By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service
I think it’s safe to say manufacturers have recognized the need to embrace Servitization, but the race is on to see which companies can successfully transition their operations from product-focused to service-focused. Panasonic Appliances Air-Conditioning Europe is ready to lead the charge and has a strategy in place to do so. Karl Lowe, Head of European Service at Panasonic Appliances Air-Conditioning Europe, recently joined the company with the remit of leading the organization on its journey to Servitization.
“There’s been a recognition within Panasonic Heating & Cooling Solutions that we need to adopt more of a service mindset,” explains Karl. “The remit I’ve been given is to develop the maturity of our service organization.” Karl explains that, like many product manufacturers, historically service has been viewed within the organization in more of the technical sense. His goal is to broaden that thinking and begin work on getting the company’s service to be perceived as world-class in the way that its diverse portfolio of commercial and residential HVAC products are.
Karl explains that the process is complex because Panasonic Heating & Cooling Solutions operates in so many countries and regions and those operations have been conducted very independently until now. “We have this kind of silo mentality because each country works independently,” he notes. “But what we're trying to do with service is offer top-down governance in the way that we work operationally, how we work from a service sales point of view and how we work technologically. We don't want to take away the independence or the free thinking of our National Sales Companies (NSCs), but we do want to move away from each country doing it in their own way. We believe that offering common approaches and processes will really help our organization.”
Panasonic’s 3 Step Service Transformation
Karl’s first objective was to get a wholistic view of the status of service operations across the organization. He conducted a business maturity assessment to gain a greater understanding of the service business starting point within Panasonic Heating & Cooling Solutions.
With the baseline understood and set, Karl developed a three-step strategy to help Panasonic progress through the maturity model. “The first part of that plan is the operational side of our business,” says Karl. “This means using common tools, using similar processes and similar reporting so that we can start to work in a similar kind of way. And it's a little bit like if you were to drive your car into a showroom, if you go into Germany, if you go into the U.K., if you go into France, it's a similar feel, it's a similar approach. You should probably expect a similar kind of service. And that's really what we're trying to achieve within Panasonic Heating & Cooling Solutions, so that the customer that's in need of our assistance, whether they're in Italy, whether they're in the Czech Republic, whether they're in Spain or in Norway, it really doesn't matter – they should receive consistency.”
As a part of its operational transformation to mature service, Panasonic enlisted the support of IFS Remote Assistance, a collaborative merged reality software that blends two real-time video streams into an interactive environment. “IFS is important in this first phase of our strategy because it, for the first time, offers us a unification of the same way of working,” Karl notes. “We all have to use IFS. So, we will have to work in the same way in the way that we give the customer support, which is obviously to a high standard, and that is our goal.”
Remote Assistance Sets the Stage for Service Success
Panasonic Heating & Cooling Solutions has been piloting IFS Remote Assistance in its U.K. and Germany NSCs. “The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” describes Karl. “So much so that interest in the technology has spread throughout Panasonic.” During the pilot, Panasonic has found that in addition to driving service consistency, there are several other benefits the company will gain from IFS Remote Assistance.
“Another valuable aspect of using IFS Remote Assistance is how it enables us to capture and transfer knowledge to protect ourselves from losing technical insights and to educate and upskill across our workforce,” Karl explains. The solution allows Panasonic to record each session and if the company notices similarities occurring, it can initiate training to alleviate common issues. Remote Assistance can also be used for collaboration among workers – the visual aspect of the technology and being able to see what the other person sees means that resolution is far greater than support via a phone call.
Panasonic Heating & Cooling Solutions expects that by standardizing its service operations on IFS Remote Assistance the company will improve response times, increase remote diagnostics and resolution, reduce on-site visits and save costs, improve speed of repair, and achieve higher customer satisfaction by reducing customer friction.
An example is how IFS Remote Assistance will replace a third-party triage service previously used in the U.K. So, customers would call, be connected to third-party triage who then would relay the information to Panasonic, and they’d await a reply. Now, service sessions can be initiated immediately with IFS Remote Assistance to determine what the issue is and whether it requires a physical site intervention by one of our service engineers. “We need to speed our repairs, and with IFS deployed we expect to accomplish that goal,” notes Karl.
Once deployment of IFS Remote Assistance is complete and operational processes have been polished, Panasonic Heating & Cooling Solutions will move on to phases two and three of its strategy. Phase two is to examine the company’s service sales structure. “This is where we’ll look at how we sell service,” Karl explains. “And this is probably the most challenging part. We want customers to see us as a solution to their problems rather than a company they buy products from. We need to examine what offerings are appealing to our customer base and how we can develop those into subscription-based contracts. We want to deliver outcomes – for them to trust us to look after their products and make sure they are always operating optimally. It's always running. It's always being monitored. If there's a problem, we turn up, we fix it. We go away, peace of mind solutions in that way. And I think that's very much the way the industry is going. If you look at hotels, hospitals, retail, restaurants, warehouses, industries, offices, and many other applications they want to get on with doing what they do best – they don't want to worry about HVAC equipment. That's our job and we need to determine how to best meet that need.”
The third and final phase is to examine the service engineering side of things. “Lastly, we’ll look at optimizing how we work in the field from an engineering standpoint and determine how can we provide feedback from the field and from our customers back to R&D to aid in the development of new products and solutions.”
Panasonic Heating & Cooling Solutions has the recipe for Servitization success: the vision, the strategy, and solid foundational technology to build upon. “The expectation if you’re buying a premium product is that you get premium service,” says Karl. “Our ultimate goal is to maximize customer retention, and to do that we need to mature and innovate in how we provide service to our customers. This is a new approach, a new beginning for Panasonic and I’m excited for the journey.”