Service Contract Sales Secrets: Q&A With Michael Blumberg

This article was originally posted on Field Service Digital as in interview between Derek Korte and Michael Blumberg.  Michael will be hosting a FREE Webinar on February 28: Key Strategies for Increasing Extended Warranty Revenue. Click here to register for this event. 

Most service organizations know that long-term service contracts are one of the holy-grails of service revenue and profitability. Yet, despite their importance, many organization don’t know how to effectively market and sell them. Michael Blumberg, president of Blumberg Advisory Group, recently released new industry research with some key insights for service executives on this important topic. We sat down with Michael to ask a few questions about his findings.

What surprises you most from the survey?

The top take away is that the configuration of extended warranty and extended service programs has a tremendous influence on the sale of these programs. In other words, the length of coverage, level of customization, processes engaged and resources employed in delivering the warranty and entitlement levels offered play a key role in driving sales. This is an “eye-opener” because many companies have the view that a warranty is a warranty. However, our findings suggest that the more distinctions that can be made about the program, as defined through the configuration, the more effective the company will be at selling it.

Is there anything more important to service profitability than contract attachment and renewal rates?

Some field service executives may argue that KPIs associated with service costs and productivity such a first-time fix, cost per service event, mean time to repair, etc. are more important to service profitability. However, without service revenue there can be no profits at all. Contract attachment and renewal rates are the KPIs which measure how well a company is doing with respect to securing this revenue. The truth is that service contracts can be very profitable in and of themselves. One reason is because they provide an annuity for the service provider in the form of a recurring revenue stream. The second reason is because a sizable percentage customers who purchase a service contract require very little service or no service at all. This means the service provider doesn’t incur significant costs in servicing that customer.

How do companies successfully market and sell service contracts to customers? After all, they do little good if customers don’t buy them.

Most companies rely on sales aids (e.g. brochures) and direct sales. Usually, these activities occur at the product point of purchase. However, companies who continue to sell service contracts after the product sale are likely to generate additional service revenue. Other sales and marketing tactics which have proven to be effective include customer testimonials, reputation management, telemarketing (i.e., outbound sales), public relations (e.g., press releases, article placement, etc.) and analyst reviews.

You identify 50 percent attachment rate and 75 percent renewal rates as best in class. Why are so few service organizations able to achieve those levels?

First, service organizations need to adopt the right mind set about extended warranty and extended service programs. They must understand that service is separate, distinct, and unique from products. This means that service leaders must place as much time and effort into configuring, marketing, and selling service contracts as their counterparts in the product organization place on designing, marketing and selling products. After all, service won’t sell itself. Just because the customer owns the product doesn’t guarantee they’ll buy the service. Second, the service organization must have the right systems and processes in place to market and sell service contracts. For example, processes and systems that facilitate a company’s ability to configure, price, and quote customized service contracts. It is astonishing to learn that approximately, one-third of the survey respondents utilize spreadsheets to perform these functions.

How do you envision new technologies (e.g. IoT) impacting traditional service contracts — and how will smaller firms keep pace?

These technologies will either make selling service contracts a dream or a nightmare for service providers. While recent technologies like IoT, AI, and big data will make it possible for companies to deliver outcomes, it is the service contract that defines what exactly the outcome will be. It provides the terms and conditions, the hours of coverage, the level of availability, the resources provided, and the processes engaged in delivering the agreed upon outcome to the customer. In many ways, selling an outcome based contact is no different than a traditional service contract. That’s why companies of all sizes need to become proficient at configuring, marketing, selling, and managing service contracts. Gaining mastery over this function is how smaller firms can keep pace.

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What Makes Successful Digital Transformation? – Podcast

Field Service — FMS

Michael Blumberg (President & CEO of Blumberg Advisory Group) sat down with Todd Stewart of In the Know to discuss why digital transformation is one of the hottest topics within the field service space. 

Digital Transformation occurs when an organization leverages the use of  advanced technology to change the way they conducting business. By doing so, these companies can run a  more responsive business operation and gain greater market share.

This is especially true in the Field Service Industry. One example of this positive impact is the use of Internet of Things (IoT) to remotely monitor equipment performance. By continuously monitoring sensors related to a particular piece of machinery, a Field Service Organization(FSO) can predict when service is needed or know as soon as there is a failure. At that point, the FSO can contact the customer to provide information to fix the problem, analyze what personnel or parts need to be sent onsite to resolve the issue, or provide information to the customer to avoid the impending problem all together.

Learn more about Digital Transformation by listening to this podcast.

 

 

Sales and The Field Service Engineer

Questions from Kris Oldland, Publisher of Field Service News

The following is a compilation of a 4 part series from Field Service News called ‘The Big Discussion’ All four questions with the answers from Michael Blumberg appear here to give you a clear picture on his views of the role of Field Service Engineers in sales to existing customers.

“In the Big Discussion we will take one topic, bring together three leading experts on that topic and put four key questions to them to help us better understand its potential impact on the field service sector…”

It is often said service technicians are the greatest salesmen – what are your views on this?

Service technicians bring a perspective and outlook that makes them great at sales in certain situations. For example, where the sale solves a critical problem for the customer.

Basically, customers appreciate the fact that service technicians are problem solvers and place the customer’s need first. As a result, the service technician has trust and credibility with the customer.

In turn, the customer is highly likely to act on the service technician’s recommendations. Sometimes, the only way a technician can solve the customer’s problem is by having them buy something new like a spare part, new piece of equipment, or value-added service offering.

In these situations, the sale is not viewed as a sale at all by the customer but merely as an attempt by the technician to solve the customer’s problem

Is there a difference between selling service and selling products?

Yes, there is an enormous difference.

Selling products requires the salesperson to focus on the form, fit, and function of the product and how it meets the customer’s needs. Selling products is about selling the tangible.

Selling services requires the salesperson to focus on how the service can help the customer solve a problem, improve their situation, or achieve a better outcome.

More importantly, it is about selling the intangible.

Is incentivising service technicians to “sell” opening up new revenue streams or putting their “trusted advisor” status at risk?

Technicians represent a ready and available channel for generating incremental service revenues.

After all, they are at the customer site almost every day.

However, service technicians may become over-zealous or pushy about selling, and jeopardize their “trusted advice” status, if they lack proper sales training or if their performance measurement system and company culture are too focused on sales.

What impact does the rising uptake in outcome based services have on the relationship between service and sales?

Selling outcome based services requires greater collaboration and communication between service and sales than ever before. Service needs to understand and support the solution that the sales force crafts for the customer.

The sales force needs to have a clear understanding of the capabilities of the service team to craft the right solution.

Basically, service and sales must work as a team. In addition, the service organization must be proficient at sales so they can add-on additional services to better meet outcomes as these opportunities present themselves.

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Digital Transformation Trend: Changing “Business as Usual”

The following is an excerpt from an article we wrote for XM Reality.  You can get a copy of the full article here http://resources.xmreality.com/blumberg-new-reality/

customer service

Perhaps the trend that is having the greatest influence on the adoption of AR/VR/MR platforms is not the affordability or stability of the technology but the commitment by today’s leading corporations to embrace Digital Transformation (DX). Rather than utilizing technologies simply to streamline and automate existing business processes and transactions, digital transformation means utilizing technological innovation such AR/VR/MR to change the very way business is conducted, resulting in new business models and cultures.

DX has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on the performance of companies that have pursued this strategy. In fact, in some instances it has resulted in a winner take all scenario. According to Constellation Research Founder and Principal Analyst Ray Wang, “digital leaders in almost every industry are taking 40% to 70% of the overall market share and 23% to 57% of profits. In some markets, if there are one or two major players, they are taking up to 77% of the profits”.

These findings suggest that DX could lead to a “zero-sum” game for selected field service providers. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that businesses across a wide range of industry segments are investing heavily in DX technologies. Indeed, worldwide spending on DX is estimated to approach $1.2 trillion by 2017 year-end, according to International Data Corporation, an increase of 17.8% over 2016. IDC predicts this market will continue to grow at a steady rate of 17.9% over the next three years, reaching $2.0 trillion by 2020.

Most business experts and industry pundits agree that DX investments have the greatest impact on a company’s performance when they achieve two major objectives. First, they make business operations more responsive by leveraging digitally connected product-service offerings, people, and assets. Second, they lead to innovations that transform how customers, partners, employees, and things communicate with each other. For field service organizations, the outcome of meeting these objectives incudes a more enabled workforce, enhanced customer experience, and improved overall collaboration and performance.

Clearly, AR/VR/MR technology is well suited to meet these objectives and deliver outcomes. At a macro level, it changes the way field service business is conducted, by bringing a problem to the expert rather than the other way around. As a result, it shortens the time it takes to resolve a customer’s issue and avoids the high costs associated with sending a technician to the customer site. In addition, it helps FSOs overcome resource constraints. For example, utilizing this technology, a technician at a customer site can simultaneously offer remote support to a second customer at another location. Furthermore, the technology facilitates greater collaboration and performance among technicians. A “top-gun” technician with deep domain knowledge and expertise can provide remote guidance to a less experienced, “novice” engineer. Technicians can also use annotations as part of AR sessions to overcome language barriers that may exist between people in different geographic regions. Lastly, AR/VR/MR provides an immersive experience to the customer, enhancing their experience and enabling them to be self-reliant when it comes to resolving basic issues.

In many ways, AR/VR/MR pushes the boundaries of possibilities when it comes to providing high quality and efficient services and support to end customers. By overcoming limitations, FSOs experience improved performance in the areas of first time fix, remote call resolution rates, mean time to repair, and cost per service call. While effective field service leaders have always been committed to continuously improving performance in these areas, AR/VR/MR provides the technology to make step-wise (e.g., exponential) improvements as opposed to only incremental gains.

AR/VR/MR brings additional value in its ability to positively influence and enhance customer satisfaction as well as generate new and profitable sources of revenue for FSOs. For example, many early FSO adopters have been able to monetize their investment in this technology by offering AR/VR/MR enabled remote support sessions as a value-added, fee-based service to customers. These examples clearly demonstrate why FSOs should give serious consideration to deploying an AR/VR/MR solution today.

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Gig Economy Plays a Crucial Role in Hiring freelance Telecom Field Technician

Ramya Sri Alluri is a Marketing specialist and Staff Author at FieldEngineer.com a freelance marketplace to hire a telecom engineers.

In today’s digital world, things are more difficult than ever when you’re competing. This is especially true with the global connectedness. Luckily, however, you can benefit with the advantage of a freelance marketplace that connects you to a telecom field technician or other talent you’re looking for. Businesses are finding numerous benefits of hiring a freelance telecom field technician from a freelance marketplace, such as:

Cost
A freelance telecom field technician can save you immense costs in your business. After all, once you start bringing people in it can sky rocket to mean that your payroll outpaces other costs in your company. So to keep that in check, consider freelancers as a budget option whenever you need it.

Speed
Speed is of the utmost importance in any business. If you lag behind the competition, you’ll find that your customers are going somewhere else. This can spell disaster if you don’t do something to correct it. Benefits of hiring freelance telecom specialists also include speed: you can talk with them instantly from anywhere else in the world and cut down on time costs that would otherwise make you miss important deadlines.

Convenience
It’s incredibly convenient to be able to use your phone or computer to talk with your workers. Whether you are in the office, at home, or in line for lunch, it takes a few punches on a keyboard or taps on your phone to get things running along smoothly. This kind of convenient workflow is quite priceless.

Integration
You can integrate the skills of your telecom hire with the others on your team. Some teams need various skill sets in order to achieve a complex set of directives from the top. If you feel this describes your company, then you’ll derive many benefits from using the marketplaces that connect your team together, no matter if they’re in Asia, Africa, or anywhere in between.

Capability
The worst feeling is when a client wants you to perform something for them but you can’t meet the capability. Having to say no is the worst fate of a business. If you do it too often, you’ll lose your reputation. A benefit of freelance telecom workers is they make you agile and scalable. You can add a few more man hours into the mix to bring a project in on time and under budget.

Security
Security is of the utmost importance for any business. If data gets into the wrong hands, such as customer lists or your secret recipes of how you deliver solutions to customers, then it could spell the end for your business. Enjoy the benefits of freelance when you have them siphoned off from certain knowledge just in case of a data leak. A telecom field technician only needs to know certain variables of what they’re working on.

Hiring new workers for your company can be a pain. However, it doesn’t have to be if you follow the right advice and emulate other companies that have had success in the industry before you. So you can have the most profit with least risk by hiring on freelancers to fill in the gaps needed to make your business a wild success.

Fieldengineer.com is an innovative digital marketplace that connects you with talent all across the globe. You can log into the portal from any computer, phone, or tablet. This makes it fast and convenient to use. In addition it’s free for businesses. Features include live tracking of your engineers and freelancers, management of work orders, fast matching with talent with our AI, and special APIs so you can run your business more effectively and streamlined.

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Are Freelancers the Future of Field Service Staffing?

This interview by Derek Korte, editor at Field Service Digital and a senior editor at Original9 Media. It first appeared at  http://fsd.servicemax.com

Field service leaders have a lot to manage on any given day. But there’s one responsibility that’s often lost while  keeping the work orders flowing and vetting the latest technologies — talent. Sure, the IoT continues to reshape the service industry, but field service is still a people business. When something breaks, customers expect a skilled professional to show up and fix the problem quickly — hopefully the first time.

But it’s a challenge to maintain a trained, knowledgable service team. Experienced techs retire and are difficult to replace, and new technologies require new skill sets. As a result, service organizations are turning to freelancers to supplement their full-time workforce, while ensuring customers get a consistent level of service. We asked Michael Blumberg, president of Blumberg Advisory Group, to explain the most surprising takeaways from his latest research into the freelance phenomenon in field service.

You found that service organizations rely on freelance platforms to improve geographic coverage? Why did that surprise you?

I was surprised to learn that organizations are using freelance management platforms (FMS) for more than just handling a temporary surge in demand, or providing coverage in remote geographic areas. A significant percentage (61 percent) use freelancer platforms to expand their geographic coverage. They are using these platforms to facilitate strategic growth, not just to cut costs or solve a tactical problem.

You also found that organizations increasingly use freelancers to respond to emergency service requests — why?

The conventional wisdom is that freelancers are best suited to handle project work, such as installations and scheduled maintenance. Our research suggests otherwise. In fact, 53 percent of the respondents indicate they utilize freelancers to handle all types of work, including projects and emergency repairs. By relying on freelancers, service managers can ensure they have the right coverage when and where they need it.

What’s unique about a FMS is the crowdsourcing element, which leads to situations where technicians are often competing for the same service request. As a result, technicians know they have to be very responsive because their income depends on it. I’m not suggesting that company-employed technicians are lazy, but sometimes there’s no incentive to take on more calls. There’s no incentive for them to respond faster or get more calls done.

How are service managers using freelance platforms to improve recruitment and onboarding?

Even when organizations use freelance techs, whether for a long-term project or on-demand emergency work, they still have to spend time recruiting, training and onboarding those technicians. The crowdsourcing element of FMS platforms means that managers can find these techs quickly, so they can spend less time recruiting. And the digital nature of these platforms means that managers can train them, share work orders and outline what’s expected. A majority (59 percent) of companies using freelance platforms are able to recruit and hire new technicians in 14 days or fewer, while only 11 percent of non-FMS users are able to achieve this goal.

How do service managers integrate these freelancers into their regular workflows and explain service expectations?

They can be very selective about which freelancers they choose to work with, and they can request technicians who have certain qualifications and skills. Managers can also describe the procedures that the techs must follow when they go out on a call, which is something companies are already doing with full-time technicians. Lastly, some managers administer short quizzes and exams that the freelancers must pass before they’re assigned work.

Your research suggests that agility is the most important factor when deciding to use a FMS. Why?

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents indicated that their need for agility is the number one reason why their companies turned to a variable workforce. While cost savings might be the reason why these companies considered this alternative in the first place, agility is why they continue to use it. In today’s dynamic service environment, service organizations need to respond quickly to surges in demand and constantly changing technical skill set requirements. They can’t afford to spend a lot of time staffing up to meet demand because it is likely to change quickly.

And relying on freelance platforms can also improve service productivity and quality? How?

Freelancers are often more engaged with the service organizations that hire them because they see themselves as independent contractors. They’re running their own business.

Freelancers want to demonstrate that they’re responsive and effective so they will be given more jobs. There’s also a snowball effect — the more calls freelancers take, the more income they’ll have, which creates a productivity mindset.

Are there any quality and productivity tradeoffs?

Our survey results indicate that 65 percent of companies using a FMS model have experienced improvement in field service productivity. Furthermore, first-time fix rate is 18 percent higher among top-performing FSM users than the industry average, while SLA compliance is 16 percent higher.

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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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