August 2015 - The Service Council

The Technology-Driven Service Business

By John Carroll | Perspective | One Comment

In this blog, I explore the prevalance of Technology in Service and Customer Support businesses.

A Familiar Customer Story

Dick embarks on a journey to buy a new car. He starts his journey via the web, first looking at consumer ratings (J.D. Power) based on what he needs for his growing family (and while he is resistant to the dreaded Minivan that a lot of middle aged Americans and young families have been driven to, the gravity pull of the Minivan is too powerful and he succumbs to the force given he has 3 children).

He ends up deciding, based on his family needs and the ratings report on the Minivan class, to go with the Toyota Sienna. He begins his purchase by visiting the Toyota website where he and his wife, Jane custom design their own car using 3D/4D technology. Upon deciding on the specifications, he locates the nearest dealership where he can go in to discuss details and to purchase the car. He walks into a party-like environment, where the local Toyota dealership rolls out the red carpet. The purchase goes as smoothly as it can go and Dick and Jane are as happy as can be with their overall customer experience.

3 months later, Dick and Jane receive a phone call from the Toyota dealership, requesting to schedule an unexpected service visit. The OnStar in their Sienna had tracked the car’s performance and had identified an issue with the brakes system. Toyota issued a manufacturer recall as a result of an issue with the brakes system which resulted in several motor vehicle accidents and injuries. The dealership stresses the urgency of the service visit and the requirement to bring the vehicle in within 24 hours. Dick and Jane can’t support this given their busy lives so the Toyota dealer indicates that a service technician will come to their home, bring an identical demo car to be used while their car is taken in for service complimentary, and bring their car in for them. While on-site at their house, the technician uses his iPad to check in the vehicle by scanning the VIN and pulling up the customer record from their customer database. He then notices that the issue is related to the brakes and would require an immediate cautionary replacement of the front brake drum and brake pad. He looks up his truck stock inventory on his iPhone and confirms he has the service parts located in his truck stock inventory. He performs the cautionary repair on-site before heading back to the dealership for the full service. Prior to, he requests a signature authorization from Dick & Jane to exchange the vehicles on his iPad device. He also offers to move their child seats to the demo car on their behalf. Dick and Jane’s life goes on without inconvenience. A day later their car is returned to them 100% back to normal. The customer is approached via email and telephone follow-up to provide feedback by completing a brief customer survey, which Toyota receives glowing results from. Dick and Jane go on to become repeat customers upgrading every 5 years to the latest Toyota Minivan.

This is a fairly universal example of a customer story. Regardless of what industry your company is in, customers will follow a similar journey as Dick and Jane (Discovery > Purchase > Service & Support > Extend/Up-sell/Cross-sell). There is a pre- and post-sale customer phase where issues arise or opportunities to convert the customer are presented (every touchpoint presenting an opportunity to convert). Some of you reading this might be employed by a company whose customer support instances might be related to a manufactured asset (Automotive, Medical, etc.) while some customer support instances might be related to a service (Finance, Insurance, Hospitality, etc.).

The Presence/Impact of Technology

Lets take a quick look and capture the presence/impact of technology in this customer story:

       CRM: related to customer history records and vehicle identification which the technician had access to in real-time and in a mobile environment.

       Inventory & Service Parts Management: related to managing the allocation of service parts to truck inventory to perform the cautionary repair on-site.

       Mobile Hardware: related to the use of iPads and IPhones in the field for access to customer records, signature capture, etc.

       Field Service Scheduling & Routing: related to the scheduling and routing of the service event.

       GPS: related to the navigation by the driver to the customer location.

       Internet of Things (IoT): related to tracking the vehicle’s performance.

       Voice of the Customer: related to the post-event feedback request via customer satisfaction surveys.

       Multi-Channel: related to managing and tracking a consistent experience across different channels (web, in-person, etc.).

       ERP: which was utilized for any financial transaction between parts vendor and Toyota.

       Logistics: which is inherent in inventory management given these parts came from somewhere.

       Repair Depot: which the dealership served as during the repair process.

       Contract & Warranty Management: which some of the manufactured brake components likely were covered under.

       Big Data & Knowledge Management: which was likely used to display issue resolution steps to the technician on his mobile device.

In this fairly standard example of a customer support instance, we captured over a dozen technologies required to automate the customer support process; a pretty complex IT infrastructure. Clearly, the importance of technology in automating the service and customer support business is important. However, now take into consideration that some larger multi-national organizations support autonomy based on region vs. a standard IT platform, which compounds the amount of technology and systems which might be deployed. This inflating technology infrastructure causes several issues including a decrease in employee performance and morale (says Service Engineer/Technician: “Oh look another new technology to test and learn”), loss of data given the amount of disparate systems/databases and an increase in IT related costs impacting overall profitability.

The question becomes, how do you unravel the existing technology infrastructure to determine what is needed or redundant? Are investments in new technology necessary given the existing, often times unused, technology? Will new supplemental or replacement technology be used or valued? Are we failing to recognize that process should be prioritized over technology? (this is for another blog)

Still, organizations will continue to seek to invest in new technology platforms to automate. Seventy-six (76%) of respondents to a recent survey conducted by The Service Council indicated Enabling Technologies and Innovation was an area they were seeking to acquire information about. We reviewed Technology, Hiring and other Service-related trends during a recent Smarter Services Webcast on “Mid-Year Service Business Trends”, featuring Advisory Board member Sean Jordan of BioTek Instruments (the webcast recording can be downloaded here). Top technology investment trends, included:

Tech Investment Trends

So where do technology purchases normally begin? Traditional venues such as Tradeshows and Events have been a good way to engage with the leading players. Research Analyst firms like Gartner (Magic Quadrants) and Forrester (Waves) produce technology landscape analyses which help technology-seeking organizations with a glimpse of the key players and their ability to support and the robustness of their technology. Case studies and webcasts featuring customer stories of technology users are also plentiful. But what is lacking in these available resources is three-fold:

  1. Alignment of Situation: the ability to correlate the technology transformation story to your particular situation based on where you are at from a maturity perspective.
  2. Understanding of Impact of Technology: the ability to know, beyond feature and functionality, what percentage of customers of the major technology providers in a certain category of technology achieve best in class performance.
  3. How to Avoid Failure: we often read case studies, in fact many technology providers have sections of their website geared towards success stories. What about the failure stories which might help organizations avoid some of the pitfalls and landmines other organizations have encountered?

I welcome your comments to share where your technology investments will be prioritized, how you will choose your partner and how you’ll prepare your organization to transform. I also welcome you to engage with our research team led by Sumair Dutta (email: to share not only the “Dos” but also the “Don’ts” of technology transformation.

P.S. Just to clarify, while I have three children (a fourth on the way in December), the customer story is not about my life. I will NEVER buy a Minivan.

Evaluating Microsoft’s Field Service Move and Musings on the Market

By Sumair Dutta | News | No Comments

With the launch of Windows 10, Microsoft has been in the news. By most accounts, Windows 10 has been well reviewed and received. Perhaps not garnering as much news is Microsoft’s foray in CRM field service with the acquisition of FieldOne Systems. (Note: Microsoft has also recently acquired FantasySalesTeam, a sales gamification tool). My take on the deal:

On Microsoft

  • Cloud CRM is one of the fastest growing areas for Microsoft and the Dynamics business unit. Within CRM customer service, Microsoft now has a more complete portfolio of products combining its Agent desktop solution, the Parature self-service and knowledgebase product, and FieldOne’s field service offering.
  • FieldOne is a cloud solution and built specifically for Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The choice of FieldOne as a field service solution is logical. Microsoft reports that several joint customers requested the company increase its integration with FieldOne given the link.
  • This marks a major shift in Microsoft’s take on the field service market. Traditionally, Microsoft has opted to follow a partner only strategy for field service, allowing organizations such as FieldOne, FieldAware, Hitachi Consulting, Vertical Solutions, Wennsoft, and more, to support the market. The move to acquire a field service solution is telling in terms of Microsoft’s strengthening focus on CRM and Customer Service as a whole. More so, it also points to the company’s growing recognition of field service as an important cog in the overall customer experience spectrum. Typically, field service has been seen as an operations problem, but more organizations are beginning to focus on the CEx implications of field service. As a result, there is an increased focus in integrating field service into the overall CRM solution set.

Other Interesting Areas of Discussion (Too Early to Tell):

  • The effort made to link field service and traditional customer support (Parature + FieldOne).
  • The level of integration of FieldOne into Windows Mobile. While FieldOne is designed to work across mobile platforms (Android, iOS, Windows), it would be intriguing to see if FieldOne adopters are afforded additional capabilities by acquiring mobile devices that run Windows.
  • The steps that Microsoft might take to leverage FieldOne in order to push Surface tablets into the field service enterprise.

On FieldOne and its Customers

We spoke with several FieldOne customers who were quite pleased with the acquisition news given the increasing support (professional services, implementation, project support) expected with an organization such as Microsoft. Also exciting are the implications on future roadmap given Microsoft’s push on Azure IoT and Cortana Analytics, areas where there is a lot of potential for field service business growth.

Prior to the acquisition FieldOne would have been on any field service shortlist for an organization with Dynamics CRM on the back end. Now it’s position on the top of that list is solidified, further enhancing the company’s growth prospects. With its affiliation to Microsoft, FieldOne had done an incredible job of raising its status and presence in the enterprise field service market nabbing deals with the likes of United Technologies, Mitsubishi-Hitachi Powersystems, Carl-Zeiss and more. While Microsoft’s intent will be to continue to push into and develop capabilities for the enterprise market, it will be interesting to see if the SMB space receives any focus at all. FieldOne’s departure from this space can create new opportunity for the likes of other Microsoft field service partners.

On the Market

Field service automation has been a market receiving a lot of attention as of late. The move by Microsoft is the latest in a series of partnerships and acquisitions in the previous 5 years.

  1. In 2010, ABB acquired Ventyx to expand its field service and mobile workforce management capabilities for utilities.
  2. In 2010 IFS acquired 360 scheduling for its dynamic scheduling tools.
  3. In 2012 IFS acquired Metrix to expand its field service and service management offerings.
  4. In 2012 PTC acquired Servigistics and its field service assets. PTC also went on to buy Axeda (TSC Analysis) and ThingWorx (TSC Analysis) for IoT capabilities.
  5. In 2012, SAP acquired Syclo for mobile application development. One of Syclo’s target markets was field service.
  6. In 2013, Pega Systems acquired Antenna Software for mobile application development aimed at customer support and field service.
  7. In 2014 Oracle acquired TOA Technologies for its cloud-based field service solutions (TSC Analysis).
  8. In 2014, Verisae acquired ViryaNet for field service and mobile workforce software aimed at utilities and retail.
  9. In 2015 ClickSoftware was acquired by Francisco Partners (TSC Analysis) and taken private.
  10. In 2015 PTC announced a field service and IoT partnership with ServiceMax

In between, both TOA Technologies and ServiceMax raised large amounts in the private equity market.

It’s only a matter of time before there are additional moves made in the space. Suitors will be other enterprise software organizations such as Salesforce, SAP, and Netsuite. IBM and Google are wildcards, though it seems that Google is happy to address the market with projects such as Glass. It recently shelved it’s a solution for small to mid-sized field service businesses but is always a force in the background given the ubiquitous use of Google Apps for Work.

The question is that there aren’t that many best-of-breed field service targets left, atleast for the enterprise. ServiceMax tops that list and is a lucrative buy given its development on the Salesforce platform. Yet, it continues to expand its presence with back-end SAP clients and has also inked a partnership with PTC. The inkling is that ServiceMax is preparing to go public. ClickSoftware was just taken private and so its unlikely to exchange hands any time soon. Other providers include Astea, ServicePower, and Vertical Solutions.

There is significant value that can be delivered in an enterprise-plus technology stack. Especially in connecting the areas of big data and IoT with field service, integrated enterprise solutions can offer a great deal to customers who align themselves with a vendor of choice. That said, the presence of a good mix of independent best-of-breed solutions is necessary for this market to thrive and grow. These solutions drive innovation and excitement in the overall industry. And they keep the big boys on their toes.

It’s going to be a very interesting space to watch over the coming years, especially given the explosion of mobile, IoT, and Big Data. We’re also seeing a lot of interesting work being done in automation tied to:
– Video and Augmented Reality – see blogs (here and here)
– Contingent Labor and Contract Workforce Management w/ FieldNation, OnForce, WorkMarket, ServicePower.
– Communication and Collaboration w/ Cotap, TigerText, Red e App

In terms of our continued coverage and commentary of the service management space, we will be hosting our monthly Smarter Services Webinar on August 20 at 11am EDT. Joining us on the webinar will be Sean Jordan from BioTek Instruments who will share the key trends impacting his service business. Other members will join as well. If interested in listening in, please feel free to register here.

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