Outside In: Are Your Customers At The Heart Of Your Service Business?

Sep 02, 2019 • FeaturesManagementStrategyThe Professional Planning ForumCustomer Satisfaction and Expectations

Well-implemented ‘customer first’ strategies open the door for fresh thinking, but are our teams change-ready? Do we ourselves ‘walk the talk’ in building a professional network that connects us with the latest developments in other sectors or markets? In a new strategic series, Paul Smedley looks at practical examples of successful change in all kinds of service operations.

Every service operation is challenged by digital servitisation. This includes the digital disruption of whole markets, with fierce competition and cost challenges. It requires rising to the challenges of changing customer expectations and the rapid pace of technology change. It means breaking down siloes within our organisations, between sales and operations for instance, as well as beyond, to our supply chain, distributors, outsourced services and other partnerships.


But are we too focussed on what we do and too little aware of trends or technologies that  are not  even on business radar? What should our priorities be in learning how to rise to these new challenges? Look  at it this way: will your organisation ever be in the fast lane if you are re-inventing the wheel because your team is not connected and up-to-date?
In this new series on strategy for Field Service News, I will look at a number of practical examples of how ‘customer first’ approaches bring fresh thinking, giving a reason for everyone to look at business decision making from the outside in. We will see the importance of picking up ideas and approaches from other sectors and from an effective professional network, using these experiences to help engage our own people in making the necessary changes happen in a connected way.

Customer First

The first step is putting service at the heart of our business decisions, in ways that get colleagues working together across the business. Award-wining work at British Engineering Services, for instance, has helped double sales and raise month-end service by 50 per cent.
Effective resource planning means they stand out from competitors on service reliability. What’s more, this information is used by sales and pricing; client-specific requirements can be incorporated with a clear view of costs and risks.

More broadly, many businesses now recognise the value that arises when service people become ‘trusted advisors’ and business joins together around a shared, overarching customer metric. As the Harvard Business Review reported, customers who receive the highest standards of service spend 140 per cent more than those with the poorest service. In business-to-business a  5 per cent uplift in customer retention will typically see profit increase of two to 95 per cent.



This illustrates why digital servitisation is transforming how manufacturers think and compete. An organisation that is truly focussed on service stands  out from the crowd in any market. Yet, the digital dimension of service growth requires purposeful and co-ordinated effort. This starts when we invest time   in understanding the winds of ‘unstoppable change’ and the factors that drive them.


What are the key trends and the latest ideas to watch out for? At a recent networking event for our members hosted by The Times in London, Chris Duncan, the media company's managing director explained that people came to visit them from every sector, because everyone is facing massive disruption and the media industry were early to experience this. In this 225-year-old newspaper, the  first ‘paying customer’ came in 2010, with the ‘paywall’ for digital subscribers. How many other organisations have traditionally worked only through distributors or seen the ‘aftermarket’ as a cost function, not value adding.


Data visibility and automation

Joined-up data means we can literally see issues and change business decision-making processes. We can understand the costs of providing a certain type or level of service or ‘downstream consequences’. What if we don’t have the right skill or equipment because our data is out of date? Or if we don’t identify issues that could cause future problems?


More than that, good use of technology can now increasingly automate routine, high-volume tasks – including joining up legacy systems or tracking workflow. Award-wining work at ADT Fire & Security  shows  demonstrates how making data on engineers’ worktime easy to access gave instant visibility.


The busy summer period was seen to be due to supply (many people off at the same time) rather than demand. It revealed individual’s utilisation and effective performance management started to build a culture in which everyone rose to the productivity challenge. Another powerful example is the growing use of mobile video to allow specialist support for engineers on the ground at the ‘moment of truth’.

culture: this is about people

These examples show how much change impact people, especially a mobile workforce used to being ‘on their own’. How many approaches have failed, because we haven’t engaged ‘hearts & minds’? One factor that is common to every member’s successful service transformation is this capacity to see the human angle – to understand ‘where numbers meet people’.


People need to feel they can still make personal judgements, but equally to see when it is better to be consistent or co-ordinated and to value    the support of others. Big productivity savings are common early in a transformation journey, but the real long-term win is engaging people. This translates into tangible benefits for colleagues, customers and the business: more time with customers (not on the road), turning up at a convenient time (when expected), fixing a bunch of issues (in a way that ensures the customer’s equipped stays fixed).

Invest in resource planning.

Crucially, field service companies will only stay in business if they deliver what the customer wants, when and how they want it. Well implemented mobile workforce management’ is  a key step and we’ve seen that successful implementations at members like Anglian Water and OpenReach have been achieved by directly involving  engineers in the change. 

Surprisingly perhaps, effective planning often means fewer people allocating jobs, but better long-term planning. There are some key steps here: create a capacity plan, understand the impact on everybody. In future articles I will share some vital pointers in this area and highlight pitfalls to avoid.build a ‘playbook’ to manage the impact of changes.

A joined-up vision

This takes us back to where we started. If the customer is truly at the heart   of everything you do, very soon no stone will be left unturned in the search for better solutions, technologies and operating models. More than that, our people will get it!


Twenty years ago, I founded professional networks and benchmarking for call centres, at a time of rapid transformation. Today, our members are looking at field service, branch operations and the back office, as well as the front office. They are taking learning from one area to apply in another. As people say: “there’s a whole technology or movement that is never flagged up in my business”, “we all face the same challenges” “there’s so much to learn”. I have found that success begins with the attitude we take ourselves. Do we ‘walk  the talk’ and get connected personally to look from the outside in?


Paul Smedley leads a best practice network for professionals in service operations across Europe – the Professional Planning Forum, established in Mach 2000. More information about the network can be found here