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April 30, 2020 | 7 Mins Read

Q&A: Digital Transformation Objectives and Priorities for Utilities

April 30, 2020 | 7 Mins Read

Q&A: Digital Transformation Objectives and Priorities for Utilities

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

I’ve been learning recently about some of the unique pressures that utilities, especially in the U.K., face. As most of you know, my coverage of service has always been from a horizontal perspective – and I do believe that the majority of the challenges and opportunities for service-based business are shared from industry to industry. That said, there are of course intricacies to each industry – and I’m learning that for utilities specifically the journey of digital transformation is being led by regulatory pressures and a significant need to improve the customer experience.

I recently spoke with Stephen Hooper, Director of Propero Consulting to discuss and gain more insight on the pressures facing utilities. Stephen is an independent consultant with a lot of experience helping U.K. utilities face these pressures and embrace digital transformation.

Future of Field Service: Describe how the regulatory pressures placed on U.K. utilities are forcing them to become more customer centric.

Hooper: The U.K. utility sector (water and energy distribution) are regulated by industry regulators (Ofwat and Ofgem, respectively). Each utility provider is the sole distributor of water or energy (gas or electricity) within that distribution area. With a lack of competition in these residential markets, the regulators have introduced schemes to measure customer satisfaction and simulate a competitive market, for example the C-MeX scheme introduced by Ofwat to the water sector.

Providing high levels of robust customer service is a primary objective of regulators in order to elevate the level of service customers can expect form utility providers to be more in line with the service leading organisations from other customer centric industry sectors are providing. Performance against these frameworks is incentivised through additional regulating funding.

Future of Field Service: What are the top three objectives around customer centricity for most utilities?

Hooper: I’d say that the three primary objectives for utilities in order to become more customer centric are to meet regulatory SLAs, to bring customer experience to a level that will be recognised in the U.K. top 50 customer service organizations, and to improve first-time fix rates.

Future of Field Service: What is C-MeX and why is it so important for U.K. utilities to be prioritizing?

Hooper: C-MeX is exclusive to the U.K. water sector (together with D-MeX for developer services), Ofgem will have a similar focus as they prepare form the next RiiO regulatory period. C-MeX is a mechanism to incentivise U.K. water companies to provide an excellent customer experience for residential customers across both retail and wholesale parts of the value chain. The mechanism has real benefits and penalties associated with over or under performance; and +6% or -12% is allowed residential retail value.

C-MeX (and/or other customer measures) are increasingly important to U.K. utilities as they have the potential to increase (or decrease) regulatory funding in a market were the opportunity to additional revenue does not exist. In addition, lifting organisational reputation is key to enhancing the organisations ability to operate effectively in their communities.

Customer satisfaction is measured from the outputs of independent customer surveys carried out on behalf of the regulator from a random selection of customer contacts during a defined period. Customers are selected across all forms of customer contact, including a significant proportion relating to operational contacts which will have reliance of interaction with field-based personnel.

Future of Field Service: Explain why optimizing the field force is such a critical aspect of utilities achieving these CX/C-MeX goals.

Hooper: C-MeX will take into account all customer contacts, although only a random sample of customers will be surveyed. All customer contacts will include billing enquiries (no field force impact) although a large proportion of customers surveyed will be in relation to operational calls – and in many cases the visit and interaction from the field force will be critical to the customer experience. In addition to achieving improved C-MeX scores, the pressure to reduce OPEX remains, therefore not only is it imperative to maintain high level of customer service, but efficient deployment of the field force is key to achieving this.

Future of Field Service: What areas do utilities need to be focused on when it comes to field force optimization?

Hooper: There are several key factors in optimizing the field force contribution in improving customer service and the field force contribution to optimal C-MeX scores. Here are notable areas of consideration.

Problem Diagnosis. Utilities need accurate information relating to the customer issue in order to identify the technician skills needed, equipment required and any necessary consumables. Very often, issues are not clearly identified and the initial diagnosis that is carried by the field technician leads to additional time and visits required for resolution, significantly detracting from the customer experience.

Accurate allocation of field resources. To dispatch effectively, you need an accurate problem diagnosis and the ability to dispatch the most appropriate resource to resolve, which requires an accurate capture of technician skills (infrequently the case in utility organisations) and field equipment to resolve. With the reticence to track location of field technicians in U.K. utilities, the assignment of most appropriate resource can also be hampered.

Improved First-Time Fix. The inability to resolve and issue on the first visit and uncertainty of follow-on activity quickly detracts from the overall customer experience. Quick and efficient resolution of issues by the first tech on the doorstep is always the best way to win over customers and raise their opinions, so getting this right has to be a primary priority for utilities.

Clarity in follow-on activity. Where follow on activity is required, utilities should have the ability for the field force to schedule on the doorstep to meet the customers’ requirements and to provide assurance that any additional activity will be effectively manged. Even when first-time fix isn’t possible, efforts to remove uncertainty and determine a clear path to resolution are appreciated by customers.

Management of multi-customer incidents. Where incidents impact multiple customers, activity needs to be coordinated to meet all customer requirements. In many cases, not all customers will require a visit from the field force but all require communication to ensure an optimal and coordinated experience.

Customer Communication. Accurate, timely and reassuring communication from the utility about the field force improves customer experience and will impact C-MeX. Updates on field force arrival time, pre-arrival insight on field technician name (and photo if possible) are particularly important for vulnerable customers.

Future of Field Service: What technologies do you see as most impactful in enabling utilities to accomplish these goals?

Hooper: We need to begin with a solid foundation of being able to effectively manage service. From there, a few technologies are of particular interest in expanding and deriving further value:

Augmented Reality. There are two scenarios that are particularly impactful in the quest to improve customer experience:

  1. The use of apps available to the customer to improve the level and quality of information available for the initial diagnosis of issue and hence improve the quality of response, which increases the probability of first-time fix and optimises the customer experience from initiation of contact.
  2. For the field force to use to improve level of first-time fix by supplementing skills/experience of field technician on site with more experienced remote colleagues.

IoT can be utilised to pre-empt customer contact. For example, pressure sensors on customer water supply alerting leaks etc before the customer notices. Smart Meters can potentially detect loss of supply prior to customer noticing and potentially when not present.

Internet Appointment Booking including an online contact channel contribute to C-MeX.  Customers appreciate the ability to perform self-service in a variety of ways that suit their requirements.

Future of Field Service: As utilities embrace the need to change, they inevitably become more data driven. How can they work to use data as a guiding force rather than a retrospective analysis?

Hooper: The use of KPI data to manage field force performance has long been a mainstay of efficient field forces in the commercial world, however, U.K. utilities have been slow to adopt. Although there is retrospective analysis of performance at a high level; “active performance management’ to field technician level has not been widely evident which leads to sub-optimal performance of utility field technicians versus more commercially focused equivalents. The reluctance to utilise the use of vehicle tracking data (location) to manage performance is also slowing progress in this area. Where commercial organisations often offer financial incentives to their engineers to complete more tasks within their workday, U.K. utilities have a pay structure which prevent this. Given excess work often falls into overtime, even so it may prove to be counterproductive.

Future of Field Service: This is an immense amount of change for these organizations – what themes have you noticed among those managing it well?

Hooper: The level of organisational change required to enable the field force to provide this level of service is significant. Before addressing the specifics of the field force or any other area of the business, a culture of customer service needs to embedded into utility organisations which puts the customer at the centre of all activities. Retrospective reporting perpetuates the need to play catch up with customers to ensure they are happy enough to provide positive feedback prior to the regulatory survey will taking place.

The ability and will to actively manage the field force based on real-time metrics as opposed to retrospective performance reports will be essential, ensuring the organisation is able to react to customer needs yet maintaining the high levels of service. This begins to embed a customer service ethos into the organisation. The starting point for this change is the operational management of the utility organisation, front line managers and their willingness to actively manage the field technicians on their teams. This needs to be closely supported by the equivalent management structure in the scheduling department, demonstrating strength in driving compliance with the schedule and the willingness to utilise their counterparts in the field as required.

As with any organisational change, this needs executive sponsorship to provide the solid leadership required. Given the regulatory drive to achieve this level customer experience and the role the field force will need to play, this leadership needs to be readily available.

April 29, 2020 | 1 Mins Read

AT&T Speaks on The Promise of 5G

April 29, 2020 | 1 Mins Read

AT&T Speaks on The Promise of 5G

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Sarah talks with Jason Inskeep, Director of the 5G Center of Excellence at AT&T, about the value 5G will bring to service organizations, misperceptions about the technology, and the timeline for adoption.

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April 27, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

Advice for Manufacturers: How to Stay Productive During Slower Business Cycles

April 27, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

Advice for Manufacturers: How to Stay Productive During Slower Business Cycles

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By Ira Busman

The COVID-19 outbreak has touched all of us from a corporate, political and emotional perspective. No doubt these are challenging times, and it can be very hard to pay attention to anything other than the virus and what will happen next. We’re all finding our own ways to stay strong, and my thoughts go out to all our manufacturing family at this time.

Based on historical data, it’s likely that capacity utilization in shops will decline in the months ahead. Our industry tends to go through up and down cycles, so many of us have been through this before.

Time to Optimize Machine Tool Assets

At Okuma, traditionally during times like these, our customers take advantage of the lull in business to optimize their assets and ensure their machine tools are in peak condition and ready to ramp up quickly when the recovery begins. This is also a great way to keep employees – one of your most valuable assets – working productively when all the parts have been cut.

There are also opportunities to review the overall operations and efficiency of your business. Is it time to consider automation? Perhaps a 4th axis, or an option like a bar feeder or parts catcher, or probing to optimize efficiency. Another thought may be to add an option that was overlooked at the point of sale, such as extra program storage or cycle time reduction technologies.

You can also consider the more typical preventive services, as outlined below.

Preventive Maintenance and Recertifications

This can be the perfect time to:

  • Perform preventive maintenance utilizing Okuma CARE PM Kits and your qualified Okuma Distributor
  • Do a coolant flush, including a fluid check/replacement and overall health check
  • Consider a geometrical alignment of your Okuma machine tool to bring it back to factory specifications

Safety Inspections

When shops are busy, it’s easy to overlook simple yet important issues on the machine. This is a good time to check for:

  • Door glass: broken or worn
  • Mechanical door locking mechanism: broken or disconnected. Interlocks that may have been overridden
  • Machine placards: missing or not legible
  • Guarding that’s missing or broken
  • Utilizing Okuma’s “free OSP hardware evaluation” program
  • Software: this is a good time to make sure you have the original software and manuals that came with the machine
  • Parameter backup: ensure batteries are replaced now. In some cases, machines are powered off and 100% dependent on battery backup. If the machine batteries are weak, once the power is turned back on, all system and program storage will be lost

Extended Warranty and OSP Control Contracts

Now may be a good time to consider ensuring peace of mind when the market improves. These safeguards can provide a better sense of cost control and help when unplanned downtime strikes.

Most everyone I know in the great industry of manufacturing is working to stay productive and maintain a positive outlook. Many are jumping into the front lines of producing much needed personal protective equipment, and we applaud you.

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April 23, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

Socially-Distant Servitization?

April 23, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

Socially-Distant Servitization?

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By Tom Paquin

The COIVD-19 crisis, among its many, many effects, has shown many businesses that their product categories and go-to-market strategies are much more fragile than they may have thought. To address this, many businesses are simply hunkering down, while others, like Munters, are finding new ways to do more with less. Another important consideration that Sarah touched upon last week is how businesses are moving to diversify their revenue streams. I wanted to take that concept and unpack it a little bit around a specific topic: Servitization.

Two years ago, when the thought of a global lockdown was as incomprehensible as a Microsoft phone running Android, I wrote about the macroeconomic threats leading organizations towards servitization. At the time, I was looking at the eroding barriers to entry in fields like manufacturing, distribution, and retail, and encouraged businesses to consider what it takes to set up a recurring revenue model—What it really takes to incentivize people to like you enough to pay you every month.

Given the current state of the global economy, businesses either have no appetite at all for any sort of business model adjustment, or they’re frantically looking for a way to do so (or they’re somewhere in the middle). With that in mind, servitization may not be the best priority to focus on right now, but for those not in a position to make the shift, it’ll be worth thinking about. For other businesses, servitization might end up being the existential lynchpin that keeps your business running.

Innovation in the wake of this crisis has been a rare moment of positivity and inspiration in a time full of uncertainty and tragedy. For businesses, this has frequently taken the form of service-oriented activities when product-oriented business has taken a hit.

The most obvious avenue that this has taken is through delivery, which has been the system that has kept many businesses solvent, and employees working, in traditionally product-oriented fields. Retailers, restaurants, and suppliers have in record time built systems for quickly delivering products to their customers, offering value and new experiences.

I’ve seen a few compelling examples of this. For instance, Restaurant supplier Baldor has pivoted to home delivery at an incredible pace. Delivery is of course a very small component of service, but when you’re pivoting from being a purchaser and supplier to making fast, frictionless consumer interactions, that functions as a crash-course in developing a service-oriented mindset.

I imagine that this has substantially decreased the size of the average order (a home chef is not cooking 27 beef wellingtons a night) while increasing the number of deliveries by equal measure. For a business to do this effectively, they need to very carefully manage their logistics planning. Sure, if you’re an Amazon, you can throw more drivers at a problem, but businesses that are not sitting on a trillion dollar valuation need to manage their existing workforce with care and efficiency. Fortunately, there’s some outstanding optimization options to ensure that you can scale your workforce appropriately. Alternatively, you can always try to draft contingent labor to support your efforts.

Building the business model that goes along with this is key, as well. I've seen companies begin to offer services via a waiting list that you sign up for, which offers a sense of exclusivity, and encourages purchases when customers reach the other side of the "velvet rope".

These are all simple examples, but they are things that businesses have been able to roll out in weeks. As time drags on and the nature of this crisis continues to evolve, more creative, complex, and revolutionary ideas will come, and for businesses that have been flirting with servitization, a bold move might be just what is needed in this moment. Think differently about how you can approach your customers, your products, and your addressable market, and be sure to think beyond this crisis. Smart ideas will keep you whole today, and set you apart for the recovery.

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April 22, 2020 | 1 Mins Read

How Munters Is Addressing Today and Tomorrow’s Business Needs

April 22, 2020 | 1 Mins Read

How Munters Is Addressing Today and Tomorrow’s Business Needs

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Sarah talks with Roel Rentmeesters, Director of Global Customer Service at Munters about how Munters is tackling the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in a very tactical way while also looking ahead to lead as we find the new normal.

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April 20, 2020 | 8 Mins Read

3 Commonalities of Companies Navigating the Turbulence of COVID-19 Well

April 20, 2020 | 8 Mins Read

3 Commonalities of Companies Navigating the Turbulence of COVID-19 Well

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Over the past few weeks I’ve been able to connect with several service leaders to discuss the different ways they are tackling the impact of this global pandemic. I’ve appreciated each of these conversations, not just for the insight they’ve provided on how businesses across industries are responding to such uncharted waters – but also because they show a willingness and desire to stay connected as a community and to share with one another lessons we’re learning, as humans and as businesses, despite how much more of our time is taken up by managing this crisis.

As these conversations have unfolded, I’ve noticed a few themes among the companies that are – in my opinion – navigating this time well. These points have come up in almost every conversation I’ve had and seem to be top of mind for all of those on the frontlines of leading their organizations through a time that no one was prepared for.

Theme #1: Put People First

In a situation like we’re in with COVID-19, it becomes abundantly clear how much a company cares about its employees and its customers. It’s really interesting to hear the genuine concern those I’ve talked with have for the people they employ and serve, and some of the ways they’re taking action to show that. Companies managing this crisis well are, first and foremost, leading with their people at heart. This presents itself in a few ways:

  • Prioritizing safety. This first point probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – these companies got a very early start on taking measures to keep their workforce and customers safe, many even before travel bans and isolation came into play. Everything from personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, adjusted schedules to minimize risk, and – whenever possible – remote work, have come into play and continue to be amended as variables change.
  • Looking for new ways to deliver value. When considering customers, some companies have done an excellent job of not only looking for ways to preserve the ability to provide the service they need to, but also to look for new ways to deliver value to their customers. Acting quickly to utilize tools to offer remote service is one example, but I’ve taken note of countless others even in my personal life – sit-down restaurants quickly pivoting to take-out and delivery, fitness centers offering live streaming classes, the Cincinnati Zoo going live on Facebook with an “at-home” safari, DJs holding Instagram “club nights,” and the list goes on. The takeaway, though, is thinking outside of the box.
  • Keeping your people connected. We’re all in a situation right now where this forced isolation feels a bit odd and it’s easy for us to begin to feel disconnected. Companies need to be thinking about how to keep their now remote employees engaged and connected, both in terms of achieving the needed productivity, but perhaps also in more lighthearted ways (Zoom happy hour, anyone?). Similarly, if you haven’t already, it’s a good time to begin thinking about how to connect with customers with facetime all but eliminated. Using social media to hold live events, answer questions, or provide some sort of information and value can be especially valuable in our current circumstances.
  • Giving back. Many companies are looking for ways to give back to the community and to help keep us all connected in our fight to return to normal life. Whether a major shift to address an urgent need, like companies in completely non-medical fields beginning to manufacture respirators, or a mission to serve essential workers through meals donated or something along those lines, it’s heartening to see all the ways individuals and companies are stepping up to care for one another.

Theme #2: Use This Crisis as a Catalyst to Embrace Change

Our hand has been forced to do business differently than we’ve ever done before. Is that a hard thing? Absolutely, yes. But it’s also, in some ways, a good thing. What I mean by this is that companies managing this crisis well are looking at the need to embrace change as a critical opportunity rather than just a burden. For those that have been dragging their feet on digital transformation, COVID-19 is acting as a major accelerator. Companies that were already on a digital transformation journey are finding new and more expansive use for the tools they’ve invested in. In my conversations with service leaders, points that have come up as silver linings in this difficult time are:

  • Becoming more agile and nimble. Even companies that have never uttered the word “agile” are being forced to pivot quickly and find ways to adapt to these new circumstances. In no way do I mean to dismiss the magnitude of this challenge, or the fact that many businesses are facing nearly impossible circumstances. But for all able to weather this storm, the exercise in adapting quickly will provide valuable perspective that can be carried into the recovery and beyond.
  • Embracing new tools for business continuity. By necessity, this situation has caused a major uptick in the use of new digital tools. From simple video conferencing tools for formerly in-person meetings to merged reality remote assistance tools to allow for remote service, there’s a wide variety of technology options that can be scaled if already in use or deployed if not to provide brand new ways of learning how to collaborate, communicate, and serve. Companies managing this crisis well are not hesitating to adopt such tools and put them to good use for business continuity.
  • Taking advantage of the newfound open-mindedness of employees. Along with the need to evolve the way we work, employees who perhaps not long ago would’ve resisted change or the introduction of new technology are welcoming it with open arms. The change management roadblocks that companies have struggled with for years have, at least temporarily, subsided as employees embrace new processes and technologies that allow them to continue working.

A great example of a company harnessing the opportunity to embrace change is Munters. We published an article recently on how Munters has adopted IFS Remote Assistance in an effort to address the challenging circumstances of the pandemic, while also setting the stage for servitization success. Munters acted fast as it noticed the early impact of COVID-19 and was able to deploy the technology to more than 200 employees across 22 countries in just two weeks. “It’s important to remember in these times that there are technologies that can provide really fast time to value – embrace those tools that can help you through this time, and beyond,” says Roel Rentmeesters, Director of Global Customer Service at Munters. “The employees that were impacted by the demands to stay in place were very welcoming of IFS Remote Assistance. Countries less impacted by Coronavirus and where our technicians are still free to travel still wonder a little bit about this new technology and what it's going to bring for them, because it is a change in business model. But those who need it to continue to do their jobs needed virtually no change management.”

Theme #3: Maintain a Parallel View of The Present and What’s to Come

While it can feel nearly impossible to envision right now, we know that at some point this will subside, and we will find a new normal. When that happens, demand will likely skyrocket for many services and companies will feel that pressure. While it’s critical to react fast to current circumstances and ensure business continuity amidst the crisis, it’s also important to use this time to consider and strategize on what recovery will look like for your company. Companies that are doing this well are:

  • Looking past survival instincts. The first step is to force yourself beyond the inclination to stay in crisis mode, which can be the hardest part of this parallel mindset. Certain companies and industries are in especially challenging circumstances as a result of what’s happening and exerting any energy on issues beyond today can seem impossible. But if you do want to survive, long term, you must force yourself to do just that – at least to some degree. Otherwise you’ll focus so much on surviving the crisis that you aren’t able to ramp up and adjust when recovery begins.
  • Determining what lessons are being learned now that can be applied to what comes next. I’ve talked with multiple service leaders about how much of a shame it will be if we indeed to back to business as usual. Why? Because there are some really pertinent and important lessons being learned in these hard times. Whether that’s discovering the role remote work can play for your organization, learning a new need your customer base has, or uncovering a new technology that would benefit your operations, it is worthwhile to view these challenging times through the lens of what can be learned from them and applied even once things aren’t quite so challenging. We want to come out of this better than we were before, not equal.
  • Considering what recovery will look like for your business and beginning to map your new normal. Chances are we won’t return to normal but find a “new normal.” Are you considering what that new normal will look like for your business? Have you had to put practices in place in the short term that will become expectations in the long-term? Are you navigating a steep decline in demand right now that will, at some point, quickly and aggressively ramp back up? Whatever the unique circumstances for your business, it’s important to be thinking now about what the new normal will look like and feel like for your business and begin planning for that path.

I liked how Ravi Advani, Director of Global Solutions at Unisys, put it on a webcast we did together recently: “The opportunity this crisis presents us is to look forward into the future and ask, ‘What does this mean for the next five years, the next 10 years? And where is technology going to take us in response to this tremendous event we're experiencing?’ he says. “This is going to present us with opportunities and challenges to making remote working more effective, more productive, more ubiquitous. I’ll be a shift for some organizations in some industries, but we'll come out of this stronger.”

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April 16, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

Service Software Buyer’s Guide: COVID-19 Edition

April 16, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

Service Software Buyer’s Guide: COVID-19 Edition

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By Tom Paquin

As we say so often here, businesses that offer service have been—and will remain—the lifeblood of our economy. Service powers growth around the world, and it is the engine that enables a swift and complete recovery in the face of social, environmental, and economic challenges.

It’s safe to assume that many service-oriented organizations are postponing any software purchases until they have a better sense of business continuity in the face of today’s current crisis, and that is absolutely fair. That doesn’t, however, mean that we don’t have a right (or an obligation) to start planning for the future. Eventually the restrictions holding back business growth will subside, and in their wake there will be a sudden flurry of service, from repairs to installations to consultations and everything in between.

Moreover, some companies may be looking for ways to leverage their team differently to meet their customers’ needs, and are looking for smart technologies to put in place in an effort the mitigate the effects of these restrictions.

With all that in mind, we’ve put together some important capabilities to keep in mind while evaluating potential service software partners, with an eye to managing the current crisis, and building systems prepared for any future challenge. While this is by no means an exhaustive list of criteria to consider, here are some key components worth noting:

Integration
Often when considering a solution, the fixation is on the mix of capabilities that make up the product and how they fit with your service vision. A chief consideration that is frequently downplayed, but exponentially important is how your service systems integrate into your broader enterprise systems. I’ve written before about how your service system needs to function as your grand central station. Service balances your customer and operations in a way that your CRM and ERP systems do not. For that to work properly, you need both a flexible platform and a capable integration team. With solid integration on your side, you can manage and mitigate any unforeseen circumstances from a central location, and you can measure the impact on your overall business in real time.

Planning and Scheduling Optimization

Here’s another one I’ve made a stink about in the past, but it’s worth remembering! Having a system that can dynamically shift your planning based on changing criteria is absolutely essential. When things go wrong, you need to be able to readjust headcount and account for unexpected restrictions in minutes, not hours. This generally means finding a solution this is powered on the backend by AI. True optimization is a lot more than routing, too, and getting that mix right of course goes back to the previous point—systems need to be centrally integrated, so your optimization engine can take workers—both contingent and salaried—into consideration right alongside parts, locations, expertise, and any regional, account, or company-level exceptions. There’s a lot that goes into this, but getting it right pays dividends every day.

Forecasting

Forecasting is basically a subsection of planning and scheduling, but within the context of today’s crisis, it’s worth pointing out separately. A smart “what if?” forcecating engine allows you to answer tough questions such as how a large reduction in workforce, or an increase in demand will impact performance. This will further influence your optimizations systems by giving your informed projections of countless scenarios so that you can be fiscally and operationally prepared, and can create projections in the moment. Imagine today if you had this functionality two months ago. This, like everything else, extends from routing, to people, to parts, which I have written about before.

Remote Management

We’ve talked about this one quite a bit recently, both in terms of projections, and case studies, and the point of this speaks for itself: Remote management does a lot more than prevent a truck roll. Today, it keeps employees and customers safe, profitable, and moving forward. Can we do everything remotely that we can do in the field? Obviously not, but the scaffolding is there to envision a nearly 100% zero-touch future. Having this as a component of your software purchases will be a given in six months, and of everything on this list, this one is worth the investment right now. These systems are easy to set up quickly and even easier for employees to learn. It’s worth a look.

Scalability

As I mentioned at the top, a lack of service calls today means unrepaired assets, and when a recovery spurns a return to normalcy, your business needs to be ready. This might mean employing a large amount of contingent labor to staff up quickly, or it could simply mean making sure your operations are prepared to navigate that bottleneck. When business picks up, you don’t want any more reasons for customers to be unhappy. And hey—you’ll want to deliver on as many appointments as possible. We all look forward to being able to work together again. Let’s make the most out of it.

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April 15, 2020 | 1 Mins Read

Panel Discussion: Managing COVID-19’s Impact

April 15, 2020 | 1 Mins Read

Panel Discussion: Managing COVID-19’s Impact

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Enjoy this replay of Sarah’s recent panel conversation with Dr. Michael Saag, infectious disease physician recovering himself from the coronavirus; Ravi Advani, Director of Global Solutions at Unisys; and Gary York, CEO of Help Lightning about how they’re dealing with COVID-19 as both individuals and businesses.

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April 13, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

Words of Wisdom for Diversifying Service Revenue Streams

April 13, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

Words of Wisdom for Diversifying Service Revenue Streams

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By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

I don’t know of a service organization today that isn’t interested in creating new revenue streams and diversifying its offerings. I do, however, know a number of organizations looking to do this that feel stuck – for a variety of reasons – with the “how.” Back in 2012 when I was at the helm of Field Technologies, we featured Restaurant Technologies, Inc. (RTI) on the cover of the magazine. The company was an early adopter of IoT and was really agile in adopting not only cutting-edge technology, but in equipping its company to seize opportunities of serving customers in new and different ways.

RTI hasn’t slowed down since. In fact, they’ve continued to prove the ability to morph and evolve in ways that enable the company to better serve its customers, increase revenue streams by serving customers in new and different ways, and be open to the many possibilities to differentiate and diversify. I recently reconnected with Jason Cocco, SVP of Sales at RTI, to get his advice for others on what it takes to seize the opportunity that exists for your organization rather than let it slip by.

Look Beyond Cost Savings

The first piece of advice that Jason offers is to begin expanding your thinking beyond your internal metrics – to look beyond the need to cut costs and focus on opportunities for growth. “There is heavy focus for service organizations on, ‘Okay, I'm going to go implement a new technology or dive into to this new space for our business. What's the cost savings?’ You need to balance and move beyond this thinking by also saying, ‘Okay, cost savings are great, but what's the growth opportunity?’ Having that focus as a forcing function within your organization and in a constant question as you evaluate opportunities will help you be more strategic and ideate around where the bigger opportunities lie,” explains Jason.

The reality is technologies like IoT and other automation tools will, in fact, help you cut costs. But Jason’s point is that if you limit your view to those internal benefits, you’ll miss the growth opportunities that also become possible as you implement such technology. In today’s landscape, recognizing the opportunity to differentiate and diversify – rather than just reducing costs – is imperative. From this point on, service organizations will not be able to survive on maximizing productivity and reducing costs alone. If you are not looking for ways to serve your customers differently, to create experiences and deliver outcomes, and to diversify your revenue streams, you are putting your company at risk.

Evaluate Incremental Vs. Evolutionary Change

Another point Jason brought up is that it’s important to think about the differences in incremental versus evolutionary change. For instance, incremental change may be looking for ways to morph your current service contracts to gain some additional revenue. Evolutionary change may be adding an entirely new service line, or even serving a brand-new customer base. Both are fine to consider, but you want to be looking at the context so that you don’t miss an opportunity to embrace more evolutionary change that could have a larger impact.

“We're private equity backed, and while that won’t be the case for everyone, it has been one of the things that's really helped us in terms of identifying these opportunities and growing the way we have. Every three or four years, we naturally take a hard look at the business model and say, ‘How do we need to evolve?’ That evaluation includes operations and sales, but also new products and growth,” says Jason. “Organizations I've been with in the past haven’t done as good of a job evaluating their business model continually, and it’s worth considering that you don’t need to be PE-backed to do so.”

Create an Innovation-Friendly Culture

Finally, Jason stresses the important of fostering an innovation-friendly culture. “You have to build a culture around innovation and ideation – it doesn’t just happen,” he says. “Some companies become so narrowly focused on their current path that they lack an openness to new ideas and new thinking. We, at times, take people out of their current roles and say, ‘Go work on this, and come back to us,’ because it's a growth development opportunity for them, but it also helps to uncover really good growth opportunities for the business.”

For this culture to take hold, a growth mindset must be driven from the top. “You can have that growth mindset at the top, but if you can't figure out how to get that to trickle that down through the rest of the business, you're really going to struggle on the execution,” says Jason. “We’re talking about significant process and organizational changes in many cases, and that isn’t just field, it isn’t just sales, it isn’t just marketing – it impacts every aspect of the business. If you aren’t aligned company-wide on what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, it will be impossible to succeed. Our company theme is win as one — so we win together and that takes everyone in a collective force of different functional areas, to bring new ideas, to drive the change, to develop new skills, and to scale within the organization.”

While mastering revenue differentiation is not an easy feat, RTI has done an excellent job. However, Jason wants to be clear that it isn’t easy, and you have to be committed to staying the course. “I don’t want anyone to think it was simple or easy. There were plenty of times of frustration and doubt,” he says. “You have to commit to staying the course, continuing to be mindful about the opportunity, and being open to change.”

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April 9, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

Emotional Intelligence in a Time of Crisis: 3 Critical Opportunities to Deploy Empathy

April 9, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

Emotional Intelligence in a Time of Crisis: 3 Critical Opportunities to Deploy Empathy

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By By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had several conversations to understand how our audience is navigating the current crisis. I’ve talked with service leaders, consultants, technology providers, and even a physician about how they are being impacted both as individuals and as businesses. While the circumstances we’re all facing are unspeakable, there are a few themes I plan to explore in the coming weeks that surface in nearly every conversation I’ve had and serve as a sort of silver lining to what’s happening.

One of those themes is how the current state of our world and this giant we are collectively battling is bringing us together as human beings. How it is reminding us all what is really important, how it is forcing us to connect in new and different ways, and how it is giving us an opportunity to – even if from afar – care for one another. But I do recognize that, for many businesses, the pressure of what’s happening can make it difficult to determine how to tactically balance empathy and caring for your people with the very real logistical and financial struggles that you’re facing.

I came across this image recently from New York Times bestselling author Chip Conley from his book Emotional Equations, and I wanted to share because I think it provides some helpful context particularly right now. As Chip says, in Emotional Equations he “translated the cognitive processes which dictate our emotional responses into simplified formulas for understanding.”

There’s plenty of content out there on why empathy is so important for business, but before we can appropriately practice empathy we first need to understand the emotions of the people we’re serving. With this visual from Emotional Equations in mind, I want to suggest three areas in which it is critical to be empathetic as you work to manage this crisis.

#1: Your Employees – When I look at Chip’s chart, I think there’s one emotion we’re universally feeling right now – anxiety. It’s important to put yourself in the shoes of your employees and consider how they’re feeling. For companies whose services are still in demand, this anxiety may be more around staying safe and keeping their families protected from harm. For companies that have seen a steep decline in business, that anxiety is likely more around losing their jobs and even access to healthcare. I’m not suggesting that the consideration of their feelings will change the hard decisions you may have to make in either situation, but leading with empathy will make a difference. Regardless of what challenges your company is facing, treating your employees with respect, open communication, and keeping their feelings top of mind is critical.

#2: Your Customers – In addition to anxiety, your customers may be feeling disappointment. Businesses are struggling, individuals are feeling isolated and stuck. Whomever you serve, it’s a hard time to do so. Maybe empathy is how you serve your customers is simply taking extra safety measures in the service you’re providing, as I illustrated in this article reviewing my recent Vivint service experience. Maybe your method of service or value has been impacted and halted. If this is the case, think outside of the box. How can you serve your customers differently in this time? How can you connect with them and ease some of those feelings of anxiety and disappointment? I’ve seen so many examples of companies getting creative in delivering value to their customers – the Cincinnati Zoo has been going live on Facebook daily delivering an “at-home safari,” many fitness apps have made their services free for all of those stuck at home to enjoy, DJs are having “club quarantine” events on Instagram. While these are less field-service specific examples, my point here is to first, keep your customers’ feelings in mind and second, look for alternative ways to connect and deliver value.

#3: Your Community – Finally, consider how you can serve your community in this time. How can you, as an individual and as a business, show integrity and authenticity? This brings to mind examples of how many companies have begun helping those in need, but also how some have pivoted entirely to be of service in this time. Everlywell has begun making COVID-19 tests to augment availability. Dyson and others have begun manufacturing ventilators. This global crisis is one that we will only recover from if we do so together.

None of us can predict what the future will bring with all of this, but I can tell you one thing with absolute certainty: how you treat people right now is something that will be remembered for a very long time. It’s so important to act with that in mind.

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