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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What is Field Service Management and Why Should You Care?

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


What is Field Service Management and Why Should You Care Infographic

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Measuring the Impact of Freelance Management Systems on KPIs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best Practices In Selling Extended Warranty

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Innovation is a Given

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

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

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

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

What do you advise those companies to meet those challenges? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which features should a field service software ideally have? 

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

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

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

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

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

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Augmented Reality State of the Art 

An Identification of Key Players 

ar-1

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

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

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

APX

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

AR Media

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

Epson: Moverio- Augmented Reality Glasses

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

Fieldbit

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

iQagent

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

Microsoft

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

NGrain

NGrain consists of a suite of AR applications including:

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

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

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

PTC

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

Scope AR

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

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

XMReality

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

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

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Sell More Service By Providing More Value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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