Sara Mueller, Field Service Portfolio Director, WBR looks at how the rapid evolution of service excellence is a double-edged sword of opportunity and challenges...
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Sara Mueller, Field Service Portfolio Director, WBR looks at how the rapid evolution of service excellence is a double-edged sword of opportunity and challenges...
I’ve been a conference producer for Worldwide Business Research (WBR) for over ten years, but most of my friends still don’t understand what that means or how I spend my days.
My mom finally gets it though.
I told her that I conduct market research by talking to service executives to learn what their biggest challenges and initiatives are. I also talk to their vendors and solution providers to understand what innovative technologies and services they provide to solve these challenges. Then I write a conference program and recruit thought leaders to speak about these subjects to bring the industry together and help advance service organizations.
Throw in fun parties, innovative formats that get people talking, and beautiful venues where people enjoy building business relationships, and you’ve got the essence of a WBR Field Service event!
Whether or not you grasp the function of my job, I’m sure you can relate to the four major trends I see impacting field service over the next few years.
- Driving service innovation using technological advancements like augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI) and big data analysis.
- Doing more with less by determining the quickest, most efficient way to automate field service operations.
- Transitioning to a customer success organization that sells customer business outcomes.
- Aligning talent recruitment and training with the needs of an evolved service/support business model.
Driving Service Innovation Using Technological Advancements Like Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI) And Big Data Analysis.
Augmented reality pilot programs are well underway and starting to reveal the best ways to use this technology for remote-assisted repair and troubleshooting.
Whether hands-free wearables or tablet devices are the hardware of choice, there are numerous software options to choose from to execute an AR strategy.Whether hands-free wearables or tablet devices are the hardware of choice, there are numerous software options to choose from to execute an AR strategy.
It’s clear that AR is not just a buzz word, but a concrete field service tool that’s here to stay and will be implemented by the majority of service organizations within the next three years.
Artificial intelligence, machine learning, and robotization are continually being explored in order to understand where technology can replace unnecessary human work, increase automation, and drive productivity. Bots are being used to get information to field service teams quickly and for memory nudging.
Virtual assistants or virtual customer agents are starting to be the norm. Innovative service organizations are looking to the further future to use machine learning to building autonomous services or self-healing, self-repairing products.
And, finally, data: Since devices became connected and IoT found its way into more and more products, we’ve never had more data on hand. Companies are spending their resources to ensure the data that is being gathered is clean, relevant, and easy to interpret.
It’s being used to measure product quality and gain performance insights from the field. Data visualization and analytics tools are helping to validate and adapt maintenance schedules, customer experience, and revenue generation.
Whether you classify this information as “big data” or not, it’s clear the data you now have available from connected products is essential for making “big” important business decisions and learning how you can better serve your customers.
Doing More With Less By Determining The Quickest, Most Efficient Way To Automate Field Service Operations.
Service executives are exploring the best tools for service automation in order to get more work done without increasing headcount. The speed of change and ease of implementation are key factors going into technology investment and process decisions.
Change management has never been more important. And lean, six sigma, and kaizen are being used to look beyond manufacturing to service operations to reduce complexity and streamline processes.
Artificial intelligence, as mentioned above, comes into play as a leading tool to increase automation.
Transitioning To A Customer Success Organization That Sells Business Outcomes
Service organizations are continuing their business model evolution away from selling products towards selling results, up-time or customer business outcomes.
Part of this entire company cultural shift has led to the development of “customer success” organizations.
Rather than calling the customer-facing side of the organization customer service, or support, or technical support, companies are using the name “success” to describe how they go above and beyond for the customers, owning responsibility for the success of their customer’s business.
Customer success takes into account being a trusted advisor to customers to ensure they are leveraging all the capabilities of your product offeringCustomer success takes into account being a trusted advisor to customers to ensure they are leveraging all the capabilities of your product offering. It, of course, brings together service and call centre support, as well as sales.
Customer success is sometimes its own department, or it can be a combination of sales and service. Of key importance is to understand how all parts of the organization that contribute to customer success can have aligned goals and incentives.
Service organizations are exploring customer engagement software and the best ways to measure the customer experience throughout all points of contact.
Aligning Talent Recruitment And Training With The Needs Of An Evolved Service And Support Business Model.
With a shift to more cloud and software-based services, the required skill set of technicians is changing.
Companies need to recruit for a new skill set while still trying to fill gaps in their team caused by baby boomer retirement, a lack of apprentices after apprenticeship programs were discontinued during the economic downturn, and with the positive challenge of business and customer growth.
Some companies are choosing to bring in computer science software folks, then train them on the hardware piece.
Some are using veteran career-placement programs to find qualified, screened, and trained talent.
Given field service and support is highly influenced by technology, its clear the industry, its solutions, and your customer needs will continue changing rapidly. On top of this, the current workforce needs to be trained to service products that are supported by more automation and digitization.
Even recruiting for women is taking a higher priority at many organizations, since women make up half of the workforce, but generally a much smaller percentage of the field service industry. Diversity and inclusion efforts are being carried out with the knowing that aligning goals, incentives, and measurement against these efforts is imperative to their success.
Given field service and support is highly influenced by technology, its clear the industry, its solutions, and your customer needs will continue changing rapidly.
This is a good thing as you’ve never had more ways to be able to move the needle of the service you provide your customers.
Plus it keeps things interesting for someone like me (a conference producer for your industry)!
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Sara Mueller, Field Service Portfolio Director, WBR, discusses why despite the growing importance of technology within our industry, the critical balance between using automation to meet tightening SLAs and losing the important human touch points...
Sara Mueller, Field Service Portfolio Director, WBR, discusses why despite the growing importance of technology within our industry, the critical balance between using automation to meet tightening SLAs and losing the important human touch points field service visits offer the benefits they bring...
They say the only thing constant is change.
In just over a decade we’ve seen service organisations move from cost to profit centers. Now business models are evolving beyond product-centricity towards selling solutions or customer business outcomes. This shift in business model evolution and higher levels of customer service comes largely from the innovative technologies that are being widely adopted across global service organisations.
So much so that companies are quickly falling behind their competition and losing money to inefficiencies if they are too slow to adopt the cutting-edge technologies that have filled the service space in the last few years.
As the market analyst and director of program development for the Field Service USA and Europe events, I spend my time looking for trends that seem like they will stick, and uncovering the buzz behind buzz words.
I’d like to share with you three technology changes that have been popping across my radar lately, that seem to be here to stay.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is one such buzz word.
Field service leaders are actively debating how it will impact the industry.
Do service executives believe robots will take the place of field technicians or customer service operators in the short-to-medium term future? No (though more service organisations are adopting the use of drones to carry out service inspections in a safer, more timely manner). There is a critical balance that must be maintained between the technology service organisations use to keep machines up and running, and the personal human touch points that often contributes to higher levels of customer satisfaction.
Where I do see AI already being used within service organisations today, however, is with machine learning.
Secondly, our Field Service events have been talking about the opportunity for augmented reality (AR) in service for a few years now. I am starting to see companies that have finally piloted or are using AR as a standard tool of their service organisation.
Early conversations around AR debated whether the technology should be given to customers, so they could be the eyes for the experienced service technician (rather than the service organisation having to pay to dispatch an engineer to the site).
But generally most service organisations have decided that from a liability and legal perspective, its best to send a more junior-level technician to the site with the AR glasses or hands-free device, rather than put the tools in the hands of the customer.
A reason that the adoption of AR by service organisations has finally picked up is that the technology has gotten better, cheaper, and with more choices available. Devices are lightweight and more intuitive as the technology has evolved.
One limitation of AR is connectivity bandwidth. While only a small bandwidth is necessary for AR to work, if your customer’s facility has limited Wi-Fi or an unstable signal, it could disrupt performance and communication. So service organisations are starting to build the use of AR into their service agreements, including ownership of Wi-Fi so they can control the Wi-Fi sources themselves to produce a more stable environment to support AR.
Finally, if you are in service you need to have the right parts in the right place at the right time in order to get the job done. This hasn’t changed. But the way service organisations are carrying out service parts planning has.
Several years ago organisations were managing parts on Excel spreadsheets and realised they needed a more robust tool to carry out planning effectively. Nowadays, since most service organisations have adopted field service management (FSM) systems, they are no longer integrating a parts planning tool into their ERP, they are integrating it into the FSM system.
It’s an exciting time for field service technology, especially if you embrace change.
Instead, it may now be more efficient for a technician to service a wider variety of products at different customer sites; therefore the inventory he needs to carry around is more complex. Even a technician’s training becomes part of the selection criteria in the FSM to determine which customer site he will be dispatched to; so this type of training data is being integrated into service inventory planning tools as well.
It’s an exciting time for field service technology, especially if you embrace change. But as I alluded to earlier, there is still a critical piece of service that comes from the human connection between technician and customer. No matter how technology evolves, the service industry will have to figure out the right balance of technology and human intimacy in order to maintain customer satisfaction and loyalty.
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Within the last twelve months we have seen a sudden rush of Merger and Acquisition activities within the field service sector with many major brands including ServiceMax, ClickSoftware and most recently ServicePower all being acquired. So why has...
Within the last twelve months we have seen a sudden rush of Merger and Acquisition activities within the field service sector with many major brands including ServiceMax, ClickSoftware and most recently ServicePower all being acquired. So why has the field service sector suddenly become such a hotbed for investment and what does it mean for the innovation in our industry?
Kris Oldland, Editor-in-Chief, Field Service News reports...
I’ve referred to field service as a sector at times as a ghost sector because despite field service impacting almost everyone, and it crossing across almost all verticals outside those who work within our horizontal sector the role of field service management and certainly the tools that those in this field use are relatively unknown.
Yet, it seems that over the last few years someone, somewhere has certainly started paying attention.
Of course, the growing trend within global manufacturing circles towards embracing servitization has put service front and centre whilst various projected estimates of the value of the Global FSM market ranging from $5BN to $25BN will of course be flagged up on the radars of money men, and it certainly seems that the field service sector has come under more of a spot light than it has in its recent past.
“This is occurring for several reasons,” explains Michael Blumberg, President of the Blumberg Advisory Group, when I asked him why it seemed Field Service Management providers had recently become hot targets for prospective investment.”
Field service businesses tend to be less susceptible to changes in the economy - Michael Blumberg
“Second, field service businesses often generate a recurring revenue stream (e.g., service contracts) which is also something that is very attractive to investors and also field service providers often hold a defensible market position because of their long-term relationship with customers and unique capabilities.”
“When a company acquires a field service provider they also acquire its customer base which provides a captive market for cross-selling and up-selling additional products and services.”
“Finally and most importantly, field service is usually a basic offering and building block in delivering a subscription based, product-service model (think Servitization) to customers.”
With so many key reasons why field service solution providers are an attractive proposition isn’t the recent run of acquisitions somewhat overdue?
Bill Pollock, President of Strategies for GrowthSM, certainly thinks so.
“It should have happened years ago!” He proclaims when I put this question to him.
“However, the acquiring organisations seemed to have other priorities in mind with respect to broadening and strengthening their existing offerings, and tailoring them to a more narrowing-defined market space.”
Remember, there were days, way back when – when a Field Service Management (FSM) solution provided only the functionality required to run a services operation – but not a services business - Bill Pollock
“It’s a bit different today. As more and more software providers expand their offerings to run the entire business, they now market themselves as offering a “new” type of platform for doing so.”
“In general, it will be those organisations that move into (or buy into) the field services arena – for all the right reasons – that are most likely to be successful. That is, if a field service functionality makes sense as a logical extension of their existing offerings, then they will be more likely to succeed.
However, those that attempt to “ram their way” into what is already a fast growing and vibrant market sector, some without even having a complete FSM offering, will find themselves “busted” in the eyes of their targeted market base.”
Meanwhile, Sara Mueller, Field Service Portfolio Director, Worldwide Business Research believes that the fact that service has increasingly become a key battleground for competing companies is another key reason why the FSM sector as a whole is gaining more and more attention.
“Since many products have become largely commoditised, service is the competitive differentiator for organisations.” She begins.
Technology is dramatically shifting the performance of service organisations, allowing them to grow exponentially - Sara Mueller
“While technicians are an integral part of field service, technology solutions are necessary to minimise human error, capture the knowledge of and account for the retiring baby boomer generation of head technicians, even to keep technicians safer on the job.”
Mueller’s point however does perhaps reveal a potential double-edged sword.
Innovation in technology and service delivery have become wonderfully entangled within the last decade - which is why many companies have been able to move towards outcome based contracts, and why service is beginning to outgrow the ‘aftermarket’ tag and become a key revenue stream now being discussed much more seriously amongst the C-Suite.
This is of course a fundamental reason why our FSM solution providers have become such attractive investment options. However, could the very innovation that put the sector on the map dry up when independent, entrepreneurial tech companies get swallowed up by larger organisations?
Pollock certainly doesn’t think that we need to worry about the level of technology available to field service organisations failing to meet requirements at any point in the near future however.
“The currently available technology, coupled with newer technology that always seems to be lurking “just around the corner”, is already sufficient to meet (and exceed) all of the FSO’s requirements for managing their field service operations – and then some! It’s already here!” He comments.
The global services market is not likely to experience a plateau in terms of recognition, adoption and/or deployment of these new technological advances anytime soon - Bill Pollock
“This accelerating growth is likely to bring more FSM provider suitors to the forefront rather than less. For example, three or four years ago, how many field service managers thought that Microsoft would acquire itself into the fray? Many industry analysts missed the signs that Oracle was about to acquire TOA Technologies. However, with several major players already having acquired, licensed and/or organically entered the field services market, the question arises: Who will be next?
On the demand side, where has Apple been? What about SAP? What about any of the large, global, systems integrators? On the supply side, what, if anything, will ultimately happen with ClickSoftware? What about the “tried and true” historical vendors, like Astea? And what about all of those Venture Capital and investment firms that seem to be gobbling up one FSM vendor after another?”
Indeed, Mueller’s view also supports the assertion that the current technology is certainly sufficient to meet the growing needs of service delivery.
“The field service management technology today can accomplish remarkable results and drive business transformation. But service organisations are at widely varying degrees of adoption and sophistication, and are looking for more diversity in solution offerings in order to find the right choice for their priorities and budgets.”
However, she also sees the innovation at the heart of our industry as a key driver for continued technological innovation as well adding, “Just as customer needs keep evolving, FSM solutions will need to do so as well.”
And this latter point is also echoed by Blumberg.
There will always be lean, nimble, start-up companies focused on FSM that drive innovation and fill any void created by M & A - Michael Blumberg
“I’ve been a consultant to the Field Service Industry for over 25 year and have experienced several M & A cycles, and this is exactly what has happened. It is also very unlikely that innovation will plateau even within larger software companies who have acquired FSM solutions. To quote management guru Peter Drucker, business has only two functions… innovation and marketing.
This a basic tenant of business. Without innovation, companies lose their relevancy and competitive edge.”
So whilst the consensus is that the current M&A cycle won’t lead to any halt in the ongoing development of technology to support field service, one message does seem to be coming out of each of the field service providers acquired and that is reference to the future of FSM solutions being part of wider platforms.
But how far will the FSM platform go? Will we ultimately see FSM become as integral to business systems as ERP and CRM?
Mueller for one believes that this is where the future lies.
“It can be as integral to business as ERP and CRM systems.” She comments
“Given that service is a competitive differentiator for these organisations, FSM platforms are essential to provide the level of service now being expected from customers. The experience a customer receives through field service is often how they will shape their opinion of the product and whether they will buy again. Field service is the front line of the organisation and FSM ensures the experience with field service is ideal.”
Pollock, however, disagrees.
For the time being, FSM will likely remain subservient, in most cases, to CRM and ERP - Bill Pollock
“The difference between an FSM solution and an FSM platform is that the former is essentially used to run the services operations, while the latter is used to run the entire business. As far as marketing and market positioning go, doesn’t “platform” sound more important than “solution”, anyway?”
“CRM-based solution providers have long touted their products as full “platforms” that may be used to run an entire business; ERP-based solution providers have essentially marketed their offerings in the same manner. By incorporating an FSM solution into their respective offerings, they can now all claim (and, probably, rightfully so) that their offerings represent a complete (or near-complete) platform upon which future services functionalities can be built – whether strictly in support of field service operations, or any other business activity.”
“However, it is not necessarily a “slam-dunk” that FSM will become as integral to business systems as ERP and CRM, as not all businesses have field service offerings – while all have (or should have) an ERP and/or ERP capability.
Further, as remote and predictive diagnostics, powered by the Internet of Things (IoT) and Augmented Reality (AR), make further footholds in the general services arena, running a field service operation may become more important, while become less cumbersome to run (and, as such, more likely to be outsourced, possibly, to a third party).” Pollock concludes.
“FSM software is already an integral part of business systems among those companies that operate Field Service as either a strategic line of business or a profit centre. And there’s the rub, many companies that service products do not have requirements for FSM functionality.” comments Blumberg.
I find it interesting that there are no fully integrated, end to end FSM platforms on the market today that include the complete array of functionality for managing a Field Service Organisation - Michael Blumberg
“If an FSO wants to implement such as solution, they often must deploy multiple enterprise systems and point solutions from different vendors. In addition, FSM functionality usually needs to interface with other enterprise system platforms such as CRM, ERP, and most recently IoT to obtain critical data to complete the service transactions,” he adds before summarising.
“On the other hand, I certainly see a need in the market for standalone, functional robust FSM platforms. In fact, I have been advising both private equity groups (PE) and software developers for the last 20 years to make investments that achieve this outcome. Unfortunately, given market dynamics, capital requirements, and technology considerations, it unlikely that PE or software developers will invest the necessary resources to create such a platform.”
“Therefore, it is likely that FSM functionality will continue to remain an add -on purchase to existing enterprise systems.”
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Sara Mueller, Field Service Portfolio Director, Program Development, Worldwide Business Research reflects on her research in building the program for this year’s Field Service USA conference and explores the growing connection between technology...
Sara Mueller, Field Service Portfolio Director, Program Development, Worldwide Business Research reflects on her research in building the program for this year’s Field Service USA conference and explores the growing connection between technology and customer experience...
Nurturing a customer-centric culture was a common 2017 priority expressed by service executives when I began researching the Field Service Fall program at the beginning of the year.
No matter what industry or how large the organisation was that I spoke to, no matter how much they were embracing digitization or mobile technologies, putting customers first was the common theme that weaved its way through the strategic vision of service organisations.
While this is a common theme, there are many different routes being taken to accomplish the goal of building a customer-centric culture. Each year service organisations are connecting more and more of their devices with the Internet of Things (IoT).
While IoT is being used to achieve greater operational efficiency and move from reactive to predictive service, service organisations are also exploring how they can use IoT data to build customer loyalty and competitive differentiation.
Most importantly perhaps is that IoT allows service organisations to monitor how customers use their products. They can tell when a machine is operating and whether or not certain features are being used properly or even at all.
This creates an opportunity for service organisations to step in and train their customer on better ways to use the equipment or how to take advantage of different capabilities that ensures they take full advantage of their product.
Technicians build rapport and are more likely to be viewed as the “trusted advisor,” what so many service organisations strive for. This also creates a doorway for discussing product or service upgrades depending on how the customer is using their product.
In order to nurture a culture that puts customers first, service organisations are shifting the conversations with their customers to be about buying results, rather than buying products.
With new business models and service contracts that allow customers to have options like only paying for up-time of equipment or discounts when equipment is not functioning properly, customers have more faith in what they are buying. It aligns the goals of the service organisation with that of their customers, and builds differentiation, customer loyalty, and even greater profitably when the right model and pricing is established.
Service leaders are deciding which type of technician is best for remote locations or key accounts, for tier one calls or escalated issues.
At the end of the day, in order to have a customer-centric culture, service organisations need to know what their customers think of them and what they are doing right and wrong. While customer satisfaction levels have long been an indicator of service organisation performance, many organisations are moving to embrace more strongly Net Promoter Score (NPS) programs.
What good are high customer satisfaction levels if your customers end up leaving out the back door?
Once an effective NPS or other standard metric program is in place, service leaders can take the knowledge gained to modify and evolve their customer offerings to line up with what their customers truly value.
Perhaps the hottest buzz word used in field service today is the “uberizing” of service in order to put the customer first.
While this is a simple gesture, it’s been creating phenomenal results in customer satisfaction. Organisations are also creating processes and trainings that ensure employees have the authority and empowerment necessary to take the extra step to rectify a customer crisis that will result in raving fans.
As service organisations, customers have always been the reason for business. But by leveraging new technologies, committing to growth, and aligning business goals with that of their customers, service organisations will achieve the customer centricity goal driving their business this year.