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January 31, 2019 | 4 Mins Read

The Hierarchy Of Digital Adoption: A Prescription For Cloud Platform Value

January 31, 2019 | 4 Mins Read

The Hierarchy Of Digital Adoption: A Prescription For Cloud Platform Value

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By Greg Lush

Most individuals in today's enterprises may only use a few pieces of technology; a transactional system (CRM, accounting, work order management), a communication system (typically email and/or a messaging service), Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint), and possibly a special purpose application (AutoCAD, etc.). While I have my "broad stroke paintbrush" in hand; I would bet that most people are using a small percentage of the functionality provided within any of these tools.

I must be honest with you, this has and continues to bug the crap out of me. To pile on to that frustration, licensing models have also changed over the last few years from a capital (purchase the software) to an expense (where you just rent the software … forever). If you have not already been asked, or woke up and realized; am I really paying all that money for just email and file storage? Ouch. And so our journey begins: finding a way to extract greater value from our digital assets.

Over the last several years I have been experimenting and testing different approaches to help folks and I do believe that a prescription exists. This will be one of a series of posts, building upon one another, to lead you and your organization to the land of complete digital adoption. Forget that! To the land of transformation where adoption is just a pebble in the rear-view mirror. This blog series is dedicated to those unafraid to travel past the horizon and discover that the digital world is far from flat.

Step One: Setting The Stage

Think about the amount of change which has occurred over the last three decades with business technology. Not just in the tools themsevles, but the change in the IT professional has also been quite dramatic. I suppose how this change has been accepted (or not) may be an illustration of how much you believe in the pigeon theory. Long ago, while with a fellow worker who was complaining about constant change, he shared with me the “Pigeon Theory.” Picture that you are a pigeon standing on a rooftop and, suddenly, a cat appears just five feet from your current position. You can feel the presence of the cat but refuse to turn your head, instead using your quietest internal voice to repeat, “the cat is not hungry, the cat is not hungry.” Our business computing environments have and will continue to change, regardless of your ability to adapt and see what is right before your eyes.

The real value of technology is generated by true adoption, as opposed to the multi-decade approach of implementation and deployment. Unfortunately, many of the technology professionals working within organizations struggle to change lanes, transitioning from the bytes to the people. An entirely different approach is required, and this is the motivation behind assembling this prescriptive series on my hierarchy of digital adoption. Without changing our approach, I fear that organizations will be content with simply moving workloads like e-mail and files to the cloud, failing to unlock the tools which can truly transform an organization.

Influenced by experimentation over the last few decades, I have assembled a four-step approach to succeeding in cloud platform adoption focused on extracting business value. This blog series will provide tactical approaches which influence behavior. If you have read any of my prior blog posts, you will discover that leveraging the Microsoft stack has been a part of much of my career. That said, the advice and insights discussed are technology agnostic; this is all about adoption and thus your employees, customers, and partners take center stage.

Like Maslow’s theory, I believe that a funnel exists compelling all to start at the bottom and work their way to the top. Realizing the full potential of your cloud platform requires you to travel through four stages, they are:

  1. Digital reputation | define das; available, consistent, and trustworthy. Once established digital habits will be formed. 
  2. Contextual computing | digital collateral without context to a customer, site, work discipline, is simply noise.
  3. Shared insights | collaboration creates 1+1=7 results; exponentially enhancing internal and external value.
  4. Predicting outcomes |differentiation, in any market, comes from producing unexpected perspectives which positively alter your course.

Now that we’ve set the stage, we’ll dig in next time to the strategies and tactics used in practice today, designed to help future proof your businesses in the Digital Age. My next blog will unpack the meaning and steps you may take to build a solid Digital Reputation, and you can read it here.

January 29, 2019 | 3 Mins Read

3 Reasons Knowledge Management Is A Must to Compete Effectively in Field Service

January 29, 2019 | 3 Mins Read

3 Reasons Knowledge Management Is A Must to Compete Effectively in Field Service

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

There’s a quote I’ve seen attributed to Donald Miller that says, “In the age of information, ignorance is a choice.” From an individual perspective, I think this is absolutely true. From an organizational perspective, I think the quote holds merit but becomes a bit more complex because the access to information doesn’t rest in the hands of the individual. In a service organization, the ability to manage and disburse knowledge well is directly tied to success.

A recent Service Strategies study showed that of 100 service executives that participated, 35 percent are using internally-developed knowledge management systems; 29 percent are using Knowledge Centered Support (KCS); 24 percent are using informal knowledge management processes; and 12 percent aren’t using anything. Based on these results, there’s a big opportunity for service organizations to make some significant improvements by adopting a better approach to knowledge management. Here are three ways improved knowledge management will benefit your organization.

1: Improved Customer Experience

Providing your field technicians with all the information they need in an easy-to-use way can make a major impact – in and of itself – on your customers’ experiences. Knowledge is power – your technicians having access to a well organized and easy-to-use knowledge base gives them what they need to get the job done. The more complete and easily accessible it is, the faster and more effectively they can satisfactorily complete the job they are at and move to the next. While you have technicians leafing through manuals or making time-consuming calls to support to try to find the information they need to complete a job, your customer is waiting. When they can’t find what they need and have to schedule a second visit, your customer satisfaction plummets. Putting information your technicians and support staff need at their fingertips is one of the most powerful tools you can provide to ensure your customers aren’t inconvenienced unnecessarily.

2: Higher Employee Satisfaction

Do you know how frustrating it is for a customer-facing employee to feel ill-equipped to do their job? As the face of your brand and the one on the front lines, your technicians and support staff bear the brunt of not having answers when they need them. Employees that can easily find the answers they need when they need them are happier, more engaged, and more satisfied. I’ve experienced firsthand service provided by an employee who was clearly frustrated and alienated and, trust me, it wasn’t pleasant. In an age of information, choose to empower your workforce by putting it at their fingertips.

3: Eases Pain of The Talent Gap

As more and more of the field force retire, knowledge management becomes increasingly critical. The effects of losing tribal knowledge can wreak havoc on your organization and your customers. You need to take steps now to ensure that the valuable insights your experienced technicians have are captured, not lost. Almost all field service organizations are struggle to acquire new talent, and there’s more of a need now than ever to bring technicians on board that perhaps are capable but not yet experienced. Therefore, equipping them with knowledge is transformative in shortening the learning curve and speeding up their confidence.

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January 24, 2019 | 7 Mins Read

Experience will be Everything in 2019—Starting with your Customer

January 24, 2019 | 7 Mins Read

Experience will be Everything in 2019—Starting with your Customer

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

In 2019, as Customer Experience (CX) becomes the key success factor for many Field Service Organizations (FSOs), tackling the talent challenge and deriving utmost value from technology investments becomes critical.

PREDICTION #1: FSOs WILL GET CREATIVE TO FILL THE TALENT GAP

Talent: How can we find it, hire it, and then keep it onboard? This was of paramount concern to the majority of the field service leaders I talked with in 2018. And they’re not alone. Skills shortages are hitting manufacturing and service industries hard throughout Europe and the US. In 2018 6.7 million jobs remained unfilled in the US. In the UK 71% of service sector firms reported difficulties hiring staff.

2019: It’s time to redefine the field service role. These labor shortages mean FSOs will need to majorly overhaul many of their core recruitment and hiring practices in the year ahead. As they compete to attract a younger demographic into the industry, they will need to get creative in regard to:

  • Job descriptions: how can service organizations better brand their company and its open positions in a way that really speaks to and attracts younger talent that has different needs, goals and drivers?
  • Hiring criteria: many FSOs are accustomed to hiring based on experience. Doing so, however, means that service organizations are further narrowing an already small pool. FSOs will need to determine what skills their most successful technicians have, and then determine how to recruit for these skills versus industry experience. Further, in today’s experience economy, it is important for FSOs to balance ‘hard’ technical skills with increasingly important ‘soft’ social skills.
  • Perks and incentives: FSOs will need to work to get a deeper understanding of the rewards and goals they can offer that would most appeal to younger talent, because the reality is they aren’t the same as the incumbent technicians – and most service organizations’ job descriptions and recruiting materials haven’t been updated to change with the times.

As FSOs work to overcome this major talent challenge, we’ll see the following:

Skills over experience. As long-serving technicians head into retirement, in 2019 ‘experience’ will no longer be a viable top hiring criterion. Many field service organizations will decide that focusing on behavioral attributes and key skill sets that equate to “trainable” technicians will become more reasonable criteria than level of experience. This shift of thinking will enable service organizations to tap into new recruitment opportunities.

Technology maximizes labor utilization and optimizes efficiency. With the talent gap issue, 2019 will see more companies relying on technology to maximize the use of the resources they do have. Taking full advantage of your existing workforce is critical when handling a shortage of new recruits. A strong Field Service Management (FSM) solution boosts technicians’ knowledge, productivity, and response time, which leads to increased efficiency and improved customer satisfaction. With fewer human resources, for example, smart scheduling is crucial for helping fewer resources deliver more revenues and results.

Augmented Reality (AR) bridges the experience gap. AR is a practical, proven antidote to the experience shortage in field service. With AR, super-experienced but often “road-weary” technicians that are nearing retirement can provide “hands-on” expertise to teams of younger technicians in the field, cost-effectively from the back office. So companies make the most of the experience they have, while speeding up onboarding. 2018 was a talk-into-action year for AR; I met many companies who had started implementing it with great results. 2019 will see that uptake boom.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is a powerful enabler for new technicians, particularly in knowledge management. In 2019 we could see more companies like engineering and commissioning service providers M-Core Technologies using AI chatbots in the field. M-Core chatbots enable field technicians to text their questions and receive knowledge back instantly. As you would expect, it improves fix rates and first-time fix, but, crucially, customer satisfaction too, which takes me to my second prediction.

PREDICTION #2: CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE WILL BECOME INCREASINGLY TACTICAL

I’ve been a passionate CX advocate for years. The growing commitment to CX over the last two to three years has been one of the most significant shifts I have seen in the industry. It wasn’t always that way. Going back a bit further, a field service leader would rarely mention the term; when asked about priorities, responses were always centered around cost cutting. While reducing costs and optimizing efficiency are still very important, improving customer experience has become the central focus for many FSOs. In fact, according to a report released by Field Technologies in November 2018, improving customer experience was reported the #1 strategic initiative for 76 percent of service organizations surveyed. That said, there’s a lot of work left to do among FSOs to translate the realization CX is critical into the results of a true CX strategy. We’ll see that progression continue in 2019 as more field service companies will begin to “walk the CX talk:” formulating more sophisticated CX strategies, developing or further utilizing CX metrics and KPIs, appointing CX leadership and even creating CX units and departments.

Take the Schindler Elevator Corporation, a major manufacturer and installer of state-of-the-art elevators throughout the US and globally. I recently interviewed the company’s Director of Customer Experience, Stacy Sherman, for Future of Field Service. Having a Director of Customer Experience for a major manufacturer like Schindler Elevator is a great illustration of how much the importance of CX for an enterprise B2B service organization has grown. I expect that in 2019 we’ll see these sorts of roles expand in field service, as well as begin to trickle down into the mid-market.

PREDICTION #3: HOW FSOs MEASURE SUCCESS WILL CHANGE

There are a couple of major trends going on in service that are necessitating a change in metrics used to measure success. The first is one we’ve already discussed—the increasing prioritization of CX.

Whereas four or five years ago productivity and costs were the predominant measures of success for field service, organizations have come to realize that by focusing on CX, these issues are often encompassed. While you still have to track these items individually, the reality is that when you focus on delivering a strong CX, your whole operation has to be delivering. Further, the emphasis on CX really helps an organization work toward a common goal, which forces more synergies, contact, and productivity between a company’s FSO and the rest of the business.

So how do we measure CX? The most common KPI is NPS, Net Promoter Score, although there are other equally valuable KPIs that contribute to NPS: Customer Satisfaction (C-Sat), Level of Effort, Sentiments. All deliver valuable learnings. But it is taking CX seriously, following through on it, implementing it from the outside in, and measuring progress that is more vital than the metric(s) of choice.

The second major trend impacting the metrics used to measure success in field service (and beyond) is digital transformation. As IDC reported in its Worldwide Digital Transformation Predictions for 2019, 95% of organizations will have incorporated new digital KPI sets by 2023, focused on product and service innovation rates, data capitalization, and employee experience. For field service, implementing metrics focused specifically on employee experience and engagement will be vital as more and more technology is layered in.

PREDICTION #4: DATA WILL BECOME THE VITAL DIFFERENTIATOR

Most of us are familiar now with statistics such as IDC’s estimate that global spending on IoT devices and services will reach $1.7 trillion in 2020. Thus far, the FSOs I’ve talked with have been focused on understanding their business case for IoT and working to deploy the technology. In 2019, we will see exponential growth in use of the data capabilities that IoT provides, which will serve as a true service differentiator.

We will continue to see IoT data being used by FSOs (alongside FSM and AI) as a differentiator in terms of delivering a superior service experience—enabling the progression away from break-fix to predictive service. IoT will also continue to deliver on its promise for organizations as an opportunity to increase service revenue, either through the organizations providing a higher level of service using IoT that customers are willing to pay a premium for—or by providing IoT data streams to a customer that provide valuable (lucrative) insights. Finally, organizations will further leverage IoT data for the purposes of business intelligence both in feeding data back into product development as well as service process optimization.

These factors have all been at play in 2018 and even before, so what’s new here? Well, first of all, while some organizations have been successfully leveraging the value of the technology, the penetration rate is fairly low. We’ll see increased adoption, and, more importantly, we’ll see service organizations learn to derive the full value from IoT by determining more sophisticated ways to leverage the data it provides.

We’ll also see the introduction of:

Digital twins: The use of digital twins will remove the exploratory phase from service.
At IFS, we see more and more customers moving to remote service models, so that even if they still send engineers out into the field, the first pass is a remote diagnosis. Digital twins technology has the potential to eliminate all guesswork and assumption in this crucial phase. But potential implications reach far beyond that too.

Digital twins will forge powerful new bonds, synergies and efficiencies between engineering, design, IT and services departments. For example, if a company knows the exact configuration of a piece of machinery as it left the factory, and if it can leverage an as-maintained bill of material (BoM), its technicians can examine and pinpoint the problem on an identical, one-to-one digital version of the machine before even turning up onsite.

By integrating engineering data, BoMs, sensor-captured asset information and service optimization into a seamless, visual, foolproof model, digital twins would be a major step forward in the evolution of service as an integral component in all design and production—right from the beginning of any new product.

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January 22, 2019 | 5 Mins Read

Making Marketing Work for Field Service Companies

January 22, 2019 | 5 Mins Read

Making Marketing Work for Field Service Companies

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By Tom Paquin

In my everyday life, I am regularly inundated with advertisements from various service organizations. Chimney sweeps, roofers, lawn care companies, and various other enterprises are perpetually trying to sell my wife and me on their services. These typically come as a series of mailers, and each time I receive one, I remove it from my mailbox, carefully rip off my address information, and throw it in the recycling bin.

I will need all of the services advertised to me at some point, probably over the course of the next year. Where will I go when I need to find one? I will go to the same place that I go to when I need to find a reliable toilet brush: The internet. I will search for whatever I’m looking for, read a handful of reviews, and decide who to call.

Why are so many service companies participating in what seems like a game of marketing Battleship, blindly lobbing collateral at everyone with a mailbox and praying that something is a hit? The answer is obvious, of course: They want money. Recently, WorkWave conducted a survey of Pest Control companies, and their top two initiatives for next year, by a substantial margin, were finding new customers, and finding upsell opportunities with current customers. Certainly, in the information age, there are more effective ways to do this.

Moving Marketing Money Around More Effectively

The inclination to send a direct mailer, to advertise in the back of the local newspaper, and though a variety of other low-fi methods can often be traced back to the fact that, well, that’s the way that it’s always been done. It’s been successful in the past, so why not today? The reason why there are diminishing returns for these activities is that your customers are not the same as they were in the past. Customers are much more likely to scrutinize their options than they were even five years ago, with significantly more information and resources available to them to make a decision.

Customers also expect to be marketed to differently than in the past, in a way that corresponds to the way that they’re marketed to for any consumer product. Above all else, customers expect to be understood. There are two dimensions to this understanding: Understanding of them, the customer, and understanding of the external problem that they’re trying to solve. So—what’s the first step to building out a new marketing strategy for these customers?

Inhaling and Exhaling

Marketing is like breathing—You need to inhale, bringing in organic leads through inbound marketing efforts, and you need to exhale, by contacting people via outbound marketing efforts. Service organizations should focus on a slightly asymmetrical combination of those two methods of communication.

About a decade ago, the prevailing wisdom was that an “All-inbound” approach was the future. This means that all potential leads would organically visit your site based largely on content that’s posted there, from which marketers could build a plan to convert those inbound leads into revenue. After years of testing across all industries, the long-term efficacy of that strategy began to be called into question. While inbound marketing did, indeed “warm up” leads, it was the more direct outbound approach that converted leads into revenue.

Inbound may seem challenging for regional service organizations specifically because your base of leads from inbound content may be on the other side of the planet, but there are a variety of low-impact SEO utilities to ensure your content is bubbling to the top for the right potential customers. By building a bench of “How-to” articles or videos on simple self-service topics, with a simple call-to-action to contact your organization for additional questions, you’re already approaching marketing from a more tactical position than an endless flow of print advertisements. You’re getting people, like me, who are inquiring about different topics related to service, onto your website, reading and validating your expertise, and making it easy to book an appointment. Would you prefer your customer land on Yelp, or on your website? Pairing a regularly indexed and updated blog with self-service utilities through your Field Service Management will make this fairly turnkey, as long as you take the time to be smart about the content that you’re posting.

Much of this can be done in-house, written by practitioners and actionalized through a variety of software and agency resources to maximize effectiveness of inbound leads. You may balk at the initial sticker price, but upfront investment will put your business on a growth trajectory that will quickly begin to automate itself, and has a provable ROI.

Let’s talk about exhaling—outbound marketing—which is far more complicated, but is arguably more important. As we’ve established previously, it’s imperative that you avoid simply blanketing the total addressable market with ads (You might as well be mailing them each ten dollars in cash). How, then, do you put your business in front of customers’ eyes? More sophisticated Field Service Management systems allow organizations to build client and prospect lists and subdivide them by current equipment, capabilities, and potential needs. This system is the engine of outbound marketing excellence for Field Service professionals. It allows you to understand your customers implicitly.

A capable FSM platform will compile a complete service history, and indicate any regular service that’s being neglected by the client. Using this information, you can contact them via e-mail or mailer, saying, for instance, “Jon, it’s been 12 months since your last service checkup.” This proactive approach will help mitigate any system failures, thus endearing the customer to you. It’ll also remind them that you—and you alone—are their service provider. This is an imperative to retaining customers and increasing upsell opportunities.

Converting prospects through outbound marketing is a slightly different story, and often can work in tandem with those inbound activities. Perhaps you’ve logged activity from a potential customer on your website. You can follow up with the appropriate marketing materials outlining the scope of your services. Alternatively, you can collect lists of recent homeowners, or competitors’ clients, and build campaigns to strategically convert those customers when you know that they’re ready to evaluate a new system. All of these will warm up your leads enough that you’ll begin to see higher conversion rates.

Between agency, marketing, and FSM software systems, all of the tools that you’ll need to deliver transformative marketing experiences to your service firm are available to you. The last piece is, of course, your unique business. You alone know how to best represent your organization. With the right tools, and your own knowledge, you’ll set yourself up to maximize service marketing success.

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January 16, 2019 | 4 Mins Read

5 Best Practices for Building (or Rebuilding) a Functional Field Service Tech Stack

January 16, 2019 | 4 Mins Read

5 Best Practices for Building (or Rebuilding) a Functional Field Service Tech Stack

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By Tom Paquin

Pop quiz:
How did you develop your current Field Service Management technology stack?
a. We built our solution from the ground-up
b. We bought and customized a single solution
c. We bought a single solution and didn’t change anything
d. We have a hodgepodge of systems, utilities, and practices
e. We have an Excel spreadsheet
f. We have a bunch of paperwork

There are some clearly wrong answers to this question, but today, most service organizations that would be seen as effective exist somewhere on the spectrum of the other options on this list. That’s not to say that anyone should be satisfied with what they have today, but they should at least be conscious of what they have today as well as if their solution is—consciously or unconsciously—sliding into another category.
My experience has been that through unfocused decision-making, workforce turnover, and good old-fashioned entropy, most service organizations’ solutions eventually drift into the slump of becoming a hodgepodge of systems. This is only natural; strategies change, downtime is the enemy, and it’s easier to put a technology band aid onto a problem than to think about maximizing connectivity from system to system.
Back in the days when field service was nothing but a cost center, it was fine to have a tangle of wires that was called a service tech stack. Who cares that your routing is handled ad-hoc, your service history is managed by a list in Excel, and inventory is managed by a system unrelated to field operations, as long as the job is done? Well, field service professionals have discovered that one important group does care—your customers—and it’s completely changed the approach to the service tech stack for the better.
Aberdeen’s research has shown that the #1 pressure that top-performing companies face in the service space is streamlining operations. That old tech stack—the dozens of tangled wires—is standing in the way of realizing that. Today’s processes are leaving money on the table, both in terms of inefficiencies and lost revenue. Organizations therefore have an obligation to their customers and their stakeholders to reevaluate their service stacks. This can be both daunting and disruptive, so here are some things to keep in mind:

#1: You have to understand your service stack
This may seem obvious, but in my experience, you’d be surprised how few organizations—big and small—have a good understanding of their technology stack. In fact, when polled, only about 1/3 of service organizations indicated that they have a clear, well-defined technology vision for their service practice. If you cut that by top performers, however, the number of organizations with a plan in place doubles. Service technology used to be a bolt-on addition to an ERP or CRM system. Nowadays, it needs to be treated like its own ecosystem, even if and when it communicates with those other systems.

#2: Don’t be afraid to go nuclear
I know it’s scary, and will be disruptive, but what is the cost of doing nothing? Or worse—stacking more and more systems onto an uncalibrated set of technologies? Adding more and more on top of what you already have is only going to cause more trouble when the next new technology comes around. With that in mind, if you feel as though your field service technology is not where it should be, it might be best to onboard and ramp up and entirely new solution. That will require stakeholder buy-in, which is not always an easy task. With that in mind…

#3: Your builders should be your practitioners
Your field and dispatch techs, call center operators, and customer support teams might not know the scope of technologies available on and industry-level, or might not have a big picture of the overall technology vision, but their input is essential to the success of your business. I’ve spoken to too many service organizations who invest wholesale in a new technology solution with no input from their teams, only to watch the teams resort to old practices, sometimes on pen and paper, because the new systems either lack essential functionality, or they haven’t been calibrated appropriately for the job.

#4: Your field service management platform—not your CRM—Needs to be your Grand Central Station
This goes back to the fact that you’re creating a tech stack for your service practice, with all of the nuances that go into that, rather than your business as a while. Service is only going to get more complicated as time goes on. We’ve really only crested the IoT wave, and when it comes in full force, you’ll want a sophisticated service system ready to tackle the many opportunities that come along with that. A CRM-centric approach dramatically limits the scope of functionality needed to be ready for the future. Sure, you can upload a picture of your client, but can you quickly and capably get a part to a technician for them? That’s not to say that serving the customer should be secondary, it’s to say that service excellence will produce an outcome that serves the customer much more tangibly.

#5: Avoid customization where you can
This may seem counterintuitive. Shouldn’t you customize an off-the-shelf solution to fit the unique needs of your business? The answer isn’t as clear-cut as it would seem. With increased emphasis on cloud, and again—being forward-thinking, you don’t want to overtly customize your solutions. You want them to be able to easily integrate with one another, both on the service side, as well as outside of service. APIs are designed to do most of the heavy-lifting these days. The solution that you purchase should work right out of the box. Also—less customization means more support from the vendor. Another important consideration.

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January 14, 2019 | 4 Mins Read

What Is The Fate Of Your Mature Business Line?

January 14, 2019 | 4 Mins Read

What Is The Fate Of Your Mature Business Line?

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By Bill Pollock

After a while, even the most innovative product/service lines may begin to lose some of their luster and appeal, ultimately being perceived by the marketplace more as a commodity-like offering, rather than as a unique or differentiated product or service. Classic examples range anywhere from cameras, to computers, to consulting services. What was initially offered to the market as an innovative product or service, without any direct competition, can soon become just another product or service alternative among scores of increasingly competitive offerings.

It is for this reason that it is critical to understand where your organization's service offerings stand in the perceptions of the marketplace at any given point in time. In many cases, it will be the new, innovative, "start-up" companies that are doing the bulk of the research and market testing prior to launching their new products and services, and not the companies that are still selling their older, more mature commodity-like and end-of-life offerings.

However, there may still be a great deal of life left in the more mature business lines that comprise a significant portion of your company's product or service portfolio. Even better, these lines generally tend to be "proven" with respect to market acceptance, and may only need a gentle marketing push every once and awhile to stimulate additional market interest and sales. Even NASA uses a "mid-course correction" every now and then to ensure that its space vehicles get to their targeted destinations.

A further complication may also arise from the fact that many businesses that provide both products and services to the market often find that when sales or market share take a downturn, they are unable to determine whether the decline is more related to problems with their products, problems with their services and support, or a combination of the two. However, more often than not, it is generally a combination of the two. While this is typically a fairly easy matter to resolve, it is one that can often lead to a costly and ineffectual failure if not approached properly.

Conducting A Proper Product/Service Evaluation

Whenever a situation like this takes place, the organization should examine a number of critical areas through the execution of a carefully orchestrated research program, focusing on issues such as:

  • An assessment of the changing, evolving or emerging customer/market needs, requirements, preferences, perceptions and expectations associated with its mature product/service offerings;
  • The identification of specific new or value-added product features, characteristics and attributes (e.g., functionality, quality, reliability, modularity, packaging, etc.) that could redefine the mature products; and the corresponding features, characteristics and attributes that could similarly redefine the levels of service required to support these products from the customer's perspective (i.e., professional services, Internet self-support, etc.); and
  • Suggested, or recommended, improvements to the existing products and support services required to address these changing and evolving needs.

The results of a program of this nature would be extremely useful to the organization's sales and marketing management in terms of their ultimate ability to:

  • Modify and enhance the historical product and service offerings to address the changing levels of market demand and requirements;
  • Project the likelihood of customers switching to new, redefined or replacement, products and services in the near- and long-term future;
  • Develop a plan for migrating to new products and service offerings to reflect the evolving needs and requirements of the market;
  • Identify and cultivate expanded and/or redefined target markets based on the identified patterns of "core" vs. "value-added" product/service preferences and user perceptions;
  • Strengthen the overall product/service awareness and image in the marketplace through a program of heavily promoted refinements, enhancements and/or modifications based on the study findings; and
  • Monitor the ongoing positioning of the product/service offering in the marketplace in order to determine when it may no longer be profitable to support it.

More specifically, the primary objectives of the organization should be to first, identify the changing customer needs, requirements, preferences, perceptions and expectations that can be used to assess and fine tune the overall strategic and market position of the company's historical product and service lines; and second, to ensure that the company can continue to effectively market these mature products and services, with a compelling promotional spin, and to the appropriate market segments.

There are many ways in which a business can determine exactly how much "kick" its historical product or service offerings still have in them – or, conversely, whether it is time to "kick" them out of the company's portfolio altogether, and replace them with newer, more innovative and competitive products and services.

While your present business lines are probably the key factors that have helped your company to grow to its current size and market position, they may have become "dusty” over the years, and now may be in need of either a good "dusting off" or, possibly, retirement.

Assessing where your business lines stand today in terms of market perceptions, image and their ability to meet your customers' changing and evolving needs, will allow you to determine just how much change you need to make to compete more effectively in the future.

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January 11, 2019 | 3 Mins Read

Reverse Lifecycle Management: The Next Frontier in Aftermarket Service

January 11, 2019 | 3 Mins Read

Reverse Lifecycle Management: The Next Frontier in Aftermarket Service

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By Micheal Blumberg

Enterprise software solutions are widespread, but not until recently have integrated, multi-function, end-to-end systems been available for global deployments in the Reverse Logistics industry. Many companies involved in Reverse Logistics management including the return of spare parts and/or distressed products have had to deal with a myriad of fragmented, disjointed, and disparate systems to collect, store, and manage key data related to Reverse Lifecycle processes and functions. In short, many firms miss opportunities or incur higher costs due to the lack of efficiency and service productivity in their reverse supply chains.

As the Aftermarket Service Industry continues to seek an enterprise solution to these challenges, the concept of a Reverse Lifecycle Management (RLM) system has emerged. The ideal RLM enables end-to-end integration of business functions and processes related to the Reverse Logistics Lifecycle (e.g., returns management, repair, warranty entitlement, warehouse management) as well as interfaces to other back-end systems such as CRM, supply chain planning systems and financial systems. In essence, a true definition of RLM is that it provides for real time visibility, tracking and control of labor, material, and data throughout the Reverse Lifecycle pipeline, from RMA issuance to end of life disposal and all activities in between.  In turn, these features ensure better utilization of assets and resources which are necessary for optimizing both financial and operational performance.

By implementing a state-of-the-art RLM solution, end-user organizations can realize a number of benefits, including, but not limited to:

  • Cost reduction through better utilization and planning of assets and resources.
  • Protected revenue and income recognized when companies better understand how much revenue and income associated with Aftermarket Services at risk.
  • Liability protection as many companies in diverse industries are susceptible and exposed to legal and regulatory action due to environmental and governmental regulations.
  • Resource optimization by reducing inventory, transportation assets and employee allocation.
  • Productivity and efficiency gains by eliminating poor processes that take too much time resulting in wasted money.
  • Improved customer satisfaction through the implementation of self-monitoring reverse Lifecycle processes and systems.
  • Refined business practices such as issuing proper credit for returns, fast turnaround on sending products back to customers, balanced books, and issuing replacements.

These improvements in operational performance can be monetized directly in the form of cost savings, productivity gains, revenue gains, and improved cash flow. For example, cost reduction can be achieved through the avoidance of financial penalties associated with SLA non-compliance and increase income can be achieved through higher yield rates associated with depot repair.

There has been a growing recognition that Reverse Logistics Supply Chain and related Lifecycle represents a new frontier within many companies and industries for generating increased profits and revenue growth. Even among those companies who view Reverse Lifecycle Management as a cost center, there is acknowledgement that opportunities exist to reduce costs, improve productivity, and enhance the overall customer experience. Of course, deploying a Reverse Lifecycle Management system is absolutely necessary for manager Reverse Lifecycle operations as a profit center.  Whether your company operates Reverse Logistics operations as a cost center or profit center, it is apparent that Reverse Lifecycle operations must be managed strategically.

In summary, Reverse Lifecycle Management systems provide the ideal platform for overcoming critical systemic challenges facing many organizations, while producing a number of measurable benefits that have direct impact on bottom line profitability and customer satisfaction. Given the huge potential for cost savings, risk protection, and revenue gains, companies should seriously consider building a business case and ROI justification for investment in a Reverse Lifecycle Management solution.

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January 9, 2019 | 5 Mins Read

Is Field Service The Retail Game Changer?

January 9, 2019 | 5 Mins Read

Is Field Service The Retail Game Changer?

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By Tom Paquin

It might surprise you that one of the most interesting statistics my research at Aberdeen uncovered last year wasn’t about the number of AR headsets in use, or how IoT is having a broader impact on predictive service. It was simply the list of top industries researching field service management.

The top surging industry — manufacturing — was no surprise, as new service technologies often find their home in manufacturing first. Number two on the list, though, would generally not be on the radar of most field service writers at all: Retail. Why are retail professionals researching field service?

The Changing Definition of Retail

For those of us excited about the servitization of all industries and if you think of it contextually, it’s not that much of surprise that retail professionals would be researching technologies in business areas outside of traditional retail practices. Alarmists and prognosticators have been calling for the death of retail for some time now, and whether we’re heading for a retail apocalypse or not, the truth is that retail, like all industries, will need to lean on its strengths to find new means of differentiation. As Amazon entrenches itself as the world’s Big Box store, transactional sales continue to erode from the brick-and-mortar bottom line. Traditional retail has something that online stores will never have, though, and that’s face-to-face interactions. This is where service comes in.

In most industries associated with field service, that service act is the most significant human-to-human interaction between a consumer and the brand that it represents. In retail, though, the act of the purchase has remained that main point. However, as purchases are now increasingly automated by online, mobile, and self-checkout, retailers are exploring the potential of reallocating that human capital to service. By turning a retail staff from register jockeys into consultants, technicians, and advisors, retail takes its strongest asset — its people —and unleashes their potential.

Field Service Takes Different Shapes

Obviously, this change in thinking will not always manifest itself as field service specifically, but I’d argue that for nearly all businesses, a greater emphasis on service would be a net benefit. The leader of this charge for the last fifteen years has been Apple, and Apple’s tech support and training teams never step outside of the store, because, as Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s head of retail operations said in Forbes, "Our whole concept was: How does the store become more like a town square?” For Apple, the store itself, and the service inside, is a product: a curated service experience that is best served within its four walls.

Best Buy, on the other hand, has seen a great bit of unexpected success by wholeheartedly embracing field service. For years, Best Buy’s Geek Squad has been a capable technical support utility both inside and outside the store. But in recent years, it’s dramatically expanded to include installation services, home consulting, and training sessions for owners of new technologies. Best Buy’s recent acquisition of GreatCall, an in-home medical alert company for seniors, shows that it is looking not just to grow its field service offerings, but expand what those services can do for people. The results of this shift in priorities have already proven to be a success for Best Buy, taking one of the last big brick-and-mortar tech companies from the verge of bankruptcy into an example of what the future of retail could be.

Service on its Own is Not Enough

Deciding to “do service” is a great first step, but if you stop there, you’re destined for failure. Just ask Sears, whose home services have existed for years. For customers, the interface is actually fairly intuitive. Where things get somewhat murky is when it comes to what the actual service product is. Between manufacturer and store warranties, there are dozens of potential permutations for how a service product is categorized. Sears also lacks the ability to access and store a list of products you own, their serial numbers, warranty status, as well as any IoT connectivity. Sears’ lack of innovation in this space, as well as many others, is leading to its potential bankruptcy. With that in mind, if you’re considering service for your retail offering, here are two recommendations:

  1. Create a distinct service product to be sold like anything else. Give it a SKU.
  2. Create a serviceable asset database.

There are many, many other considerations (especially around workforce management), but these initial guideposts are critical to starting your organization out on the right path.

Tech Sets The Stage, but What Comes Next?

Most of the existing examples listed here have been among companies selling complex tech products, but that should not be the limit to retail’s service footprint. If field service right in every instance? Absolutely not. I think we’d all be a bit alarmed if a Victoria’s Secret technician rang your doorbell for a 3PM hosiery service appointment. But Victoria’s Secret actually does have a robust in-store service offering that works great for them. Think of what would have happened if Border’s, or Circuit City, or Blockbuster had developed service systems in-store for consultation and unique services. These companies failed because they tried to compete against the superior capabilities of competitors, rather than improving, and utilizing their unique set of strengths.

For retail-centric field service beyond tech, I see a lot of potential in areas like home improvement. There’s a significant opportunity for productization and servitization here. Imagine a service product for new, inexperienced homeowners that offered a set of how-to videos and a handful of complimentary service visits. Imagine not just the goodwill and loyalty, but the upsell opportunities that would follow. Retailers need only use their imaginations to see how field service could be applied to a wide variety of applications. Imagine makeup stores competing with independents by offering an at-home makeup service product for big days like weddings, or nights where you want to look your best, but don’t want to wear your evening gown to the local strip mall.

Retail has been disrupted for some time by online channels and the ease of ways to buy the same products. For those retailers left standing, it’s one thing to survive —it’s another to set the standard for what the next disruption will be. Retail is ripe for field service to be that disruptor and as both a service professional and a consumer, I can’t wait to see what that disruption looks like.

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January 2, 2019 | 4 Mins Read

The Value And Vexes Of Augmented Reality: Fresenius Kabi’s Experience

January 2, 2019 | 4 Mins Read

The Value And Vexes Of Augmented Reality: Fresenius Kabi’s Experience

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Many of the field service organizations I’m speaking with are making traction with Augmented Reality (AR). They’ve progressed from considering the value of AR to actually incorporating it into their businesses. Fresenius Kabi is one such company. Fresenius Kabi is a global health care company that specializes in lifesaving medicines and technologies for infusion, transfusion, and clinical nutrition.

There’s a three-pronged value proposition of AR that appeals to field service organizations: it can assist in the training and onboarding of new technicians, it can enable sophisticated remote support to aid in optimal first-time fix, and it can be used by customers either in a self-service model or for troubleshooting purposes. For Fresenius Kabi, the initial appeal of the technology was how it could aid in training – but, since deploying, the company has added aspects of use for remote support and most recently customer use.

Fresenius Kabi rolled out its initial incarnation of AR in 2018. The field management team and field service engineers worked together to evaluate the various solutions on the market. After several trials, the company chose Help Lightning. Help Lightning provides an app for any iOS or Android device that allows users to start helping and sharing ideas instantly. Once a Help Lightning session is started using the app, the live video streams and telestration are combined to change the way a person can give or receive help.

John Ashcroft, the North America Field Service and Support Senior Director, Technical Services, at Fresenius Kabi USA has worked closely on the company’s AR project. According to Ashcroft, what Fresenius Kabi has found is that AR holds great potential in field service, but it isn’t without its challenges. “In each scenario we’re using AR, we have aspects that are proving immensely successful and others that are proving more challenging,” he says.

Internal Applications Of AR

Operationally, internal use of AR is poised to save field service organizations money both in training and support. From a training perspective, companies can get new technicians into the field faster if they are supported by and easily connected to experienced back-office support (often a more experienced technician can remain in the back office and support multiple new technicians at once). As far as support, the ability for a technician to actually show a remote support expert what’s happening in the field improves fix rates and helps to avoid subsequent truck rolls.

Based on Fresenius Kabi’s experience, AR works well for the training of new technicians and to assist in support scenarios once those technicians are on board – however, the incumbent technicians are not as interested in learning or using the new tool. “AR has proven very effective for us in the training and onboarding of new talent, and in support situations where it is used,” says Ashcroft. “However, our more experienced technicians realize less value from the tool because of the knowledge they have already acquired.

Fresenius Kabi expects to have a number of  its field staff retirement in the next ten years. As this happens, AR can play an instrumental role in enabling the company to effectively and more quickly onboard new technicians. “We’ve added three new technicians in the last month or so, and as we bring new talent in AR is a great way to get them up to speed and feeling confident in the field,” says Ashcroft.

Customer-Facing AR Use

The value position of AR multiplies when it can be used in a customer-facing capacity. Fresenius Kabi is using the Help Lightning solution for its hotline team, which handles troubleshooting over the phone. “We have a very experienced group of individuals that man our 24/7 support line,” explains Ashcroft. “With AR, we can log customers in to Help Lightning to get a real-time look at what they’re seeing — it’s almost like we’re physically there. This cuts down on phone time and gives the customer the confidence of knowing we fully understand what they’re going through.” While customer-facing use of the solution is still in the early stages, customers have already shown excitement about and appreciation for this new approach to service. “Customers have this tangible of something we are doing in order to better serve them,” says Ashcroft.

In an effort to continue to build interest in customer use of the AR solution, Fresenius Kabi has created marketing materials to use with its customer base that are focused on conveying the company’s desire to support customers in new ways. These materials discuss how use of AR can enable quicker resolution of issues, reduced cost of support, and explain how simple the solution is to use.

The challenges for Fresenius Kabi around customer-facing AR use are in gaining interest and confidence in the use of the technology, as well as the fact that the company’s products don’t evolve rapidly – they are typically in the field for around 15 years. So this bleeds back into the issue of incumbent customers feeling comfortable with “business as usual,” in the same way experienced technicians are. Nonetheless, Ashcroft feels that the value of AR does outweigh some of the complexities – particularly moving forward. “We’ve seen definite benefit in using AR thus far,” he says. “Looking ahead, the business case will expand as we bring new technicians and new customers on board. Over time, the technology will become more deeply embedded into our processes.”

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