References on Service and Support

Suggestions have been made for me to recommend books on the topic of service and support. Of course there are many written on the subject; however, most of these books tend to be focused on consumer related industries such as hospitality, restaurants, and personal care services which focuses primarily on either services marketing or customer service, not both.  Furthermore, some do not provide a holistic perspective on how to build, operate, or grow a profitable services business.  

Unfortunately, there are only a handful that deal with service in product related or high-tech manufacturing business.  The two books that come to my mind are Managing Service as  A Strategic Profit Center and Managing High Tech Service Using a CRM Strategy.   Both of these books were written by my late father, Donald F. Blumberg.  Although these were published in 1991 by McGraw Hill and 2003 by CRC Press respectively, the  content is still quite valuable and relevant to today’s high-tech service and support organizations. To those reading this blog, you are probably interested in learning more about recent publications.

Given my interest and experience in all things service related, I began to research and identify books published in the last 3-5 years on the topic of service and support.  What interested me most were those that provided a holistic or strategic perspective on service management as opposed to those that focused solely on one aspect, like customer service.  On top of this interest was to also find publications distributed by the commercial book trade which helped me to learn those publishers who are willing to invest in authors writing on the topic of service and support.   While my research was not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, I was surprised to learn there are not many books published on this subject by the commercial trade. My view is that they are clearly missing a large and growing market opportunity.

A description of a few books that match my search criteria are found below:

Made to Serve: How Manufacturers can Compete Through Servitization and Product Service Systems

By Timothy Baines and Howard Lightfoot

Publisher – John Wiley Sons, Apr 9, 2013 – Business & Economics – 272 pages

Made to Serve provides readers with a framework for determining the feasibility of adopting a services-led competitive strategy, along with strategies for designing and implementing the kinds of service offerings customers expect when they purchase technology.

Designing & Managing Industrial Product Service Systems

By Petri Helo, Angappa Gunasekaran and Anna Rymaszewska

Publisher – Springer International Publications, Aug 27, 2016 – Business & Economics – 101 pages

This book analyzes how companies can manage the transition from products to services. Examines the role of marketing and operations strategy, and how actual service delivery takes place. It also considers the pricing decisions that need to be made when moving from a product focused model to a service oriented model.

Profiting from Services and Solutions: What Product-Centric Firms Need to Know

By Valarie A. Zeithaml and Stephen W. Brown Business

Publisher – Expert Press, Aug 15, 2014 – Business & Economics – 132 pages

This book is written for executives in companies that manufacture or sell products.  The authors provide a framework for how a manufacturing company can transition from selling products to services and solutions. 

I do hope you can find the time to read these books and perhaps provide us with your feedback.  If you are interested, we’d be happy to publish a 500 -850 word book review from this blog site.  Also, please feel free to recommend any other books you think your peers in service and support might be interested in reading. 

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When Being Big Enough Isn’t Enough: The Case for Using Econometric Models in Service Market Planning

Assessing market demand is critical for making optimal decisions with respect to investment and resource allocation.

As Field Service Organizations (FSOs) strive to build and grow profitable businesses, they must develop and implement strategies based on valid and reliable market research.   Assessing market demand is critical for making optimal decisions with respect to investment and resource allocation.  For example, it might be important to know the size and growth rate of a market segment prior to building a marketing strategy, establishing a division, or developing a service offering for it.  If the market segment is large and growing rapidly then a more aggressive investment may be warranted. Taking a more conservative approach could lead to a miscalculated decision that results in a significant loss or failure for the company.

While obtaining a granular level of data on the size and growth rate of a market segment can help service executives make better decisions and ensure better results, it is surprising that many do not attempt to obtain this level of insight.  Instead, service executives often rely on gut instinct or settle on an order of magnitude, given some related indicator.  For example, we often hear service executives claim that the service market must be big because the sales of the product are so high.  In other words, its “big enough” to warrant an investment.    

The problem with this type of market analysis is that it assumes that 100% of people who have bought a product will also purchase the service. It also does not take account the size of the installed base, competitive issues, or other constraints or factors influencing demand such at technology trends, economic trends, or market trends.  More importantly,  it does not provide any hard data into the size of the market or its growth rate. 

While surveys and secondary research have merit when it comes to market sizing and forecast, they too have their shortcomings.  Surveys and secondary research can of course provide insight into size and growth of a market as well as answer questions with respect to who buys, what do they buy, and factors influencing supply and demand.  However, they do not actually measure the actual size and growth of the Total Available Market (TAM) for the service under consideration.  In addition, a shortcoming of secondary research that we hear often is that it is not specific enough or tailored in its the perspective. Questions about the research methodology may also arise when the source is an industry analyst. 

Ultimately, a good TAM analysis is one that takes into account the size and growth rate of the installed base as well as the serviceable value of the installed base along with its anticipated growth rate.  We have found econometric market models to be very effective methods for conducting this type of service market analysis.  A good econometric model considers several data points related to buyers and products including but not limited to the number and types of buying organizations, equipment penetration rates (i.e., shipments), population density, and replacement rates.  These factors help in determining the size and value of the installed base while surveys and secondary research provides data points (e.g., price points, average spend, etc.) necessary for determining current and projected revenues and/or expenditures for a given service.     

Building an econometric model to determine the size and forecast of the TAM for services may seem like a lot of work. However, the efforts are worth it and can prevent a company from making serious mistakes and/or miscalculations about their market opportunity.  Several years ago, a client of mine gave a presentation at an industry conference where his competitors were present.  The presentation showed that his service business was growing twice as fast as the market. Although he had commissioned our firm to build a TAM model, he chose to compare his company’s revenue growth to market size data from an industry analyst’s report (i.e., secondary research). This analyst provide a market size estimate and forecast that was more conservative than ours. After the presentation, I asked my client why he didn’t present our data.  “We based our investment and resource allocation decisions on your model not the secondary research. We want to keep this fact a secret from our competitors as long as we can” was his reply.  Had his company relied only on secondary data they would have had different results.   His answer provided that his investment in building the market model was well worth it.   

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The Secret to Selling More Service Contracts

This article first appeared in Field Service News on May 28, 2018

Field service executives often face challenges when it comes to generating additional service revenue for their companies.

They often face resistance from customers as evidenced by low contract attachment rates. The natural tendency is to blame the price as the reasons why customers aren’t purchasing more services contracts.

After all, this is the feedback they received from their sales teams and from the customers.

Being logical and rational business people, field service executives try to solve the problem by lowering the price, after all, if the customer says that the price is too high, it must be the reason why they are not buying, right?

To quote, the popular song by George and Ira Gershwin, “It ain’t necessarily so!”. While price may be a factor in the purchase decision, seldom is price the only reason why customers don’t purchase service contracts.

In market research studies that I have conducted for clients in a wide array of technology service markets, I have found that price is often low on the list of criteria that end-users consider when selecting and evaluating service providers. Criteria such as quality of service, knowledge and skill of service personnel, breadth of service offering, and vendor’s knowledge of their business are perceived by customers to have higher importance than price alone.

The truth is “your price is too high” will always be an objection that customers provide when they cannot justify the value of a service contract.

This is because they have no way of logically defending the value of the service being purchased. Stated another way; they are not able to differentiate the benefits of service contracts from time and materials service. The problem is that Field Service Organizations (FSOs) often attempt to sell service contracts without providing justification about why a service contract is better than simply paying for service on a time and materials basis.

A common saying among sales professionals is that customers buy emotionally and then defend their purchases logically. All too often, FSOs provide little emotional reason why a customer should purchase as service contract as opposed to T & M and even less logical supporting evidence about why a service contract is more valuable.

To achieve high attachment rates, FSOs must be able to articulate the value of their service offerings to customers as well as to their own salespeople. The value proposition must impact customers’ emotionally by addressing their fears, worries, doubts, and concerns about the impact of service or the lack thereof on their operations.

For example, fear of excessive equipment downtime, lost revenue, low machine utilization levels, or the possibility of quality defects. Of course, the FSO needs to provide logical supporting evidence why their service offering will eliminate these issues.

FSOs achieve this results by articulating, either through a sales conversation or marketing collateral, what’s included in a service contract that is not included in time & materials. This requires they do an effective job in defining the coverage, entitlements and resources available to the customer through a service contract.

They must be able to answer the customer primary question “What’s in it for me?”. If the only difference between a service contract and time & materials is that the customer can prepay for service, then there is no emotional value or logical contrast. However, if the service contract provides a preferred level of service (e.g., 4-hour response time, 99.9% uptime guarantee, 7 by 24-hour coverage, parts, etc.) or preferred price structure then the customer is presented with some real value and contrast.

Ultimately, FSOs must be able to help customers defend their purchase of service contracts. They do this by offering more value in a service contract than the customer could possibly receive through time and materials services.

Fundamentally, FSOs can deliver better service to customers under contract.

This is because the contacts provide data about the installed base and service demand requirements. As a result, FSOS can anticipate service events and be more effective at planning and allocating service resources. This, in turn, makes it possible for FSOs to provide a guaranteed level of service to their customers.

Honesty is always the best policy especially when it is supported by a guarantee and exceptional service!

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The Role of Data in the Servitization Journey

Data is becoming more important as we consider one of the most significant trends impacting the technology industry, "Servitization".

Several years ago, Blumberg Advisory Group worked with a company that provided hardware maintenance on film based photo labs found in big box retail outlets. Their service revenues and profits were declining because digital photography was replacing the need for film based photo labs. Although the client offered a new digital based technology to replace film based photo-labs, these systems were not being installed at the same rate as the older systems were being phased out.   Digital systems didn’t require as much service and support. They were less complex and easier to maintain than their film-based cousins.

Our client required a new strategy to offset their declining revenues and profits.  They needed a solution urgently or the parent company would shut down this division.  If we did not know the importance of data or the concept of managing the capability to serve, we would have probably recommended that the client lay off some of its field service workforce to reduce costs and improve profits.  This could have led to a downward spiral of layoffs, company morale and growth.

So what steps did we take?  We analyzed their data.  We reviewed their field engineer utilization rates, customer response times, field engineer skill levels, and the equipment on customers’ premises.  In conclusion, we found that their field engineers were not being completely utilized.  We found out that these engineers had further knowledge and expertise in supporting other types of equipment found on the customer site.  They were typically able to respond to a customer request within four hours even though the guarantee was for eight.  

Based on our analysis, we recommended that they expand their service footprint to other types of equipment located on the customers’ premises, i.e. electronic cash registers and point of sale equipment.  We also recommended that they charge a premium price to customers who required faster (e.g., 4 hour) response time.  As a result, this client went from losing 20% of their profits per year to a 50% increase in new business within 24 months of implementing our recommendations.

Ultimately, the key to our client’s success lied within the data.  Data is becoming more important as we consider one of the most significant trends impacting the Technology Industry, “Servitization”.  This trend describes the transformation that many companies are undertaking as they move from primarily selling products to generating a sizable portion of revenue and profits from services.   Ultimately, the path toward Servitization leads companies toward offering anything as a service (XaaS).  In other words, their business has reached the stage of development where they are no longer selling products or solutions to their customers, but outcomes.   For example, instead of selling a copier machine they are selling their customer the right to use the machine to produce a certain number of copies over a specific period or time.

To deliver on this promise, the provider must not only have great people, process, and technology but access to data related in terms of machine condition and performance (e.g., alerts and notifications), parts availability, field engineer location and skill sets, diagnostics, etc.  With this data in hand, the provider can ensure resources are available when needed and that the customer receives the outcome it purchased.  The data is made available through technologies like the Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, etc.   Examples of companies that are along the servitization journey are Rolls Royce, ABB, Siemens, Kone, and General Electric. They have generated profitable income and know that a truly exceptional service business is built on four foundations – people, process, technology, and data.

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Field Service Scheduling Software and What You Need to Know

Scheduling software has long been a foundational technology for field service companies allowing them to meet customer demands.

This article initially appeared in Field Service News – September 7, 2018

 

Michael Blumberg, President of the Blumberg Advisory Group lifts the lid on all of the key aspects of this crucial tool…

If you have spent any time in Field Service, you probably understand the importance of managing service delivery functions against key performance indicators (KPIs). Among the most critical KPIs in the Field Service Leaders track are First Time Fix (FTF), Service Level Agreement (SLA) Compliance or Onsite Response Time (ORT), and Mean Time to Repair (MTTR). These KPIs measure the effectiveness of a Field Service Organization (FSOs) in delivering quality service in a timely manner.

The inability to meet KPI targets may result in exponential costs, customer attrition and loss of revenue; whereas the ability to exceed customer expectations can result in customer appreciation followed by an increase in profit margins and sales. To effectively schedule/dispatch the right technician to arrive on time with the right parts and skillset plays a significant role in meeting these outcomes. This is definitely not a small feat for your typical FSO.

Scheduling and dispatching Field Service Engineers (FSE) poses a challenge for most FSOs, particularly those with more than 5 FSEs. The reason behind this is there are many variables and factors involved.

An FSO with only one or two FSEs and a few customers may not perceive scheduling to be a major challenge. The volume of service requests may be relatively low while the options of who, when and where to send them may be rather limited. Scheduling becomes more of a challenge as the volume of service requests (i.e., customers) and the number of FSEs increases.

Adding to this complexity are the business objectives and/or constraints an FSO must optimize to meet its scheduling requirements.

With additional constraints or objectives, the more difficult it becomes to produce a solid schedule. For example, if the objective is to only meet a response time commitment to the customer, then the decision is easy – assign the FSE who can arrive in a timely manner at the customer’s site.

If FTF, MTTR, and/or SLA Compliance targets are also part of the equation, it becomes even more difficult to produce that solid schedule. Adding a profit margin objective, high call volumes, multiple geographies, and a sizable pool of FSEs, the decision becomes even more overwhelming.

The reason why scheduling is so excruciating of a task is that there are numerous factors that an FSO would need to create and evaluate to determine the optimal assignment for each FSE.

This is a time-consuming activity that requires an extensive amount of computational power to achieve. Many companies have suffered from a loss of time and resources in dealing with confusion and potential human error. The solution is Dynamic Scheduling Software.

Dynamic Scheduling Software provides FSOs with the feature-rich functionality that streamlines, automates, and optimizes scheduling decisions.

This technology ensures the FSO sends the assigned technician to the right job having the proper skill set and arriving on time. These applications typically leverage a scheduling engine that optimizes FSE job assignment. Scheduling engines vary in their complexity ranging from those based on business rules to Linear Programming (i.e. goodness of fit) techniques, Operations Research Algorithms (e.g., Quantum Annealing, Genetic Algorithms, etc.), or Artificial Intelligence (AI)/Self-Learning applications.

The complexity of the scheduling problem, number and types of resources involved, duration of tasks, and objectives to be optimized play a role in determining which scheduling engine is most functional.

Critical factors to consider may include whether the scheduling engine can handle:

  • Multi-day projects or short duration field service visits,
  • People and assets (e.g., tools, parts, trucks, equipment) or solely people,
  • The number and types of KPIs that are part of the objective, and
  • Route planning requirements.

In evaluating Dynamic Scheduling Software, FSOs are also advised to consider the following criteria:

  • Cloud versus On-Premise Deployment Options
  • Speed and Ease of Implementation
  • Integration with Back-office Systems
  • Availability of Real-time Visibility by the Customer
  • FSO Requirements for Best of Breed or Integrated Enterprise Solution
  • Total Cost of Ownership
  • Return on Investment
  • Vendor Industry Knowledge and Experience

There are over a dozen software vendors who offer some form of dynamic scheduling functionality for field service.

Obviously, no two Dynamic Scheduling applications are alike. Each one has their points of differentiation. The best solution is a function of the level of importance the FSO places on each criterion and how each vendor meets these criteria.

Regardless of which vendor is selected, the benefits of Dynamic Scheduling are clear.

In fact, industry benchmarks show that companies who implement these types of solutions can achieve a 20% to 25% improvement in operating efficiency, field service productivity, and utilization. The impact on bottom line profitability and customer satisfaction is substantial. To enable FSOs to provide customers with an Uber-like experience and significant profitability, FSOs should consider deploying Dynamic Scheduling Software as part of their service delivery infrastructure.

Is Now The Right Time To Replace Your Field Service Management Software?

 This article first appeared in August 20, 2018 online issue of Field Technologies Online 

The market for field service management (FSM) software market is large and growing. In 2017, the market for cloud- based applications was valued at $1.2 billion by Blumberg Advisory Group, and we anticipate that the market will experience a five-year compound annual growth of 22.8 percent. In other words, it will more than double by 2022.  

Given the size and growth of this market, it is no wonder that dozens of software vendors are vying for share. Each vendor claims that their software will help field service organizations (FSOs) transform operations, keep up with industry trends, adhere to best practices, increase profits, and maximize customer satisfaction.

These claims are prompting many field service leaders to evaluate if now might be the right time to replace their existing FSM solution.  Being rational business managers, field service leaders need logical reasons to upgrade or replace their software. Of course, there are many reasons but some are good and some are not so very good. With more than three decades of experience with this topic, let me share with you five good reasons why NOW might be the right time to make a change:

  1. Your current system is costly to operate and maintain. Lets’ face it, if you are spending too much to operate and maintain your existing system, then it is probably time to replace it. Typically, companies that operate antiquated, disjointed, and/or fragmented systems experience higher IT operating expenses than those who do not. I worked with one client whose IT operating expense were 12 percent of revenue (while best in class is 4 percent). The cost savings alone was enough to justify the purchase of a new system.  
     
  2. Your existing FSM software is hindering growth. Depending on its feature functionality, your FSM software can either facilitate or limit your company’s growth. A few years ago, I helped a client expand into a new service business. Unfortunately, their existing systems did not have the required functionality to manage the transactions and workflow of this new business. As a result, my client had to postpone the launch of the new business until they could replace their system.
     
  3. You can’t get good data from your current software. This is one of the most frequently cited reasons for replacing software. If you can’t obtain good data on your installed base, equipment service histories, field service engineer skill sets, cost of service, failure rates, etc., then your company is at a disadvantage because it lacks the business intelligence to effectively plan and manage resources. 
     
  4. Your current solution is impacting KPIs. Ultimately, the success of your FSO’s ability to meet financial targets and keep customers happy depends on its ability to manage service processes against KPIs. For example, first-time fix, SLA/response time compliance, MTTR (mean time to repair), etc. If your company’s performance trails significantly from industry average or best in class, then it is possible your FSM is to blame. Perhaps its time to consider replacing your current system with one that does a better job and drives performance gains?
     
  5. Your current solution lacks flexibility and scalability. It is important that your FSM software can scale up or down without a massive investment in capital or labor. In addition, it should offer flexibility in terms of how workers can share and access data as well as flexibility or openness in terms of the ability to add on third party applications.     

There will always be software vendors who offer new and innovative applications to the field service market. The desire to keep up with industry trends and best practices will also drive purchasing decisions. Implementing a new solution can be costly and time consuming, even if the ROI exists. Therefore, the decision to switch should not be made lightly. You can use these five reasons to provide an objective framework for decision making.  

Avoiding the Four Biggest Mistakes FSOs make when using Contingent Labour

This article first appeared in the June 18, 2018 online issue of Field Service News.

Michael Blumberg, President of Blumberg Advisory Group  and founder of FieldServiceInsights.com discusses  some of the most crucial mistakes field service companies can make when utilising contingent or seasonal labour…

Field Service Organizations (FSOs) in North America, UK, and Europe are increasingly turning toward crowdsourcing platforms and subcontractors to augment their field workforce.

This type of outsourcing strategy enables FSOs to become more agile in meeting customer demands for service. As a result, they [FSOs] are able to reduce costs and improve service productivity. In addition, crowdsourcing and contingent labour helps solve the problem of finding skilled labour on a rapid basis.

However, turning to subcontractors and crowdsourcing platforms does involve relinquishing some level of control over the labour force. Naturally, questions emerge about the reliability, expertise, and quality of technicians that are sourced through these options.

Over the last two years, we have spoken with dozens of companies who have or currently utilize contingent labour to either augment their existing workforce or gain greater agility and efficiency over the entire field service delivery process. The majority are satisfied with their external providers and report positive results on key performance metrics such as First Time Fix and SLA Compliance/Onsite Arrive Time.   On the other hand, a few anomalies exist where the performance of contingent labour did not meet the FSOs expectations.

Quite often, FSOs who experience subpar performance make critical mistakes when retaining and managing contingent labour.

Here is our perspective on the biggest mistakes they need to avoid:

1. Failure to fully vet individual technicians doing the work

Don’t assume that every contract technician (e.g., subcontractor, freelance, crowdsource) you dispatch has the skills, training, and experience necessary to complete the work properly and in a timely manner. Insist on viewing background checks, certifications, and credentials of every contract technician assigned to your company.

2. Failure to train and onboard technicians

Quite often companies issue work orders without to contract technicians without training or guiding them on how they’d like the work to be performed.

For example, they do not explain how they’d like the tech to greet the customer and/or notify the customer when the work is complete.  Fortunately, Internet-based learning systems make it possible for companies to train and onboard contractors in a cost-effective and rapid manner.

3. Failure to communicate with contractors

This is the biggest mistake that a company can make is hand off work orders as if they were tossing a hot potato over a fence.

This will result in problem with respect to key service performance metrics such as SLA compliance, First Time Fix, and No Fault Found.  It is important that companies provide contractors with detailed and specific instructions about the activities they need to perform on each assignment.

At the same time, contractors also need to communicate with the companies that hire them on the status of calls, issues or problems they are experiencing, and results of their actions.

4. Failure to integrate contract or crowdsourced technicians into their service delivery process

Problems can occur when there is too much of an arm’s less relationship between the company and the contractor.  In other words, there is little accountability, visibility, and control between the company and contractors/technicians, and vice versa.

The key to success lies in treating contractors as an extension of your company.  Companies can achieve this outcome by leveraging communication technology, collaboration tools, and workforce automation software.  Relying on these systems will ensure the company achieves best in class service performance through its contractor network.

In summary, FSOs experience challenges to crowdsourcing when they underestimate the level of due diligence, systems, and processes they need to put in place when utilizing this type of labour. This does not necessarily mean that they must make huge capital investments.

Rather, they are urged to design and implement processes and procedures by leveraging existing infrastructure when they can.

Devoting the time and effort to this initiative will pay off. Our research suggests that FSOs who have an unpleasant experience with contingent labour do so because they rush into the decision without much thought, planning, and preparation.

Basically, they are looking to solve an immediate problem with no consideration to future. In other words, they are taking a tactical approach to labour shortages where a strategic solution is required.

Field Service: A Mid Year Review

Opportunities, challenges, and what lies ahead

Now that we are half way through 2018, I wanted to take some time to look at where the Field Service industry is right now.  Here are some of my thoughts on the biggest struggles facing Field Service Organizations (FSO), where some of the greatest opportunities lie, and what trends to look for in the coming months and years.

Field Service Organizations must continuously strive to maintain customer satisfaction while operating within various business constraints (e.g., cost reduction, revenue targets, labor shortages, etc.).  The challenge is these objectives are often in conflict. On one hand, companies must keep customers happy; on the other, they must find ways to lower costs and do more with less. In addition, they must keep up with innovations in technology and find ways to deliver an exceptional customer experience. At the same time, they must find ways to monetize technology investments without gauging the customer on price. Meanwhile, field service leaders in these companies are bombarded by data and information about where to invest their time, effort, and resources. This of course presents a challenge of its own.

In broad terms, FSOs should be seizing opportunities that make the highest and best use of their most expensive resources, namely talent and capital. What does this mean exactly? The answer is investments that simultaneously fulfill multiple objectives such as cost reduction, quality and productivity improvements, revenue generation, and profit enhancement. While this may seem like a tall order, FSOs can achieve this outcome by leveraging technology and being more effective in creating offers that customers value. For many FSOs this also means seizing on trends like digitization, servitization, and Uberization.

Digital Transformation has been a hot topic and big buzz phrase especially in Field Service.  I think it is one of the most important topics for FSOs. Companies who do not embrace digital transformation will become laggards at best or irrelevant at worst. Digital transformation is how companies develop innovations that lead to a better customer experience, improved operating efficiency, and increased financial value (e.g., revenue, profits, earnings, etc.) in the marketplace.   Digital transformation is what makes servitization and Uberization possible.

Many in our industry talk about IoT but the question is how does it fit into a successful FSO. As with many disruptive technologies, a small segment of field service is far along the adoption curve, while the majority is either in the early stage of adoption or just now beginning to consider it. At issue, IoT adoption in field service is a function of market penetration in the product/technology market. Adoption is the highest among large, Fortune 1000 companies and innovative start-ups in industrial automation, building automation, and home automation because these are the companies who are the furthest along in terms of integrating IoT into their product solution sets.

Many FSOs think that IoT is the answer to all their problems. They think it will solve all their labor, cost, quality, and revenue generation challenges. They need to understand that a great deal of planning is required to effectively roll-out IoT solutions. FSOs need to develop a vision, strategy, business plan, and road map that considers when, where, why, and how IoT will be implemented. They must consider which technology platform to use, what type of applications and analytics will be performed, what problems it will solve, and how to price and package it.

I have been talking and writing about Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence a lot because I feel that these technologies are a perfect fit for the field service space. I first became aware of them over twenty years ago and have patiently awaited their maturity and commercialization. I am bullish on them because they solve very real problems that FSOs face like labor shortage, first time fix challenges, requirements to reduce costs while improving productivity, etc. They also enable new possibilities. For example, the ability to anticipate, resolve, or avoid service events. I also like the fact they permit the creation of new income streams for service providers.

Other important trends that Field Service leaders should watch would be service marketing and sales, cognitive and predictive analytics, 3D printing, and drones. There are of course many more including the use of block chain technology which lies out on the horizon.

Stay up to date and catch more of my insights by visiting Field Service Insights, a subscription-based, community site bringing you thought provoking perspectives on industry trends and best practices.

Value and Price: Understanding the Forces that Influence Service Revenue

This article was first published at Field Service News.

I am often asked by clients to help them implement strategies to grow their service revenue.

Often these engagements occur because a client perceives that they are not getting their fair share of revenue and it’s impacting the profitability of their company.

Developing new revenue streams does not happen by magic, a consultant doesn’t just waive his wand and suddenly sales take off. Increasing top line service revenue takes a little work but the results of this effort can pay off  handsomely.

All too often, Field Service management teams attempt to solve their revenue woes without first understanding their root cause.

They assume that the reason why more customers are not purchasing services from their company is that they price is too high. After all, that’s what their customers are telling them, so it must be true.

Companies that get caught up in this line of reasoning often find themselves implementing sales strategies based on some form of price concession, discount, or gimmick.

For example, charging the customer a small upfront contract fee for the right to purchase Time & Materials (T &M) service at a discounted rate, or treating service contracts as though they were a paid-up T & M retainer and allowing customers to carry unused portion of the retainer into the next year.

The assumption behind these pricing strategies is that more customers are likely to purchase the service because it is more affordable.

Unfortunately, the logic behind this line of reasoning is a bit flawed. Sure, the company may be able to secure more equipment under contracts through price adjustments. However, they will more than likely need to sell more service contracts to achieve the same gross margins as before the increase.

A company with a 40% Gross Margin target would need to generate an additional 35% in service revenue if they were to lower their prices by 10%.

For example, a company with a 40% Gross Margin target would need to generate an additional 35% in service revenue if they were to lower their prices by 10%.

At issue, price may not necessarily be the only reason why companies don’t buy service. This assumption would hold true if all customers are price sensitive. The truth is all customers are not. It typically a small percentage.

More importantly, customers will always point to price as their primary reason for not buying services if they are not presented with other compelling reasons to buy.

The reason many customers do not purchase service is because of the perceived lack of value.

Customers think prices are too high when they do not recognise or understand the value they will receive from the service provided.

The problem is that it is difficult to articulate the value of service.

Most companies, particularly manufacturers, don’t know where to begin.

The more distinctions that can be made about a service, the more tangible it becomes, and the higher the probability that more customers will buy it.

As consumers, we’ve all become accustomed to describing value in terms of the tangible aspects of a product. For example, its size, colour, workmanship, reliability and price. However, service is an intangible. How does one describe the value of something that is intangible?

The answer is by making distinctions about it. In other words, by describing the service in terms of the problems it solves, the outcomes or results it create, and/or the time it takes to complete.

Indeed, time is usually one of the biggest value drivers in field service.

Consider this, the more distinctions that can be made about a service, the more tangible it becomes, and the higher the probability that more customers will buy it.

Assuming no difference in price, which service offering sounds more appealing?

  • A) a service contract that simply provides parts and labour or,
  • B) one that provides 7-day by 24- hour coverage, parts, labor, same day onsite response time, remote support, and guaranteed uptime.

My hunch is that you picked B. This offering provides more value. Don’t you agree?

Unfortunately, most companies are not making these types of distinctions about their service offering.

It is should comes as no surprise that customers think the price is too high and don’t buy service contracts, and instead choose to take their chances and purchase service when needed on a Time & Materials basis.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not urging field service companies to sell service features or outcomes they can’t deliver.

On the other hand, I am recommending those companies who are struggling with selling service contracts consider whether their service offerings or portfolios are defined with the customers’ perception of value in mind.

For the service to have value, it must be described in terms of the experience or outcome provided.

Does it save time or money? Does it increase machine utilization? Does it improve the quality or cost of operations?

By defining the portfolio in this way, Field Service companies can test different offerings through competitive analysis, survey research, and conjoint (i.e., trade-off) analysis.

They would, of course, need to ensure they can deliver on the promise of the portfolio prior to offering it to the customers.

Conducting this type of research, also allows companies to determine which service offerings are most optimal or in demand by their customer base.

All things being equal, Customers will always choose the service offering the provides more value as defined by more distinctions

In addition, distinctions provide the basis for differentiation and creating a competitive advantage. All things being equal, Customers will always choose the service offering the provides more value as defined by more distinctions then one that does not.

Some segments of the market may even pay a higher price for high value services particularly if they cannot purchase them elsewhere.

With the trend towards offering anything (e.g., products) as a service (XaaS) and Smart (i.e., IoT) Services, Field Service companies will need to become more adept at selling outcomes.

To do so they must be able to describe distinctions and articulate value. XaaS and Smart Services will not just sell themselves.

Field Service Executives are advised to start developing these skills now with service offered on existing equipment so they learn to be proficient at selling service contract when their XaaS and Smart Service programs are actually launched.

Walk Before You Can Run

A Blue Print for Creating an IoT Enabled Field Service Organization

Despite the enormous benefits of IoT, field service leaders face many challenges to implementing IoT platforms.   First, many of these leaders have not defined a clear outcome for IoT projects.   In other words, they haven’t created solid use case or achieved clarity around what types of actions, decisions, or benefits they can obtain from IoT.  The possibilities are endless and often overwhelming.   Second, these leaders need to create a clear road map with respect to when, how, and where they will implement IoT.  Questions often exist as to whether they should implement IoT on their existing installed base or roll-out with new product releases.   Applying IoT to an existing installed base may seem like a time-consuming and arduous task.  However, the benefits that a FSO can achieve when a large segment of their installed base is IoT enabled is significant.  Third, IoT produces a vast volume of data.  FSOs are often not sure how they will make sense of all the data or how they will ensure that actionable and measurable results will be achieved from this information.   Fourth and most importantly, many field service leaders are concerned that they must overhaul their entire service delivery processes prior to taking advantage of IoT.  This seems like an impossible order when they may have millions of dollars invested in the current ways of doing things.

Implementing IoT does not have to be this challenging or complex.  Ultimately, field service leaders desire a solution that helps them achieve actionable and measurable results in a reasonable time frame.  More importantly, they want a solution that does not bog them down with tons and tons of meaningless data and one that enables them to work with their existing service delivery processes and systems infrastructure.

Quite often, corporations that implement IoT solutions do so within the context of a Digital Transformation (DX) initiatives.  These initiatives typically involve a complete re-design of the service model.  While they have positive impact on the customer experience and share-holder value in the long run, they maybe counter-productive to the near term objectives of field service leaders to support their customers’ installed base on an efficient and productive basis.  This is because DX initiatives require corporate buy-in, multi function coordination, dedicated investment capital, and considerable time to implement, whereas field service leaders are more pragmatic and want results now.

The best approach for field service leaders is one that enables them to implement IoT in parallel to larger, corporate DX initiatives. By doing so, FSOs can realize short term gains within the context of serving their current installed base using the FSO’s existing infrastructure and service business model.  This approach reduces the requirement to re-design the entire business model and postpone the realization of results that are possible through IoT.

Field service leaders can think of this transformation as “a walk before you run” approach to implementing IoT.  It requires field service leaders to think of IoT in terms of moving from a reactive service model, to conditional, to prescriptive and finally to a predictive service model.  Reactive service is the modus operandi of most of today’s FSOs.  Service is provided when the customer acknowledges they have a problem and request a solution.  Conditional service represents the next phase in the transition to IoT.  It uses IoT technology to monitor the customers’ installed base and provide alerts to the FSO that service is required. This enables the FSO to be more responsive to customer issues, ensure first time fix, and minimize downtime.  A prescriptive model is one in which the alert includes a recommendation or instruction about what action the FSO should take next.  Predictive service goes one step further. It monitors the customer’s installed base to anticipate service events and take corrective action before they occur thus avoiding downtime altogether and eliminate operating costs and overhead from the service operation.

The time for FSOs to think about implementing IoT is when they are replacing or upgrading their Field Service Management Software.  Perhaps the requirement for IoT alone is the primary reason why a FSO would want to upgrade or replace now.  Assuming this is the case, FSOs are advised to seek out software vendors who offer IoT feature functionality as part of a complete solution. This will minimize the number of moving parts (e.g., vendors, applications) that need to be included in the solution.  This in turn will lead to reduced implementation costs, an efficient process, and less headaches for the FSO.  In addition, it will ensure that the IoT solution works within the context of existing service delivery processes and procedures as opposed to the other way around.  In this way, FSOs can walk before they run.

 

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