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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PTC’s SLM Market Strategy – Built Solidly on the Intersection of SLM and the IoT (and Its Partnership with ServiceMax Doesn’t Hurt, Either!)

[With permission; excerpted transcript from an internal PTC Podcast, recorded on October 9, 2015, by Bill Pollock, President & Principal Consulting Analyst, Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM).]

Foundation of PTC’s SLM/IoT Strategy

The most important component of PTC’s evolving strategy is that it is built on a foundation of powerful technology as well as its existing base of more than 28,000 customers. And upon this foundation, PTC provides a full suite of solutions to an expanding global marketplace. As a result, I believe that PTC has been able to leapfrog the competition in a number of ways:

  • First, through the early recognition that the adoption and use of the Internet of Things, or the IoT, will be pervasive and ubiquitous;
  • Second, that it will need to actually guide and help the industry understand the potential of the IoT. And by that, I mean, using a consultative sales approach to tell customers how to begin their IoT journey, as the customers may not actually know their respective needs themselves; and
  • Third, by continuing to build its portfolio of IoT-supported Service Lifecycle Management, or SLM, solutions to provide total support for its global customer base.

However, the success of PTC’s vision will ultimately lie in the execution. That is, its ability to build such an all-encompassing strategy on a solid footing to ensure homogeneity, consistency and, ultimately, acceptance by the global marketplace.

Early on, PTC recognized that the IoT would have the most significant impact on, and fastest adoption in, Service Lifecycle Management (or SLM). In fact, PTC CEO, James Heppelmann has repeatedly said that the first use case for IoT is SLM. Why would a manufacturer/OEM want to embrace an IoT strategy? The answer is to better serve its products – and, by doing so, its customers.

Accordingly, the company took several ground-breaking initiatives to prepare itself – and its customers –through a well-planned, and highly orchestrated, mix of internal development and external acquisitions.

PTC recognized that the pervasive adoption of the IoT in SLM would lead to a succession of sea changes that would ultimately change the industry forever – quickly, completely, and with little tolerance for laggards, late bloomers or followers. Further, based on the extensive analysis of market research conducted both internally, as well as by us at Strategies For GrowthSM, PTC foresaw the coming disruptive change, and took concrete steps to prepare itself, as well as its partners, and its customers.

For example, one shining moment for PTC in the SLM space was its January, 2013, acquisition of Servigisitics.

Acquisitions of Servigistics, ThingWorx and Axeda Systems

The Servigistics acquisition, in retrospect, was a critical component of PTC’s strategy to help manufacturing companies capture the enormous revenue potential in after-market services. It also set the stage for PTC’s vision in building out a technological infrastructure, based on the IoT, to enable these firms to transition to, and realize the big opportunities coming from, an outcome-based services strategy. This is generally referred to as “Servitization”.

Over the past year or so, the main message that the market is hearing from PTC is that it is “extremely serious about the importance of the IoT” – and that it is driven to strengthen its continuing leadership role by integrating the IoT into all aspects of service.

While PTC may have surprised many industry observers by acquiring ThingWorx back in December of 2013, in retrospect, that was the move that propelled PTC into the forefront of the IoT – and all of its numerous lifecycle management applications. The IoT is extremely important, not only to the company’s SLM solutions, but also to its PLM and ALM solutions. This acquisition, more than any other, served to communicate the following two messages to the services community in a big way:

  • First, it solidly positioned PTC as the global leader in each of its respective sectors within the Enterprise Lifecycle Management world (that is, Product/PLM, Service/SLM and Application/ALM, ).
  • Second, it clearly put the global business community on notice that PTC was placing the future of its entire solution portfolio in the connected hands of the IoT.

The acquisition of Axeda Systems in June of 2014, further bolstered PTC’s IoT hold on the marketplace by filling in one of the few remaining gaps in the company’s ability to support connected products, people and technology – that is, the software solution vehicle by which its IoT offerings can make their way into the marketplace.

Together, the ThingWorx and Axeda acquisitions have paved the way for PTC to execute on its pervasive IoT- based strategy. But there’s more to it that finally cements everything together – namely, the partnership that PTC has just forged with ServiceMax in April of this year. I believe this partnership represents the capstone of what provides PTC with the ability to fully support the global SLM marketplace.

The PTC-ServiceMax Partnership

ServiceMax and PTC share a common vision for changing the relationship that companies have with their customers by shifting service delivery from reactive, to proactive and predictive. The two companies have highly complementary technology offerings, and the combination of ServiceMax’s innovative service execution capabilities with the proven technical information, parts management and revenue optimization solutions from PTC stand to be unparalleled in the industry.

PTC’s Heppelmann has said that “Empowering the entire portfolio with Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity, will revolutionize service. Service organizations will now be able to capture new business, increase revenue and heighten customer loyalty faster, more effectively and with more ease than ever before.” And I believe that its partnership with ServiceMax will make that happen – not only sooner, but better, as well!

What the partnership brings to PTC and its customers is both a powerful and modern cloud-based field service management solution, fully supported throughout the implementation, management and delivery of services. For ServiceMax, the partnership broadens its portfolio with the addition of service information and parts management functionalities, extends its market reach to a global base of more than 28,000 PTC customers, expands its distribution channels multifold and, most importantly, empowers its entire portfolio through PTC’s state-of-the-art ThingWorx IoT platform.

But, why ServiceMax? ServiceMax was the first complete field service software solution to help companies of all sizes manage workforce scheduling, while also providing solutions for social, portals, and analytics – all delivered in the cloud, to any mobile device. And PTC offers the “book ends” to that critically important scheduling function: that is, technical information on one end; and parts management on the other end.

This combined functionality now allows customers to directly leverage product information to ultimately transform service from a reactive product repair function, to a proactive and predictive customer success function – all IOT-enabled, with the prospects of blowing everyone else out of the water. As a result, the company’s customers can expect to fully realize the promise of predictive service – as well as the lofty goals of Servitization.

With its corporate strategy built on the solid foundation of the intersection of SLM and the IoT, we can only expect PTC – and its customers – to continue to evolve as quickly as the IoT itself!

The Acquisition That Changes the Landscape of Field Service Management: FieldOne’s CEO Fields Key Questions about the Microsoft Acquisition

On July 16, 2015, Microsoft announced that it had reached an agreement to acquire FieldOne Systems, LLC, “a world-class provider of field service management solutions that allow organizations to better manage and deliver service to their customers in the field.”

For many who have served in – or covered – the field services industry over the past several years, this was a long overdue move on the part of a large, global enterprise to make its way into the field services domain. While Microsoft may not have been the first name expected by some to make the first move, it is not surprising, in retrospect, that they were, in fact, the one.

Even less surprising is the fact that they went after FieldOne – a relatively young, Cloud-based company, but with a progressive outlook and the prospects of a strong and growing future.

Most industry analysts, like myself, had long series of questions to ask both parties about the forthcoming acquisition. I would suspect, just from the many initial inquiries that I have fielded in the past week, that the marketplace has even more questions they would like answered!

As a result, I have been granted the opportunity to have asked a number of questions about what the future holds for the “newest” Field Service Management (FSM) solution provider, and am pleased to share the exclusive Q&A results with you through my Blog.

Undoubtedly, there will be more questions to ask, and answers to provide. But, for now, I believe that Ilan Slasky, CEO of FieldOne, has gotten us off to a good start with his initial responses. The following responses are current as of July 28, 2015.

Enjoy!

[The following are verbatim questions and answers conducted by Bill Pollock, president and principal consulting analyst at Strategies For Growth℠, and Ilan Slasky, CEO of FieldOne Systems, acquired by Microsoft on July 16, 2015.]

Q – Pollock: The market expectations resulting from the acquisition of FieldOne by Microsoft are generally quite high; however, there is still some skepticism as to exactly how “all in” Microsoft really is to providing a true Field Service Management (FSM) or Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) solution. How would you describe Microsoft’s intent to become a major player in the Field Services marketplace?

A – Slasky: A very good question indeed. The team at Microsoft, in the Dynamics group, has been following the FSM or SLM space for many years. They know all the players in the space and have contemplated whether to build or buy a solution that addresses this very large and rapidly growing market.

In their many discussions with their enterprise customers, Microsoft has come to fully appreciate how significant a need there is for a Field Service solution, and how underserved this market really is. The customer feedback has validated much of their internal thinking, and their intention to go after this market was truly the impetus for the acquisition of FieldOne.

We have been working with them over the past couple of years, with increasing frequency, on ever-larger opportunities. The acquisition of FieldOne is a natural extension of that working relationship which will allow Microsoft to realize their aspirations of becoming a dominant force in the Field Service Management market.

Q – Pollock: How would existing Microsoft Dynamics for CRM customers expect to benefit as a result of the acquisition in terms of changes/improvements to their historical customer relationships? What about existing FieldOne customers? What could they expect?

A – Slasky: Microsoft has repeatedly commented that their customers and ours are the biggest beneficiaries of this transaction. Customers will benefit from an even tighter integration of FieldOne Sky and Microsoft Dynamics CRM that leverages powerful predictive analytics and weaves intelligent Field Service functionality into the increasingly innovative Microsoft Dynamics offering.

By pairing FieldOne Sky with the capabilities of Cortana Analytics, Parature and Power BI, to name a few, both Microsoft and FieldOne customers will have predictive maintenance and Internet of Things capabilities at their fingertips.

Q – Pollock: What are the principal benefits that customers/users can get from the “new” Microsoft Dynamics for CRM as a result of the FieldOne acquisition and integration (i.e., that they might not be able to get from another Microsoft partner)?

A – Slasky: Microsoft and FieldOne product teams have been working together for some time now, but the real benefit will come when they can truly share their respective product roadmaps and fully leverage solutions for the good of the customer. There are things that FieldOne does exceptionally well that will allow Microsoft to leverage in the core Dynamics CRM product.

In the same way, the product roadmap for Microsoft Dynamics CRM will allow FieldOne to better leverage the core platform for key features that customers are asking for. This will become all too evident for customers on product releases later this year.

Q – Pollock: How do you believe this acquisition has changed the dynamics of the FSM/SLM market landscape? What would you say are the top impacts that this acquisition will have?

A – Slasky: Clearly, the acquisition of FieldOne by Microsoft is a game changer. More and more enterprise customers want to benefit from the breadth and scale of their software vendors who have integrated solutions to offer them. Customers have repeatedly told Microsoft and FieldOne they prefer to have the large software companies provide the solutions that are so instrumental to their daily operations – solutions like FSM and SLM.

Customer response to the announcement has been nothing short of ecstatic as the market realizes how much will come from further product development that reaches more broadly across FSM/SLM. For customers to now have a single source where they can purchase end-to-end solutions – CRM for their sales efforts, Parature for their customer support needs, and FieldOne for their field service needs – meets the needs of so many enterprise accounts looking for these very solutions as part of their customer engagement strategy.

Q – Pollock: What are the ultimate aspirations of Microsoft/FieldOne with respect to establishing its place in the global Field Services marketplace? To be one of the top players? The leading CRM-SLM player? Or other? In other words, where does the company want to be in 5 years or so?

A – Slasky: It is precisely because we, FieldOne, wanted to be a remarkably significant player in the FSM space that we decided to join forces and offer our solution through Microsoft. Our primary goal at FieldOne has been to bring our solution to the enterprise, empowering them to meet the twin objectives of delivering a superior, differentiated customer experience and doing so in the most efficient and productive manner possible.

We recognize that the quickest way for us to reach the largest of enterprise customers globally is to do so with Microsoft, whose sales teams are calling on these very same accounts looking for ways to help them meet their objectives. I would all but guarantee that over the next 5 years, Microsoft & FieldOne will be the dominant player in the market for FSM software, and will be recognized for its innovative, client driven solutions for this evolving and rapidly growing market.

Q – Pollock: Finally, there has been a lot of speculation on the financial terms of the acquisition. Can you comment on the figures that are currently circulating?

A – Slasky: We have had press and analysts asking for confirmation of acquisition terms and price since we jointly announced the transaction. Specifically, they are asking for confirmation on whether the deal was for $153 million, $120 million or $105 million.

All I can say is none of them are correct, and we will not be disclosing the deal terms publicly. However, what should be very clear is that Microsoft is making a very serious investment in pursuing the Field Services market, and the acquisition of FieldOne is the platform for them to do so. It’s a very significant deal, not just for FieldOne, but for Microsoft as well.

[Be sure to continue watching our Blogsite for more information about this, and other services-related topics, as more news breaks.]

Running a Global Services Organization

Globalization is becoming the norm in the services industry. A market once content with relying on a local, regional – or even national – services organization is increasingly becoming even more reliant on a global support infrastructure. Continuing advances in technology and the proliferation of cloud-based Services Lifecycle Management (SLM) solutions have empowered even the smallest of services organizations with new and expanding possibilities to improve their global service and support operations.

For example, as a result of this trend, we have seen a growing customer demand for global service agreements that result in uniformity in the delivery of service to customers all around the world. In many cases, the unique local or regional service and support needs are rapidly disappearing for many customers who no longer wish to deal with local organizations anymore but, instead, are looking for consistency in global service and support performance, as well as (relative) uniformity in pricing across regional territories based on single contract negotiation.

Customer requirements for service and support will never be the same from one country to another, any more than they will be the same from one customer to another. However, one thing remains very clear – the requirements for service are becoming increasingly standardized on a global basis. A growing number of businesses are going global each year in terms of sales, marketing and services capabilities, supported not only by the proliferation of new Internet-based tools and multinational strategic partnering, but also by the increasing demand for global services and support as evidenced by the market as a whole. However, there are many key functions that will need to be consolidated into a global organization.

Another factor supporting the movement toward globalization is the ability to improve internal efficiency. In a typical decentralized organization, many functions are duplicated and performed independent from each other, which leads to increased communication efforts and differing ways of operating. We have seen organizations where product support documentation was developed by at least three different regional organizations, in some cases, providing conflicting information. For these organizations, operating on a more uniform basis would serve to both improve efficiency dramatically and, at the same time, provide a higher level of consistency in the way in which certain activities are performed. Through improved information and communication technology, new opportunities are also being created that allow services organizations to perform certain business functions more efficiently at a global level, while maintaining local control over their individual market segments.

A third factor supporting the case for globalization is the ability to reduce costs while maintaining or improving service level. The greatest area of opportunity involves the logistics operations where local policies have historically resulted in high investments in inventory, especially for slow moving items. Based on what we have seen in the industry, it makes sense to elevate certain of these functions to a global level in an effort to:

  • Meet customer requirements
  • Increase efficiency
  • Improve consistency

The details of each of these functions obviously will vary by company, but the basic functions do exist in virtually all of the companies in the services sector.

There are many functions that may be offered on a global basis

The best way to determine which functions can be offered on a global basis is to evaluate them from both an efficiency and consistency point of view. However, this does not mean that all tasks must be performed at a global level. Dependent on the individual situation, certain tasks may still be outsourced, or executed at the regional level. A good example is training, where the overall structure of the training programs and material should be consistent all around the world, although the courses can be fine-tuned and provided at regional or local training centers to reduce travel cost. Still, there will likely be increasing pressure on services providers to ramp up to their customers’ increasing global needs by offering a full range of global service and support solutions.

Among the principal functions that may be offered on a global basis are:

Business Development

The Service and Support function is critical for all businesses and has to be an integral part of the overall business strategy. For this reason, it is important to be actively involved in the planning activities that result in the development of a Service and Support Business Development Plan that addresses:

  • Service and Support product portfolio
  • Global marketing plans
  • Global Customer Care and Sales

This business function is most critical at the global level because it ties everything together and establishes a framework for setting the goals and objectives for the other parts of the organization.

Product Management

The Product Management function is also critical at the global level. Historically this function has been highly technology-oriented, and tied very closely both to the business’ development and manufacturing environment as well as its regional and local operations. With the implementation of global systems, this function can now be most efficiently managed at the global level. The function includes tasks such as:

  • Lifecycle management
  • Product documentation
  • Product analysis
  • Sustaining engineering

As stated earlier, the information and communications systems presently available allow for a faster and more reliable information flow to be managed at a central point, thereby requiring the need for only minimal additional investments in research and communications tools to support a global operation.

Logistics

The Logistics function probably represents the greatest opportunity from a cost reduction point of view. Historically each segment of the organization was responsible for its own planning and execution, which generally led to the implementation of multiple independent logistics systems requiring additional safety stock and a huge risk for obsolescence. Based on our consulting experiences, and supported by information culled from our ongoing surveys, creating a Global Logistics System, supported by the right automation systems, commonly reduces the inventory requirement by 20% – 30% without jeopardizing customer service levels.

At the same time, the risk for obsolescence is reduced which also creates additional cash for a company on the basis of lower reserves kept in the books. Dependent on the situation, most of the specific operational aspects of the logistics function may be outsourced to logistics service providers, which ultimately changes the focus of this function from one of execution to basically one of managing the function. At a global level, the Logistics function should include, at the very least:

  • Forecasting and inventory planning
  • Procurement
  • Repair management
  • Inventory control
  • Vendor management

The benefits of a global operation are obvious through the elimination of safety stock at all levels, automatic replenishment based on planning and forecasting, alliances with global parts and services vendors, etc.

Training

Training also needs to be consistent on a global basis. However, the development of good training programs and tools requires specific knowledge in addition to product knowledge. For this reason, it is most efficient to develop training programs at a global level, which will allow for specialization where required, and will improve the overall quality of the individual courses and material. This would encompass:

  • Customer training, and train-the-trainer
  • Technical and Partner training
  • Licensing (if services are outsourced to other companies)

Newer developments in training techniques via distance learning and the Internet are just an extra motivation to centralize this function at a global level.

Field Service

The Field Service function should also be managed on a regional or local level. The principal reasons are that labor restrictions and language barriers are still important geo-centric issues. The challenge is to determine what the appropriate service level should be from a management and support perspective (i.e., second/third line support).

In most situations a hybrid model may be developed where first-line support is provided at the local level, while second- and third-line support are concentrated at the regional or global level. Dependent on the specific type of business, the availability of new technology and expanding Internet capabilities may offer opportunities to increase operational efficiency in an environment where the location of the actual support person becomes less important.

Customer Support

The Customer Support function is a front-line function that is very dependent on the regional and local situation. Similar to the field service function, the level of centralization will be dependent on the local situation and culture. It remains important, however, to link all of these functions together via centralized automation systems and rolling out the appropriate communication systems to allow for local optimization.

Regional and local functions must also be carefully integrated


Because of key factors such as cultural differences, language barriers and the importance of a local presence, certain functions may still be best performed on a regional or local level. Although the trend is typically geared more toward the centralization of certain functions at a regional level (e.g., Pan-European, ASEAN) some cultures still require a local presence to do business. The challenge is to determine which front-line functions are absolutely necessary at the local level, and which can be combined at a higher geographic level.

Although some customers will do business on a global basis, the majority of sales will still occur at the local level, dependent on the culture of the region or country. Some markets might even have local requirements that point to a local sales function. However, all local sales functions supporting the business’ service and support products should be in line with the company’s global programs.

How does your organization get there?

Looking at each of these business functions and determining which can more effectively and efficiently performed at a global level is easy – you simply take a step back and apply some common sense, and the conclusion is almost the same for every business. However, in most cases, managers have to deal with an existing organization that has historically grown to where it is now operating on a non-global basis, and the change to a global environment is likely to greatly impact both the organizational structure, and all of the people in the organization.

In addition to these more tangible effects, there will also usually be many underlying issues that have to do with other, harder-to-define issues, such as philosophical and geo-political factors, changing roles and responsibilities, new reporting structures, etc. To address these issues, a careful approach will be necessary, and it might take some time.

The transition from a regionalized to a globally-managed operation is not easy. There will be a great deal of roadblocks that require attention, and the sensitivity of certain solutions will require a well-crafted and thought-out approach. For this reason it is generally helpful to seek assistance and support from an external party to manage the overall effort and ensure the development of the most appropriate global business model.

Evaluating Your Own Customer Service & Support Performance (Part 1 of 2)

Evaluating your own customer service and support performance is a critical component of your job position. Your employer does it on a regular basis and, as such, it would make great sense for you to perform your own self-evaluation on a regular basis as well (i.e., probably before your employer does).

The key to achieving success in customer service is to distinguish yourself and your company – positively – against the competition by doing everything it takes to make your customers happy. But, in order to do so, you will first have to:

  • Totally embrace the CRM philosophy of managing your customer relationships better;
  • Accept the principle that “the customer is always right” – and learn to practice it every day in the “real world”;
  • Work toward gaining a more thorough understanding of your customers’ specific services needs, requirements, preferences, and expectations; and
  • Set your own goals, objectives, and targets for customer service improvement.

Once you have accomplished this, you will also need to master the ability to:

  • See things through your customers’ eyes (i.e., not just through your own, or your company’s);
  • Support them with dedication, compassion, competence, and professionalism; and
  • Work as hard as you can to get the job done, and provide your customers with a “total” solution.

The United States Government, Academy for Educational Development (AED) suggests that “customers are constantly internalizing their customer service experience. What this means is they are grading your customer service during each transaction, but you rarely know it”.

In a published report, the agency cites six basic needs that stand out in the minds of customers with respect to customer service and support. They are:

  1. Friendliness – the most basic need, directly associated with courtesy and politeness.
  2. Empathy – the need to know that their service provider understands and appreciates their wants, needs, and circumstances.
  3. Fairness – the need to feel that they have received sufficient attention, and reasonable answers.
  4. Control – the need to feel that their wants, input, and feedback have had some influence on the overall outcome.
  5. Alternatives – the flexibility to choose the service and support options that will best satisfy them.
  6. Information – the need for precise – and concise – information about products and services, provided in a pertinent and time-sensitive manner.

Therefore, the key questions you will need to ask yourself as part of any self-evaluation process are:

  • Do my customers believe I am friendly enough when I’m dealing with them? Am I accessible enough? Do I treat them with courtesy and politeness, or am I at times unapproachable or condescending? Do I come across as being too formal? Or not formal enough? Do I comport myself in a professional manner? Or do I show up at their site looking unprepared or unable to do the job?
  • Do my customers believe that I understand their day-to-day challenges, trials, and tribulations with respect to the use of their business imaging systems and equipment? Do they think I’m sincere? Do they think I care about their situation, or the fact that their system is down? Do I look like I have other things on my mind while I’m working to fix their problem? Or do I look like everything I’m doing is just for them?
  • Do my customers believe I am treating them fairly? Or do they think that I’m not treating them as well as some of my other, larger, or “more important” customers? Do they think I’m showing favoritism to others, but not to them? Do I make them feel uncomfortable, or less important than they really are?
  • Do I communicate well enough with my customers? Do I listen attentively to them? Do I “hear” and understand everything they say? Do I respond to their input and feedback quickly enough? Do I give them the sense that what they say is important? Or do they think I am just giving them “lip service”? At the end of the day, do they really believe they’ve had some say in the way things turn out?
  • Do I listen to what my customers tell me, and give them “real” choices based on the options I have at my disposal? Am I too rigid in my approach to providing them with practical, tactical business imaging service and support strategies? Do I need to be more flexible in dealing with their critical needs? Are my interactions with them too one-sided, or are we truly working as an interactive “partnership”?
  • Do I provide my customers with enough information? Or do I give them too much information? Is the information I give them really actionable, or is it just “nice-to-know” information with no specific purpose or use? Do I have enough information at my disposal to provide them with everything they need when they ask for it? If not, do I know where to get it?

Keep in mind, that merely evaluating yourself on the basis of individual “line item” attributes will not provide you with a realistic assessment. Every facet of your self-evaluation must be measured in terms of its overall contribution to your ability to establish and maintain an “interactive partnership” with them. However, the only way this will happen is if your customers truly believe that you have their best interests at heart, and with the various skills and abilities you have acquired over the years, you are capable of providing them with “real” solutions.

Some of the key benefits of attaining real “partnerships” with your customers may be best illustrated by the following examples:

  • Only after you have earned their complete trust and respect will your customers feel comfortable enough to be completely forthcoming with you; but until they do, you might find it difficult to get to the root cause of some of their more complicated customer service problems. Therefore, it is essential that you allow your customers to gain your trust as early as possible in your relationship with them.
  • Building strong, interactive relationships with your customers allows you to be “less than perfect” from time-to-time. Your customers realize that everyone makes mistakes at some point, and while they may never forget them, a strong customer relationship will allow them to forgive them that much sooner.
  • Customers are people, and people like to do business with other people – not necessarily with companies, organizations, or enterprises. Humanize your interaction with your customers; act as an ambassador of your company, but do it on a personalized basis.

The key questions to ask at this point are:

  • Have you gained the respect and trust you deserve from your customers? Or do you still have a way to go?
  • Have you been able to build strong enough, interactive relationships with your customers to allow for an occasional misstep from time-to-time? Or are you still “walking on eggshells” when you’re dealing with them?
  • Do you present a warm, caring, human presence to your customers? Or are you perceived as just another interchangeable service technician that simply arrives on-site from time-to-time to fix their equipment?

Whatever you do, you need to be honest and forthright with your customers – because, if you are not, they will know it in an instant! The minute your customers believe you are being less than honest with them, hiding something from them, or not telling them the whole story, you’ve lost them – period. If your customers do not believe you’re being honest with them, it almost doesn’t matter how well you are performing on any of these other self-evaluation points – you’re already “dead in the water”.

In summary, the three things that you will ultimately need to do to ensure that you have laid the proper foundation for a successful customer service and support “partnership” are:

  • Expand your idea of service – chances are your customers have a more broadly defined idea of what “total customer service and support” means than you do. Try to approach the way in which you support your customers using their definitions as much as you can. Don’t necessarily give away the shop – but, be prepared to address any gaps between what the customer wants, and what you are realistically able to provide them.
  • Know who your customers are – you can really only know who your customers are by knowing what they do, how they use the business imaging systems and equipment you support, what happens when their systems go down, and how important your contribution is to their overall ability to get their work done.
  • Develop customer-friendly service techniques and processes – make sure that the way in which you support your customers is highly accessible, logical, flexible, and understandable. This is the only way that your customers will truly believe that you are working in their behalf, and that you are all in it together.

The key self-evaluation questions to consider in these areas are:

  • Do I share similar definitions of “customer service and support” with my customers, or are we talking about two different things in some cases? How can I make sure that we are always on the same page?
  • Do I really know who my customers are? And more importantly, do they think I know? Is there a disconnect; and if so, how can I successfully bridge that gap?
  • And I truly accessible to my customers? Do they feel they can talk to me? Confide in me? If not, what can I do to convince them otherwise?

[Watch for Part 2 to provide additional guidelines for evaluating and improving your customer service and support performance.]

Acquisition Works: The Acquisition of ThingWorx Establishes a Pattern of Connectivity in PTC’s Global Growth Strategy

On December 30, 2013, when PTC announced that it had acquired ThingWorx, the Exton, Pennsylvania-based creators of an award-winning platform for building and running applications for the Internet of Things (IoT), it should not have been a surprise. However, for those of us who have been covering the global services community for the past several years, what was most surprising was the timing of the acquisition – that is, it was at least a year or so sooner than what we might otherwise have expected!

No two ways about it, though – the acquisition of ThingWorx makes absolute sense for PTC. And, as it turns out, the timing could not have been more appropriate. As stated by PTC president and CEO Jim Heppelmann in the Company’s official press release announcement, “All aspects of our strategy to date have centered on helping manufacturing companies transform how they create and service smart, connected products.” Thus, the three primary keywords from Heppelmann’s introductory quote are: “manufacturing”, “service” and “connected”. And we could not agree more!

Heppelmann went on to elaborate, “With this acquisition, PTC now possesses an innovation platform that will allow us to accelerate how we help our customers capitalize on the market opportunity that the IoT presents.” We agree that this latest move now firmly positions PTC as a major player in the emerging Internet of Things era and, by doing so, allows the Company to continue to expand the overall breadth and depth of its historical Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) and Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) solution portfolios.

PTC’s plan is to use the ThingWorx platform “to speed the creation of high-value IoT applications that support manufacturers’ service strategies, such as predictive maintenance and system monitoring”. This, in turn, would serve as a complement to its existing SLM and extended PLM solution portfolios. As such, the Company would now be able to offer its customers a means to establish “a secure, reliable connection to their products as well as a platform to rapidly develop applications for maintaining and operating them – and ultimately for finding ways to create new value.

In an ideal business world, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM), Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) and Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) would all work in concert with one another, connected in real time, and providing enterprise-wide benefits in a truly synergistic manner. Please forgive my Math background, but the equation that would best represent this ideal scenario would look something like this:

     Lifecycle Management (Product + Service + Application) x Connectivity = Business Lifecycle Management 

– or more simply stated –

LM (P+S+A) x C = BLM

More simply stated, what this basically means is that, long before the acquisition,PTC had already taken a number of proactive steps toward putting most of the individual Lifecycle Management components of the equation in place; however,since the acquisition of ThingWorx, it is now able to integrate the one last remaining piece of the puzzle to deliver a total Business Lifecycle Management (BLM) solution to its customers. This is where IoT meets Lifecycle Management!

The Internet of Things – especially as developed and applied in the way that the ThingWorx solution has evolved – represents the “cement” that can now bond the Company’s highly regarded PLM, SLM and ALM offerings together, especially for those more progressive enterprises that have already recognized the synergies and economies of scales associated with the cross-pollination of these three historically separate disciplines. The IoT also serves as a catalyst for PTC to improve each of its individual major product lines (plus any of its other related enterprise solution offerings), in and of themselves, just by the nature of its newly-acquired ability to leverage state-of-the-art connectivity into all aspects of its global enterprise solutions.

This latest acquisition also puts all of us covering the global services community on notice as to how aggressive PTC is likely to continue to be moving forward with respect to both growing its core (i.e., traditional) businesses, as well as expanding its overarching technology base and global market presence. The Company is widely recognized as being among the market leaders in each of its core businesses; however, its investment in IoT should also serve to expedite and facilitate its ability to deliver.

Throughout his presentation as part of the Company’s January 15, 2014 industry analyst Webcast, Heppelmann used highly descriptive terms and phrases to underscore the rationale behind the benefits of the acquisition including “globalization”, “collaboration”, “take the world to digital products”, “design anywhere; build anywhere”, “personality of products” and “diversity with scale”. These are all areas that PTC had been trying to build upon over the past several years that can now be fully supported and facilitated as a result of the acquisition of ThingWorx.

In his address, Heppelmann further supported the rationale for acquiring ThingWorx by identifying the major forces that PTC believes are driving transformation in the manufacturing sector today; i.e., the forces that have led PTC to make an accelerated move into the IoT era:

  • External forces are reshaping the manufacturing landscape
  • Products are evolving to be smart, connected and global
  • Value is fundamentally shifting from product to service
  • When combined, these forces will transform the industry

Taken together, these forces describe a global manufacturing sector that will begin to look very much different in the next couple or few years than it looks today – that is, a sector predicated on an emerging foundation of the three descriptors Heppelmann had cited earlier in his presentation: i.e., “manufacturing”, “service” and “connected”.

There have been many of us who follow the global services community that have been watching – and, quite frankly, wondering – how PTC would ultimately incorporate its October 2012 acquisition of Servigistics into its overall operations and solution offerings. In fact, over the past 16 months or so, many of us have felt that our (and the market’s) questions have been left largely unanswered. The Company’s July 2013 acquisition of Enigma, a niche developer of software that aggregates and delivers technical content in aftermarket service environments, also contributed to this growing list of unanswered questions. However, the acquisition of ThingWorx has changed everything – apparently, there always was a “method behind the madness” at PTC that was not really mad at all!

It would be incorrect to interpret PTC’s most recent spate of acquisitions as being little more than a series of one-off purchases made by an already established, major PLM industry player that simply wants to add to its global empire. Conversely, these acquisitions have apparently been both long – and well – thought out as part of an overarching strategy that would not only propel PTC to be the single largest provider of global PLM and SLM products and services, but, rather, totally reposition the Company as an Internet of Things leader that has leveraged the latest in state-of-the-art technology into a comprehensive – and completely re-tooled – portfolio of enterprise solutions.

For those of us who have spent most of our careers serving in either the PLM or SLM (or ALM) marketplace, the time for choosing sides (i.e., “we’re either in product management or services management”) is over! Our research has consistently shown that the gap between manufacturing and service management is diminishing, and that the ability to deliver what our customers want, when they want it, and in a consistent and more collaborative fashion will be an even more critical driver for success in the Internet of Things era (i.e., today, and in the foreseeable future).

While many of today’s manufacturing and services managers may still find it too difficult to operate outside of their respective management silos, PTC clearly understands the need for providing a technology platform to support the “new normal” for enterprise-wide collaboration. They have seen the future – and it is a future that will essentially be built around global solutions, powered by the Internet of Things, and supported by a solutions provider that understands how each major component of the enterprise needs to work in concert with the others.

Reverse Logistics: Doing the Supply Chain Dance

When asked “Who was the greatest American male dancer of all time?” most people would respond “Fred Astaire” without hesitation. In numerous stage shows and movies from the 1930’s through the 1950’s, he was, in fact, the greatest American dancer.

However, the response to “Who was the greatest American female dancer of all time?” is typically much more wide open, as any one of the many fine women who have graced our stages and screens over the years – including many who had danced as a duo with Astaire – could be cited as the greatest.

The nod usually goes to Ginger Rogers, although Cyd Charisse or any of Astaire’s other former partners could just as easily be mentioned. However, regardless of who is ultimately cited, one thing is for certain, as expounded so succinctly in former U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland, Faith Whittlesey’s now famous quotation: “Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels!” The analogy with respect to reverse logistics could not be any more painfully obvious.

Just as in accounting, where you have to deal with both debits and credits; in logistics, if you ship things out, some of them are going to need to be shipped back. However, in accounting, at the end of the day, your assets and liabilities will always balance out to equal one another; but in logistics, there are no such absolute “laws” that assist shippers in determining – in advance – how many of their out-shipments may ultimately be returned – and, if so, in what shape, and for what reasons, etc. This problem only intensifies when you have to address what to do with the returns once they are received.

It is bad enough when a customer’s shipment arrives late, damaged, or with the wrong content. Compounding the situation is the fact that once a shipment goes wrong (or the parameters change, such as the customer no longer needs the part, etc.), it only gets worse, because now the customer has to call or e-mail the shipper to arrange for another shipment, re-pack the original item, and ship it back for credit. If all goes smoothly, an incorrect shipment is little more than a “nuisance” to most customers.

However, if things go bad (i.e., shipped the wrong part, successive damaged shipments, etc.), these situations go really bad, really fast – and that bad feeling lasts in the mind of the customer for a long time.

For example, if the customer has ordered a critical part from you to resolve a critical system failure, and you deliver it late, damaged, or otherwise unusable, you can bet that your customer satisfaction rating with that customer is going to take a significant hit. That “hit” is further compounded by the fact that your customer then has to (in their own mind) “fix” some of your mistakes itself by calling you up, re-packing the part, and shipping it back to you – plus, they have to wait another day or more to finally get the right part shipped out. This has all of the makings of a bad situation staying bad for at least another 24 hours or more before the customer can ultimately “forget about it”.

However, if during that waiting period, the customer’s business system (and, hence, its production capability) has also shut down or, as a result, they have to send their late shift home early, then you’re likely to find yourself dealing with the dreaded combination of (An Already Dissatisfied Customer) + (Unanticipated Lost Productivity) + (Unexpected Dollar Expense) = An Extremely Dissatisfied Customer. All this, plus the belief that they now “have to do your job” by shipping the part back, simply makes the matter worse.

The problem that reverse logistics providers have always suffered from is essentially based on the typical human misperception that “shipments coming to me are ‘good’, but shipments I have to return are ‘bad'”. However, there are some things that can be done to make the return shipment process as painless as possible. For example:

1.  Provide as much documentation and instruction as possible – in advance – to assist your customers in handling their end of the reverse logistics transaction. Provide it in written/electronic form; make it accessible via e-mail and the Internet; present it in easy-to-understand numbered steps; etc.

2.  Provide the customer with as many tools as possible to get their part of the process done quickly and accurately. Provide them with easily re-packable shipping containers, instructions, pre-printed forms, adhesive mailing labels, etc.

3.  Provide direct customer support contact information should your customers have any questions or concerns about return shipments not fully covered in your documentation. Make sure they have access to relevant company telephone numbers and/or e-mail addresses, and make sure that these contacts are physically there for them when they make the call or send the e-mail.

4.  Make sure that all situations involving late, damaged or lost shipments are adequately covered in your service agreements with respect to contingencies, penalties and/or incentives. Resolve any open issues as quickly as possible; admit mistakes when they occur, and make good on them.

5.  Provide customers with as many Web-based self-support tools as possible. Some customers believe that anything they have to do is an unwarranted demand on their part or, at the very least, an inconvenience; however, other customers believe that anything they can do over the Internet that will shorten the time it will take for the overall process to be completed, will be glad to do so.

6.  Provide centralized tracking capabilities via either telephone and/or the Internet. More and more of your customers have become accustomed to tracking their shipments – to and from their vendors – over the Internet. (You can learn a great deal from companies like Amazon.com!)

7.  Provide an open forum for customer input and feedback. Everything involving logistics is important to the customer, and they will have a lot to say about the way in which they think you are performing.

In short, make it as easy and non-invasive as possible for your customers to work with you in handling their portion of the reverse logistics process. If you attempt to do everything yourself, then everything that goes wrong will be your fault – and your fault alone. However, if you work with your customers, provide them with the tools and direction they need, and make things as painless for them as possible, then you will have the best chance to improve your customer satisfaction ratings in the long term – or at the very least, prevent customer dissatisfaction from tainting an otherwise good customer relationship.