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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improved Technician Productivity

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

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

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

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

Improved Inventory/Parts Management

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

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

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

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

Optimized Service Delivery

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

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

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

  1. Streamlined Workflow

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

Integrated Processes and Technologies

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

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

Improved and Streamlined Processes

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

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

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

Complete Charge Capture of Service Delivery

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

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

Maximized Cross-Selling and Up-Selling Opportunities

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

Ability to Leverage Service as a Competitive Advantage

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

  1. Enhanced Quality and Growth

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

Ability to Deliver Consistent Service Globally

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

Modularity for Supporting Growth

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

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

Improved Quality and Reduced Costs

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

  1. Increased Customer Satisfaction

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

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

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

Ability to Anticipate Customer Service Requirements

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

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

Improved Responsiveness to Customer Calls and Service Delivery

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

Making It Easier to Do Business – Making It More Profitable

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

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

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

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

[Reprinted from Field Service News. Enjoy!]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) to Support Your Customers While You’re Servicing Their Equipment

Every day you deal with a multitude of customers who vary by type, size, installed base, usage, personality and everything else that ultimately differentiates one customer from another. However, one thing always remains constant – their business systems and equipment are critically Important to their day-to-day business operations. Despite this common thread that runs through virtually all of the customers you support, it is still important to recognize that each customer account will likely be different in terms of:

  • The various types, brands, models and numbers of units they have installed at their respective sites;
  • The ages of the individual units that are covered under their various Service Level Agreements (SLAs), or supported viaa Time & Materials (T&M) basis;
  • The usage patterns of the equipment at their individual locations (i.e., continuous intermittent use; single vs.multiple shifts; simple vs.complex multifunctional peripheral applications; and so on);
  • The volume, capacity or throughput they regularly execute; and
  • Many other unique and/or specific differentiators.

For some of your customers, their equipment is an integral component of what they do on a day-to-day basis. Customers in all industry segments, whether it be legal, financial, medical, real estate, government, or other highly-demanding markets, will tell you that their systems and equipment are essential to their business operations, and that when their equipment is down, their production is severely affected. For some, even a small piece of connected equipment may be the only means they have for providing their customers with a receipt, order confirmation, or other important transaction-generated documents. In fact, for many in the latter category, their reliance on the equipment you support may be even more critical to them (at least on a relative basis).

Regardless of the specific industry market segment or type of customer, there will always be a basic level of reliance on the business systems and equipment they have installed at their facility. In addition, you will find that your customers will also be relying heavily on your organization to ensure that their equipment is always up and running as required – and as expected. As such, it is important to recognize that in the customer’s mind, if the equipment is not working optimally – regardless of the technology that may have been built into it – it is worthless.

Since there is just so much that the customer is either inclined or permitted to do in order to get the equipment back in working order following a failure, in most cases, your field technicians will be the sole entities that they can count on to make that happen (that is, aside from remote monitoring and diagnostics, etc.). Accordingly, they will need to approach the servicing and support of the equipment with a great deal of professionalism and responsibility. Customers usually do not care whether the cause of an equipment problem is due to a hardware or software failure; a paper jam; or whether it was the unit’s fault, their fault, or nobody’s fault in particular. All they know is that when they needed to use the equipment, it simply did not work.

This is typically where the organization’s field technicians come into the picture. In many cases, they represent the only “real” physical manifestation of the service and support that keeps their equipment up and running – or at the very least, they may represent their first line of service and support defense. Your customers may rely heavily on the equipment itself to support their day-to-day business operations; but they rely even more on your organization and your field technicians to ensure that the equipment can continually do what it is supposed to do.

This is a unique area where most services organizations – and their dealers and distributors – can use some help! The good news is that there is a Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) software solution available for users in every industry, size and geographic coverage segment. The implementation of anSLM solution can provide a comprehensive set of integrated business solutions that empower strategic initiatives while driving tactical execution.

Companies that install, repair, and maintain business systems and equipment can increase their competitive advantage, grow top-line revenue, and bolster bottom-line profitability through the use of an effective SLM solution. Among the basic features and benefits of SLM functionality for a typical Field Services Organization (FSO) may best be summarized as follows:

  • Comprehensive Contract and Service Level Management
  • Service and Sales Integration
  • Increased Help Desk/Contact Center Effectiveness
  • Field Service Efficiencies

Comprehensive Contract and Service Level Management

Through SLM, customer contracts and Service Level Agreements (SLAs) can be structured in ways that best fit the business, as well as the businesses of their respective customers. Key items such as maintenance and repair service; preventative (or predictive) maintenance; remote monitoring, diagnostics and repair; and draw-down contracts can all be easily established and managed. As such, the organization’s services management can be assured that all of the obligations of its customers’ SLAs are well-planned for – and met – and that all of its mission-critical commitments to the customer are being honored.

In this way, services revenues are maximized, and there is little risk of experiencing lost revenues. Company representatives can quickly and easily verify both the customer and vendor entitlements, thereby eliminating any costs that might otherwise be associated with providing customers with parts, consumables or services they are not entitled to under the terms and conditions of any existing warranties or contracts. This also ensures that any and all dealer claims will be quickly processed.

Service and Sales Integration

The Service and Sales Integration functionality of an SLM software suite can be relied on to enable the manufacturer’s and dealer organizations’ field service technicians and contact center personnel to more thoroughly service the company’s accounts, while also driving increased revenue in the process. By placing intuitive, easy-to-use sales tools into the hands of the appropriate service employees, the number of new opportunities to up-sell and cross-sell equipment, parts and consumables to existing customers will increase multifold.

The organization’s service technicians are out in the field every day talking to, and interfacing with, its customers; why not also provide them with the tools and resources they can use to close – or at least open –additional sales opportunities within this virtually captive customer base!

Increased Help Desk/Contact Center Effectiveness

SLM can also allow the organization to increase its call handling efficiencies, especially in the areas of first-call resolution and call avoidance rates. This will ultimately result in the lowering of internal service costs, and commensurate improvements in existing levels of customer satisfaction and retention. In many ways, business systems and equipment services have been somewhat commoditized over the years, and the only way that one services organization (or its dealers) can establishment a competitive advantage over another is to differentiate (i.e., improve) the way in which they support the customer base after the initial sale.

The best way to do this is to provide superior levels of help desk and call center support empowered by a robust SLM capability. By arming your call center personnel with accurate and up-to-date customer and installed equipment base information – be it entitlement, configuration, or marketing campaign data – the organization will be able to greatly increase its ability to sell, cross-sell, and upsell its entire portfolio of products, services, parts and consumables.

Field Service Efficiencies

Leveraging the field service automation tools inherent in the SLM software allows the organization to optimize its field force capacity utilization, resulting in significant operational efficiencies as field technicians quickly become empowered to increase revenue generation and recovery. By streamlining and managing the invoice process, billing cycles will be lowered, as will other key areas, such as Day Sales Outstanding (DSO), etc.

These improvements will almost immediately go directly to the bottom line as you will be able to manage your cash flow and receivables much more effectively. Similarly, by streamlining and managing your service inventories (such as trunk stock) more effectively, you will also be able to realize significant inventory cost reductions.

What many OEMs and dealer organizations seek is an end-to-end, enterprise-wide SLM solution that addresses the complete equipment/service lifecycle, from lead generation and sales quotation, to service and billing, through asset retirement. They are looking for a solution that both integrates and optimizes the critical business processes that all services organizations have to face with respect to providing their customers with the levels of service and support they require.

Services organizations that provide their customers with any combination of products, parts, services and consumables must be able to not only fix the customers’ equipment, but to fix the customer as well; however, the ability to do so may vary greatly from one organization to another. However, the most successful organizations will ultimately be the ones that have the right mix of management, personnel, tools, resources and solutions (i.e., Service Lifecycle Management), all working together to provide their customers with the levels of service and support they require – and expect!

Stepping Up to a “World Class” Service Delivery Model

Many businesses that have historically striven to provide their customers with merely “satisfactory” levels of customer service and support have now begun to move closer to a “world class” service delivery model in order to provide their customers with “total support” beyond merely product acquisition. Today’s customers are looking well beyond the product, and are focusing just as much on other pre- and post-sales support offerings such as implementation and installation; equipment training, field and technical support, Web-enabled self-help; remote diagnostic and predictive support capabilities; professional services, including consulting and application training; services management outsourcing; and a whole variety of other value-added services. More importantly, many are still wondering when their primary suppliers will truly be able to provide them with the levels of “world class” service delivery they now require!

In fact, we believe that now represents a critical time for virtually every business to update, or refine, its strategic plan for moving closer to a “world class” service delivery model. This plan may encompass many components, including:

  • Reassessing the company’s existing customer service and support mission, goals and objectives, capabilities, resources, and infrastructure;
  • Identifying and prioritizing the existing and emerging customer/market demands, needs, requirements, expectations, and preferences for customer service and technical support, across all classifications of the company’s market base; and
  • Developing specific recommendations for action with respect to the engineering/reengineering of the existing services organization and processes in an effort to arm the company with a more competitive – and effective – “world class” service and support portfolio.

In more specific terms, the overall goals and objectives of such a planning effort, simply stated, should be to:

  • Examine, analyze, and assess the company’s service and support mission with respect to its desired ability to ultimately provide customers with a full range of service and support offerings that will position the company as a “world class” product and services provider;
  • Identify, from management’s perspective, what the most important elements of a “world class” service operation would be expected to comprise, and within what framework it would envision such an operation to be created and managed;
  • Determine, from the customers’ perspectives, where the company should direct its primary attention with respect to creating a more customer-focused service and support organization and service delivery infrastructure;
  • Define how the desired service delivery organization should be structured in terms of human resources, roles, responsibilities, and functions; organizational components and structural hierarchy; internal vs.outside components (i.e., in-house vs. outsource); strategic partnering and channel alliances; management and staff training; and other key related areas;
  • Recommend how the optimal service operation should be structured in terms of defining and establishing the appropriate service operations, processes, and procedures; logistics and resource management controls; operating targets and guidelines; management control and performance monitoring parameters; and other key related areas; and
  • Provide specific recommendations for the establishment of a more “flexible” services organization and operational infrastructure that addresses all key elements consistent with the delivery of “world class” service and support to the company’s present and projected marketplace.

The specific areas where the services and support strategic marketing plan should focus include:

  • Identification of customer needs and requirements for “World Class” service – including recommended goals, targets, and desired service parameters based both on input/feedback gathered from existing and potential customers, as well as from an assessment/evaluation of other state-of-the-art service organizations/operations in the general marketplace.
  • Composition of the recommended customer service and support portfolio – including the development and packaging of a “tiered” customer service and support portfolio matched directly against the specific needs and requirements of both existing and prospective customers.
  • Service operation structure and processes – including recommended service and support operations supporting the overall service portfolio, focusing on customer service, call handling, help desk, technical support, on-site support, order entry, call logging, administrative, and other processes (to be determined).
  • Determination of key performance indicators – including identification and recommendations for the selection of the most appropriate industry metrics, and guidelines for measuring and tracking service performance over time.
  • Definition of service organization, functions, and responsibilities – including recommendations for the general structure, roles, and responsibilities of the service organization and infrastructure; inter- and intra-departmental roles and responsibilities; organization functions and activities; updated job descriptions; in-house vs.outsourcing decisions; channel management; etc.
  • Selection of operational tools – including recommendations for the most effective use of information and communications technology (ICT) tools, services management and CRM software, and other segment-specific support tools, etc.
  • Formalization of the implementation plan – In-house: including system selection, investment plan, organization development, training, etc.; and outsourcing: including strategic partner selection criteria, performance measurement/management requirements; and general timeframe and rollout plan.

Providing customers with “world class” customer service and support is generally not achievable without a well thought out and orchestrated “world class” planning effort. Good products don’t sell themselves anymore than they service and support themselves. All of these functions must first be developed and implemented as part of an overall business plan. However, we believe that the most successful – and profitable – businesses are those that have managed to effectively deal with both sides of the issue – that is, they know how to sell, and they are prepared to service and support the “total” needs and requirements of their constituent market base. And, by doing it on a “world class” basis, they can benefit from one of the most effective competitive differentiators.

If your organization still operates primarily as a manufacturing- or product-focused business, if service is managed basically as a cost center, or if it is still using the same service delivery model it has used for as long as you can remember, it may be totally missing the boat! Regardless of what product lines your organization has historically manufactured, sold, or distributed, one thing remains certain – your customers want “world class” service and support, and the only way you will be able to provide them with what they want is to plan for it; implement an effective service delivery strategy; acquire all of the necessary tools,  and get all of its resources and processes in place – and, then, roll it out and reap the benefits!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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