The Role of B2B Service is Undergoing a Dramatic and Permanent Change

Oct 16, 2020 • Featuresfield serviceb2bCovid-19Leadership and StrategySam Klaidman

Post COVID-19 customers are looking for their equipment service providers to minimize their risks by deploying a touchless, or low touch, field service system.  Fortunately, a change like this can be quickly implemented and if you price and market them properly, you will likely enjoy higher revenue, profit, and customer satisfaction.  Sam Klaidman, Founder and Principal Adviser at Middlesex Consulting, makes his debut as a Field Service News associate columnist with an extensive look into the subject.  

I just finished participating in an IFS webinar titled “How COVID-19 Has Permanently Changed The Future Of Field Servicefeaturing Tom Paquin.  There was a great message on one of Tom’s early slides . 

It read: 

Yesterday: Your empowered customers demanded that you service them  

Today: Your empowered custoemrs are looking for the tools to serve themselves.  

I believe the message in Tom’s this slide is spot on and correctly describes the pre- and post- COVID challenges that Service Executives are and will be facing for years to come.

In this article we will look at the following:

  • The high-level role of the service organization 
  • The customers new challenge 
  • Touchless support - how service delivery will change 
  • How service marketing should respond to these changes 
  • The impact of the new model on service revenue 


Think about why people buy a product or service. It's not because the product or service is cheap, looks cool, or they know someone who has one and loves it. No, they buy a product or service because they want the benefits they will get from using it. These are their desired business outcomes and what the customer value creation experts call “value from use.” 

Now, why do they buy from you instead of from someone else?  Easy.  They buy from you because you deliver the greatest value when compared to all other alternatives.  And value is defined in two ways: 

  • The difference between what they get and what they pay, measured in money ($, €. £, or ¥). 
  • Their internal quantification of intangible benefits like great service, peace of mind, and ego boosting. 

What is the role of customer or field service in this discussion?  Service’s role is to allow the buyer to continue to generate desired business outcomes plus the intangible benefits after they pay for the product and continue to use it during the complete product lifecycle. When service does this well, the customer will not change suppliers, will repurchase when they again have a need, and will buy add-ons that create additional incremental value. 

No matter how your service delivers on these outcomes, the end results must meet the customer’s expectation at the time of purchase. 

THE customer's new challenge

In March 2020, OEM’s services businesses starting hearing lots of new pushback:

  • From the end user customers they heard “My XXX is down and I need to fix it but we cannot bring any outsiders into our facility
  • From customer Purchasing people they heard “WTF - Your travel costs are over the top plus you can’t get here for 3 days”
  • From your company’s best salesperson they heard “Our key customer needs to find a way to service our products remotely and you have not come up with anything useful…”
  • And from their service technicians they heard “I can’t go to that customer.  I hear they had 20 COVID-19 infections just this week and I have a sick grandparent that lives in my house.” 

Yes, customers are demanding a new way to service their equipment, and this will probably be the new normal when we come out of this current pandemic.


Almost all end users are looking for what the media calls “touchless support.”  This means no outsider must come into their facility to diagnose and repair any of their products.  And that is not such a strange concept considering the risk of bringing an outsider into what the customers believe is a controlled environment.  Also, these days everyone is risk adverse and is looking for ways to mitigate all future risks, no matter how unlikely they are.  However, please note that the end-users are fully aware that this kind of support has a price and they are prepared to pay a fair price if their value delivered exceeds their costs.

This means that customers want a form of enhanced self-service for break/fix service and possibly external help for scheduled events like preventative maintenance and upgrades.  Here is a quote from an August 2020 McKinsey and Company article From defense to offense: Digital B2B services in the next normal: 

Now let’s briefly look at each of the tools and technologies listed above. 

Simple knowledge base (FAQs)

Every product focused website should have at least these three types of separate FAQs for current customers:

  • How do I work with the OEM? – This list covers subjects like reaching scheduling an installation, technical support, getting and RMA number, finding out the latest software and firmware versions, upgrading software and firmware, location of service centers, buying consumables and spare parts (with a link to your ecommerce site), and warranty terms. 
  • For each product, answer the basic and medium complexity how do I…questions. In addition to answering questions, this section should contain links to manuals, training videos, checklists and other documents that can be downloaded, and parts lists and drawings. 
  • For each product or application, answer questions about available service contracts with a chat feature or a link to service sales.

These simple knowledge bases have been around for many years and yet many businesses do not even have the most basic type of FAQ’s -the how do I work with the OEM? page.

Merged reality virtual assistance

Merged reality is the simplest digital application imaginable, which is why it so popular these days.  I know of one supplier that helped an OEM purchase and deploy a merged reality application for over 1000 field engineers in six days with no capital expenditure other than making sure these engineers have either a smartphone or a tablet.

In its simplest form, the field engineer and the tech support person each use their smartphone or tablet to stream a video image to the app.  The app them merges them together and send it back to both parties.  The field engineer’s video stream shows a view of the product being worked on and the support person shows either a finger, a tool, a meter, or something like that.  The support person places his finger to point at something he wants the field engineer to work on, which they both see.  And they also talk to each other while this is going on.  For example, the field engineer can transmit a picture of a control panel and the support can point to an adjustment knob and say, “turn this knob about ¼ turn clockwise.  There is no ambiguity about which knob to turn.

Another notable feature is that the whole session can be recorded and linked to the appropriate work order.  This is important since the videos can also be uploaded to either a YouTube channel or to a robust searchable knowledge base so other technicians or customer’s maintenance technicians can easily visualize the troubleshooting and repair process.

Of course, these applications have many other equally simple features. To learn more, I recommend that you look at either Help Lightning or Sightcall.  They have both made a major impact on field service delivery.

Remote computer support

Remote computer support has also been around for ages and once set up, it is as easy to use as merged reality virtual assistance.  Using something like LogMeIn Rescue, the support engineer can take over control of the client computer, run diagnostics, direct the computer operator to perform specific keystrokes and see what happens.  This makes troubleshooting desktop problem easy to handle remotely.

Other solutions come bundled into the computer itself.  For example, Google Chrome and Windows have remote control included while Apple technical support people can access Apple computers with the user only granting access during a support call.

Robust, and growing, multi-media knowledge base

For most products, it would be extremely difficult to store and list all troubleshooting and repair videos.  Just think about how difficult it would be to describe a problem the way a customer would.  That is why good knowledge bases are built with an artificial intelligence (AI) engine to instantly search a multimedia data base indexed with tabs and that works like Google search.  Yet that is what is needed when a qualified end user technician is trying to repair a system that has an intermittent fault she has never seen before.

This is why I said that the stored videos from a merged reality virtual assistance session can be so useful.  While these videos should be edited to eliminate standby time, repetitions, and side conversations, it is especially useful to go through all the trial and error troubleshooting since the same symptoms may have different causes and the more thorough the video, the more likely it will be that the system gets repair quickly. 

AnswerAnywhere is a database designed to be used by field technicians and appears to offer many of the capabilities I described above.  It is worth looking into as you start building out your robust service knowledge base.

Embedded diagnostics, Remote diagnostics, and Internet of things (IoT)

These are three variations of the basic data collection and transmission scenario.

Embedded diagnostics is used when the product has an onboard processor, sensors, and data transmission capabilities.  The embedded diagnostics look at information available inside the product and determine if it is working properly or has a fault.  We are all familiar with this from our cars.  When the air pressure inside our tire goes below a preset limit, the car displays an icon of a tire and a message.  When we travel more than a set limit without changing our engine oil (assuming we drive a car with an internal combustion engine), we get a “change oil” message.

In the mid-1980’s, I was the VP of Service for a data communications company.  Our product was nearly completely redundant, and our internal computer monitored the status of each module.  When any module sent an error message to the internal computer, it compared both like modules and if they differed by more than a set amount, it compared each module to the expected output.  When it determined which of the pair had faulted, it took that module off-line and notified the user.

Remote diagnostics is like embedded diagnostics only in reverse.  A remote computer interrogates sensors, on-board memory, and a devices control system to determine if the system is working properly. The advantage of remote diagnostics is that the computer is generally more powerful that the computer in the machine.  This means there is a good chance it can track accurately sensor outputs and detect any subtle changes.  The computer can also have AI software and perform machine learning (ML) so it can identify when a true failure is likely to occur.  It also may be able to determine the likely fix and so it can schedule a repair at an off-shift time when there is no substantial cost of downtime.

The diagnostics I just described are not easy to create and program and therefore are expensive.  But in the right circumstances, they can me unbelievably valuable.  Consider the case of the jet engines that power an Airbus A350 or a Boeing 787.  On a transatlantic flight, each engine can produce about 1Terabyte of data.  The data can be transmitted in real time to a central location when the software looks for anomalies and, when it finds one, can notify the repair people at the destination so the repair can be made (sometimes) in the turnaround period.  Not having a mid-flight engine failure can be priceless!

Internet of Things is like the remote diagnostics that I just described except that the IoT computer can easily import data from any other device or website to make a more robust calculation then just looking at one product.  In the jet engine example, an IoT system can also import weather data, flight parameters, airplane weight and balance data, and data from all the engines on the same route with all their related data and come up with a strong recommendation about what to fix and when.

Today’s technology for identifying equipment problems and solutions is getting both incredibly power and seriously expensive.  But, for the right product and use case, these software systems can save lives, lots of money, and jobs.


Each of the technologies has a unique cost/benefits equation. That means that each implementation has a unique value proposition and should have a unique cost.  And when you combine multiple solutions the customer value can increase dramatically. This is where service marketing comes into play.  They should be charged with answering the following questions:

  • How should our latest offers be structured? 
  • What should we charge for each offer? 
  • What happens went we replace a free offer (e.g., telephone support) with a higher value offer (telephone support + virtual assistant)?  Do we remove the free telephone support or charge for all non-warranty calls? 
  • How do we sell the offers? 
  • How do we get product sales on-board?  
  • How do we train all out International channel partners? Do we charge them for supporting the customers? 
  • What metrics do we want to use to evaluate our decisions?

This is when you will be glad you have a service marketing professional to help solve all these non-technical challenges.


Of course, we all want to know how using these tools and technologies will impact our revenue and profit.  The simple answer is “It all depends.”  It depends on:

  • What services you currently sell and which you do at no charge. 
  • What services your customers are willing to pay for and you do not currently offer. 
  • How much business you are losing or how much money you are earning because your field engineers must travel from a great and expensive distance. 
  • How much growth the product side of your business will enjoy because you were able to best satisfy the needs of prospects. 
  • How many contract truck rolls you can avoid while fixing a problem in a shorter time then when you dispatch a service technician.

Overall all, if you implement only the first three items on the list (simple knowledge base, merged reality virtual assistance, and remote computer support) and price and market them creatively, you will generate higher revenue, profit, and customer satisfaction.  Not a bad set of outcomes from investing in satisfying your customer’s desires for a touchless, or low touch, field service system.<

Further Reading: