Companion Piece to Bill Pollock’s Field Service Experts Interview, Posted by Mobile Reach

[This companion piece to the Field Service Experts interview series posted by www.MobileReach.com focuses on “The Future of Field Service Management”. As is generally the case with interview pieces, most of the responses are not included in the published feature. As such, please consider this Blog as a more detailed companion piece that provides additional “between the lines” thoughts and opinions.]

Questions for Bill Pollock:

Q1: You’ve seen field service evolve over the years in your various roles. In what ways is field service management changing now? 

BP: I’ve seen the Field Service segment evolve several times over the years, from break/fix, to network services, to software support and such. However, the introduction of the Internet of Things, or IoT, is going to have a much greater and profound impact on the global services community than anything else that has preceded it! In fact, it already is!

For years, services managers have been talking about ways in which to reduce a “truck roll” in order to save money, and repair the customer’s equipment remotely – first, by phone, or assisted self-help; and, now, via remote diagnostics and even predictive diagnostics.

Truck rolls are not necessarily a thing of the past; however, they have greatly diminished in frequency as a result of the integration of the IoT into Field Service Management (FSM) systems.

Improvements in business analytics have also assisted field service managers in their ability to manage their entire business operations – and not just the field service aspects of the business. There are more analytical tools available now than ever before, and most managers are actively engaging their dashboards, so they can intelligently manage their field service operations.

Through the use of Augmented Reality (AR) apps, now actively being combined with Virtual Reality (VR) to form a more complex and robust “Mixed Reality” (MR) capability, we are likely to see even more advances in the types of technology that will ultimately reduce the cost of performing service – for both on-site and remote repairs – over time.

Also, with technology visionaries like Elon Musk, who started out with his Tesla business, branching into solar panels and, of course, SpaceX, we are likely to see more and more technological advances coming down the pike. For example, Musk’s new venture, Neuralink, has set its goals on attaining the ability to “merge” the power of the human brain with the power of the IoT, in order to upload and download “human thoughts” onto chips, and vice versa. Imagine the impact that new ventures like this will have on all aspects of business, if successful! All of a sudden, veteran field services technicians will become just as important as the influx of computer-savvy millennials with respect to their experiential value to the Field Service Organization (FSO).

The process goes on and on, and field service management will continue to evolve over time, as a result.

Q2: What are the strategic opportunities you’re seeing for field service organizations?

BP: The greatest strategic opportunities for FSOs will be to gain additional efficiencies as they use the IoT to power their field service operations. Of course, the converse is equally true, in that those FSOs that do not step up to the challenge will ultimately find themselves falling further and further behind the technology curve, their customers’ expectations for quality of service delivery, and their ability to compete head-to-head against not only the market leaders, but any small, medium or enterprise-sized services organization that has already embraced the new technologies.

There may still be a “wait and see” attitude toward AR, VR and MR at this time, as no single solution provider has come out with an industry-leading solution just yet. Anyone remember the decision as to whether to go with the Sony BetaMax or VHS? For many organizations, it’s the videotape wars all over again!

However, regardless of the organization’s size, vertical industry segment or geographic coverage, there are ample opportunities for ALL services organizations to take advantage of the IoT and Cloud-based FSM solutions to take their operations to the next level.

From our most recent Field Service Management Benchmark Survey Update, conducted in December/January 2017, we find that the top two drivers influencing the global services community, as cited by a majority of respondents, are (1) customer demand for quicker response time, and (2) need to improve workforce utilization and productivity. The question arises, then, “How can the services organization adequately address these two key issues without the strategic advantage of an IoT-powered FSM solution? ”The answer, of course, is increasingly. “It can’t!”

Other strategic opportunities can also come through strategic partnering with complementary technology solution providers. PTC is doing this with ServiceMax, and their respective relationships with GE Digital (ServiceMax’s parent company); and many smaller FSOs are involved in supporting partnerships with either Microsoft, for its CRM capabilities, and/or Salesforce, for its sales and marketing management tools; etc. Customers want what they want, and in most cases, they don’t care whether their primary FSM solution vendor is offering its services directly or indirectly through strategic partnerships. In fact, many customers like the fact that their FSM vendor is linked in some way to GE Digital, Microsoft, Salesforce or other industry giants.

Q3: What features in field service platforms are critical now and what will be necessary in the future?

BP: For many FSOs, a standard scheduling functionality is simply not doing the job anymore, and many have set their sights on solution providers that can offer optimized scheduling, etc. The same applies to standard business analytics vs. advanced analytics, as well as for the various components of spare parts and inventory management. In fact, what used to be “passable” in the past, now looks a little bit “dusty” and, as such, some FSOs have elected to move forward with more robust functionalities made possible through the integration of the IoT into their FSM systems.

Nowadays, legacy platforms may not be able to accommodate such new technology apps as AR, VR and MR, and, as a result, newer platforms need to be implemented to power these new capabilities. The same goes for implementing predictive diagnostics and remote diagnostics capabilities for most FSOs.

Mobility is also important, particularly with respect to real-time data collection, sharing and transmission to relevant parties within the organization. Can the organization’s existing platform handle all of these new technologies? Probably not! Therefore, newer platforms will need to be implemented, and they will need to be pretty much state-of-the-art.

Q4: What role do you see the Internet of Things playing in field service management?

BP: The Internet of Things (IoT) is becoming an integral component of ANY FSO’s desire to be able to improve its services processes, streamline its services processes, collect and share business analytic data, and serve the customer better. It’s already here!

FSOs will be greatly behind the technology curve if they do not have existing IoT-powered FSM capabilities – or at least a primary FSM solution provider that does. The IoT is quickly becoming the chief differentiator that divides those FSOs that can meet the challenges of the present, let alone the future; from those that cannot.

Without the IoT, there can be no predictive diagnostics; there could be no AR, VR or MR; there could be no chance of being able to compete directly against those FSO who do have these capabilities. Just as Cloud-based FSM solutions normalized the playing field across all services industry segments, the IoT is now doing the same – but on steroids!

In the past, falling behind the technological curve still gave the FSO an opportunity to catch up in another year or so. However, there is not that much time available for catching up anymore. Falling behind for just a few months may represent too much of a gap to make up.

The IoT allows all FSOs to keep pace with the market leaders, regardless of their size, reach or reputation, etc.

Q5: How are mobile technologies changing the way field service organizations interact with and serve customers?

BP: Mobile technologies are, of course, also of critical importance to FSOs. Without a full complement of mobility, it would be as if you’ve got all this technology “hidden” in your office, but you can’t share the benefits with your field force or customers. This is particularly true with respect to customer engagement activities and business analytics.

For example, competitors may already have the capability to generate customer contracts, invoices and other types of paperwork right at the customer site. They can obtain a customer’s signature immediately and, by doing so, eliminate much of the “float” that has been historically associated with paper-based forms management and USPS “snail” mail, etc.

Mobile technologies can also make an FSO’s business analytics capabilities much more vibrant. What good does it do to collect real-time data if you can’t share it in real time? In other words, a full-bodied mobility platform can improve any FSOs “velocity of service” by shaving off days, if not weeks, of delays and potential paper-based mistakes, etc.

Having the IoT generate data in real time, but not getting relevant data and information out to the field in real time, is a big mistake. The combination of the IoT and mobility can help FSOs avoid this opportunity cost.

Q6: How are you seeing field service organizations use mobile technologies to drive revenue and maintain a competitive advantage?

BP: The float issue is only one small component of how mobile technologies can assist in driving revenue and maintaining a competitive advantage. There are many others, as well.

However, it is important to note that, if all you’re doing is automating bad processes, then you’ll only be doing all of the wrong things faster – but not better! That’s why it’s so important to use the tools of a Cloud-based FSM solution, powered by the IoT, to improve your processes first; empower your field techs with real-time data, information and analytics; empower your customers through customer portals and self-help platforms; and generally perform all of your services activities better. Then, you can see additional benefits by doing it all faster – that is, through the functionalities of the IoT, etc.

By doing so, customers will recognize the improvements you have made and, therefore, will be more reliant on the organization for future services needs and requirements, upsells and cross-sells, etc. This will have the combined impact of reducing the cost of customer acquisition, while simultaneously increasing the existing revenue stream. Then, increases in customer satisfaction metrics can be used to promote the organization’s competitive advantage, which can also benefit from the fruits of social media coverage and word of mouth. But, it all starts with making improvements to the processes!

Q7: How can field service organizations better capitalize on sales opportunities?

BP: One area where many services organizations do not do a good enough job is in the area of contract and warranty management. It’s so simple; but it’s not “sexy” or “glitzy” enough.

However, by using an FSM solution that has a contract management and warranty management capability built into it, or by finding a reputable warranty management solution provider, an FSO can focus directly on contract attachments, contract renewals and contract management, all of which can contribute to generating not only an increased revenue stream, but one that is also a more predictable revenue stream.

The increased use of business and customer analytics can also provide the organization with increased insight into which customers may require expanded services agreement based on anything from surpassing their throughput limits for existing equipment, repetitive failures for the same problems; or to make adjustments for an expansion of the business, a recent acquisition or merger, or the increase in the number of daily shifts using the equipment; etc.  This is something that the organization’s field techs can recognize either through the customer analytics they have access to, or simply by being at the customer site on a recurring basis.

Many FSOs also do not have the expertise for upselling and/or cross-selling their existing customers. This is a critical component for any business – not just for field services. If you do not already have these capabilities, you may need a new, highly-trained salesperson, or a process for ensuring that no sales opportunity goes unrecognized.

Q8: How is the broader economy affecting field service management?

BP: The broader economy affects businesses of all types, including field services. However, field services has one thing going for it that many other industry segments don’t (i.e., particularly manufacturing and product sales) – that is, while not necessary recession-proof, businesses will always need their systems, equipment and devices to be up and running for the duration – in many cases, in spite of what it may cost to do so.

Even at reduced capacity, factories will need their production lines to continue to operate; hospitals will need their medical devices to be readily available; banks will need their transaction-related systems to run continuously; and so on. However, Business-to-Consumer, or B2C-focused services organizations may feel the full brunt of any economic downturn, as a majority of consumers may opt to wait until they can afford to have their home electronics serviced until they can better afford to pay for those services.

A broadly robust economy can stimulate increased product sales, which in turn, can stimulate increased services opportunities; conversely, a poor economy can dampen everything – including the field services segment.

However, the sign of a truly progressive services organization is one that has already taken into account the effects of a weakened economy and planned on how to best deal with a temporarily reduced workforce (through the use of a Freelance Management System, or FMS, solution); temporarily diminished service call activity; or the like. If these types of economic-influenced events occur, those FSOs that have already taken measures to address these temporary downturns can more effectively “roll with the punches”.

Q9: How is the role of Chief Service Officer evolving?

BP: The role of the Chief Service Officer (CSO) has already evolved significantly over the past several years. In many cases, today’s (and tomorrow’s) CSO must also be a Chief Data Officer (CDO) willing and able to manage the data and business analytics that drive the operations of the services business.

He or she must also be a Chief Customer Officer (CCO), once again, willing and able to interface with the customer directly when customer problems need to be escalated. As you can imagine, the role of the CSO can also be expanded to be the Chief Operations Officer (COO), Chief Business Development Officer (CBDO), Chief Social Media Officer (CSMO) and …, well, you get my gist!

The days of simply managing a staff of dispatchers, field technicians and administrative assistants are long over. From this point forward, all CSOs must also be accomplished and experienced in a much larger variety of customer-facing, analytics, business development, sales, marketing and social media functions.

Q10: What are the top three KPIs that you recommend FSM organizations focus on? How might those KPIs change five years from now?

BP:  Basically, the rule of thumb is that you should be measuring all of the metrics that focus on areas where you are underperforming, or have recognized (or suspected) problems in service delivery. For example, if your customer satisfaction ratings are lower than desired, then you will need to measure and track customer satisfaction ratings; if your on-site response time is deficient, then you will need to measure things such as on-site response, providing an Estimated Time for Arrival (ETA); etc.

There are also several Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs, that a majority of  FSOs measure, based on the results of our 2017 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey. For example, the top KPIs currently being measured by a majority of FSOs are:

  • (73%) Customer Satisfaction
  • (62%) Total Service revenue
  • (61%) Total Service Cost
  • (53%) Field Technician Utilization
  • (50%) On-site Response Time
  • (49%) First Time Fix Rate

However, it should also be noted that a majority of Best Practices FSOs (i.e., those that are attaining both 90%+ Customer Satisfaction and 30%+ Services Profitability) typically measure twice as many KPIs as the average FSOs.

Five years from now – actually, even sooner – there will also be an entirely “new” way of collecting data and reporting KPIs as a result of remote diagnostics, Augmented Reality and the growing influence of the IoT. It will be analogous to keeping two sets of books – that is, one set of KPIs, like Mean Time to Repair (MTTR), Elapsed Time from Problem Identification to Correction, etc., for the way service has historically been performed (i.e., having a field tech dispatched on site), vs. the “new” way via remote diagnostics and repair. Combining the two will not make sense, and will need to be measured, monitored and tracked separately.

[To access the published Mobile Reach feature, please visit their website at http://info.mobilereach.com/blog/field-service-expert-interview-bill-pollock.]

Going For The “Gold” Is An Olympic Event — Especially for Services Organizations!

In light of the current proceedings of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, I thought this piece would be relevant to all those Services Organizations striving to be “World Class” (i.e., “going for the Gold”)

Even Gold May Have a Silver Lining

For Field Services Organizations, “going for the gold” may mean very different things. For some, it may mean nothing more than struggling to generate increased service revenue (i.e. “gold”). For others, it may mean attempting to upsell existing service level agreement (SLA) accounts from “bronze” to “silver” to “gold” levels (is anyone out there still offering “platinum”-level services?). However, another good way to define “gold” levels of service performance is to compare your organization to the athletes striving for their own version of “gold” — an Olympic gold medal!

The Olympic and the services communities share many things in common, ranging from striving to attain perfection to generating a profit after the scheduled event is over. However, they also share another very important attribute in that both communities typically go into an event (e.g. a 200-meter freestyle or an on-site service call, etc.) with some pre-event expectations.

For example, Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecki are, arguably, the world’s best male and female swimmers and, as such, went into the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro with extremely high expectations. However, it was never a certainty that each would win Gold medals in all of the competitions for which they were qualified to compete. Nonetheless, the expectations were high for each swimmer — even before they arrived in Rio.

While Michael Phelps ultimately ended up winning five Gold and one Silver medal; and Katie Ledecki won four Gold and one Silver medal, each are still acknowledged as the best of the best in their respective fields.

The same situation also exists for services organizations. If your organization is one of the larger ones in the field or has won numerous performance awards in the past, the community will expect it to perform like a world-class provider (i.e. one that is able to meet its customers’ total service needs while delivering world-class levels of performance). By performing reasonably well in the past, the marketplace will also expect you to also perform well — and even better — in the future. The bar is constantly being raised.

For Michael Phelps, the defending champion in the previous two Summer Olympiads, the prospect of not winning several gold medals was unthinkable – although he did not seem to be all that phased that he had to share his Silver medal with two other swimmers. He has won both Gold and Silver medals before, and performed about the same in his most current Olympics.

For Katie Ledecki, for whom this was her first (and, possibly, last) Olympics competition, the bar has been raised again for all female swimmers who will ultimately enter the Olympics in her wake. World class does not necessarily mean “perfect”! There can still be a Silver lining wrapped around your Gold standard.

By the time this Blog post is published, it is also certain that other gymnasts — from the U.S., and around the world — will excel in their competitions as well. However, merely having the goods does not assure Gold in the Olympics — and it is exactly the same for services organizations. You still need to execute — and strive to be as close to perfect as you can.

The Role Of Social Media In Service

Finally, in this year’s Olympics, social media will be expected to take on an even more prominent role than in the past. Virtually all of the Olympic events will be accessible to viewers all around the globe through various forms of Cable and Broadcast TV, Social Media and other types of digital transmissions. As a result, Twitter, FaceBook, and independent blogs will, once again, take up the slack on presenting (and editorializing) all of these Olympics-related events — all in real time! Again, the similarities between the Olympics and the services community abound.

Just as many Olympians are encouraged by their trainers to communicate often — in real time — with their supporters and fans, so must the services community adapt to the practical uses and applications of the available social media. It is truly time to recognize that social media is not merely an acquired taste, but a way of life — especially when it comes to communicating about service.

The 2016 Summer Olympics are nearly over, but already, athletes from all over the world are preparing for the next summer games just four years away. All of the medalists for these upcoming games will ultimately win their respective races by first choosing a field, then acquiring the necessary resources and skills, preparing for the race, and aggressively moving forward.

This is also how most services organizations have historically approached service, especially with respect to meeting — and exceeding — customer requirements. However, you won’t necessarily need to have a medal draped around your neck to be recognized for good service — you simply need to perform at a level of performance that is higher than an ever-raising bar, and let your customers place their perceptual medals around your neck.

The Internet of Things (IoT) Is Here to Bring Smarter Technologies to Your Organization!

 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is not a new “thing” in and of itself, but rather a pervasive resource that may be used to help run your company’s business. What it does is empower you to leverage all of the tools and resources that had previously been available to you; combine them with newer Web-enabled tools, technologies and resources; and help you manage your services organization in real time.

The explosion of practical – and affordable – Cloud technology has made the IoT even more important with respect to its ability to support all things service, mainly due to its ability to offer the same levels of support to any and all services organizations, regardless of type, size, vertical or geographic coverage.

In fact, the results from Strategies For Growth’s (SFG) 2014 Field Service Management Benchmark Survey clearly show that the global business community is experiencing a “sea change” in the way services are being packaged, delivered, utilized, monitored and managed, and that services organizations prefer Cloud-based delivery by a margin of nearly three-to-one – and growing!

When you think about it, your company is in business for three main reasons: first, to Mobilize your products, services and acquired knowledge to, in turn, enable your customers to discover, select, use and share your products and services by providing relevant information, at just the right time.

Second, and possibly even more important in today’s world, is the ability to Transform the customer experience, i.e., to make it better by simplifying customer interactions and delivering better value and utility throughout the entire customer experience lifecycle.

And, third, relating directly to the bottom line, Monetizing the opportunities for growing revenue and profitability through meaningful metrics, like realizing higher revenue per customer by reducing churn, increasing repeat purchases, and growing incremental sales of related products and services.

However there are many other aspects to also consider within each of the components of Mobilize, Transform and Monetize; namely,

  • Offering customers an enhanced ability to effectively connect, engage and help them on a personalized basis, wherever they are, whatever they’re doing, and with the end result of delivering a personalized and optimized customer experience.
  • Personalizing and socializing every customer touch-point to delight customers by saving them time, money and effort; making customer engagement fun and rewarding, using proven gamification models such as points, leader boards, and badges; and increasing customer conversion, loyalty, referenceability and retention ratings through a customer-centric approach.
  • Up-selling, cross-selling and re-selling products and services utilizing the knowledge gained from capturing these customer insights; and realizing greater Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) for your existing customer base, while lowering the cost of customer acquisition via better customer ratings, reviews and advocacy.

This is where the IoT comes in – as the facilitator to the ability of the organization to connect, engage and help customers, resulting ultimately in a more effective way to acquire, delight and retain customers.

[Click here to read the entire article, compliments of m-ize, the company that directly connects customers and extended enterprise with brands, enabling easier access to products, knowledge, and services.]

It’s 2015 – Time to Revitalize Your Services Portfolio!

After a while, even the most innovative services offerings begin to lose some of their appeal, ultimately being perceived as commodity-like offerings, rather than as representing a differentiated portfolio. What was initially offered to the market as a specialized service, often without much competition, soon becomes just another service commodity positioned ineffectively among scores of increasingly competitive offerings.

Regardless of your organization’s market share or position, it is important to gauge exactly where your service portfolio stands at any given point in time with respect to the perceptions – and expectations – of your targeted market base. In most cases, it is the new, innovative upstart companies that are typically conducting the bulk of the market research and competitive intelligence prior to launching their new products and services, not necessarily the companies that are still selling their older 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 services portfolio. Even better, these lines tend to already be “tried and true” with respect to market acceptance, and may only need a gentle marketing or promotional “push” every once in awhile to stimulate additional market interest and sales. Even NASA uses a “mid-course correction” every now and then to ensure that the rocket gets to the proper destination!

There are many ways in which a business can determine exactly how much “kick” its services offerings still have in them, or, conversely, whether it is time to “kick” some of them out of the portfolio altogether and replace them with newer, more innovative and technologically-competitive lines.

The path recommended to evaluate the overall health of your present portfolio of services, is to conduct a strategic business assessment that focuses on:

  • An assessment of your customers’ – and the market’s – perceptions,
    needs, requirements, preferences and expectations with respect to your existing portfolio of services offerings.
  • The specific features and characteristics (e.g., attributes, benefits, value, cost, etc.) that currently define your services lines, and what it will likely take to “ramp them up” to the new and/or emerging market requirements (i.e., the Three R’s: Refine, Re-design and/or Re-package).
  • Customer/market perceptions and opinions regarding the current quality and performance of the services offered – both from your organization and its competitors.
  • A set of recommended improvements to your existing portfolio in order to better position it against the competition, and to maximize both sales potential and ongoing customer satisfaction.

The assessment and evaluation of the findings from such a study would be extremely useful in terms of providing your company management with the strategic, marketing and promotional tools it needs to:

  • Identify the basic customer/market needs, requirements, preferences and perceptions that can be used to assess and “fine tune” the overall strategic market positioning of the organization’s existing service lines.
  • Ensure that the company is effectively marketing the right services; to the right market segments; by communicating the right marketing, branding, and promotional messages; all through the right media.
  • Modify and enhance existing product/service lines to address the highest levels of customer and market demands.
  • Develop new products and/or services to address the emerging needs and requirements of both the existing and prospective customer bases.
  • Identify and cultivate the most attractive target markets based on identified patterns of customer decision-making and purchase behaviors, and product preferences and perceptions.
  • Strengthen the company’s overall product/service awareness and image, advertising and promotion, and sales activities through the execution of the recommended refinements, enhancements and/or modifications based on the study findings.

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

Putting a “cash cow” off to pasture before it is time can cost your company a great deal of money in terms of lost potential. However, keeping it on once its gone “dry” may cost you even more in the long run in terms of giving your company a perceived market image as being less than innovative, or no longer offering anything more than commodity-like products and services.

Assessing where your product and services portfolio currently stand in terms
of market perceptions, and your ability to meet the market’s – and your customers’ – changing and evolving needs, will allow you to determine just how much “dust” has collected on your existing offerings – as well as what you will need to “dust off” in order to compete more effectively.

Choosing the Right Technology Is Only Half the Battle to Managing Your Services Lifecycle

Technology isn’t new – it’s what makes things new. It’s like that old BASF television commercial – “we don’t make the products you buy; we make the products you buy better“. Well, when it comes to Service Lifecycle Management (SLM), technology is the primary tool you can use to make the services you sell better – but there’s much more to it than just the technology!

One of the greatest opportunities we have in the services sector is the ability to use technology as an enabler to make our offerings better. R&D is used all the time to make products better; but for most product manufacturers, R&D typically takes years, costs tons of money, and involves a great deal of rebranding and market re-positioning. The advantage we have in the services sector is that we generally have a much faster turnaround, and it’s far easier to improve our existing service offerings than it is to, say, reengineer an entire product line.

However, one of the greatest fallacies in the services business is that if you simply embed technology, you’ll be in a better position just for the sake of having done so – that you’ll automatically be able to make your customers happier, and you’ll make more money. But that isn’t always true. If all you’ve got is an old, archaic services delivery model, and you apply the newest technology to it, you’ll just end up with a quicker, more automated, archaic system – but not necessarily a better one.

What we have found is that only by applying the right technology, to the right functions and applications, will you be able to provide your customers with exactly what they want, when they want it, and all the while reducing your internal costs, and ultimately keeping both your customers – and your CFO – happy!

There have been some stunning examples of the misapplication of SLM technology over the years involving businesses that have implemented “brand name” technology just for the sake of implementing technology. They have built some enormous infrastructures – state-of-the-art – but as impressive as they may have initially appeared on paper, they generally end up being only anecdotal to what the real mission of the business is in the marketplace. Even with all the technology they have put into place, they’re still not running efficiently! They didn’t “get it” before they implemented the new technology, and they still don’t “get it” – they’re just more automated than they were before.

The sad thing is – what should have been a tremendous business transformation opportunity for them, generally turns out – instead – to be nothing more than an expensive technology implementation with no real value-add to either the organization’s business operations – or its competitive market position. And, this is sad, because, in most cases, they’ve spent a great deal of time – and money – for the technology, but without any plan for how to actually use it. So all of their time and money spent ends up going for naught. That’s why technology without a purpose is just an expensive – and disruptive – toy. But technology – with a plan – will undoubtedly yield some positive results for those who know what to do with it.

But technology is not the only thing that a services organization needs in order to succeed – and thrive. There are many other things that are also needed to make it strong – and successful – in the marketplace. It certainly needs people, because without people, it has no “face” to show its customers.

However, in recent years, an organization’s “face” may no longer be merely visual. In fact, what has historically been the service provider’s “face” is increasingly being transformed into a “voice” – and that voice, text or chat doesn’t only have to be located right here in the United States. It can – and is increasingly being – distributed all over the world, regardless of where the organization’s customers are actually located themselves. People will always be important to services organizations; but where they’re located – and who signs their checks – may be quite different tomorrow than they are today.

Services organizations also need customers. It’s a fact of life – without customers, they’ve got no one to sell their products and services to – no one to complete the transaction. However, the days are long since gone for when manufacturers would only support those customers that had purchased their products. Today, not only do most services providers support multi-vendor products, but they also find themselves selling services to completely different types of customers, such as consortiums, group purchasing organizations, and other “new” types of buyers.

Services organizations also need infrastructure – both in terms of organization and operations – in order to ensure that the transactions between their people and their customers are executed and managed effectively. To run their operations efficiently, services organizations must also have the right mix of business processes, policies, and procedures to provide the levels of support that are required – and expected – by customers.

Each and every one of these needs – at first blush – may look to be standalone, independent elements that all organizations face; but, there is a common thread that runs between and among all of them – and that is technology. Technology is the great facilitator – the great expediter that ties everything together: the people, the customers, the infrastructure, and the processes – and it is the one element that most directly impacts all of the others.

It impacts the people, because it empowers them to do things that they would not otherwise be able to do on their own – that is, without the latest IT systems, communications, or software applications. It impacts the customer, because it allows the services providers to deliver the levels of support that are expected, and empowers the customers to assume some of the management and accountability that may go along with it. It impacts the infrastructure, because it ties together all of the otherwise separate and distinct components of the business that now need to “communicate” with one another – generally on a “real-time” basis.

However, technology, in and of itself, has no value. If it isn’t being used effectively, it adds no real value to the organization. But, if it is being used effectively, it can be the single greatest empowering tool that any organization can have – empowering people, supporting customers, and facilitating the infrastructure to get the job done.

Technology also enables us to do things we never dreamed we could do. Services providers can now resolve equipment problems either remotely, on-site, by phone, over the Web, through social media or through any combination thereof. They can wait to hear from the customer before initiating the “fix”, or they can fix the problem before the customer even knows there is a problem. They can fix the problem themselves, or they can partner with others to get the job done. Services providers have many alternatives to accommodate their customers’ needs, and customers have their choices, as well.

Even last year’s technology may just not cut it anymore in today’s business environment – certainly not in a segment that is as demanding as the services industry. The technology that abounds today runs circles around yesterday’s technology – and it is almost frightening to think about what tomorrow’s technology will bring to the table. But what’s even more frightening, is where your organization will be if it doesn’t also evolve technologically along with the times – and the demands – of the marketplace.

Service Is a Global Concept

Customer requirements for service and support will never be the same from one country to another, any more than they will be the same from one customer to another. However, one thing remains very clear – the requirements for service are becoming increasingly standardized, even on a global basis.

This is particularly true as more and more local companies are going regional, regional companies are going national, and national companies are going international in terms of sales, marketing and services capabilities.

Just a few years ago, only the largest services organizations had credible worldwide service and support portfolios. However, today, mainly through the proliferation of Cloud-based technologies; Internet, tablet and social media tools; and the use of strategic alliance partners, even the small and medium-sized services organizations are finding themselves empowered to support their customers on a global basis.

Still, the perceptions of what it might take to be a “world class” services provider remain inconsistent even among some of the most sophisticated vendors. For example, while some services providers may believe that their mission-critical customers in Europe require exactly the same level of support as their mission-critical customers in the United States – nothing more, nothing less; there are still others who believe that the only differences between required levels of service in the U.S. and the UK are the substitution of an “s” for a “z”, and an occasional “u” stuck inbetween an “o” and an “r”. However, regardless of each individual organization’s approach or perceptions, it can safely be said that services requirements are both every bit the same, and every bit different, in each corner of the globe.

Further, many services providers in the United States have discovered over the past several years that there is more than one language spoken in global service. This was a lesson learned years earlier by most European and Asian providers, as well as by Canadian services organizations that have been dealing with bilingual support for decades. However, the globalization of service and support refers to much more than simply language differences – it must also focus on the cultural, economic and business differences that are manifested in varying forms all over the world.

As most individual businesses continue to grow larger, and larger businesses continue to acquire, merge and consolidate, there will be increasing pressure on services providers to grow along with their customers’ needs for a broader and more sophisticated range of services – both in terms of breadth and scope (e.g., a full array of professional services in addition to traditional break/fix and help desk support, etc.) and geographic coverage (e.g., cross-border capabilities). The conventional wisdom is that some of the services providers that presently offer very high levels of service and support, but only among the basic, or “core”, types of services, or only in a limited geographic area, may actually end up losing out to other, less high performing providers that offer a wider array of services over a larger geographic (i.e., global) area.

The general rule of thumb is often, “why settle for varying or erratic levels of service and support over the whole of our enterprise by relying on the use of multiple vendors, when we can ensure a more standardized mode of delivery – all at satisfactory levels – provided across our entire system?” While the former mode of service delivery may range from “excellent” to “average” depending on the type of service provided, or the location of the end user, the latter mode generally ensures that, at least, there will be consistent levels of service provided enterprisewide – i.e., with no geo-by-geo “surprises”.

In today’s services environment, the true measure of a provider’s ability to adapt to its marketplace is no longer answered strictly in terms of how well it can deliver different types of support to different types of customers, but in how well it can provide desired levels of service and support to each of its customers, regardless of their size, industry segment or geographical location. This requires a full understanding of both its individual customer bases and the global marketplace, and can only be successfully addressed through a painstaking effort to learn to know each market better – that is, better than the knowledge that was previously available, and better than the competition.

The word “global” should no longer simply conjure up images of field technicians trudging through the wilds of the Great Australian Outback, or cross-country skiing through a harsh Canadian winter terrain (although this may also be the case from time to time), nor should it be interpreted solely as fostering a company mentality of trying to be “all things to all parties”.

Rather, “global” should be defined as “offering the full complement of desired services and support, either directly or through strategic services partnerships, to support the enterprisewide needs of the customer.”

It has taken the services industry the last century to get to the point where it is today. However, it will be around this definition of “global” service and support that the future of the industry will be based. Where it will ultimately take us will, as always, be heavily dependent on how the services marketplace believes its providers are responding to its “global” needs.

The Benefits of Treating Your Customers … Well, Like Customers!

Until only recently, the Services Lifecycle Management (SLM) solutions purchase/acquisition cycle was a fairly closed-loop, highly structured, and oftentimes formal process. Potential users obtained most of their decision-making data and informational input directly from the vendors, sought the recommendations of published buyer’s guides and directories, and picked up on the latest “buzz” at industry trade shows or via services trade publications – all historically serving as powerful and rich resources.

This was the way SLM solution decisions had been supported and made for decades. But then, the Internet, blogs and social media changed everything – including the means by which information is gathered, reviewed, and analyzed; how potential vendors are evaluated and selected; and even the way in which customers position themselves as potential buyers in a largely buyer’s market.

In October 2010, The White House Office of Consumer Affairs reported that dissatisfied customers will tell between nine and 15 people about their negative experience, with roughly 13 percent (i.e., or about one-in-eight) telling more than 20 people. Satisfied customers, on the other hand, will only tell about four to six people about their positive experience.

Therefore, according to the report, customer service failures are likely to be communicated two-and-a-half times more often than customer service successes. As a result, services organizations need to maintain a ratio of roughly 2.5-to-1 satisfied vs. dissatisfied customers just to break even in terms of word-of-mouth customer service feedback.

In all likelihood, customers will become even more critical – and communicative – about their service experiences in the future, based on the widespread usage of social media tools and technology devices. This presents a new front for services organizations to address in an increasingly social media-influenced marketplace; however, there are still many other challenges that must also be addressed.

The three most uniquely daunting challenges faced by services organizations over the past few decades have included the following:

  • Transforming themselves from manufacturer/OEM cost centers to strategic lines of business (i.e., with their own executive-level management and P&L responsibility)
  • Shifting their operational focus from company-centric to customer-centric, whereby the customer represents the focal point of their universe
  • Learning how to treat their business-to-business (B2B) accounts with the same high level of service and support that other vendors use to treat their business-to-consumer (B2C) customers

Surely there have been other equally daunting challenges facing the services industry throughout this period, as well, including:

  • The globalization of business operations
  • An uncertain cycle of volatile economic upturns and downturns
  • The proliferation of new technologies and applications
  • The continuing shakeout of marginal performers, and the resultant consolidation within the supply side sectors
  • The widespread growth of social media for business purposes

However, while each of these business game-changers ultimately impacts all business segments, the three challenges outlined in the top list above focus uniquely on the services sector.

It is no longer good enough to tell your customers that your organization is “no worse” than any of its competitors (the “like-company” comparison);  because, if you do, you will risk hearing something in return such as, “I understand that. But what I don’t understand is why you can’t process my order as accurately as Amazon.com or QVC, or handle my return – and process my credit – as quickly as American Express!”

Companies like Amazon.com and QVC are maximizing their use of the Internet’s communications capabilities by making not only the purchasing process easy – but the returns process as well. For example, you might purchase an item from one of these vendors via telephone, laptop, iPhone, tablet or other handheld device. Once you obtain a customer number, it’s all very easy to place an order.

The overall customer experience is then heightened even further by the high level of communications provided to the consumer (i.e., the receipt of a near-instant e-mail confirmation of the order; the subsequent follow-up e-mails when the item is shipped; notification of when an item is on backorder; etc.). Even the return process is easy: if the item isn’t what you thought it would be (e.g., wrong color or size, you already got one for your birthday – whatever!) you can simply return it in the same packaging used for the initial shipping along with the supplied return mailing label, and a return receipt and credit notification will be forwarded to you (typically) in a matter of days – if not hours!

By simply delivering (or promising) the same-old, same-old treatment to your existing customers, you are guaranteed to continue treating them as “just another business account” (i.e., the “B” in B2B). However, your customers are quickly becoming accustomed to being treated better as “C’s” by some of the most successful B2C vendors. They are also increasingly being empowered by the Internet; a seemingly unending number of new technologies, apps and devices; and the ongoing explosion of social media tools.

The time has come for your organization to recognize that these “new” levels of customer delivery performance are now the norm – and that its customers will increasingly settle for nothing less than the best.