Sarah talks with Venkata Reddy Mukku, Vice President Worldwide Service & Support Organization at Bruker Nano Surfaces & Metrology, about the approach he finds impactful in achieving service excellence.
Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we're going to be taking an inside look at one leader's recipe for using service as a competitive advantage. I'm excited to welcome to the podcast today, Venkata Reddy Mukku, who is the Vice President for Worldwide Service and Support at Bruker Nano Surfaces & Metrology. That was a mouthful. Venkata, welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast.
Venkata Reddy Mukku: Thanks, Sarah.
Sarah Nicastro: Thank you for being here. Before we get into our topic for today, can you just start by telling everyone a little bit about yourself, your role and what Bruker does?
Venkata Reddy Mukku: As you mentioned, my name is Venkata. I'm working as a global Vice President for Bruker Nano Surfaces. We do nanotechnology research equipment, and also metrology equipment that are used in semiconductor manufacturing. A lot of our instruments goes into universities, research centers, pharmaceutical, automotive, you name it, anything that to do with nanotechnology research and metrology science research. Our instruments help those researchers. I run a global team. We help our customers meet their objectives by providing good support when they need it.
Sarah Nicastro: Good. Okay. And how long have you been with the organization?
Venkata Reddy Mukku: 19 years.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. I remember that, and I've said this many times before, but when I speak with a leader who's been with the same organization for quite some time, I feel like it's one, representative of their talent, but two, also representative of an organization that treats talent well and provides opportunity for growth, which is always really good.
So now what's interesting, Venkata, when you and I connected and sort of talked in preparation for this podcast, not long after, I had a conversation with another leader who was saying all of the ways that leadership needs to change. And I actually referenced your conversation with him saying, I do think that it's catching on and we're getting there. I'm excited to share your perspective today.
But before we talk a bit about the way you are approaching leadership and what your recipe is, can you just share your thoughts and viewpoints on, if you look at the opportunity that exists with service today and really all of the benefits that can come from us looking at service more strategically, thinking about service as a path to growth, et cetera, what does that look like in your view, from where you sit today and from the experience you have over 19 years?
Venkata Reddy Mukku: So service is actually a growth generator. Our sales teams work with customers, understand their needs and then sells the first instrument. Then the following instrument sales are done by service teams. We take the journey from one system to multiple systems over generations. So service is a complete advantage if done well. And what we are trying to do for the last few decades is to really invest in people, in making sure that we understand, we listen to customers and put processes to make their life easy and to help them achieve their objectives.
Sarah Nicastro: That makes sense. So I think that when we think about service as that differentiator, to your point, that's where a lot of Bruker's growth comes from. You have this initial sale, the expansion beyond that is done through the service function. Which in some ways maybe gives the organization a bit of a head start in how it views service because in some other organizations that maybe struggle with reconciling that growth opportunity, it's because service historically has been more of an afterthought. So for you all, since it is part of the commercial process, there's maybe a little bit more of, like I said, a head start in thinking about it the way we need to and investing in it the way we need to, to have that success, which is good because that gives you a perspective that could help some of those companies that are recognizing that potential. But the organization's structure still has to sort of catch up.
So when we spoke about this, you said exactly what you just summarized, that the key to that process working well, the key to service equaling growth is the people, right? And so you shared with me that you have a recipe for how you look at your leadership style, and I'm hoping you can share that with folks here.
Venkata Reddy Mukku: Yes. I spend a lot of time building teams, working with the team. Our aim is to make sure that every experience, every touchpoint we have, internally and with the customers, is memorable. It requires a lot of processes and more than anything, people's involvement and engagement, which means at every level we to understand the importance of communication, ownership and delivering the results. So we spend a lot of time with the people, their development, making sure that everyone understands our goals and are on the same page in achieving those goals.
In my opinion, people's attitude is equally important to their technical capabilities. And then creating that culture and environment in the organization plays a very important role in the success of the organization.
Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely.
Venkata Reddy Mukku: And we are not where we want to be, but we have a clear idea, a clear goal as to where we want to get to and how to get there. So we are working towards that.
Sarah Nicastro: And you shared that your recipe, if you will, is 60, 30, 10. So can you explain those numbers to the listeners?
Venkata Reddy Mukku: So, we have a global team. I tend to spend a lot of time with the regional leadership, making sure we understand where we are in terms of hiring the right people, training, putting the right processes, and creating the environment for them to enjoy being part of the organization and become solution advisors. That takes a significant amount of my time to monitor, to guide, and to make sure that we implement what we plan to implement. That really helps me understand what's happening in the field, what type of support I need to provide to the team, set the tone so that my leaders would actually do the same to their team members, and then that trickles down to the field people and admin teams we have around the world.
Sarah Nicastro: So the 60% is on your internal teams, on your internal employees, and then 30% is customers?
Venkata Reddy Mukku: So 30% is all about customer KPIs. Again, the 60% is all about team building, team empowerment, team engagement, so that they become confident to do their jobs. And then the remaining 30%, we work on customer touchpoints, customer escalations, customer requirements and improvements to customer experience, all related to customer. And I do tend to talk to customers, but again, my teams manage customer expectations very well. I don't get to talk to them as often as I wanted. However, I really focus on monitoring different KPIs that impacts customer experience and then see that we are on top of it so that our customers get what they want and they see us as trusted partners.
Sarah Nicastro: And then the last 10% is on the commercials, right?
Venkata Reddy Mukku: Yeah. I mean, again, the reason why we spent a lot of time on the team is, if we have the right team and processes in place and the remaining 30% where we understand different touchpoints and make sure that the customer gets what they need and see us partners, the third bit is upgrades, contracts, consumables, spare parts, that business comes automatically. So that's what we believe in. Again, of course that also helps with the new system sales, but when it comes to service revenue and then growth generation, if we take care of our own team members, if we take care of our customers, then the commercial part becomes easier.
Sarah Nicastro: And that's why I wanted to get that detail from you because I think that you were very specific with me that this is the formula or the breakdown for you. And I think it's very powerful because, to your point, if you're spending 60% of your time as the worldwide leader of service and support, making sure that you are pouring 60% of your time, effort, energy, resource into building up your team's capabilities, culture, all of that, you're focusing 30% on making sure that they are pouring into the customers, you know that you can spend less time on the commercial metrics because they will follow.
And I think this is really important because it makes sense, it's logical, but I think a lot of people struggle with that 10% needing to be 50, 60, 70, 80. And I think that can stem from a few things. One would be that they have pressure above that they feel this need to put a magnifying glass on that commercial aspect and really just drive, drive, drive. But it can also be leadership style or mentality. We were chatting before we started, I had the first Future of Field Service event last week in Sydney, and we were talking to a leadership expert about this sort of outdated mentality of command and control, that leadership was all about command and control. So it could be leadership mentality or it could be struggling with trust, right? But I think it's a really good example of having the priorities in the right order and maybe getting a little bit comfortable relinquishing some of that control and trusting that if you put the emphasis you need to on your teams, that outcome will follow. Do you have any comments on that?
Venkata Reddy Mukku: Yes. Again, it all about finding the right people with the right attitude, right? If we treat them well and we treat them like people, we give them opportunity to make mistakes, learn from mistakes, we invest in training and developing each individual. When we do that, people get engaged, people take ownership, and then people treat them as their own personal goals. It's not they are working for someone and someone is putting pressure to go meet that number or meet that NPS or customer satisfaction number. It's like, hey, this is my job, this is what I want to introduce. So they take it personal.
So we spend a lot of time also giving them soft skills training, the life skills they need to understand, to empathize, to take ownership and drive things to closure. So that creates a good environment for people to help each other because they're not individuals anymore. They're a group of people who wants to succeed together. So that culture really helps. We have lot of challenges. Our instruments are cutting edge. They do have lot of challenges. But as a team, we support each other and that helps us get to the goal easier than in the other way around where if you emphasize more on commercial, then it puts different types of pressure in the system that can actually put customer and team importance lower than it should be.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Another conversation we had last week that I think ties in really well here is that we had a session last week with Jordan from QIAGEN, and we were talking about ways to navigate economic turmoil without negatively impacting customer experience or employee experience. And I think, when we're in an economy where there are challenges, and those are of course different based on region, based on industry, et cetera, but to some degree that it's a worldwide issue right now, a lot of times when we are really focused on the commercial, we tend to put pressure on the frontline. Stress, fear that ultimately has nothing to do with anything they can control. So it isn't indicative of their effort, like you said, sense of ownership. It has nothing to do with their performance. But because we as leaders feel this pressure to figure out how to hit the numbers, we pass that down and then you end up with a workforce that is really stressed unnecessarily because, again, you can't control the economic circumstances really.
So if you instead just focus on making them feel supported in doing what they need to do, and that could include if you think about your 60, 30, 10 in the 30, for some organizations maybe that's working with customers who are also dealing with the economic climate and looking for new opportunities for different service offerings, et cetera. But again, empowering them to do the right things to trust that the rest will come instead of this pressure. Does that make sense?
Venkata Reddy Mukku: Absolutely. That's what we try to do, really make sure that the team understand our objectives, our goals, and then using the tools and processes and empower them to do the right thing. They have that empowerment. If they have that ownership, they find creative ways of getting what we want to get of helping customers and also making sure the customer understands what our goals are so that we work towards a win-win situation. Things always change in service. There is always a new challenge and we have to be working together. And again, only with trust and ownership, people think out of box, they come up with solutions and they actually enjoy partnering and coming up with solutions. If you really say you have rule book and say, this is it. Yes, no, then people will stop thinking, stop coming up with innovative ideas to help customers, to help themselves and the company.
The main thing, the reason why we try to spend more time with the team, is to really increase that culture of taking ownership, thinking out of the box and try to find solutions. So we always say in my slides to the team, I say team first and we want the team to become solution advisors and then customers at heart make sure our aim is to make sure that they treat us as their partners. Then comes to company excellence. If you have a team of solution advisors who can make customers see us as partners, then the remaining commercial bit becomes easier and, of course, it's challenging goal out there. There will be some ups and downs, but if the team works together, takes care of customers, it's much easier to realize commercial success.
Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. So one last question on this recipe, Venkata, is, you mentioned you've been at Bruker for 19 years. A lot has changed in service in 19 years, and I'm sure you've grown professionally a lot in 19 years. So has this sort of always been your mentality or has it evolved over time? Do you know what I mean? To be focused the way you are and to have that clarity on, if we do this, this will come.
Venkata Reddy Mukku: It evolved. Again, I'm fortunate that I've worked with very good leaders. The leadership team above me and below me are very people-focused. Of course, they're very smart. Also make sure that the company is successful and profitable, but they also treat people well. That kind of gave me a thought. If I treat my team well, the way that I get treated, my boss, my management team, because I worked hard and then I started as a design engineer and I grew in ranks and then did many roles. So if I got all those opportunities and empowerment and trust by the team, by my managers, previous managers, I should replicate that. I should try and do it. I should try and communicate it so that if we are not doing this in any region or any country, people know that, hey, this is what you are preaching, but that's not what I'm getting.
So I really go out there and make sure that everyone knows it's team first, customer at heart and commercial excellence, and this is what we try to do. And if you guys think that we are deviating from this, let us know. So I try and make sure that everyone gets this message and everyone tries to live this so that we enjoy being part of the team and grow.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I love that. And I was assuming your answer would be something similar. And I say that because the company has to be similarly minded, right? Or if the company were a command and control mentality and then you came in and said, "No, here's my recipe," you wouldn't have the empowerment, or it would just be met with no, do this, et cetera. So we do talk though, when we think about employee engagement and satisfaction, particularly at the frontline, the field technicians, et cetera, we do often point out the fact that it cannot be a idea a leader has that they think will just magically translate to how it feels at the field technician level. It has to really permeate the culture because you have to have leaders all the way from the top down that feel that feeling to be able to create that the way that it's intended. So I think it's great that it's shared throughout the organization.
And I also think the trust you're talking about that's so critical to that empowerment, it does, in a lot of ways, come with time. I think particularly certain employees that have been in a different type of environment, they may come in and you say, we want to hear your opinions and ideas, and they're thinking, I'm just going to sit back and be quiet. When they see that happening throughout the ranks in the organization and they witness it time and time again, that's what helps them feel they can open up and be a part of that culture, right?
Venkata Reddy Mukku: Yeah.
Sarah Nicastro: All right, so what I want to do next is I think there is this increased focus on what we're talking about today, putting people first, okay? I've said before, I'll be interested to get your take. Here's what I sort of think has happened in service over the past, we'll say 15 to 20 years.
When I started in this space, so that was 16 years ago, service was very much in most situations perceived as a cost center. So it was all about productivity, efficiency, keep costs low, et cetera. And as we came to view service as a profit center, a potential profit center, it opened our eyes to the need to then focus on customer experience. So we had this wave of all of these customer-centric initiatives and metrics coming into play. Only more recently, I think, have we begun to reconcile that we cannot achieve those customer metrics without putting focus on the employee. So it's kind of like this reconciliation that I think we're in the midst of. Some organizations are way farther ahead than others, but this idea that, oh, okay, well if we want to be able to really harness this profit center, we need to treat our people a lot differently. They're actually far more intelligent and powerful than we were giving them credit for. And then you have talent gap compounding that, et cetera. So now we're kind of in this phase, if you will, but like a permanent one, where we're needing to take a step back and look at approaches like you're mentioning here today of, no, actually the people need to come first because if the people come first, here's where we get to.
So I think we're growing in our understanding of your type of approach being the needed approach, but I think there are a lot of leaders who are still struggling with how to make those words a reality. How to actually take the actions that put their people first. And so what I want to do is kind of talk through a couple of points that came up in our initial conversation and just have you share some examples on your thinking, your tactics, et cetera. So the first is putting focus on finding the right people. And you mentioned earlier, that has a lot to do with not only technical skill, but maybe more so attitude. So can you talk about that a little bit?
Venkata Reddy Mukku: So we have equal weighting for our technical and non-technical skills. Communication, attitude towards work, teamwork and the culture they were part of before and what type of culture they would want to be in. But we try to make sure that by the time our recruitment team filters the CVs and most of them are technically capable, and then we have some technical rounds and then that's all taken care. But what we really look forward to seeing in a candidate is how they approach if we use some scenarios. We try and understand their behavior, their thought process, and then how they would fit into our organization. So we try to look for the attitude because now we are not in nine-to-five jobs anymore. A lot of flex is needed, remote working, traveling. So people need to have the right attitude towards the role, then they can actually come and contribute. So we try and understand their behavior, their attitude towards the role that they're plan to join in. That is the first thing.
Once we get somebody on board, the next thing is making sure we have a good 30, 60, 90 plan, because that's when we can make sure that the employee or the team member, the new team member, get settled properly. We can't expect them to do very well if we don't treat them and give them the right tools at the start, especially in the first 30, 60, 90 days. We try to make sure that those first three months are productive for the team and make sure that they get, not just the technical knowledge, but also culture and the process of organization.
Sarah Nicastro: That's their first impression, right?
Venkata Reddy Mukku: Yes.
Sarah Nicastro: So all of the things you're trying to accomplish with your team first approach, you don't want them to not notice any of that until six months in. Yeah, that makes sense.
Venkata Reddy Mukku: So we really want them to appreciate what we have to offer. Once they understand that, they become part of it. And then once they know that we are open, we are open to ideas, we are open to change, I always tell, the best idea wins. It doesn't matter if it comes from a junior engineer or from a senior director. We want to talk. As long as you have a better idea, please speak up. Until you have a better idea, let's make sure we follow what we have in place.
So that's the type of approach we take. We really want to make sure that everyone understand the processes, the culture and then gets empowered to do their job and then this continues. We do a lot of soft skills, remote and online trainings, as well as we get all the teams under one roof at least once a year, if not twice, to get some training. So we do a lot of technical trainings, but then in the past we were not focusing as much on the non-technical trainings. But now, once or twice, meeting everyone under one roof and having a bowling game or doing some activity takes us a long way, really makes them feel connected to different people that they talk or interact remotely all the time. That actually helps them build bonds and engage better, take better ownership and help organization in a much better way.
Sarah Nicastro: So that was another thing on my list is the ongoing training and development. So you're obviously still providing the technical training that you've always had, but if I'm understanding correctly, you're also then now equally prioritizing soft skills training and to your point, making sure you get people together to really solidify that team vibe and let people get to know one another and really, like you said, build those bonds and just spend some time together, right?
Venkata Reddy Mukku: Yes. That's one of the very important things, especially pre-COVID we were doing that a bit often. Now, through COVID, we couldn't do that. And the people that we hired through COVID, we had a huge growth and we are still going through the growth fortunately, you hire people without seeing, we hired people and have them not meet a lot of the team. Those people do not have any connections. It's very superficial. And then the attrition of such hires is much higher compared to the people that meet each other, that work with each other. So it's very important that we create that bonding, we create that environment for people to meet, share knowledge and help each other.
Sarah Nicastro: And that goes well with the next point I had here which is, treating employees as people, not resources. So I think what you're saying is, one example of, it's an investment, right? You're spending money to get everyone together in the same place at the same time. But it's that human aspect. We are human beings, we need human connection. And if people can come together as humans, get to know one another and meet and engage with the people they're working with day-to-day, and it's not just a face behind a screen, it really changes the engagement. So that's one example. Do you have any other examples when you think about how you focus on treating employees as people and not resources?
Venkata Reddy Mukku: I mean, we try to be very empathetic because everyone is having their own personal lives, people with sick kids to having sick partners and people themselves having to go through surgeries. So we try and be empathetic. We try and make sure we accommodate and we say, "It's okay." People get up. In some countries, people are afraid that if I take a month off because of this sickness or this family member sickness, I might lose my job. So we try and create an environment where we say, "It's okay." We always want to put themselves first. If we say, "You first take care of yourself, your family, friends, then work." Some people says, "I can't take off even though I'm sick because this will go south and this will go bad. Our organization would be mad." So I said, everyone is replaceable, and if we think that we thought us, organization cannot run, that's not right.
So we try and make sure that people put themselves first, and we try and put it in action. Whenever someone is sick, we do try be empathetic. When they come back, they know that my team has been rooting for me when I'm away, they come back with full energy and do their best. So it's not always easy. There is always some challenges here and there. But at a high level, if you really create that environment where people can actually be themselves, take care of themselves, and then take care of their family, they actually can contribute more to the organization than if you just say, you got to do your work. We don't care what's happening with your life or with your family. That detachment is actually not going to help in the long run.
Sarah Nicastro: We had a really interesting conversation in a round table last week about, and this isn't limited to only working moms, but that's the context in which it came up, is, hey, we need to start thinking differently about how we react to a situation where a woman who's been a great employee of ours goes through a period of having a small child and needs more flexibility. Because in the grand scheme of things, that window is pretty small. And when we just say, "Nope, here's the rules. If you can't do what we need you to do in this context, go find something else or stay home," we lose that talent. So when we think about how do we keep high talent, if that's a person that's committed to the organization and adding value, how do we think differently about letting them prioritize what they need while also contributing? So I think that's, to your point, not always easy, but a good lens through which to look at things.
The other one here we talked about, and this is one where I can just imagine some old school leaders rolling their eyes. So let's see what we can come up with as examples, which is creating happiness at work and a sense of fulfillment. So this is one where there was a period in time where this was not on anyone's priority list. And I agree, it should be. I absolutely think that the outcome you are trying to create of having people feel personally invested in the outcomes and the success, of not only them, but the organization, comes from feeling fulfilled and passionate about what they do. But do you have any examples for how you're working toward creating that?
Venkata Reddy Mukku: It's not that straightforward. Everyone has their own goals in life. For someone to come to work and be happy, they see different things, they want different things at work. What we try to do is give them purpose. Because it's not just come and repair an instrument or fix an instrument and install it. Our instruments, our technology helps people to find cure for cancers and to come up with the latest and greatest chips for all the cars and phones and whatnot. Pharmaceutical, medical, biological, a lot of different researchers. So we empower a lot of scientists. We tell our engineers, "Guys, you are not just coming to just fix something or install something. You are changing how we live for future generations." So there is a purpose there and more than anything, you know, are working with a team of like-minded people who wants to come to work, enjoy what they do, and contribute to the organization as well as to the customer success.
So it's different in different regions, but we try and make sure that they understand what we do has meaning, has purpose, and then also try and connect to their personal objectives. Hey, this is what we are aimed to do. This is the purpose, but purpose for you is different and we are open to accommodate that. What's the purpose that you are coming? So we need to make sure we understand their objective as well, and then find a way to meet their objective. So now we have our objective, we have their objective, we work together, communicate, put a plan. Then they are looking forward to work on the project they like. At the same time, they are helping the customer and helping the organization. So it's a very important thing to really have that open conversation, understanding the team member's goal, and then understanding the company's vision and the purpose and then make sure we work together on that.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That's what I was thinking is, really achieving this as a culmination of some of the other things that we've talked about, which is no one feels that they're at a level of the organization where their voice doesn't matter. They all feel they contribute. Everyone feels that they are a person first and employee second. You're working together as a team by creating these personal relationships and bonds to band together toward goals. You have this purpose and you're showing them not only how their role matters in this purpose, but also that you care about their purpose. To me, that goes back to treating employees as people, not resources, in the sense of if you have someone say, "Boy, I really like this part of my role, but I really don't like this and I think maybe I want to do this." And you say, "No, we just need you to keep showing up and doing what you need to do." Yes, it's more complex because as leaders, you have to stop and think about, okay, how do we backfill this part? How do we map this part? But again, if you really care about people being fulfilled, then you listen and you figure out a solution. So I think that makes sense.
Now, all of these things we've talked about, Venkata, are really coming together to contribute to, I remember when we talked, we really kind of got to a point where if we were to try and articulate the big difference of what you're focused on creating, it's this sense of empowerment and ownership over their roles. And I said, for me, it's about creating commitment instead of compliance. So many companies focus on just having employees that comply, that do work. You're focused on creating commitment to the organization, the outcomes that themselves that makes them feel fulfilled.
So it is hard to give all the specifics, right? Because it's a lot of different things. And I think if we really dug into it, I think what we would find is, it has more to do with leadership mentality and authenticity than it does actual, so our training program looks like this, right? Because that feeling for an employee of, I matter to this company and they care what I contribute, comes from that sense. It doesn't come from any specific process. But if you think about, as I've mentioned today, some of the leaders who know it's important to do more people first leadership, but are struggling with sort of how, or they feel this pressure to the numbers and all of that. What would your advice be?
Venkata Reddy Mukku: I mean, if you want to change, you have to start at someplace. And taking care of the people is by far the best place to start with. Again, it's the people that are delivering those numbers. If you don't take care of people, those numbers will not come. Temporarily they might come, but the people will leave and you have a lot of turnover. So it's really important that they evaluate the priorities, understand the team, understand the goals. If the goals are clear, people would invest time on the right priorities. So if the goal is just financial success, no matter what the goal is, customer success, financial success, it all connects backs to the people. So you got to really make sure your basis is right, you have the right foundation, and that's people. So, I mean, managers, leadership, teams should really think about it.
Again, wherever we have weak leadership, I mean, again, we acquire a lot of organization, wherever we have processes that do not help team to flourish, we see a lot of engagement problems. We see productivity problems, we see result problems. Wherever we have people where they care, they support the organization. Even though we have less resources there, we see better results. So we've learned it the hard way in some places, that if we don't put people first, and you invest more, you get less out of it. So I think priorities are important and people should be the top priority.
Sarah Nicastro: I agree. And I know we're out of time, but that was my last question, which is, have you seen this focus pay off in the sense of customer satisfaction and commercial success?
Venkata Reddy Mukku: Yes. So the immediate success I see is people's engagement and productivity. If people put their heart into anything, they get better. Customers can feel it. And a happy employee, an engaged employee, can make a difference. When they touch a customer, they feel it, and then that turns into business. So you get more productivity, you get more business that turns into a profit. So, yes, we've seen that year over year. The more we engage our team, the more we invest in team success, the more they help us with winning more business.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That's wonderful. So many more questions I could ask, Venkata, so we'll have to have you back again sometime in the future. But I really appreciate you coming on and sharing with us today. So thank you for being here.
Venkata Reddy Mukku: Thanks for having me, Sarah. Appreciate it.
Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. You can learn more by visiting us at futureoffieldservice.com. While you're there, be sure to subscribe to the Future of Field Service Insiders so you can stay up to date on all of the latest content. And be sure to register for the future of Field Service Live Tour event nearest you. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.