The response to the significant challenges we have faced as a sector has perhaps understandably been more weighted on internal questions about ongoing operations than external questions about how our customers perceive value in the services we offer - both during the crisis and now as we look towards the new normal we are all stepping into. However, understanding our customers’ core concepts of value is going is perhaps the most critical aspect of consideration as we plan towards recovery and beyond...
This critical conversation is perhaps one of the most nuanced aspects of understanding the new world we are collectively entering into. Value perception can mean different things to different organisations and even some of the more widely established shared understandings of where the value of service delivery lies, have now been shaken to their very roots.
At Field Service News we have long been advocates for organisations to actively listen closely for the 'voice of the customer' - now this is more vital than ever.
As Alec Pinto, Regional Service Manager DACH & High Growth Markets, Leica Biosystems commented“Peter Drucker, explains that value lies within the eyes of the customer, it’s not in what we provide, it’s in how the customer sees in the service or the product that we offer. So if a customer decides the service engineer he wants is going to be there in three days, but that’s the one he wants, that is where he may see the value.
“If the customer sees value in that, and he sees the inconvenience in having a delay is much less than the value of getting the engineer he wants on site then that gives us another way we can leverage value."
It is an excellent point that the group around the table are all in agreement with and something we as service leaders inherently all know. When it comes to a establishing the ongoing level of service relationship with a client understanding, trust and a willingness to be flexible to meet the clients needs are vital.
As Pinto added "I had a lawyer tell me this once he said you write a contract so that he can put in a draw and lock it up. You only bring it out when things go wrong. I don’t want my customers to have to get that contract out.”
"The challenge is trying to find the balance with the right person to speak to and the right attitude of the engineer. When we talk about training, who trains their technicians in soft skills?"
- Kieran Notter, ServiceMax
Of course, having the relationship in place with your clients to be in a position to listen to the voice of the customer is hugely important. Yet, as Kieran Notter, Vice President of Global Customer Operations, ServiceMax outlined, putting the right skills in place to leverage the trusted advisor status of on an engineer to engender such deep-rooted relationships is often overlooked.
“When I was working within service operations, one of the elements that we found quite challenging for the engineer/technician was depending on the customer or the products that they were working it often reflected on the level of people they would be interacting with," Notter explained.
“In some situations, the technician would only get to the operator who didn’t have any sway in that environment. When the car was in the car park, it was only ever seen as the technicians here; there must be something wrong with the product. Whereas in other your situations, the technician would turn up, they’d fix the machine Then they’d stay to have a conversation with the right people
“Then they’d stay to have a conversation with the right people, the people who run that department or the people who were responsible for the output. That second scenario is where the trust and the advisory piece truly comes into play.
“The challenge is trying to find the balance with the right person to speak to and the right attitude of the engineer. When we talk about training, who trains their technicians in soft skills? Who trains their technicians in their ability to speak to someone about a problem that’s slightly bigger than just the machine. “Also, how do you manage the technician that doesn’t want to become a salesman because they’re doing the job they love, however, they’re still the biggest ambassador and the biggest salesman for the company?” Notter asked reiterating perhaps the longest standing unresolved challenge of our sector - ultimately, how do we use our techs to sell better.
"The value will be higher for engineers who are subject matter experts and for those organisations who adopt that approach..."
- Rajat Kakar, IBM
When it comes to the actual value of service delivery that a company can offer over their peers within the same competitive sphere, for Rajat Kakar, IBM Executive Service Leadership, EMEA, believes that the value we will see emerge in the near future will be centred around knowledge and expertise.
“There was a statement earlier by one of the colleagues in the Think Tank who said the customer is not necessarily waiting for the engineer; they are waiting for the subject matter expert, which I liked very much," began Kakar
“I believe that if you’re a subject matter expert, that will be more valuable. In my opinion, in the not too distant future we will have robots used for simple and repeatable tasks which could come under something labeled such as ‘generic services’.
“We may already see that from a process standpoint, where you have the robotic process automation, which is progressing amongst tasks which are relatively simple, straightforward, repeatable, where the complexity is not so high. So it is something that can be achieved, which leads me to believe that the value will be higher for engineers who are subject matter experts and for those organisations who adopt that approach.”
One thing that was emerging from the conversation was that there is absolutely a need for multiple layers of service. For Tony Chapman, General Manager, Customer Services, Siemens this is fine as long as there is a clearly defined understanding of what each style of service is and, perhaps equally importantly, what it isn't.
“There are two ends to the spectrum, but I think if you aim for the middle, you’ll miss both..."
- Tony Chapman, Siemens
“We’ve talked today about commodity services, that is instant, that is your Amazon offering where we go online, click and book. It arrives one or two days later. That has now become the norm. However, I think you’ve got the other end of the scale as well, the 'John Lewis' type approach where it’s all about the experience, the interaction, and the knowledge," said Chapman.
“There are two ends to the spectrum, but I think if you aim for the middle, you’ll miss both. So where service is transactional, it needs to be very simple, a smooth transition and you can get the results. However, when we talk about subjects matter experts, that becomes more personal, and we use those specialists to grow our customer base."
"We shouldn’t underestimate the fact that our service teams are our best salespeople as well. If we get this right, we can generate more revenue, but if we switch that off, we're at risk of alienating those customers who want that level of service.
“If we try and push all customers down a commoditized route, we might switch some off to our next sale, so there has to be a balance. That is a real challenge for the service engineer as well, to find that skill set in a service engineer that’s gone from that break-fix mode to being an ambassador for the organization, that is a step up.
"I think we as service leaders underplay that and have done for a long time. The role of the engineer is more than just a break-fix person. Don’t underestimate what they do for the business.”
All members of the Field Service Think Tanks are speaking from their own personal opinions which are not necessarily reflective of the organisations they work for.
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