Why The Customer Experience Should Be At The Heart Of Marketing and Selling Services

Consumers now reside in a digital world where instant gratification is the new currency. The rise of Spotify, Netflix, Amazon Prime Now and Uber ensures they can avoid any pain points and get what they want and when they want it in a new on demand economy.

However, the ‘we want it now’ consumer continues to evolve and now expects a personalized experience too. If online services know what their favorite movies, TV shows and music they like, surely retailers will know what they like too.

Tech savvy users are looking for businesses to lead the way with new technology that continues to treat them as unique individuals. A generic marketing e-mail with their name pasted at the top in a different font is no longer going to cut it.

The evolution of the customer experience has even given birth to the phrase Martech which is the blending of marketing and technology. Industries across multiple industries are all facing the same problem as the digital transformation of everything gathers pace.

Keeping up with all the latest trends across the digital landscape is no longer an option it should be compulsory for anyone serious about the future of their business. The good news is that you are not alone and the fact that 76% of field service providers were reportedly struggling to achieve revenue growth should be the only wake-up call that you need to take this seriously.

However, there are numerous field service winners here too. For example, in 2017 there are many organizations providing seamless digital experiences and delivering faster resolution times. It is often said that technology works best when it brings together and here is a selection of great examples.

The Value of Improving the Customer Journey

Personalization is much more than just another industry buzzword but a reaction to the demand driven by consumers. Providing the right experience at the right time is an art that many are still learning to master. But, the ability to increase 15% percent of revenue and lower the cost of serving customers by 20% is a language that every member of the boardroom will understand.

Do Not Underestimate the Importance of Customer Service

According to Microsoft, an incredible 97% of consumers advised customer service is critical to their choice or loyalty to a brand. But it’s also crucial to remember how this is across self-service, social, phone, mobile and a plethora of devices.

The divide between offline and online is disappearing. No matter what device we have at hand, wherever we are located and if we are using our keyboard, touchscreen or even voice, the experience should be the same.

Poor Customer Service Will Be Punished

It is well understood that it costs businesses more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. Savvy consumers will happily shop around for the best deal. Ironically many companies seem to treat their current clients with contempt arrogantly and assume they will stay with them regardless.

The reality here in 2017 is that 64% of consumers have switched providers in at least one industry due to poor customer service according to Accenture. We no longer suffer fools gladly, and a lack of patience or frustration will ensure most consumers will switch providers after only one negative experience.

In this digital age, loyalty must now be earned rather than taken for granted. The only question that remains is what are you doing about it?

Time Is Money

An Amazon Prime account makes one-click ordering and delivery within 2 hours a reality. Maybe, we shouldn’t be too surprised how our time is becoming increasingly valuable. Forrester recently advised that 73% of consumers will happily admit that their time is the most important factor where businesses need to focus.

Pain points such as long-winded automated phone menus, cumbersome online chats or waiting around between 9 am and 6 pm for somebody to call you will no longer be tolerated. Organizations need to manage the expectations of their customers and remove friction to offer a truly simplified service in a timely manner.

Make Way for The Internet of Things (IoT)

With 50 Billion internet-connected devices by 2020, the time to take IoT seriously is right now. Consumers do not care about your product roadmaps; they now expect the same experience with any of their devices.

There is already a long line of competitors offering similar services. Failing to keep up will leave your brand looking like a tired Sears or J. C. Penney store that failed to keep up with the speed of hyper change across the digital landscape.

OVERALL

Advances in machine learning, deep learning, and artificial intelligence have already made real-time personalization a reality. A dramatic rise in expectation levels means that users of all ages now demand the same experiences across multiple platforms.

Mainstream audiences are looking for businesses to lead the way and provide the wow factor through technology based solutions. However, sometimes, they just want greater digital interaction and to be treated as a unique individual from a fellow human being.

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What to Expect from AI in the Field Service Industry for the Next Decade

Sarah Jacobs is an experienced writer who loves creating articles that can benefit others. She has worked as a freelance writer in the past making informative articles and fascinating stories. She has extensive knowledge in a variety of fields such as technology, business, finance, marketing, personal development, and more. Find out more about her company here: http://www.lea-p.com/

When we hear about AI, which stands for Artificial Intelligence, we often remember Hollywood’s definition of it. Who could ever forget the doomsday prophecies of the Terminator series? While movies might picture AI as humanity’s greatest enemy, the reality is far from it. AI’s history can be traced back to the time of the Greeks and their myths about the golden robots of Hephaestus and Pygmalion’s Galatea. The basis of AI is on the assumption that human thought can be mechanized. This even dates back to the ancient civilizations like China and Egypt where craftsmen built automatons which the people believed to contain real minds. It was not until the 50s that studies in AI had kicked off. From then, we have had AI machines that have proven their capacity to “think”. Deep Blue, from IBM had defeated Russian grandmaster Garry Kasparov in a game of chess in 1997. In 2011, Watson, also a computer, won against Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings, both champions of the famous game show “Jeopardy!” Just this year, a Chatbot named Eugene Goostman passed a Turing test.

Artificial Intelligence is greatly beneficial for the field service management industry. It is AI in action when we hear SIRI’s voice, or when we hear that automated voice that answers the phone when we call the bank. While there is a lot of discussion about the eventuality of human workers being replaced by robots and computers, no one can argue the fact the AI has improved efficiency and worker’s skills. Companies now have AI and virtual assistants to communicate and interact with customers. With the technology in place, there is plenty of room for development for the use of AI in the future.

New Skills

When a business adopts AI technology, the people working in the company can sometimes be threatened by it. It is true that there are risks of being replaced by machines, but what we sometimes do not realize is that having the technology is actually going to make us more effective. Much like how the computers replaced the typewriters, we can gain new skills and adapt to the use of the new technology. Though there are many forecasts of how AI can be a threat to job security, this can be a good avenue to improve oneself, and explore what other things a person can be good at, aside from his job.

Improved Searches and Scheduling

It didn’t take two generations to notice the big leap we had on searches. Today, service technicians use software in order to search for customer information. Building on this, Chatbots can be useful in pulling up information and history in a conversation-based interface. Think of SIRI but on a business scale. Using the same concept, Chatbots can improve scheduling. What we have right now is an annoying series of voice prompted menus. It is confusing and time-consuming. It would be good to develop a bot which you just need to chat with, and it will do your scheduling for you, and it would be even better if it can do predictive scheduling, where it can monitor and predict your schedule, and all you would need is to confirm it, and it’s done for you. That way, it will be hard to miss your biannual dental appointment, or your annual check-up.

Predictive Maintenance to a Whole New Level

In the situation where technicians have to go on site to check the status of machinery and equipment, predictive maintenance is a great help. AI can do the job of making sure that equipment and machines are working at an optimal operating point. And should there be a need for maintenance, it can schedule for a worker to provide the work needed. This is a great help to technicians, as they would not be needing to check on the equipment all the time, and they will be able to work on whatever else they need to do.

While Artificial Intelligence has a promising future, there is still a lot that needs to be developed for it to be fully integrated into any system. Data is in abundance, and AI now has a lot of information to work on that can improve its capacity to think better. However, this overload of information is not enough for AI to be useful. There is a need to interpret the information and translate it into knowledge that can then be put to use, much like how our brains work. We get information and our brains process that information into knowledge and from what we know, we do. This is the key to unlocking the potential of AI, and once we find out how to do exactly that, then there would be no stopping the potential on the use of Artificial Intelligence in our lives.

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The Hero’s Journey: Xerox’s Field Service Force Is Armed With Augmented Reality

This article first appeared in the April 17, 2017 edition of Field Technologies Online.

It’s not hard to imagine that in today’s market, your customer’s success is dependent on the speed and quality of the service provided by your company. This is the situation in the print market which is highly competitive. Many printers utilize similar state-of-the-art equipment and systems in their establishments and printing has become a commodity business. In a commodity market, suppliers compete based on time and cost. If a printer cannot turn a print job around quickly, say within 20 to 30 minutes, the customer will seek an alternative option.  So, it probably comes as no surprise that printers are highly dependent on their equipment suppliers to ensure that the equipment, so critical to operations, is operating properly and at full capacity during their typical working hours (e.g., three shifts/24 hours per day). Extended periods of downtime, output errors, and printing glitches (e.g., smudges, smears, color mismatches) are unacceptable.

Ensuring high levels of machine uptime and quality print output places increased pressures on manufacturers for service and support. Regardless of whether they are forced to deal with a hardware issue or an application error, customers demand rapid response and fast resolution. If service is not provided in a reasonable time frame, manufacturers run the risk of losing customers as well as click-through revenue.  As digital printing technology becomes more complex and sophisticated (think expanded features and functionality), customers need more support and manufacturers find that they must hire more field service technicians to keep up with increased service demand.

Customer Demands Become A Growing Concern

Xerox Israel found itself in a similar situation during the second half of 2016.  Increasing headcount was not an option because it would have had an adverse impact on operating margin. Maintaining the status quo was also not possible. With a 77 percent market share, Xerox’s Israel-based service management team understood that it had to find an innovative and creative solution to overcome this challenge. Otherwise, they would run the risk of losing market share. That’s when Xerox’s Customer Service Manager, Eyal Mantzur, became aware of Fieldbit Hero, an Augmented Reality (AR) software platform. The Fieldbit solution is comprised of smart glasses and software that enables collaboration of live streaming and recording of video, audio, images, and text.

Prior to implementing Fieldbit, Xerox’s customers would call the Xerox Welcome Center and notify them of their problem. The Welcome Center would dispatch a Field Engineer (FE) who would call back the customer and attempt to resolve the problem by telephone. Usually, the callback was made because the FE was at another customer’s site.  Often, the FE needed to travel to the new customer site to see the problem to diagnose and resolve it.  The net impact was that customers had to wait hours for an FE to arrive onsite to resolve hardware faults and application issues. This resulted in unhappy customers and, ultimately, lost business.  FEs were also not as productive as they could be while onsite because they were often multi-tasking on the telephone with other customers who required help.  A stressful situation for all parties involved!

New Realities, New Possibilities, Better Results

Upon learning of the Fieldbit solution, Mantzur and his team realized they needed to redefine their support paradigm to provide better service to customers and achieve better results.  They placed an experienced technician in the Welcome Center who was responsible to use Fieldbit Hero. He provided technical support to both customers and FEs, who would also have access to the application. By using this solution, the expert support specialist and FEs could observe the problem that the customer (i.e., machine operator) was experiencing and provide instructions, in real-time, in the form of AR content (e.g., video, images, text, etc.) on how to resolve the problem. If they could not resolve the problem remotely then they could provide the customer with a workaround until the FE could arrive on-site.  More importantly, they could provide the FE with the knowledge and resources (e.g., parts, repair instructions, etc.) needed to resolve the issue on the first visit to the customer site.

The Xerox team realized exceptional results in several areas of their service operation after implementing the Fieldbit.

  • Xerox improved remote resolution rates by 76 percent within four months of implementing Fieldbit
  • Xerox experienced a 67 percent improvement in First Time Fix (FTF) rates
  • FE utilization increased by almost 20 percent while the total elapsed time to resolve a service request (e.g., telephone time, travel time, onsite repair time, etc.) was reduced by two hours

Most of Xerox’s FEs are now able to handle at least one additional service event per day. These performance gains result in real cost savings for Xerox because the service team does not have to hire more staff to support customer demand and travel costs are reduced.

While these internal performance gains are impressive, the impact on customer satisfaction is even greater.  “The customer feels very happy and empowered when we help him solve the problem [using Fieldbit],” boasts Mantzur.  “He feels he is the service hero. The quality of interaction between customers and FEs as well as remote technical support personnel is also much better because everyone can see and talk about the same thing.  There’s no guessing anymore. With Fieldbit, customer satisfaction at Xerox improved significantly, to 95 percent, per Xerox’s most recent customer satisfaction research.  Furthermore, customers experience shorter periods of downtime and receive more accurate advice or recommendations on how to improve both machine uptime and the quality of print output.

Ensuring AR Buy-In 

Like many service executives, Eyal Mantzur was initially uncertain about what AR could do for his company.  He first learned about it from referral by  a colleague.  However, Mantzur notes that AR is a difficult concept to describe verbally. It is something that you need to see to understand. Mantzur had many pressing questions when he first heard about Fieldbit… Would it work, would customers be receptive, would the field service organization embrace it?”   These fears were quickly dismissed after seeing the product in action.  Things started to connect when for Mantzur when he realized Fieldbit could help his team see what the customer is talking about and then use AR content in the form of video, text, and images to show the customer and/or FE exactly what to do to resolve the problem.

The management team at Xerox clearly understood the value of AR. This was not necessarily the point of view of the field service organization.  Some of the FEs did not understand the power of the tool. Some were afraid of being replaced or marginalized by the tool. Mantzur overcame this challenge by showing his FEs how Fieldbit enabled them work smarter rather than harder. In doing so, he offered them a trade-off they could embrace – either continue to be stressed out by complaining customers, or enjoy a better quality of work and more satisfied customers by using Fieldbit. Once the FEs started using Fieldbit “they fell in love with it ” claims Mantzur.

Working Smarter — Not Harder — Is Better for Everyone

In summary, Fieldbit is fast becoming an integral part of Xerox Israel’s service and support strategy. The goal is for Xerox Technical Support Specialists to reside at the Welcome Center and provide first-level support to customers.  The number of specialists will also increase.  By utilizing Fieldbit, everyone from the specialist to the FE to the customer can work smarter, and FEs will no longer operate purely in demand mode. Instead, they will have more time to perform periodic/scheduled maintenance, which in turn will improve machine performance and print quality output.  “Instead of maintenance leading us, we will be able to lead maintenance”, claims Mantzur. “It will also allow the customers to be more productive during their normal business hours. They can do a better job at planning their workload. Our FEs will also be under less stress and experience greater productivity”.

In a highly competitive market like printing, manufacturers must constantly be on the lookout for ways to gain a competitive advantage.  The Xerox service organization is on the front line when it comes to ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty.  Their FEs play a critical role in maintaining high levels of uptime and quality for their customers.  Mantzur’s advice for any service executive skeptical about using Fieldbit is to see a demo and experience it firsthand. “Most people won’t understand the power of Fieldbit until they see how the technology performs,” he notes.  Even the customer will not appreciate its value until they use it for the first time; then they will demand it all the time.”  It is for this reason that Mantzur believes Fieldbit provides Xerox with a competitive advantage and a source of differentiation in the market.

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How to Prevent Ongoing Performance Issues

Our Guest Blogger this week is Jan van Veen. He helps technology and manufacturing companies increase momentum for a continuous and quicker adaption to change. Adaptability is a key success factor for sustainable success in an increasingly complex world with rapid changes.  Download his research report “Adapt or Die – How to increase momentum for sustainable success”

Is your company experiencing continuous performance issues? Are your co-workers fixing these problems, adequately and rapidly? Many manufacturing companies often suffer with ongoing performance issues.  Their most common intervention is to do more of the same, in the hope that this will do the trick. In a complex world that is rapidly evolving, it is essential to continuously adapt and drive performance. But is this easier said than done?

Take a regional leadership team for example, that once struggled with reaching their expected growth. As the pressure for them increased, their main intervention was to create a list of potential sales opportunities within their respective countries; in order to meet their objectives, they would only have needed to gain a small portion of these leads. Unsurprisingly however, this  didn’t work out.

Why get Stuck?

As opposed to just a ‘quick-fix’, many performance issues require a more thought-out intervention. This should begin with a thorough root cause analysis, involving different stakeholders bringing in their individual perspectives. Several teams or departments will often need to collaborate, to implement the adequate solution.

In practice, this appears to be difficult for individuals and teams whilst they are in the so-called ‘defensive survival mode’ or in the fixed mindset (as opposed to Carol Dweck’s famous ‘Growth Mindset’). The common “planning & control” management approach is what pushes co-workers into this defensive survival mode. They focus on short-term targets and punish set-backs. They fail to give themselves time to sit back, discover the root cause, and seek alternatives.

Consequently, people in the defensive survival mode will focus on their survival by reducing risk, justifying issues, identifying external circumstances, blaming others for causing problems, and so on. This impacts performance and creates performance issues throughout the company.

The Alternative

Let’s go back to the leadership team from our last example. How different would it have been if they had taken the time to find out why their business was failing to grow? What if they had involved other stakeholders and experts, or interviewed a couple of (potential) clients? The team could have discovered that their company did not have the right brand or proposition for this specific region. They could have solved the performance issue from first principle, at the root cause. This would have resulted in quicker, and more sustainable solutions.

The Solution for ongoing performance issues

To resolve the matter, employees at every level should be confident and eager to adapt, collaborate, try, rethink, question, and most importantly: act! With modern “sense & respond” management practices you can increase the momentum to continuously adapt and drive change. There are a few practical things you could do, to increase momentum in your team:

  • Let them take the time to analyze the root causes.
  • Schedule meetings with team members to discuss these root causes.
  • Engage in strategic dialogue across all levels, to discuss and adjust priorities.
  • When objectives are not met, initiate a forward-looking approach; with a constructive review and discussion, that will lunge your team forward.
  • Introduce shared objectives as a basis for the review, as well as rewards for your team members; this will get them all in the ‘same boat’, and drive collaboration.

Hold them individually accountable, by agreeing on separate objectives that can all contribute towards the overall goal.

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Field Service Management

Current State and Future Outlook

This Q & A first appeared on Mobile Reach as part of their Field Service Management Expert Interview Series. 

In what ways do you think field service management is changing? What are the future areas of growth?
Field service is becoming a technology-intensive business function. Technology enables field service organizations to build “Uber” like service offerings which are always available on-demand and in real-time. The future growth will come from adopting disruptive technologies like mobile, augmented reality, GPS, IoT, etc., to make this happen.

Speaking of IoT, what role do you see it playing in field service management?
I see the Internet of Things playing a very important role in field service management. It provides field service organizations and individual field service engineers with real-time visibility into status, health, and the condition of equipment they must support within their installed base. With this knowledge, field service organizations can be more effective at solving issues remotely, and field service engineers can be certain to have the right skills and resources (e.g., spare parts) with them when they arrive onsite to resolve an issue.

How are mobile technologies changing the way FSM organizations interact with their customers?
Mobile technologies provide field technicians with instant access to information about equipment history, spare parts availability, and technical knowledge. This helps them be more effective in doing their job for customers. In addition, they can use the technology to receive real-time updates and alerts about customers’ equipment. Furthermore, field technicians can utilize mobile technology to capture business intelligence about their customers that can then be utilized to upsell and cross sell additional services.

You mention upsell and cross sell. How can field service organizations use mobile technologies to drive revenue and competitive advantage?
Field service organizations can use mobile technologies to capture information about their customers’ machine population. For example, they can record data about what equipment they own, how long they’ve owned it, whether it is under a service contract, when the service contract expires, and their level of satisfaction with their current service provider. This information provides market intelligence that can be used to upsell and cross sell additional products and services. Companies can also drive revenue and competitive advantage by using mobile technology to capture customer satisfaction data and other relevant market research that would help improve performance and lead to the development of innovative products and services. Organizations should coach and train field technicians on how to sell and establish sales oriented KPIs for the organization.

How is the broader economy affecting field service management? How do you see this changing over time?
The current economy has a very positive impact on field service management. In an “up” economy, such as the one we are currently in, customers usually invest heavily in new equipment which means more service in the form of installations and service contracts. They are also more likely to spend more on services by purchasing premium service offerings that they may have not purchase in a down economy. I see the economy and the field service industry remaining strong for the next several years. However, even a down economy can have a positive impact on field service. Investors view field service as a defensible business in the sense that it is not hurt by cyclical economic trends in the way that industries like automotive or luxury goods are. Customers still need field service even when the economy is performing poorly. In fact, they are likely to increase their dependence on field service to extend the life of the equipment they currently own instead of buying new products.

What is role of the Chief Service Officer and how will this position evolve going forward?
The role of the Chief Service Officer is to drive customer satisfaction by managing service delivery against KPIs. In addition, their role is to serve as an internal advocate/champion within their organization for service. This means they work toward obtaining investments and resources when needed to improve customer satisfaction and service delivery performance. The role is evolving in the sense that CSOs are being tasked with responsibility for managing field service as a profit center as well as taking a leadership role in developing business strategy and driving innovation within their organizations.

What are the top three KPIs that you recommend FSM organizations focus on now?
My top three KPIs are First Time Fix (FTFR), Mean Time To Repair (MTTR), and customer satisfaction (CSAT). In the future, as field service generates greater value for companies, the KPIs are more likely to focus on financial metrics and customer outcomes such as gross margin, uptime availability, contract attachment, and renewal rates.

How can FSM organizations integrate big data without becoming bogged down with information overload?
They should consider the problems they are trying to solve before trying to find a big data solution. Once they have a clear understanding of the problem, they can determine if a large data set is required to solve it and, more importantly, identify what types of big data analytics are required. Does the problem require descriptive, diagnostics, predictive, or prescriptive/cognitive analytics? Lastly, they must understand that from a data solution perspective these analytics build upon each other. In other words, you can’t run until you learn how to walk. Trying to implement a prescriptive/cognitive big data analytics solution is pointless unless you have effectively addressed problems that can be solved through descriptive, diagnostic, and predictive analytics.

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Customer Service Success or Failure

customer service

Any company wishing to succeed must strive to provide great customer service.  With today’s culture demanding instant gratification, customers do not hesitate to take to social media to inform everyone of a company’s failure. So how does an organization arm itself not only to provide great service but to know what to do if they fail?  Here are some articles which discuss both success tactics and also give examples of failures and how to avoid them.

10 Reasons Organizations Fail To Deliver Great Customer Service
By Shep Hyken

Customer success or failure starts from company leadership.  This includes the company’s vision of how to provide great service, the training process including onboarding and ongoing training, and how employees are treated. In addition this article discusses the importance of hiring the right personnel to carry out the mission of great customer service and then celebrating their successes.

How Service Companies Can Earn Customer Trust and Keep It
By Leonard L. Berry

In this article Leonard Berry focuses on the idea of customer confidence which can be lost through poor customer service. Berry specifically cites the recent United Airline customer service incident which clearly failed on all accounts. He goes on to discuss ways to gain and to keep trust and also how to recover  that trust when it may be lost. He stresses the idea of being aware of and meeting a customer’s “perceived contract” and not just the actual contract.

NIGHTMARE: 7 Customer Service Blunders That Went Viral
By Patricia Laya

Patricia Laya outlines 7 customer service failures of both worldwide and regional companies who deal directly with consumers. She outlines how the companies responded and in many cases how their response changed after these consumers took to social media to get their story out to the public. Specifically she details the case of a musician who continued to write songs and make music videos about his terrible experience long after the incident.

The Power of Prevention In Customer Service
By Len Markidan

Len Markidan’s premise is that most customer service failures do not happen just once. If you are able to recognize the issues that recur and not only fix the individual situations, but also look for and fix the root problem, then you will experience greater success. Doing so gives your customers a better experience and saves your company time and money in the long run.

Why reactive service is a thing of the past?
By Sarah Nicastro

Historically, “service” had been viewed as something provided as a reaction to a problem identified by a customer.  More recently, we have seen a move to proactive service.  This article, first published on Field Technologies Online, was posted as a guest post from Sarah Nicastro on my blog site.  In the post she specifically discusses the importance and advantage of Machine to Machine (M2M) and Internet of Things (IoT) as tools valuable to both the service provider and the customer.

First-Time Fix Rate: The DNA of Field Service
by Michael Blumberg

In this blog post, I discuss the importance of First-Time Fix Rates, (e.g., the rate at which a field service company can resolve or fix an issue on the first attempt). This important Key Performance Indicator can not only make or break the relationship with a customer but also have a tremendous impact on the company’s cost of providing the service. I also discuss ways to improve this rate.

I welcome you to join the discussion. Do you have any customer service failures or successes to share? What lessons did you or your company learn? How have you been able to make changes to give your customers a better experience?  If you are looking to evaluate your own company’s customer service capabilities or looking to find ways to improve your service, contact me and schedule a free 30 minute consultation.

Should Technicians Sell to Your Customers?

I attended a very interesting session at WBR’s Field Service USA 2017 Conference a few weeks ago.  It was billed as an “Oxford Style Debate: Should Technicians Sell to Your Customers?”  The debate about whether technicians should sell has been around for decades.  I know that has been a hot topic of discussion since I’ve been in the industry and I started working as a consultant in 1985.   While the topic has been discussed in countless articles and conference presentations, this was the first time I’ve heard it presented as an open debate.  I found it refreshing because it gave conference participants the opportunity to ask questions and challenge conventional wisdom which helps in formulating one’s position on a subject.

Arguing for technicians as sales people were Tom Vorin, VP of Customer Services, ISCO International and Ron Zielinski, VP, Global Customer Service Coherent.    Arguing against Technicians as salespeople were Andrew Kovach, VP US Lifecycle Services, ABB and Chris Westlake, VP & GM of Services & Electrical Businesses, RK.  Each side did an excellent job in presenting their case.

The argument that Vorin and Zielinski presented was that companies who have technicians sell create additional value not only for their company but for their customers.  In other words, their customers appreciate the fact that their technicians can identify new products and services that help improve their situation and/or business.  Since they already view their technicians as trusted advisors, customers are more likely to listen to technicians’ suggestions than if a sales person approached them directly about buying more products or services.  Basically, technicians are perceived to be objective when advising customers of their options and thus carry an air of credibility around themselves.

Kovach and Westlake’s argument against technicians as sales people centered around three issues. First, technicians are not comfortable in a sales role. If they like to sell, then they would have pursed a career as a sale person.  Second, putting technicians in a sales role can hurt the brand and jeopardize the level of trust that already exists.  After all, customers are not stupid and will quickly catch-on that they are being sold too.  Third, and most importantly, technicians must stay focused on their job of solving problems and keeping customers happy.   Anything else is a distraction and disruptive to the customer relationship.

Of course, each side had an opportunity for rebuttal and the audience had a chance to express their opinion and vote on which position/argument they favored most. The vote occurred before and after the debate.   Although a larger percentage of the audience were in favor of technicians selling before the debate occurred, Kovach and Westlake changed several people’s opinions about whether technicians should sell.  Ironically, after the debate Kovach and Westlake revealed it was staged, that they were asked by the conference organizers to take the against position, and that they do involve their technicians in the sales process.  Basically, they have them identify opportunities and refer them to the sales force.  In describing the sales role of technicians, Vorin and Zielinksi also implied that their technicians work in a similar capacity.    Both sides agreed that the “debate” was all in fun and it provided a fantastic opportunity to present ideas on the best way to involve technicians in the sales process.

In case you are wondering, I agree that technicians should not be selling to customers.   However, neither side of the debate was really arguing that technicians should sell.  They were basically suggesting that technicians can play a role in the sales process by uncovering customer pain points, identifying solutions, and referring business opportunities to the sales force.    Quite frankly, unless, a technician has a sales quota, can overcome objections, and close the sale they are not actually sales people.  I also think that if their compensation is not based in part on some form of sales incentive or commission for closing business then they will never be fully committed to sales.

However, I would not argue for placing technicians in a direct sales role as it could be disruptive or damaging to business.  On the other hand, any company that is passionate about growing their top line revenue, increasing customer satisfaction, and improving their market share needs to adopt a “sales” oriented approach where everyone in the company plays a role in the sales process.  That’s why I agree with the proposition that technicians should be play an important role in uncovering customer pain points, identifying solutions, and referring business opportunities to the sales force.   Bear in mind, the systems, performance metrics and processes need to be in place, and the proper training and coaching needs to be provided if they are going to realize success in this role.

I’d love to read your perspective on this subjective. Do you think technicians should sell to customers?  If yes, please share your experience in the comments section of this post.   Let me know what works and doesn’t work.  If you want some advice or suggestions on how to make it work then schedule a free consultation today.

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What’s on Service Director’s Minds

Nick Frank is a Co-Founder of Si2 Partners and this article is based on one first posted in Field Service Matters.

With customer expectations on the rise, field service organizations are constantly fighting to keep up. The service industry has shifted from a cost-centric and reactive approach to a value-centric and proactive approach. But aside from more demand from the customer, the transformation has also opened up new opportunities for service technicians, process, and technology.

Recently, I met with service and operations directors from the United Kingdom’s biggest organizations gathered at Field Service Summit. Field service leaders from manufacturing, telecommunications, and utilities met to exchange ideas and discuss opportunities and trends. Here are the most important topics they addressed.

On dealing with near-impossible expectations

Thanks to on-demand services such as Uber, customer expectations are higher than ever. Your customers want faster resolutions, more visibility into their service, and real-time communication with their technicians. But disruptions happen, and sometimes the customer wants more than you can give them at that moment. Here’s how the experts are managing customer expectations:

Set realistic expectations & don’t over promise

What do you do when the customer wants more than you can handle? Start by setting expectations. Before the service visit, know exactly what the customer wants accomplished and when. You always want to strive for a quick, first-time fix. But don’t over promise if you can’t deliver.

Let’s say a customer wants a tech to fix their washing machine the same day they call, but your techs are already booked for the day. Since it’s not an emergency situation, let the customer know they’ll have to wait, and schedule them for a different time slot. They might be upset that you can’t help them as soon as they’d like, but they’ll be more upset if you’re unable to deliver on a promise.

Let the customer set their own (controlled) expectations

Better yet, give your customer a range of options so they can set their own expectations. Most field service directors at the summit found that their customers want to be partners during the service process. Involve customers by allowing them to set their own expectations for the service visit. Just make sure to do so within in a controlled environment.

For instance, give them open time slots to choose from before they decide on their own. And if they want a higher level of service that will take more time and labor, let them pay more for it. This way you’re giving the customer more control throughout the process, but maintain manageable expectations.

On developing service technicians

Most of the experts at Field Service Summit agreed that the people side of the service delivery is crucial. In other words, your techs, along with their attitudes and capabilities, determine the successful delivery of solutions for your customers. Think about it. Your techs make up most of your company’s interactions with your customers. As the face of your organization, it’s important that the tech makes a good impression. Here’s what the experts advised for developing technicians:

Help your techs become brand ambassadors

It’s crucial for technicians to have the right technical skills, but attitude and image are just as important. Coach your techs on how to represent the brand and company values during their service visit. They should be courteous, engaged, and dressed appropriately. Your customers should feel confident in their tech’s ability to solve their problems and think of them as trusted advisors.

Make customer feedback part of the service process

The best way to learn how your techs are performing is by asking the customers. Consider making customer feedback part of the field service process. Send your customers a survey immediately after the service visit so they can respond with the visit fresh in mind.

If the feedback is positive, send it directly back to the tech. In addition to learning what he or she did right, the tech will also feel good to know they had a positive impact on their customers. If the tech gets a negative review, have a manager deliver feedback. Set a meeting to discuss their performance and talk about ways they can improve for next time.

On the importance of service value over price

As products are commoditized, quality service and positive customer experiences become main competitive differentiators. Field service directors at the summit noticed that customers today are less competent technically, and care more about the outcome. Being said, it’s important to constantly communicate the value of your service, especially if you have not been as visible to the customer. Make sure they know what’s been happening in the background, and throughout the service process.  Here’s what the experts advised:

Demonstrate value with proof

As your company grows, be sure to document a service portfolio. Get your customer support team on board with your company’s value propositions and demonstrate them. Work with your customers to build case studies (with numbers) to use as proof points for potential customers.

Be a business partner

Just as customers should see techs as trusted advisors, they should see your company as a partner invested in their success. Customers are looking for more than just a fix — they want solutions. And they want advice on their assets in case the problem arises again. Let them know you’re always there for them, even when they’re not due for a service visit.

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Driving Revenue Growth without Losing Sight of the Customers

CUSTOMER SATISFACTION

Several months ago, Derek Korte, the editor of Field Service Digital solicited my opinion for article titled “Expert Roundtable: Never Lose Sight of Customer Satisfaction”.    The basic question that Derek asked was “How do service leaders ensure the important work involved in managing a service business get done while still keeping the needs of customers involved?”  After all, Derek pointed out, Field Service leaders have a lot on their plate. They must continuously balance the need to improve the quality, productivity and efficiency of service operations with the strategic objective to drive revenue and growth; all while never losing sight of keeping customers happy.

This dilemma is a challenge facing all businesses not just Field Service.  When it comes to practical advice, Peter Drucker said it best, “the goal of any business is to get and keep customers.”  This quote provides a good lesson for Field Service leaders.  Driving revenue and growth, and maintaining customer satisfaction is not an either-or proposition.  They are one in the same.

To achieve superior outcomes in these two areas, Field Service leaders must view themselves as business owners.  They must view themselves as owners of a business franchise called “service” whether they are equity owners or not.  In other words, they must adopt an “ownership” mindset.

To succeed as business owners, Field Service leaders must first have the right “seats on the bus” otherwise known as the right functions that manage their service business.  This includes functions such as service delivery operations (i.e. dispatch, field service, parts management, etc.), accounting & finance, sales & marketing and others.  Without the right functions, the business cannot perform.

Second, Field Service leaders must make sure they have the right people in those seats. This means they must find talented people to manage these functions.  The people can be groomed from within the organization or recruited from outside.  Regardless, field service leaders must develop performance standards by which personnel must adhere.  These standards should consider the characteristics, skill sets, experience and behaviors that service personnel must possess.

Third, Field Service leader must have clear outcome of where they are heading.  If they are going to drive growth, then they must have a map to help them reach their destination.  In business, another term for a map is a strategy and/or plan.  Without a clearly defined strategy or plan to follow, a business can’t go very far.

Fourth and finally, Field Service leaders need to make sure their bus (i.e., their organization) is running efficiently. That it has a clean engine, good tires, etc. They also most make sure they have a GPS or dashboard to help them monitor their performance, the direction in which they are heading, and the speed at which they are going.  The engine, tires, etc. are a metaphor for state of the art service delivery infrastructure and related technologies that make superior service possible.  The GPS and dashboard are the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and operating benchmarks that help Field Service leaders keep course on their direction.

Now it’s your turn to answer the question: “How do service leaders ensure the important work involved in managing a service business get done while still keeping the needs of customers involved?”   What have you found that works and doesn’t work? If you’d like to read about other experts’ perspectives on this topic then read Derek’s online article.

Please also feel free to schedule a free strategy session with me today if you need more insight and guidance on how to improve service operations and drive revenue and growth while maintaining a high level of customer satisfaction.

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Protecting Your Brand in the Secondary Channel

A True Case Study

This week’s blog is a guest post by Fizah Jadhavji, CEO of Vivitech Solutions, Inc. — a major player in Reverse Logistics, closeout, excess and obsolete products marketplace.

Every major OEM brand selling to big box retailers such as Walmart, Target and Costco must accept customer returns- this is a challenge that all companies in today’s marketplace face. Poor return management practices can easily eat up your bottom line as well as damage a brand’s reputation. Many OEM’s are apprehensive about liquidating returned products due to fear of channel conflict, interference with sales of new products and dilution to the brand’s reputation.  In fact, top-tier branded products that are sold within online channels deeply discounted as “new open-box” often are the result of ineffective return procedures.

When these “at-risk” and returned inventory stocks that are liquidated for 10 cents on a dollar show up on Amazon and eBay, it opens the door for the end-user to claim warranty for a product that you already liquidated! Consequently, many OEMs are left in a position where they may issue return credit on the same item twice!

How do you efficiently manage the product return cycle if you are a major brand selling thousands of products and multiple categories across the USA? How can you best handle returns without having to spend more capital just trying to control your exposure in the market?

THE MILLION DOLLAR PROBLEM
This was the million-dollar question an OEM client of Vivitech Solutions was facing in managing their returns. At issue, the OEM was offering advance return allowance to retailers, which in-turn allows the retailer to charge back a certain percentage to the OEM on every invoice to cover returns. This initially seemed like an economically feasible solution because the OEM was able to cut costs. Retailers constantly need space and by receiving advance return allowance, they have the right to dispose of unwanted returns anywhere they choose. However, the OEM soon realized their product kept popping up everywhere at extremely low prices. They were constantly competing against themselves, and they were being double-dipped on the warranty side as well.

The OEM also noticed that some products being returned that had already come through their return center once, meaning that the OEM issued a refund or exchange twice for the same unit. Their legal team did some research and found that returned products were starting to show up online as “new open box” products with prices below market value. Thus, the OEM’s warranty center started receiving phone calls from customers who were misled into buying a used product as new. The OEM’s’s first reaction was to immediately stop the bleeding – so they stop offering advance allowance and asked all their customers to start shipping the product back to the OEM’s distribution center. The OEM would audit the RMA’s to ensure accuracy, and then destroy the units – allocating additional time, labor and financial resources to ensure that returned products were being properly reported and disposed of.  The OEM quickly realized that this process was not financially feasible, and was directly cutting into their profit margin. As pressure started building for our OEM client, top management realized they needed to find a creative solution.

THE MILLION DOLLAR SOLUTION
Vivitech Solutions solved the OEM’s problem by creating an end to end solution for managing returns. Vivitech was appointed the exclusive National Return Center and authorized repair center for the OEM.  All shipments from the retailers where sent directly to this location where they were audited.   In addition, Vivitech provided  a data-driven approach which allowed for  a triage analysis of the product, costs, and market prices to achieve the highest return by refurbishment and servicing. Vivitech also remarketed  these refurbished goods in secondary channels and smaller retailers. This helped to prevent channel conflict and protected the OEM’s primary product line.

THE MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR RESULT
This solution has been in place for  three years and the OEM is very pleased with the program’s performance. The OEM was once spending six figures annually just to handle the logistics of the return process, only to end up destroying these products in landfills afterwards. They have now off-loaded the headaches of handling returns themselves and  significantly reduced overhead costs in exchange for benefiting annually from a seven-figure secondary source of revenue.

Basically, Vivitech created a secondary market and constant revenue stream for their OEM partner. In fact, the OEM’s sales team & outside reps now offer and sell Vivitechs’ “factory-serviced” products to customers as second-chance discounted products.  This case study shows how by outsourcing the reverse logistic function, a process that was once depleting profit margins,can result in a higher profit margin, recurring  revenue, and higher ROI.  Truly a win-win for all parties involved.

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