The Global Warranty Services Community Is Reflecting a Return to Growth – and Profitability!

[The following Blogpost is an edited version of the article originally published in the May 3, 2018 issue of Warranty Week (i.e., accessible at: http://www.warrantyweek.com/archive/ww20180503.html.) For more information on the “The State of Warranty Management in 2018 – and Beyond”, we invite you to register for our upcoming Webcast on Thursday, May 24, 2018. To register, simply click on the following Weblink: http://app.demand.ptc.com/e/es.aspx?s=2826&e=2100908&elqTrackId=c346145430f045a9a4a8ab0ad69df3d1&src=View_Online&elq=ec4b7ad031c5442e85dca16a47774a24&elqaid=29101&elqat=1.]

After conducting its fourth annual Warranty Chain Management Benchmark Survey, Strategies For Growth℠ president and principal consulting analyst, Bill Pollock, has put together a results package consisting of an Analysts Take paper and companion Webcast on the subject of “The Global Warranty Services Community Is Reflecting a Return to Growth – and Profitability”. The Webcast will be hosted by PTC iWarranty on May 24, 2018. PTC will also be making the companion Analysts Take paper available via download at the same time.

According to, Pollock, “The 2018 survey results reveal that nearly three-quarters (71%) of respondents believe effective warranty chain management to be at least ‘very important’ to the overall financial performance of the business, with just under a quarter (22%) believing it to be ‘extremely important.’ The results further reveal that this sense of importance continues to increase substantially, year-over-year, as one-quarter (25%) believe effective warranty chain management to be ‘more important than one year ago,’ compared to only 3% believing it to be ‘less important’ – a ratio of roughly 8:1 citing ‘more important’ over ‘less important’. As such, we know the segment is based on a sound foundation moving forward.”

Managing Extended Warranty Programs

Presently, 85% of respondent organizations manage at least some portions of their extended warranty programs in-house, including 78% that do so entirely. As such, it becomes incumbent to ensure that they have the most effective tools and resources available to maximize the impact that sales of extended warranties can bring to the bottom line. Metrics such as warranty accrual and warranty renewal rates become critical in their respective efforts to maximize projected revenue streams and build a stronger customer account portfolio over time.

The survey results also reveal that, presently, more than a third (36%) of respondent organizations expect their annual warranty budgets to increase over the next 12 months – with 20% expecting increases in excess of 10%! During the same period, only 17% expect decreases, with most (i.e., 14%) being of less than 10%. All told, the ratio of organizations expecting increases in their annual budgets is more than twice that of those expecting declines. 

Warranty Management Organizations Are First and Foremost, Customer-Focused

The respondents to the survey have also once again clearly identified the specific drivers that are pushing them to aspire to the attainment of higher levels of performance. In fact, they have provided responses that solidify that there are three main “clusters” of factors that drive their respective businesses: Customer-focused, Product Quality-focused and Revenue/Profit-focused – and in that order.

For example, among the Customer-focused drivers, post-sale customer satisfaction issues (58% – up from only 42% in 2017!), the desire to improve customer retention (42%) and customer demand for improved warranty services (35%) remain as the top three drivers with respect to optimizing overall service performance. No other drivers are cited by more than just over one-quarter (28%) of respondents.

The next “cluster” of drivers is Product Quality-focused, and is represented solely by dealing with inferior/deficient product quality at 28%. The third “cluster”, Revenue/Profit-focused, is comprised of two closely-related drivers: internal mandate to drive increased service revenues (26%) and internal mandate to improve service profitability (25%). As such, the warranty chain management community has made it clear that it is squarely focused on, first, satisfying – and retaining – its customers; second, dedicated to improving product quality-related issues; and third, mandated to drive increased warranty revenues – and profitability – through improved warranty management services – again, in that specific order.

These results signify a continuation of the relative “normalcy” that has characterized the Warranty Chain Management segment over the past several years – that is, a return to focusing on customers, rather than spending most of their time and resources wrestling with cost reductions and other financial issues. Obviously, while financial considerations are still critically important, the industry focus has shifted back, as it always does, squarely on the customer’s needs, requirements, preferences and expectations.

The Benefits Realized by Improving Warranty Management Activities Are Many

The number one benefit realized by warranty management organizations through the improvement of their respective activities is improved customer satisfaction (62%). No other single factor is cited by more than 38% of respondent organizations. The next greatest benefits cited by respondents include: reduced service and warranty costs (38%), enhanced product and service performance (35%), improved warranty operational efficiencies (33%) and improved customer retention (33%).

Based on the survey results, Pollock suggests that, “the top benefits realized by improving warranty management activities closely align with the key drivers that influence services organizations; namely, that they need to continue to place their principal focus squarely on the customer, with the end goal being to improve customer satisfaction and retention.”

Complacency with Their Current Warranty Management Solution

However, building upon the survey findings from previous years, a majority of warranty management solution users are notas duly impressed with the vendors that are currently providing these solutions. For example, Pollock claims that “only 40% of respondents are presently ‘satisfied’ with the services and solutions provided by their primary warranty management solution vendors – including a stunningly low 2%, or only one-out-of-50, who are ‘extremely satisfied’. These percentages reflect a further downtick from just one year earlier.”

Pollock believes that there are probably a number of reasons for why users are not particularly happy with their current WCM solution vendors: “In talking to a number of warranty chain managers over the past several months as part of our benchmarking program,” Pollock claims, “many have said they are unhappy with their current provider because their needs for this year and beyond are simply no longer being met by their existing warranty management solutions that may have been implemented a number of years earlier. Basically, their needs have raised the bar regarding what they now expect out of their solutions; but, in many cases, their vendors have not raised their own bars in terms of performance delivery.”

Madhu Kunam, director of software development at PTC for the iWarranty product, concurs with Pollock, but adds that, “Even with an implemented warranty management system, the “still manual” processes may make the overall system inefficient or unproductive.” He goes on to say, “Other reasons may include that the features and functions of the existing vendor-supplied solution do not work as advertised, due to a poorly implemented system, or one that has been constantly plagued with bugs.

“It may also be that the vendor-supplied solution simply doesn’t deliver the expected value, or that the vendor is either unable or unwilling to help with consulting or professional services support – or is not able to provide other types of customer-specific support. Then again, it might all just be about cost – although a solution structured for small and medium businesses and sold on a subscription pricing basis can certainly mitigate any problems in this area!”

However, these are only some of the potential problems that he believes PTC’s iWarranty solution can help its customers avoid. For example, Kunam explains that, “PTC’s warranty management approach defines, manages and analyzes all of the organization’s warranty processes from initial product registration through to the end of the standard or extended warranty period. This unique approach to warranty analytics and service lifecycle management focuses on a product-centric data model that allows users to manage warranty information and capture service history in the context of the product itself, thereby allowing this important data to provide feedback to the enterprise for continuous product and service improvement.

“In this way, no matter how high the customer raises the bar, or how customer-specific the solution needs to be, PTC stands ready to support its customers in all facets of their warranty operations. PTC believes that this is one of the key areas that can make a difference between a satisfied customer, and a dissatisfied one.”

On May 24, 2018, PTC will be hosting a complimentary hour-long webinar featuring the executive-level results of this survey, to be presented by Bill Pollock. It will also be making available the companion Analysts Take paper that provides further insights relating to the findings. To register for the Webcast, or to obtain a copy of the companion Analysts Take paper, simply click here: http://app.demand.ptc.com/e/es.aspx?s=2826&e=2100908&elqTrackId=c346145430f045a9a4a8ab0ad69df3d1&src=View_Online&elq=ec4b7ad031c5442e85dca16a47774a24&elqaid=29101&elqat=1.

Advertisements

The IoT Is Changing the Way in Which We Approach Field Service Management (FSM)

The impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on Field Service Management (FSM) has already been significant – and will continue to grow in magnitude over time. This applies to all services organizations, of all types and sizes, covering all world geographies, and supporting all product-service lines. Yes – it’s that pervasive!

This is especially true for organizations supporting certain vertical industry segments (e.g., aviation/aerospace, energy, factory automation, medical devices, etc.), and is beginning to have a similar impact on all other segments, even going beyond the traditional field service B2B segments, to now include many of the emerging B2C services segments, such as consumer/home medical devices, home security systems, HVAC/electrical and plumbing services, among others.

In fact, the pervasive use of Cloud-based platforms, coupled with the integration of IoT-powered FSM solutions, has expanded the relevant market size to a near-ubiquitous universe encompassing all types and sizes of solution providers, as well.

However, as we sit here and read about IoT-powered FSM solutions, the means with which the IoT is supporting these systems is constantly growing and evolving as well. Even more, if a services organization has not yet embraced and incorporated the IoT into its services operations, they are already a step or two behind the market leaders. For example, for any one of the organizations that are still examining the potential value of incorporating Augmented Reality (AR) into their services operations, there are many others that are already looking to implement Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) – and, increasingly, Blockchain!

The time is now for ramping up on all things IoT, reading IoT thought leadership articles, attending IoT conferences, viewing vendor demos, establishing “long lists” and reducing them to “short lists” for vendor consideration, etc. Gaining management buy-in is also a must – in fact, it is basically a must for all things services management anyway – but, especially with respect to the IoT and the “new” technology it brings to the table.

The most progressive – and aggressive – solution providers have already embarked on the road to an IoT-powered FSM or Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) solution scenario. As such, now is also the time for all other FSM solution providers to do so. Many of your competitors have already done so, and many of your customers (and prospects) are already at least somewhat familiar with what the IoT can ultimately do for them. When the global services management marketplace is more fully transformed (i.e., when the IoT is a ubiquitous factor in every organization’s services operations), your organization will also need to have made the transformation. If the market leaders are already several steps ahead of you, you cannot afford to fall further behind.

Proliferation in the use of Cloud-based and IoT-powered FSM solutions have also led to a major consolidation of the global competitive landscape. The “new” competitive landscape is now comprised of a combination of all types, sizes and categories of solution providers. Most (if not all) of the enterprise services providers are already offering FSM (or SLM) solutions (or, at the very least, “enhanced” Field Service Management solutions). They “get it”, and they’re doing something about it.

Over the past several years, we have also seen many of the large Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) companies (e.g., SAP, Oracle, etc.) acquire their FSM solution capabilities. For example, Oracle acquired TOA Technologies, IFS acquired Metrix, Microsoft acquired FieldOne, and so on. Some larger companies have also elected to go more organically, such as Salesforce by introducing its Field Service Lightning solution based on ClickSoftware technology. ClickSoftware went private again, but still is a strong competitor in the global FSM marketplace, while also licensing some of its software apps to other organizations.

For the most part, the mid-sized services organization market is only a step or two behind the enterprise services providers in terms of embracing and incorporating the IoT into their FSM and SLM solution offerings. Some are already on an equal footing with their larger competitors. However, where the most “confusion” and uncertainty lies is in the landscape populated by start-ups – and what, in some cases, I refer to as “upstarts”!

In addition to the ongoing spate of mergers, acquisitions and alliances, and organic development, there has also been a significant increase in the numbers of “new” entries into the FSM solution marketplace. In fact, probably more of this type of activity has occurred in this segment recently than in the past many years – or decades!

These “new” start-ups can essentially be divided into two main categories: (1) FSM Start-ups, that are trying earnestly to find a way to enter – and successfully penetrate – the FSM market, by leveraging new technologies, experienced leadership, deep (enough) pockets, investment capital and a bit of luck into a services growth segment where they believe they can actually make a difference.

However, it is the FSM Upstarts, that are basically trying to ride the Cloud-based, or SaaS, solution wave into a “new” market opportunity (for them), in order to make a quick buck when all they ultimately plan to do is to be acquired by a larger organization in another year or two. As such, it is truly a “buyer beware” market, as there are a great number of “new” upstart FSM solution providers that will not be around for very long.

Yes – the IoT is definitely changing the FSM marketplace – both rapidly and pervasively. You can blame it on the IoT for this rapid evolution (and disruption); however, you will also need to share some of the blame yourself if your organization is not keeping up with the advances in services management technology!

Companion Piece to Bill Pollock’s July, 2017 Guest Blog Post on Behalf of Sprint Business (Part 1 of 2)

[This companion piece to my two-part guest Blog published in July on the Sprint Business Blogsite focuses on the impact of the Internet of Things (IoT) on the Field Services industry. As is the case in most analyst interview-based guest Blogs, much of my responses will not be included in the final posts. As such, please consider this Blog as a more detailed companion piece for the first five of 10 questions posed by Sprint Business. Hopefully, this will provide you with additional “between the lines” thoughts and opinions.]

Q1:   In what ways is IoT transforming the field service industry, and at what pace?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming the field service industry in ways that most analysts –  and practitioners – could not have foreseen just a few years ago. While most of us were focusing on machine-to-machine (i.e., m2m) communications and the prospects for utilizing Augmented Reality (AR), the IoT was already beginning to be leveraged into smart systems and Connected Field Service (CFS) solutions among the more progressive services organizations in the global marketspace.

Even as we speak, while some companies are just beginning to evaluate the benefits of integrating Augmented Reality into their services operations, AR is already morphing into Mixed, or Merged, Reality (MR) through the combined deployment along with Virtual Reality (VR) applications. And this advanced trend is not only not going to stop; it is much more likely to accelerate right before our eyes.

The growing recognition that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) applications are ultimately poised to make the difference between those services organizations that are destined to be the market leaders versus everyone else (i.e., the followers, and laggards) is also picking up steam, and will likely join the mainstream of market adoption shortly (albeit, the inner working of AI and ML are both much more complicated than the IoT – especially with respect to AI).

The IoT is not just for m2m anymore. It is the tool that can make any services (or other) process “smart”, if applied effectively. It can (and will) take services organizations to places they never dreamed possible just a short time ago – and it will be responsible for cutting the costs of delivering services along the way.

At what pace? Basically, if you merely blink, you may find yourself quickly falling behind your more progressive competitors! Many of them are already there!

Q2:   What are the highest-impact factors in this transformation?

The highest-impact factors in field service transformation will be the normalization of the playing field across all industry segments, by vertical market, size, type, geographic coverage and any other “demographic” segments you can think of. Field Service Management (FSM) is not only for the large enterprise organizations, but for services organizations of all types, regardless of size or market coverage.

The proliferation of Cloud-based FSM solutions has also moved many organizations from the historical perpetual license pricing model to a much more manageable subscription basis pricing model. This also is having a significant impact on facilitating the entry of smaller and medium-sized organizations into the world of the IoT and smart solutions.

The integration of AR, VR and/or MR platforms into services operations will also normalize the playing field even more, thereby empowering services organizations of all types and sizes, etc., to compete head-to-head against each other (as well as the market leaders) with essentially the same levels of system capabilities. It will also lead to quicker customer equipment “fixes”, at reduced costs (to the services organization), and with far fewer visits required to the customer site to perform the repair.

Q3:   What do you see as the top three or four benefits to field service organizations?

The top benefits to field service organizations, as cited in Strategies For Growth℠’s (SFG℠’s) 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey, are (1) the ability to run a more efficient field service operation by eliminating silos, etc. (cited by 44% of respondents as one of the top three benefits); (2) improved customer satisfaction (cited by 39%); (3) the ability to provide customers with an end-to-end engagement relationship (cited by 35%); (4) the ability to establish a competitive advantage (cited by 30%); and (5) improved field technician utilization and productivity (cited by 26%).

Other top benefits include (6) reduced Total Cost of Operations (TCO) (cited by 25%); (7) reduced ongoing/recurring costs of operations (cited by 19%); (8) improved service delivery time (cited by 16%); (9) fostering enhanced inter-departmental collaboration (cited by 15%); and (10) ability to complete the automation of all field service operations (cited by 12%).

However, as more and more services organizations ramp up with respect to IoT-powered technologies and applications, there will likely be even more potential benefits identified within the global services organization community.

Q4:   How can organizations best leverage all the IoT data they gather?

Many reports have been written about services organizations (and businesses of all types) “drowning in data lakes”. However, the key to success is to establish early on what data is needed to effectively run the services operations, and hone in on specifically those types of data when collecting and processing the reams and reams of data generated from your IoT-based systems. Too much data is … well, too much data, if you don’t have a plan to harvest it effectively.

Services organizations also need to be able to identify which data is “need to know” vs. which data is only “nice-to-know”. Nice-to-know data is ultimately way too expensive to collect, process, analyze, monitor and distribute; however, need-to-know data is not only invaluable – but critical to ensuring the well-being of the services organization.

You don’t go to work wearing 12 watches; you don’t buy 48 oz. of steaks, per person, to put on the grill for a summer barbecue; so, why would you pay for more data than you will ever need when you can harvest just what you need for now (plus whatever else looks like you may need in the future)?

Think of your data repository as a storage space for all of the data you will need today, tomorrow and in the future. If large enough, put it in a data lake – but make sure you don’t use Lake Superior for what a smaller data lake can do for you more efficiently.

Q5:   What barriers do organizations face in taking full advantage of IoT, and how can they overcome those barriers?

The greatest barrier in taking full advantage of the IoT is typically senior management resistance at the top of the organization structure. Coupled with a general lack of understanding of exactly what the IoT is, and exactly what it can do for the organization, these two factors can too often become “momentum-killers” within the organization.

This is why making sure that all participants comprising services management are kept up-to-date with (1) advances in IoT-based technologies, (2) the introduction of new applications and mobile tools to support field technicians (and to transfer some of their historical on-site responsibilities to more remote-based scenarios), and (3) evolutions in FSM solution capabilities, etc., is so important.

With subscription-based pricing, cost should no longer be as critical an issue to the prospects for moving forward with the desired FSM solution – however, do your CFO and Purchasing teams understand that? Or are they still entrenched in the traditional perpetual license mindset?

Attending field services trade shows and IoT-focused conferences should “shake off the cobwebs” for most of the non-believers or nay-sayers in the organization. Collect as much information as you can, schedule some demos, and invite management to witness the benefits (i.e., the outcomes) of an IoT-powered FSM solution first-hand. This will definitely sway most of the non-believers!

Hopefully, my responses have helped you to better understand the ways in which the services management market is changing – both rapidly and pervasively. Blame it on the IoT for this rapid evolution; however, blame yourself if you’re not keeping up with the advances in services management technology!

[To access the published Blogs, please visit the Sprint Blogsite at https://business.sprint.com/blog/field-services-iot-makeover/. Or, if you prefer, you may access the complete SFG℠ Analysts Take paper simply by clicking on the following Weblink: How the IoT Is Transforming the FS Industry (Draft-17-07-21-01)]

How the Right Warranty Management Solution Can Help Improve Your Organization’s Bottom Line!

[This Blog presents an excerpted portion of the White Paper written by Strategies For GrowthSM (SFGSM) and distributed by Tavant Technologies, a global leader in providing Cloud-based Warranty Management systems and solutions.To access the complete White Paper, or to download an archived copy of the companion Webcast, please use the Weblink provided at the end of the Blog.]

Each year, SFGSM conducts a series of Benchmark Surveys among its outreach community of more than 39,000 global services professionals. Total responses for the 2017 Warranty Chain Management Benchmark Survey, conducted in January/February 2017, are 215. As such, we believe the survey results to represent a realistic reflection of the global warranty chain management community in which we all serve.

Putting Things in Perspective

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

  • 47% Post-sale customer satisfaction issues
  • 43% Desire to improve customer retention
  • 36% Customer demand for improved warranty management services

In order to effectively address these challenges – and strive to attain best practices – respondents then cite the following as the most needed strategic actions to be taken:

  • 43% Develop / improve metrics, or KPIs, for advanced warranty chain analytics
  • 28% Foster a closer working collaboration between product design & service
  • 28% Institute/enforce process workflow improvements for supplier cost recovery

The survey results also reveal that roughly two-thirds (66%) of respondent organizations currently operate service as an independent profit center (or as a pure, third-party service company), compared with only 34% that operate as cost centers. At these percentages, the warranty management respondent base represented in the survey reflects a consistency over the past few years, and mirrors the overall composition of the global services marketplace.

Further, the two-thirds ratio supports the supposition that it would strongly benefit services organizations that are attempting to keep their customers satisfied – and make an attractive profit by doing so – to put into place a well-structured, automated and Cloud-based warranty management solution designed both to satisfy customers, and contribute directly to the bottom line.

However, while the importance of effective warranty management is sufficiently validated by the responses to the survey, a majority of warranty management solution users are not as duly impressed with the vendors that render them these services. For example, only 42% of respondents are presently satisfied with the services and solutions provided by their respective primary warranty management solution vendors – including a stunningly low 12%, or only one-out-of-eight, who are “extremely satisfied”.

In fact, just under half of users (44%) rate their perceptions of the performance of their primary vendor as “neither satisfied nor dissatisfied” – or what we would normally describe as a “complacent” user base. While only 3% of users claim to be “not at all satisfied”, there are still a total of 15% that fall into the “dissatisfied” category.

Research shows that a majority (i.e., 50% or greater) of the dissatisfaction that users have with their current vendors apparently stems from the importance that the market places on key factors including cost of services (70%), followed by the industry reputation and warranty management experience of the vendor (i.e., at 47%, each). Other factors influencing performance perceptions include the vendor’s data/information reporting capabilities (41%) and specific geographic experience (38%).

Roughly half (49%) of the survey respondents’ organizations have either implemented a “new” warranty management solution, or upgraded their existing solution, within the past three years or less. Of this amount, about one-in-seven (15%) have implemented a “new” solution, while more than one-third (34%) have upgraded their existing solution. The remaining 51% are currently using warranty management solutions that are, at least, three years old, or older (Figure 1).

The survey research clearly shows that those organizations that have implemented “new” warranty management solutions have realized the greatest levels of performance improvement – certainly, much greater than for those that have merely upgraded their respective Warranty Management solutions. The Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, that reflect the greatest improvements for each category of organization are as follows:

Warranty Claims Processing Time:

  • 14% Performance improvement for “New” Implementations
  •   6%  Performance improvement for Upgrades

Supplier/Vendor Recovery (as a percent of Total Warranty Expense):

  •   8%  Performance improvement for “New” Implementations
  •   5%  Performance improvement for Upgrades

Based on the results of SFG’s 2017 Warranty Chain Management Benchmark Survey, the key takeaways are:

  • Roughly half (49%) of the warranty management segment have either implemented or upgraded their warranty management solutions in the past three years or less
  • More than three-quarters (77%) of current warranty management processes are at least partially automated
  • Over the next 12 months, annual warranty management budgets are expected to increase, with more than twice as many organizations planning increases over decreases
  • Organizations with “new” warranty management implementations have realized significantly greater performance improvements than all other categories with respect to warranty claims processing time and supplier/vendor recovery (as a percent of total warranty expense)
  • Warranty management organizations are being driven, first, by Customer-focused factors; second, by Product Quality-focused factors; and third, by Cost/Revenue-focused factors
  • The most significant challenges currently faced by warranty services managers are identifying the root causes of product failures, followed by product quality issues and claims processing time and accuracy
  • Currently, as well as in the next 12 months, warranty services managers will be focusing primarily on developing and/or improving their KPIs and warranty analytic programs, fostering a closer working collaboration between product design and service, and instituting/enforcing process workflow improvements for supplier cost recovery
  • Nearly half (46%) of organizations are currently integrating warranty management with all other services functions, and just as many already have an end-to-end workflow process in place to handle claims and returns (46%); however, this means that more than half presently do not have these capabilities in place
  • The top uses of data/information collected from warranty events are basically to improve processes (i.e., field service, depot repair, parts returns, etc.) and effect changes (i.e., product design, manufacturing, etc.)
  • Customer satisfaction and warranty management-related costs are the top two categories of KPIs used by warranty services management organizations, followed by warranty costs, per product

[To access the complete White Paper, containing much more information and numerous supporting tables and charts, please visit the following Weblink, hosted by Tavant. An archived copy of the companion Webcast is also available for download at http://bit.ly/2lUppNZ.]

Bill Pollock to Conduct Workshop at the 13th Annual Warranty Chain Management Conference in Tucson AZ, Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Bill Pollock, president & principal consulting analyst at Strategies For Growth℠, to conduct Workshop on the topic of “Transforming Warranty Management Into Improved Customer Satisfaction and Revenue Generation”, Tuesday, March 6, at the 2017 WCM Conference in Tucson, AZ

[Reprinted/Edited from the February 16, 2017 issue of Warranty Week]

From March 7 – 9, 2017, warranty professionals will gather in Tucson, Arizona, for the 13th annual Warranty Chain Management Conference. And as always, the opening day is taken up by a series of pre-conference workshops.

Many times, at past conferences, people arrive too late to attend any of the workshops, but wish they had. So while there’s still time for attendees to switch to an earlier flight, we wanted to provide some detail about what’s on offer.

This year, there will be six workshops — three in the morning and three in the afternoon on Tuesday, March 7. They’ll be followed by a welcome reception in the evening, and then the main conference proceeds on Wednesday and Thursday.

What these workshops provide is a deep dive into a single topic, such as transforming effective warranty management into improved customer satisfaction and the bottom line. They’re run by experts in the field, but the attendees are from all levels. And what they all know is the fundamental value of conferences like these: none of this material can be learned from books.

Bill Pollock‘s workshop is one of the three workshops scheduled for 9 AM to 12 noon, MST.

 

Raising Customer Satisfaction Levels

Pollock’s workshop is entitled, “Transforming Warranty Management Into Improved Customer Satisfaction and Revenue Generation“.

Pollock, who is a repeat presenter of WCM workshops, said he’s aiming this year’s presentation at managers and executives who need to improve customer satisfaction, drive revenues, and gain competitive advantage through improved warranty management.

“The perfect attendee would be anyone who deals both internally and externally with customer satisfaction, revenue generation, revenue management, or sales and marketing,” he said. “They’re the people who have the mandate — all their merit increases, their bonuses, are going to be dependent on how efficiently they run their part of the warranty management organization.”

Pollock said companies want to see both a contribution to the bottom line and an improvement in customer satisfaction levels. “But they’re almost diametrically opposed to one another,” he said. Deny more claims and satisfaction drops. Approve more claims and profits drop. So there has to be another way: increase revenue.

“One of the best things you can do to improve your revenue stream and to satisfy customers is to focus on warranty management, contract renewals, and attachment rates,” Pollock said. “You’re going to have increased revenues, and they’re going to be more predictable.”

Once the revenue increases, the money can be invested in automating and improving processes, which will ultimately raise customer satisfaction levels, Pollock explained. The goal is to turn a warranty claim into a more pleasant encounter for the customer, rather than adding insult on top of the injury.

“If you can’t make them feel better virtually immediately, then you’re going to allow a bad situation to get even worse,” he said. “What you need to do is build a warranty management program that can generate increased revenue, then take that revenue and spend it on improving the processes.”

Pollock said his advice is backed up by surveys he’s conducted both recently and in years past. “The first part of the workshop is going to be me presenting what best practices organizations are doing that are different from what the average organization is doing. But we also introduced some new questions into the survey this year,” he said, such as whether your organization has recently upgraded its warranty management solution. “What we’re finding is that there’s a big difference,” he said, in metrics such as claims processing time, service profitability, and supplier recovery rates.

More basically, Pollock said, the companies that recently upgraded their warranty management solutions are better not only at measuring themselves, but also at reporting the improved metrics. “Now, through more automated processes, through the cloud, powered by the Internet of things, you can build algorithms that allow you to more quickly identify than ever before, what’s really making a difference,” he said.

For more information on this workshop, or to register for the 2017 WCM Conference, please visit the conference website at: http://www.warrantyconference.com

Looking forward to seeing you in Tucson!

Bill

Transforming Market Research into Customer Satisfaction and Retention

Leveraging Market Research into Customer Satisfaction

Webster’s New Millennium Dictionary defines market research as ”the investigation and analysis of consumer needs and opinions about goods and services”. However, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, market research is defined more as “the gathering and evaluation of data regarding consumers’ preferences for products and services.” Thefreedictionary.com complicates matters by defining it as “research that gathers and analyzes information about the moving of good(s) or services from producer to consumer”.

While the three of these distinguished resources provide different “takes” on what market research really is, we prefer to define it essentially as the sum of all three, taking into consideration each of the implicitly stated nuances, by defining it as: “the data collection, analysis and assessment relating to customer needs, requirements, preferences, expectations and perceptions with respect to the goods and services they acquire and use”. In this way, we believe that market research can always be relied on as a tool to support a service organization’s ability to measure, gauge and assess what it will take to understand its customers – and ultimately keep them satisfied and loyal.

We prefer to define Market Research as the data collection, analysis and assessment relating to customer needs, requirements, preferences, expectations and perceptions with respect to the goods and services they acquire and use.”

Regardless of which of these definitions you prefer, one thing remains perfectly clear – market research is a powerful tool that can be used to:

  • Collect and analyze all of the data and information you need to understand your market better, and make your products and services more appealing to your customer base
  • Assist you in identifying and prioritizing market targets that can be exploited to meet your business development goals
  • Provide a foundation upon which all of your customer-focused activities may be supported, measured and tracked
  • Enable you to define, quantify and articulate specific goals and objectives to all affected parties – internal & external
  • Support your ability to measure, monitor and track your customer relationship management successes (and failures) on an ongoing basis.

Measuring Customer Satisfaction Is Important; But, How Do You Do It?

Many services managers mistakenly use “customer satisfaction” and “customer retention” as interchangeable terms; however, they are two entirely separate and distinct things. Customer satisfaction is, basically, “keeping your customers happy”. However, even satisfied customers may consider switching providers for better prices, greater coverage, or just because “it’s time”, etc. As a result, the best way to define customer retention is essentially as “keeping your customers – customers”.

Among the most commonly used alternative measures, or surrogates, for tracking customer satisfaction are typically things like:

  • Increased sales/account revenues,
  • Increased profitability,
  • Repeat services sales/contract renewals, or
  • Improved levels of customer retention.

However, not all of these measures may be either relevant – or accurate, as:

  • Sales/account revenues may be growing more as a result of inflation and/or increasing services prices, rather than as an indicator of customer satisfaction;
  • Increased profitability may be more a result of improved internal services operations and/or cost-cutting, than anything the organization has done to make its customers happier;
  • Repeat services sales may be more the result of customers feeling “locked in” to existing service contracts, or believing it will be easier to “re-up” with your organization than it will be for them to find a new vendor; and
  • Customers may stay with you longer than they want, simply because it is easier than switching.

As such, the primary goals of a Customer Satisfaction research program should primarily be to:

  • Identify the specific product and service attributes that are proven to be important to customers;
  • Provide baseline measurements of both importance and satisfaction for future trend comparisons;
  • Determine the relative strengths/weaknesses of the organization’s current products, services and support offerings;
  • Identify the critical areas requiring improvement;
  • Collect data that can be used to set targets and goals; and
  • Provide a scientific and statistically valid means for measuring and tracking customer satisfaction over time.

Where Should You Focus Your Market Research Efforts?

In considering launching a new (or refining an existing) customer satisfaction/market research program within your organization, there are essentially four questions that you will first need to answer. They are:

  1. Does your organization already have a formal customer satisfaction measurement and tracking program in place? Is your survey research plan designed to yield the specific types of outcomes that are needed to support the organization’s business development plan?
  • Some organizations have no formal customer satisfaction measuring & tracking program; surveys are performed only on an ad hoc basis – if at all!
  • As a result, customer service improvements are probably not supported in a consistent manner, or with all of the necessary data and information to justify making changes – in fact, some problems may go unnoticed, and realistic priorities may not be easily set.
  • If the research plan is not specifically designed to support the subsequent action plan, then you may end up not collecting adequate information to make key decisions.
  1. Should we conduct our customer surveys internally, or should we use an outside market research/consulting firm to design, conduct and analyze our surveys? Which methodology will yield more actionable results? Which way is better?
  • By conducting your customer surveys internally, you may lose the perception of objectivity and, thus, credibility; plus, you run the risk of administering what may appear to your customers to be either an “unprofessional”, incomplete – or even worse – misdirected survey.
  • An outside market research firm generally has the ability to design, execute and analyze surveys more efficiently than your own organization – and can maintain an entirely objective posture throughout the course of the research (e.g., collecting and analyzing responses, providing customer feedback, etc.).
  • Most internally conducted customer surveys turn out to be little more than exercises in public relations, and generate neither statistically valid nor actionable survey outcomes; especially in cases where your service performance is poor, or major improvements are required, it is generally better to go outside.
  1. What type of survey methodology should we use? In person, telephone, mail, e-mail, or a combination of methodologies? How can we tell what will work best with our particular mix of services offerings and customer base?
  • Alternative survey methodologies may reflect substantially different levels of costs, coverage, response rates, statistical reliability and skewness, effectiveness, usability of outcomes, and applicability to the overall business plan.
  • Accordingly, the methodology you choose will dictate – to some degree – the likelihood of generating actionable survey outcomes.
  • E-mail surveys have become relatively inexpensive to conduct, but may not always be the best way to reach all of the customer base that you want to reach; telephone and mail still represent alternative methodologies for some organizations.
  1. Should we be surveying our existing customers, or should we be focusing more on surveying the market prospects that we hope to convert to customers in the future? Where should we be focusing our market and survey research efforts in the short term?
  • The answer is “yes” – to both!
  • In general, customers always come first – you cannot afford to lose the customers you already have (for any number of reasons).
  • However, you may also want to survey the general market base (i.e., prospects) in terms of their awareness and perceptions of your organization, as well as the likelihood of their buying/acquiring your products and services in the future.
  • As a surrogate, you can also survey “New Wins” and “Lost” Prospects” in combination with existing customers to determine what brought them in – or what drove them away – in addition to what makes them happy.

Regardless of which research methodologies you ultimately choose, there are certain guidelines that must also be followed as you begin to collecting the desired customer data and information:

  • First and foremost, do not abuse your customers. Don’t survey them day-in and day-out; they are not on your payroll!
  • Focus on the “need-to-know”, rather than the “nice-to-know”. “Need-to-know” data will always pay off in the long-term, whereas “nice-to-know” data can be particularly expensive if you ultimately do not get much of a return for the amount of time and money you have invested in the research.
  • Collect as much customer data as you can internally, from as many sources as possible, including service activity reports, call logs, call center metrics, KPIs, etc. However, you must remember that while internally collected data is your “reality”; it will be “perceptions” that are your customers’ “reality”. You will need to carefully reconcile these two often disparate sets of objective and subjective findings.
  • Use complementary methods of data collection wherever possible:
  • Ongoing communications is a two-way street; stop … and listen.
  • Get everyone involved – sales and service reps, CSRs, Managers.
  • Utilize trade shows, seminars, workshops, webinars, users groups.
  • Leverage Blogs, tweets, newsletters, e-mails, Website – all with “real” feedback channels.

Once you get started, the key areas you will need to address as part of the customer satisfaction measurement and tracking process will include:

  • Customer attitudes and perceptions toward the importance of the products, services and support they are using, and the levels of performance they are receiving from your organization.
  • Identification and ratings of the principal selection and evaluation factors customers use to rate those services.
  • Customer needs and requirements for those services in total, as well as by key customer/vertical market segments.
  • Levels of satisfaction with your organization’s performance, identification of areas where improvements are required, and what it would take to become their “Total Services Provider”.

Among the key questions that will need to be answered from the results of the customer survey analysis are:

  • How satisfied are your customers with the organization’s existing portfolio of products, services and support?
  • What additional areas of service and support do they need, want, or expect?
  • What can be done to improve current levels of customer satisfaction?
  • How can your organization become more responsive to the needs of its customers?
  • What areas need to be specifically addressed in order to provide customers with “total service and support”?
  • Who makes the decision to purchase your company’s products and services? What message do they need to hear?
  • What are the primary, secondary and peripheral factors used by customers to evaluate service performance?
  • Are all of your customers’ needs being met? To what degree? What are your specific (and relative) strengths and weaknesses?
  • How vulnerable is the organization to losing customers to the competition? For what reasons? How can this be avoided?

What Are Some of the Potential Outcomes of Conducting Market Research?

The key outcomes of a baseline Customer Satisfaction survey program would be the strategic identification, analysis, assessment and profiling of your organization’s existing customer base, in total, and by principal customer market segments, including:

  • Determination of the principal purchase decision makers
  • Relative importance and “weights” of key services attributes
  • Satisfaction with the quality of your products, services and support
  • Correlations between product and service quality, and their
  • respective impacts on overall service performance satisfaction
  • Satisfaction with your organization’s pricing perceived value
  • Perceptions of customer loyalty to the organization
  • Customer usage/purchasing patterns
  • Other key factors likely to impact customer satisfaction

Other key market/business development factors that can also be examined include:

  • Principal types of products/services being used/planned
  • Plans for future purchases/upgrades/migrations
  • Primary “value-added” features used/required
  • Factors of importance used to select/evaluate vendors
  • Satisfaction with present product/service providers
  • Loyalty to present vendors likelihood to switch
  • Overall awareness/perceptions of the organization’s total portfolio of products, services and support offerings
  • Others, TBD

When conducted on a routine, periodic basis, tracking customer satisfaction over time can provide:

  • A comprehensive benchmark, or baseline, analysis, complemented by regular tracking/trend survey “waves”
  • A series of detailed analyses that explain key patterns, trends and areas requiring improvement over time
  • Executive-level management reports and trendsheets that address key patterns and their strategic implications
  • Identification of specific problem areas and recommendations for improving levels of customer satisfaction
  • The ability to develop both strategic and tactical “fixes”, both in total, and by individual customer/vertical segments

Knowing your customers can be an extremely effective marketing tool. The more you know about your customers, the more responsive you can be to their needs and requirements. In fact, we believe that you can never know too much about your customers. Your customers will tell you when they are satisfied, and when they are not; but you have to ask them directly, as they may not always volunteer to provide this information.

That is why customer survey research is so important – because, if you do not regularly ask your customers about their specific needs and requirements, they may think you are either uninterested or – even worse -– incapable of performing better.

The applications and uses of Customer Satisfaction survey results are multifold, including:

  • To establish a formal input/feedback mechanism to obtain critical data/information directly from customers
  • To use satisfaction trend data to improve, or otherwise modify, existing product, service and support features
  • To use the specific results of the survey as marketing tools (e.g., publish an article in a services trade journal, offer a “white paper” on the Web, integrate results into company marketing collateral, etc.)
  • To use the statistical findings, verbatim quotes or other survey results in promotional materials, handouts or mailings

The following represent just the “tip of the iceberg” with respect to what some of your peers have already been able to accomplish:

  • A Help Desk Software company combined a joint User Needs & Requirements Assessment/Satisfaction Survey with a New “Win”/“Lost” Prospects Survey to identify the differences in the way they support existing customers how they attract “new” ones (and also “lose” some along the way).
  • A High-Tech OEM conducted an in-depth, qualitative survey among its machine operators to identify whether both their key product and technical support issues were being adequately addressed – and coordinated.
  • A CRM Software company established a baseline survey, and then tracked changes in its service delivery performance over a 3-year period until all of its quantitative goals for performance improvement had been met.
  • A Medical Device company conducted concurrent surveys of prospects who chose them their competitors to identify patterns of vendor selection criteria and any potential “kick-out” factors that may have been driving some prospects away.
  • A “Brand Name” Third Party Services company conducted routine competitive intelligence updates used to “spin off” competitive vendor New Service Product Action/Reaction reports to assist its services sales force.
  • A Field Service Management (FSM) solution company conducted vertical market research to identify and prioritize new (to them) verticals to target for future business development.
  • A Print/Publishing OEM surveyed customers of a company they planned to acquire to see whether there was a “match” between the two customer bases in terms of customer needs and requirements for the merged service product offerings.

All told, there are dozens of different customer satisfaction- and retention-related issues that can best be identified, measured and analyzed through a specific market research program. As such, the versatility of market research should never be understated, as it can be as narrowly or broadly defined, as necessary; as formal or informal, as required; as expensive or inexpensive, as the budget permits; and as general or customized, as is required.

Summary

In summary, there is a big difference between merely “keeping your customers satisfied” and “keeping your customers – period!” We believe that only by conducting an appropriate series of market research activities can you keep sufficiently up-to-date with the market’s evolving needs and requirements for service, and their corresponding levels of customer satisfaction with their vendors.

Similarly, only by conducting ongoing competitive intelligence research can you fully understand how your organization is positioned in the overall marketplace, and how it can best compete in an intensifying competitive environment. And, only by conducting periodic customer satisfaction measurement and tracking surveys can you measure your own organization’s performance over time, and make the necessary changes to keep your customers satisfied and loyal.

No services organization ever went bankrupt as a result of investing money in market research that delivered actionable results, and provided a positive return on investment (ROI). It is only those organizations that have wrongly invested a great deal of money in “untested” areas that could have been better served by conducting the appropriate market research first.

Are You Satisfying Your Customers Today? If Not, What Can You Do About it Starting Tomorrow?

Establishing a process for improving and maintaining the ability to satisfy your customers does not have to be a daunting effort. It can actually be quite easy – if you plan accordingly, rally the necessary resources together, execute effectively, and manage the results over time. While conducting a large-scale customer survey may take a few months to develop, implement and analyze, there are still many things you can start tomorrow, to provide you with some actionable customer data in the short-term. Read on to see what you can begin doing tomorrow to improve the way in which you are able to satisfy customers.

Many services organizations have found that by routinely conducting customer satisfaction measurement and tracking surveys, they are continually able to

  • Determine the defining characteristics of service and support that best meet their customers’ total needs;
  • Identify, measure, and track changes in their corresponding levels of customer satisfaction;
  • Determine the relative strengths and weaknesses of their customer support organization;
  • Identify all of the critical areas requiring improvement;
  • Collect data that can be used to set targets or goals for improvement; and
  • Recommend changes to their existing customer support processes and organization.

All of these objectives are admirable, important, easy to implement, and will ultimately lead toward the ability of the organization to “fix the system” (i.e., the business processes, operations, and infrastructure) that will empower it to deliver expected levels of customer service and support. However, while it is working hard to “fix the system”, there is always the risk of losing some of the organization’s most “vulnerable” customers in the interim since systemwide improvements typically take a long time to design, implement, manage, and maintain. For this reason, we believe that the most effective customer survey programs are those that also provide all of the information and guidance needed to “fix the system” – and “fix the customer” – both at the same time!

That is why we have developed a unique survey approach that also generates individual Customer Relationship Case Study Profiles that may be used to supplement the overall survey findings, strategic implications, and general recommendations for moving forward with a systemwide “fix”. In this way, while your organization is spending the time and dollars required to correct its systemwide problems, it can also address the specific problems that are impacting individual customers well before they become “kick-out factors”.

Strategies For GrowthSM‘s (SFGSM) Customer Discovery Survey program is designed to help services organizations identify the root causes of problems and recognize “real” opportunities for customer support improvement that will enhance – or bring back – their desired levels of customer satisfaction and profitability by focusing on the key customer-oriented issues that directly affect the business, including:

  • Customer Needs & Requirements for “Total” Customer Support
  • Customer Perceptions, Preferences and Expectations for Service and Support
  • Product/System Evaluation Factors
  • Service & Support Evaluation Factors
  • Gap Analysis/Unmet Customer Needs
  • Existing/Potential Problem Areas
  • Areas Requiring Improvement
  • Changes in Service Performance Over Time
  • Likelihood of Recommending the Vendor
  • Closing Thoughts/Verbatim Comments

Using a time-tested approach consisting of preliminary client management interviews, questionnaire design, and conventional survey research, each Customer Discovery Survey program is tailored to the organization’s specific needs and situation to achieve the maximum output and return on investment. If your organization is ready, it can typically best be served by implementing a full-scale Customer Satisfaction Measurement, Analysis & Tracking Program that can be used to identify, prioritize, and assess the specific actions required to “fix” systematic problems in its overall customer service and support operations.

However, if you are not quite ready to address systemwide change, you can still benefit by identifying the specific areas that will allow you to “fix” specific customers through a Customer Discovery Survey program. In either case, you will still be able to benefit from a detailed analysis and management report that tells you what needs to be fixed, how vulnerable you are to losing customers in the interim, and what timeframes for resolution will likely be required.

In general, SFGSM‘s Customer Discovery Surveys seem to work best for organizations with either a relatively finite customer base, or where a small number of customers represents an important component of the total customer base. Some clients prefer to survey their most valuable and/or “vulnerable” customers as a way of stopping major problems “dead in their tracks”, or preventing minor problems from growing larger. The general rule of thumb is that in cases where there is a large enough sample of the customer base (e.g., let’s say 25 to 30 or more customers), we can prepare both:

  • A detailed analysis of the total respondent sample, thereby providing the organization with a general customer base overview, as well as
  • A set of individual, case-by-case, customer-respondent profiles – thus, providing the ability to “fix” the customers while you’re “fixing” the system!

Many of our clients like the way these individual profiles present detailed, case-specific information that may be used to “fix” customers on a one-by-one basis, as they move forward with the systematic “fixes” that are otherwise recommended by the strategic findings of the survey. In fact, many clients use this information on a prioritized, case-by-case basis as they move forward – concurrently – with their systemwide improvement initiatives.

Basically, each profile presents the key findings from a single customer interview, including side-by-side comparisons of perceived importance vs. vendor performance for all of the performance attributes tested. As such, these profiles are enormously helpful toward gaining a better understanding of exactly how your services offerings (or your dealers’ offerings) are being perceived by individual customers, and where particular points of vulnerability, disconnect, or other potential problem areas may be occurring.

Through these Customer Relationship Case Study Profiles, we can also identify and “flag” areas of moderate, significant or severe customer “vulnerability”, as well as the root causes for why these problems may exist in the first place. Potential “kick-out” factors can also be easily identified. Ultimately, these individual case study profiles afford our clients a unique opportunity to utilize a customer-centric database that allows them to focus on the specific concerns of each interviewed customer, as well as from the results of the analysis of an aggregate, or representative, survey base.

Customer Discovery Surveys are a cost-effective way to determine the current levels of satisfaction – and vulnerability – of your most important (or representative) customers without having to engage in a full-scale customer survey effort. This program allows you to put your major concerns to bed quickly, while giving you a better understanding of where you need to focus – immediately – to get your systemwide support organization running more effectively.

SFGSM’s Customer Discovery Survey program is offered at a fixed price and can be completed in usually in less then one-to-two months, so you can get fast results and know exactly where you stand without incurring any major delays or expenditures. Results are presented in terms of executable actions accompanied by a set of case-specific Customer Relationship Management Profiles that can help you to better understand – and “fix” – each targeted customer.

For more information on SFGSM’s Customer Discovery Survey program, or Customer Needs & Requirements/Satisfaction Surveys, please visit our Blogsite at: http://wp.me/P3Q70i-3o