Will 2017 be the break-out year for Augmented Reality?

This article first appeared in Field Technologies Magazine on January 24, 2017

Augmented Reality burst onto the market last year through the launch of several enterprise and consumer oriented applications leading media and industry analysts to proclaim 2016 the year of Augmented Reality.  While the adoption of AR is in its early growth stage, the market for this technology has tremendous growth potential.   Per market research firm, Digi-Capital, AR will be a $90 Billion market by 2020.  Goldman Sachs estimates that 60% of the market will be driven by consumer applications, with the remaining 40% ($36 Billion) of the market attributable to enterprise usage.

The Field Service Industry represents one of the largest enterprise markets for the deployment of AR.  Considering the vast number of manufacturers, resellers, distributors and 3rd party service providers who must support a growing installed base of electronic and electro-mechanical technology, the opportunity is enormous.   AR improves users’ experience by enabling them to interact and learn from whatever they are observing.

By implementing AR solutions, companies can expect to realize significant improvements in key performance indicators related to Service Lifecycle Management.  For example, AR can help facilitate repair processes, thereby reducing both repair time and downtime while improving first time fix.   Furthermore, the contextual knowledge made available through AR enables equipment owners to make smarter decisions about operating the equipment, which in turn can extend the equipment’s life. Given this potential, there is little doubt as to why Augmented Reality is considered one of the most defining technologies of our times by industry experts, participants, and observers.

I conducted interviews with approximately two dozen field service executives and my findings echo this sentiment.  When asked, which trend will have the greatest impact on the future of field service, the respondents answered Augmented Reality.  The most frequently mentioned benefit is its ability to accelerate the learning curve of less experienced technicians. This is important because the service leaders I interviewed also expressed concern about the growing shortage of experienced field service technicians.   A shorter learner curve implies faster and better service by novice technicians.

Despite the consensus that AR will have on a positive impact on field service operations, many field service executives do not fully understand what’s involved with implementing AR and/or how these initiatives will be funded within their organizations. Indeed, there are multiple components which must function together to make AR work. However, it’s not a matter of there being a one size fits all solution.  For example, companies can choose between smart glasses or tablets as the viewing device. They can also choose to display either video, graphics, or GPS data, or all three types of content.  The choices are many and the solutions can range from basic to complex.  Let’s also not forget that there are approximately a dozen AR vendors who focus field service that need to be considered.

Given these challenges, it’s easy for field service leaders to take a wait and see approach to deploying AR.  In other words, wait and see what other companies are doing or if someone else within their company will champion AR before they go down this path.   However, this could leave their service organization vulnerable. Competitors may implement it first or investment dollars for AR may be allocated to other area like product sales rather than service.

Clearly, there are enough use cases and early adapters of AR for field service companies to warrant a closer look.  Projects usually get approved when there is compelling business case to do so.  Field Service executive must who think they can benefit from AR must start building their business case today.   Leadership is everything when it comes to deploying new technology. Consider other major technological developments in field service over the last twenty years, they’ve all occurred because field service executives embraced the mantle of leadership and influenced their companies to act.    This year, 2017, may just be the break-out year for AR within the Field Service Industry.  It’s up to field service leaders to make this happen.

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What is Field Service Management and Why Should You Care?

This week’s post were are pleased to share a mini info-graphic based on an article by Danny Wong from Salesforce.com. You can find the companion article here.


What is Field Service Management and Why Should You Care Infographic

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Measuring the Impact of Freelance Management Systems on KPIs

In a previous blog we presented the results of a survey regarding staffing for the Field Service Industry.  The  respondents of the survey included people who either staff or make decisions about staffing for companies ranging in size based on revenue, number of events staffed, types of technology supported, and the way in which the service business was run (i.e., cost center, profit center, etc).  The survey supported our idea that using a Variable Workforce and especially using a Freelance Management System (FMS) to recruit, hire and dispatch the Field Service Engineers (FSEs) is becoming a larger part of the industry with overwhelmingly positive results.

As in all industries, there are certain ways in which we measure success, so we looked at the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are relevant in the Field Service Industry.  These included indices like  Service Level Agreement (SLA) compliance, Field Service Engineer (FSE) Utilization Rate, FSE Productivity , First Time Fix Rate, Time to first response, Gross Margin per Field Service project and per service call Time to recruit, hire, train and onboard, FSEs, Time to train FSEs, and others for the Field Service Industry.

On all 17 KPIs measured, at least 28% of companies saw an improvement with the greatest improvement noted in Geographic Reach (76%). And over 75% saw either improvement or least no change in all indices. Variable Workforce managed by FMS enables easier ability to recruit, hire and onboard specially trained Field Service Engineers. This also increases the ability to respond to seasonal and emergency needs of customers.

The survey shows that using a variable workforce model is faster, less expensive and more efficient than not using it. Because it is so efficient, this makes integration and utilization of FSEs faster. In addition, users of Variable Workforce and FMS are able to support more types of technology (4.3 vs 2.8). This means that not only is the overall function of the company improved, the use of FMS allows companies an opportunity for growth.

We also compared the results of several KPIs for companies using FMS to the Best in Class (BIC) Performance, which is an average of the top 5% of respondents for each KPI.  The results were quite encouraging:  Best In Class FMS users had an SLA Compliance Rate of 98.2%  vs 81.1% for the overall average; FSE Utilization Rate of 96% vs 94.5%; and First Time Rix Rate of 96% vs 77.8%.  In addition, FSE Productivity was the same among Best In Class FMS user versus non FMS users at 6 calls per day.

Not everyone who responded to the survey is has moved to using a Variable Workforce.  In fact, about a 25% of the survey participants are not Variable Workforce users.  What were their main concerns about making the transition?  Loss of control over service quality, coupled with concern about the reliability and capability of freelance technicians.  About a third of this group felt that their volume of service calls doesn’t justify switching to a Variable Workforce model. And 10% stated “We’ve always used a traditional workforce and will not change.”

Other than those who just are not willing to change, the reasons given by these companies for not changing were similar to those concerns expressed by many prior to making the jump to Variable Workforce.  As the survey results show, not only have the Variable Workforce adopters found that their business improved, but they also said that they will continue to use this model and increase the use of it as well.  The success of changing their staffing model seems to far outweigh their past concerns.

So are you are using a Variable Workforce? If not, what is holding you back?  Are you using a Variable Workforce but not using FMS to manage it?  This survey shows that the use of a Variable Workforce in conjunction with a FMS platform has provided overwhelming success for those who have made the transition.  Use of the Variable Workforce and FMS is growing and will continue to do so. It is helping companies to move into the changing market place while maintaining high quality standards.  Meeting and exceeding the needs of your customers, being agile and able to expand your geographic reach and service offerings and financial benefits mean that Variable Workforce and Freelance Management Systems are the way to go into the future in the Field Service Industry.

Best Practices In Selling Extended Warranty

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Innovation is a Given

This is a reprint of an interview which appeared on Core Systems’ website in their Field Service Management Blog.  Core Systems develops solutions and software for the Field Service Industry.

In this week’s interview we have spoken to Michael R. Blumberg, independent consultant and President of Blumberg Advisory Group, about the latest technologies field service businesses need to implement and what managers can do to create a culture of innovation.

You are consulting a lot of companies on strategic planning and efficiency improvement. What are your customers’ pain points?

I help my customers unlock value within their service supply chain like for example technical support, field services, services parts logistics or depot repair. For example, they may face challenges growing top line revenue or boosting profits. They may be trying to improve various KPIs associated with service quality and productivity. Others are focused on reducing costs, improving operating efficiency, or enhancing customer experience. One specific set of challenges I help clients deal with is validating their need to implement new technology to automated key business processes and functions.

What do you advise those companies to meet those challenges? 

I help them compare their current business processes and performance to best practices and industry standards. As part of this evaluation, I help them understand where there are gaps and how they can close them through process and systems improvements. I then make specific recommendations on what the new processes and systems should look like.

According to you, what are the top technologies that will change how businesses deliver service in the future? 

Every management guru and industry analyst wants to point to disruptive technologies like IoT, wearables, drones, and 3D printing as the top technologies that will change how service will be delivered in the future. No doubt these technologies will have a dramatic impact on the future of service. However, in order for these technologies to have any real and measurable benefit, they need to be incorporated into a company’s overall service business strategy, service delivery processes, and systems infrastructure.

More importantly, it may be a long time in the future until a company is ready and able to make these investments. In the meantime, there is lower hanging fruit they can pick off the trees that will help them achieve measurable gains in service performance, in a shorter period of time. For example, technologies like social collaboration, mobility, cloud computing, crowdsourcing platforms, or knowledge management. Businesses should consider implementing these technologies, if they haven’t done so already.

Do you have particular examples of companies that have innovated their field service? What results do they see? 

Most examples usually center on implementing some form of field service software. Either a basic system with dispatch, depot repair, and inventory management functionality or more advanced systems with capabilities for dynamic scheduling, spare parts optimization, field service mobility, and knowledge management. The results include greater control over people and parts, improved access to real-time business intelligence, better decision making, lower operating costs, improved utilization of parts and labor, and increased productivity of field resources.

Which features should a field service software ideally have? 

Businesses seeking to implement a field service software solution should consider features which automate critical service delivery processes and capture key data related to service transactions. In addition, the software should have the capability to produce performance reports in order to evaluate how well the processes are working. At a minimum, field service software should include feature functionality for work order management, parts usage, customer history, equipment history, time and cost tracking, and reporting & metrics. More advanced features might include mobility, contract management, and dynamic scheduling, routing, and knowledge management.

Do you feel there is a fear on the side of businesses to implement new technologies? Or are they open to innovation? 

I think most field service leaders today recognize that their businesses need to innovate in order to survive and thrive. Without innovation, they risk going out of business. This was not always the perspective of service businesses. Looking back, 15 or 20 years ago, there were more field service leaders who resisted innovation than embraced it. Technology was often perceived to be a threat to their existence. Now most field service leaders see innovation as a given. Sure business executives still have fears about innovation, its human nature. However, the fears are more realistic then in the past. Rather than an irrational fear about being replaced by a machine, the fear is centered around whether or not their companies are ready for innovation, whether the implementation will go smoothly, and whether the results will live up to the promise.

What would you advise managers to do in terms of getting everyone on board with innovating service processes? 

Managers really need to make sure that everyone understands and appreciates where the business is in terms of current levels of productivity and efficiency. They need to communicate this with all stakeholders and help them understand the risks associated with maintaining the status quo versus the rewards associated with pursing innovation. In addition, managers must create a well-defined plan for innovation and communicate the plan with key stakeholders. Most importantly, managers must create an environment which motivates and rewards people for embracing innovation.

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Augmented Reality State of the Art 

An Identification of Key Players 

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Considered to be one of the most defining technologies of our times, Augmented Reality(AR)  provides a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment and then augments (or supplements) this view with computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. AR improves users’ experience by enabling them to interact and learn from whatever they are observing.  Deployment of AR tools within a field service environment can have a measurable improvement on key performance indicators (KPIs) related to quality, productivity, and efficiency such as Mean Time to Repair, First Time Fix Rate, and Mean Time Between Failure.

The implementation of an AR solution requires integration of multiple components which must all function together to make the solution work.  First there is the viewer technology. Most often this takes the form of Smart Glasses or a mobile device such as a tablet or smart phone.  Next is the application which allows the device to read what the field service engineer (FSE) is seeing live and produce the additional content whether it be sound, video, graphics or GPS data.  In addition, many AR experiences rely on video from the onsite FSE to a control center or remote support personnel with special information or skills to assist the onsite FSE in completing the job.  Often the communication is done using a mobile device such as a smart phone or tablet.

In this blog we examine some of the key players in the AR space who have developed both use case scenarios and actual solutions for maintenance and field service environments:

APX

APX’s Skylight is an AR enterprise platform which integrates with smart glasses or other wearables.   It allows field service engineers to receive in-view instructions and obtain remote assistance with video from a central control center. It also has the ability to capture information at the onsite location and receive live data feeds to aid in field service.

AR Media

I-Mechanic is an AR application for smartphones that enable consumers or mechanics to perform maintenance on automobiles.  In addition it can provide consumers with useful information on closest auto repair and parts stores.

Epson: Moverio- Augmented Reality Glasses

The Moverio product uses sensors to provide onsite 3D Augmented Reality assistance while detecting issues and seeing images of what exists inside the components.  Additionally it provides one way video to a “control room” providing other resources for the onsite technician to successfully complete repair. One of the use cases for the Moverio product is the inspection and repair of HVAC systems  on cruise ships.

Fieldbit

An AR software platform allows for both 3-D overlay of information and remote instruction/collaboration with experts using video and smart phone technology. It also provides the ability to catalog issues and capture technical information enabling users to log and track reasons for equipment failure. Fieldbit is currently being used in maintenance of Print Equipment Manufacturers, Medical Equipment Manufacturers, Utility Providers, and Industrial Machinery.  Fieldbit recently partnered with cloud based, field service management software vendor ClickSoftware  to deliver faster, more effective field service repair resolution once the workforce arrives on site.

iQagent

iQagent is a mobile-based AR application for plant floor maintenance.   It scans QR codes to provide maintenance related information such as process data, schematics, and other resource.   It can be customized to read an individual organizations data and information from its database.

Microsoft

HoloLens – AR glasses which can be purchased as part of a commercial suite allowing for customization for enterprise use.  Current partners include Volvo, NASA, Trimble, and others.

NGrain

NGrain consists of a suite of AR applications including:

ProProducer –  platform to create virtual training simulations;
Viewer – companion to ProProducer to view and use the virtual simulations;
Android Viewer – allows access to content created using ProProducer from Android devices;
SDK – allows building of 3-D imaging to provide AR experience including both surface of objects and what is inside and underneath.

NGrain has also developed a number of industrial applications for its AR suite of products including but not limited to:

Consort – for inspection and damage assessment;
Envoy – providing real-time updates and information to field service engineers and allows communication between technicians;
Scout – Use Case – Aircraft Repair shop floor – real time visual analysis with Floor Manager oversite improving efficiency.

PTC

ThingWorx Studio is an AR offering developed by PTC for use in Industrial Enterprise. It combines the power of Vuforia, an AR platform, with the ThingWorx IoT Platform. These technologies offer new ways for the industrial enterprise to create, operate, and service products. For example, this technology can be used to monitor machine conditions in real-time and provide step by step instructions on the operation, maintenance, and repair of these machines.

Scope AR

Scope AR offers several applications to facilitate an AR platform within a field service environment. The Worklink application allows 3-D images and instructions to pop up on mobile or wearable devices thus enhancing the FSE’s ability to get information on site. To see a video click here.

Remote AR  allows onsite technicians to interface with remote support personnel, sending video feed to allow for collaboration and assistance to the onsite maintenance team. To see a video click here.

XMReality

A Swedish company whose product, XM Reality Remote Guidance, allows onsite technicians to use video to connect to a central control center to receive visual instructions from qualified technicians with the information on how to fix the onsite problem. Their products include Smart Glasses, a Guide Station from which to provide the remote assistance, a tablet, interface with mobile phones, and a heavy duty casing for Microsoft Surface Pros to be used in the field.

Although the AR market is in its early growth stages, the vendor landscape for these solutions is already quite vast.   We anticipate that more vendors will emerge while others evolve into more robust solution providers as the market continues to mature. There are of course many other applications for AR as well outside of field service and maintenance such as retail, consumer, building and more.  We hope that you will join the conversation and let us know about your experience with these and other companies in this marketplace.

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Sell More Service By Providing More Value

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Over the last month I’ve spoken to over two dozen Field Service Executives about challenges they are facing when it comes to generating additional service revenue for their companies.   I observed several common themes.  First, every executive I interviewed indicated that they would like to sell more service contracts.  However, they were experiencing resistance from customers as evidenced by low contract attachment rates.   Second, these executives were concerned about whether or not their prices were too high or if their customers really needed service contracts.  After all, this was the feedback they were receiving from their sales teams and even first hand from the customers that had spoken to directly.

This is an all too familiar problem for me.  I’ve encountered this for the last twenty five years as a management consultant. It is also a challenge that many field service executives face.  Seldom is price the real issue why companies struggle to sell service contracts.  In market research studies that I have completed for clients in a wide array of technology service industries, I have found that price is often low on the list of criteria that end-users consider when selecting and evaluating service providers.  Indeed, criteria such as quality of service, knowledge and skill of service personnel, breadth of service offering, and vendor’s knowledge of their business are perceived by customers to have higher importance than price alone.

The truth is “your price is too high” will always be an objection that customers provide when they cannot justify the purchase of a product or service.  In other words, they have no way of logically defending the value of the service being purchased.  Stated another way; they are not able to differentiate the benefits of service contracts from time and materials service.  The problem is that Field Service Organizations (FSOs) often attempt to sell service contracts without providing reasons why a contract is better than simply paying for service on a time and materials basis.   In order for end-customers to rationalize their purchase of service contracts, FSOs must be able to demonstrate the contrast between service contracts and time and material/pay as you go service.

In order to achieve this outcome, FSOs must be able to articulate the value of service contracts to customers as well as to their own sales people. They need to describe what’s included in a service contract that is not included in time & materials. This requires they do an effective job in defining the service contract and answering the question “What’s in it for me (the customer)?”  If the only difference between a service contract and time & materials is that the customer is able to prepay for service, then there is no value and no contrast.  However, if the service contract provides a preferred level of service (e.g., 4 hour response time, 7 by 24 hour coverage, parts, etc.) or preferred price structure then the customer is presented with some real value and contrast.

Ultimately, FSOs must be able to help customers defend their purchase of service contracts.   They do this by offering more value in a service contract than the customer could possibly receive through time and materials services.  Another way that FSOs can help customers defend their purchase is by letting their customers know why they offer service contracts in the first place, and why they prefer customer purchase them.   Usually, service contracts help FSOs do a better job at anticipating and managing service requests. It helps the FSO forecast and plan resources better.  As a result, service contracts benefit the customer which is something customers will understand and appreciate.

If your company is facing struggles when it comes to selling service contracts then perhaps it is time for a marketing tune-up.  A tune-up will identify where there are challenges in your sales and marketing process and more importantly, explain how to overcome them.  If you are interested in learning more, then contact me to schedule a free strategy session where I’ll describe what’s involved in a marketing tune-up, help you determine if it is something you need, and explain how you can get started. Isn’t it about time you stop leaving money on the table and start winning more business.

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The Most Empowering Question You Can Ask

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Have you ever felt stuck when it comes to growing your service business? For example, you feel that things are stagnant or perhaps just not going as well as you’d like.  If your answer is yes, then chances are that you have been doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.  That’s called insanity!!

You know you need to make a change but you are not exactly sure how.

All of us in business have at one time or another felt this way.  Most people in this situation ask themselves…”What should I do?”  “What should I do to get better results?”   The truth is this is a poor question to ask.  It is a poor question to ask because it is a disempowering question.

Disempowering questions seldom give us new insights or perspectives that lead to real change.  This is because our mind always tries to find a way of answering our questions. When you ask yourself “What should I do to increase service sales?” you come up with a million different answers.  One answer may be advertising, so you spend money on advertising only to find that it doesn’t help. You may again ask yourself, what should I do to increase sales, and your mind answers…”invest in Search Engine Optimization (SEO)”.  You invest in SEO, yet still you observe little or no improvement.

You continue to ask yourself the same question over and over again and get answers like do more networking, do thought leadership marketing, do price discounts . . . but still no improvement.  Soon you find yourself running around in circles doing different things. You keep doing more and more different things in hopes of getting better results but nothing happens. That’s crazy!  If you keep this up, soon you are likely to hear a small voice inside your head say “Woe is me, what should I do, I don’t know what to do, poor me!”

Poor you is right!

Can you see why asking yourself “What I can do to increase sales?” is a disempowering question?  Asking this type of question creates a vicious cycle that you have to break before it breaks you.  You can break it by learning how to ask empowering questions.  The most empowering question you need to ask and answer if you are trying to grow your service business is, “What value does my company bring to the marketplace?” In other words, what is you value proposition?

The truth is you can’t improve your sales until you are clear about the value you provide. Without a clear value proposition, spending money on advertising, incentives, networking, and other forms of marketing is throwing good money after bad.

In order to define your value proposition you have to answer 3 additional questions:

  1. Whom do I serve?
  2. What problem do I help them solve?
  3. What results do I help them achieve?

These answers provide input to the value proposition formula, which goes something like this…l help X, solve Y, so that Z. Here, X is the answer to the question, whom do I serve; Y identifies what problem you help them solve; and Z clarifies the results you help them achieve.

For example, my value proposition is, I help service managers and executives gain access to new perspectives, strategies, and insights about service management so that they can increase sales, boost profits, and delight their customers.

Once you determine you value proposition and consistently apply it you’ll achieve better results:

  • You’ll gain clarity about whom you help
  • You’ll be more certain about how you help them
  • You’ll be more effective in finding more people like them
  • You’ll find yourself working with people who really understand and appreciate the value you provide them
  • You’ll close more sales

Remember, if you are feeling stuck in your business or career, and nothing seems to be working, you are probably asking yourself disempowering questions. Break the cycle of despair by asking empowering questions, instead!

Now it’s your turn.  Complete the value proposition formula (I help X, solve Y, so that Z) and share it with us in the Comments section.  We’d love to learn what you’ve developed and how you think it has helped or will help you company get more business.  If you need ideas about what to do now that you’ve developed your value proposition, schedule a free consultation today.

7 Strategies To Build A Powerful Technical Support Team

strategies

In this week’s blog post I am sharing an article written by Alice Methew. Alice is a professional writer and has written articles for many different sites. She is committed to the pursuit of excellence through writing and has a passion for technology.

What are the roles and responsibilities of a technical support team? First of all, you need to realize that the technical support team is the flag bearer of a business’ goodwill and reputation. Of course, this team has to play a big role in the process of client retention. Unfortunately, many business owners have not yet realized the true significance of a technical support team, because the benefits that this team offers are not tangible. On the other hand; smart business owners give utmost importance to technical support team and they continuously monitor the performance of this team to maintain the productivity of the business at an optimal level. Here are the 7 strategies to build a powerful technical support team based on lessons learned from Enterprise Systems, a leading IT Support Organization in Houston, TX.

1) Hire technicians who have the potential to maintain a harmonious balance between technology and humans

If you want to build a good technical service team, you have to appoint the right people. It is a well-known fact that there should always be smooth coordination between various departments within your organization to ensure optimal productivity. If you want to minimize the number of issues that the technicians have to tackle, your technical support team should have the potential to coordinate efforts with other company business departments. That is exactly why you need to hire support engineers with adequate technical knowledge and they should also have a proper customer support background. If a technically accomplished professional does not have the patience and ability to listen, he can never be a good member of a technical support team. In such a situation, you may have to deal with a lot of problems.

2) Proper documentation of problems and their solutions

Many tech support teams often get stuck on problems even if they had dealt with similar issues earlier. This situation occurs mainly because of the fact that the technical support team does not have a clear cut list of standard procedures to address frequent problems. Whenever the team gets a call, the members keep on re-inventing the wheel and this situation does not help you build a strong team. You have to make sure that the technicians are preparing notes on how they resolve each problem. These notes must also be handed over to other team members as cheat sheets. Then, a list can be compiled to form a quick reference guide. This approach can reduce the problem resolution period from hours to a few minutes.

3) Show the team members the correct career path

When it comes to highest turnover rates, technical support field stands tall. Many company owners complain that their technical support team members are leaving the company too often. Within the IT Industry, most members of the support team become developers or programmers after a short period. You must understand that there is no point in holding them back. You have to provide continuous training and flexible work hours so that they can learn faster and keep them updated. Business managers must meet them frequently to talk about the career path and goals. You have to give them opportunities to move up in your own organization. In such a situation, they are not going to leave your organization like many people do.

4) Ask the team to focus on satisfying the customer

All dynamic technical support teams strive hard to track measure and analyze the operations. In such a situation, the teams clearly understand what is working and what areas demand improvement. When a support team prepares these critical data points, they can easily improve the existing processes. If you want to build a good technical support team, you have to realize that all metrics should be geared towards achieving satisfied customers. The bottom line is that you must ask the support engineers to focus on one metric; customer satisfaction.

5) Get curious and passionate people

You can hire people who have a natural curiosity to find out how things work and progress. People, who come with this attitude, are excellent options for placing in the technical support team. Human resource managers must identify candidates who are passionate towards assembling things, tinkering with equipment and solving puzzles. These types of people possess the right frame of mind and they also have the patience to address ever emerging complex problems.

6) Do some simple calculations

When you do some simple calculations, you can come to know how your technical support team is performing. First of all, you need to check how many cases your support team is handling every week. Then, you also have to analyze how many cases are being handled by other departments and how many of them are being solved completely. This data can be used to analyze the existing performance of your technical support team in a realistic manner.

7) Set up different types of goals

When you have the existing performance data on hand, you can understand where you are heading and rebuilding process can be done by setting short, medium and long-term goals. The short term goals are for rebuilding your technical support team and they also allow you to choose the right tools that are being used to accomplish this rebuilding process. Short goals also allow you to put them in place to make the rebuilding process highly effective. Medium term goals can be set up to handle all calls within the team before the customers become really annoyed. Long term goals are primarily meant for reducing support costs. These goals can be materialized by lowering costs per product line, customer attribute, and product launch. This systematic three-step method of approach is going to deliver excellent results.

Many companies follow a wrong philosophy of maintaining cold vibes with customers. Quite often, they end up making a lot of mistakes. You cannot build a good technical support team by undermining the importance of customer requirements. You must try to develop a culture within the team that focuses on customer satisfaction and in such a situation, your customers will start noticing and appreciating it with immense satisfaction. The bottom line is that if you follow these 7 strategies, you can build a powerful technical support team in an uncomplicated manner.

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The Fine Art of Selling Services

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Managing a Field Service Organization (FSO) as a profit center has become a strategic imperative for many companies.  In order to carry out this mission, field service executives must continually focus on top-line revenue growth.  Yet, research indicates that nearly three-quarters of FSOs are struggling to achieve this objective. My personal observation is that they haven’t mastered the fine art of service sales and marketing.  At issue, field service executives often confuse marketing with selling, and selling with marketing.   While there is some overlap, the two functions are significantly different.

Marketing is Not Selling

Marketing is a set of processes, activities, and/or instructions a company utilizes to create value and customer demand for the products and services it offers.  Basically, this is about turning a need into a want through promotional activities.  According to Jon Janstch, of Duct Tape Marketing fame, marketing is getting someone who has a need to know, like and trust you.

In contrast, selling involves the fine art of persuasion.  It requires that the salesperson utilize a planned, personalized communication to influence a customer’s purchase decision.  Not only must a salesperson uncover a customer’s needs and wants, they must persuade the customer as to the merits of buying their product or service.

Telling is Not Selling

A common sales strategy that FSOs utilize is to involve field service technicians and managers in the sales process. The conventional wisdom is that since these people deal with customers every day, they are perceived as individuals the customer can trust for advice. As a result, they are in the best position to advise the customer on additional products and services they may need to purchase from the company.

This strategy is based on the premise that the field service technician/manager functions as a brand ambassador. Their focus is on building a relationship by solving problems, uncovering new opportunities, and telling the customer how their company can help.  This seems more like marketing than selling.  Indeed, the problem with this approach is that it often results in free consulting. In essence, the customers may not buy but instead rely on information their brand ambassador shared with them and seek competitive bids, or simply choose to do nothing at all.  It also assumes that that service salesperson can spot opportunities and effectively open up a sales dialogue with their customer.

A Structured Sales Process

Field-service leaders can avoid free consulting, increase their prospects, and improve their team’s sales closing rate by implementing a structured sales process and training their service-sales people on this process.  The sales process consists of three basic steps:

  1. Relationship Building: There are two critical aspects here. The first is bonding and rapport. This is how a salesperson gets a customer to know, like, and trust them.   A sale cannot be made without bonding and rapport.   The second aspect is known as an upfront agreement. This requires mutual consent between the salesperson and customer that each is open and willing to participate in a sales conversation. It also requires that when asked about moving to the next stage of the sales process, the prospect can provide a yes or no answer.  Upfront agreements help salespeople know where they are in a sales process with a customer and keep the sales process from stalling or falling apart.
  1. Qualifying: Sales processes may break down if the salesperson hasn’t done a good job of qualifying the prospect.  Qualification is more than just determining if the client has a need and budget.  It’s really about understanding their pain (i.e. problems).  The truth is that people don’t buy just because they like something; they buy to alleviate a pain they are currently experiencing or will experience if they don’t own the product or service. The greater the pain, the more likely they will buy.  It’s the job of the salesperson to uncover this pain.  Once done, the salesperson can discuss the budget that is required to resolve this pain.  In other words, the “pain conversation” puts the budget discussion into context for the customer.  Of course, understanding how decisions are made within customers’ organizations is also part of the qualifying process.
  1. Closing:  The closing step involves two parts, fulfillment and post sell.  Once you understand the customer’s pain, budget, and decision process then you can have a conversation about how your service will solve their pain, what the investment will be, and what it will be like to work with you after they accept your proposal.  That’s basically what fulfillment is about.  Post sell means confirming they are happy with the decision they’ve made.

Iterative Process

It is important to understand that the sale process may involve multiple, iterative conversations. This is because very few products and services can be sold in the first conversation.  The failure of the salesperson to effectively address one step of the process may impact their ability to address the next stage and thus jeopardize the sale.   If this happens, the salesperson must go back and repeat the sales process from where it failed.  This may mean they have to review or revisit previous steps with the customer to get the sale back on track.   It’s also important that understand that “speed kills” when it comes to the sales process. In other words, rush the sales process and you may lose a customer.

Think about your last conversation with a salesperson.  If you purchased from them, chances are they effectively addressed every stage in the sales process.  If not, it was probably because the sales process broke down.  Also, evaluate your own company’s selling process and closing rate.  Does your company follow a structured sales process or are service salespeople simply winging it?   If you follow a process like the one outlined here, do you know which steps are working well and which require improvement? If you’d like to learn more, schedule your free service sales strategy session today.

Field Service Staffing — The Variable Workforce and FMS

Field Service -- FMS

The unemployment rate, outsourcing, part time employees, changes in the workforce; these are all topics that have been in the news for several years. Is it just that there are less jobs or fewer full time positions? Is the economy really in bad shape? Or is there a staffing trend that we need to examine.  Full time employment means a guarantee of wages, benefits, and paying the employee even when there is a lull in the business.  For companies in the Field Service Industry there may be peaks and valleys in workflow and need for field service personnel. And while so many functions can be performed on a remote basis, sometimes someone just has to be there.

Enter the Variable Workforce, offering highly skilled, well trained, specialized Field Service Engineers who are available on an as needed or project basis. These individuals are normally highly motivated as they essentially run their own small business and best of all; they work this way by choice.

Now we have people to hire.  How do we manage that? Freelance Management Systems (FMS) offer online cloud based systems allowing companies looking for qualified workers, including Field Service Engineers, to find them quickly and easily.  FMS provides companies with the opportunity to achieve significant cost savings over time and the ability to accelerate strategic or organic expansion resulting in new clients, new service offerings, and/or new sales territories.

So what is the actual experience of companies using a Variable Workforce and FMS platforms? Have they been able to achieve these benefits or is it just hype?

A survey seemed to me to be the best way to get answers. So we designed an online survey for the Field Service Industry to ask professionals who handle field service staffing or make decisions about field service staffing requirements, for companies with field service functions for technology equipment they sell and/or service.

We wanted to examine the benefits of Variable Workforce models, particularly FMS. In doing so, we could assess concerns regarding using FMS, the motivators for using FMS and the benefits that have been seen by using it.

Over 200 Third Party Maintainers (TPM)/ Independent Service Organizations (ISO), Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM), Value Added Resellers, Systems Integrators, and Self-Maintainers participated.  The companies range in size from over $500 million in annual revenue to less than $50 million varying in size from those who manage less than 100 field service events per month up to more than 1000. These field service events included emergencies, installations, inspections, and preventative maintenance or calibration. And the types of technology supported included Information Technology, Network Connectivity, Printers, Point of Sale, Telecommunications, and more. The companies also varied on how a Field Service Business is run – as a cost center, profit center, strategic line of business, or revenue contribution center.

Over three-fourths (77%) were currently using some type of Variable Workforce Model.  The survey respondents were two-thirds TPM/ISOs or OEMs.

Most participants (81%) use the Variable Workforce for project based work.

We found that the top three reasons that companies made the move to a Variable Workforce were:

  • The ability to be agile and scale the workforce based on customer demands.
  • Over half agreed that “We didn’t have enough work in selected geographies to justify hiring a fulltime Field Service Engineer.”
  • Almost all said that controlling labor costs was a significant motivator.

One of the most important results was that the Variable Workforce users support more types of technology on average than non-users.  That is, those companies who use Variable Workforce are able to support 4 types of technology versus only 1.8 types of technology for non-users.

Nearly two-thirds of those utilizing the Variable Workforce use a Freelance Management System (FMS) to manage the staffing.  Of these FMS users, almost all have been using it for at least one year and 60% for three years or more — another sign that something must be working.

FMS users tend to support more types of technology as well. On average, companies who use FMS support 4.3 types of technology versus only 2.8 types for non-users.

Ultimately the most compelling reason to make the switch was that the FMS platform is agile, giving companies the ability to scale up quickly to meet seasonal, cyclical and short term demands. In fact, 71% of users found this to be the case.  FMS adopters have been able to gain more business and have been able to increase their field service work. They have experienced such success that 76% of them reported an increased demand for FMS just in this past year, most by at least 15%.

The survey results certainly indicate that usage of Freelance Management Systems for the Variable Workforce in Field Service will continue to increase over the next year as well.

Stay tuned for future posts where I will discuss what our survey revealed about the Key Performance Indicators and how use of Variable Workforce and specifically FMS impacts the Field Service Industry.