The Enemy of Excellence is Good Enough

May 22, 2019 • FeaturesFuture of field servciceBill PollockStrategies for GrowthSM

In an exclusive interview with Field Service News, Bill Pollock reflects on the key findings around Customer Satisfaction from the latest Strategies for GrowthSM benchmarking study and reveals that there is plenty of room for improvement...

A question was raised recently at the Field Service Summit held in Warwick where the theme for the conference was moving into an experience economy. It is a question that is often at the top of mind for Field Service Executives, particularly when they are surrounded by so many of their peers, who are all seemingly ploughing ahead with customer engagement programs.

The question went along the lines of “Whilst I can see the benefits of improving customer satisfaction for my customers, how can I translate that into something tangible that my board might actually buy into?’

One man, who has fielded this question many times both when speaking at such events as well as in his long and illustrious career as an analyst to the field service sector, including in his role as a columnist for Field Service News, is Bill Pollock, President of Strategies for GrowthSM.

“It sounds like an easy question, but the reality is that it’s not an easy question to answer at all,” he explains.

The reason for this Pollock outlines is because when in fact Customer Satisfaction (CX) is actually an end product and the net result of a number of other strategic actions or exercises that the services organisation takes. To put it bluntly, CX is not what you do first, there are a whole bunch of other, more tangible tasks that sit in the strategic line ahead of it.

“You don’t achieve customer satisfaction first and then take strategic actions to improve processes and procedures and policies, etcetera, and so forth. It works the other way around,” Pollock explains.

“Now that doesn’t mean to say that once you attain the desired levels of customer satisfaction that doesn’t lead to other things - it absolutely does. But think about how you’re doing business, it’s a journey, it’s a continuum. And if you look at customer satisfaction on that continuum it might be two thirds or three quarters or the way towards the end but it’s not the end onto itself, there’s more that follows.

“When you look at customer satisfaction, that’s mainly a dependent variable rather than an independent variable by which I mean if you update and streamline your service delivery processes, if you acquire a new and upgraded or more powerful and robust field service management solution.

“If you can take steps to eliminate silos and other bureaucratic obstacles within your own organisation that tend to slow down the time it takes for you to deliver services to your customers, and ultimately tick them off.

“If you can train your field technicians and provide them with the latest technologies and mobile tools. If you can provide your customers with portals whereby they can initiate work orders and track the status and order parts and escalate problem scenarios solutions... then you will likely end up attaining higher levels of customer satisfaction.” “So you take those strategic actions first. And then what happens is it leads to more customer satisfaction.”

One of the things that makes Pollock such a well respected voice in the industry is that he is able to draw extensively not only on his own experience but also on solid data that his organisation collects every year within their annual Benchmarking studies. Reflecting on such trends across the last few years he is able to forensically piece together a detailed picture of how field service organisations are behaving both in the US and in Europe.

“What we saw [in 2018] was a dip in customer satisfaction across the European continent, down to 78%,” he explains.

“This was down from about 82% or so the year before. In our latest survey, 2019, the customer satisfaction rating for the total respondents, UK, Europe and North America and the Far East, it’s gone back up from 81% last year to 84% this year.”

“Customer satisfaction is mainly a dependent variable rather than an independent variable..."

This would at first perhaps indicate a course correction of European companies who had started to let the increasingly crucial CX metrics slide. However, Pollock believes there maybe an alternative explanation.

“Last year appears to be a year of transformation, a year of recalibration, a year for stepping back, seeing what needs to be done and then starting to do it. And this year is the year that the fruits of that labour have begun to take place,” Pollock says.

“Now you look at something like that and you say, “Hey, well, that’s really good, it’s improved.” But you don’t want your auto mechanic or your brain surgeon to only have 80% customer satisfaction,” he says with a wry smile.

He is of course correct, as the old adage goes the enemy of excellence is good enough. So what steps does Pollock suggest for companies seeking to go from merely good to great.

“Once you take the steps that I talked about just earlier and you have attained higher levels of customer satisfaction, then the road forward from there gets even trickier, even muddier,” he explains.

“When we ask organisations, ‘Do you measure customer satisfaction?’ 67%, two thirds in our current survey, say, ‘That’s what we measure first.’ That’s two points higher than total service revenue and five points higher than total service cost. 

“They look at customer satisfaction before they look at anything else. And that has been the number one KPI that respondents to the surveys look at in every survey we have ever done. Field service, warranty management, reverse logistics, you name it, that’s number one.

“Now customer retention was only measured by 30% of service organisations last year. So 67% versus 30%. Why is there that discrepancy? Well, because it’s pretty easy to measure customer satisfaction. You get a good qualified third party objective to conduct the survey. They ask the right questions of the right audience, they tabulate it the right way, no errors, you’ve got customer satisfaction measurements.

“How do you measure customer retention? The easiest way is when your company goes out of business because it hasn’t had high enough customer satisfaction and you lose all your customers. You can say, ‘We had a high level of customer retention yesterday and it’s zero today.’ So there are many surrogates to measure retention, but it’s very, very difficult.”

There are of course, ways and means of doing so, particularly in this age of social media and customer sentiment analysis, but that is a topic for another time. After all, as Pollock suggests there is still plenty of scope for improvement in CX metrics first.