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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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.

The Most Empowering Question You Can Ask

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

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

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

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

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

Poor you is right!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Servitization and Revenue Maximization

The Basics That You Must Master

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One of the first consulting projects that I worked on was for Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI). Our firm was brought in the mid-1980’s’ to help this company develop a service business strategy. A new strategy was required as result of the company’s decision to create one service organization to service all the building equipment sold by JCI. Up until this time, each equipment division operated its own service organization.

The new service organization was structured as a strategic line of business. The management team was given responsibility for generating and managing service revenue. Prior to the creation of the new line of business, the service organizations within JCI did not have to worry too much about revenue. Basically they had a captive market since the product divisions were responsible for selling service contracts and installation projects along with the products they sold. The new organization was now tasked with the responsibility of marketing and selling services directly to the end-users. This was an entirely new concept for the management team of the new business because they could now offer services to any company regardless of whether or not they owned JCI equipment.

The management team came to us for help with developing a go to market strategy and business plan. More specifically, they needed to become crystal clear with respect to their market, their service offering, and pricing approach if they were going to succeed in building a service business. One of their biggest challenges was determining the size of their market. It was foresighted of them to want to know about the size of their market because they’ve gone on to become one of the largest service organizations to the building industry, and certainly a company that is far along the path toward Servitization. I’ve met service executives who skip over this question about market size in their strategic planning process because they struggle with finding an answer. When asked if they know how large their market is, they give a vague answer likes “It’s big” or “the product market is X billion dollars so the service market is some portion of this”.

In order for the JCI executives to get a precise view of the size and growth of the market, we had to help them determine their total addressable market. This is where JCI’s foresightedness came into play. In defining the total addressable market, we helped JCI understand the market was not just equipment manufactured by JCI but equipment sold by other manufacturers. We also asked JCI to consider what else they could service in a building and what types of services they could offer. This led them to expanding their market focus to include a broad array of value-added services on a wide range of building technologies like fire and safety, security systems, and elevators. The definition did not stop there; it also took into account vertical market segmentation and other demographic factors like square footage and age of building.

As result of this strategic planning process, JCI had a comprehensive definition of their total addressable market (TAM). More importantly, they understood their service revenue opportunity on a very granular level; by technology, by service offering, and by vertical market. The work did not stop there. JCI still needed clarity around its Serviceable Available Market (SAM) and Serviceable Obtainable Market (SOM) or target market. In case you were wondering, SAM is the portion of the TAM that a company can reach taking into account various constraints like breadth of its sales channel and competitive factors. The SOM is the percentage of the SAM that a company can realistically capture based on various assumptions (e.g., sales effectiveness, operating capacity, resource allocations, etc.)

Without the diligence that went into defining the TAM, I don’t think that JCI would have grown into the service behemoth they are today. The level of diligence that went into defining the TAM established the foundation for the SAM and SOM. It also became the basis for them to eventually expand into service of Data Center, Energy Management System, and Security and Fire equipment. More importantly, JCI’s results proved that the more distinctions you can make about a market, the more precise your plans can be for penetrating it. The granularity around the TAM and SAM enabled JCI to ask the right strategic questions about what business they are in and what must happened in order for them to maximize market share.

The key takeaway here is that a service business must pay close attention to how it defines its market. It is not enough to simply say the market is “big” or reference market data from an industry analyst, and leave it at that. Companies who achieve outstanding results when it comes to service revenue growth are those who are able to methodically determine the size of their available, addressable, and obtainable market. This is absolutely critical for any company on the Servitization journey.

Variable Workforce:

The New Field Service Paradigm

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The use of third party workers has become a common practice for Field Service Organizations. A driving force behind this trend is the economics of associated with managing a large pool of labor. Maintaining a field service workforce on a full-time basis represents a short-term, fixed cost for service providers. At issue, field service demand is variable in nature and becoming increasingly more volatile. This is occurring for a number of reasons including but not limited to the shift from reactive to proactive service, improvements in the ability of companies to resolve services issues remotely, cyclical events in the global economy, and technology changes (e.g., refreshes, consolidations, and upgrades).

One of the ways to deal with the peaks and valleys in field service demand is through a Variable Workforce (VWF) model. This type of model enables a field service provider to convert short-term fixed cost into a variable expense by utilizing third party workers. There are a number of options available to companies who want to implement VFW model. These include

1. Implement Master Service Agreement (MSA): with one or more companies: Under this scenario an OEM, ISOs or VAR, collectively referred to as the client, contracts with one or more field service organizations (FSOs) to provide on-site service as needed through a Master Service Agreement (MSA).

2. Manage subcontractors on their own: Another option is for a company to build its own variable workforce model. This requires that a company hire and on-board, independent contractors either directly or through a staffing company.

3. Turn toward a “Sharing Economy” model: Companies who are willing and able to manage teams of individual workers can turn to a sharing economy model. In this scenario, a company would use an Internet platform, also known as a Freelancer Management System (FMS), to recruit, on-board, train, dispatch, manage, and pay individual contractors.
The sharing economy model offers substantial cost savings to a company who is willing to pursue this course of action. Improvements in service quality and productivity are also possible as freelance contractors are typically more engaged and motivated since their income is directly proportional to the quality of work performed and number of assignments they accept.

The Freelance Management System Defined

According to the Staffing Industry Association (SIA), an FMS is a category of Workforce Management technology that enables self-management of a contingent workforce. To be considered an FMS, the technology most include the capability to 1) match freelance workers with assignments, 2)issue work orders, and 3)process payments to freelancers.

FMS solutions are available as either Enterprise systems or SaaS based solutions. At their core, they provide functionality to initiate, manage, complete, track, and evaluate work performed by freelancers. Additionally, they may include the ability to find and recruit freelancers through a marketplace functionality as well as additional services such as insurance coverage for freelance workers and the ability to manage work though mobile communications technology.

I recently authored a whitepaper, sponsored by Field Nation, titled “The Variable Workforce Model – An Optimal Solution for dealing with Field Service Uncertainties”. It discusses how FMS is creating improved outcomes for companies involved in field service. More specifically, it measures the benefits that can be achieved through an FMS platform and defines the key characteristics of an optimal solution. To learn more, download your FREE copy today.

4 Ways Service And Support Adds Customer Value

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This is a guest post by Sam Klaidman. He is a consultant focused on Service Marketing and Customer Experience. You can read his blog and follow him on LinkedIn. If you want to guest post on this blog, email me at michaelb@blumberg-advisor.com and write “Guest Blog Guidelines” in the subject field.

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Today, customers are looking to receive more value from their partners than ever before. The two primary reasons are:

  1. Customers are “crazy busy” and need relief because they are drowning in problems, opportunities, issues, and challenges. This relief is one form of value added by the supplier (partner).
  2. Partners see many “similar” situations at their customer’s locations and so should have a good idea about what will work to help the customer and can be implemented with little effort or risk, with a high likelihood of success.

Almost sounds like the customer wants the supplier to solve their problems and expect no more that a “thank you.” The first part of the sentence is correct but not the second part; smart customers are perfectly willing to pay for value added services if they understand the benefits they will gain.

Who is best suited to deliver value-added services?

For a number of reasons, service organization are best situated to deliver value-added services to existing customers. Here’s why:

Of the two primary customer-facing organizations, the “sales” department is generally charged with selling products. Their compensation plans are based on closed business; they have marketing breathing down their necks pushing them to turn leads into orders and their nature is to be hunters.

The other group, services, is totally different. Their role is to make the customers successful; they enjoy helping customers, frequently have little or no revenue objectives, are totally familiar with the products and, organizationally, have seen all the customers and how they have attempted to solve their problems

How can Service and Support add value to customers?

  1. Technical people understand their product’s capabilities and limitations. When they are talking with individual customers they should be asking questions like:
    1. What exactly are you trying to do with our product?
    2. What do you wish it could do but have not found a way to do it?
    3. Where in your process is our product helping you? Slowing you down? Making it impossible to do everything you need to do?
    4. Do you know of any other products that help you do your job?

 

As they get a better understanding of the customers jobs-to-be-done, they frequently can teach the customer how to use the capabilities they already paid for and did not know existed.

  1. When we see how our product is integrated into the customer’s job stream, we frequently can identify unnecessary steps. By sharing this with the customer, we add value because we help them do their job quicker and easier.
  2. Many hardware owners are totally concerned with uptime; they bought our product because they needed to use it when they needed to use it. However, the person who sold the service contract, or the one who actually purchased it, may not have discussed the critical uptime requirements and so only discussed the standard plan. When the Service Marketing person works closely with the equipment owner, there are frequently creative ways for the customer to increase uptime (for an additional price) while the service group provides unique services that can be integrated into their workflow.
  3. Finally, if your service and support people identify a value adding opportunity but do not know how to actually accomplish the customer’s needs, they should get the case into the hands of the product manager. He can then research the feasibility of adding the feature, assess the market size and implementation cost, and potentially move ahead in a future upgrade.

 

Your service and support team has a number of separate roles to play. Here they are:

  1. Fix the customer’s problem. This is Job #1. Helping them get full value for money for their purchase is critical; without it there is no business relationship.
  2. Collect information about product performance and put into a useful format for your Engineering or Manufacturing departments to use to improve the products.
  3. Identify opportunities for the business to add additional customer value. The front line service and support professionals should always be thinking about ways that your customers can squeeze additional value from their purchases. When they find opportunities they must not only help their immediate customer implement changes but must also spread the word throughout your company so other customers can take advantage of these new findings.

 

If not already in place, these behaviors must become part of your company’s culture. People must be able do these things as though it were it standard operating procedure so that everyone wins!

Strategies to make service more affordable

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In my last blog post I discussed the strategic importance of continually finding ways to reduce cost of operations while enhancing service quality. A company can benefit from their cost savings in the form of higher profits or by passing them on to customers in the form of lower prices. Most rational business owners and executives would probably choose higher profits over lower prices unless of course lowering prices is a matter of survival. However, cost reduction is not the only strategy for achieving this outcome.

As I mentioned in my last post, there are a number of market focused strategies that a company can pursue that can result in offering customers services at a more affordable fee. Let’s examine them:

  • Standardization The establishment of standard, well-defined service modules or portfolios can lead to reduced cost through the ability to control the human element and ensure consistency in the service delivery process. McDonald’s is a good example of a company that employs standardization in their service strategy.   In the High-Tech Service & Support Industry, standardization may take the form of offering the customer a bronze, silver, and gold service package.
  • Use of alternative delivery systems To reduce investment and operating costs a company can find alternative ways to deliver service to their customers. In other words, they can make it possible for customers to be more involved in the service delivery process. Electronic banking, including bank-by-phone and the use of ATMs, are examples of this type of service strategy. In the High-Tech Service & Support Industry, this may take the form of an internet portal that allows customers to issue work orders directly to Field Service Engineers or perform troubleshooting on their own.
  • Market segmentation and focus on price sensitivityThere are, of course, significant service sub-market segments, some of which are price-insensitive. However, price-sensitive service market segments also exist. In general, those customers who are more price-sensitive will tend to do a greater portion of the service themselves, including self-maintenance and delivery functions, which might normally be done by the external service vendor at an added cost. IKEA, a furniture distribution organization, is an example of service directed toward the low-priced customer base. As such, they leave services such as picking, delivery, and assembly up to the customer. Medical Device companies do this by offering parts only service contracts.
  • Changing service response and completion times. A final tactic that could be utilized to reduce costs or increase margins is to change or lengthen the service response time and delivery characteristics. In essence, some customers are simply willing to wait longer to reduce service costs), than others. (Some customers want and need rapid response and are willing to pay a premium for such service.

 

Companies seeking to make service more affordable to customers can pursue any or all of these options and still achieve healthy profit margins. Now it’s your turn. Do you have a segment of the market that is price sensitive? Which option would you implement to better serve them? Please share with me you thoughts or experiences you’ve had when it comes to this issue. Still searching for answers, schedule a free consultation today.

Four Principles for Overcoming the Biggest Challenge in Your Business

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We recently conducted a market survey among 250 service managers and executives on critical trends facing the Field Service industry. As part of this research effort, we asked respondents to indicate which issues where the most challenging to their company. Reducing the cost of service delivery was at the top of this list. Over two-thirds of the survey population indicated that this issue was either somewhat (40%) or very (29%) challenging for their organizations.

The truth is that taking a disciplined approach to reducing costs is critical to a business’ long term growth and sustainability.   One way to ensure high profits, year after year, is to consistently find ways to reduce cost by at least 10% per year. They are not simply cutting expenses haphazardly by laying-off people, taking short cuts, asking vendors for price concessions, or making do with less. Those tactics have negative consequences on morale, productivity, and quality which ultimately hurt rather than help a business.

Instead, world class companies take a strategic approach to cost – cutting. They pursue an approach that leads to long term growth, improved market share, and an enhanced reputation among customers and employees.   In other words, an approach that makes them the type of company that makes people want to do business with, work for, or invest in.

Here are a couple of key principles to keep in mind when  applying a cost cutting strategy to your service operations:

  1. It never ends – Just because you were able to find a 10% savings today doesn’t mean that costs will remain the same next year. Your operating expenses will always find a way to creep up on you. There will always be a learning curve associated with rolling out new technologies and launching new services. Even when it comes to delivering existing products and services, waste and inefficiencies will multiply if left unchecked
  2. Know your numbers – There are two old adages that you need to remember when managing a service business – 1) quality is not free and 2) you can’t improve anything that you can’t measure. That’s why it is important to keep an eye on key performance indicators that impact both quality and cost such as First Time Fix Rate, Utilization Rates, Repeat Visits/Repairs for the same problem, No Fault Found, and Dead on Arrival. Continually find ways to improve your performance in these areas and cost savings will follow.
  3. Pursue process and systems improvements – It goes without saying that cost savings can be achieved by streamlining processes and deploying technology to automate manual processes.   For example, a company can achieve a 25% or more improvement in operating efficiency by implementing a disciplined approach to call management, remote resolution, and technician dispatch through reliance on advanced technology such as knowledge management tools, mobile communications, and dynamic scheduling solutions.
  4. Seek alternative delivery models Outsourcing has traditionally been viewed as an effective alternative for reducing costs without jeopardizing quality. However, new advances in crowdsourcing platforms and sharing economy business models offer another alternative for companies to gain economies of scale, improve operating efficiency, and maintain high levels of service quality by contracting directly with independent contractors. In effect, take out the middle man and enable a self-service model. Check out Essintial Enterprise Solutions, an independent services organization (ISO) who uses a Freelancer Management System (FMS) developed by Field Nation to make this type of business model possible.

 

These four principles focus on the internal operations of your business. Follow them consistently and deliberately and you are guaranteed to reap rewards. There are of course market focus strategies that you can pursue to control or reduce the cost of service which we will explore then in our next blog post. In the meantime, schedule a free consultation with me today if want more ideas on where to find cost saving in your service business.

Is it time for a mid-course correction?

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The summer is here and with it brings the beginning of the second half of the year. This is great time for re-evaluating progress in meeting our business goals.  It represents a half-way point to determine if we are on track for the year, if we need to change course in direction, or simply act with greater resolve and urgency to achieve our outcomes.

One thing that we uncovered in our recent Readership Survey is that a large percentage (47.7%) of subscribers desire to learn about strategies for achieving better results. The most frequently occurring response when respondents were asked about what they want to achieve in their business over the next 3-5 years in “growth”.  I think that it is safe to say that many of our readers can benefit from strategies that will help them achieve higher levels of growth.

In my attempt to provide readers with more of what they want, let me give you some action steps to follow if you find that your actual growth for this year is not in line with your original target.   First, remember that the trend is your friend.  This means that you need to periodically evaluate your market to determine if the trend is working in your favor.   You’ll want to get a handle on the size and growth rate of the market you serve, the level of competition, industry dynamics, buyer behavior, and purchasing criteria.   You can uncover this information through internet research, market surveys, analysts, and other secondary sources of data such as articles, press releases, annual reports, etc.

Assuming you’ve concluded that the market you serve is large and growing, then you need to ensure you have the right marketing strategy in place to capture your share of this opportunity.  Think of your marketing strategy in terms of a triad.

market strategy triadAt the base of this triad is your company’s performance.  The ability of your company to deliver on its promise is critical to keeping customers. If they are happy with your service, they will tell others and you will gain word of mouth referrals.  The second side of the triad is the value your company provides to customers. Is it defined in a way that the value is clear and compelling to current and potential customers?  Value is often defined by the quality of your offering and the little things you do to win over the customer.  For example, are you providing them with options so they get exactly what they want?  It also includes offering great service and support before they buy.

The third side of the marketing strategy triad is your tactics.  You want to make sure that you are implementing tactics that will drive customers to you and encourage them to do business with you.  Tactics to consider are pricing, social media, advertising, promotion, etc.  Most importantly, the tactics you use must be consistent with the other elements of your triad.  In other words, your advertising and pricing tactics must align with the value you provide and the performance you deliver, and vice versa.

This triad provides a good framework for evaluating the results of your marketing efforts. Like most frameworks, they are only effective if use them as an analytical tool.  If sales are not where you want them to be then look at your marketing strategy triad. Use it to evaluate how effective your performance, value, and tactics are in attracting and keeping customers.  It will provide you with insights on how and where to improve.  If used consistently, it will enable to you win more than you fair share of business.

Service in the Sharing Economy

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The sharing economy is on the rise as more and more consumers conduct business transactions through platforms like Airbnb to find lodging and Uber for transportation services. These companies have experienced explosive growth in the last couple of years and their financial value is skyrocketing among the investor community.  Indeed, Airbnb’s valuation is at $25.5Billion in their attempt raise an additional $1.5 Billion in funding and Uber’s valuation of $50B is higher than 80% of the S & P 500 companies.

A sharing economy platform is one that leverages information to empower individuals and organizations with information that enables distribution, sharing and reuse of excess capacity in goods and services.

Sharing economy platforms take many different forms, including:

  • Product-service systems – privately owned goods that are shared or rented out via peer to peer market places.
  • Redistribution markets – pre-owned good are passed on from someone who does not want them to someone who does.
  • Collaborative lifestyles – people with similar needs and interests banding together to share and exchange less-tangible assets such as time, space, skills, and money.

 

I also think of a sharing economy platform as having a number of basic elements. First, it uses technology to create a peer to peer marketplace.  Second, they are “open” meaning anyone can exchange goods and services with anyone else.  Third, goods and services are available on demand.  Fourth, payment in full is often made only after the service is delivered in many sharing economy platforms. Fifth, fixed costs are converted into variable expense through the sharing of resources.

The success of Airbnb and Uber has not only led to the emergence of competitors in the lodging and transportation market but also the creation of sharing economy platforms in other industries.  “Uberized” has become a commonly used buzz word in the business world by industry analysts and thought leaders.  This word is often juxtaposed within the question… Is our industry the next to be Uberized?

To a large extent, High Tech Service & Support is far along the path to becoming Uberized. For example, product – service systems like Rolls Royce’s “power by the hour” form that basis of the “Servitization” trend which is gaining appeal in the High Tech Industry.   In addition, redistribution markets have existed for decades within our industry; just think about all the businesses in the IT, Telecom, and Medical Electronics industries that trade used and refurbished equipment.  Collaborative lifestyle solutions are provided through companies like Field Nation, Work Market, and PC-SOS that enable individual field service engineers and small businesses to become a contingent workforce for larger companies.

However, in many ways the High-Tech Service & Support Industry is not truly “Uberized”.  For example, the platforms/solutions I’ve identified above are not truly peer to peer.  They typically involve an intermediary or aggregator that manages the redistribution of products and services. Equipment owners (i.e., end-users) are not leasing or renting unused capacity to other users.  Second, some of these models are not truly open.  There is often a thorough vetting process involved in becoming a member or user of these platforms and solutions.  On the other hand, the on-demand, pay for performance, and conversion of fixed cost to variable expense elements of the sharing economy do exist today within the High-Tech Service & Support Industry

Regardless of where you think our industry is on the sharing economy spectrum there is certainly room for new innovation.   Now it is your turn.  I’d love to get you answer to this question…. Is our industry (i.e., field service, reverse logistics) the next to be Uberized? Please cite examples and share your thoughts on why or why not the sharing economy can work in our industry.  You can also feel free to schedule a strategy session if you have a great idea you’d like to vet or discuss with me in more depth.