By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service
Based largely on customer demands, service is becoming supremely sophisticated. As the bar raises, it is increasingly harder for organizations to differentiate. Your two-hour window is no longer sufficient, because your competitor has reduced the window to 30 minutes. Trying to sell predictive service? The competition has shifted to using predictive service to guarantee outcomes.
While not long ago it was only the leading edge who were successful in bringing modern service to bear, today we see plentiful examples of companies really embracing the service evolution. More and more companies are wise to the powers of market demand and advanced technology, and they are up to the task.
So, if you stood out because you were an early adopter of guaranteeing outcomes, what happens when all of your competitors jump on the bandwagon? We live in an era of rapid change and, as we’ve discussed previously, we the need to balance artful execution with forward thinking. The key to differentiation moving forward lies in staying a step ahead and fighting complacency at all costs.
Now it’s impossible to predict the future, and you don’t need to – I believe you can win by mastering a few core concepts. Note that I said mastering, because this is the crux of where companies fail – they fight tooth and nail to innovate in a certain area or around a particular initiative, but they don’t operationalize innovation so that it becomes more seamless. Doing so allows for far more agility and being agile is what will enable you to keep your edge in service.
If we think about the concepts that companies should master to create an environment where innovation is not a breathless sprint to the “finish line,” but rather a comfortable, steady-paced marathon, a few things come to mind:
Company cohesion. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t really love the term “service transformation,” because for companies that have really recognized the power of service it is an aspect of business transformation. Yes, I’m probably splitting hairs – but my point is that to maintain relevance, the traditional siloes in a company need to be broken down. There must be an overarching alignment on company identity, vision, and mission – and there must be a culture of collaboration toward those.
Whether we’re looking success around service growth or digital transformation, companies who have a very siloed structure are the ones that struggle. There is too much to be considered in the customer journey for a fragmented approach to work, and our digital world has outgrown fit-for-purpose, disparate systems. Connectedness, of systems and teams, is critical.
Customer intimacy. The best source of inspiration for your service evolution is your customer relationships. First, ask yourself an honest question: Are they indeed relationships, or transactions? They must be relationships. This doesn’t mean that your customers will always be able to verbalize what they need or how they need it – or what’s coming next. But knowing your customers and building trust and openness is how you will understand their needs enough to identify, evolve, and articulate your value proposition – now and into the future.
How do you engage with your customers – how regularly and in what forms? What do you learn from those interactions, is that knowledge captured and shared, and is the business taking action on what you’re learning?
Digital skillfulness. Yes, being digitally competent is core for the introduction of more sophisticated service models. But those who will lead aren’t simply competent, they are skillful. And to be clear, this does in no way mean they are using every single “latest and greatest” advancement. What it does mean is that they understand the value of information, they realize the benefit of simplifying complexity, and they make decisions around technology investments with their impact on key objectives in mind.
These companies know that part of the service evolution is providing insights and knowledge as a part of the value proposition. They are seeking the most appropriate areas to layer in automation and intelligence in a way that allows anticipation of needs and a seamless customer experience but removes effort or cost from delivering it. The concept of a strong foundation upon which layers can be added and changed is understood and acted upon, and there is a common understanding that a continual improvement strategy is necessary.
Talent development. Many organizations today are so hyper-focused on the short-term stressors of the skills shortage that they’ve yet to see the big picture of talent development. Those who want to set themselves up for success are recognizing that the employee experience is critically important and needs more attention. They are understanding that as service evolves, the frontline workforce needs to as well – this can mean reskilling or upskilling, or even introducing new roles.
The companies who will have a competitive advantage are those who are focusing on how to farm talent – meaning, they are accepting the fact that continuing to seek experienced workers is unsustainable and they must shift focus to taking more responsibility for developing their own talent. Companies must make more investment in democratizing knowledge, skill building, and recognition of employee contribution. The organizations who are most successful at innovating value the creativity and contributions of all within the company, not a few at the top – and they ensure the voices of the frontline are heard, considered, and valued.
Personalization. Our world is more connected than ever but somehow more disconnected at the same time – and what’s often lacking is the human element. In many cases, companies who stand out are those who find the perfect ways to add a personal touch. They acknowledge that no matter how technologically sophisticated their service becomes, relationships are at the core. People can’t compensate for a company’s inability to evolve to meet customer expectations, but they can absolutely be a – if not the – point of true differentiation for those that do.
Moreover, customers want to buy from a brand, a company, a person they feel is genuine and that they like. Too narrow a focus on your value proposition itself without marrying that to the story you tell, the passion you have, will miss the boat. As we focus on innovation and look for new ways to meet customers’ needs, let us never forget the impact and value of personal touch.