Complimentary, Companion, SFG℠ Analysts Take Paper to Our “The Future of Field Service” Article

Sarah Nicastro, in her new position at IFSWorld, has just launched the inaugural issue of her e-journal, The Future of Field Service! It was my honor and privilege to have written more than 30 pieces for her while she was Publisher/Editor at Field Technologies and Field Technologies Online – and I am grateful for the opportunity to continue to write for her in her new role!

Here’s wishing that Sarah continues to enjoy the success she has built all around her for more than a decade serving the Field Services segment!

In the meantime, please feel free to download this complimentary, companion, Analysts Take paper to our first (of many) The Future of Field Service articles; The Future of FSM (Draft-18-11-28-01)

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Revitalizing a Mature Product/Service Line Can Add Life to the Cycle

After a while, even the most innovative product/service lines may begin to lose some of their luster and appeal, ultimately being perceived by the marketplace more as a commodity-like offering, rather than as a unique or differentiated product or service. Classic examples range anywhere from cameras, to computers, to consulting services. What was initially offered to the market as an innovative product or service, without any direct competition, can soon become just another product or service alternative among scores of increasingly competitive offerings.

It is for this reason that it is critical to understand where your organization’s service offerings stand in the perceptions of the marketplace at any given point in time. In many cases, it will be the new, innovative, “upstart” companies that are doing the bulk of the research and market testing prior to launching their new products and services, and not the companies that are still selling their older, more mature commodity-like offerings.

However, there may still be a great deal of life left in the more mature business lines that comprise the majority of your company’s product or service portfolio. Even better, these lines generally tend to be “proven” with respect to market acceptance, and may only need a gentle marketing “push” every once and awhile to stimulate additional market interest and sales. Even NASA uses a “mid-course correction” every now and then to ensure that its space vehicles get to their targeted destinations.

A further complication may also arise from the fact that many businesses that provide both products and services to the market often find that when sales or market share takes a downturn, they are unable to determine whether the decline is more related to problems with their products, problems with their services and support, or a combination of the two. However, more often than not, it is generally a combination of the two. While this is typically a fairly easy matter to resolve, it is one that can often lead to a costly and ineffectual failure if not approached properly.

Whenever a situation like this takes place, the organization should examine a number of critical areas through the execution of a carefully orchestrated research program, focusing on issues such as:

  • An assessment of the changing, evolving or emerging customer/market needs, requirements, preferences, perceptions and expectations associated with its mature product/service offerings;
  • The identification of specific new or value-added product features, characteristics and attributes (e.g., functionality, quality, reliability, modularity, packaging, etc.) that could redefine the mature products; and the corresponding features, characteristics and attributes that could similarly redefine the levels of service required to support these products from the customer’s perspective (i.e., professional services, Web-based self-support, etc.); and
  • Suggested, or recommended, improvements to the existing products and support services required to address these changing and evolving needs.

The results of a program of this nature would be extremely useful to the organization’s sales and marketing management in terms of their ultimate ability to:

  • Modify and enhance the historical product and service offerings to address the changing levels of market demand and requirements;
  • Project the likelihood of customers switching to new, redefined or replacement, products and services in the near- and long-term future;
  • Develop a plan for migrating to new product and services offerings to reflect the evolving needs and requirements of the market;
  • Identify and cultivate expanded and/or redefined target markets based on the identified patterns of “core” vs. “value-added” product/service preferences and user perceptions;
  • Strengthen the overall product/service awareness and image in the marketplace through a program of heavily promoted refinements, enhancements and/or modifications based on the study findings; and
  • Monitor the ongoing positioning of the product/service offering in the marketplace in order to determine when it may no longer be profitable to support it.

More specifically, the primary objectives of the organization should be to first, identify the changing customer needs, requirements, preferences, perceptions and expectations that can be used to assess and “fine tune” the overall strategic and market position of the company’s historical product and service lines; and second, to ensure that the company can continue to effectively market these mature products and services, with a compelling promotional “spin”, and to the appropriate market segments.

A comprehensive examination of these key issues could lead to the development of a set of strategic and tactical recommendations for action with respect to defining/redefining the preferred product features, characteristics and attributes, and the corresponding customer service and support requirements. The recommendations would be developed to address:

  • The magnitude of the impact on the organization’s existing product/service lines resulting from the projected differences between historical and future market demand and purchase patterns in an expanded/redefined market base; and
  • The identification, assessment and prioritization of expanded/redefined product/service features, characteristics and attributes that would serve to support any recommended changes, modifications and/or enhancements to the company’s existing product and service lines.

There are many ways in which a business can determine exactly how much “kick” its historical product or service offerings still have in them – or, conversely, whether it is time to “kick” them out of the company’s portfolio altogether, and replace them with newer, more innovative and competitive products and services.

While your present business lines are probably the key factors that have helped your company to grow to its current size and market position, they may have become “dusty” over the years, and now may be in need of either a good “dusting off” or, possibly, retirement.

Putting a “cash cow” off to pasture before it is time can cost your company money in terms of lost potential. However, keeping it on as an active component of your business portfolio may cost even more in the long run, in terms of giving your company a perceived market image as either being “dusty” itself, or no longer offering anything but commodity-like products and services.

Assessing where your business lines stand today in terms of market perceptions, image and their ability to meet your customers’ changing and evolving needs, will allow you to determine just how much “dust” is actually on your existing portfolio of offerings, and exactly what you will need to do to “shake it off” and compete more effectively in the future.

[BTW – Are you a Warranty Chain Management Professional? If so, we invite you to participate in SFG℠‘s 2019 Warranty Chain Management Benchmark Survey Update! Take the survey, and view the final results during our January 17, 2019 Webcast (and accompanying complimentary Analysts Take summary report! Share your knowledge and learn from your peers! To participate, please click here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WCM_19]

Does Your CRM Initiative Require a “Mid-Course Correction”?

Customer Relationship Management (CRM), just like any other major business initiative, requires a great deal of thought, time, planning, resources, energy, and money. But it also requires momentum to ensure that it maintains its relevance as the business evolves in an ever-changing marketplace. That is why so many well-intentioned CRM initiatives tend to “fizzle out” over time, either in terms of commitment, use, or simply because they haven’t grown in functionality at the same pace as the business itself has grown. Whatever the reason, many organizations ultimately find themselves in a position where their CRM program just flat out isn’t as effective as it once was.

Many years ago, Fram oil filters utilized an advertising campaign that stated “You can either pay me now, or you can pay me later!” This referred to the fact that you could either check (and, if required, replace) your car’s oil filter on a routine basis (i.e., before a problem manifests itself), or wait until after a problem occurs, thereby costing you more money for a “fix” after-the-fact than it would have cost had you routinely changed your oil filter as part of a self-administered preventive maintenance program. The same concept also applies to CRM: fixing (or correcting) your CRM program along the way will undoubtedly save your organization much more time and money compared to the risk of having it stray off course over time.

Experience has shown that once a CRM program strays off course – whether by alot, or a little – it is extremely difficult to easily get it back on track in terms of refocusing direction, reallocating resources, rechanneling team efforts, realigning processes, and in many cases, admitting that the program had gone off track in the first place! For these reasons, it is critical to monitor the progress of any CRM initiative on an ongoing basis in order to avoid falling into a situation where you will need to make what NASA typically refers to as “a mid-course correction”.

Taking the NASA example one step further, when a rocket is aimed at the Moon, sometimes a “mid-course correction” requires nothing more than a 10- or 20-second burst of steam released from the side of the spacecraft to ensure that its recalculated trajectory will send it to the desired landing spot on the surface. In cases where the problem is identified well enough in advance, it may only take this 10- to 20-second effort to ensure that the rocket does not miss its target by thousands of miles. In relative NASA terms, this is neither a complicated nor expensive procedure to execute, and the return is enormous (i.e., avoiding a potential total failure, and ensuring that the original target will be hit).

However, in cases where a problem is not identified until much later, or other earlier attempts have been ineffectively executed along the way, the rocket may have to be entirely reprogrammed – literally, on the fly – possibly entailing a new trajectory that will require orbiting around the back side of the Moon several times, and selecting a new landing site – or worse – sending it out into space as a failed effort. While the former “correction” would save the entire effort at a relatively low cost, the latter would – at best – require a huge amount of resources (i.e., people, time, and money) for just the chanceof being able to avoid failure. We believe that the same alternatives also apply to CRM initiatives, and that planning in advance for the most likely “mid-course corrections” should also be a critical component of any CRM effort.

Hopefully, any required “mid-course corrections” will be “minor” (such as taking added steps to improve communications between internal customer support groups, improving management and process control, upgrading existing software to the latest releases, etc.). However, some corrections may be more complicated, such as changing platforms or reengineering existing business processes mid-stream, or having to deal with other major CRM program-altering situations. Regardless of the level of correction that is required, one thing remains clear – an ineffective CRM program will provide – at best – an ineffectiveCRM solution! Further, while an effective CRM program can generally always be expected to provide a measurable return-on-investment (ROI), an ineffective program typically will not – regardless of the cost!

There are essentially six (6) key reasons why CRM projects fail. They are typically:

  1. Lack of management vision and commitment – Executive involvement is critical to steer the project so that it is continually in alignment with the company’s strategic business objectives.
  2. Lack of a complete business process analysis – Before embarking on a CRM implementation program, there must first be a comprehensive analysis of the individual customer-focused business processes used by the organization – otherwise you will find yourself merely automating the existing “mess”, or still doing things incorrectly – only more quickly!
  3. Selecting the software before the analysis is completed – Selecting software before the analysis is completed is a common – and oftentimes fatal –mistake. This is why melding the organization’s workflows into the software’s functionality, in a customer-focused, streamlined (and possibly reengineered) business process is generally required before implementing a CRM solution.
  4. Implementing a system without changing the way you do business – Simply applying a new CRM software application over the organization’s existing business processes will not get the job done. Many companies that have attempted to use CRM primarily as a tool for automating their historical business processes have seen their efforts lead to nothing more than a means for preserving their status quo while the marketplace evolves in another direction.
  5. Not managing expectations – Managing expectations at all levels within the organization is critical. Cultural considerations and expectations must be continually assessed, addressed and managed.
  6. Becoming locked into a system that does not support the CRM initiative (Agile Adaptability) – Any organization’s CRM program must show quick progress and be able to adapt quickly to changing business processes. Only the built-in “agile adaptability” of the system will preclude the chances for failure.

The best way to avoid any of these eventualities is to address them head-on in your CRM program from the outset. All of your organization’s major business initiatives should already have these types of contingency plans built-in – especially those that directly impact both the customer base and the bottom line (which is certainly the case with CRM)! The key to ensuring that your CRM initiative has adequately addressed these issues is to create an ongoing process-monitoring and self-assessment mechanism that is well-defined and clearly delineated in the original plan; and to empower the appropriate internal teams to manage and monitor these functions effectively.

Some tips for ensuring that you are able to successfully avoid any of these potential CRM obstacles are:

  • Incorporate internal and external communications as integral components of your CRM design, development and implementation plans.
  • Develop “real” goals and metrics for evaluating and tracking performance over time.
  • Build effective input and feedback processes (i.e., easy to use, properly managed, and responsive) into your CRM communications model that address all internal (i.e., employee), external (i.e., customers, prospects), and channel (i.e., partners, vendors, dealers, etc.) requirements.
  • Build an ongoing monitoring, tracking, and assessment function into the plan, and designate an appropriate individual (and team) to manage it. Also, empower that team to conceptualize, articulate, and recommend appropriate corrective actions as needed.
  • Provide management with performance tracking reports on a regular basis.
  • Keep current with the CRM community in terms of what platforms, applications, or functionality may be newly available; take advantage of your existing vendor’s regular upgrades, updates, and patches; and keep up-to-date on what some of the other leading industry practitioners are doing with respect to their own CRM initiatives (e.g., by tracking them on the Internet; networking; attending trade shows, seminars, and users groups; etc.).
  • Plan ahead for tomorrow’s upgrades today by keeping a close watch on your present CRM system status; setting (and revising) your goals and targets on a dynamic (rather than static) basis; identifying alternative “what-if” scenarios for addressing changes in your customer base (e.g., growth), infrastructure (e.g., outdated hardware/software platforms), or other organizational factors (e.g., restructuring, acquisitions/mergers, etc.).

There are many ways in which an organization can forestall problems relating to their CRM initiative, or – hopefully – avoid them altogether. However, in order to accomplish this, you must always plan ahead; address the most likely “what-if” scenarios in your contingency planning; monitor, measure, and track performance all along the way; and encourage and empower both your managers and their support staffs to get their jobs done effectively.

You regularly replace the oil filters in your car – don’t you? And you can always count on NASA to use numerous “mid-course corrections” to protect any of its space launches. Therefore, it should also make sense – both philosophical and economic – to ensure that your organization’s CRM initiative is always supported by these ongoing planning processes as well.

The Benefits of SLM May Be Transformative For Your Services Organization!

Managing today’s service enterprise means planning and coordinating service on a global scale. It means delighting your customers – and your shareholders. And it calls for new technologies and business practices designed specifically to solve the Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) challenge. Based on these reasons, we believe that any services organization that strives to provide “best-in-class” field service in support of its customers must first implement a robust SLM solution in order to achieve its objectives.

While at first glance, it may appear that there are many alternative SLM solutions available; however, not all of them are designed with the same levels of functionality, applications, and comprehensiveness that the SLM market requires – i.e., the key ingredients for success. Simply listing and describing the potential benefits of SLM constitutes only half of the battle – prospective users will still need to “sell” the concept of SLM to management in order to gain their “buy-in”.

The benefits of implementing an SLM solution are many – and are fairly universal (that is, applicable for virtually every services organization, regardless of type, size, or geography served). Users typically identify the following five areas of benefits as the most compelling talking points in selling the concept to management;

  1. Reduced Service Costs
  2. Streamlined Workflow
  3. Improved Service Levels
  4. Enhanced Quality and Growth
  5. Increased Customer Satisfaction
  1. Reduced Service Costs

Simply citing generic data regarding potential cost reductions does not generally entice management to look any further. In order to truly gain their attention, it must be specified exactly where the cost savings will be coming from – and to what extent (i.e., provide them with hard numbers). The good news is that a robust SLM solution can manifest quantifiable cost savings from several specific areas including:

  • Improved technician productivity
  • Improved Inventory/parts management
  • Optimized service delivery
  • Reduced time in the “service-to-cash” cycle

These areas of cost savings will very likely peak management’s interest – as well as entice them to ask for more detailed cost-saving information. For example:

Improved Technician Productivity

Through SLM, improvements in technician productivity can be gained in a variety of ways including:

  • Providing field technicians with real-time, direct access to customer service history, equipment repair records, product information, and inventory and parts availability enables them to provide the best service possible in the most cost-effective manner by eliminating time-consuming paperwork and forms preparation. As a result, the technicians are able to spend virtually all of their time (i.e., billable time) providing their customers with the highest levels of service and support, rather than simply collecting information and filling out forms.
  • Providing field technicians with specific service level information for each customer they serve so that they never unknowingly provide their customers with anything less – or more – than those levels of service that are specifically covered in their respective Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
  • Reducing overhead costs through the elimination of most paperwork, delays in communications, and the use of outdated systems that had previously required manual data entry or redundant data input.

Empowered by the data and information made available through SLM, field technicians can also serve as the “eyes and ears” of the organization with respect to identifying potential cross-selling or upselling opportunities for the company’s various products and services. For example, armed with recent service call activity data, a field technician can provide customers with fresh information on new product or service offerings that would ultimately benefit their operations in the long-run – while at the same time, identify potential leads for the company’s sales team. By doing so, customers will not only look at their field technician as “the person who gets things fixed”, but also as a “trusted advisor” – or the one they can count on to both fix their equipment, and provide them with recommendations for acquiring new products and/or upgrading their service level coverage.

However, while improved technician productivity is generally an eye-opener to management, there are still far more compelling cost benefits that can also be gained through an SLM solution.

Improved Inventory/Parts Management

SLM can also result in “hard” cost savings through improved inventory/parts management, as summarized below:

  • SLM enables services organizations to enhance their Equipment Asset Management (EAM) capabilities by allowing them to track specific component/equipment relationships, and monitor their inventories for the purpose of automatic replenishment. By developing – and following – tightly integrated inventory management processes, users are able to significantly reduce inventory size and related carrying costs.
  • SLM also provides technicians with access to real-time inventory information, as well as the ability to order parts directly from the field, rather than having to wait until they return to their home base, or gain access to a telephone connection. The ability to work with real-time parts/inventory information provides both the technicians – and the customers they serve – with immediate access to parts availability, while simultaneously updating inventory levels and triggering automatic replenishments.

Some organizations may also wish to implement “vendor managed inventory”, or “just-in-time” inventory replenishment models to support their customer base, so that once a needed part is identified, it can be ordered and shipped immediately from the vendor source to the customer site. These types of fast-track inventory models can be easily implemented and supported through SLM.

However, while improved inventory/parts management ultimately benefits both the services organization and the customers it serves, there are still additional cost savings benefits that management can literally “take to the bank”.

Optimized Service Delivery

Optimized service delivery may mean different things to different people; however, the most compelling benefits of service optimization delivered through SLM are typically realized in terms of:

  • Minimized time to dispatch (i.e., quicker response time);
  • Increased first-time fix rates (i.e., fewer repeat failures and/or service calls); and
  • The ability of customers to perform self-diagnosis and problem resolution viathe Internet.

Ultimately, each of these benefits is realized through improved response time, decreased need for follow-up/repeat calls, and less equipment downtime. Even so, there are still several other types of benefits that will also be of significant interest to company management.

  1. Streamlined Workflow

Technology is the tool that assists services organizations in making their operations run more efficiently – but it is only a tool. However, SLM leverages best-of-breed service management solutions with industry best practices already built-in, thereby allowing practitioners to benefit not only from the automation of their current processes, but also by allowing them to redefine and improve their processes to deliver optimum results. These results are typically manifested in the following ways:

Integrated Processes and Technologies

Only through SLM can the practitioner benefit from a completely integrated and seamless solution that provides an instant 360-degree web-based view of the entire business. For example, when Sales or Marketing require information from Service Operations to develop targeted promotions to maximize cross-sell and up-sell opportunities, a robust SLM solution can give them exactly what they want– when they want it. Similarly, when Service needs real-time customer information from the Contact Center prior to making a call, SLM makes that information readily available.

A unified and modular approach, based on open industry standards, protects the users’ existing IT investments, lowers their Total Cost of Ownership (TCO), and paves the way for the deployment of the appropriate SLM modules – as required – as the organization grows.

Improved and Streamlined Processes

The end result of successfully integrating the organization’s processes and technologies is improved and streamlined processes – in otherwords, running the organization more efficiently. These benefits are typically manifested in the following ways:

  • Through an automated call management system based on CTI, IVR, dynamic scheduling and dispatch, and closure capabilities, services organizations can rapidly improve and streamline their call management process, thereby significantly increasing customer satisfaction and retention.
  • With the ability to apply contract templates, initiate automatic contract renewals, and build structured workflow processes, users can maximize their contract processing, resulting in more predictable revenues and improved productivity.
  • The capability to track, monitor, and automate stock based upon user-defined rules, in conjunction with the ability to support multiple warehousing strategies, also leads to improved and streamlined stock management levels at reduced inventory levels (also resulting in reduced inventory costs).
  1. Improved Service Levels

There are basically two ways to look at SLM – (1) as a tool for lowering the cost of doing business, and (2) as a means for improving existing service performance. While the cost savings may be very real, SLM can also be a significant contributor to the overall improvement in the levels of service performance for the organization. Complete charge capture, and maximizing cross-selling and up-selling opportunities are just some of the ways that play to both perspectives on SLM.

Complete Charge Capture of Service Delivery

SLM enables the complete capture of all parameters involved in delivering service (e.g., parts, T&M, expenses, ancillary services, extended warranties, etc.) ensuring that no billable charges are ever lost or overlooked, and ultimately improving invoicing accuracy. Through SLM, as soon as the technician closes a call and captures the customer’s electronic signature, that data can instantly be transmitted to the central billing system, thereby significantly streamlining and compressing Days Sales Outstanding (DSO).

An SLM system can also serve a useful role in assisting organizations in improving future product (and service) designs by identifying any flaws in their existing products based on both aggregate and product-specific service history. What’s more, by continually tracking product service history over time, any new or emerging design flaws can be identified as a particular product line moves through its maturity cycle, or as a new product line is introduced.

Maximized Cross-Selling and Up-Selling Opportunities

Through the capability of leveraging a Web-based customer self-service portal in conjunction with a dynamic self-learning knowledgebase, users gain the ability to offer new products/services at every customer interaction, resulting in increased revenues without increasing costs. A state-of-the-art SLM solution that embeds intelligent automation along with a robust product information management repository can arm all of the employees in the field with first-rate cross-selling and up-selling capabilities by prompting/alerting them of any potential sales opportunities (e.g., contract/warranty expirations, aging equipment, ancillary accessories, add-ons, etc.) at the specific time of interaction with the customer. Past Strategies For GrowthSM, “Studies have shown that there is no better place to cross-sell or up-sell than at the specific point of customer interaction – and SLM is the only solution that provides field personnel with all of the tools they need to make it possible.

Ability to Leverage Service as a Competitive Advantage

Through SLM’s Business Intelligence (BI) capabilities, users can identify, monitor, and track opportunities to offer customized and global service agreements based upon each customer’s unique usage levels. By doing so, the customer benefits from having its service needs and requirements fully met, and the services organization can maximize its total revenues in the field. SLM also supports the services organization’s ability to deliver proactiverather than reactivepersonalized service – at an affordable price – empowering it to exceed customer expectations and generate repeat sales.

  1. Enhanced Quality and Growth

While most of the benefits described thus far focus primarily on transitioning from the past to the present, enhanced quality and growth clearly looks to the future of the organization – and this is where SLM excels. The three main components of these forward-thinking benefits may best be summarized as follows:

Ability to Deliver Consistent Service Globally

The most effective SLM solution is one that is truly global, able to support customers using all types of equipment, in all applications, and in all geographies by using the same database. As such, the SLM solution must be designed to implement common business processes on a single system worldwide with support for multiple currencies, operation centers, and price books – and be able to support global, regional, and local views of the service operation.Even if your organization does not presently operate on a global basis, your SLM solution must be ready to step up to the opportunity if it arises.

Modularity for Supporting Growth

An SLM solution must also be able to grow with the organization. Few services organizations actively plan to reduce their operations over time; however, with today’s economic and competitive pressures continually limiting available growth opportunities, services managers have to take advantage of every real opportunity that comes their way – and the best way to do this is through system modularity. For example, few systems today can support a global deployment through a single application.

As the service business grows, it will also likely require additional solutions to support that growth. A robust SLM solution will be able to support the business through the availability of specific modules that can be easily – and seamlessly – added as it undergoes growth, or change. Only a scalable SLM solution can offer the precise configuration and functionality that can enable a services organization to continue to support a growing number of users as it, itself, grows in size and capability.

Improved Quality and Reduced Costs

Through SLM, users are also able toidentify defective, outdated, or unnecessary parts, resulting in both enhanced quality of service delivery and reduced costs. More importantly, the most cost-effective spare parts can be easily identified and stocked, and any individual line items that may be adding unnecessary costs to operations can also be identified and flagged.

  1. Increased Customer Satisfaction

Historically, for some operations managers, customer satisfaction has been nothing more than an inexact science that defies accurate reporting, consumes a great deal of time and resources, and is immeasurable in terms of actual results. However, the vast majority of services managers in today’s marketplace recognize customer satisfaction for exactly what it is – an essential building block for long-term, profitable relationships that ultimately leads to customer loyalty and repeat business.

Numerous studies have also shown that acquiring a customer is a great deal more expensive than retaining an existing one. What’s more, the level of service a company offers may ultimately be the principal deciding factor between whether a customer becomes loyal to its vendor, or decides to switch to a competitive vendor, platform, or service. By utilizing SLM to anticipate customers’ needs and requirements, improve responsiveness, and deliver consistent service, services organizations can improve the way in which their customers perceive the quality of their service offerings – and this will go a long way in their ability to transform customer satisfaction into true customer loyalty.

The principal benefits of facilitating the transition from customer satisfaction to loyalty are summarized below:

Ability to Anticipate Customer Service Requirements

SLM provides users with easy-to-use functionality, an intelligent knowledgebase, and a comprehensive customer repository to track problems and potentially identify many other problems before they occur. With this valuable information at their fingertips, users can offer more efficient scheduling for preventive maintenance (or implement an IoT-powered Remote Diagnostics / Remote Monitoring platform), and minimize the need for on-site visits and repeat service calls, wherever possible. As a result, customer satisfaction is increased, and costly unscheduled service visits can be minimized.

By having real-time, anytime, anywhere access to customer information, repair histories, parts availability, and technical product specifications, field technicians will always be properly prepared and empowered to complete all of their work during the first visit to the customer site, thereby saving both the service provider and the customer time and money.

Improved Responsiveness to Customer Calls and Service Delivery

SLM empowers Contact Center and field personnel with visual alerts, automatic escalation, scripting, and question trees, so they are able to respond to customers’ inquiries quicker and more completely. Through SLM, they will also have a full range of corporate knowledge stores readily available to optimize the customer interaction process. In addition, the integrated, multi-channel inbound/outbound capabilities facilitated by SLM provide for unparalleled customer support in all areas, including placing and tracking an order, updating records, making payments, receiving remote support, and scheduling a service call. As a result, there will be significant improvements realized with respect to first call resolution, decreased call center times and costs, and the ability to deliver consistent – and consistently high – levels of service.

Making It Easier to Do Business – Making It More Profitable

In today’s increasingly fast-paced business environment, customers have very high expectations, and they will take no excuses for poor customer service. They expect fast, relevant, and accurate information from the companies they do business with, and they will accept nothing less. The self-service capabilities offered through SLM provide customers with all of the information they need – when they want it, anytime, anywhere. This, in turn, ultimately results in improved customer satisfaction and strengthened loyalty throughout the user’s customer base.

By implementing a state-of-the-art SLM solution, services organizations can positively impact all aspects of their business through improved invoicing accuracy, automated contract renewals, and the ability to offer customized service agreements – all of which are geared to improving their relationships with customers while simultaneously increasing revenues and reducing costs.

It’s Not Difficult Being Green!

According to Jim Henson’s Muppet character, Kermit the Frog, “It’s not easy being green” – or is it? However, for many businesses, being green may now also have an unexpected economic benefit. Let me explain.

Most of us already have incorporated various facets of environmental awareness into our day-to-day lives, including the mandatory sorting of household recyclables, and the prescribed use of the omnipresent blue or green curbside recycling containers. Many of us also are striving to drive less by working some days from a home office, and generally becoming more aware of the alternative options of telecommuting and the use of remote workspaces. Others make use of public transportation. Some of us even have switched to more mileage-friendly vehicles for both our personal and work-related travel. For example, by now, virtually all of us know at least one person who drives a hybrid vehicle.

This heightened sense of environmental awareness – and protection – is great news, regardless of our individual motives or reasons for applying ourselves. As a society, we are becoming “greener” on a daily basis, even as our pocketbooks are continually being squeezed due to the historic rises and fluctuations in gasoline prices over the past several years.

However, in reality, how much of our environmental consciousness has actually spread to the corporate world? Certainly, there are many mandates governing interaction with the environment in high-risk areas including construction, renovation, waste management, and demolition, among others. There are also the passionate corporate leaders who wish to act as good global citizens. Further, there are many organizations that make it easy for employees to ride-share, encourage turning down the thermostat a few degrees, or simply make benevolent corporate donations directly to environmental causes and foundations chartered with helping to raise environmental awareness and/or deal with specific causes.

In today’s economy, it is increasingly common to find real initiatives where being environmentally-friendly also directly benefits the corporate bottom line. For example, the question arises, “What if your field technicians could drive a million miles less per year in the aggregate?” Depending on the specific types of company vehicles (or, their own) they drive, that could result in savings of roughly 100,000 gallons of gas! Current gas prices are typically in the range of US$3.00 to US$3.50 per gallon, often reaching in excess of US$4.00 in some areas of the country. As a rule, gas prices are even more expensive in other parts of the world.

For many services providers, the reduction in their gas bill alone resulting from reduced travel requirements would be extremely impressive; however, when you factor in the savings on highway and bridge tolls, wear and tear on vehicles, and other vehicularmaintenance-related costs, the savings can be downright staggering(i.e., you can do the math!). This is exactly what some field services organizations have been able to realize through the use of state-of-the-art Service Scheduling Optimization supported with street level routing.

But this is just the tip of the proverbial melting iceberg. As service executives, we all attempt to balance the dual requirements of growth and cost containment, while also striving to meet – and exceed – our customers’ expectations. The added desire to be socially responsible has only complicated the age-old quest for balancing growth against cost-savings. However, the advent of optimized scheduling now makes it easier than ever to accomplish both – while also contributing to the greening of the environment.

Since it ultimately costs far less to solve a customer’s problem remotely, or allowing the customer to use the tools of a customer portal to perform their own “fixes”, many organizations have invested heavily in Remote Diagnostics and Remote Monitoring solutions. The use of these “new” platforms and applications has facilitated and expedited the management of field service and support, and has also served to reduce the number of historical truck rolls and on-site visits.

For many users, the initial customer call is simply the launching point for the full service event. When a customer calls – for whatever reason – no amount of talking can help fix a broken pipe, install a new cable line, or repair a failed part. In all of these cases, the service provider’s field resources must quickly spring into action, travel to the customer site, show up on-time, and assess the existing situation, sometimes generating an entire new set of challenges and – even if handled efficiently – can still lead to potentially huge internal costs.

For the services provider, the questions then arise: “What are my contractual obligations to my customer?”, Who are our best-qualified field technicians?”, and more importantly, “How can I delight the customer by meeting – and exceeding – their overall service expectations?” Through the advent and proliferation of Remote Diagnostics and Remote Monitoring, all of these questions can be accommodated while still delivering greener service.

It is also not uncommon for services organizations and their customers to spend thousands – and in some cases, hundreds of thousands – of dollars relating to the printing, copying, sorting, and mailing of their service work orders every year, ensuring that all necessary documents are sent to the field, and the appropriate work instructions are being followed. A large percentage of an organization’s overall return on investment can be attributed to the automation of these processes – not to mention the saving of thousands of trees every year!

Using handheld devices in the field to collect call data and information also eliminates the errors that can be compounded during the historically required retyping/re-entry process, while improving the company’s Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) through the quicker turnaround resulting from real-time invoicing and faster collection cycles. Implicit in these savings is the enhanced efficiency of automated data and information processing in place of the previously required human intervention.

When any of these “green-friendly” platforms, solutions and tools are embedded into an organization’s overall Field Service Management (FSM) operations, everyone benefits – the services organization, the field technicians, the customers and, oh yes, the environment! It is exciting when capitalism and environmentalism can overlap to produce mutually beneficial – and profitable – results! The move toward service optimization clearly reflects a case where “going green” can also generate more “green” for your organization.

How to Make Your Field Service Management (FSM) Solution Rock!

[With a Little Help from My Friends in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame]

[Reprinted from Field Service News. Enjoy!]

Whenever one of your service customers hollers “Help”, you not only need to respond quickly, you also need to Get It Right the First Time – because you certainly won’t want to waste the time and expense of having one of your field technicians Truckin’ to the customer site unnecessarily – and you also won’t want to have to Do It Again later! If you’re not careful, it will all be Wasted Time!

By the way, this is why many of the leading services organisations are incorporating Augmented Reality (AR) into their Field Service Management (FSM) solutions – because Every Picture Tells a Story, don’t it? With all of this “new” technology being integrated into FSM solutions supporting the global field services community, The Times They Are a Changin’, for sure!

For a majority of users, the decision as to which type and brand of equipment to acquire is based more on the quality of service that will be provided after the purchase, rather than on the acquisition of the piece of equipment itself. Plus, it’s not only based on Money, Money, Money –  it’s more often than not based on things including Promises, Honesty and A Matter of Trust!

However, once selected, after the services provider asks the user to “Take a Chance on Me”, it will need to, first, make sure that its new customer has a Peaceful Easy Feeling, and that it hasn’t spent a whole lot of Money for Nothing (or you could end up in Dire Straights)!

Further, whether the customer’s equipment is located in Allentown, or Katmandu, the services provider must be sure that there Ain’t No Mountain High Enough to keep it away from delivering the services that have been promised. If you cannot cover all of the geographic areas where your customers’ (and prospects’) equipment is located, you may end up with an unhappy customer in Massachusetts, requiring your field techs to work weekends on Tulsa Time, finding a suitable contractor in Sweet Home Alabama, being stuck in Lodi (again), authorizing a costly flight to Kokomo, Going to California yourself – or even worse – having to deal with a Panic in Detroit! One way or the other, you’ll never want to hear one of your Colorado customers tell you to “Get Out of Denver”!

Communications is also a critical component of any services relationship – and the last thing you will ever need to experience with your customers is a Communications Breakdown! Customers will want you to be their “Nights in White Satin”, consistently being able to provide them with what they want, “Any Way You Want It”, so they will always feel Glad All Over.

Customers hate it when they call their services provider and get No Reply! There’s a Fine Line between being only casually responsive and treating your customers with a full measure of Respect – and you don’t want to cross that line the wrong way, otherwise your customer will feel like “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and end up in Misery!

If you get your communications right with your customers, you’ll find that The Winner Takes It All (i.e., your services organization); but if you Try Too Hard, you might end up just Livin’ on a Prayer, waiting for another opportunity to make it up to them – and they may simply tell you, “Not a Second Time”! It’s also important to remember that even if your customers have already asked you 65 or 66 questions, you will still need to be prepared to answer Questions 67 and 68!

So, … if you consistently deliver the expected – and desired – levels of service to your customers, and your field technicians remain Cool, Calm and Collected with respect to managing their customer relationships, then you may be in it for The Long Run! If so, then Long May You Run (that is, in circles around your competitors)!

However, for every services organization that actually “gets it”, there are probably a dozen or so more that don’t! That’s why it is so important to make sure you properly train – and arm – your field techs (i.e., with mobile tools and accompany technology, etc.) with everything they need All Down the Line, so they can satisfy their customers consistently, and go home every day after their last call feeling Free as a Bird and ready to Rock and Roll All Nite!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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