ARCHIVE FOR THE ‘management-2’ CATEGORY
transform when required. The key, Bill Pollock writes, is in Service Lifecycle Management...
Enaging today’s service enterprise means planning and coordinating service on a global scale. It means delighting your customers – and your shareholders. And it calls for new technologies and business practices designed specifically to solve the Service Lifecycle Management (SLM) challenge.
Based on these reasons, we believe that any field services organisation that strives to provide “bestin-class” field service in support of its customers must first implement a robust SLM solution in order to achieve its objectives. The benefits of implementing an SLM solution are many – and are fairly universal (that is, applicable for virtually every field services organisation, regardless of type, size, or geography served). Users typically identify the following five areas of benefits as the most compelling talking points in selling the
concept to management:
1. Reduced Service Costs
2. Streamlined Workflow
3. Improved Service Levels
4. Enhanced Quality and Growth
5. Increased Customer Satisfaction
Reduced Service Costs
Simply citing generic data regarding potential cost reductions does not generally entice management to look any further. In order to truly gain their attention, it must be specified exactly where the cost savings will be coming from – and to what extent (i.e., provide them with hard numbers). The good news is that a robust SLM solution can manifest quantifiable cost savings from several
specific areas including:
• Improved technician productivity
• Improved Inventory/parts management
• Optimized service delivery
• Reduced time in the “service-to-cash” cycle
These areas of cost savings will very likely peak management’s interest – as well as entice them to ask for more detailed cost-saving information. For example:
Improved Technician Productivity
Through SLM, improvements in technician productivity can be gained in a variety of ways including:
• Providing field technicians with realtime, direct access to customer service history, equipment repair records, product information, and inventory and parts availability enables them to provide the best service possible in the most cost-effective manner by eliminating time-consuming paperwork and forms preparation. As a result, the technicians are able to spend virtually all of their billable time providing customers with the highest levels of service and support, rather than simply collecting information and
filling out forms.
• Providing field technicians with specific service level information for each customer they serve so that they never unknowingly
provide their customers with anything less – or more – than those levels of service that are specifically covered in their respective Service Level Agreements (SLAs).
• Reducing overhead costs through the elimination of most paperwork, delays in communications, and the use of outdated systems that had previously required manual data entry or redundant data input. Empowered by the data and information made available through SLM, field technicians can also serve as the “eyes and ears” of the organisation with respect to identifying potential cross-selling or upselling opportunities for the company’s various products and services. By doing so, customers will not only look at their field technician as “the person who gets things fixed”, but also as a “trusted advisor” – or the one they can count on to both fix their equipment, and provide them with recommendations for acquiring new products and/or upgrading their service level coverage.
Improved Inventory/Parts Management
SLM can also result in “hard” cost savings through improved inventory/parts management, as summarised below:
• SLM enables services organisations to enhance their Equipment Asset Management (EAM) capabilities by allowing them to track
specific component/equipment relationships, and monitor their inventories for the purpose of automatic replenishment. By developing
– and following – tightly integrated inventory management processes, users are able to significantly reduce inventory size and related carrying costs.
• SLM also provides technicians with access to real-time inventory information, as well as the ability to order parts directly from the
field, rather than having to wait until they return to their home base, or gain access to a telephone connection. The ability to work
with real-time parts/inventory information provides both the technicians – and the customers they serve – with immediate access
to parts availability, while simultaneously updating inventory levels and triggering automatic replenishments.
"Citing generic data regarding potential cost reductions does not generally entice management to look further..."
Optimized Service Delivery
Optimized service delivery may mean different things to different people; however, the most compelling benefits of service optimisation, delivered through SLM are typically realized in terms of:
• Minimized time to dispatch (i.e., quicker response time);
• Increased first-time fix rates (i.e., fewer repeat failures and/or service calls); and
• The ability of customers to perform self diagnosis and problem resolution via the Internet.
Ultimately, each of these benefits is realized through improved response time, decreased need for follow-up/repeat calls, and less equipment downtime. Even so, there are still several other types of benefits that will also be of significant interest to company management.
Technology is the tool that assists services organisations in making their operations run more efficiently – but it is only a tool. However, SLM leverages best-of-breed field service management solutions with industry best practices already builtin, thereby allowing practitioners to benefit not only from the automation of their current processes, but also by allowing them to redefine and improve their processes to deliver optimum results. These results are typically manifested in the following ways:
Integrated Processes and Technologies
Only through SLM can the practitioner benefit from a completely integrated and seamless solution that provides an instant 360-degree web-based view of the entire business. For example, when Sales or Marketing require information from Service.
Operations to develop targeted promotions to maximize cross-sell and up-sell opportunities, a robust SLM solution can give them exactly what they want – when they want it.
Similarly, when Service needs real-time customer information from the Contact Center prior to making a call, SLM makes that information readily available.
Improved and Streamlined Processes
The end result of successfully integrating the organisation’s processes and technologies is improved and streamlined processes – in
other words, running the organisation more efficiently. These benefits are typically manifested in the following ways:
• Through an automated call management system based on CTI, IVR, dynamic scheduling and dispatch, and closure capabilities,
services organisations can rapidly improve and streamline their call management process, thereby significantly increasing
customer satisfaction and retention.
• With the ability to apply contract templates, initiate automatic contract renewals, and build structured workflow processes, users
can maximize their contract processing, resulting in more predictable revenues and improved productivity.
• The capability to track, monitor, and automate stock based upon user-defined rules, in conjunction with the ability to support multiple warehousing strategies, also leads to improved and streamlined stock management levels at reduced inventory
levels (also resulting in reduced costs).
Improved Service Levels
There are basically two ways to look at SLM – (1) as a tool for lowering the cost of doing business, and (2) as a means for improving existing service performance. While the cost savings may be very real, SLM can also be a significant contributor to the overall improvement in the levels of service performance for the organisation. Complete charge capture, and maximizing cross-selling and up-selling opportunities are just some of the ways that play to both perspectives on SLM
Complete Charge Capture of Service Delivery
SLM enables the complete capture of all parameters involved in delivering service (e.g., parts, T&M, expenses, ancillary services, extended warranties, etc.) ensuring that no billable charges are ever lost or overlooked, and ultimately improving invoicing
accuracy. Through SLM, as soon as the technician closes a call and captures the customer’s electronic signature, that data can instantly be transmitted to the central billing system, thereby significantly streamlining and compressing Days Sales Outstanding (DSO).
Maximized Cross-Selling and Up-Selling Opportunities
Through the capability of leveraging a Web-based customer self-service portal in conjunction with a dynamic self-learning knowledgebase, users gain the ability to offer new products/services at every customer interaction, resulting in increased
revenues without increasing costs. A state-of-the-art SLM solution that embeds intelligent automation along with a robust product information management repository can arm all of the employees in the field with first-rate cross-selling and up-selling capabilities by prompting/alerting them of any potential sales opportunities (e.g.,contract/warranty expirations, aging equipment, ancillary accessories, add-ons, etc.) at the specifictime of interaction with the customer.
Ability to Leverage Service as a Competitive Advantage
Through SLM’s Business Intelligence (BI) capabilities, users can identify, monitor, and track opportunities to offer customized and global service agreements based upon each customer’s unique usage levels.
By doing so, the customer benefits from having its service needs and requirements fully met, and the services organisation can maximize its total revenues in the field. SLM also supports the services organisation’s ability to deliver proactive rather than
reactive personalized service – at an affordable price– empowering it to exceed customer expectations and generate repeat sales.
"SLM enables the complete capture of all parameters involved in delivering service..."
Enhanced Quality and Growth
While most of the benefits described thus far focus primarily on transitioning from the past to the present, enhanced quality and growth clearly looks to the future of the organisation – and this is where SLM excels. The three main components of these forward-thinking benefits may best be summarized as follows:
Ability to Deliver Consistent Service Globally
The most effective SLM solution is one that is truly global, able to support customers using all summarised below:
Ability to Anticipate Customer Service Requirements
SLM provides users with easy-to-use functionality, an intelligent knowledgebase, and a comprehensive customer repository to track problems and potentially identify many other problems before they occur. With this valuable information at their fingertips, users can offer more efficient scheduling or preventive maintenance (or implement an IoTpowered Remote Diagnostics / Remote Monitoring
platform), and minimise the need for on-site visits and repeat service calls, wherever possible. As a result, customer satisfaction is increased, and costly unscheduled service visits can be minimised
Improved Responsiveness to Customer Calls and Service Delivery
SLM empowers Contact Center and field personnel with visual alerts, automatic escalation, scripting, and question trees, so they are able to respond to customers’ inquiries quicker and more completely. Through SLM, they will also have a full range of corporate knowledge stores readily available to optimize the customer interaction process.
In addition, the integrated, multi-channel inbound/outbound capabilities facilitated by SLM provide for unparalleled customer support in all areas, including placing and tracking an order, updating records,making payments, receiving remote support, and scheduling a service call.
Making It Easier to Do Business - Making It More Profitable
In today’s increasingly fast-paced business environment, customers have very high expectations, and they will take no excuses for poor customer service. They expect fast, relevant, and accurate information from the companies they do business with, and they will accept nothing less.
The self-service capabilities offered through SLM provide customers with all of the information they need – when they want it, anytime, anywhere.
This, in turn, ultimately results in improved customer satisfaction and strengthened loyalty throughout the user’s customer base.
Bill Pollock is President at Strategies For Growth
In the UK it is estimated there are six million lone workers and approximately 23 million in the US. Workers sent to fix a coffee machine, lorry or an offshore wind turbine, by definition, are lone workers.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) who oversee the regulation and enforcement of occupational health and safety in the UK define lone workers as “people who work by themselves without close or direct supervision”. Given the spectrum of lone vocations in field service, we can assume that most workers fall into this category.
In the UK, while there is no specific legislation that governs lone working, the act is encompassed by the overarching Health and Safety at Work Act which requires employers to provide a duty of care to their workers and to do all that is “reasonably practicable” to protect them.” Similarly, in America, there exists no defined legal requirements but the framework of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) expects firms - as part of their legal duty of care - to have a lone worker policy in place.
Today, firms across both sides of the Atlantic are now taking health and safety far more seriously. What was once seen as a paperwork-heavy burden, necessary to keep inspectors from the door, is now appearing higher up a firm’s agenda resonating in
the boardroom and becoming integrated within a firm’s business strategy. Directors can see tangible numbers such as lost time
and accident statistics that can visibly affect a company’s bottom line; as well as the impact the effect on a company’s brand if they are found in breach of the regulations. Employers are now also taking a more holistic view of their workers’ health and safety. As well as the obvious risks in lone working such as sudden illness or injury, violence, threats or abuse, employers are now taking more notice of their employee’s wellbeing and the risks associated with mental health. Lone workers have been identified as vulnerable in this regard, susceptible to issues such as depression and anxiety. But why is this?
The very nature of lone working means interaction with others is not as frequent as that between office workers, for example. As social creatures we work best in groups, bouncing ideas around and receiving affirmation from each other on challenges and solutions. And while those who work alone are in touch with colleagues or managers, it is often conducted remotely and task-focused with little opportunity for informal conversation. The desk-based employee can usually find relaxed, pressure releasing conversations at the office kitchen while making a coffee with another colleague.
"Lone workers have been identified as vulnerable, susceptible to depression and anxiety..."
It’s this removal of a lone worker’s relaxed workplace interaction that can have a detrimental affect on their wellbeing. However, communication software such as the consumable cross-platform messaging service WhatsApp is being utilised by working populations to interact and share challenges, becoming a virtual coffee between workers in a virtual office kitchen.
Technology has also played a part in physically protecting lone workers with a sharp advancement in safety devices, particularly in alarms and monitoring systems.
The first wave of tech was very much stand alone, connected to very little. Those in danger would press a button and hope that someone hears it. Now devices have become much smarter with GPS and IoT connectivity, in turn creating tracking and
therefore productivity metrics. This was further ring fenced in the UK by the introduction of the 2016 BS8484 standard, meaning
companies offering technology-based solutions had to comply with. A key requirement of which, is that a lone worker’s alarm once activated, supersedes the 999 British level of emergency response, and be directed immediately to the relevant control unit,
guaranteeing an appropriate action.
This regulation has led to another level of lone worker devices encompassing video, analytics and the use of IoT. Solutions now include personal ID tags that incorporate video technology and small fob alarms, triggered discreetly triggered if an incident occurs
that can also integrate with a mobile workforce management platform. Like service management platforms, analytics software specifically for lone workers exists that covers usage, training and alarm elements and produces graphically-friendly reports
to showcase progress to the CEO or department heads.
Financial, moral and legal: three reasons why firms should take their health and safety management systems seriously. Far from being a burden, it’s about making sure your workers go home unharmed. People are your biggest assets and they deserve to be protected to the highest possible standard. Physically, and also mentally.
In the latest Field Service Podcast, Bill Pollock discusses why management buy-in can ultimately lead to service excellence.
In the latest Field Service Podcast, Bill Pollock discusses why management buy-in can ultimately lead to service excellence.
In this special episode, Deputy Editor Mark Glover, speaks to long-term Field Service News' contributor Bill Pollock about the importance of top-down buy-in when integrating new technologies.
Citing trends from Strategies for Growth's 2018 Field Service Management Tracking Survey, Bill dissects the current state of the sector, providing some surprising insights.An essential listen from one of the most influential and experienced voices in the industry.
Tieto has appointed Thomas Nordås as Managing Partner, a role which will see the former McKinsey employee push the firm's new digital strategy in the Norweigan market.
The service and software firm's new strategy is built around design of service experiences and the smart-use of data and Nordas will be expected to implement this new direction for the company, ultimately driving growth in the Scandinavian country.
Commenting, Tieto's President and CEO welcomed Nordas to the company, while acknowledging the goal of the firm's new strategy for its customers. "Thomas’ strong experience in consulting and business transformation will further support Tieto’s ambitions and help us create competitive advantage to our customers in this rapidly evolving and digitalizing business environment, where innovation, digital experience and new data-driven business models are the main drivers for companies’ competitiveness," he said.
Just because we tell our people we want them to be Trusted Advisors, does not mean they will succeed. We can give them mobile systems to escalate leads to sales, implement compensation systems and KPI’s to encourage behaviour, and provide training on service offers, but without embedding a Trusted Advisor mindset into our service teams, these efforts will be wasted.
The good news is that many of the traits of Trusted Advisors are already in the DNA of good service people. What they need is clarity on their role and an understanding of how to talk to customers so that they achieve a WIN, WIN, WIN:
• A Win for the customer so that every conversation they have moves them closer to their goal;
• A Win for the company to develop customer loyalty and profitability;
• A Win for themselves so they feel great about their job.
What makes a Trusted Advisor different? At the very minimum they are good customer problem solvers. What starts to differentiate them from others is their ability to have meaningful conversations with customers that always seem to move towards solutions. They are able to provide options together with the benefits for various decision the customer might make. They normally have a high level of personal maturity in that they do not try to tell customers what to THINK. Instead they influence them by what they SAY and DO, and because they consistently deliver, customers trust their advice.
As the notion of a Trusted Advisor is widely used across sales & service, the job context is extremely important. For example, in field service and technical support the Trusted Advisor role is more about providing options than closing deals. Whereas in sales it is more about how we build rapport and credibility within a consultative selling process. Clearly understanding the context in which the Trusted Advisor mindset is being developed is vitally important to successful adoption.
In all cases, importance of having a great conversation cannot be underestimated. Technical people can have a tendency to focus more on the narrow problem than the wider customer relationship. This can lead them to missing important data in the problem-solving process and so failing to find the route cause.
Or just as important, the company misses out on opportunities to add value to the customers business whether that be through helpful advice or the identification of commercial activities. Another challenge many technical people have is that without realising it, they can talk in a way which makes customers defensive or aggressive. For example the next time you are having a conversation, listen for the “…yes, but…”. You may notice that it is a way of saying NO, which probably pulls up really negative feelings for you the listener. The trick is to learn the language that turns these negative situations into positive outcomes.
"Technical people can focus more on the narrow problem than the wider customer relationship..."
Sales people also need good conversations, and in particular understanding the art of closing the deal without losing their rapport with the customer. This is a very different version of Trusted Advisor and it is important not to get the sales version mixed up with technical service.
Service leaders who want to improve how their teams communicate with customers, might consider having the following conversations with their own people:
Clarify what you mean by a Trusted Advisor and the role they play in your organisation. In particular the customer needs and what makes them successful, as well as your companies business goals. This is where distinguishing the difference between selling and advising will be absolutely critical to your success
Develop a Mindset where every conversation we have with customers moves them a step closer to their goal. It may not be the complete solution, but it is a step in the right direction no matter how bad and uncomfortable the situation is. This very basic philosophy is key to training your people to deal with conflict, as well encourage them to have dynamic and collaborative relationships through solution orientated language.
Provide Tools and methods that allow us to actively listen, to talk more effectively, to manage conflict and resolve difficult customer situations. These tools are critical to helping us to prepare ourselves to be a Trusted Advisor in what can be challenging and stressful situations.
Practice in real-life scenarios with your team to see how they react under stress. We are constantly amazed at how confident many service people are about talking to customers in a training environment, yet it all falls apart in a customer situation.
Refresh: Developing how your team interacts with customers is not a one-off event and needs to be constantly mentored and coached.
If you want to develop the Trusted Advisor in your teams, then in addition to processes and propositions, you will need to start to have conversations about their role in the business, the listening skills they must develop and the language to use in order to create dynamic solution orientated relationships.
If you would like to know more about developing Trusted Advisor programmes in your business, then you can contact nick at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the si2 website here.
In my role as Managing Director EMEA with Astea I speak to a lot of field service professionals. As is the nature of our industry, these folks come from companies of all shapes and sizes and from many different industries – which can lead to many varying, often highly nuanced views as to what ‘service excellence’ is.
For some of our customers ‘speed of response times’ may be key, for others it’s ‘first-time-fix rates’, for others still it may be ‘effective time’.
However, looking back on the conversations I’ve had across the last twelve months, there is one constant challenge pervasive amongst field service organisations. Indeed, I’d go as far as saying that across the board, service leaders are facing a new reality that can be summed up in one word - change.
Ours is Not a Sector That Stays Still For Long
The field service industry is not and never has been, one for ever standing still too long. Remember, ours is the industry that was sending data back from the field long before the likes of Apple and Samsung had put the internet in everyone’s pocket and the best-in-class companies in our sector today are often those who innovated their way out of the global financial crisis in 2008 by placing their service offerings at the heart of their solutions.
So it is through a lens of confidence and anticipation that I look now at our industry once more going through widespread change.
We are witnessing significant change in many core areas of field service at the moment, including changes in our workforce structures to include more short-term labor. Even the very role of the field service engineers themselves is rapidly evolving as more emphasis is being placed on quality customer interactions that lead to higher customer satisfaction and hopefully, higher shareof-wallet.
The service engineer has historically been the relationship managers since they have the most one-on-one time with the customer. Now companies are putting formal training in place to ensure technicians have the right customer service skills and the right mind-set for being the brand ambassadors. And field service technology is helping companies make this shift by adding checklists that can guide technician behaviour through things like upselling and cross-selling initiatives.
"I look now at our industry once more going through widespread change..."
As I mentioned at the top, different companies will prioritise different KPIs according to their own internal goals and targets. Yet, one thing that we at Astea are seeing across all service related industries, is the ever-increasing importance of customer satisfaction. This is where field service organisations can find a real competitive advantage.
In a world of digitalisation, Artificial Intelligence and automation, the field service call represents something that is becoming a rare and hugely valuable commodity – genuine face-to-face interaction with customers. In today’s service economy, this is an opportunity that cannot be overlooked.
One KPI To Rule Them All?
Customer Satisfaction is increasingly becoming the KPI for field service organisations, and it is not just for the more abstract concepts within business strategy such as brand perception either – there are very clear, tangible economic reasons why field service companies should realign their KPIs more towards CSAT as opposed to more traditional operational KPIs such as First-time-fix or mean-time-to-repair. For example, for those working in business to consumer verticals, I would point to research published in the Harvard Business Review that revealed that consumers who receive the highest standards of service spend 140% more than those who receive the poorest service, whilst data from
American Express revealed 86% of consumers will pay more for better service. The bottom line is that better service means better revenue opportunities. However, a focus on CSAT KPIs isn’t just for B2C companies, it is just as vital in B2B sectors also. For a start, the lines for service in both segments are continuously blurring as the bar for high quality service continues to be raised in all sectors. But once again, there is also a wealth of data to support the argument for focussing on CSAT for B2B organisations. For example, research by Bain and Company shows that just a 5% increase in customer retention will typically see profit increases of anywhere between 25% and 95%.
Besides guiding technician behaviour, there are other ways that field service management (FSM) platforms can help companies prioritise CSAT, including self-service web portals and mobile apps where customers have more visibility and control over their service relationship. Other ways FSM platforms can help is giving companies the ability to communicate with customers in modern ways that are more often seen in B2C relationships. For example, automated workflows can easily be set up to send text messages or email alerts letting customers know about a change in a service order status.
It’s clear that we are entering an era of new opportunities. Of course, in such times the challenges can be daunting and discussions of how to move forward are often complex. This is why I’m looking forward to hosting a series of round tables at this year’s Field Service Summit in Warwick, where I intend to dig deeper into the changes the field service sector is heading through and how we can embrace them.
John Hunt is Managing Director EMEA at Astea
Field service is undergoing what is in my opinion the biggest change the industry has seen in the last 25 years.
All of our customers, across a range of industries, want to talk to us about Digital Transformation, and how they can use digital technology to fundamentally transform the way they interact with their customers, and not just about the operational ‘nuts and bolts’ of delivering a service to them.
Some customers are only at the beginning, taking small steps towards transformation by, for example, moving away from traditional software ownership models towards cloud-based products and services, such as MS Office 365. Others are further along, with strategies that embrace technologies such as IoT, big data and AI.
But regardless of their progress, at the heart of all of these conversations is the recognition that Digital Transformation will bring them closer to the goal of providing exceptional field service.
The Art Of Field Service Ops
I often think that the role of a Field Service Manager is a complex mix of art and science, with a bit of magic thrown in for good luck.
Decision making needs to adjust constantly to changes in conditions – a sudden unseasonable cold snap, for example, or a contract with a new customer. Just as service delivery metrics point to success, something changes, and there is a whole new dynamic.
Without knowing what combination of factors triggered the change, it’s hard to know how best to respond.
Get the reaction to an emerging threat wrong – too great or too small a response – and the complex balance of the operational ‘ecosystem’ can be thrown out.
Recovering that balance and restoring the conditions required for ‘flawless’ field service can prove costly and time consuming.
Data doesn’t drive decisions
Most organisations capture a range of sources and types of data - workload planning, resource availability, schedule efficiency, service outcomes, customer satisfaction levels, asset profitability – and many are integrating new types, such as that offered by IoT.
However, this data is rarely delivered in the right form to support decision making, meaning that managers spend too much time aligning and manipulating data from disparate sources. Even then, many are frustrated to find that the root cause of issues is still unclear and the likely outcome of any decision is still uncertain.
AI, machine learning and predictive analytics
This is where the latest technologies, such as AI, machine learning and predictive analytics come in.
Valuable insights into the performance of an operation often lie at the intersections of these various datasets; these technologies can enable decision support applications to identify underlying patterns of performance in the Field Service operation, including long and short term trends, that were simply too complex for traditional applications to uncover. This is increasingly true as much larger data sets such as IoT have come online in recent years.
"Field service is undergoing what is in my opinion the biggest change the industry has seen in the last 25 years..."
This deep understanding of performance, combined with the power to highlight exceptions in real-time, enables the operations team to see the correct course of action to address each challenge as it arises. And beyond simple advice, these technologies make it possible for applications to automate ‘learned’ responses to common patterns of exceptions that occur.
The next generation of decision support
This next generation of applications will be used strategically to analyse, for example, which factors within a field service operation make engineers productive, and which inhibit productivity. Some of these factors will be within the control of the engineer, in which case performance can be addressed with initiatives such as better training or incentives.
Others will relate to company processes, in which case the applications will suggest tactical improvements, the impact of which can also be measured. Others still will be external factors which can’t be changed, but can be allowed for in planning and scheduling.
Such applications will be programmed with a knowledge base, but will be learning all the time, as the outcome of each decision is fed back into the performance data, effectively automating the process of continuous incremental improvement. This will take some of the challenge of blending art and science out of the hands of the Field Service Manager, leaving them free to concentrate on other activities.
Not just software suppliers
It is clear that this massive change in the industry requires those of us who supply and partner with field service companies to change too. We can’t just be technology suppliers.
We have to embrace our customers’ goals and work with them to add value; to weave their transformation strategies into the fabric of our products and services and to bring to the table our own blend of art, science and, yes, a little magic too.
Laurent Othacéhé is CEO at Cognito iQ.
Research by Speakap, has revealed frontline workers - those not desk-based - engage more positively with their employees internal social intranet if it carries instant messaging and commenting functionality. The report also claims workers productivity is improved if such applications are used.
The ability to communicate directly with colleagues rather than on an open forum, the report says, encourages more open, confident and clear direction between teams and managers.
“If messages are too vague or are not filtered to target and reach the most relevant users, it can lead to clutter, confusion, less productivity and even poor results/performance," Patrick Van Der Mijl, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at Speakap said. "By understanding their employees’ communications behaviours, organizations can effectively build and adjust their employee engagement and experience programs to better serve the needs of their workforce.”
You can download the report here.
I write this article in the second week of January. An odd time when faded Christmas trees lay abandoned in gardens, and flashes of tinsel peek through wheelie-bins. Festive memories seem a long time ago and the summer seems even further away as we return to work. We snooze the 6am alarm, reluctant to step into the cold morning.
Symbolising this grim time of year is the broken boiler. Plummeting temperatures mean faults are common and energy companies come under pressure to respond and to deliver first-time fixes. Customers, particularly on a cold January morning, want radiators hot and their showers hotter.
In Britain, central heating was introduced in the 70s. Then it was seen as something of a luxury. Today it is seen as a basic requirement, we miss it sorely when it’s not around so when the boiler flame goes out, we demand a quick response from our supplier. An expectation affirmed by the Uber and Amazon delivery service-times we operate in.
So has the utility sector adapted to the modern customer demand and if not,what does it need to do to keep up? Are they instead content to just keep their regulators at bay? And what about technology adoption? Do firms still feel uncomfortable dipping their toes in big-data lakes?
Historically, utilities have felt ring-fenced from competition. The majority of companies have a monopoly over the areas they supply. Investing in complicated and costly digital strategies has never been high on the agenda. Stephen J Callahan IBM’s VP of Global Strategy and Solutions for Energy and Utilities explained why outfits remain sceptical in an article for RDMag in 2015: “The analytics opportunity for utilities is clear,” he wrote, “but there continues to be a lack of real push and value delivery. Companies have been concerned about the high costs and complexity of data. “Technology shifts, regulatory changes and the emergence of empowered consumers all demand a new approach to customer engagement. With analytics, energy companies can make the shift to engage with customers in highly personalised ways that can increase customer satisfaction, lower the cost of service and promote new products and services,” he urged.
For UK energy companies, customers switching tariffs and regulation from the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (OFGEM) are the main drivers influencing its customer strategy. Transparent costs and price comparison sites have
made swapping easier for consumers and in 2016, 4.8 million frustrated households did just that. Their main reason? Poor customer service.
That said, despite the numbers, and a strong PR campaign around the ease of which it can be done, the rate of switching is perhaps not where OFGEM want it to be. “I think switching is happening but probably at a lower level than the regulators would be aiming for,” explains Laurence Cramp from Leadent, a managing consulting and technology business specialising in field service. “Mainly because people are using the supplier in their area and they’ll stay with that supplier.
“It also comes from the fact that tariffs are all in and around the same range so consumers tend to be paying about the same price for their energy. The customer service may be better or worse at some or others but that’s not necessarily linked with what billing platform they’ve just integrated. I think people probably look at the power sector and think it’s much of a muchness.”
In the UK, British Gas, SSE, EDF Energy, npower, E.ON UK and Scottish Power form the “Big Six”, the suppliers who provide the majority of energy to the UK. Smaller and more streamlined energy companies, with a strong focus on service exist, yet consumers seem content to stick with the top names.
Of those, British Gas is the UK’s largest energy supplier and can lay claim as the world’s first public utility company. Set-up in 1812 as The Gas Light and Coke Company, the firm provided customers with coal-based energy. The sector, and technology, has moved on considerably – not least with the advent of electricity – and British Gas has done its best to keep-up, adopting technology to enhance its customer service processes. It recently rolled-out its ‘On My Way’, real-time engineer tracking facility, enabling customers to see the precise location of the engineer, producing an accurate arrival time for time-starved customers.
"In 2016, 4.8 households switched energy supplier. Their main reason? Poor customer service..."
Tim Andrew is the CEO of Localz, the company behind British Gas’ location tracking technology. He says 2019 will see utility watchdogs push companies hard when it comes to customer service. “Regulators continue to increase their focus on customer experience, using both penalties and incentives to drive same-year measurable improvements,” he predicts.
“This year will show that the companies who outperform the industry, continuously focusing on providing transparency and control to consumers, rather than running a project to meet the minimum regulatory requirements.”
Consumers are hamstrung to the area they reside: Southern Water, Thames Water, Yorkshire Water for example, with customers unable to switch tariffs. With consumers locked-in to contracts, how are suppliers kept on their toes to ensure they deliver on customer service?
Here, the Water Services Regulation Authority (OFWAT) keeps economic tabs on companies. Set-up in 1989 following the privatisation of England’s 10 water authorities, it carries out a review every five years with this year (2019) being the next period of scrutiny.
This cycle will see companies adopting a Customer Measure of Experience (C-MeX) incentive approach, intended to focus firms on delivering a high-standard of customer service. C-MeX supersedes Service Incentive Mechanism (SIM), a customer satisfaction survey carried out four times a year by the regulator, and will link financial incentives to the performance level of the best performing companies.
Cramp believes the new approach will spur-on companies, through the use of technology, to be more comprehensive in their customer focus. “C-MeX is there to encourage firms to be more holistic and rounded in what they do for their customers,” he says. “This is a good time for water firms because they’re now all gearing up for the next five years and undoubtedly customer service is a really big part of that with a lot of focus on investment in technology to help
However, he suggests the water companies are some way behind their energy counterparts who, driven by their own regulator OFGEM, have already integrated such initiatives “I see the water companies playing catch-up with where the power utilities were five years ago. I think the energy regulator has been on that case a little bit ahead of the water companies than OFWAT,” he says.
The utilities sector is a broad market, however like field service, which straddles numerous verticals, there exists an opportunity to share best practice across its own verticals: water, electricity and gas. Is it possible for the energy sector to extend its five years of technology-focused customer learning to its water counterparts?
“In our daily lives we take a great experience from one industry, and get frustrated when that isn’t available in another,” says Localz’ Tim Andrew, who is adamant it can. “As a business, trying to meet, let alone exceed customer expectations by
taking input from just an internal or single industry perspective is futile. Cross-industry collaboration and product development is critical.”
As well as working together, the sector needs to invest sensibly in technology, particularly around customer service. There are murmurings that this is starting to happen, particularly in the water industry but how long this will take is even less clear. Studies suggest that worldwide firms are setting aside funds to do just that. In 2015, GTM research anticipated utility company spend on data analytics growing from the $700 million spent in 2012 to $3.8 billion by 2020, a huge leap but it need not be a leap into the unknown and at all times, the customer should be at the heart of any decision.
“Becoming a customer-centric, information driven organisation is no longer simply an option for most utility companies. It’s a business imperative,” Callahan said in his 2015 rallying call to the utilities sector. Four years’ on, will his words have had an impact?
Watch this space.