Salesforce Poised to Strike with Its Field Service Lightning Solution (Part 3 of 4)

[This is part 3 of a 4-part series on the launch of Salesforce Field Service Lightning. Part 3 focuses on the Industry’s “Take” on the new offering. Part 4 will follow over the next week or so.]

Field Service Lightning – The Industry’s Take

Early on, CRM Daily cited that “Salesforce is adding some lightning to its customer success platform. The latest iteration of Salesforce Lightning aims to raise the bar on customer relationship management with a platform that taps cloud, mobile, social, IoT (Internet of Things) technologies and data science.” The publication also reported that, “Salesforce launched Lightning in 2015 as a multi-tenant, next-generation metadata platform that enterprise workers can use on any device. It quickly gained traction, boasting 90,000 customers and 55 partners today.”

NewsFactor referred to Salesforce chairman and CEO, Marc Benioff’s, press release statements hyping Lightning as a “game-changer” for Salesforce and its customers as just that – “hype!”. But, in a direct response to the press release, wondered whether Benioff was “overselling the platform.”

However, Mary Wardley, vice president of enterprise applications and CRM Software at research analyst firm, IDC, believes that Salesforce is on to something, as she opined (in a Salesforce statement) that, “Salesforce has set the standard for innovation in the cloud, and by association, CRM, delivering an unprecedented three releases per year for the last 17 years. Maintaining that pace of innovation is even more crucial as both the pace of technology and customer requirements continue to accelerate and become more complex.”

She further went on to say that, ““Field service operations remain a bastion of antiquated systems in many organizations. With the advent of IoT and more objects becoming connected, field service will only become more complex and critical to the success of service organizations. Having a complete end-to-end view of the entire customer service experience – from purchase to installation to maintenance – will allow companies to grow customer loyalty and engagement.”

ChannelBiz reported that Sarah Patterson, Salesforce senior vice president of marketing, after presenting a preliminary demo of the new Field Service Lightning platform, referred to the app by calling it “the Uber of field service apps.”

Also according to ChannelBiz, “the demonstration showed how Field Service Lightning tracks the location of service representatives and has the ability to assign the one closest to a new job. But the system also lets the dispatcher see if that first choice is stuck in traffic and automatically assign the job to someone who can get to the job site faster. An online map shows the field representative’s progress getting to the job and when they’ve arrived.”

However, Diginomica believed the introduction of the new Lightning component to be generally expected on the basis of scuttlebutt … that a field service play would feature at last year’s Dreamforce after Oracle acquired TOA Technologies and Microsoft snapped up FieldOne”. However, it also believed that the announcement was just “another example of Salesforce’s expanding functional footprint putting it on a collision course with partners in the company’s ecosystem”.

Nonetheless, the analyst firm went on to say that “Salesforce’s angle on partner-clash is simple enough – these are big market sectors and the key is to provide customers with choices. That’s also the line being taken by ServiceMax today.”

In support of their belief, Diginomica provides a quote from Spencer Earp, ServiceMax’s Vice President EMEA, saying that:

  • “Field Service is a very big market – it pretty much keeps the world running in just about every sector you can think of from healthcare to energy to manufacturing – and it’s applicable to companies of all sizes. What’s interesting is that it’s not just the size of the market that’s expanding, but also the potential.
  • So it’s not surprising that as both the market for field service grows and the potential for monetising grows with it, that we’ll see multiple players with different levels of offerings. It’s a multi-billion-dollar market, so there’s plenty room for field service leaders like ServiceMax who operate on the Salesforce1 platform to co-exist with Salesforce in this space – partly because of the sheer size of the market, but also because of the diverse set of customer requirements in a market this big.
  • Some companies will want to simply automate the location and scheduling of their service techs, for example, whilst others will need the richer experience and deep sector expertise that a complete end to end field service management solution like ServiceMax provides.”

Information Week sees Salesforce as having, “enhanced the field service and several other capabilities across its platform, reconfigured its packaging, and raised prices. It has also added Accenture as a cloud CRM customer (i.e., on the same day as the announcement)”. In an interview published soon after the initial announcement, in Information Week, Forrester Research senior analyst, Ian Jacobs, was quoted as saying that Salesforce’s approach to adding field service functionality is “lightweight” and internally developed; that it marked a difference from Salesforce competitors, some of whom have sought to add this field and dispatch functionality to their products through acquisition (e.g., Oracle and Microsoft). He also believed that other large global companies may also follow suit.

However, following Salesforce’s March 15, 2016 press release, Jacobs went on to say that, “There are several reasons for Salesforce to jump into this space. The obvious one: they are in a competitive tit-for-tat with Microsoft and Oracle who have both acquired their way into the market. But there are actual benefits to companies of combining field service and customer service on a single platform: better handoff between contact centers, dispatch, and field workers; connecting field service to cases opened in Service Cloud; and a better ability to create a holistic service process.”

In another interview with Jacobs, Elec Café reported that “The company took the unusual step of releasing the new field service product without a pilot or Beta testing period, instead going straight to market. The lack of a pilot did not escape the notice of Forrester’s Jacobs,” who further elaborated in TechCrunch that “The no pilot or beta was a big surprise to me. But the growth in the subscription model across all sorts of industries (HVAC companies offering cold air as a service, for example) dramatically elevates the importance of field service in the B2B world, and the explosion of home automation and ‘smart’ appliances does the same for the B2C realm.”

Fortune also weighed into the mix by reporting that, “The cloud software giant’s latest application launched Tuesday, called Field Service Lightning, automates the management repair or service calls – everything from dispatch alerts to work order creation to wrap-up reports. As you might expect, the service ties closely to the flagship Salesforce customer relationship app. In theory, that turns service technicians into potential sales representatives. For example, if someone notices that a customer might benefit more from a product update – rather than a repair – the technician will be able to suggest that to the customer and note that in his or her report.”

Overall, the various industry analysts’ reports look very positive thus far.

[Watch for part 4, to be published on our Blogsite shortly.]

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Building a Best Practices Warranty Management Program for 2016 – and Beyond

How Best Practices Organizations Are Positioning Themselves to Drive Revenues, Reduce Costs and Compete More Effectively

Putting Warranty Management Metrics in Perspective

Each year, Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM) conducts a series of Benchmark Surveys among its outreach community of more than 40,000 global services professionals. Total responses for the updated 2015 Warranty Chain Management Benchmark Survey, conducted over a six-month period ending in Q3 2015, are in excess of 225

Overall, global survey respondents identify the following as the top factors that are currently driving their ability to optimize warranty management performance:

  • 56% Desire to improve customer retention
  • 50% Post-sale customer satisfaction issues
  • 37% Customer demand for improved warranty management services
  • 27% Product defect-related costs
  • 24% Mandate to improve service profitability
  • 21% Mandate to drive increased service revenues

However, in order to effectively execute on each of these drivers – and strive to attain Best Practices – respondents then cite the following as the most important strategic actions already in place at their respective organizations:

  • 52% Develop / improve metrics, or KPIs, for advanced warranty chain analytics
  • 39% Streamline parts return process to improve overall efficiency
  • 35% Improve warranty management-related planning and forecasting activities
  • 32% Restructure for improved Warranty Management oversight & accountability
  • 31% Foster a closer working collaboration between product design & service

How well an organization steps up to each of these drivers by taking the most appropriate – and effective – strategic actions will ultimately determine its prospects for successfully attaining a desired Best Practices position in the global warranty management services marketplace.

Based on the updated results of the original SFGSM benchmark survey, this report provides additional insight into each of these and other related areas that may be impacting your organization’s ability to attain Best Practices with respect to its overall warranty chain management processes – and it all starts with the need to have a full understanding of the numerous processes, policies and procedures used to run your warranty management operations, coupled with the development of a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) program that can be used to measure your success all along the way.

For the purposes of this report, we define Best Practices Warranty Management organizations as those that have attained both 90% or higher customer satisfaction, and reflect average warranty claims processing times of four days or less. Accordingly, approximately 11%, or 25, of the total respondents are classified as Best Practices.

[To obtain a copy of the full White Paper report, or to register for the March 3, 2016 Webcast of the same name, please visit the Tavant Technologies Webcast landing page at: http://info.tavant.com/Warranty_Webinar_2016.html.]

Best Practices Field Service Organizations (FSOs) Use an Expanded Variety of Tools and Technologies to Directly Support Their Field Techs and Customers

(Drill-down Results from SFGSMs 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey – Part 6)

A three-quarters majority of Best Practices organizations (i.e., 75% or more) currently support their field technicians with a variety of online capabilities, including the ability to track and update the current status of work orders (86%), the ability to initiate service orders (81%), access to customer/asset service history (76%), and access to product schematics/documentation (76%). This generally compares to a two-thirds or greater (i.e., 67% or more) majority among the general population. Ability to provide customers with an Estimated Time of Arrival (ETA) / Estimated Time to Complete (ETC) is additionally cited by a 65% majority of respondents.

Other capabilities currently being provided by a majority of Best Practice organizations to their respective field technicians include:

  • 60% Access to real-time parts inventory / availability
  • 56% Availability of required parts, either in van or en route
  • 56% Access to problem resolution scenarios

Whether it is access to data and information that represents the past (i.e., customer/asset history), the present (i.e., current status of work orders), or the future (i.e., providing customers with an ETA / ETC), the Best Practices organizations already recognize the importance of real-time data and information access.

However, the key to success for most Best Practices organizations is that they are also providing their customers with a comparable set of online tools to make both their – and their field technician’s – lives much easier. By providing customers with the right mix of Web-enabled self-help capabilities, the leading organizations have essentially been able to run their respective services operations more effectively, while also increasing existing levels of satisfaction by allowing customers to become part of their own “support team”.

The primary online capabilities currently provided to customers of Best Practices organizations include:

  • 71% Ability to order parts (up from 65% among the general population)
  • 65% Ability to view current status of work order (up from 59%)
  • 63% Ability to initiate / create service tickets online (up from 59%)
  • 58% Ability to update status of current work order (up from 55%)
  • 46% Ability to track service parts shipping status (up from 45%)

By making the customer part of the service delivery team, Best Practices organizations can continue to benefit from reduced time and cost-related factors – while increasing existing levels of customer satisfaction. Customer access to online service order data and information is clearly a “win-win” scenario for both parties.

However, the greatest impact on the future of Field Service Management is most likely to come as a result of the growing acceptance of Cloud-based technology. The results may be somewhat surprising to some, as they suggest that there is little difference between Best Practices organizations and the general population with respect to their preferences for how they will be acquiring their next (or first) FSM solution and/or upgrade – the vast majority seem to be leaning toward a Cloud-based solution (i.e., by a ratio of nearly 3:1).

Among those Best Practices organizations currently planning an FSM implementation in the next 12 months (or considering doing so in the next 24 months), a Cloud-based solution is preferred by 56% of respondents, compared to only 19% citing a preference for Premise-based. Another one-quarter (25%) remain undecided at this time. The corresponding percentages for the general population are virtually identical at 54% preferring Cloud-based, 20% preferring Premise-based, and 26% undecided – a corresponding ratio of 2.7:1 in favor of Cloud.

In the two years since the previous Field Service Management Benchmark was conducted, this represents a sea-change from a market that historically had gone Premise-based for a majority of its Field Service Management software solution needs. As such, the Cloud now allows some of the smaller FSOs to attain – and maintain – Best Practices status and, in many cases, compete directly against the historical market leaders who had previously been the only ones invited to join this elite group.

Based on the results of SFG’s 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey, the key takeaways for Best Practices FSOs are:

  • Best Practices services organizations are significantly more driven than the general population of Field Services Organizations (FSOs) to meet their respective customer demands for quicker response time and improved asset availability; improved workforce utilization, productivity and efficiencies; and increased service revenues.
  • A majority of Best Practices organizations are adding, expanding and/or refining the metrics, or KPIs, they use to measure service performance; they also use a larger variety of KPIs to measure their performance than do their non-Best Practices counterparts.
  • Over the next 12 months, more than 84% of Best Practices organizations will have integrated new technologies into their existing field service operations, and roughly three-quarters (74%) will have invested in mobile tools to support their field technicians.
  • Best Practices organizations are increasingly providing their Field Technicians with enhanced access to real-time data and information to support them in the field; they are also taking the lead in providing customers with an expanded variety of Web-enabled self-help capabilities (i.e., ability to order parts or initiate service calls, track the status of open calls, etc.).
  • Best Practices organizations are currently attaining the industry’s highest levels of Customer Satisfaction and Service Profitability (i.e., 95% satisfaction, and 49.6% service profitability).
  • Best Practices organizations are no different in their preference for Cloud-based FSM solutions – in fact, they share the same preference for Cloud as the general population of services organizations.

In 2014 and beyond, the proliferation of Cloud-based FSM solutions may serve to further normalize the competitive playing field between Best Practices organizations and all others with respect to their ability to use the same tools to reach out to, and serve, their customers. However, the larger enterprises that have already mastered attaining Best Practices status are likely to still maintain a marketing and competitive advantage based at least on their getting there first, and having already dealt with most of the other issues that have historically impeded the ability of smaller organizations to rise to the top.

 

What Best Practices Field Service Organizations (FSOs) Are Doing to Differentiate Themselves from the Rest of the Pack

(Drill-down Results from SFGSMs 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey – Part 4)

Overall, survey respondents meeting the requirements for Best Practices status (i.e., attaining both 90% or greater Customer Satisfaction, and 30% or greater Services Profitability) identify the following as the top factors, or challenges, that currently drive their desire to optimize field service performance:

  • 50% Customer demand for quicker response time
  • 43% Need to improve workforce utilization and productivity
  • 40% Internal mandate to drive increased service revenues
  • 40% Need to improve service process efficiencies

The data clearly reflect that those Field Service Organizations (FSOs) which have already attained Best Practices status appear to place somewhat more emphasis on key market drivers such as customer demand for quicker response time, and internal mandate to drive increased service revenues than their non-Best Practices counterparts. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that they are also attaining the highest levels of Customer Satisfaction and Service Profitability among the overall survey universe.

However, in order to effectively address these key challenges – and strive to maintain their Best Practices status – respondents then cite the following as the top strategic actions they are currently taking:

  • 61% Develop / improve metrics, or KPIs, used to measure field service performance
  • 42% Invest in mobile tools to provide field technicians with real-time access to required data and information in the field
  • 35% Integrate new technologies into existing field service operations (i.e., iPads, Tablets or other devices, etc.)

While the survey results reveal fairly similar patterns reflecting the integration of new technologies and investment in mobile tools to support the field force, the big difference is reflected in the percent of Best Practices services organizations that are currently developing and/or improving the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) they will be using to measure their respective performance; i.e., cited as a top strategic action by 61% of Best Practices respondents, compared to only 52% for non-Best Practices respondents.

The remainder of this white paper provides additional insight into each of these and other related areas that may be influencing your organization’s drive to attain Best Practices, as well as highlighting those resources that the leading organizations currently have in place – or are planning to implement – that have already taken them to Best Practices status.

The survey results reveal that 81% of Best Practices respondent organizations currently operate service as an independent profit center (or as a pure, third-party service company), compared with only 66% among non-Best Practices organizations. Even so, there are just under one-in-five (18%) that still operate as cost centers – even though they are attaining high levels of customer satisfaction and overall services profitability. Nonetheless, there are only roughly half as many Best Practices organizations that are still running service as a cost center, compared to all others.

While there has not been a significant change in these percentages from similar surveys conducted over the past two years or so, this 4:1 ratio strongly validates the fact that profit centers now represent the dominant business model within the Best Practices services community.

It is noted, however, that the percentage of organizations running service as an independent profit center varies – sometimes significantly – by size of organization (i.e., based on annual revenue or turnover). The overall survey findings indicate that US$1 billion-plus organizations come in at 74%, while SMBs (i.e., Small and Medium-sized Businesses) report only 55%. Not surprisingly, organizations reporting total annual service profits of greater than 30% come in at 76% – one of the highest levels among all of the segments covered in the survey. As such, they are not only operating service as a profit center – they’re actually making a significant profit by doing so!

The Best Practices respondent base also clearly confirms that the predominant mode of Field Service Management (FSM) solutions currently being deployed is mainly off-the-shelf, either with some customization (40%), or basically right out-of-the-box with no customization (6%), comprising nearly one-half (46%) of the respondent base in total. This figure is just over 10% higher than that cited by non-Best Practices organizations.

More than a third of respondents (34%) are either using home-grown, or internally-developed automated systems (15%), or custom solutions developed by a systems integrator (19%). While this overall percentage appears similar to that cited by the general services community, Best Practices organizations are far more likely to deploy a custom solution by a systems integrator (i.e., 19%, vs. only 12% for non-Best Practices), but far less likely to develop their FSM solution internally (i.e., 15%, vs. 23% for non-Best Practices organizations).

However, the most perplexing statistic may be the fact that nearly one-in-five Best Practices organizations (18%) are still running their field service operations basically via a series of manual processes (and spreadsheets) – the same percentage attributable to the total respondent base!

The key drivers that most influence Best Practices organizations to improve the overall performance of their field service operations are similar to those cited by the general population, although, in a slightly different order – i.e., one that places somewhat more emphasis on the customer. For example, both sets of survey respondents cite customer demand for quicker response time and the need to improve workforce utilization and productivity as their top two market drivers.

However, while the general population focuses more on the need to improve service process efficiencies, the Best Practices organizations, having already done some work to improve this area, are able to turn their focus back to the customer, primarily with respect to meeting their demands for improved asset reliability – while, at the same time, also meeting internal management’s mandate to drive increased service revenues. Thus, for most Best Practices organizations, the need to improve internal service processes comes after these more immediate challenges that focus, first, on the customer; second, on productivity; and third, on driving service revenues – all key components that ultimately contribute directly to the bottom line.

While these market drivers may differ somewhat in intensity in each of the two surveyed populations, it is clear that the main focus remains squarely on the customer – particularly among the Best Practices organizations. They have already recognized that they could not initially attain – nor maintain – their elite status in the services community without having focused first on their customer’s needs and requirements; and, next, on improving the internal services operations necessary to meet their expectations.

As such, the common threads that tie all of these drivers together among Best Practices organizations may be best categorized into three groupings essentially comprising:

  • Customer demand for quicker response and improved asset availability;
  • Field technician utilization, productivity and efficiency improvement; and
  • An internal mandate to drive service revenues – and profits.

We also believe that it is a mistake to dwell only on the “top” factors that are driving the market – and the organization. In fact, there are several other factors that respondents cite as just “bubbling under the surface” with respect to their potential impact on the overall well-being of Best Practices organizations. These include:

  • 38% Competitive pressures / need for market differentiation
  • 21% Escalating field service operations costs
  • 13% Customer demand for more accurate service call scheduling
  •   6% Need to reduce / eliminate incidence of night / weekend work

It is noted, however, that while 6% (i.e., 1-in-sixteen) respondents in the general population cite the need to reduce dispatch-related problems, this factor apparently is not an issue among the Best Practices organizations.

Another key influencing factor revealed through the analysis of the survey findings is that 71% of the Best Practices services organizations surveyed have experienced some improvement in year-over-year field technician productivity (i.e., measured in terms of average calls completed per day), compared to 67% among the general population). However, more than half (i.e., 52%) have also experienced improvements in service revenue, per field technician during the same period. An even greater percentage (i.e., 61%) have also experienced improvements in their year-over-year service profitability.

In fact, these year-over-year increases have led the Best Practices organizations in attaining a mean average of 49.6% service profitability in the most recent reporting period, compared to only 38% among the general population. Further, at a mean average of 95%, Best Practices organizations currently enjoy customer satisfaction levels that are substantially higher than those attained by the general population (i.e., only 85%).

Each of these lofty levels of performance assure that most Best Practices organizations will likely retain their standing in the overall services community: first, through sheer momentum; and finally, by the fact that they already have, in most cases, addressed – and taken steps to improve – each of these key areas of performance, typically leaving them more able to focus on what originally took them to the top – the customer (and the bottom line).

Next up (in Part 5) will be a discussion of which KPIs Best Practices FSOs are using to measure their industry-leading service delivery performance.

Measuring Your Way To Greater Service Delivery Performance

(Topline Results from SFGSMs 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey – Part 2)

Based both on the current survey findings and SFGSM’s ongoing research, it is not surprising that the field services community recognizes it will need to increase its investments in new technologies and mobile tools in order to compete in an expanding global marketplace. In addition, it also recognizes that it will need to develop and/or improve the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), or metrics, it uses to measure the impact that these implementations, deployments and technology advances will actually have on the organization’s performance.

The top Strategic Actions currently being undertaken by Field Service Organizations (FSOs) are:

  • 52% Develop/Improve Metrics, or KPIs to measure FS Performance
  • 44% Invest in Mobile Tools to support Field Technicians
  • 34% Integrate New Technologies into existing FS Operations
  • 30% Provide additional Training to FS Technicians and Dispatchers
  • 29% Improve Planning & Forecasting with respect to Field Operations
  • 26% Automate existing Manual FS processes and activities
  • 25% Provide Enterprise-wide Access to important Field-collected data
  • 18% Increase Customer Involvement in Web-based Service Process
  • 15% Hire additional Field Service Technicians and/or Dispatchers
  • 14% Outsource some, or all, Field Service activities to partners or vendors

The ”new” global economy also demands that these investments be made in a certain balance that allows the newer technologies to support a “back to the basics” approach with respect to running a successful – and profitable – field services organization. In other words, services organizations need to embrace “new” technologies, but without forgetting that it is still “all about the customer.” Some of the basic strategic actions that between one-quarter and one-half of respondents also cite include training, planning and forecasting, service delivery automation and enterprise-wide access to important field-collected data.

Planned strategic actions over the next 12-month period reflect a more dynamic, rather than static, approach to the field service marketplace. For example, an additional 41% of respondents plan to develop and/or improve their use of field service KPIs, or metrics, in the next 12 months, and nearly as many plan to integrate new technologies (36%) and invest in the next generation of mobile tools (33%) to support their technicians in the field. Other key planned actions will be taken in areas relating to the automation of existing manual field service processes or activities (33%), improving planning and forecasting activities (32%), and providing additional training for field technicians and dispatchers (30%).

What these data primarily show is that the field service community recognizes the need to take specific strategic actions to enhance and improve existing service operations, and that these actions begin first and foremost with the need to develop and/or improve the use of service metrics and KPIs in measuring and monitoring their service delivery performance. In addition, it shows that FSOs also recognize the need to invest in the right technologies and mobile tools to empower their resources both in the field, and in the back office, to improve existing processes, meet the growing needs of customers, and make greater contributions to the bottom line.

The survey findings reveal that there are basically five service performance metrics, or KPIs, presently being used by a majority (i.e., 50% or more) of the FSOs that participated in the 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey. They include:

  • 80% Customer Satisfaction (up from 70% in the 2011 Survey)
  • 72% Total Service Revenue (up from 66%)
  • 69% Total Service Cost (up from 51%)
  • 59% Field Technician Utilization (up slightly from 56%)
  • 52% Service Revenue, as a Percent of Total Revenue (not asked in 2011)

However, there are also an additional seven KPIs that are used by just under one-half of FSOs to help them measure their performance. These include:

  • 49% On-site Response Time (down from 51% in the 2011 Survey)
  • 48% Field Technician Productivity (down from 66%)
  • 47% First Time Fix Rate (down from 45%)
  • 46% Mean-Time-to-Repair (MTTR) (down from 49%)
  • 45% Percent of Total Revenue Under SLA/Contract (not asked in 2011)
  • 45% Service Level Agreement (SLA) Compliance (down from 48%)
  • 43% Service Parts Revenue, as a Percent of Total Service Revenue (not asked in 2011)

Thus, presented in this manner, it appears that the most commonly used service performance KPIs from two years back are even more commonly used by FSOs today.

Next up (in Part 3) will be a discussion of which Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), or metrics, FSOs are currently using to measure their service delivery performance.

Understanding Customer Needs, Requirements and Expectations for Service

The needs and requirements for service and support differ greatly by equipment, by customer, by site, by usage, and by many other aspects too numerous to mention. In fact, it may be said that every piece of equipment, at any particular customer site, has its own requirements for service and support.

That is why it is so important for services providers – both companies, and their service technicians – to understand the unique customer needs, requirements, and expectations for service in each of the key customer segments that it serves. Only by understanding, and acting upon, these key characteristics and patterns can a services provider hope to eventually succeed in meeting the unique needs and requirements of all of its customers, in all of its customer segments.

To assist in doing so, we suggest the following five easy guidelines:

1. “If you can speak the customers’ language, you can understand their needs better”

The only way you can truly understand your customers’ critical needs and requirements for service is to be familiar with the terminology, technology, and “buzz words” they use whenever you interact with one another. For example, if a customer tells you that they absolutely, positively have to have the system back up and running for an important weekly production run, or a regularly scheduled staff meeting, you really need to know exactly what they are talking about before you can truly understand the criticality of the failure in terms of how it will impact their business operations. It is not good enough to only understand how they use their equipment – you also need to know what they are using it for.

Once you understand what is going on – in the customer’s own language, and from their unique perspective, you will be much better equipped to address their concerns, fix the equipment, and “fix” the customer itself. However, in order to accomplish this, you will first need to have a clear understanding of what your customers are telling you, in their own words, and using their unique terms, names and examples.

2. “If you know who to deal with, you can get to the root of the problem quicker”

Knowing who to deal with in each customer’s organization is critical to the success of any long-term service and support relationship. However, in order to be in a position where you can effectively identify the principal customer contacts and liaisons, you will first need to have a fair understanding of each customer’s organizational structure and hierarchy. This will require at least a general understanding of the various titles, roles, and functions generally utilized by the customer, as well as the specific individuals corresponding to each within the organization.

The time you spend dealing with the wrong individual(s) at any of your customer sites will be time wasted, as it will likely extend the overall length of the repair process. In some cases, information given to the “wrong” individual may be worse than not providing it to the customer at all. Of course, it will never be possible to acquire and maintain total information for every one of the customers you support – but you should place yourself in a position to at least maintain the basic information for each of the primary accounts you support on a regular basis.

3. “If you know how customers use their equipment, you can help them avoid common problems, and suggest ways to improve productivity”

In many cases, the causes of equipment failures may be more a result of the way in which the customer uses the system than as a result of problems specific to the equipment itself. For example, systems used primarily for simple office applications will typically not fail with the same frequency as systems used for more complex applications in a multiple-shift production environment.

You, as the primary services provider, are typically the most qualified one to assess exactly how the customer is using the equipment, for what applications, over what time period, and with what volume of throughput, to determine whether it is being appropriately used and managed. In situations where you suspect the equipment is not being used properly, or is being over-used in terms of the original product specs or suggested levels of usage, it will be your responsibility to diplomatically point this out to the customer.

But merely pointing out the problem will not be good enough from the customer’s perspective; they will also be looking for a solution, and that solution may very well hinge on your recommendation for either reducing usage to the manufacturer’s suggested levels, or to upgrade to a newer piece of equipment that has been designed to handle a heavier workload. This will ultimately be your “call”, and one that you will be counted on to make only after you have “done your homework” of understanding how your customer has been using the equipment, and what problems they will most likely be forced to deal with in the future if they continue doing so at odds with the manufacturer’s suggested guidelines.

4. “If you understand the importance of equipment availability to your customer, you will better understand how to provide them with service and support”

The best way to address the key components of equipment service and support for an individual customer or segment is to match its services needs and requirements directly against the “cost” of equipment downtime. In other words, the “real” value of the service and support you provide to your customers can be measured either in terms of the actual costs required to keep its business systems and equipment in working order and with maximum uptime, compared against the costs that would be incurred as the result of an extended period of downtime (i.e., missed project deadlines, overtime pay for make-up shifts, etc.).

By understanding the impact that equipment downtime has on the customer’s business operations (and costs) – and how it is actually measured by the customer – you will be better prepared to provide your customer with precisely the level of support it requires when such an event happens. In some cases, you may not even have to change the way in which you provide the support – merely the way in which you communicate with the customer as you are doing so (i.e., an extra courtesy phone call or two along the way, additional information on how to avoid or prevent similar failures in the future, etc.).

5. “If you understand how your customers’ needs will be changing, you can prepare yourself to support them in the future”

By understanding your customers’ plans for growth, along with their anticipated timetables for change, you will be better prepared to gauge the expected impact that these changes will have on their service requirements in the future. If you can anticipate their changing needs, you will also find yourself in a much better position to ensure that both you – and the services organization you work for – will be able to meet your customers’ evolving services expectations.

Basically, in a case where your company – or you, yourself – has been supporting a particular customer that is planning to acquire another company, or downsize its existing facilities and/or work staff, it would be helpful for you to be aware of the forthcoming change so that you can provide your “reengineered” customer with a new “plan” for ensuring that its changing requirements for service and support will be met seamlessly, and with no unnecessary disruptions or inconveniences.

If you have already established a direct line of communications with the appropriate internal manager of business systems and equipment at the customer facility, you may also have positioned yourself to obtain some form of “early warning” that such a change may be taking place in the near future. Armed with that information, you can go back to your company management and have an appropriate “transition plan” developed in behalf of your customer to both facilitate and expedite its move to a new set of service and support needs. This will require a fair amount of interaction with other areas within your own company, and you will need to be able to work internally as a team to assist the customer with its transition.

Services providers – like yourself – must understand not only how to fix the equipment, but also how to fix the customer, and this may vary greatly from one customer to another. As a result, the most successful services providers will typically be those which:

  • Speak the same language as their customers;
  • Know the appropriate individual(s) to deal with respect to fostering long-term customer relationships;
  • Understand how the customer is using (or possibly misusing) the equipment;
  • Understand the total costs that the customer perceives to be associated with equipment downtime; and
  • Are prepared to change along with the customer’s evolving needs and requirements for equipment service and support

Ultimately, your customers will prefer that you are able to “partner” with them in order to ensure that all of their equipment service and support needs and requirements are being met – both now, and in the future.

How Can You Make Happy Customers Even Happier?

The main difference between being able to make unhappy customers happy, and happy customers even happier, is the point of initiation. At least with unhappy customers, even if you do not know why they were unhappy before contacting them (or having them contact you), you can rest assured that you will get the chance to learn very quickly.

Ironically, however, it may actually be more difficult to make a happy customer even happier than it is to make an unhappy customer happy in the first place – and you certainly would not want to accidentally do something wrong that might make them unhappy instead.

What we have seen from our research is that the best approach for making happy customers even happier is to focus on the following guidelines:

  • Make sure that you and your team understand how the customer uses its systems and equipment as part of their ongoing business operations – make suggestions occasionally on how they can improve efficiency, save some money, go green or reduce waste, etc.
  • Take steps to better understand the difference between the customer’s wants and needs – provide them with targeted information and advice they can use to concentrate more on what they “need”, rather than on what they think they “want”.
  • Understand the customer’s plans for future expansion, downsizing or consolidation – make the appropriate recommendations for updating or modifying their existing service level agreements, or upgrading to newer or different models and technology.
  • Keep track of the things you have done in the past to make them happy – do more of the same, and learn what other things or actions would also make them happy.
  • Customers love to feel they are getting something for nothing – any documentation or materials that you believe may help your customers to utilize their systems and equipment more efficiently, or provide them with additional product or service information, will generally be gladly accepted.
  • Customers also love to hear what other users like themselves are doing with their equipment – so, without divulging any customer-proprietary information, occasionally provide your customers with examples of what some other companies are doing, again, to improve efficiency, save some money, or reduce waste, etc.
  • Provide your customers with new product or service information before it is otherwise widely distributed or disseminated – customers always enjoy receiving information before it is distributed to the general public.
  • Provide a more “personal” side of your communications with your customers in order to establish a closer, and less formal relationship – but, be careful not to get too “personal”; just close enough so they feel they can depend on you to act as their surrogate within the company whenever a problem becomes larger than what both you and they can handle by yourselves.
  • Strive toward making your relationship with your customers a true “partnership”, rather than just merely a “vendor-customer” relationship – this is the true essence of Customer Relationship Management, or CRM.

Of course, all of these guidelines are merely just words written in a blog posting; the true test can only be exercised by you and your customer and technical support teams on behalf of the customer. In any case, you should always feel comfortable in relying on your own instincts in order to initially assess the situation, determine the appropriate course of action, and override any of these (or any other) guidelines on the basis of your own expertise and experience.

If you are truly going to succeed in establishing a relationship with your customers, then you must first have both the capability and the confidence to use your own judgment in making your happy customers even happier.