×

April 30, 2021 | 3 Mins Read

Living with COVID

April 30, 2021 | 3 Mins Read

Living with COVID

Share

By Tom Paquin

Nearly twenty years ago, I was sitting in a seminar hall during a class called “Issues in Biotechnology”. The week’s lesson was on pandemics. I had originally taken the class figuring it’d be a relatively easy way to fulfil a science requirement for my major that I could coast through while focusing on college’s many more important activities, but over the course of that day’s seminar, I was at full attention.

I sat, horrified, as the professor described the likelihood that animal-borne diseases would emerge. The prevailing theory at the time was that we’d be struck with an “avian flu”, since in the late nineties several poultry farmers had started to catch diseases from their chickens, though those diseases had not yet mutated to a stage where they could transfer from human to human. This still happens all the time. The pandemic would be an upper respiratory disease, and would have a devastating impact on, in the words of my professor, the elderly and the very young. “It’s not a matter of if,” he said, “It’s a matter of when. I don’t mean to be alarmist, but we should all be prepared.”

It will likely come as no surprise that, for literal years, I was overwhelmed with a dire sense of paranoia that the dark cloud of pandemic was imminent. As I rode the subway, I peered suspiciously at the human petri dishes around me, wondering about the devastation that any one of us could inflict upon our surroundings. In the intervening years, H1N1 came and went, and the spectre of worldwide pandemic seemed like less and less of a threat in the face of science and technology.

2020, though, showed how much worse reality could be than my expectations.

But now, the US has vaccinated half of its population, and the world is following suit (I will note that my western-centric view ignores the persistent and significant challenges that remain globally, but I am hopeful and confident that a unified effort to combat the virus can support with the resources and expertise to overcome those challenges). According to the New York Times, we’re seeing exponential case growth invert into exponential decay, meaning we’re entering a new phase of our relationship with COVID.

I am confident that the state of Global Pandemic will be lifted, hopefully this year. Dr. Fauci thinks we’ll be in a state of normality in the USA by July 4th. But the trendlines all have something in common.

They never reach zero.

And yes—in the years since the “Swine flu panic” H1N1 has sidled itself into the shuffled deck of seasonal flus, and COVID-19 is likely to do something similar. And that is fine, in the long run, as our collective human consciousness makes sense of the new illness, but the fact that we have to live with the virus itself also means that we’ll be living, perhaps in perpetuity, with some of its effects. These effects, the tectonic changes in people’s behavior that we’ve normalized over fourteen months, will invariably impact service. For the next few weeks, we’re going to dissect s a few of the ways that things have changed, and what they mean long-term for service. Here’s a few of the topics we’ll be covering:

  • Meeting People Where They Are
  • Planning for Perpetual PPE
  • Decentralized Dispatch

With more to come as we reach the next, next, next, next normal.

On a personal note, my wife is nine months pregnant, with our daughter set to arrive at virtually any moment. In writing this series, I’ve had an opportunity to reflect on the world that she’s going to be born into. I think that it will ultimately be a better one than the one that we were in when the pandemic began. I will sure be trying to make it better for her in every way that I can.

April 28, 2021 | 29 Mins Read

Pressing Pause to Reflect After the COVID Sprint

April 28, 2021 | 29 Mins Read

Pressing Pause to Reflect After the COVID Sprint

Share

Jason Prokop, Director of Field Service, and Alesia Magon, Sr. Manager Technical Support & Repair Center, both of global laboratory diagnostics firm DiaSorin, take a deep breath after the massive growth, major pivots, and immense perseverance of the last year to talk with Sarah about their lessons learned.

Sarah: Welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we're going to take a moment and press pause to reflect back after the COVID sprint. While we certainly aren't completely past the pandemic, we've reached a point where a lot of businesses are stopping to take a look at the lessons learned and the experiences they've gleaned over the last year.

Sarah: I'm joined today by Jason Prokop and Alesia Magon, both of DiaSorin. Jason and Alesia, welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast.

Alesia: Thanks for having us.

Jason: Nice to be here. Thank you.

Sarah: Thank you for being here. Let's start with some introductions. So why don't you tell us a little bit about DiaSorin, your roles and anything you'd like to share about your backgrounds. Alesia, do you want to go first?

Alesia: Sure. My name is Alesia Magon as Sarah mentioned and I'm the senior manager of technical support in the repair center at DiaSorin. I'll let Jason describe DiaSorin too in a little bit, in a global sense. But what I'm responsible for, is the 24/7 technical support team at DiaSorin Inc., across the U.S. and Canada, as well as the repair depot and internal service for equipment that we have here at the DiaSorin Inc. site.

Sarah: Excellent. Jason, can you tell us a little bit about DiaSorin and your role?

Jason: Yes, hi. I'm Jason Prokop. I'm the director of service and support here at DiaSorin Inc., out of Stillwater, Minnesota. So I'm responsible and our team's responsible for the field service across the United States and we also have a subsidiary up in Canada. We directly manage our customers install base. We do preventative maintenance, repairs, et cetera.

Jason: So DiaSorin is a global manufacturer of immunodiagnostics products. We're very multi-international company from that perspective and we really specialize in specialty diagnostics. That's why if you see our brand, DiaSorin's called the diagnostic specialist from that perspective. So we try to come out with niche and innovative products, that fit gaps in our customers' needs from that perspective.

Sarah: Okay, great. So I wrote an article, I think it was, I believe it was late 2020 and it was my love letter to the service industry for surviving such a crazy year. Alesia, you actually reached out to me, after coming across that article and saying, "Hey, this really resonated and I think that we experienced a lot of this and we have some interesting stuff to share." So here we are. So can you tell us a little bit, what about that article resonated most with you?

Alesia: Yeah, during the pandemic, there was a lot of news and media about the frontline workers, as there should have been. That's completely appropriate. There was people, many, many industries and types of people that were serving the communities, that weren't as readily noticed. When I read that article, I thought, "Absolutely, yes. This is the love letter to the people in this community and the community of the service industry, that are trying to help in their own retrospective ways for the customers that they serve." And thinking specifically about the service industry at DiaSorin, I thought, "Yes, this is what we went through." We had unbelievable challenges, but we had a lot of lessons where we learned about perseverance and we learned about how to stay strong and you wrote and touched on several of those points in the letters and I shared it on LinkedIn, as an effort of expressing the same level of gratitude back to the service department that we represent.

Sarah: Yeah, you make a really good point, which is there's many layers and types of essential workers, right? So some that have experienced maybe different things first-hand, like those that are on the front lines in the healthcare industry, certainly I think deserve to be top of mind, when you think about what this last year has looked like. But to your point, there's a lot of things that are a little bit more behind the scenes and a lot of people that have worked really hard to serve those front line workers and to make sure that those front line workers have been able to do everything that they needed to do for patients and for people that have been impacted most. I think that that's a really, really good point.

Sarah: Now, DiaSorin being in the industry that you're in, just so happened to be in a position to provide testing for COVID and therefore, had maybe a doubly crazy year last year, because you experienced some really intense growth. So Jason, can you tell us a little bit about sort of, what's the core business? So what were you kind of up to before COVID hit? Then, what has that growth looked like? How did you sort of pivot and start providing that testing and what did that kind of mean in terms of the impact on the business?

Jason: Yeah, absolutely. So pre-COVID, it was typical business as usual for our organization. We had our national commercial meeting laid out at the end of February, where we were given our strategic objectives of an organization, with the products that we were going to come out with and launch and what our focus was going to be for 2020.

Jason: So we were all out on our plan. Everybody, all the information was cascaded to everybody in the commercial organization, as well as internally. Then come mid-March, things changed. Now we're in the midst of the pandemic, so as an organization and being we're very innovative from that perspective, we saw what was needed in the market place. So we quickly, our molecular colleagues out in California, came up with the PCR test for COVID. Then our global colleagues in Italy and internally here in Stillwater, came out with some amino acids, both for IgG and antigen testing. Now we have another IgG testing for post-vaccination from that aspect.

Jason: So then we saw much interest in the market place, because no vendor was ready with the supply to meet the demand from our customers. So then we quickly had to collaborate with all of our colleagues, both from a corporate level and in the U.S., as well as our instrument manufacturers, to look at what we could do with our supply to meet the demand of the public and I think from that, we saw the communication across our organizations really increase, even though we're in this virtual setting from that perspective. We all had to communicate with one another on a daily basis, to make sure that we could get done what we needed to get done for the organization, as well as our communities and society from that perspective.

Sarah: Mm-hmm (affirmative), okay. So can you give us kind of a base line to think about, like, "Okay, before COVID we were producing X units." Like how much did that really boom the business and like a scale for what you had to adjust to.

Jason: Yeah, so I can talk a little bit from an instrument standpoint. So from a molecular standpoint, our install base more than doubled in 2020. From immuno standpoint, we had a couple months where we installed more instruments than we ever have in the history of the time that I've been with the organization and I've been here almost 27 years from that perspective. I think from an immuno side, in one month we installed over 50 instruments in May, I believe. Typically, we do maybe 10 a month. So it was all hands on deck, to get our customers the instrumentation and the testing they needed to keep up with their demand that they had.

Sarah: Yeah. I think it's interesting that we think about, I think a lot of times when you talk about reacting to change, you think about in the negative sense, right? So like a lot of the organizations we've had conversations with around COVID, unfortunately what that looked like for them was, a significant reduction in business and some people had to make layoffs. So I think there's this perception of the challenges of COVID being more on the side of that contraction. But I think it's just interesting to point out that, challenges can also come in the form of opportunity, right?

Sarah: So I mean let's set aside the fact that you're all employees of DiaSorin and DiaSorin now has this opportunity to provide this testing in this time that it's needed, which obviously has a growth impact on the business. But you're all still human beings, dealing with the same fear and uncertainty and trepidation, in your own lives, right? But there's also a real business aspect of like, "Oh my gosh. Like we have the chance to step in and do this thing and being able to do it." Right, I think the recognition of the opportunity is one thing, but the ability to pull together quickly as a company and execute on that opportunity is a totally different thing.

Sarah: So I think kudos to you guys as an organization, for being able to see where you could have an impact and get to work, doing what needs to be done. You're talking about a global company, right? So all of that communication. The logistics. Everything. We'll talk a little bit about that. I think the other thing that's interesting to look at here is, not only was it a really hard year in many ways, even though for you guys that meant really, really rapid growth. During that, you ended up with the strongest NPS score that you've had since you started measuring it. So how? Like, how did you do that and why do you think that is, or how do you think that was accomplished?

Jason: Man, I can speak to that. So, if I look at it from my perspective, it's all about the great people that we have within our organization and I'm just not talking about all of our people in field service from that perspective, but that's internally, across all of our organizations, everybody stepped up. Did we all have some anxiety? Absolutely! I think everybody in society had some anxiety about stuff.

Jason: But we also knew that we were doing something different and really making a difference from that perspective. So all the people across the organization really stepped up, both internally and in the field and I think our customers saw that. They saw us as an organization, that's going to continue to provide excellent customer support, innovative products, to meet the needs that they have at this time, in a very quick and nimble fashion. Nobody ever stopped. I mean, whatever we asked people to do, of course everybody had a little anxiety about it and we were empathetic to that for sure, because we had the same type of anxiety. But they knew that they were doing the best they could for our organization, as well as the customers out there and all the people within the organization deserve all the credit and I think we had some of the best people of any organization that's out there.

Alesia: Add to that, Sarah, that the industry was, we saw it in the media everywhere. "We need more testing." People were saying, it was March, the middle of March, when the U.S. really became impacted by the pandemic and the number one response was, "More testing, more testing, more testing." Our organization a lot of great people within this company, who are very innovative in the scientific industry, were able to come up with that solution and the customer saw that DiaSorin is a solution provider, right? So we're able to come up with the plans.

Alesia: There was a lot of shortages of a lot of things, but testing was one of the things that was most talked about. When we did that and then you couple it with something that we were already providing before, but our employees dug deep and did it even better this year, was we really provided that customer support and that's not just like the front line people who are talking to the customer, although they are extremely valuable to that, being the face of DiaSorin, it was the people who were staying late and making sure that everything was received on time. It was the people who were processing the orders when they didn't necessarily have to. It was the people who were taking care of their children at home, while still working.

Alesia: I mean it was a lot of people who had to do things that they've never done before. But realizing the importance of why they did that and it was visible to our customers. We were able to say, when they were saying to us, I'm having to show up in the lab and to do the testing, we were saying, "And we're side by side with you, we're helping you." They saw that.

Sarah: Yeah, yeah. We're going to talk a little bit more about kind of the people part of this too and I think that's the most important part. But before we do that, I want to talk about the logistics. The operations of things, right? So in this case, you're talking about growth that was spawned by this crazy once in a lifetime, hopefully, event happening, right? But any company that experiences really, really rapid, big growth, struggles with how to scale and how to react quickly and nimbly to accommodate that.

Sarah: So I think there's a message here, not just, "We grew so much because of COVID", but just, "We experienced this rapid growth, period and here's how we adjusted our business operations to be able to navigate that." So can you guys talk a little bit about some of the areas of operations and how you sort of made some changes and pivots to be able to react and respond to the opportunity that was there?

Alesia: Yeah. Yeah, there was quite a few of those moments. So starting on day one, after we realized what was happening, was about the safety of our employees and what we were going to do. So what do we need to implement in order to get people safe? So for technical support, it meant, "You're working from home immediately." Well that meant that we had to set up their home offices and structure their home offices and ensure that there was business continuity with the phone lines and we had to ensure that there was no major disruptions. Other companies experienced that too. Our customers saw no difference on any of our phone support whatsoever. From a repair center perspective, where we had people who were having to work here at the office, in order to accommodate the needs, it was making sure they had the right PPE. That they had the right safety protocols.

Alesia: It was moving things around in the space and the lab, so that they were able to do that. It was making sure that we had procedures that they could all have their own laptops, where they were making sure that they were reading them without touching other people. It was making sure their badges were only allowing them into certain areas. There was a lot of things that we did, in order to say, "Okay, first is your safety and how are we going to do that?" From a field perspective, we did that as well and Jason can talk a little bit about the safety that we did for the field service employees.

Jason: Yeah and that was working very closely with our corporate colleagues, as well as internally with our health and safety teams and stuff like that. So you know how it went from a PPE perspective, where now everybody needs masks and there's no masks available and you're trying to find lab coats, you're looking for gloves. We were looking to make sure that we could find alternate suppliers, than our base suppliers, to make sure that we had a backup, in case there was a need from that perspective. We had to work with our corporate colleagues up in Canada, because now we can't ship stuff across the border, from that perspective, to get people PPE. So a lot of that comes back to that communications that we had within our teams.

Jason: So that really helped us get ready for that. Then even to keep up with demand, we had to hire some new head count, to make sure that we had enough people in place and then as Ally said, we had to look at social distancing between our confined space, to make sure that we could keep people a safe distance apart. Then we had to look at alternate shifts that people could work, as well. We had people in the field that had daycare needs. So they had decided, instead of working a normal eight to five, that they would work five to one PM, to be able to take good care of their customers still and that's kind of the ownership that we see from our service department, as well as all of our departments internally, is that they really were owned the situation and were very accountable for everything that needed to happen, from that perspective.

Alesia: Yeah and a lot of those pivotal operational things, head count, shifts, safety, working with colleagues around the world, they seem at a glance, something that you could breeze over, but they all took several hours of conversation to figure out, "How are we going to do this and how are we-

Sarah: Yeah, at least, I would think. I mean and it's easy to kind of look back. They say like rose colored glasses, or what have you. But the other thing is, in those very early stages, the circumstances were changing, almost every day, right? So it's like you figure it out once and then you get going and then next week it's different. Then you figure it out again and then, so it wasn't like, we've kind of as this has gone on, we've fallen into a norm. It's not the norm anyone wants, but we've kind of reached a more level state. But in the beginning, I mean it was different requirements and regulations and stipulations being introduced, really all the time. So I think the attention to detail and again, that level of cross-functional and regional communication, is really important in being able to make the changes you guys did and continuing refining them, as you went along. Any other things to note, in terms of logistically or operationally, how you guys kind of accommodated the growth?

Alesia: The main logistics points when it came to servicing, were really about working, when it comes down to the nuts and bolts, besides the staffing and how we had to manage that, was about the logistics of the parts. The logistics of the instrumentation. We really had to collaborate and communicate much differently to our corporate colleagues, in the way that it wasn't that we were speaking about things differently, but we had to speak about things much more rapidly.

Alesia: So instead of weekly communications, it was daily communications, because guess what? "Today we need this, this, this, this." They had to say, "Okay, now we need to gather up the people here that need to help with that. We need to talk to our suppliers. They need to talk to their suppliers. Who's our alternate suppliers? Where are we getting it? How are they going to be imported? How are they going to be exported?" There were so many meetings where we just had to come up with those solutions very quickly and get the right stakeholders in place immediately and there wasn't a person who didn't try to respond to that need.

Alesia: But the logistics of service, although PPE was something that many organizations were contending to get at that time, it's also a lot of those parts require special metaling, special people who are working on manufacturing lines that all were impacted by COVID, as well. When those production lines were shut down, because of a potential COVID case, which did happen multiple times. We had to think about, "Okay, now what are we going to do in the supply chain and how are we going to react?" That was something that we tried to make sure did not impact the customer. We were going to do everything that we could as an organization, to make that transparent to the customer.

Sarah: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Jason: Yep and when we had such an increase in our install base, I mean we had to keep from an inventory standpoint, from spare parts, to be able to service our customers. Like you said, it changed in a month. We would have to manage our reorder points and everything and what our consumption is, pretty much on a weekly basis, to keep up with the growing install base that we were having. Because, we need to make sure we're supporting them in the best possible way that we can. Did we have some challenges? Of course we did. I think every manufacturer that's out there had some challenges from that perspective. But I think we, through a lot of dedication and commitment of our people, we made our way through it quite well.

Sarah: Yeah. So thinking about reacting to this. If you look at it from the business perspective, you're talking about being more nimble, more flexible, more creative, more probably organized. All of the things. What would you each say is the biggest lesson, business-wise, that you've learned, that you think you'll carry into the future? Like out of this experience, what's the one thing that you think will kind of persist?

Alesia: For me, from a personal perspective, right? Yeah, so for me, I would say that I really just want to continue to look at employees' individual situations with the business needs, because not just during COVID, but other times, people have various challenges and you have to be able to say, "Okay, how can we respectfully accommodate those needs and still meet what the objectives are of the organization?"

Alesia: So that's one important thing. But retaining being nimble. It's how to communicate with the other people. I know we've said that word multiple times, but really that was one of the things that came out is, we realized, "Okay, well forget the phone call. Now we're going to do a video chat. Now I'm going to chat you all day long about little individual things, in order to get the end goal done."

Alesia: When we're being nimble with the solution, it's, "Okay, so this is the way we've always done it. We've now proved to some people who have hesitation about that change, that we can do it and we can be just as effective and we can be just as efficient and let's figure out a way to get through it." I think a lot more open mindedness has definitely come out as a result of the COVID experience.

Sarah: Yeah. Jason, what would you add?

Jason: Mine would be similar from that perspective. As leaders within the organization and being we managed a lot of field based staff from that perspective, we want to make sure that they're still engaged from that aspect and we used to have a lot of regional meetings. Go to customer sites and visit. Now we don't have the opportunity to do that. So we're continuing to look at ways that we can keep people engaged from that perspective, where it used to be, well we'll have three regional meetings, we'll go visit some customer sites.

Jason: Now we have to look at alternative ways that we can keep all of our employees engaged from that perspective. I think we've been okay at it, but we still have some work to do from that perspective, because it's hard to be as engaged as you can be, when you're talking through a video monitor or on the phone, from that aspect. I also think that from this and the virtual environment, when we look at jobs that can be done remote, via all the time, or at least provide our employees that flexibility when they have personal needs, to be able to work from home.

Jason: I think from an executive level and leadership level with the organization with the tremendous job that everybody did this year, there's a lot more trust in that aspect, where the old school mentality is, if you're not in the building and you didn't punch your time card, I don't really know what you're doing. I think we actually saw our productivity probably increase with a lot of people working remotely. Probably a little less distractions. Probably a little less meetings being called, that you really didn't need to go to, but people spent half a day in meetings, rather than utilizing that time in a value-added activity. So I think that's going to help us in the long run, for sure.

Sarah: Yeah. Okay. So we talked about the fact that your people was the biggest key to being able to survive and thrive over the last year, in terms of the business. So you guys have mentioned I think, one of the important pieces, which is, there seems to be this pulling together, because everyone realized they were working toward a common good, right? So you guys were navigating this growth, because you were doing something that was having a direct impact on this life experience that we were all having. Alesia, talk a little bit about that kind of interconnectivity and how you think that played a role in peoples' commitment to working harder, or doing whatever it takes to scale up the way you did and to meet the outcomes that you needed to for your customers.

Alesia: Yeah, for sure. There's very few experiences that one goes through in a lifetime, or even generations, in which we all can say we experienced the same thing at the same time. That in itself, creates a connection between the people, right? So it's not the weather that we're talking about, because I mean we were all experiencing the weather that day, but we're talking about how this is impacting us. But it's impacting us in real ways, like real ways where, maybe you've not seen your grandmother for months and months at a time. Or your mother, you have to take care of. Or you're nervous about the fact that your child didn't have childcare, even people who had come with just very unique life experiences, that seemed heavier than normal, right?

Alesia: What made it different was that, a lot of people were having that same feeling, at the same time and it was a result of this. Like what it meant to be stuck in your home for several months. Or for me, I'm in the same building as a part of my team and I couldn't even see them for some months. I had to talk to them virtually, even though we were in the same building. All of those sort of things, really impacted peoples' moods, right? It should have. It did and we're all human. But, one of the things that that meant was, "Okay, I'm having this challenge in my life and my colleague in Italy, in Germany, in the United Kingdom. My colleague who lives in Massachusetts or California, they were all kind of experiencing that."

Alesia: So when I said, "Hey, today is a harder day for me", or that employee said that, we were all saying that. Then, you still saw your colleague next to you, digging deep and trying hard and working the longer hours. Or taking a rest when they needed a rest and you're covering for them, right? So somebody said, "You know what? I need this day off. I have bereavement, I have COVID leave." When that happened, people said, "Okay, I will do more." Because their turn was coming up, right? They kind of knew that. The people who didn't have those turns, felt, I saw a lot of gratitude and feeling fortunate for that. I still see a lot of us feeling connected, "Oh, I see that Italy is closed down again, for instance, last week. That must have been really hard on Easter not to be able to see your family." "Oh, yes that was." Or for all the other holidays that were going on and people didn't get to see their families. Then we were saying, "And when you can work, please come in and help." And people did and they replied to that.

Sarah: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. Yeah, no. I think that makes sense. I think there's definitely this sense of deeper human connection to one another, after the last year. I think that that's the one thing that I hope out of all of this sticks, if anything. Because I think that we just view things differently and I think it makes us kinder to one another. I think it makes people, I'm not a patient person. So I'm not saying like, ultimately patient. But like a little bit more patient and just like I said, a little bit more considerate of what someone else is going through, knowing that we're all going through something and I do hope that that is something that we cannot dismiss when we do get back to an increased sense of normal. Because it is really easy to be kind of wrapped in your own world and your own experiences. But I think this connection that we all have to one another, has been one of the biggest positives out of a really bad situation.

Sarah: So I love the fact that you guys had such a positive response from your teams, in terms of that banding together and working toward a common good. I know we talked before about how important empathy was in leadership over the last year. Can you guys maybe talk a little bit, or give an example about how you have employed empathy with your teams throughout this experience?

Jason: Yeah, I think that was probably one of the most important things that we did as an organization, from that perspective. Because, we're all experiencing the exact same thing. First part is really listening to them, because we're not all in the same situation. Everybody has personal challenges that they have to go through, from that perspective and we all understand that. We listened to all those situations from that aspect.

Jason: We had COVID situations that happened amongst our teams and what we kind of really found from that is, the team work amongst the regions and departments that we have within the organization, that's where I really saw a positive change, because everybody was going through the same thing, "Okay, so and so has COVID. I can take his spot for a little bit. I'm going to go step in." Without any hesitation.

Jason: So I think the biggest thing that we really had was listening. We all had anxiety about what was going on, specifically at the beginning of the pandemic. I think that anxiety has lessened a little bit, but everybody still has a little bit of that there for sure, but really just listening to what their needs are. "If you have to take time out, it's okay. We'll figure it out and everybody else will just step up from a team aspect to get done what needed to get done."

Sarah: Alesia, what would you add?

Alesia: I mean empathy is a word that has gotten thrown around quite a lot, like you know, if you're a servant leader, then you're going to be empathetic to your employees. But what does that mean to really show empathy for one situation is, to be there other words that we described. Empathy for someone's situation is also to say, "We can be creative in this situation and we can allow for that to happen."

Alesia: For those reasons, there was huge kudos to the HR and executive team at DiaSorin, because they allowed the managers to express that creativity. It didn't have to be broad streaking policies that, of course we have policies, that's not the point. But they weren't so broad streaking that it didn't allow the manager to express empathy in a very specific way. I think that the other thing is that when you do show empathy for the employees, it's a double empathy. They show empathy for you, because there were multiple days where I had bad days too. I was experiencing some hardships too. My employees said, "It's okay. You don't have to be perfect today. We're not expecting more from you today."

Alesia: That sort of thing, again, going back to the human side of what COVID left. I mean we were asked to be, like you said, sprinters of this experience. We were asked to sprint through months and months and months of work and we were asked to live during this time, as well. They were sometimes contradicting one another. But that empathy portion of it, how to express it. Not just how to listen and not only to just say, "I am empathetic", but to be empathetic, was something that we were able to do this year and both from an employee side and from a managerial side.

Sarah: Yeah, I think we've had a number of conversations now on this podcast, about the reality of leading by example when it comes to vulnerability and normalizing conversations or making employees feel comfortable saying, "Hey, I'm struggling. I need a break." Or, "I have this going on." There's certain people, certain situations, where it's really hard for folks to speak up, or to feel comfortable, or not scared right, of, "Well what's the reaction going to be? Should I just force my way through it, or what have you?" Related to COVID and not.

Sarah: I think that we've had some really good conversations about, if you can figure out appropriate ways as a leader, to show a little bit of your own humanity and be a little bit vulnerable with your teams, then it shows them that it's okay to do the same thing. I think that that's a good thing. The other thing I think Jason, you mentioned earlier. Some of the field technicians were able to switch their schedules from eight to five. To five to one, right?

Sarah: That might sound like a really small adjustment, but I mean for a lot of people, that probably made the difference of, their spouse not needing to leave their job, or their family not losing an income, or it's just the amount of stress that that situation, in and of itself. People that have kids that couldn't be in childcare or in school, that were both working. I mean we've also talked on here and have relayed a lot of statistics about the number of women that have had to leave the work force in the past year, because of that situation. So those are real tangible things that you can do, right? They're concessions you can make, changes you can make, that don't detract from that employee's ability to do their job, but are just a different way than the norm, that allows them flexibility that probably was priceless to them. Do you know what I mean?

Sarah: To me, that is what empathy is really about, is taking action on what those needs are finding a way to have that common ground. I think that throughout this conversation, you guys have said again and again, like how much your employees cared and how much they wanted to pull together. That's a two-way street, right? If DiaSorin wasn't wanting to hear what those needs are and make adjustments and be creative, those people may not feel as passionate about their part in everything and vice versa. The more you saw them respond and the harder that they wanted to contribute, the more they wanted to contribute, the more you valued their contribution and thought, "Okay, we need to make this work. Like there has to be a way to achieve the right outcomes for everyone."

Sarah: So I think that it's a really good illustration of what needs to happen in that give and take with valuable employees and just thinking, Jason, to your point about not being stuck in the old way of doing things, or some of those thinkings that maybe, over the last year the company is kind of realizing, "Yeah, we felt that way, but it's not proven to be accurate." So yeah. I think those are really good examples and I think it's a really cool story you guys have about how the company has come together, how the employees have contributed and how you've made it through hopefully, the hardest part of the sprint and now you can, whew, breathe a little bit at least. So just one last question, in terms of what are your final thoughts in terms of the biggest lesson you've learned? The biggest take away you have from this whole experience?

Alesia: The biggest take away that I have is that, there's two things. One is, that we're strong and capable and we're able to do things. So I shared with you once before in a conversation. My son learned how to play piano virtually this entire year. I would have never thought that possible. Okay, so there's a lot that we can do, that we never thought that we would be able to do and we walked away with it. Like don't self-limit, right? Then the other piece of that is that, although the virtual is great and there's a lot to it, the other piece that I've learned is how much I enjoy just being around people and what kind of energy that brings and can bring to an environment.

Alesia: So when there is more people around and in the office and you're able to communicate with them face-to-face, or you're able to have a meeting with somebody who's experiencing something and you want to have that meeting face-to-face, there's nothing that really replaces that. I don't really want to replace that. So although I'm able to do things in a lot of different ways, I want to always be able to carve out time to do things face-to-face, when we can, so.

Sarah: Yeah, that makes sense. Jason, what about you?

Jason: Kind of what I learned from this is, if we have the right people in place across the organization, as Ally said, we can do it. When we had to ramp up, not only from a manufacturing and service and installation aspect, it almost sounded like it was impossible to get all the stuff done that we needed to get done. But then we really saw how good the people that we have within the organization and how committed and dedicated they were to the group. Which makes me very proud to work with the team that I work with, as well as everybody else across our entire organization from that aspect.

Jason: The other piece is kind of like Ally's, is I really miss the face-to-face aspect. I'm okay with the virtual, but it's just not the same. So, I can't wait until we're back to a little bit of normalcy, so I can get the field team together and we can have a regional meeting and have face-to-face discussions and continue to build our relationships from that perspective and hopefully sit at the bar and have a beer or something like that, as well, because we can really do a lot to build relationships in a face-to-face setting, that I truly miss. I miss going to our customer sites and seeing all of our colleagues in the field, as well as internationally. So I hope everything continues to whatever the new norm is, the quicker we get there, the better from that perspective.

Sarah: Yeah, I'm with you on the face-to-face. I work from home as my norm, so pre-COVID. But I always traveled a lot and so it's still been a big adjustment, in terms of I really enjoy getting together with colleagues and people in the industry and going to events and all of that. I really miss it, so. I'm with you guys on that. I think there's something to be said for a little bit more flexibility, or hybrid situations and certain things that really don't need to always be done on a location, or in an office. But there's just certain aspects of this that really are better in-person, so. Hopefully, I'd say I'm counting down until the next time I have a beer at a cocktail hour at an industry event. But I don't know when that will be, so I can't be counting. But I'm very much looking forward to it, so.

Alesia: Absolutely.

Sarah: Well thank you both so much for being here and sharing your story. I think it's a very, very impressive feat that you guys have accomplished and it definitely sounds like there's been some really good lessons that have come out of it and if we had to go through it, then that's all we can ask. So thanks for coming on and sharing them with us.

Alesia: Thanks for having us.

Jason: Thank you.

Alesia: It's been a great conversation.

Sarah: All right. Great. You can check out more by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter, @thefutureoffs. The Future of Field Service Podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more by visiting IFS.com. As always, thank you for listening.

Most Recent

April 26, 2021 | 9 Mins Read

How To Nurture Creative Confidence to Fuel Innovation

April 26, 2021 | 9 Mins Read

How To Nurture Creative Confidence to Fuel Innovation

Share

By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

I was recently chatting with Rangika Ekanayake, Sr. Manager of Software Engineering at IFS, and loved her insights around creativity. While she’s looking at creativity primarily through the lens of how to impact and improve UX in design, the principles she shares are applicable for anyone and any industry in need of thinking about how to further nurture creativity in an effort to innovate and maintain competitive edge.

In the world of service, we see an opportunity to grow revenue by offering a unique and differentiated experience or outcome to customers. The inception of that value proposition, however, requires a level of creativity that doesn’t always come naturally to every leader and every organization. The good news, according to Rangika, is that you have every opportunity – as individuals and as companies – to cultivate more creativity to fuel innovation.

Rangika is a self-inspired UX enthusiast with a deep passion for UX Research and UX Design and an enthusiasm for inspiring and helping others. She started her career at IFS 15 years ago as a Software Engineer and today is a Senior Manager of Software Engineering where she works with the R&D Projects leadership team to support continual improvement of software delivery within Projects and alongside contributing to the UX team in UX research. She has spoken on several SLASSCOM (Sri Lanka Association for Software Services Companies) webinars on the subject of UX Design and UX Research and has created a non-profit website, Journey2UX.com, to act as a repository of resources for industry newcomers. Here, Rangika shares her thoughts on how best to foster creativity.

Sarah: I think there can be an assumption that you’re either born “a creative” or not. Do you feel someone can be “born” creative? For those that aren’t, can creativity be learned?

Rangika: To quote Pablo Picasso, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Most people believe creativity is a trait an individual is born with – either they have it or they don’t. But I consider this a myth. I’m a strong believer that creativity is an attribute everyone has within themselves when they are born. But, because of socialization and formal education, some of us lose this creative impulse on our journey to adulthood.

For example, if we give set of blocks to group of children and ask them to build something, everyone will grab few pieces and they will start creating imaginary buildings, animals, etc. While at the task, how about we stop them and start to teach them to build a certain item in a specific way? Then there will be some who start doing it the way they were taught, and some will still prefer to do it in a way they imagined. Then, what if we punish some of them for doing it differently or if we tell them what they created is wrong or useless? Of course, some of them might stop what they are doing altogether or will start to build it in the exact way that we taught them, because of the fear of either getting judged, being wrong, or looking stupid. Then, consider the situation if we continue to do this for years and years. Day by day, some of these kids will lose their courage to become creative and some will still continue to carry it. When they become adults, society will categorize the people who still have the creative impulse as creative and others as noncreative.

But, can we boost up the creativity within these people who consider themselves as noncreative? Of course, we can. Because it is still within them, and we only have to retune their creative muscle. This is what’s referred to as helping them rediscover their creative confidence.

Sarah: How would you define “creative confidence?”

Rangika: “Creative confidence is believing in your ability to create change in the world around you. This self-assurance lies at the heart of innovation.” according to brothers Tom and David Kelley in their book, Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential within us all.

Creative confidence is an individual’s belief that he/she is creative. When we were kids, we were often bold, inspired and acted daringly. Those days we were imaginative, curious, and endlessly creative, and we possessed endless capacity for innovation. So, in other words, creative confidence is our own self-assurance that we can regain that kid.

Sarah: As an individual, how can leaders foster their own personal creativity?

Rangika: According to Tom and David Kelley of IDEO, any individual can restore their creativity or creative confidence by overcoming their fear of failure, taking frequent doses of inspiration, and by stopping procrastination and starting “doing.”

  1. Instead of fearing failure, start to learn from it. In schools, we were mostly being taught to avoid making mistakes and it is the same story in most workplaces. Therefore, we often avoid it at all cost. But as it turns out, failure can be one of our greatest teachers. Thomas Edison once said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” So, we need to flip our mind to learn from failures rather been afraid of it.
  2. Take frequent doses of inspiration to life. As our schedules get busy and responsibilities increase, it is hard to find time for inspiration. But inspiration is the fuel for creativity. So, how do we get fueled up? Be curious. Try to look beyond the obvious. Try to schedule daily space in your calendar to think, take a walk, or daydream. Keep some form of idea notebook to capture things that cross your radar. Practice empathy. Also, one of the best ways to get inspired is to step out of the context — look at something you might never expect to be helpful or relevant to the task at hand.
  3. Stop overplanning and just start. Even though we have a creative idea, acting on it can be daunting. Therefore, to minimize the risk impact, adults spend lot of time on strategy and planning. But there are times where the best you can do is just get out there and take action — stop focusing on the huge, overall task and find a small piece you can tackle right away. Because creativity and creative problem solving is rooted in action. Studies show that teams who test five or more ideas at the same time are 50% more likely to launch successful solutions than those who explore a single solution.

Sarah: What’s your best advice for making time for creative thinking when facing many day-to-day pressures?

Rangika: As said earlier, try to schedule daily space in your calendar to think, take a walk, or daydream. It does not have to be a long duration – 15 minutes would do. No matter how packed your schedule might be, if you are willing to find some time, there will be a way. You can utilize the time you travel, shower, etc. But, the most important thing is to practice it consistently. Because creativity is also like a muscle; the more you practice, the more it is strengthened.

Also, it is important you keep some form of idea notebook to capture things that come to mind. Do not just let them drain away. In addition, when you try to generate ideas, focus on the quantity – shoot for 100 instead of 10. Aim for as many new ideas as possible. The greater the number of ideas you generate, the bigger your chances of producing a radical and effective one. On the other hand, it allows us to let our minds wonder without restriction and that’s how most of the best ideas are generated.

Sarah: From a company perspective, what’s key to creating a creative culture?

Rangika: If a certain company wishes to create a creative culture in their workplace, it is of utmost importance that they make sure to build a fail-safe environment for their employees. Because no matter how hard we request employees to be creative, if they don’t have an environment in the workplace where they can try out their ideas without the fear of being judged, evaluated or punished based on the result, employees will not bring forward their original ideas freely.

At “X - the moonshot factory," they live a simple mantra: "Fail fast, fail often." Terrible ideas and failure are not only embraced, but celebrated. In his TED Talk on “The unexpected benefit of celebrating failure”, Astro Teller, director of X, says, "We spend most of the time breaking things and trying to prove that we're wrong. That's it. That's the secret.”

In addition to creating a fail-safe environment, another aspect that companies need to focus on is encouraging inspiration and innovation. Because if we expect the employees to be creative, then we need to provide the space and time to be inspired and innovate. If their work schedules are tightly packed with other work items, even though they want to be creative and innovative, they won’t have the breathing space to do that. So, if a company desires its employees to become inspired and innovate, then they must empower their teams to be inspired; let them find ways to understand the users of their product, system, or service; and allocate some time to be creative.

Sarah: What are some tactical ways leaders can encourage their teams to build their own creative confidence?

Rangika: Most importantly leaders need to start, by believing everybody can be creative and by accepting failure as a natural part of the creative process. Just as the leaders encourage teams to be creative, they need to encourage the teams when ideas fail. Also, acknowledging a team’s hard work while reminding failure happens to everyone and motivating them to learn from failure rather than shying away from it will create a great impact on building creative confidence within the team.

In addition, consider introducing initiatives that encourage inspiration and innovation within team members - e.g. Innovation day, encouraging frequent field visits to get to know users better. Also, “Worst idea brainstorm” is a great method to help teams to overcome their fear of failure and to open up the imagination and help them get in touch with creativity. Additionally, an “Idea Diamond” is another method which encourages the teams to generate innovative ideas. Another tactic is starting off the discussions from the newest member in the forum. This not only opens up a fresh perspective, but also will make sure that these ideas won’t get shadowed by the perspectives of experienced members. Similarly, from time to time, disrupting the routine, such as changing the environment or team setup, can help teams to think and act differently. Finally, encouraging the teams to simply start rather than overplanning is a key factor.

Sarah: What final thoughts can you share?

Rangika: Creativity is not only for artists, designers, and musicians. It is not a fixed trait gifted only to specific people, and it is not only for kids. Creativity is essential for every individual, not only in their career, but also in their personal lives. Bill Moggridge, IDEO cofounder, strongly believed that most people are vastly more creative and capable than they know, and I believe the same. So, it is all about boosting up the creativity confidence within these people. But creative confidence cannot achieve only by reading, thinking, or talking about it. Rather, confidence in your creativity gets strengthen through action and practicing it often. So, try harder, give frequent space for your mind to roam free, start learning from your failures, get inspired, and simply just take action. The rewards and the individuality you will gain are well worth the effort.

If you’re interested in taking a deeper look, here are some references that Rangika suggests:

https://www.amazon.com/Creative-Confidence-Unleashing-Potential-Within/dp/038534936X

https://hbr.org/2012/12/reclaim-your-creative-confidence

https://www.creativeconfidence.com/about/

https://www.ideou.com/products/unlocking-creativity

https://www.ted.com/talks/sir_ken_robinson_do_schools_kill_creativity

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g-YScywp6AU

https://www.ted.com/talks/david_kelley_how_to_build_your_creative_confidence

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEusrD8g-dM

Most Recent

April 23, 2021 | 3 Mins Read

Back to Basics: Onboarding New Software Systems

April 23, 2021 | 3 Mins Read

Back to Basics: Onboarding New Software Systems

Share

By Tom Paquin

This is part of an ongoing series on the state and standards of service management software. Here are the previous articles in the series:

We’ve obviously spoken about implementation in the abstract before in this series, specifically with respect to replacing an old service provider, or implementing service technology for the first time, but I feel that it’s worth discussing the processes and pitfalls of what happens when the rubber hits the road.

We’ve seen how this can fail before. It’s important to build systems with employees in mind. This has been the subject of much of our discussion about selecting a service system to begin with. But when you’ve gone through the bid and selection process, what does the act of implementation look like?

There are ostensibly two stages to this—handling the technology, and handling your people. Let’s start with the tech.

Ripping Out the Old Wires

Whether you’re bringing in an end-to-end service system to manage all areas of service oversight, analysis, and optimization, or you’re installing a peripheral piece of software designed to enhance or simplify an experience, odds are good that you’re going to need to reroute some systems, and some thinking. I don’t need to tell you that timing is key, and most businesses build their sunset plans to overlap with deployment of a new solution.

How that looks can differ from business to business, and we’ll discuss in more detail exactly how that nuance can be developed below. It’s a tough balance, because you don’t want technicians to lean on old systems, and when a database is ported over, then that’s the end of it. But there’s inevitably benefits in holding off shutting the lights off until it’s time.

If you’re moving from one vendor to another, it’s often imperative that you look at how vendors have handled transitions from your old vendor in the past. There may be a list of considerations based on precedent, or there may be one particular integration partner that is more adept than others at managing and coordinating the transition.

Enabling Your Staff

Once the transition has begun, it’s time to start thinking about how you on-board staff. We’ve talked about the importance of building teams of player-coaches in the organization, how imperative it is to develop pilots (thus overlapping old a new technologies), and setting hard benchmarks for your team before, but it’s worth revisiting again.

This organizational agility will likely outlast your relationship with an implementation partner, so the onus of how effectively you wield the powerful tools you’ve been enabled with will depend greatly on how they are absorbed into your company culture. In my experience, small pilots are a great way to see what works with a given product.

If you’re going to pilot a new solution with, let’s say five percent of technicians, it’s important that they are not all high performers. Your pilot should represent the broad demography of your service technicians, with older and newer employees, and employees at different levels of output. It’s up to you whether you want to involve different disciplines in a pilot. In my experience many businesses opt to run pilots in a specific division first, then expand it out, but it’s feasible to run a pilot across all different types of service functions.

Pilots are meant to be temporary, of course, so taking it live is the next step. With a major update, many companies make rollout an event. We see organizations shut down operations for a day, onboard new technicians, sell the value of the new technology, and make every resource available to ensure success.

With any technology initiative, starting off on the right foot is imperative. Set yourself up for success with the right tools, a solid implementation plan, and the right people to take it over the finish line.

Most Recent

April 21, 2021 | 21 Mins Read

5 Biases That Hinder Service Marketing

April 21, 2021 | 21 Mins Read

5 Biases That Hinder Service Marketing

Share

Michael Blumberg, President of Blumberg Advisory Group, shares with Sarah how he sees companies falter when it comes to successful marketing of services.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast, I’m your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we are going to be walking through five biases that hinder effective service marketing. I’m excited to welcome back to the podcast today Michael Blumberg, president of Blumberg Advisory Group. Michael, welcome back to the podcast.

Michael Blumberg: Hi Sarah. It’s really a pleasure to be here. Thank you for having me on.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. So as we progressed towards more advanced service offerings, outcomes-based service, servitization, all of those trends, the way that organizations market those offerings becomes increasingly important. And it’s also an area that can be challenging if we’re looking to do some things differently, more creatively than we’ve done in the past. So Michael, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, kind of the way that you’ve collected your thoughts on this topic and why it’s a topic you’re so passionate about?

Michael Blumberg: Sure, Sarah. I started in this industry, this I call it the services industry, I think we all call it that, many decades ago as actually right after I got my MBA. In fact, actually I interned while I was going for my MBA and it was in a company that actually my dad started. And he saw in around 1985, that there’s this emerging industry called services, aftermarket services, product service and support. And he pivoted his consulting firm from being a generalist consulting firm to focusing on the service industry. And the work that the company did and then I did when I joined the firm was around strategy, coming up with strategic plans to move a manufacturer’s service operation from a cost center to a profit center. And I started working in market research. And then I progressed along in the company to doing strategy work and M&A and benchmarking and productivity, efficiency, improvement, and systems recommendations.

Michael Blumberg: But early in my career, I got my first experience of learning the difference between being book smart and real-world smart. And book smart was in the sense that when you go in for an MBA, you do your work, you do your research, you do your analysis, you make your recommendation. And the professor says, “It’s great. It’s good work.” Thank you. In the consulting projects we did, it was often involving the situation where a manufacturer, somebody in the manufacturer’s organization like the CEO said, “You know, we need to build our service business. We need to generate more revenue from services.” And we’d come in and we do a strategy for them and do quite a bit of market research to demonstrate there’s a market for their services and how’s it growing and who they be competing against. And often what would happen is there’d be somebody in the board meeting or in the meeting to senior management that said, “How can we do this?”

Michael Blumberg: Yeah, the data is there. Yeah, we’ll take the data and face value, but we’re struggling with growing our service business to begin with. We can’t get anybody to buy the services that we’re offering today. How is it you think we’re going to be able to grow? Even though you’re saying, offering new services and putting a new systems, what makes you so certain that this business is going to close?

Michael Blumberg: And I realized that at that time that it was more than just the data, there was a psychology behind it. And you might hear me say this, that 90% of successes is psychology and other people have said that too. And so at that point, I really wanted to learn as much as I could about why companies are having a difficult time marketing and selling their services and what they could do to be more effective. So we wouldn’t be on the strategy to getting into the tactics and the execution and a psychology about around how do you effectively market. And that actually become my passion and my lifelong journey is to learn and understand and help companies do it better.

Sarah Nicastro: Good. Okay, great. So from those experiences and the insights that you’ve collected over your time in the space, you’ve developed five areas of bias that can impact an organization’s ability to effectively market their service offerings. So we are going to dig into those and talk a little bit about each of those areas. So to start, let’s talk about what you refer to as the OEM bias.

Michael Blumberg: Sure, sure. Yeah, let’s unpack that. That’s the perception of the OEM that they have a captive market. The fact that they manufactured equipment, your customers should naturally buy the services. And unless you have established some competitive barriers and created a monopoly in the aftermarket, you don’t have a captive market. In fact, I don’t know about other countries, but in the United States, it’s a violation of anti-competitive practices and monopolistic practices if you have these barriers. So you can’t have them to begin with, so that’s the first part. You don’t have a captive market. And because of that perception that the OEM is a captive market, sometimes what happens is at the board of directors level or the CEO level, isn’t making the necessary investments in the service organization to grow particularly on the marketing side. They may very likely make investments in the technology to improve the operations to deliver a better customer experience, but not necessarily making investments in the portfolio design, in the pricing, in the go-to-market strategy.

Michael Blumberg: And that can often lead to another aspect of the bias is that the manufacturer discounts the competition. And ran into this quite often, when I began doing management consulting studies, strategic planning, studies around growing the revenue, we often ask the senior management, “Who do you think your competition is?” And quite often they’ll say, “We don’t have any,” because they’re only looking at it with this bias that says they are the manufacturer, they own the aftermarket. But as we get into the organization and start interviewing people in the organization, as we get even closer to the customer, like to the service technician level, they’ll say, “Yeah, we have competitors.” Their competitors are, they’ll say mom-and-pop service organizations or third party maintenance companies. So when we begin a study where we’re helping a company grow their revenue, we want to really dive into who are the direct competitors, but also the indirect competitors. That’s also something that companies can discount.

Michael Blumberg: Fifteen years ago, IT manufacturers and IT service providers would have never believed that Amazon would be their competition.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Michael Blumberg: It is, because Amazon as you know as cloud. So anyone that was servicing on-premise IT equipment were in for a real awakening a few years later as Amazon starting to take market share for them.

Michael Blumberg: Another aspect of the bias is that they view the service salespeople, whether they’re salespeople selling services or service people selling services as order takers. We’ll just make our offer. We’ll ask people if they want to buy and we’ll leave it at that. And when people don’t buy, what starts to happen is the management thinks, well, nobody wants it. Nobody needs our services. There’s no market for it. And that’s usually not the case. The difficulty is they’re not giving the customer compelling enough reasons of why they should buy their services.

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Michael Blumberg: And the last part of this bias is though the management views past behavior is indication of future performance.

Michael Blumberg: I found one will make a recommendation about me changing the portfolio or changing what you say in the sales pitch or how you market it. They’ll say, “Well, we tried something like that before in the past, it didn’t work.” And what they tried was offering a service, but they didn’t look at all the complexities that are associated with it. So you really have to be open to changing, re-engineering, rethinking, repositioning how you market a service. You can’t just rely on past experience and look at the data. You got to look at what worked and also what didn’t work and see where you can tweak.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that makes sense. I like the point you made about almost this idea of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy when it comes to manufacturers. Sometimes there can be folks within the organization that are a little bit skeptical about the role that service can play when it comes to strategic differentiation or growth. And by not investing in the sales skills necessary, the marketing of those services, et cetera, and then not seeing them take off, right. You can kind of feed that mentality inadvertently because you’re not really putting everything you need to in place to have success with what your value proposition is resonating and the way that it’s sold, like you said, being more of a trusted advisor instead of just waiting for someone to give you an order, et cetera. So, I think that it is important to think not only about the systems, but also about the skillsets and the strategic thinking that’s necessary to kind of balance that out.

Michael Blumberg: Exactly.

Sarah Nicastro: That makes sense. Okay. So let’s talk a little bit about bias number two, which is around service delivery.

Michael Blumberg: Yeah, sure. Again, a multi-part answer to that. The first part is that there’s the bias among the organization, mostly by the product salespeople because they tend to drive the organization and manufacturing. And that is that service is only there to support the product sale, not the fact that there could be a profitable stream of revenue from offering additional services beyond just the basic installation and maintenance and repair. And another one which I think is the biggest challenge and bias is that the failure of the organization to understand the difference between bad service and not enough service. We’ve done studies for our clients and we talk about them growing their service business, offering new services, expanding their portfolio, making investments.

Michael Blumberg: Someone in the organization with some level of resistance will say, “Well, we’re not doing a good enough job with what we’re currently offering. Why would they buy something else?” Or, “We can’t invest until we fix what we have.” And we’d say, “Well, how do you know?” And they say, ” Well, they tell us.” So, “How do they tell you?” They say, “Well, we ask one question about satisfaction.” And that’s not enough. And so what we’ve done is we’ve dug in deeper and often what’s really happening is the customer is not getting enough service. So what they’re saying, it’s bad service. What they really mean is they want more.

Michael Blumberg: I think a good example is let’s say manufacturer who’s not very mature. Their service organization is not very mature. They’ll might say, “We’ll provide you with field service, onsite service,” but there’s no service level agreement. They’ll say, “We’ll just send somebody out there at some point.” Right? And you dig a little deeper and say, “Well, industry standards next day. So we’ll try and get there somebody there by next day.” And that’s what customers saying they’re unhappy with, is because they would, if they had their druthers, they would like somebody there the same day, maybe even there with four hours. That’s really better service. But if you’re just asking a basic question, like how satisfied are you and not uncovering and digging deeper about what’s the cause of satisfaction. You might think you’re not doing enough. As a result, you’re investing more money, spending more money, it’s costing you more money.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So going back to what you mentioned about the perception that services only role is to support product sales, how do companies move past that perception?

Michael Blumberg: Well, I think it really starts with them doing a market analysis and understanding that there’s this huge revenue opportunity and a profitable one through services. So without that, I think it’s all academic, it’s theoretical to the management team. That should be more than just supporting the product. And also understanding that more services actually sell products. If a company sees your organization as offering great service or offering a value-added services or professional services, design services, productivity improvement services, they start to associate your company with the product. So when it’s time to get a new product or buy more products, they’ll have view is these guys do services so well. We should buy more products with them because we’re getting this experience from the services. Imagine what will happen if we have their products too, more of their products also.

Sarah Nicastro: So the ability to elevate the entire brand experience.

Michael Blumberg: Exactly.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. All right. So bias area number three is around product. So let’s talk about that.

Michael Blumberg: Yeah. So for the less mature service organizations and manufacturers that have less mature service organizations, they tend to focus only on the tangible aspects of the product. And one of those is parts. Now we’ve all seen that servitization journey where it often starts with selling parts, but sometimes companies just get stuck on selling the parts and they’re not expanding their portfolio and giving the customer what they want and need.

Michael Blumberg: One example I have, it’s a horror story where we had a customer, a client who wastrying to build up their service organization, but they kept thinking it in terms of the tangible aspect of service the parts. And in interviews with us they said, “Our customers hate to see us coming into the door. They actually run away from our people because they think they want us to sell them more parts.” And like they said that, “Some of our customers, they’ll walk us to a closet and open the closet and see like a stockpile parts, because they can buy the parts that they don’t need.” So you got to go beyond just the parts, finding what services they need.

Michael Blumberg: Another tangible aspect is just focusing on the technician. And so what you have to be able to do is focus on the intangible aspects like the response time. Not just that you’re going to have a technician out there, but what are you going to get the technician to arrive? Focus on the uptime because that’s what they’re buying, in a way that’s an intangible. That’s a very difficult proposition to sell.

Michael Blumberg: It’s also tying into perception that when companies are buying services, they’re not just buying the reality. They’re buying the perception of what the service can do for them. Like uptime is a perfect example. One of the ways we try to explain that is you’re looking at other types of services, like a law firm, a lawyer. You might be sitting at home one day, maybe you’re ill. Actually people are sitting at home a lot now these days and they’re watching TV and they see an ad for a lawyer that it’s helping their clients with insurance cases or accidents. And we couldn’t have an image of that. In fact, we have a name for it. We call them ambulance chaser. Right? And we have kind of an image of what their office is going to look like, right? And then we have an image of what we might be watching the news and see high profile celebrity who’s charged with some crime and they talk about the dream team. And you could imagine what the lawyer looks like, how he acts or she acts and dresses and what he or she’s office looks like.

Michael Blumberg: You think it might be very plush luxurious whereas the ambulance chaser may have a storefront, iron cabinets, iron desk, an old-time style of a desk. And all of that is perception and that perception influences your choice. It influences the price you may have to pay and you may have to pay. So that’s part of the bias is understanding that if you’re going to deliver premium service, you have to deliver premium service. You have to be able to define what that premium service is. I’ll add a little bit more of this is that, in this product bias is that not understanding there’s a difference between the actual service and the capability to serve.

Michael Blumberg: So when you’re selling services and when people are buying, they’re buying both the reality, that’s the tangible part. That’s the technician going to be, that it’s the parts going to arrive, but they’re also buying the capability. So you have to be able to articulate in your marketing and sales messages what that capability is. How do they know technician is going to be there in four hours? How do they know the part will arrive the same day, or you have to explain.

Michael Blumberg: And as part of that, understanding that there’s really three inputs to this engine of service delivery. And again, the service delivery is both the capability and the actual delivery. Three inputs, there’s people, and those are the technicians. Those are the call center people. Those are the people in the parts warehouse. Then there’s the parts, right? Okay. And for many years in any company, we always looked at there’s material and people. And that’s all there is to the engine of production. But in service, we’re catching on now but we saw this 25 years ago that the other input to this is data. Okay. And now people are starting to understand the importance of data, but the data is an input. It helps you determine what you can sell at what price and how well you can deliver it. By looking at the data, you can find and identify new services to offer and even monetize those services.

Sarah Nicastro: I want to go back to the point you made Michael about actual service versus the capability to serve. So when you talk about the capability… I have an opinion and that’s why I’m asking you, how do you articulate that capability to your customer base in a way that will resonate well with them?

Michael Blumberg: Well, there’s a couple. One is what’s the promise? What’s the portfolio you’re offering them and what’s the promise you’re making? Another part to that is to talk about the service delivery infrastructure. What do you have that makes it possible, the one you show them. And I learned this a couple of years ago, well, many years ago where people started to evaluate the service organization based on whether they had a mobility solution, right? So that’s an example. That’s how to demonstrate the capability. Another one is define the process, explain to them what the process will be like, not only when they signed up for the service but when they need the service. Another part of this is testimonials. Giving testimonials, customer satisfaction scores.

Sarah Nicastro: Sure. Yeah. I think the customer testimonials thing is certainly important. I just wonder and I’m sure this varies industry to industry and I think also in terms of within your customer base, the persona that you’re targeting. But I think less and less do people care about the how, until you haven’t delivered on that promise. I think that that capability in terms of here’s what we can guarantee to you in terms of the outcome, the experience and the value to your business is the number one most important thing to clearly articulate and articulate in a way that is very simple for folks to understand. I just think with the ease with which we can attain outcomes as consumers today, I think people want the provider to take on the complexity of the how, and maybe aren’t as interested in that complexity unless it becomes important to them, i.e. things have gone wrong. If that make sense?

Michael Blumberg: Well, a couple of things, though, you have to pre-frame it because when things go wrong and they not understand how, then they understand why it might gone wrong and they’re more forgiving because they understand what was involved. And also you have to show them like, let’s look at Uber, right? Right now, if you didn’t know what Uber could do, you might still pick a taxi. Yes, call a taxi company to pick you up. But you know, it’s that experience that you have with Uber that you can take out your smartphone and see where driver is and who the driver is.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, no, I think the experience is very important. Okay. So the next area of bias that we want to cover is around the pricing.

Michael Blumberg: Yeah. So sometimes companies think that the way they’re going to sell more services is by lowering their price. And that might be because of a bias from the customer that when you ask them, why are they not buying the service? They’ll say, “Well, it cost too much,” right? And that’s what people always say, no matter what it is, whether it’s a product or a service, a car, house. If there’s no value for them, they’re going to say it cost too much. So you got to really be able to define the value. The other one is the failure to understand the value -in- use. So to be able to price effectively and not have to lower your price, you need to understand what it’s outcome going to do for the customer, right? Again, if you don’t understand that you get into debate, why is it cost so much? Can’t you lower that price?

Michael Blumberg: But if you get somebody there to the customer site within four hours, again, I like to use that example because that’s easiest one to understand. They’re going to save themselves a lot of money. They may save themselves a hundreds of thousand dollars an hour. So when you understand that they know you understand that and you can guarantee that I’ll get somebody there, they’re going to pay the higher price. But when you’re unable to do that, they’re going to knock down on price or they’re going to find something else. Some other reason why the price should be lower.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. That makes sense. All right. And then the last area is around infrastructure bias. So what does that mean?

Michael Blumberg: Not making the necessary investments to deliver on the services. Some of these services that are available today like uptime as a service, for example, you need to have the infrastructure to deliver it. And so it’s almost a catch-22. Some companies don’t want to offer this service and generate greater revenue because they don’t have the infrastructure. Others have the opposite, right.

Sarah Nicastro: They have the infrastructure, but they haven’t…

Michael Blumberg: Yeah. They haven’t leveraged.

Sarah Nicastro: … created the service.

Michael Blumberg: Right. And understand that because they have the infrastructure in place, they can deliver the service.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So what type of infrastructure are we talking about? What do we think are the most important considerations around… Because to me, it seems less risky to have the capabilities and not have the service developed around them versus promising any sort of outcome and not being able to deliver that. I mean, that seems like a death sentence for an organization.

Michael Blumberg: Yeah. You do want to have the infrastructure to deliver all your promises. So I call it a smart tech stack, smart being for service marketing tech stack.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay.

Michael Blumberg: So you want to have your basic infrastructure in place which is your service management system in place. If your portfolio calls for offering uptime as a service or outcome-based services, you want to have remote monitoring and IoT so you can ensure the equipment is up and running. You want to have augmented reality solution so that if your technician is in the field and they run into a problem, they can resolve it quickly. So they’re not spending time searching for the solution. Depending on how large you are, I would add analytics, an AI to speed up the time frame which is required to predict and diagnose and correct an issue. Okay.

Michael Blumberg: Smaller organizations may not have enough of the data. If they have a very small installed base, they may not have enough data to take advantage of that technology, but as you get larger you want to have that. So that’s the foundation for service delivery and I think you and I would agree that that’s the foundation for delivering great customer experience. But on top of that, to market obviously you need a good sales CRM system to keep track of your customers and what they’re buying. You also want to have tools to configure pricing quote, your services. And you also want to have some form of marketing automation so you could stay in touch with your customer.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. It makes sense. Good. So those are our five areas of bias that can get in the way of folks effectively marketing their services. So all really good points, any summary thoughts on this topic as a whole.

Michael Blumberg: Good question. I’d say that you got to keep working at it. It’s not just once and done. You have to keep reevaluating and refining your service offering and your marketing approach. And again, don’t overlook perception that there’s always a way to improve the marketing and that’s with anything.

Michael Blumberg: But I was just thinking the other day I was speaking to a client and they said, “We’ve launched a product as a service offering and we hear that’s what we should be doing. You know, that’s what the data says. That’s what the analyst says, but we’re not having people buy from us.” I said, “Well, why? And he said, “Well, because they turned the conversation into what’s the interest rate because they know that we’re going to finance the product through this as a service model.” I said, “Well, first of all, maybe that’s not a good idea to bring that up early in the sales process.” But more importantly, I asked them, “What are you offering or promising to your customer that’s going to make them believe that as a service, they’re going to get better value for their dollars on an OpEXand CapEX.. And he said, “You know, you’re right. We haven’t defined that.”

Michael Blumberg: So that’s what I mean by perception is you got to take a big picture view and you look at all the different angles and possibilities about why something’s not being sold.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think that for companies that have traditionally sold products, there’s some average product life cycle or lifespan. And I think that on the services side, in the pace of change is so fast in terms of that continual need to understand what your customers need, what will most impact their businesses or their lives and the different ways you can address that. So it does need to be a very continual process of staying engaged with your customers so that you’re designing and delivering services that are really created for them and continually looking for what those opportunities are.

Sarah Nicastro: I see a lot of companies that are having such great success with the closer they get to their customers, the more it starts to open up different channels of opportunity for them because they learn their customers’ businesses more. They look at areas of adjacency and they can see ways that they can kind of expand and progress what they’re doing. And it can be kind of a big hurdle to get over at first to think in more of this way. But once you’ve conquered that there is a lot of opportunity which is really exciting for folks.

Michael Blumberg: Yeah. And you mentioned something earlier that also, I want to add I found common is, you really need to be clear about the value proposition and that’s sometimes the problem is that they don’t define their value proposition very well. They say, “We’re going to offer a product as a service because that’s what we should do. That’s what everyone’s doing, but not defining it from the customer’s perspective, the planning in terms of what problems and pains this itself for the customer.

Sarah Nicastro: Exactly. Yup, I think that’s a very good point. All right, Michael. Well, thank you so much for being here today and for sharing your perspective with all of us. I appreciate it.

Michael Blumberg: You’re welcome, Sarah. And as always, it’s been a real pleasure.

Sarah Nicastro: Thank you. You can find more by checking us out at futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @TheFutureOfFS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more about IFS by visiting www.ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.

Most Recent

April 19, 2021 | 3 Mins Read

Mastering the Moment of Service: Art or Science?

April 19, 2021 | 3 Mins Read

Mastering the Moment of Service: Art or Science?

Share

By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

In today’s customer-centric culture, the moment of service means more than ever. The moment of service is a moment of engagement, a moment of opportunity, moment of innovation, a moment of potential growth. There’s a whole lot riding on your ability to execute on those moments if you realize service for the powerful potential it holds.

For most businesses, mastering the moment of service has become a major priority. This mastery requires the business to navigate and streamline immense complexity to deliver what the customer wants in the moment it matters – a seamless and positive experience. So, is this mastery an art or a science? I’d argue it’s the perfect blend of both.

The Art of Exceptional Service

The art of service, at its root, is in adeptly uncovering, understanding, articulating, and addressing your customers’ challenges and opportunities in the form of your value proposition. A customer-driven value proposition requires relationships, listening, and trust. It requires an innovative mindset and a willingness departure from business-as-usual, and that in and of itself is an art many struggle with.

This art of customer-driven value propositions is enabled by the artful creation of a customer-centric company culture that recognizes the role service plays in success and growth. This culture welcomes innovative ideas and input and recognizes the criticality of employee engagement in delivering on the moment of service.

I also think that redefining the field service role is an art. Hiring folks to show up, fix something, and leave is a thing of the past. To master the moment of service, you need to redefine what service means to your business and reassess what the field service role entails. Most customers are looking for a trusted advisor, a more consultative and value-led relationship, and execution of that requires a different skill set than break/fix service does.

The Science of Service Excellence

To be impactful, the art of customer-driven value proposition, service-centric culture, employee engagement, and modernized service roles must be complimented by some science. One of the most important areas of science in service excellence is the evaluation, optimization, and standardization of processes. While arduous, this exercise is essential to creating a consistent and uniform experience to represent and reaffirm your brand.

Digital transformation and automation are other important elements of the science of mastering the moment of service. Customers want simplicity, and technology is key to being able to navigate and streamline complexity to deliver that simplicity. Whether it’s a consistent view of operations, more efficient planning and utilization of resources, remote service capabilities, or predictive analytics, today’s customer expectations can’t be met without a modern, cohesive digital infrastructure.

That digital infrastructure equips your company to master perhaps the most important science of this all: data. Data is what powers your moment of service – it’s what helps you operate efficiently and intelligently enough to be able to not only offer but guarantee the outcomes your customers want. But, in many instances, data is also an increasingly important part of the customer value proposition as well.

There are, of course, many more aspects to both the art and science sides of this equation. And then there are areas, like communication, that span both – communication is an art, but can be driven by the science of systems.

All too often, when companies struggle with mastering the moment of service and recognizing the potential of service on their business, it’s because they are focusing too narrowly on just one side of this equation. The art and the science are both very important and investing in resources who are strong in either area is important. But marrying the two is ultimately how you’ll master the moment of service and truly seize the service opportunity.

Most Recent

April 16, 2021 | 3 Mins Read

Containerization is the Bellwether of Service Software Flexibility

April 16, 2021 | 3 Mins Read

Containerization is the Bellwether of Service Software Flexibility

Share

By Tom Paquin

I have always been of a mind that the most important thing that software—any software—can do is to get out of your way. Even social media platforms, cultural cancers that they are, know that their key purpose (communication) needs to be easy, accessible, and provide the necessary feedback to show that it is working (“likes”, as it were). These are the keys of solid programming, and they’re how and why we use the devices that we do in the ways that we do.

This takes on a slightly different precedence in service, wherein the goal is not just to allow the technology to make completing actions seamless, the goal is to enhance the service process while not disrupting it in any major way. Here's an example of bad software design: If, in order to build schedules, you need to have availability loadouts three weeks in advance, and can’t update them same-day because of illness, or because of a high-priority outage that just came up, then that software is worse than pen and paper, and it’s actually an impediment to your growth.

It’s incredible how many software providers don’t understand this fact, and it’s why some firms struggle to get their teams to use the technologies at their disposal in the first place.

Today, though, I don’t want to talk about the user experience of software applications. We do that all the time. I want to take this concept outside of the day-to-day utilization of software, and look at the framework of the software itself.

Because here’s the thing: Service firms are complex. They are, frequently, a mismatch of cultures, either through means of acquisitions, or organizations working alongside OEMs, or distributors, or aftermarket part manufacturers, or contingent employees, or some Frankensteinian combination of these elements. And service delivery itself doesn’t fit into a neat box. There are different tiers (telcos, for instance, balancing commercial and residential service visits), different types of workforces, and different systems employed depending on the nature of a fix, or a routine appointment, or an emergency, or a predicted event, and so on, and so on, and so on.

On a frankly more basic level, some companies simply require, perhaps for regulatory reasons, their solutions to be managed on-prem. Others have managed cloud space of their own that they want to employ. Others, still, are in a position to move to the cloud. None of these (or any other adoption permutation) are wrong, and software that supports that flexibility will be engineered to support flexibility further down the value chain as well.

Service software deployment demands flexibility. This begins with containerization.

The concept of containerization, in its simplest terms, means that software is packaged (or ‘contained’ I suppose) in a way, with all ancillary processes, that enables it to be deployed at the discretion of the end user.

Today, the way that this most commonly works is that businesses build a cloud-first product, and they’re willing to sell it to you in the cloud, managing upkeep, upgrades, licenses, and operations for you wholly. Some companies consider this “The future” and refuse to practically look beyond it, even though it’s not only “the present”, it’s our very messy present. An inherently containerized product, though—one that lives in the cloud natively—can be just as easily packaged and deployed on a home server, with the same internal structure, same APIs, and to the same effect. Or that container can be handed off to another cloud host, managed independently of the “multi-tenant” cloud instance upon which the software was built. So “single tenant” cloud hosting.

Call it containerization, or Kubernetes, or whatever you want. To my estimation, it’s really the bellwether that defines product flexibility down-the-line. Software that cares enough about your business to offer you that degree of deployment flexibility understands your business. In my experience, that means that their actual functionality will be built to contour to the shape of your actual operations, not force you to work around them.

Most Recent

April 14, 2021 | 25 Mins Read

Cox Communications’ Service-Based Revenue Diversification Strateg‪y‬

April 14, 2021 | 25 Mins Read

Cox Communications’ Service-Based Revenue Diversification Strateg‪y‬

Share

Richard Culberson, Executive Director, Smart Home and IoT Strategy & Operations, talks with Sarah about lessons learned in working to diversify revenue streams with service.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we are going to be taking an inside look at Cox Communications' service-based revenue diversification strategy. Say that three times fast. I am joined today by Richard Culberson, who is the executive director for Smart Home and IoT strategy and operations at Cox Communications. Richard, welcome to the podcast.

Richard Culberson: Thanks for having me, Sarah.

Sarah Nicastro: Thank you for being here. All right. So to get us started, why don't you just spend a few minutes telling us a little bit about yourself, your background, and your current role at Cox?

Richard Culberson: Sure. So I've been at Cox now for about nine years. I'm trying to be a reformed consultant, coming from Accenture, where I toured two tours of duty, one on the technology and process side of the house, and then another on a corporate strategy growth, strategy group within Accenture. Joined Cox about nine years ago. As I mentioned, was in the corporate strategy team during typical strategy work, but more often than not partnering with our new growth team. So that's where we investigated gaming and health. And the one business that really stuck was home security, which we rebranded eventually for Homelife to extend its reach into some of the IoT areas we'll talk about. So I've now been working with Homelife for about six years. I'm responsible of both the strategy of the business, as well as the day-to-day operations. So one foot in both, and that's kind of what's kept me interested in the business as we change a little bit every day.

Sarah Nicastro: Cool. Okay. So this division was created about six years ago. Tell our listeners a little bit about how you and the team at Cox identified the opportunity for this line of business, and then the process around kind of creating it. And two reasons for that question. One is just to share your experience. And two is many of our listeners are regularly looking for those opportunities to sort of add adjacent or complimentary services to diversify or even pivot a bit to diversify. So I want to keep that in mind as we walk through your story so that folks can kind of learn maybe some tips or tricks for what to look for.

Richard Culberson: Sure. So if you don't know much about Cox enterprises and the larger Cox company, a long history of innovation. It was started by Governor Cox as initially with newspapers, and then expanded into seeing opportunities in radio as that came as a new medium, and then broadcast television, which led to cable, which is now one of the largest of the two divisions that we have, Cox Communications and Cox Auto.

Richard Culberson: While Cox Communications, we started obviously through your traditional cable company and long history of finding new opportunities to join in with subscription businesses. So for example, we were the first cable company to launch phone, and people don't know about that. And as we look at constantly, what's next and what else can we go in and enter to help out consumers with some of the other opportunities and needs they have around the home? So what you'll find is it all centers around the home and how can we help out our customers?

Richard Culberson: Specifically with home security, if you look at that traditional home security marketplace, it's about 20% of households passed, traditionally are entered in, and it's growing a little bit, but obviously what we'll talk about a little bit later down the path. Now, with smart home is where the big boom is. But we saw there was a huge opportunity, even in the legacy home security business. Traditionally, someone comes at the door, they sign you up, you never see them again. You're paying for something every month, but you've got Ving Rhames at the front door, protecting your house. We saw that consumers really want more of a peace of mind. So whether it was from burglaries, whereas even with cameras and some of the forward-looking technologies that we have right now, we knew that consumers weren't being served to the need. But also we know with our video, our data and obviously our internet products, we have relationships with depending on the market, 60, 70% of households.

Richard Culberson: So this is an opportunity kind of giving customers that one throat to choke. Whether it's from billing or internet connectivity, how do you tie all these together to make a better service for customers? So we knew this is an opportunity for us to enter and explore. And as I said, about six years ago, we really started dabbling and testing in that, but immediately it started resonating with customers as a different business model and a different operating model. So we've been growing off that ever since.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. All right. So based on your experience six years ago, kind of creating this new division within Cox, but also your history in evaluating some of these other revenue options or opportunities, what advice would you give folks that are listening on the different evaluation criteria? How do you determine what's a worthwhile pursuit and what might be a good fit to kind of branch off into?

Richard Culberson: Sure. We kind of look at it in three lenses and we always start with the customer. So if you look at it from the customer perspective, from our front lines, so whether we're talking about technicians, or sales reps, or customer call reps, or if you're talking about the business model and the financials behind it. So we try to look through all three lenses. What we found is we've had the most success when we always start with our customers, of finding what a customer need is, and is it being met right now or not. And even if it is, so for example, in the home security marketplace, is it being met in a way that they want, or is there a way that we can improve on that, which was definitely the case for the home security marketplace.

Richard Culberson: Then we talked to our front lines, and that addressed... They have a different lens on the customer because sometimes if we do just market research and if you follow what customers say, how they act, isn't always directly in alignment. It's well intended, but when it comes down to the pocketbook, or push comes to shove, how they act it might be a little bit different. So what we found is it's really beneficial to talk to those front lines. And that's where as a cable business, as an MSO, it's really beneficial because we already have an existing billing relationship, our technicians are in the house. I mean, more than not, we have customers baking brownies for technicians when they're in their house, feeding them pizza. So there's no better frontline of really understand what's going on in the home.

Richard Culberson: If then you combine that and start looking at our operating model, that really sets us like, "Well, how do we set ourselves apart, and how do we differentiate?" More often than not, we found that that decides how we'll be successful or not. To be blunt, when we first started this home security model, we kind of replicated what was already happening in the industry; so very consultative, dedicated sales, someone comes in, spends a long amount of time setting this up, and then kind of removing ourselves from that and just letting the product run ourselves.

Richard Culberson: We, to be honest, didn't get the traction we wanted to get. So we knew we had to pivot a bit and said, "Wait a minute, if we want to sell more, we know that we have to go where the existing customer transactions are. Where are we already talking to them? And what are customers expect when they're interacting with us?" So that taught us two things. We changed our sales channel strategy to move distribution more to where they're interacting with us, but we also changed our model. So we started saying, "Well, it's less about expensive device sales. No one calls into their cable company and says, 'I'm expecting to fork out $200, $300, $500 upfront.'" So we pivot our model and good to our strength of subscription model. We'll say, "Let's put a little bit more on a monthly payment, but that removes that barrier to entry for the customer, and at that unexpected, 'We need this much money upfront.'"

Richard Culberson: That spreads it out, which again, we already know their credit, we know their credit worthiness. We have lots of insights as an MSO, that we can use on that relationship. So we changed both our sales strategy on that front, as well as basically how we serve, and being more engaged. That allows us to put more focus on retaining the customer and reaching out to them more proactively, because that's one of the biggest pain points they always say is, "I can't get a hold of people. I just wish they would check-in." So we invest more on that relationship as it goes.

Sarah Nicastro: Good. There's a couple points you made there that I just want to revisit briefly. One is, we have a lot of conversations around this idea of developing advanced services and looking for different opportunities to deliver outcomes, experiences, et cetera. I think that what you said about sort of the interactions with customers, but also the market research just made me think of a conversation I've had recently around the idea that you certainly want to lead with what your customers are telling you, but you also want to look for the opportunity around the things that they might not know to say. Right? And so to kind of temper those conversations and that firsthand perspective with a little bit of research and brainstorming around what needs might be there that they aren't articulating is one point. And then the idea too, of a lot of this, you're sort of figuring out as you go, right?

Sarah Nicastro: As you said, you identified the need, you launched the solution, but then realized, "Boy, we could get much better results if we just reshaped the financial model of this a bit and offered it as a service, instead of expecting an upfront investment from customers." So it wasn't starting over, it was pivoting and keeping the offering, but doing something different in terms of how you're financing it and packaging it. And I think that that's another important point is you don't have to have it all figured out before you start down the path. I mean, you obviously want to have a strategy and you want to do your due diligence, but you're going to be learning as you go, and you can incorporate those learnings to improve your outcomes. Right?

Richard Culberson: Sure. It's very helpful. What we tried to do a bit is established kind of a strategic framework and then say, "Well, how does this fit in as the next change, the new marketplace comes out, a new device? How should we think about it?" The most common framework that we use is we actually go broader than, I know industry terms are all over the place these days and we confuse ourselves as well as our customers, but we consider Smart Home to be one component of the broader connected home strategy. And what I mean by that is you can think of it as three concentric circles, almost like Russian nesting dolls, if you will.

Richard Culberson: At the heart of everything and this is why we think we can be very successful, it starts with connectivity. So broadband connectivity, obviously we are a leading provider of internet and we're a mass market provider. We've got great penetration in the homes already. If you don't have good solid connectivity, you really can't build out from that. So obviously that's the bread and butter of our business. We've got one of the best networks out there, but we know we need to piggyback off of that.

Richard Culberson: So if you go from that inner circle to the next circle out, that's where we get into this smart homes, smart homes as a service model by saying, "Well, wait a minute. If you take that connectivity, right now, consumers can add all sorts of devices on it. But the barriers to entry that we've seen is these devices, they don't work together. They have a hard time getting them installed. What happens if it breaks? There's an affordability issue." So we really set our smart home as a service, or as we call Homelife automation up, we said, "Let's establish this to remove the mass market barriers to entry, so with the affordability and just giving peace of mind, whether that's setting things up, getting them to work together, or if something breaks, we can fix it.

Richard Culberson: So that smart home is that second concentric circle, and that's largely how we're taking to market today and the way that that's really taught us so many things is we're very careful not to use device-centric thinking or device-centric language. This space, as you know, there's so many shiny objects. You can do connected to anything. If you can think of it, it can be connected, it can be made smart these days. But what we found, it's a long tail. There's so many devices down there, but if you can really knock out the top three to five devices that enable use cases. That's the language we always refer to is what are the use cases in the home that we're trying to enable? And then, what are the devices needed in the home to do that?

Richard Culberson: So therefore, that helps us be able to say, not this long tail of all these... We always make the joke of the connected toilet. Sure, we can build it, but what's the marketplace for that? What consumer need are you meeting? Just be careful about how far you go down that long tail? So in this middle ring, we started with use cases, and the three use cases that we prioritize based on what customers are buying and what they've been telling us, it really starts with cameras and being able to see them in their home, and being able to protect what they have in their home, both inside and out.

Richard Culberson: And the second really comes with lighting. So whether it's a switch, a plug, a light bulb, anything to do with lighting. We'll start with just those two. But the good news, I'm going to tie these two rings together before I go to the third ring. But at the end of that, when you call in to buy broadband, the first question you'll always hear us ask is, "Well, how do you need to use that?" Because we're already asking the questions of how much speed do you need? What bandwidth do you need? Is low latency an issue for you for a gamer? We already know these questions, but in that learning process, we said, "Well, do you have children that are in there? How often are they interacting to drive more devices in the home?"

Richard Culberson: Well, that same question we can then pivot and say, "Well, do you want to be able to see when your kids come home from school? Do you want to know when the dog is playing in the backyard?" More often, they want to check on their dog more than their kids. It's amazing. So we think from that use case of what they can see, or do they want a light to come on at night? We need all those use cases to fill out the second ring of smart home. But then that's interesting because that is what's really turned on the open spigot for adjacencies, if you will, for other areas we can go into. And we say, "Well, if they're using us for that, we can use the same platform, the same devices, the same analytics to help starting into energy management." So if I know how much power you're using, I can help you control that and work with your utility of a lower your power bill. So energy management is that new buzzword that's coming out.

Richard Culberson: Or whether it's home health. We ran a trial for a PERS solution, personal emergency response system, the "I've fallen and I can't get up," service. We found that almost using the same services, we can help out seniors who in the pandemic, as you know, they're more removed and the caregivers can't reach them now. So more now than ever, that's been a critical service that we've been able to turn on using the same platform. Or even a in apartments and condos for MDUs, property management. So there's a certain level of control of the same devices for the tenant or the resident that's living in the unit, but also the property manager, when it's vacant, they can control.

Richard Culberson: So we use all those same devices and that same platform to enable that third ring of what we call connected services. So it's that connectivity to smart home, to connected services, that make up the connected home that we are proudly pursuing on a few different fronts.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. Okay. So we touched on this a bit, but I want to go into specifics on some of the different areas that you are leveraging economies of scale. Right? So first you talked about you're expanding the in-home value proposition. Right? But talk a little bit about how branching out into these different areas creates sort of customer stickiness or more intimate customer relationships.

Richard Culberson: Sure. And that's kind of what we built this off of. There's as we were talking about, when we look at devices and the options that consumers have in this marketplace, you can go to Home Depot and there's probably 10 different camera manufacturers. So some of the most capitalized largest companies in the world, the Amazons, the Googles, the Apples of the world are really product leaders in this space. So we knew that we want best of breed products, and we even want to work with many of those large competitors because the consumers want those all to work together. We want to try to enable that as much as possible. But at the end of the day, we know that we're not going to sustainably differentiate by having the best camera.

Richard Culberson: So instead, is we focused on service and we knew that that's something that we've already established, a relationship with the customer, we have call center assets. We have technicians in the home. That's where we said, "Wait a minute. As we were talking about the barriers to entry, we knew that they want us to set it up for them. We wanted our platform to have all of these work together. And we know if something breaks, "Who's going to come and fix it? I don't want to worry about that." That's that piece of mind on the service mentality. So we've taken a lot of the same assets that the company already has. We've got thousands of in-house technicians and third-party technicians. They're doing a great job in home, already doing technical work? And they know the customer. Why don't we leverage those same assets and say, "Wait a minute, stay a little bit longer in the home and help them get these devices up and going."

Richard Culberson: So it's cost efficient and actually, we were rather surprised, all of our technicians love it. Because it's a new skill set, it's new capability. Customers were already asking them to help out with the cameras that they had anyway. And now they're able to meet the needs, that they weren't previously able to. So as a service provider, we're getting some of the highest employee NPS, as well as customer NPS off of that. And because it's all coming together and from one provider, we've seen now using some aggressive analytics and new things we've been learning that having our Homelife, whether automation where security is one of the number one differentiators, and basically churn reduction drivers for broadband.

Richard Culberson: There's a stickiness naturally that comes with it, because now they're seeing, "Well, wait a minute, I've got a camera that works off of this. This is how all of my home is working." We're basically the operating system of the home now, so there's a lot more stickiness and we have a deeper relationship that we might not have had with the customer otherwise.

Sarah Nicastro: Now, IoT is the other aspect of your title. So from a technology perspective, how does this build off of the IoT and technology that's already in use in other areas of Cox?

Richard Culberson: So we've been working with both residential and commercial IoT for quite a while. We do have a strong point, one of the first things we want to make sure we enter in, because we've got a fantastic footprint within the home and residential. But we also have very large and growing commercial business, whether it's small business, mid-business or enterprise customers in our footprint.

Richard Culberson: The first example of launching on the commercial side was Cox Business Security Solutions. What we call CBSS, in-house. That's somewhat traditional-minded security, but also has an automation flare to it. You can add cameras and other devices as well for that service. But what we also stood up was a group that we called Cox2M, and they're really focused on commercial IoT and all of its different flavors, whether we're talking about smart communities, as almost as an expansion on the smart home, smart communities and smart cities.

Richard Culberson: So now we're working with builders on seeing what we can do to enable the property, the homes, before they're bought, because we know that increasingly residents in MDU or buyers of single-family homes are expecting this to be there. If it's there, that's even better. But we're also starting to look out of home and we're seeing more press on our smart cities, whether that's really, we're seeing some intelligent parking solutions, lighting solutions across cities. Other examples are smart agriculture. What we found is farming has a massive need for this.

Richard Culberson: But the first trial we executed was actually in partnership with our Cox automotive business. We have several Cox owned properties, whether you're talking Autotrader, Kelly Blue Book, but also Manheim Auctions is one of the largest auctions in which to turn used cars. So there's quite a marketplace there, but people know there's thousands of cars moving in and out of the lanes, constantly being sold. But right now, that the requires a driver, and constant checking of where those cars are. And literally, they're going with key fobs around a thousand-car parking lot, trying to find cars. If you've ever struggled with that in an airport, try doing that with thousands of cars.

Richard Culberson: Now, they're able to be so much more efficient and it reduces our costs because they can find that car quicker, and they can have additional information that's present, using a new technology that we're able to lean in through or activate in through Cox2M.

Richard Culberson: So we're trying to do as much as possible as we go to market, is trying to like, "What's kind of that bringing all of those assets together?" And recognizing because quite often, for example, if someone has a small business and they're using the CBSS product, they also have Cox Homelife in their home. And quite often they might also need some of these other assets that we have from Cox2M. So we're trying to be as intelligent as we can about common platforms, common use sources. So for example, both on residential and commercial, we're leveraging some of the same technicians because it's a lot of the same skill sets.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. Okay. So you talked a little bit about the response from customers and employees. Tell us a little bit more about the feedback you've gotten on... I know it's not a new division anymore. You said you were six years into it, but on this area of the business.

Richard Culberson: It's funny because we're so close to it. This is one of the reasons why we constantly do customer research and go talk to our front lines. It's easy to forget that while we feel that we're pretty mature being about six years in market, our brand awareness is significantly lower still than overall Cox. That's why we make sure we never say on the marketplace, "Homelife." We always say Cox Homelife, because we still, even though we've got great spots out, great commercials, and some of the highest scoring that we have for the company, people are still learning about things because there's either just entering the smart home marketplace. It's easy to become probably for you and for I, this focus group of one of, "Well, of course, everyone has 10, 15 devices in the home." We're really trying to open up smart home for the masses.

Richard Culberson: We commonly use the phrase, it's like a speakeasy. There's this cool thing that people have heard of, but they don't know what it is or how to get in. We're trying to make sure that the mass market has a way to get into this. So because of that, a lot of our potential customers aren't aware because they haven't been in the market before, but we want to make sure that when they come into the marketplace, that we're in consideration. So we are running more in commercials, you'll see us more out in presence. And all of our sales interactions are driving that a little bit more. So it's still definitely a new or brand newer brand. But specifically what we found on a marketing return on investment, when we run a Homelife commercial, there's a halo to the rest of the business. There's a positive halo because consumers see this and see us as being so much more for them. So we've seen as much as a 1% to 2% increase on our return investment just by running Homeland spots against our broadband business. So again, seeing tremendous halo benefits for some of these capabilities.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I mean, it makes sense that people are looking to simplify as much as possible, right? So the more you can do in one place, that is I think increasingly important for folks, so that makes sense. Okay. Let me ask you this question. In your experience, if a company is looking to determine best ways to differentiate revenue, what's the biggest mistake that gets made?

Richard Culberson: I think this is pretty common across the board and especially in the space that we're in. If you look at marketplaces and valuations of companies that are out there, there's so much of fear of missing out these days. Of, "Wow, there must be money there. People are making money. I must be able to make money too." What we've always found is that whether you're talking about consumers or businesses, they really do care about their pocketbook. You have to know how deep you're reaching into their wallet and what the wallet share you're trying to extract. So I think it's easy to get excited about so much press that's going on. It's clearly a growth market.

Richard Culberson: People either do one of two things. They jump in, feelings that, "Oh, wow, everyone has a right to win," rather than focus on what their right to win is and looking at what assets they have as to, "Why me?" I think that's one and one we've made mistakes as we've gone, but I think we've continued to tighten up a bit in saying, "Well, why us as a cable provider, as an MSO?" Well, wait a minute. They know they have the connectivity. We have this relationship, but that's an honor and a privilege. So it's easy for us to go too far down that path of, "Look what else we can do." We have to be very cognizant of how much they pay on a monthly basis because we're a big portion of discretionary income for a lot of consumers.

Richard Culberson: So I think as other people are looking at this, looking at revenue adjacencies, you have to know what your right to win is and what a customer thinks of you, which is why we're trying to do a lot of things to make sure we're supporting the community. We're out there increasing brand awareness as a cable company, but also for this specific business, because on a month to month basis, they're paying us a lot of money and that's ours and we have to live up to it every month.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. That makes sense.

Richard Culberson: So for that, we're were doing a lot of work. We started obviously, with just acquisition, but we have a big focus on customer engagement now. So segmenting out each one of these customers, are they online? And if they're not, what do we do to proactively bring them back online? What are they using the product for? How can we drive that up to show that there's more value for them? Because every month, when they sit down at their kitchen table and say, "Well, what can we cut to bring down our budget?" We need to be above that red line and make sure we're a value to that point.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. Right. That makes sense. What do you see as future potential for diversification for Cox?

Richard Culberson: When we look at going back to that connected home space, adjacencies, they're so numerous because it's really a platform strategy at the end of the day. We have a platform which has the analytics and it's collecting data from the home, which can be used to help enable customers live a richer life in one way or another. So we look at that. And while, as I said earlier, we try to keep a tight portfolio of devices. We do that by saying, "What use cases are we enabling?" But there's so many more new things that are opening up, and coming out of the pandemic hopefully, we've learned a lot of things.

Richard Culberson: People are spending so much more time at home, they look at their homes differently. All you have to do is look at telehealth and the numbers are staggering of how many people now are comfortable talking to a doctor or being given clinical advice from the home. I mean, to be honest, that's not being run well. There's so much more opportunity to connect those dots, remove that fear, but it's all rooted in that same peace of mind that we talked about.

Richard Culberson: Another good example is education. Teachers is doing the best they can, but what you found is that they just don't have the tools and the platforms to do this. I have three young daughters, so very, very happy to have them in school whenever we can because of the environment. But we know that there's a good chance that more often than not, that this will be one of the dimensions that has to be available in the future. So as a company, we're doing as much as possible to expand affordable access to broadband, as a company. And many programs in partnership with the FCC and internally, we're driving. But the same piece is here, but that's education. If they have broadband and if there's needs at home, there's so many pieces that are being underserved right now. And again, it all goes back to where are the customer needs? We think that there's a lot of areas that we can serve that are readily available.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah. It seems like there would be a lot of opportunity. And to your point, it's a matter of, like you said earlier, sorting out not what the opportunities are, but what you specifically can provide when it comes to those opportunities.

Richard Culberson: And we are particularly looking at partnerships too. Not all of the funding... I've listened to a couple of your podcasts and it's a good point in talking about what's revenue versus a business model. And if we're talking about all this revenue, the cost can't be fully burdened all the time by consumers. So perhaps if there's a win-win where a utility bill can come down, utilities, they're all building out capacity to that prime hour. Well, if we can shift consumption of that energy, the utility wins and the consumer wins, so perhaps some of that burden of the consumer can be born by the utility now. So if we look more and more at some of these different value propositions, it doesn't all have to be born on the back of the consumer. There's lots of people that can win.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. And what will that inner connectedness of that ecosystem look like as we go forward? I think that that's going to be a big part of the next phase of service and looking at the customer journey from the perspective of connecting some of those dots. Right? That makes sense. Okay. All right, Richard, any other comments, thoughts or words of wisdom for our listeners?

Richard Culberson: No. Probably the most important, you learn something new every day. Probably flexibility. I think the things that we've really learned are making sure you focus on what are your core, sustainable differentiators and build off of that. And what can you use as a pivot foot? It is March Madness, so we can talk about using the pivot foot. From what you do well today, to what's that next step you can take, rather than making a leap. It's kind of when you leap from one cycle to the other, when you go a little too far astray, and we've obviously made a couple of those mistakes and learn as we we've gone. But I think coming back to the first question we talked about, as long as you're coming back to consumers and their needs, and customers in the business side, you tend to be a lot better off.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah. I agree. It definitely needs to be led from that direction. But I think that going back to a couple of the points I made earlier, you're learning as you go and you guys are doing a good job of having a vision and a strategy, but being fluid in how you get there. Right? So you try something and then you recognize an opportunity to do it a little bit differently and a little bit better. And then you adjust. Right? So I think that's one of the important points is, you need to know where you're going, but you don't have to have every step mapped out. In fact, it might be smart to not try to map every step out because the path is going to wind a bit as you work toward that vision. So yeah, that makes sense.

Sarah Nicastro: Well, thank you so much for coming along today and sharing the journey with us. Certainly appreciate it. And we'd love to have you back in the future and talk about where things have led to.

Richard Culberson: No, this is great. Thank you so much, Sarah and I appreciate you having me on.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. You can check out more of our content by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn, as well as Twitter @TheFutureOfFS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more about IFS solutions by visiting ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.

Most Recent

April 12, 2021 | 5 Mins Read

The Future of the Service Workforce: 5 Pillars of Preparation

April 12, 2021 | 5 Mins Read

The Future of the Service Workforce: 5 Pillars of Preparation

Share

By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

The future of work is a topic that comes up in almost every conversation I have in one way or another. Service leaders are grappling with a lack of available talent, working to determine how the field service role is changing, and balancing the management and retention of both older and young workers who have significantly different needs and desires. There are many layers to this conversation, all of which we will continue to dig into here at Future of Field Service. The common understanding, though, is that preparing for the future of the service workforce will be one of the biggest challenges among our audience in the coming handful of years. Today I’m going to discuss five pillars of preparation that are key to setting your company up to navigate this massive challenge with the highest chance of success.

Pillar #1: Redefine

The role of the field technician has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. You need to work hard to consider how the role is being redefined based on your company’s journey toward Servitization or leveraging advanced services as a competitive differentiator or path to revenue growth. What does this mean for your needs today as well as for your needs over the next five years?

For most organizations, what’s happening is that the role is evolving to require more than the traditional technical skill sets. Today’s field technicians are needing more soft skills to succeed in the role of trusted advisor as customer relationships and service value propositions evolve. This trend will only continue, so it’s essential to map where your company is heading in terms of what services you’ll be providing and how and then how that translates to the skills needed from your field technicians to accomplish those goals.

Perhaps you can evolve the role of your field technician to meet your future needs; perhaps you’ll need to add new roles as your business model matures. Being clear on the redefinition, though, from what was required historically to what you’ll need over the next five years gives you the insights needed to determine where the gaps lie, how to reframe job requirements and postings as well as training programs and progression paths, and prioritize greatest needs.

Pillar #2: Redesign

Once you have better defined your current state as it relates to talent and what’s needed to meet your service objectives, you can work to redesign your recruiting, hiring, onboarding, and progression processes to be in line with what you need – versus what you’ve always done. As skill sets needed change, so too should job descriptions and recruiting practices. Training may need to focus more heavily on soft skills and relationship management, as well as use of technology, than it has in the past.

Many companies complain of a “talent gap” when really what they’re frustrated with is an “experience gap,” meaning they are accustomed to being able to hire technicians with years of experience and those tenured technicians are becoming harder to come by. This doesn’t mean that talent doesn’t exist, though, it just means you have to work harder for it than you have in the past. This is a new normal you need to adjust to, and it means redesigning your definitions of talent, experience, and fit.

Some of the top areas of “redesign” underway when it comes to creating a workforce for the future are modernizing job roles and requirements to attract a more diverse pool of candidates, being sure to create appeal for the younger generation, introducing new roles based on your redefined requirements, and – perhaps most importantly – thinking about how to foster more talent versus simply attracting it.

Companies like Tetra Pak, for example, have created programs to foster future talent. This need to become more creative, and take more ownership, around meeting the needs you have for your field workforce teams is I think one of the biggest areas of redesign that’s essential. You cannot continue to post jobs and expect a wave of ready-to-hire applicants; you need to become more inventive around how you can take smart, capable people and meld them into the talent you need to exceed.

Pillar #3: Outsource

Outsourcing field work isn’t for everyone, but it is a growing trend. And here’s why – what many companies are doing is outsourcing the more basic, traditional break-fix work in an effort to have more time and energy to focus on upskilling and developing their in-house talent to do some of the more sophisticated work around advanced services.

There have been some reservations around leveraging third-party workers, and I don’t think those reservations are entirely without merit. But as the gig economy grows it becomes a more practical choice for many, and with today’s technologies, many of the concerns around the management of those workers and the control over brand experience are being minimized.

Perhaps for you it isn’t a move to outsourcing, but to creating a hierarchy of field technician within your company – an entry level position that handles some of the basics and a progression of positions that tackle more sophisticated service offerings. However you decide to tackle it, you shouldn’t rule out outsourcing without doing some due diligence.

Pillar #4: Automate

Another critical element of the future of work strategy is automation. How can you leverage predictive technology to anticipate versus react to needs, and to better prepare technicians for the work they’ll do on site? How can you leverage AI for knowledge capture and management, so that as your most experienced technicians retire you don’t lose a lifetime of knowledge along with them?

How does remote service fit into your service strategy? Using remote assistance and AR for a remote-first approach can act similar to outsourcing in the sense of eliminating the most basic level of service requirements by handling remotely tasks that can be resolved easily and quickly.

How enabled are your customers with self-service? Self service fulfills the customer’s desire for more control and autonomy, while often reducing the burden of the service provider in some ways.

Today’s technologies are powerful, sophisticated, and ready to help you morph your workforce into the future. Examining your options around automation, what can be automated and how, is key to managing the significant demands on service organizations that are only increasing.

Pillar #5: Innovate

Like all areas of service transformation, the conversation around the workforce is one that requires an innovative mindset. Break free of the “this is how we’ve done it” and you’ll be halfway there. Your business is likely changing (or it should be!), and therefore your workforce needs to change too. Look at how other businesses in your industry but maybe more importantly outside of your industry are tackling this universal challenge. Be open to new ideas, new roles, new processes, and new technologies. Those that exceed at creating the workforce of the future will do so by thinking out of the box, by creating a unique culture and challenge for their teams, and by understanding that your frontline workforce is absolutely imperative to your success as a service organization.

Most Recent

April 9, 2021 | 3 Mins Read

Preparing for the Future of Aftermarket Service Providers

April 9, 2021 | 3 Mins Read

Preparing for the Future of Aftermarket Service Providers

Share

By Tom Paquin

Oh how we love servitization. We talk all the time about traditional companies product-izing repairs and regular service, building product categories around utilities that previously were seen as a cost center, or relegated to other organizations altogether. But what about those businesses who have been delivering service all along? We certainly talk about them, and we talk to them. Their experience extends, under many circumstances, far beyond that of new entrants.

And as the expectations of these new entrants have changed, so too have the expectations of these aftermarket service companies. Whether it be through companies attempting to corral their work under a licensee framework, or the pinch of OEMs encroaching upon their well-worn turf, challenges mount for legacy companies.

As always, not every challenge will be the same. Not every business will be up against the same types of competition, nor the same environmental challenges. But for many, there are a few issues worth confronting before the metastasize into more complex problems. Here’s a few such problems, and how our legacy service brethren can work to address them.

Rising Tides Sink Old Ships

Ok—I’m not saying that every service provider will be wiped out by a wave of servitization, in which the brands that are serviced build internal infrastructure to compete with you. Dealer service centers and private mechanics are able to live and work side-by-side, have access to the same materials, and offer comparable services.

But in a new environment where businesses are selling outcomes, not products to consumers, the need to pivot services to embrace that might be the key. For some, that might look like, as mentioned before, becoming part of a network of certified service providers for a single brand. Often, that means that the onus of optimization, parts management, and repair coordination is taken out of your hands. But it also means that you need to have the right tools in hand—and the willingness to adapt those tools—to meet the needs of the manufacturer or distributor of serviceable products.

If you’re a service provider against numerous products in a specific industry, like commercial kitchens, retail, or HVAC, that model isn’t as feasible. For those companies, you’ll often lack the ability to connect as closely to specific assets as a manufacturer. For these companies, delivering exceptional service at the greatest value is the key to success. It’s imperative, then, to think about the tools you’re using today to capture that success.

The Agony and Ecstasy of Maturity

Legacy aftermarket service providers have an obvious leg-up in the service wars of the future…they’ve been doing it for a very long time, so they have the infrastructure, systems, processes, and procedures that have been iterated upon for years to produce the New York Yankees of service technology stacks (as a Masshole, this pains me to type).

But also…

Legacy aftermarket service providers have an obvious detriment in the service wars of the future…they’ve been doing it for a very long time, so they’re saddled with dozens of overwritten technologies, iterated into a mob of indiscernible wires to produce the Miami Marlins of service technology stacks (sorry Floridians…the Marlins are bad).

This duality emphasizes the importance of auditing your service processes. In the next few weeks, we’ll present some questions that we can ask to help you evaluate the integrity of your software. It’s certainly tough to turn the mirror onto processes, especially when those processes are day-in, day-out activities of your service business. But taking the time to step back and make those evaluations could spell the difference between success and failure.

Most Recent