Updated: Apr 19, 2022
If you have ever managed a field service organization you know how tough it can be to get the right person, with the right skills, to the right place, with the right parts, at the right time. That is a lot of “rights”! The person with the right skills may be on vacation, out sick, on another service call or not even located anywhere near the customer who requires their skillset.
Throw in repair parts and it really gets complicated! Are the parts available? What is required to get the parts where they need to be when they need to be there? How about part quality? What if the parts don’t work after they’re installed? What if the wrong parts are shipped to the customer? How about short shipments?
Delivering exceptional customer service when you have an equipment install base is a tough business. Now add in monthly service revenue and profit objectives, NPS (Net Promoter Score) and customer satisfaction (CSAT) targets, service level agreements (SLAs), service agreement customer expectations, and let’s not forget your sales force pressuring you to deliver the service levels that the customer expects or risk losing the next equipment order!
So how do you simplify and mitigate this potential mine field? One avenue is through digital transformation (DT). DT can create a clear path for your customer to fully realize business outcomes, to experience the value that your product delivers to make their business more productive and profitable.
“Digital transformation is the process of using digital technologies to create new — or modify existing — business processes, culture, and customer experiences to meet changing business and market requirements.”
Many B2B equipment companies today are focused on the value of their product’s features and benefits rather than on how that value delivers a business outcome for their customers. It should not be the customer’s responsibility to figure out the value of your product or service to their business. It’s your job as their partner to make it crystal clear.
Let’s look at equipment customer service and the technical escalation process. How can digital transformation change, or minimize the need for this all too familiar supplier process that often fails to meet the customer’s expectations?
“It should not be the customer’s responsibility to figure out the value of your product or service to their business. It’s your job as their partner to make it crystal clear.”
Many equipment suppliers rely on a 3-level technical escalation process to resolve customer equipment technical issues. Reference figure 1.
The first level of problem-solving involves customer service personnel with a lower level of technical product understanding and training. Their primary role is to gather information on customer equipment issues and use basic diagnostic tools to resolve simple issues remotely, with the goal of a first call resolution.
The second level of the technical escalation process is the technical support team and/or field service technician team, depending on the nature of the problem. Often these two teams work in tandem to resolve customer equipment issues. Ideally you would prefer that the technical support team resolve the issue(s) remotely as a first call resolution. If successful, the customer is up and running sooner and the time and expense of sending a field service technician is avoided. However sometimes a part replacement is needed to fix the issue and a skilled field service technician to install it. This can extend the repair window from hours to days.
The third level of the technical escalation process involves using a subject matter expert (SME) to resolve the issue since it requires knowledge and skill-sets that technical support and field service may not have. It could be that the customer issue is performance related that goes beyond what the equipment is designed to do. Engineers, product designers, product managers, product technicians or application engineers are examples of SMEs that might be recruited to handle a third level technical escalation. They would have a deep level of knowledge of the design or application of the equipment experiencing issues. Often by the time the technical escalation reaches the third level, days or even weeks have passed, leaving the customer frustrated, with a loss of patience and confidence in the process and the supplier.
Digital transformation of equipment is a way to accelerate the technical escalation process or at least minimize its need. Incorporating a remote diagnostic capability into the equipment will result in faster response times, more first-time fixes, and faster issue resolution time. The benefit to the customer is increased machine uptime, higher production output and decreased cost of ownership.
How do you achieve digital transformation? Embedding sensors into your equipment which measure the performance of critical components and systems, as well as production monitoring and throughput performance is the first step. The second step is enabling telemetry of your equipment by increasing the connectivity of your install base of equipment with the ability to upload equipment operational information to the cloud so that it can be accessed by your technical support and field service team. The ability to automatically detect system faults not only shortens time to issue resolution, but also enables a predictive capability to determine when key components or systems are likely to fail. This gives your technical support and field service teams a window of opportunity to correct issues before they affect your customer’s production. When you have reached this level of predictive customer service, you are preventing equipment failure in real time. This is the kind of value that customers don’t have to look for. It is obvious. It is a business outcome that makes them more productive and profitable.
According to TSIA field services benchmarks, case causals in field service are 58% attributed to break/fix issues, 20% to preventative maintenance, 13% installation configuration and 6% to bugs/defects. Break/fix is the most predominant and expensive causal in terms of customer productivity and supplier field service utilization and expense. Imagine if you could drive this number significantly down. Customer productivity, revenue, profits, and satisfaction go up. Supplier response time and operating costs go down. First time fix and profitability go up. This is a win for everyone involved!
Digital transformation also gives you the ability to automatically schedule smart preventative maintenance (PM) visits to your customers by providing system usage information that tell you when they are required rather than by a prescribed calendar schedule. Of course, you will have to balance scheduling PMs with your customer’s production schedule, whether the PMs are scheduled automatically or manually.
Monetizing digital transformation for technical escalations, production reports, preventative maintenance scheduling or even predictive customer maintenance can be done by activating it on a subscription basis or by adding it as an entitlement to a service agreement. The goal is to create satisfied and loyal customers who give your company repeat business.
Digital transformation is an enabler. Equipment suppliers that embrace DT will be more valuable to their customers, more competitive in their marketplace and more profitable.
Providing exceptional customer service is a competitive advantage when selling equipment and service products. DT is a component of this strategy. Achieving more equipment production time, lower operating costs, higher predictability, and a high level of customer service are reasons why customers buy service agreements. Making service agreements a better value proposition for your customers will increase the number of your customers on contract, which is good for your customers and for your top and bottom line as well. What’s not to love about that!
To learn more about how to deliver exceptional customer service experiences that drive customer satisfaction, loyalty, revenue and profit, please visit Bass Harbor Group’s website at www.bassharborgroup.com.
Patrick Sandefur is the Founder and Managing Director of Bass Harbor Group / Customer Experience Solutions. His 30+ year career in Customer Service, Sales, Marketing, Product Management and Business Development has given him a unique perspective of what customers want and expect when interacting with a brand.
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