Sarah talks with Dr. Marlene Kolodziej, Vice President of Centralized Services at RICOH USA, Inc. about the company’s creation of a centralized services division, the journey from product to services provider, and her experiences leading virtually.
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Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, I’m excited to welcome back to the Future of Field Service podcast, Dr. Marlene Kolodziej, who is now Vice President for Centralized Services at Ricoh USA. Marlene, welcome back to the podcast.

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: Thank you, Sarah. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Sarah Nicastro: Marlene and I were just chatting, we had the good fortune to do our very first podcast together, live at Field Service Amelia Island last year, which I don’t know about you Marlene, but in this crazy time of no travel, I look back on very fondly, and certainly look forward to the next time we can be in person at an industry event.

Sarah Nicastro: So at that point, Marlene was in a different role and we had a podcast panel at that event that was on Women in Field Service. But today we’re talking about a different topic, which is how the organization that Marlene is with now, Ricoh, has developed a Centralized Services strategy. So Marlene, again, welcome back. And let’s talk a bit about this big change for you. So the Centralized Services Division that you’re heading up now at Ricoh is newly created. So to start, tell our listeners a bit about why the Division was created and what your charge is.

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: Thank you for the opportunity, Sarah. I really appreciate it. The organization Centralized Services was created to bring together all of the customer facing service and support teams, including Ricoh hardware and software, product support, production and office print, as well as application support and our IT support centers, and as well as our Ricoh Customer Branded Support Center. So we have a few initiatives for Centralized Services organizations, but its essence is to deliver the customer joy. And I know that sounds a little bit hokey and we hear everybody wants to bring joy to the customer or have the customer have a joyful experience. But when a customer has a great relationship with a company or a person or a product, we know that, that in turn deepens that relationship between the customer and the company, and it increases for us the value of our Ricoh brand and enables us to continue offering Ricoh products and services that meet or exceed the customer’s expectations.

Sarah Nicastro: Wonderful. So it makes sense to me, I mean, it’s really difficult to, when you talk about creating a positive customer experience, one of the hardest factors to that I think is seamlessness, and having that experience be not something that’s disjointed or if you have each division of the company focusing on customer satisfaction or success in their own ways and nothing tying it all together, you have an opportunity to miss the mark. So that focus and centralized approach make sense to me. It is a big change for you. So I know you told me it’s your first non-IT role in more than 30 years. So what made you interested in making such a big change and how are you liking the non-IT aspect so far?

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: I’m sure, as you say, thank you for that question, as you say, that it’s my first non-IT role in 30 years and I have to laugh, because now everybody knows I started in IT when I was two.

Sarah Nicastro: Exactly.

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: But I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a planned change and I’ve asked you if you’d believe me if I pose that question to you, I mean, I thought that my next step in my career would be a CTO or CIO position. I mean, I finished my doctorate just over a year ago and my research was partially based in the technology space, in particular in the cloud space. And it didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t continue in IT, but at the time I did take a step back and I really thought about what I was looking for.

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: And I realized that there are three key areas that needed to be satisfied. And the first was able to use the knowledge from my research and apply it to my next role. I mean, that’s obvious, you spend years creating work and then you don’t want to abandon that. You want to continue with that knowledge and deepen that and broaden it. And then the second was to be part of a company that was not risk averse and embrace change and new ideas. And I’m not saying a company that’s going crazy in the risk space, but something that was open to a bit of exploration and a bit of challenging, especially around new ideas. And then the third was a good cultural fit and style that provided me with an opportunity to continue growing organizations, as well as ensure the growth and success of people.

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: And for me, selfishly, I want to learn and I want to grow as well. And I’ve always been about helping people be successful. And the job I do just happens to be a conduit to enable me to get people to help them to grow, and I explored opportunities with those goals in mind and I realized they needed to be open to consider roles outside of IT. And this position at Ricoh checked all those boxes. And I also had to consider changing where I thought I’d be next. And to say I’ve made the right decision by coming here would be an understatement, but it really was one of those times where I just didn’t expect to not continue with my career that I’d been building for 30 years to get to that CTO or CIO position. So it was a big change.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, but I mean, if you are interested, and it sounds like you are, in that continual growth and just your own journey of evolution, sometimes doing something different is the best way to grow and expand. So that’s awesome. So when we talked last, we talked about, like many product manufacturers, Ricoh is in the midst of a fundamental evolution away from being just a product provider to being more of a services provider. So tell us what you envision related to that, and where you feel the company is at currently on that journey.

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: When we think about where the traditional office space has evolved and how much more mobile our workforce has become, and I’m talking pre-COVID here, individuals expect a more unique experience that’s related to how they work and not necessarily to how everybody else or how the masses work. I mean, if we put our mobile devices side-by-side, the devices themselves will probably be different and how they’re configured and what apps we’re using. They’re not going to be the same necessarily, and our overall experience with those devices are unique to each of us. And we think about how people use our products and services at Ricoh, and there’s a uniqueness to that experience as well, which really drives us to provide a service that’s special to the individual and not necessarily tethered to a specific product, but more about how that product is used by that person.

Sarah Nicastro: Now, with the introduction of the Centralized Services Division, how do you see Centralized Services playing a role in that journey to the company becoming more of a services and solution company versus a product company?

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: That’s a great question. And when you think about transformation, it’s a challenge for any one of us never mind an organization. And that being said, many successful companies are continuously transforming and Ricoh is no different. And for Centralized Services, we’ve created a multi-year roadmap that first takes our unique service offerings and blend them together to create a more holistic view of the customer and the customer experience. And I think you touched on that earlier as we started the conversation around all these disparate type of pieces and trying to bring them together and harmonize them to create that joyful customer experience as they work with us as a company. But as part of that journey, we’re also implementing new tools and technology to drive that more joyful experience. We have a new integrated voice response to drive dispatch avoidance and allowing us to resolve more issues at first call, to rolling out new quality management initiatives, automating customer sentiment information real time, leading again to that more joyful experience in real time, as our customers are working with us.

Sarah Nicastro: Good. So Ricoh has made quite a bit of progress in terms of, I guess, recognizing the potential of service and more strategic service. What do you think are some of the things that will need to happen next for Ricoh to continue to realize the potential of that vision?

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: Well, I think we need to be a services organization. It’s not necessarily about products and services. I think it’s, not to pull the COVID card and the impact of COVID to all of us, but I think as people are changing the way they work, they’re changing the way they learn, they’re changing the way they do business. I think that they’re untethering themselves from offices, they’re untethering themselves from physical spaces. And we have to just be much more flexible to helping people be successful in whatever they’re trying to accomplish. It’s understanding their goals and objectives and being that services oriented company that says, “Oh, I understand you’re not just about printing you’re about X or Y or Z”, and helping you get to that place and being that service provider of choice.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So you mentioned COVID, so here you are, you make this huge career change and you just get situated and then all hell breaks loose. How has your department, the Centralized Services Department been affected by COVID and what are some of the ways that you’re working to adapt?

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: That’s a great question, Sarah, and I appreciate that. And I say that I’m really reluctant to use the word pandemic and silver lining in the same sentence, but it’s really created a cultural shift for our organization. And I’m proud to say our teams were actively practicing our business continuity plans early this year in preparation for this event, especially hearing the early reports, and coming from an IT background, disaster recovery and business continuity planning are second nature. So it was natural for me to ask the teams to practice and improve our plans prior to us needing to use it. And of course, like everyone else, we never expected to have to enact those plans. We’ve moved almost our entire customer facing support centers remote, and we created new on and off boarding, consolidated and improved training and are now clearly focused on helping our agents deliver the best service possible.

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: We’ve also estimated how much we’ve reduced our carbon footprint, for example. One small piece of my organization is estimate to save almost 900,000 miles of driving a year and reduce carbon emissions by almost 330 metric tons. So I think it’s really important that we recognize it’s not just about shifting people. I mean, when we enacted our business continuity plan, we’ve literally made that happen within two hours. And it was during, it was 10 o’clock at night, we pulled the trigger and we had people working remote within two hours by midnight. And that was mid-March, and we continued ever since. So the team, kudos to the team, I have great leadership and great team members and they were ready to do this. And I think for us, it was a shift to working remote. Not that, that doesn’t come with its own challenges and its own changes from our cultural perspective, but we’ve been working remote and providing services ever since.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And augmented reality has played a role in how you’ve been able to… I know you said that was a technology that you had been utilizing, but you’ve seen a really significant spike in the use of that tool specifically to help you adapt and be able to continue providing service. So I’m just wondering if you can speak a little bit to that and talk about how you see the role of that technology evolving as recovery ramps up.

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: Thank you for that. I think that was one of our challenges. When we talk about cultural challenges, we were encouraging our folks to use augmented reality and not travel as much. Our top guns to not have to go to customers and help fix issues when we had field services and other folks on the ground that could potentially help through the use of augmented reality, when we could have a, what we call a top gun and someone on the field side and working together, but it was just a struggle. And so that was a big cultural shift. COVID literally forced us to use that tool to be able to provide services and support to our customers. And we struggled to get traction in this area and the teams have really since embraced the technology. While some States have returned to work, we still continue to use augmented reality to resolve those calls instead of dispatching our resources.

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: And we think we’ll find a happy medium in the future as folks return to work, that we’ll have a much higher use of augmented reality. But we won’t eliminate travel as we move forward, but the technology is valuable and here to stay. And as a matter of fact, we had in February I think only 126 augmented reality calls, but in April we had over 5,000. So we really embrace the use, but I think for us, we’re going to arrive at more of a happy medium as we see more of a return to work.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that make sense. It’s really interesting to see how this situation has really created more open-mindedness to change. I mean, people, like you said, have been forced to adapt. So the folks that, before you’re saying, “Hey, could you try this tool out? I think it will really help you.” And it’s easier to, “I want to keep doing my thing”, or what have you, but that’s another, I guess, lasting change that I think will take place, is just people being a little bit more open to different ways of operating. So as COVID recovery ramps, hopefully, and we find the next normal, what initiatives are on the horizon for the Centralized Services Division?

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: I think for us, it’s an opportunity to remain untethered from a physical location. I mean, we want to continue to develop and grow our resources to bring the customer that joy that we talked about, but we also want to explore bringing on employees independent of location with the ability to provide the best service possible. And this includes the development of new services for our customers. And the vision is only possible through the implementation of new solutions and technology aiding the growth of our diverse workforce while keeping us all connected. So I still get to wear my IT hat from time to time.

Sarah Nicastro: That’s good. Yeah, it’s a nice combination of different roles. And I think that’s another interesting discussion is, to what degree will we return to a physical world of work, versus the remote circumstances that we’re in being a bit more permanent. And I think that, from the conversations I’m having with folks, there’s like you said, related to augmented reality, there’s going to be some sort of a hybrid approach. But I think it’s certainly something that the people are exploring in terms of the significant benefits of having some of the team be remote permanently. How about, with this being a really big change for you and just in terms of a change in career, and then putting the COVID situation on top of that, what would you say is the biggest lesson or insight you’ve learned as a leader over the last couple of months?

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: Well, that is a good question. I mean, I initially thought that it was more about sort of reinforcing what we already know. Things like, we’ll need to make decisions in a fluid situation without all the information, and that your people are talented and to continue trust that they will make the right decisions and so on. We all know those things to be true. But I think the one thing I can say is, I learned how much people really do need to hear things will be okay, and that we’ve got this and that we’re all in this together.

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: And this new way of work, wherever we land will require us to rethink how we stay connected and how working together is really a personal endeavor, and one that we should treat with respect and dare I say, love. It’s okay to be human more than we think we need to, it’s probably the biggest thing that I learned, that is not, it is about getting the job done. And you hear me use words in this whole conversation, like joy and love and Sarah, you know me, I’m not the huggy, touchy, feely, it’s let’s get things done, let’s do what we need to do, let’s buckle it up. But this has also been a humbling experience, and it’s really provided me as a leader with the wherewithal in a sense to step back and say, it is sometimes about the intangible and the feelings and being more human than we think we need to.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, it’s a good point. Marlene and I were talking one evening last week, and the way I put it is, it’s the weight of this all is very heavy. And that, in a lot of different ways, I mean, depending on what your situation is. There’s really hard business decisions happening. There’s people out of jobs, there’s people that have family members or they themselves are battling illness. There’s parents who are desperately trying to sort out how to continue working and take care of their children. You know what I mean? There’s, there’s a really big weight to all of this. And I think that to your point, being conscious of that and remembering how much authentic human connection helps us all feel like we can face that, is really important.

Sarah Nicastro: I know the other thing you brought up last week is to remember it’s not permanent. So it’s hard when you’re in it and we’re all in it. I mean, we’re in the thick of it. I think, I know at least for myself, mid-March, I mean, it was, “Hey, we’re going to lock down for a couple of weeks and then everything will kind of sort itself out.” And here we are, and it’s starting to feel like it’ll never end, but it will. And the best way to get through it is to band together. And you’re right, I mean, especially in a virtual world, we all have to stay in touch with one another and stay connected and help each other out. So it’s a good point. And I think it’s one that’s been shared by quite a few leaders, is that the business aspect of everything is almost coming secondary to the need to think about the human side and put people first. So I think it’s a really good lesson. So, good. Any other thoughts or comments you want to share before we close for today?

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: You know, I think just one thing, and it kind of gets back to the beginning of the conversation a little bit to wrap this up that part of being human is, is also to think about yourself and take a step back and really understand your own needs. You had asked me about certainly my next step in my career, and I shared a little bit about where I thought I’d be and where I’d end up, but it took some self-reflection as well.

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: So I think just remembering to be more human during this event, but also be more human and kind to yourself and to take the time and to take a step back and realize that it’s okay to get in touch with your needs as well, and not to try and be everything to everyone during something so dramatic as what we’re going through today. It’s unprecedented. And I think that we all need to take care of ourselves and our needs, whether it be a career or family or time or whatever that is. Even from a health perspective that I think folks need to really take a step back and take that personal inventory and make sure they’re doing well for themselves, as well as others in their life and in their work.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I’m very guilty of that. My strategy is move a million miles an hour and don’t take any time to reconcile the reality of what’s actually happening, which is-

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: Yeah. I think that’s the human condition.

Sarah Nicastro: … not healthy, yeah. But very good point. And Marlene, thank you so much for joining again today. I’m excited to see where this new path at Ricoh will take you and I’m sure we will welcome you back at some point in the future to see what’s going on. So thanks [crosstalk 00:00:22:47].

Dr. Marlene Kolodziej: Thank you for having me, it was such a pleasure.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. You can check out more of our content by visiting us at www.futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter at The Future of FS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more about IFS Service Management by visiting www.ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.