March 23, 2006
 

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November 2003

Serving the Service

Successfully implementing field service management systems can help enterprises communicate more effectively with customers and deliver on expectations.
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Interview by Eric M. Zeman




In our quest to help organizations realize the most from their mobile technology, we decided to tap the know-how of Karen E. Smith, research director of Aberdeen’s customer relationship management practice. As a member of this practice for nearly four years, she has worked on multiple facets of CRM and e-business application deployment, including support automation, field services management and help desk. The wealth of knowledge she harbors should be enough to make all enterprises think long and hard about their mobile deployments.

Mobile Enterprise: What should companies expect from a field service solution?

Karen E. Smith: Most companies that have a large service organization have some form of service and support system for their field technicians, but it’s often developed for the desktop and isn’t tailored to enable a mobile workforce to handle customers individually. Companies need a system that allows these workers to freely access customer profiles and customer entitlements—that is, the company’s service level commitments.

In implementing technologies and strategies to improve the field service management process, companies must focus on delivering real value and benefits to the mobile workforce and dispatchers, as well as meeting corporate objectives with regard to cutting costs and improving customer service.

ME: How can field service organizations keep customer satisfaction in the forefront when companies are so focused on cost cutting?

KS: It’s a challenge. Field service executives are expected to manage a mobile workforce while providing 24/7 support to different users around the globe. Today, while companies are looking to cut costs, customers are—at the same time—raising their expectations. While technology is not the complete answer to better customer care, it is part of the answer.

Customers want service that is responsive, precise and comprehensive. They aren’t content with incomplete service delivered at indeterminate times by unskilled technicians. A successfully implemented field service management system can help organizations communicate more effectively with their customers, establish realistic expectations and deliver on those expectations. Closing the loop ensures better response times and the appropriate service delivery to customers, which raises customer satisfaction. It also greatly decreases the number of telephone calls and requests between dispatcher and customer—saving the customer and the company time and money.

ME: Is cost reduction or customer satisfaction the more decisive factor?

KS: There’s no easy answer to this question. Fundamentally, a company needs to strike the right balance in managing both external and internal pressures on its service organizations. Internally, field service remains fundamentally a resource- and time-intensive operation with significant associated costs that have to be managed effectively. Externally, customers want service that is responsive, correct and comprehensive.

The old manual processes—spreadsheet schedules, paper-based work orders, batched job assignments at the beginning of the day and poor tracking of work performed or materials consumed—are no longer acceptable to end customers in terms of responsiveness. And overstaffing of personnel and inventory is not acceptable to operations and finance managers who must push for efficiency improvements inside the organization. The best FSM solutions help organizations find the proper balance between the cost and quality of service by thoughtfully integrating technology, people and processes.

ME: Are there real cost savings to be found with closed-loop service delivery?

KS: With closed-loop service delivery, companies can expect to improve their capabilities in several ways. They can enhance access and disbursement of more complete information to deliver the correct service part to the right location at the right time and at the lowest possible cost. Companies can also expect to provide timely service that improves customer satisfaction and to improve the productivity of their workforce and dispatching efforts. Lastly, companies can enhance the electronic ability to initiate service requests and monitor call status. All of these things improve service management in ways that directly impact the bottom line.

ME: What mistakes do you see organizations make over and over?

KS: The top three mistakes are:

Failing to synchronize business needs to technology—Most FSM technology initiatives fail because of poor planning and inconsistent and inefficient business practices and standards. If a process is broken, it is difficult to make an application work effectively.

Overlooking the user—End users should be fully involved in decisions about terminology and systems features. In addition, only adequate training and intensive involvement of users in process design can ensure active user adoption. There should be a logical plan and framework so that the solution matches the particular needs of the individual user and the industry in which he or she operates. Some companies even implement new technologies and business processes in phases to allow end users to adopt gradually. This also minimizes the disruption to daily business and burdens on management, technicians, dispatchers and customers.

Incomplete cost-versus-needs analysis—Organizations must form a realistic picture of the resources and technical expertise required to buy, deploy and manage the necessary infrastructure and application processes effectively. This helps to keep the project in line with budget and time requirements.

ME: What benefits can an organization realize by designing and implementing a solution that enables seamless, multichannel customer communication with integration to their existing business systems?

KS: Top benefits include access to a single, integrated data repository to ensure more accurate, consistent customer and service information. This helps to reduce duplicate entry, increase work throughput, increase visibility into service parts stock and distribution activities, and improve service part tracking. Additionally, organizations with such solutions gain visibility into the activities of cross-departmental business functions, improve their planning capabilities, improve productivity, reduce missed opportunities and raise customer satisfaction.

ME: Aside from technology, what is the biggest challenge for companies implementing new FSM solutions?

KS: Often the major challenge for companies implementing new technology and business processes is inertia—the reluctance to replace legacy methods. Therefore, it is important to focus on process change, change management and ongoing training and education on the value of the new system to end users, customers and the organization.

ME: What should an organization do to overcome resistance to new field service management processes?

KS: Organizations need to be sensitive to business culture issues and changes brought on by technology, which some individuals may view as threatening. To start, an organization should educate and involve all stakeholders and end users in the procurement, development and implementation of new FSM processes. Companies must also demonstrate the business benefits to the user and actively seek input from them on the application. Although FSM technologies offer many advantages to the dispatcher and field technician, an organization must be careful not to focus too heavily on controlling the service request and delivery process. Imposing copious new processes upon employees—especially without discussion and proper preparation—could lead to a negative impact.

ME: What’s one secret to implementing a FSM solution? Is there one area that’s often overlooked?

KS: The most successful organizations realize the value of integrating the FSM solution with other aspects of CRM, customer or service-related back-office systems. Organizations increasingly want their field technician to become the “point” person and represent the organization. To do this effectively, field service technicians need access to different sources of information, and the processes they execute need to extend across the entire enterprise to effectively serve their customers. So the secret is enterprise application integration.•
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