Setting Your Knowledge Free

Lessons from the Front Lines of Knowledge Management for Field Service

Thank you to Bo Wandell, VP Sales and Business Development at Infomill, Inc for this week’s guest post.

One of fastest and most cost-effective ways to improve field service KPIs is to Set Your Knowledge Free by delivering it to your service technicians’ laptops and mobile devices. Knowledge is power in field service operations – but only when your technicians have mobile access to it. Aberdeen Group found that service organizations incur an average of $1.68M each in unnecessary costs due to poor access to knowledge.[1]

Tacit vs. Explicit Corporate Knowledge

The two kinds of corporate knowledge are tacit and explicit. Tacit knowledge resides in the minds of employees, while explicit knowledge already exists in some published form, though it is probably locked up your corporate silos.

While both are highly valued by field service technicians, many organizations focus more on creating tacit knowledge, which can be an arduous and time-consuming task. In a 2015 survey[2] TSIA found that on average it takes 12 days to publish just one new article in a knowledge base. Some companies reported it’s not uncommon for the approval process to take 90 to 120 days.

A more cost effective and less risky approach for organizations to quickly improving KPIs is to focus on the delivery of explicit (existing) knowledge which has already been created and validated by internal departments.

Most corporations have large amounts of valuable explicit knowledge in the form of paper-based documents, PDFs, product and installation manuals, part lists, images, exploded diagrams, databases and more. Setting Your Knowledge Free means re-purposing this knowledge to create a current, searchable and accessible knowledge base for your field service technicians.

Explicit knowledge must be current if it’s going to be useful

So, why is Setting Your Knowledge Free so damn hard?

First and foremost, when your technical writers published the knowledge, they probably didn’t consider how a field service tech would need to access it.

Simply posting a 200-page installation manual PDF on a website is better than a sharp stick in the eye, but just barely. When a technician that shows up at hospital to service a lifesaving medical device, scrolling through a 200-page service manual on his device to find an answer to one question isn’t reasonable. What they need is a mobile application that provides an intuitive and searchable repository of all available explicit knowledge. According to Aberdeen Group, field service technicians spend an average of 14% of their time researching the information they need to do their jobs.[1]

However, it’s critical that explicit knowledge is kept current and continuously optimized. Corporate staff can try to anticipate the knowledge that service organizations will value, the technicians know best what they require to increase first-time fix rates and customer satisfaction while shortening field visits and increasing service-related profits.

There are many misleading or incorrect sources for content out there. For consistency, it is important that the knowledge your company created remains relevant and reliable.

Four lessons from the knowledge management trenches

Setting Your Knowledge Free requires a blend of people, process and technology led by a competent staff member called the Knowledge Czar. Below are four high level steps infused with a lot of lessons from the knowledge management trenches.

1.     Discovery – breaking into departmental silos

Establish team to the define the KPIs you’ll use to measure success. At the same time, identify and gather the sources of explicit knowledge available inside your corporate departments regardless of format. Otherwise you run the risk of your knowledge management project being delayed and the Knowledge Czar becoming frustrated.

2.     Convert – Mobilizing explicit knowledge

Convert explicit knowledge into XML or another industry standard format suitable for delivery to multiple types of mobile devices. This process is challenging, but assistance exists either from software applications or companies that specialize in converting documents to XML.

Next, add intelligence such as hyperlinks, hot spots, images, and links to external databases and videos. Intelligence should anticipate the knowledge needs of a field service tech. For example, if a tech is replacing part #001, he might need to test part #002. Provide a hot link for the instructions to test part #002.

3.     Review and Measure

The Knowledge Czar is responsible for performing a quality audit to ensure consistency and accuracy by manually verifying each piece of content and cleansing the outdated knowledge artifacts.

Measuring the success of the knowledge base can be accomplished by conducting surveys of service technicians. Since techs are on the front lines and deal with customers every day, they will provide valuable input on how to improve the knowledge base.

4.     Continuous Optimization – Keeping knowledge current

As discussed above, keeping content current is where most field service organizations struggle. Ensure that the Knowledge Czar has the responsibility and time to continuously optimize the knowledge base.

A final word of caution: creating and delivering a knowledge base that improves KPIs will result in your Knowledge Czar being hailed as a corporate hero. If they are rewarded with a promotion, make sure they’re replaced with someone equally as enthusiastic and committed to delivering knowledge to your technicians.

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[1] http://www.aberdeen.com/research/12031/12031-rr-knowledge-management-service/content.aspx
[2] https://www.tsia.com/documents/The_State_of_Social_Support_2015/

How Freelance Engineers are Adding Value to Businesses

Sachin Reddy is a staff author at Fieldengineer.com which is an On-Demand Marketplace for Telecom Freelance Engineers.

Telecommunication internet service providers invest billions of dollars into advancing the field and maintaining their vast networks. They are known for their innovation, but that innovation has been stymied by the lack of in-house engineers with the right skillset to efficiently offer solutions to problems and questions. Instead, companies are spending vast amounts of time looking for the right in-house employee when a significant number of top-tier engineers can be found offering the services as telecom field engineers. Looking for engineers outside of their company can save companies money and time as well as putting them into contact with next generation of field engineers.

Save Money
Most companies don’t want to pay the price to have top tier engineers on staff at all times and those engineers don’t want to accept less than they’re worth. Only hiring talented engineers with a specialized knowledge when they are needed saves the company money while it allows the engineer to set their price. This is especially true when multiple engineers are needed for a project. Companies don’t want to invest in that, but they need to realize that an in-house team doesn’t meet the requirements sometimes. When that happens, there’s a market of smart and talented workers who can provide companies with the knowledge and skills they need to capitalize on new opportunities. The one-time payment for an outsourced engineer would be the fraction of the cost of hiring a full-time engineer with the same talents.

Save Time

Sites like fieldengineer.com offer companies their pick of a large quantity of candidates who are qualified. That cuts out the time needed to put up job postings, wait for replies from potential employees, schedule an interview, and finally schedule a start date. Online, their professional experience and education gets listed for companies to peruse. Companies don’t have to rely on their own self-promotion either. Like all areas online, sites like these thrive on reviews. Companies review the people who have worked for them based on their skill, experience, and attitude. An engineer’s reputation for hard work and smart solutions is supported by positive reviews from other telecom companies who know what’s needed in that field. Of course, in order to assure you’re saving time and getting professionals in the field, it’s better to look at marketplaces specializing in connecting companies to engineers and only engineers.

Find New Talent

Newer talent can be found freelancing online. Many talented professionals have moved over to marketplaces because of the freedom and flexibility offered. The millennial generation and others who have welcomed the technological age with open arms have adjusted to the gig economy. Online sites give them a place to display their talent to every possible client. It’s also given them the control to pursue their own interests and bid for jobs that both hold their interest and conform to their schedule. These short-terms contract works best for them and best for the companies involved. So, the companies that find engineers on these sites for network planning analysis are getting self-motivated contractors who confident enough in their own skills to sell them to knowledgeable management teams. These are also eager contractors who applied out of a true desire to be involved for however long the project is meant to last. That’s the kind of energetic disposition and problem-solving nature that exists on marketplaces.

Companies can try to strengthen their in-house teams, but innovative solutions are often going to come from outside. Marketplaces like Field Engineer are dedicated to a promoting the freelance job market for a certain field, and that specialization is what makes them easier to work with and more dependable. They put talented engineers in a place they can be found, and they give companies the opportunity to present their project and project needs.

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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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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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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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Extended Warranty/Extended Service Best Practices

Attachment Rates and Renewal Rates

Recently, Blumberg Advisory Group and Giuntini and Company conducted a study about the Extended Warranty/Extended Service Market.  We looked at various aspects of sales process and specifically evaluated the Warranty Attachment rate (i.e., customers signing up for these programs) and Renewal rate (i.e., customers renewing their agreement during the warranty or at the end of the term)  as they are Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that measure how successful a company is in marketing and selling extended warranties and extended service programs. Best in class performance would equate to companies achieving an attachment rate of 50% or higher and renewal rates of 75% or better.

We saw that only a small percentage of companies have been able to achieve these targets. Specifically, the survey results indicate that only 30% of companies have achieved attachment rates of 50% or more. In fact, 16.7% have achieved attachment rates of 70% or better. While the majority (59.5%) of companies experience renewal rates of 75% or more, only 22.5% have achieved renewal rates greater than 90%.

For companies who wish to improve their performance, there are several best practices that they can pursue to achieve best in class performance on KPIs related to marketing and selling extended warranties and extended service programs. Most significantly, service portfolio design plays a critical role in influencing attachment and renewal rates. The truth is that customers will purchase these programs if they see value, i.e., feel that they will effectively meet their needs. That’s’ why it is important to specify what’s included in the program from the perspective of features, resources, and coverage.

It is important to include both basic and value-added services as part of the program. The more extensive and focused the services, the more likely the customers will be to buy. Nearly all the companies surveyed (93.2%) provide basic corrective failure as part of their program. Only 50.4% include preventative maintenance. Less than 40% offer a broader array of value added services such as calibration, inspection, recalls, and disaster recovery as part of the portfolio.

Indicating the level of service commitment, the customer can expect to receive is also important when it comes to selling extended warranty and extended service programs. Only 58.1% of companies have defined onsite response times as part of their programs, 39.3% specify parts delivery times, 29.9% and 31.6% respectively commit to the repair time and remote resolution times, and 15.0% will provide a loaner unit if repair time target is not met. These components to the program provide added value to the customers as it offers a guarantee as to when the service will be delivered. With respect to selling extended warranty programs, almost half (49%) of respondents indicate that they sell extended warranty and extended service programs any time after the original product sale.  Making this option available at any time naturally increases sales of the programs which equates to higher attachment rates.

The way in which these programs are promoted can also impacts KPIs. Most companies surveyed rely on direct mail (74.8%) and brochures (68.0%) to sell extended warranty and extended service programs. Most respondents (58.5%) indicate that direct sales have been very effective when it comes to impacting attachment rates while only 26.6% believe that brochures are as effective. Interestingly, survey respondents agree that other tactics are just as effective. For example, 50% of respondents indicate that endorsements and testimonials are very effective as is reputation management (49.1%), telemarketing (32.0%) and public relations (28.9%).

Frequency of communication is also a critical driver when it comes to influencing attachment and renewal rates. Almost half (49%) of respondents indicate that they sell extended warranty and extended service programs any time after the original product sale which means the can capture revenue at any point in time during the product’s lifecycle.

Only 28.0% notify customers 90 days or more in advance of when their programs are up for renewal and 36.0% provide more than 3 notifications that there contracts are about to expire. More importantly, most (60%) respondents upsell their programs during the warranty entitlement process. Reminding customers of the opportunity to renew or extend their agreement provides results.

In summary, the survey findings suggest that best in class companies follow a structured and disciplined approach to marketing and selling extended warranties and service programs. They do not view sales of these programs as a one-time event to be made only at the product point of sale. Indeed, they sell beyond the original point of purchase and align attachment and renewals with the customer entitlement process. Furthermore, they promote their programs through a wide array of marketing communications tactics and rely on frequent and timely communication to get their message across. Most importantly, they ensure their programs are designed to meet the needs of their customer and are very specific about what the customer can expect to receive in terms of service feature, resources, and coverage.

Do you have a success story with marketing or selling Extended Warranty/Service programs? Share it with us and be part of the conversation.

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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