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

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

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

Putting Things in Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warranty Claims Processing Time:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Raising Customer Satisfaction Levels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward to seeing you in Tucson!

Bill

Transforming Market Research into Customer Satisfaction and Retention

Leveraging Market Research into Customer Satisfaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Should You Focus Your Market Research Efforts?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

“7 Simple Strategies to Increase Revenue in 2016” – Our Take

[The following is a transcript of the “One Simple Strategy Recommended for Increasing Revenue in 2016” material we submitted to Field Service Digital in response to their request. The full interview was published in the December 18, 2015 issue of the magazine; however, only some of this material actually made the cut (i.e., there are six other industry experts who also had their say in the Field Service Digital piece).

Read our response first, then read the Field Service Digital piece to gain a perspective from among the seven of us. A link to the magazine is provided at the end of our Blog, for your convenience.]

One Simple Strategy to Increase Services Revenue in 2016

“The best services strategies are typically the simplest ones – particularly the ones that target improved service revenues and profitability. But, whatever the strategy, it should always follow a process of ‘Measure, Assess, Adjust & Track’ (MAA&T). What that means is, whether you’re looking at overall service operations, or individual components of service, such as warranty management, parts/inventory management, customer relationship management, or the like, you will need to, first, measure where you stand today, how you got there, and where you’re likely to end up if nothing else changes; second, assess what needs to be changed, modified, upgraded or replaced; third, make the necessary adjustments to facilitate – and in many cases, expedite – change, as appropriate; and fourth, track your progress over time as you implement new and/or revised processes, policies and procedures, or new technologies.

Supported through the ongoing review of input and feedback, the process then starts all over again on a virtual continuous loop, thereby fostering continuous quality improvement that goes directly to the bottom line.

Using warranty management as an example, a sound strategy might be to (1) measure its current contribution to the bottom line in terms of revenue generation and profitability, (2) assess alternative scenarios for process improvement; (3) make changes to the current program to stimulate improved revenue generation; and (4) track your progress over time. Then, you start all over again!

The old adage goes something like, “You can’t know how much you’ve improved if you don’t know where you’ve come from” clearly supports the MAA&T approach. And the ability to continue cycling through the process time after time allows this strategic approach to foster continuous quality improvement.”

[To read the full Field Service Digital article for which this information was prepared, please visit: http://fieldservice.com/2015/12/18/7-simple-strategies-increase-revenue-2016/.]

3D Printing and The Future Of Field Service

[The following is a transcript of the 3D Printing-related material we submitted to Field Technologies in response to their request. The full article was published in the August 24, 2015 issue of the magazine; however, only some of this material actually made the cut (i.e., there are three other industry experts who also had their say in the Field Technologies piece).

Read our responses first, then read the Field Technologies piece to gain a perspective from among the four of us. A link is provided at the end of our Blog, for your convenience.]

What’s the Buzz about 3D Printing?

The thoughts about the buzz surrounding 3D printing’s use in field service are reminiscent of a similar buzz about RFIDs some years ago. Everybody is talking about 3D printing in terms of “Is it for real”, “Is it affordable?”, “Is it practical?” and “When will it be readily available?” And, of course, the answers to all of these questions are “yes”, and “now!”

As was in the earlier case with RFIDs, while everybody continued talking about the what, where and when of its ultimate adoption by the industry, the technology simply kept rolling out, first among the more progressive organizations (i.e., either on their own, or by the “mandate” of some of the larger, market leading organizations such as Walmart). However, while the debate raged on, the market seemed to embrace the “new” technology without much fanfare, on a steady and nicely paced-out basis. Before the less progressive organizations in the marketplace even knew it, RFIDs became fairly ubiquitous – and I see the same adoption scenario for 3D printing as well.

There are, however, some important differences that distinguish 3D printing from other “new” technologies. For example, the cost for implementing a global 3D printing capability is far more expensive than it was/is for an RFID network. Accordingly, while field service organizations of all types and sizes could launch an RFID solution fairly inexpensively, 3D printing – at least for the moment – may find itself used more prolifically by larger organizations at the start.

Further, RFID solutions are typically designed and implemented for the masses – that is, to track a large variety of products, parts and components in the field; whereas 3D printing – at least so far – is designed primarily for the special needs of organizations that cannot easily, or cost-effectively, stock infrequently-used parts, parts in remote places, or deal with the logistics of a growing installed base under their current management and support.

In any event, the buzz is certainly warranted! 3D printing is quickly becoming an important component of large organizations’ parts management programs and, as the cost for implementation and maintenance decreases over time, it will likely spread throughout the field service industry as more and more uses come to the forefront. Once again, while we’re all still talking about it, others are doing something about it! It’s already here!

What are Some of the Potential Use Cases for 3D Printing in Field Service?

It seems like services organizations have been forever struggling with the best way to manage spare parts availability and accessibility. For many, 3D printing can assist in both of these areas.

For decades, many services organizations have used the 80/20 rule when it comes to parts planning for the field. That is, have the field technicians carry the 80 percent of the most commonly used parts in their van, and maintain a stash of the 20 percent less frequently-used parts in a regional or national hub with availability via overnight delivery.

Over the years, this 80/20 rule may have morphed to a 60/40 or even a 50/50 rule for some organizations, due to increasing parts, inventory and logistics costs. However, even at these lower ratios, the associated costs for managing parts inventory have skyrocketed. As such, many organizations have been looking for alternative means by which they could still provide the necessary parts to their field technicians, cut the time required for accessing these parts, and getting the customer’s equipment back up and running as soon as possible. For many, 3D printing is not merely the best solution – it is the only solution!

Among the most attractive potential uses of 3D printing is the ability to print parts for users at remote locations, thereby cutting the time to complete the repair from several days to within hours. While the customary remote locations most often cited are typically somewhere in the plains of the great southwest, or the snow-covered northwest provinces of Canada, as the world market for field service support continues to grow exponentially, virtually any location not situated near a commercial hub may nowadays be considered as a “remote location”.

Perhaps the greatest remote location currently supported “in the field” is the International Space Station (ISS), which has already had several parts printed in deep space – along with some of the tools required to put them in their place! Talk about an otherwise expensive “truck roll!”

In some cases, the most intriguing uses of 3D printing in field service have come in the aerospace segment. In addition to NASA, the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF) has also used 3D printing to print components such as protective covers for cockpit radios and guards for power take-off shafts, resulting in cost savings of more than £300,000 (US$491,364) since adopting the technology, with another £1.2 million in savings expected by 2017. Rolls Royce is also using 3D printing to provide parts for its jet engines.

Further, as driverless cars begin entering the marketplace, empowered by the Internet of Things (IoT), what would make more sense than supporting these new technology transportation systems with 3D-printed parts? This, and other “new” applications of technology, will likely provide a significant breeding ground for highlighting the use of 3D-printed parts and components.

What Benefits Could 3D Printing Bring to the Field Service Industry?

The proliferation of 3D printing is not only limited to the manufacture of parts and components, but, even more importantly, to the design and refinement of these items before they even see the light of day in the marketplace. For example, according to Forbes, GE has developed a “radical new fuel injection systems for a jet engine” initially designed and built from an industrial 3D metal printer. Previously, the system had “21 separate parts, which needed to be produced, shipped to the same location, and then assembled.” However, the 3D-printed system has only one part – but is five times stronger, resulting in increased fuel efficiency of 15 percent, or just over US$1 million per year – per plane!

While most people look to the availability of parts for remote locations to represent the major benefit of using 3D printing, it is more likely that the most beneficial attributes will be manifested through advances in design and engineering (i.e., more easily demonstrable “what-if” scenarios, quicker design-to-test times, reduced R& D costs, etc.). However, where 3D printing could potentially be most disruptive (i.e., borrowing from the terminology normally associated with the IoT), is in the areas of how future design and engineering operations will be staffed and funded (i.e., less people and less funding needed?); the ability to make parts, components and systems less complex and more efficient (e.g., one part, rather than 21 parts, etc.); and the simplification of the overall parts supply chain (i.e., the reduction – or elimination – of some of the channel players currently involved in parts management and logistics, etc.). In fact, the entire parts supply chain could find itself disrupted by this new technology.

Do you See this Trend Taking Off? Why or Why Not? If So, When or How Rapidly?

This trend is already taking off! The early adopters have already been quite successful in implementing solutions that save time, save money, streamline the service supply chain and keep customers happy. If managed properly, this could be both the CSO’s and the CFO’s dream come true!

As more and more consumers learn more about 3D printing from features in trade journals like Field Technologies, through various LinkedIn posts and via social media, the push toward adoption is likely to get stronger.

It also won’t be long before consumers will be able to print their own souvenirs at seaside resorts or tourist attractions – you can even print your own life-size Paul McCartney figure. The double-sided push and promotion of 3D printing through both the commercial and consumer channels will likely lead to a higher demand for the technology as well.

Are You Aware of any Real-World Examples of How 3D Printing Is Successfully Being Used in Field Service Today?

So far, most industry observers have been focusing on the most dramatic uses of 3D printing to convey to the marketplace. However, the real story is the one unfolding at many organizations around the world who are finding that they can employ this new technology not only to save logistics and transportation costs, but design and engineering costs as well.

3D printing is not only to be used for manufacturing parts, but for the printing of the tools that are used to install them. It will also be used in the back rooms with respect to design, engineering and applications.

With the great success already experienced in, arguably, one of the most demanding vertical segments (i.e., aerospace, aviation, etc.) it will only be a matter of time before usage becomes even more widespread throughout all major services segments. Currently, people are using 3D printing to print complete homes, cars – and, yes, even Beatles! With great interest expressed by both the commercial and consumer segments, the receptivity to the use of 3D printing in both the B2B and B2C segments is likely to remain strong.

What other Comments Do You Have about 3D Printing that Our Readers Should Be Aware Of?

Of course, before any “new” technology can be successfully embraced by the marketplace, it must also be properly packaged, promoted and marketed. One trend that I foresee in the not-too-distant future is the packaging of product sales and service, in a 3D-delivered world. For example, the customer (i.e., business or consumer) would buy the 3D-printed product, and sign on for an extended warranty program based on 3D-printed service and support. It even sounds like they should be packaged together!

Oh – and by-the-way, while you’ve been reading this, more organizations have silently embedded 3D printing into their core service and support offerings (along with RFIDs)! Just saying!

[To read the Field Technologies article for which this information was prepared, please visit: http://www.fieldtechnologiesonline.com/doc/d-printing-and-the-future-of-field-service-0001.]

Running a Global Services Organization

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

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

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

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

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

  • Meet customer requirements
  • Increase efficiency
  • Improve consistency

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

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

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

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

Business Development

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

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

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

Product Management

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

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

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

Logistics

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

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

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

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

Training

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

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

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

Field Service

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

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

Customer Support

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

Regional and local functions must also be carefully integrated


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

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

How does your organization get there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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