Final Draft – 19-10-16).]

On October 8, 2019, IFS, the Sweden-based global enterprise applications company, announced that it had signed a definitive agreement to purchase global software company, Astea International (USOTC: ATEA). According to the joint press release published that day, “The transaction will enable the combined company to serve more customers in more markets, through a broader network of the best talent and partners in the industry”.

The primary rationale for IFS leading up to the acquisition was “to strengthen [the company’s] global leadership in [the] Field Service Management business.” It also believed that the “Combined company will have strengthened leadership position in Field Service Management (FSM) by integrating two of the most established and well recognized players in the market.”

SFG℠’s “Take” on the Impact of the Acquisition – Why Astea? Why Now?

  • Astea has been on the list of potential acquires for as long as many of the market analysts can remember. It is not a surprise that it has finally been acquired – the real surprise is that it took so long.
  • [Plus, 10 more reasons!

[Read the full SFG℠ Analysts Take paper for all the current details!]

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.]