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August 31, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

The Psychology of Field Service Excellence

August 31, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

The Psychology of Field Service Excellence


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

With the industry awash in a sea of change, we often discuss the foundational imperatives of success: a strong pulse on customer demands, a cohesive business strategy, streamlining operations, incorporation of enabling technology, and ample change management. I’d argue that the latter is where the vast majority of companies go awry – we often fail to recognize that, at the end of the day, the ability to execute on the opportunity that service presents to an organization lies largely in the hands of your field service teams.

As such, I think it crucial to consider the psychology of field service excellence. Yes, each of the foundational elements I mentioned above are important. But as you strategize and plan and innovate, you cannot become so narrowly focused on execution that you overlook the emotional investment in your workforce that will make the difference from their compliance with the change to their championing your mission – which is ultimately the difference in your moderate success to your transformative evolution.

If you’ve mastered the art of evaluating the customer journey and taking the time to hear the voice of the customer, the process with your frontline workforce is largely the same. Considering the psychology of field service excellence means putting yourself in the shoes of your field technicians and thinking about what matters most to them – how will the change you’re introducing help them, and how can you make them feel they are as integral a part of your company’s success as they really are. Here are a few points for consideration:

  • Do your frontline workers feel valued? As companies work to seize the opportunity of service, it becomes clear the important role field technicians play as the face of the brand. What steps are you taking to ensure your workforce knows how important a part they are of the company’s mission? Paying your workforce well is no longer enough – today’s workers want to feel valued and appreciated. Accomplishing this is critical in having your employees invested in the company’s mission versus simply “playing along.”
  • Are you giving your employees a voice? No one wants to feel like change is happening to them; they want to feel they are a part of the change. Giving your employees a voice in your company’s strategy and initiatives is important not only in creating buy-in but because these workers often carry valuable insight that will help your project’s success. Remember, much of your opportunity to innovate – particularly when it comes to the customer experience – comes from the frontline. Ensuring you give these workers a voice to provide insight, feedback, and ideas helps them and you.
  • Do your frontline workers feel empowered? Chances are, if you have highly experienced field technicians, they do not need you to micromanage them. On the flip side, if you have newer technicians, they do not want you to micromanage them. Hiring good employees and then trusting them to do the job you’ve hired them to do is important. Employees that feel empowered to make decisions and work with a bit of their own creativity and personality are happier, more engaged employees – and happier, more engaged employees are more supportive of the company’s mission.
  • Are you setting clear expectations for your frontline workforce and aligning proper incentives? Employees thrive in an environment where they know what is expected of them. This doesn’t mean you need to be prescriptive in how they deliver on these expectations (see previous point) but it does mean that your service objectives, and their responsibility for delivering on them, are clear. Top-down clarity is essential and 1-1 support when needed is important. Your workforce should have KPIs they are consistently measured on, they should have clear communication from top leadership down to their line management, and they should be fairly incentivized to meet the expectations you’ve set. KPIs, both team and individual, should be reviewed often and celebrated when achieved.
  • Do you show appreciation beyond compensation? Of course, financial incentives are important to your workers, but so is being recognized and appreciated for their contributions. This can be as simple as a short conversation or a bigger gesture like a gift card for a special dinner or something like that. It should feel personal, and it can be private or public. The point is just to consider whether you’re taking steps to show you appreciate your workforce’s contribution.
  • Are you offering career development/advancement opportunities? If a worker is happy doing the same job for twenty years and that is in line with your objectives, that is great. But especially today, you will find many workers will become disengaged if there isn’t a path of progression for them within a company. If you haven’t already, you should be considering a more formalized progression plan for those workers who feel motivated by their own continual growth and improvement. This will keep employees engaged and give them a home within your organization instead of them looking for these opportunities elsewhere.
  • Do your employees feel they are a part of something bigger? It’s human nature to want to feel you have a purpose and are making a difference. Is your work environment a collaborative one? Do you encourage teamwork and connection? Are you illustrating for your employees the impact they have on the customer, and therefore the impact they have on the business? Building a culture of connectedness can significantly improve employee satisfaction and protect field technicians, who often work alone, from feeling isolated or becoming disconnected.

What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear!

August 28, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

Will Covid-19 Lead a Low-Code Revolution?

August 28, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

Will Covid-19 Lead a Low-Code Revolution?


By Tom Paquin

We have a pretty good idea now that, especially among some change-resistant businesses, Covid-19 has dramatically accelerated digital transformation. There are questions about how quickly it’s accelerated it, but the general consensus is that we’re probably about five years further along than we would have been had things remained on their pre-Covid track. We’re seeing this play out as retail stores like Best Buy take their brick and mortar footprints and turn them into fulfillment centers. The shift to hybrid commerce has taken a huge leap in six months, and that’s true of service as well, with more companies approaching truck rolls with hesitation and building service models around augmented reality and connected assets.

So the drive to digitize is upon us, but often the means to do that effectively, and more importantly quickly, sometimes fall short of our expectations. Lengthy and complex implementations is often unavoidable, but customization of that software to fit your specific set of business rules doesn’t necessary need to be lengthy and complex.

We’ve talked about low-code before with respect to DevOps, and it’s something I talked about quite lot in my previous role at Aberdeen. There’s really no substitute to involving practitioners in the actual development of tools: It not only gives them a sense of agency, but it also allows you to conform the tools more closely to the day-to-day of your staff. We know what actually getting your technicians to push the buttons is often the biggest challenge of successfully implementing new service tools, and employing low-code solutions to set up elements of your software can go a long way to mitigate that.

On top of simply increasing the demand for technology across the board, Covid also acts as a bludgeon for implementing low-code platforms as well. Business rules have been changing quickly, restrictions pop up, staff levels fluctuate, and order volume takes a hit as well. Having the ability to adjust systematic rules quickly and without coding experience is a net gain for businesses across the spectrum, even more in service where fast resolution and appointment-making are the keys to success.

In order to think about low-code functionality, it’s key to get the concept of customization out of your vocabulary. Your service software should not be custom. Custom software draws a direct line to integration problems. Service software excels when, rather than custom, it’s configurable. Configuration is a fundamentally different concept, but as we move forward, we should be thinking about low-code along that axis instead. We’re not writing programs in low-code for service, they would be far too primitive. We’re configuring programs to the external factors of your business.

I do want to preface that configurations are not something that a novice will simply be able to pick up and excel at immediately. Even low-code engagements require a complex understand of the if-then framework at the heart of coding languages, and because of this, you are going to need a certain aptitude to get through the door. For that reason (and this is not a particularly revolutionary concept) it’s useful to have a technical Sherpa there to guide any new explorers up the mountain of development.

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August 26, 2020 | 22 Mins Read

Peloton Invests in Field Service as a Strategic Differentiator

August 26, 2020 | 22 Mins Read

Peloton Invests in Field Service as a Strategic Differentiator


Jamie Beck, VP of Field Operations at Peloton, joins Sarah to discuss the company’s perception of service as a strategic differentiator and how field operations is being used to deliver a first-class customer experience.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we're going to be talking about Peloton's investment in field service as a strategic differentiator. I'm excited to welcome to the podcast today Jamie Beck, Vice President of Field Operations at Peloton. Jamie, welcome to the Future of Field Service package.

Jamie Beck: Thank you, Sarah. Great to be here.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. Thanks for being here. So we're going to talk today about the Peloton field service story, and I'm very excited to do that. Before we dig in, can you tell our listeners a bit about yourself and your role with Peloton?

Jamie Beck: Sure. I've been with Peloton a little over four years. Joined as the VP of Field Operations back when it was really just coming off of a pilot, and so really been a part of, I guess, the meteoric growth over the last few years, and in this role, I oversee our internal teams that do the delivery, repair, and refurbishment of our products to our members. Prior to Peloton, I spent some operational roles. I was at Fresh Direct, which is a large online grocer in the New York area, spent a little bit of time at Target, and then spent time at Cintas as well, the large uniform company, where I was in a number of different roles, and then going way back, I was in the Navy. I did ROTC in college, so I spent four years in the Navy. So most of my career has been in the operation space. A lot of it in the delivery, both B2B as well as B2C prior to Peloton.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Very cool. So you and I connected, Jamie, and talked a bit about the Peloton story as it relates to service, and I love it because I think it is a really good illustration of a lot of the trends we see right now with companies in all different industries, recognizing the opportunity that exists to use service as a strategic differentiator, and so this story is very representative of that, and I think it's a very interesting one to dig into, how field service is such a valuable tool in being the face of a brand. So let's talk a bit about that. So you mentioned that you joined the company after the decision was made to invest in field operations and field service. So can you talk a bit about some of the reasons that the company's leadership felt it was important to make that investment?

Jamie Beck: Sure. As I think back, there's probably three reasons that I think about. And so John Foley, our CEO, they started selling bikes in 2014 and as we started to deliver them, one of the early important things as a company was to put our members first, and we call all of our customers members, and really to deliver to them a great brand experience, and I think John took a look to say, "Hey, how can we make this delivery experience better than what we're currently doing?" And so they started with a pilot in the New York area in order to test this out. Can we deliver better brand experience than what we're currently doing? And so I think that's the first thing. The second thing was we know that over time, these are big bulky products and they're bikes and they could break, and so I think the investment in field service was not only about the delivery, but I think thinking ahead to how are we going to service these? And how can we control that experience so that our members have a great experience, not only on the delivery, but also on the repair and service so that we can get into their homes and fix them quickly?

Jamie Beck: I often equate it to if your iPhone breaks, you take it to the Apple store. If something goes wrong with your Peloton, you can't simply put it into your car and drive it to one of our showrooms. We have to come to you. The third thing I think was ... and I think this was John's foresight as a leader was this is back in 2015 when this category was really just being created. Competition was going to come. If we're successful, competition is going to come, and so it's an investment in field operations. Obviously there's probably cheaper ways that we could do this, but we knew that by investing in this field operations team, delivering this great brand experience, being able to service and repair your products, it helps put a strategic moat around what we were doing as a business, and I think those three things are really what we thought about, what John thought about when we decided to make this investment in field operations.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So prior to doing this, the delivery and installation was handled by third party providers, is that correct?

Jamie Beck: That is correct. Yep. Yeah, and we still use 3PLs today. It's a mix of internal and 3PLs. We'll always have 3PL partners. Our relationships with our 3PL partners, they've actually probably gotten stronger since we've started our field operations team, because we've been able to learn from each other, but as we move forward, we'll always have those 3PL partners, and today the majority of what we do is done by our own teams, but we'll never be at a point where we're a hundred percent field operations, whether it's in the US or any of the other countries that we operate in.

Sarah Nicastro: It's a good point though, having that function internally gives you the wealth of knowledge to help foster those relationships and, train those third party providers on what you're doing yourself as the field operations of Peloton and therefore what you would like them to do or what you would expect them to do. That makes sense, and I think the idea of ... I think when people think of Peloton, they think of a premier, exclusive product. So desiring to provide a service that is on par with that brand perception makes a lot of sense to me. So those were the three reasons that the CEO felt it was important to do this, and that makes sense. As I said earlier, investing in field operations, seeing an investment in field operations from a brand like Peloton is representative of how we see businesses perceiving the opportunity around service and how they can leverage a frontline workforce in really being the face of a brand, particularly if it's a product scenario where you buy online.

Sarah Nicastro: You might come to a showroom and you might have a face to face interaction, or you may buy online and not have that face to face interaction. So when that delivery person shows up at your door, that might be the first face to face impression you have of the company you're purchasing from. So can you talk a little bit about with this investment and with the field operations team that you've built, what is the user experience that you desire to provide to your members?

Jamie Beck: Sure, and going back ... I don't anymore, because the scale has been too much, but I used to interview every field specialist that would be going into the homes, and I think that the litmus test we would always use is would I feel comfortable with this person coming into my home? And I think we still do that today, obviously at a much, much larger scale, but it's one of those where you get the branded van that pulls up, you get the team that comes out of the van and they're wearing the branded Peloton gear, athletic looking, similar in line with what we promote around fitness, but then they walk up to your door, they'll introduce themselves with their name and then they will walk the path, but the first thing that they do is they'll ask, "Would you like me to remove my shoes before I come into your home?" And it all goes back to we're being invited into your home and we respect that and we're going to treat it and respect it in that way, and so whenever we go into the home, those are some of the things we do.

Jamie Beck: Once we bring the product into the home, into room of choice ... and the bikes are about 90% prebuilt. We do that so that we can get good quality and test data, and it also ... we realized early on when we were delivering them in the box and building in the home, it wasn't really value add, and actually, from an experience standpoint, it was uncomfortable, because does the member talk to us? Do we talk to them? It just was something that we said, "Hey, this is non-value-added. Let's make sure that the time in the home is complete value add." So we'll bring it into room of choice, we'll size them to the bike to make sure that the settings are correct to that member. We will have them try on the shoes and learn how to clip in and clip out, because if you've never clipped out of a cycling shoe, out of the cleat, it can be difficult.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. You don't want them to get stuck.

Jamie Beck: Right. Completely, and these are all things that we've learned along the way. We do customer satisfaction surveys with every member and we get a great response rate and things that we've learned. We connect them to their WIFI. We get them set up on their account, but we do little things too. One of the things that the bike asks you during setup is to enter your height and weight, and so when it comes to that point in the screen, our team member will step away in a way that demonstrates to the member that we respect your privacy, but at the end of the day, the experience of the delivery is so that when we leave, you are ready to ride and you can enjoy your Peloton from there forward.

Sarah Nicastro: So I think those are really interesting observations, and I think that what you're describing sounds like you could achieve the ... and you did achieve the function of delivering the bike and setting up the bike without doing that yourself. I mean it's totally possible, but this goes back to the concept of investing in this field function as a way to differentiate the business. So when you talk about what you're doing ... so you said, the bikes are 90% prebuilt. You're not going there just to build the bike. You can do a lot of that before you arrive, but you're going there to provide a Peloton customer experience. You're going there to make that member feel valued and important and appreciated for the investment they're making. So a lot of the things you're talking about, the interactions you would have with them, how it's personally to that person, and how you make them feel important in terms of let us help you get completely set up so that when we leave your house today, you can get on and ride and get the full value out of your investment. It's really about using service as a way to reinforce that Peloton brand and the feel you want those folks to have from buying the product that you provide.

Jamie Beck: It is. It is, and it is about an experience. That's something we talk about. It's not necessarily about the delivery. It's about the experience, and I think one of the things that helps us differentiate that too, is that the majority of our teams delivering our products have their own bike at home. It's something where a few years ago, our president William Lynch actually lowered the price of the employee bike so that they could have that, because it's so powerful when you walk into someone's home and they're asking questions, and you can say, "Well Hey, I was on my bike last night and my favorite instructor is Robin, and this is my favorite type of class." It's more about that experience, because we know ... and it's the experience, obviously. They're going to go tell their friends about it or their family to say, "Hey, not only did I get the Peloton, but let me tell you about the delivery experience." I mean that's how we think about it. It is a true differentiator to what we're doing.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That's a really good point. If they can say, "Hey, let me show you this cool function. This is my favorite thing," or to your point, "This is my favorite class, my favorite instructor," it's a really good point. So I have a couple of questions then about how you're preparing these frontline workers to provide the service experience. So what type of training are you giving? What type of expectations are you setting in terms of what they should be doing while they're there? And the reason I asked this, Jamie, one of the things that came to mind as you're describing this experience is you're really doing this to set yourself apart, not to "turn and burn." You're not saying, "Get out there and deliver more bikes, more bikes. Drop them off, move on." You really want them to spend time and invest in providing that experience. So what resources do you provide to equip them to do that, and what, I guess, metrics or objectives do you put around what you want them to be measured on in terms of their performance?

Jamie Beck: Sure. It starts with hiring. I think we look for people, like I said before, that you would feel comfortable coming into your own home. A lot of our employees ... there's a whole wide range. We don't necessarily look for, hey, this is the prototypical field specialist for Peloton. We have former division one athletes. We have people that have worked retail. So it runs a lot, but it's generally just good people. It starts there. The training we provide obviously is knowledge about the product, but the thing that we don't do is we don't give our team a script. We don't expect them to go into the home and say, "Hey, you have to say this and in this order," and we learned that through benchmarking some other delivery companies, because let's say you're going through your script, but the member only is concerned about, "How do I clip out? Because I've heard that clipping out is hard," and so they're going to be patient, and I think that's a key word that we've learned in the experience is they're going to be patient with a member.

Jamie Beck: And in order to do that, they have to have the knowledge around the product and how it works, which again, is helped by the fact that most of them are owners. Even if you're not an owner, we have our products set up in our warehouses, and so if you want to do a ride when you get back from your day of working before you go home, that's something that we encourage, but they'll go in and really it's about listening to the member, and so I think as much as product knowledge, it's just customer service training and being patient, and it goes back to what you said. It's not about dropping off X number of bikes a day. We want every member to feel that they have all the time in the world, and so if you have a hundred questions, we're going to stay there and answer all 100 questions, going back to that goal of when we leave, you're ready to ride. And I think one of the things that we tell our team is whether it's your first delivery on Monday morning or your last one on Friday afternoon, that members should have the same level of experience, and so I think going back to your question, obviously there's product knowledge there, but more important is how do you deal with members and be patient with them?

Sarah Nicastro: So a couple of questions on that. So would you say that you hire more based on personality and the ability to provide that customer experience or technical aptitude?

Jamie Beck: Yeah, great question. I think more about their personality right now, and obviously when we first started, it was a lot about delivery. It's still mostly about delivery, but the service component and the repair component and the field service component for us is only going to continue to grow. As we get products that are older and have more use in the field, and as just the sheer number of products that we have in the field grows, the amount of service and repair work that we have to do is increasing, and so sometimes we'll find people maybe that worked at a bike shop and have that level of service, but for the scale that we have been growing at, that would not allow us to hire enough people, if we just looked at technical skills. We can teach the technical skills, and so as we've grown, we have built in what we call our master technician courses that allows that field specialist to promote into a role where now they can go into the home and they're not delivering anymore. They're just providing service, and so traditionally we've looked for more personality, knowing that we can train the skills in order to do the service.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, and that was what I was expecting, because I think that's in line with ... when you look at companies providing service to a consumer, I think that tends to be more the case. It's more important to get the right fit in making them feel the way you want them to feel while you're there and once you leave, and the stuff you're actually doing while you're there can, most of the times, be taught. So that makes sense. Now in terms of measurement of performance, is that mainly based off of those customer satisfaction surveys then?

Jamie Beck: Yep. Yeah. So we send out a survey, whether it's a delivery or a service or repair, and we have a very high bar. We measure it on a customer satisfaction, on a five star scale. As a company, we also measure net promoter, NPS, of existing members, but when it comes to our internal teams, we strive for a near perfect five. We're not there, but overall, over tens of thousands of surveys, we're at about a 4.92. So it's a high bar that we set, and we have locations, individual locations that are at sometimes a 4.97, 4.98, and our teams really thrive on that, especially when if you see in the comments, "Hey, I got my delivery today. Wow, I was blown away. Jamie and Sarah did an amazing job." It's recognition and our teams love to see that. So we make a big deal out of the success that our teams have, and at the same time we look for areas or trends where we can improve the overall experience for our members.

Sarah Nicastro: Sure. Okay. That makes sense, and I think it's interesting, when you look at the employee engagement and how that relates to the customer experience, promoting that culture of even being a part of something that is as "elite" as Peloton, and feeling invested in being able to provide those experiences. If you have employees that are excited about doing that, and you promote a culture that rewards them for doing that, that's going to help them just be excited about showing up and giving that customer the feel you want them to have while they're there. You're not asking them to just, "Can you show up, can you check these boxes and can you move on?" To me, it sounds like if you can find the right fit, like you said, from a hiring perspective, it's a job that would be really fun for folks to do, because if they like engaging with people and they like that customer service aspect of it, they have great opportunities to be able to do that.

Jamie Beck: Certainly.

Sarah Nicastro: So you mentioned this Jamie, that as you started with field operations, the focus has been more ... just the nature of the relative newness of the business and of the equipment, the focus has been more on the delivery side. So I'm curious, over time, how do you see the evolution of the service side of the business and how do you see this investment in Peloton field operations as an ability to continue to differentiate?

Jamie Beck: Sure. The service component's only going to continue to grow. I think the biggest opportunity for us is right now, we work in a more reactive or break fix service area. So you're riding your bike, something goes wrong, then you have to call into member support and we'll send someone out to fix it, but I think with Peloton, obviously it's a connected product and we have data. We know how many rides you've done. Every member that hits a hundred rides, it's called their century ride and they get a tee shirt that they probably wear that says, "Hey, I've done a hundred rides," and so we have that data, and I think where we're going to be going with this over time is how do we get to predictive maintenance?

Jamie Beck: Because we know that, hey, this bike and this home has ... similar to your car, it's got 3000 miles and it's time for an oil change, and so how do we utilize that data that we're capturing to say, "Hey Mr. or Mrs. Member, we'd like to come out and do a bike tune up for you to ensure that you can continue riding. You're someone that rides every day. We want to make sure that you're not interrupted in any way," and I think that's the way that we'll be able to do it. Another interesting component obviously is how can they interact with us without potentially even getting off their bike? So through the touch screen on the bike that enables them to access our full library of classes, is there a way just to contact member support? There are a number of things that we have in the bike where you can send data from the bike to our member support team if there is something going on, and so those are all areas that we're exploring, but I think over the coming years, that's where we want to get to, is being able to make sure that people that want to ride or run every day can continue to do that because we're getting ahead of their potential problems before they happen.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That's a good point. I mean it's the evolution of, of service. So if you look at, hey, it's great if people call us and we're there quickly and we fix their problems quickly and they have a good experience while we're there, but what's even better than that? What's next is how do we predict those issues? How do we get ahead of that? How do we prevent them from even happening? So that makes sense to me. So as you look back at your time with Peloton and the huge potential that exists for the field operations division with the company, what's the thing you're most excited for in the future?

Jamie Beck: Yeah. I think our growth has been crazy in a good way, and I think that COVID is obviously ... we're one of the few companies that I think has, in a way, grown even faster due to what's going on right now. I think what I'm most excited about is just the way that we continue to innovate as a company, and I think that's at our core. It's not just about innovation in products or content. It's how do we innovate with field service as well? And so I think there's a lot of opportunity to continue to innovate, whether it's predictive maintenance or using the internet of things in order to make our company more successful.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So Jamie, in the time that you've been at Peloton, and as you look at what's on the horizon as the field operations division grows with the company, what are you most excited about as you look at the future?

Jamie Beck: Yeah, I think, obviously, we continue to grow at a really rapid rate, but I think more than anything at our core, Peloton, we're an innovation company. We happen to be in the fitness space now, but how do we think about innovating, whether that's in hardware, in content, or even in field operations, and so how do we improve the member experience? And I think what excites me is there's so much opportunity out there that maybe people aren't doing today. For example, in the big and bulky delivery space, this high touch, white glove experience, not many people are doing that, and so we continue to use technology to even improve that level of experience. How do we use the predictive maintenance, the internet of things, artificial intelligence? I think there's so much out there for us, and as a technology company, I think we're in a position where we can harness that, because we're using it in other areas of our business to bring that to our field operations team. That's probably one of the things that excites me the most.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, and I mean 2014, it's a relatively young company and it's a hugely known brand. I mean the impact that you guys have made in a relatively short amount of time is just staggering. The other thing that's interesting is if you look at the current situation that we're in with COVID, I know that home fitness stuff has been one of the industries that has been positively impacted by what's going on, and I'm sure that that creates some craziness for you all, I would imagine, with trying to keep up with that demand, but it's giving you a chance to expand the footprint even further and to have a bigger customer base from which to consider, how do we innovate? How do we expand? And you're right. I think the opportunities are really significant. So it's a very cool story in a very cool company to be a part of. Last question I wanted to ask you, Jamie, is with your time at Peloton, leading the field operations function, what's the biggest lesson you feel you've learned so far?

Jamie Beck: Yeah. Great question. When I started four years ago, I was the VP of Field Operations, and today I'm the VP of Field Operations. My team has gone from maybe 20 people to 2000 people though, and so even though my title's the same, my roles and responsibilities have changed a lot, and I think one of our value statements as a company is to hire smart creatives and get out of the way, and we talk a lot about empowerment at Peloton, especially within the field operations team, and it goes down to if you're a field specialist delivering a product and maybe you don't have the answer, but you know it's a good decision for the member, it's a good decision for the company, and it's a good decision for you, then make a decision. I think the worst thing that a member customer wants to hear is, "Let me check with my manager."

Jamie Beck: And so I think the biggest thing that I've learned as a leader is to really step back and empower your team and trust them, and I think that goes not only to helping the member, but it really helps our team as well. You mentioned before engagement of the team. When you empower teams, they are so much more engaged and they are doing what you want them to do and more, and I think that's the biggest thing I've learned is as we've grown in scale, putting people in positions that can do that and just continuing to step back and let them lead at their level has been the biggest lesson, and I think it's going to be critical for us because our growth is only going to continue, and so making sure that we're designing for that for the future as well,

Sarah Nicastro: It's a really good point that you just made and it makes me think about how earlier you said that you aren't at all prescriptive with what you want your field team to do or say on site. You want them to accomplish the objective of making the member happy and having them ready to go when they leave, but how they do that is up to them.

Jamie Beck: Correct.

Sarah Nicastro: So you're not prescriptive and you empower them to make those decisions, and I think as we look at how do companies leverage field service more strategically, those are two really important points. It is hard to provide the type of customer experience you're seeking to provide if you're trying to tell someone exactly how to do that. "Here's what you should do. Here's what you should say," and making them feel that they can't problem solve on their own or they don't have that empowerment to make decisions and not fear repercussions for acting in the member's best interest. I think it's not only important to consider how that approach benefits the customer experience, and therefore Peloton's ability to use service strategically, but also for you to hire those type of people that you want to hire, giving them that freedom to be themselves and to do that job the way that's natural to them, as long as they're accomplishing those goals. I don't think you could get those people and then be prescriptive with them. I don't think they would be happy.

Jamie Beck: Agreed.

Sarah Nicastro: So I think those are really, really good points for people to consider. I think if you look at companies that have historically had a field service function, a lot of them are coming from a school of thought where it's very efficiency, productivity driven, and therefore it is prescriptive and it is get in and get out and do more and do more, and those employees oftentimes don't feel empowered to be themselves or to make decisions, and I think that there's something from the Peloton story for those people to learn from today's discussion, which is how do we evolve our thinking around what our service function means and how do we think more strategically and how do we empower those folks more? I've really enjoyed having you, Jamie. I think it's an interesting story in a lot of ways. I really appreciate you joining us and sharing it today and would certainly love to have you back in the future and talk about how that service part has evolved and what's new and what you're learning. So thanks again for joining us and for sharing.

Jamie Beck: Awesome. Thanks, Sarah. Thanks for having me today.

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

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August 24, 2020 | 5 Mins Read

Is Your Business Structured to Seize the Service Opportunity?

August 24, 2020 | 5 Mins Read

Is Your Business Structured to Seize the Service Opportunity?


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Companies have realized the strategic and monetary value of service as a (or the) key differentiator and most are at some stage of the journey to equip their businesses to seize the service opportunity. You read (I write) a lot of articles on Servitization and the journey to outcomes-based service, and the reason you hear so much about these topics is twofold: first, the opportunity they present is immense and, second, the undertaking of these journeys is no small feat. It isn’t just about an intimate understanding of customer needs and pains or an examination of business strategies and processes. It can’t be accomplished simply by investing in technology or conquering employee engagement. It isn’t possible for just one function of the business to progress this agenda on its own. It’s a puzzle with many pieces and takes a cohesive vision and multifaceted plan.

This is why it’s a topic I’m so passionate about discussing – because there are many aspects, and multiple layers, that a company needs to consider and address to achieve success. It’s powerful for service leaders to share where they are on this journey, because inevitably there’s something to be learned from each and every experience. As I talk with business leaders about how they are transforming their businesses to seize the service opportunity, one of the root issues that often arises is how a company’s structure needs to evolve – particularly as it relates to the sales function and how that intersects with service. In traditional product-based businesses, sales has historically been tasked with and compensated on selling product – with service bolted on after (and often as an afterthought). As these companies look to prioritize service offerings, it begs an examination of what needs to change in how the sales function is structured. There’s no singular way to tackle this challenge and companies’ approaches span from improving collaboration between sales and service functions to completely restructuring the organizations.

I held a Focus Group recently with a handful of business leaders across industries, born out of a request from one in particular that is working through how the businesses needs to change in order to deliver on its mission to become more service-centric. Listening to these folks discuss how their organizations have addressed this topic was really quite interesting – there was a lot of commiseration and some significant similarities. While each businesses approach proved unique, there do seem to be some common important points to consider and work through:

  • Service can’t stay siloed. This may sound like an “of course” statement – but believe it or not, it’s a common misstep. Companies that are moving toward Servitization often try to do so by putting the onus of that progress on the service function alone, and as the group participants shared – this is recipe for failure. Servitization is a journey that requires the strategic vision of the company to be supported and socialized from the top and throughout the business. Progress in seizing the service opportunity needs to be a company-wide priority; not a service group’s responsibility.
  • Ownership needs to be clearly defined. As such, ownership when it comes to service sales and the service P&L needs to be clear. It seemed to be commonly agreed upon that keeping separate product and service P&Ls promotes division and prevents companies from realizing the true potential. Rather than keeping product and service sales separate, most companies seem to be working toward a more cohesive sales strategy so that the sale becomes about the outcome or deliverable versus about the product and service. However you choose to tackle this within your business, the ownership and responsibility for how the sale should be handled needs to be clearly defined and articulated.
  • Clear expectations need to be set. Building upon the last point, not only does ownership need to be understood, but expectations need to be set – both from a sales and service perspective. If you are restructuring the sales function to sell the deliverable (product + service), not only does this change need to be managed, but they need to be incentivized to achieve the goals you’ve set forth. From a service perspective, some companies are expecting field service workers to be directly involved in the sales process and others are promoting more of an advisory or consultative role. Again, there’s no single right answer – but your expectations for how the service technician’s role will evolve beyond the actual service work needs to be clear.
  • The data loop needs to be robust. However you structure sales and service, you need robust data. Whether a service technician is directly selling or acting in a consultative role, the data loop with sales needs to be in place. You need accurate, digestible, real-time data in order to hold both the sales and service functions accountable for the expectations you’ve set. For many companies the shift in responsibilities is a significant one, and there’s no way to measure compliance, performance, and progress without solid data.
  • Best practices need to be examined and built upon. The folks in my Focus Group were all from global companies, which adds complexity in not only determining a desired approach but then standardizing the approach to the appropriate degree among business units and regions. Knowing that complete uniformity is unlikely, another important point these folks shared is creating a system to ensure the sharing and formalizing of best practices. Most of the participants have a central function that is responsible for strategy and the aggregation and communication of best practices while execution is done at a regional level. Since much of the innovation and learnings happen at the regional level, it’s important to put measures in place (business reviews, forums, etc.) to keep a bidirectional information flow in place between central, business units, and regions.

How do you “sell” service within your business – and is that process changing? I’d love to hear from you and discuss!

Most Recent

August 21, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

Back to Basics: The Attributes of Best-in-Class Service Delivery Software

August 21, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

Back to Basics: The Attributes of Best-in-Class Service Delivery Software


By Tom Paquin

This is part of an ongoing series on the state and standards of service management software in 2020. Here are the previous articles in the series:

Last time in our series, we took a look at the broad capability categories of service management and broke them into three subsections: Service delivery, operations, and customer experience. Today we’re going to start breaking down the first of these three subsections, service delivery.

This should, on its surface, not be rocket science to people. Here are what are typically defined as some of the key features in a “big tent” sort of way:

It’s not unusual for a service vendor B to produce a list like this and say, “See? We have all the same capabilities as vendor A!” but looking at this list it’s pretty obvious that having a broad scope of capabilities has virtually no relationship to having the capabilities necessary to actually manage service processes effectively.

Let’s start at the top of the list. In the olden days, service ticket management meant that a dispatcher initiated an appointment that was often manually routed to a technician. Then CRM systems allowed those appointments to include customer history and SLA requirements. Then mobile devices allowed technicians to initiate appointments. Then online portals allowed for a diversity of channels for appointment booking. Then IoT-enabled devices allowed for zero-touch appointment booking.

And all that’s just at the first step of ticket management. Think about appointment initiation, notation, close out, and everything in between and you can see the layers of complexity that separate a true service capability from a check list box.

And that’s really the major thing to keep in mind with all of this. Service capabilities are worthless if all they do is replace a piece of paper in a file cabinet. Truly best-in-class systems and processes automate repetitive processes to free up backoffice time, provide a constant vector between the backoffice and the field workers, and use available technology to enhance and provide new solutions.

Looking at the “Knowledge management” capability is a great way to consider how businesses can use available technologies to improve capabilities. Five years ago, knowledge management may have consisted of guidebooks and instructional videos on mobile devices. Today, augmented reality is changing the world of knowledge management permanently, allowing less tenured technicians or even end-users the guidance to mitigate issues without a truck roll.

This makes each capability much more than it appears on paper. Service capabilities should rise to meet your service expectations. Otherwise the technology is simple overcomplicated shovelware that technicians will marginalize or completely ignore.

You may be wondering why we’re leaving out some key service capabilities here that are components of service delivery, like parts management, and we’ll talk more about that and others next time, when we discuss optimization. Until then, if you’re considering a new FSM implementation, or upgrading your current systems, remember to focus on your list of service needs, and find the technology that elevates itself to the level of service execution you aspire to.

Most Recent

August 19, 2020 | 14 Mins Read

Evaluating Today’s Wearable Technology Options

August 19, 2020 | 14 Mins Read

Evaluating Today’s Wearable Technology Options


Sarah welcomes back to the podcast Roel Rentmeesters, Director of Global Customer Service at Munters, to discuss the company’s evaluation and addition of smart glasses to its merged-reality solution.

Roel Rentmeesters: Yep, that's correct. We didn't think really of using smart glasses at that time, or the wearables, because we wanted to have a quick solution, fast implementation, and our people were mostly sitting at home, so they did not have to wear the glasses at the time.

Sarah Nicastro: And that was... You guys had a very fast deployment of that technology. And one of the ways in which that's possible is the ability to just deploy it on whatever device that is in use. But as you did that, how did you determine the need or opportunity for migrating that to wearables?

Roel Rentmeesters: Yeah, as it wasn't initially a solution we wanted to use towards our customers and those customers would not have the wearables. But quickly, internally, people from the operation side, the factories, who are also stuck in their country and could not travel to other countries. So for the internal use, it's where they came up and said, "Yeah. But you have people on the factory floor maybe want to start up lines or change lines to other locations. Since we can't bring expert from one factory to another factory, is there another solution that we can have a hands-free way of working?" And that's when I started looking into those smart glasses. So it came from an internal use because of the non-travel.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. And the remote assistance solution is in use both in the field operations as well as in some of those manufacturing applications?

Roel Rentmeesters: That's correct.

Sarah Nicastro: So are the wearables also used in both?

Roel Rentmeesters: No. I've sent a few to the field service organizations to test it. And actually, it worked really, really well. We did an intervention in Australia, from Australia for New Zealand. So we sent the glasses to New Zealand and the technician who was doing the commissioning on site was guided by technicians in Australia. And that technician on site, he was wearing the wearables. Also in Germany, we are testing it, see the feasibility. And I've sent them also to Brazil and US for testing. And so far, it seems to be going well. On top... So, that's field service. We had the factories, as I mentioned before, but also the R&D organization is now using the wearables to communicate between each other. When they talk about parts and specific pieces, they can visualize while they're holding it in their hand, etc. So it's becoming a bit more widespread inside the organization, outside of the field service.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And you think about the increase in efficiency and productivity that the hands-free environment really creates, and it is a compelling value proposition. Whether you're talking about in a factory or, like you said, R&D, or in the field, it really can speed things up and make things easier for those folks to be able to use both hands instead of holding that smartphone and using the application that way. So it makes a lot of sense. How did you set out to evaluate the options that are out there? And maybe share what you found as you were doing so, and what you landed on.

Roel Rentmeesters: Yeah. To be honest, I've been experimenting with HoloLens in the past, and that was before we were talking about IFS Remote Assist solutions, so it was more like, "What could HoloLens do in the future?" Taking into account that HoloLens is an amazing device, it was the HoloLens first, and it was very heavy on the nose, et cetera. But once I looked into IFS Remote Assist, I checked with IFS what companies are already certified to be using, from a wearable perspective. And there were two. I don't remember if the first brand and the second one was Vuzix.

Roel Rentmeesters: And we spoke with some experts who were from IFS Remote Assist, and they advised us for the things we needed to go for a specific brand, the Vuzix M400 Smart Glasses because of the screen quality, the way you could mount it, the fact that the solution is integrated in it, so there's an app that you can download on the smart glasses. And one of the major things that helped was the fact that this type of smart glasses, you can control them from your mobile phone. There's an app that you can download. So on the side of the glasses, there is a thing that is difficult to see, but you need to, with your hands, scroll over like a touch pad to manipulate it. Whilst with the app you have on your phone, you can do it on your phone, which is much more user friendly as people are used to doing it. So you control, actually, the menu in the smart glasses from your phone. And that was, for me, the most compelling argument to choose this.

Sarah Nicastro: You can use the phone to scroll the menu to make the selection you want, then put the phone down and do what you need to do hands-free?

Roel Rentmeesters: Yes. Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. That makes sense. So, when you started testing the Vuzix Smart Glasses, how did you feel about the user experience? And what I'm most curious about is, I've talked with a number of companies now that have deployed remote assistance that commonly talk about how easy of an experience it is, both from the initiator and the recipient's perspective, within the application. And the deployment is simple because you can use whatever device you have. The user interface is clean. So knowing that you deployed first on the smartphones that you had, and then you introduced the Vuzix Smart Glasses, how would you compare the user experience between the two?

Roel Rentmeesters: Well, the fact that it's hands free is a really good one. The app that was designed to work with the glasses look and feel completely similar as the thing on your mobile phone, so you will recognize everything you need to do, how to make a call, how to answer a call, how to share things. You can recognize it very easily, because it's exactly the same look and feel. And the quality of the glasses is amazing.

Roel Rentmeesters: The little screen that you have in front of your eye, it takes getting used to because you need to focus here and then focus there, but it's so sharp and the quality of the camera, that others can see on the other sides is also so sharp that I would say it's maybe even better than the phone because of the quality of the screen and the camera you have on the device. Does it mean that I would be using it to do normal stuff? Probably not. If it's quicker and easier, I would do it with this because the battery drains quite fast on the wearables, et cetera. But if I really would need my hands, I would have no doubt to switch to the smart glasses.

Sarah Nicastro: That was the other question I was going to ask, is it really wouldn't be something that would be used instead of the smartphone. It would be something that would be used in addition to, as an option when that hands-free experience is mandated. Is that accurate?

Roel Rentmeesters: Yeah. If a technician needs a quick-and-dirty answer because he is facing something, but he knows he does need to manipulate it, it would just be, "Can you confirm that it's that part that I need to change? Or that is what I'm looking at is indeed this," that I would do with my phone. But if I need to manipulate at the same time, then I would definitely use the smart glasses. And the way we did it in the factories was actually, as you can use three people in the solution, one provide support, one receiving reports, and somebody else who can witness and intervene if needed, we use a third person view to put a big screen in the factory as well. So one guy was wearing the glasses and others could monitor what he was doing next to him on a big screen at the same time. So they saw what he was doing, and they saw the intervention that the provider of support was doing as well, guiding him. So that's the way we use the smart glasses in our factories.

Sarah Nicastro: And you can record those interactions if you want to, right?

Roel Rentmeesters: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: And you can still do that with the Vuzix the same way you could through the phone?

Roel Rentmeesters: Yes. There's no difference. No difference.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So, the user experience is very similar, and I think that's also an interesting point to mention, which is that it wouldn't be like teaching your employees how the solution works on the smartphone and getting them used to that, and then teaching them an entirely different interface or experience on the smart glasses. They're very similar, and so that would make, I assume, the training and introduction to that technology fairly straightforward?

Roel Rentmeesters: Yeah, you're right. The only thing that is different, which is logic, is in the first instance, you need to set up the glasses. You need to download the last firmware, et cetera. Then you need to make sure that you install the app, the IFS Remote Assistant app on the device. And that, I would suggest somebody else does. But once it's there... It's a one page instruction, so it's really, really clear. Once that is done, they're up and running like a mobile phone.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. The other question I wanted to ask is just based on the experience you had. So, I know that the main use of the Vuzix currently is on the manufacturing side, but being tested on the field side. If someone were looking at, or debating between, "Okay, we're going to deploy an augmented reality or merged reality solution." What's your opinion on, should they deploy first on smart phones and then incorporate smart glasses, should they skip that step and go right to the smart glasses, or a combination of both? How did you feel about the way in which you did it and how that would lead you to advise others?

Roel Rentmeesters: I would do it the same way as I did it. I would first go for the smartphone solutions. And why do I say this? Because you can use the solution then, both with customers that don't have a license and an application, which you can still already support them whilst they don't have the smart glasses. Your internal use is done more with the smart glasses. And like we said before, for the quick-and-dirty things, people will probably still want to use their phone. So you have a much quicker deployment. You have less investment because there's a cost attached to these devices as well.

Roel Rentmeesters: For instance, I'm not planning to supply every technician with such smart glasses. The focus that I would put is if we know we have a big commissioning that we need to do, that the technician that will do that has them. And we target the junior technicians. So the ones that just come in, we provide them with those glasses for a couple of months, so that in case they need support, they have them always with them and they can use them. The more senior ones will be using their own devices to provide assistance. They don't need the glasses to give assistance. It's really for the receiving end. So, much broader audience, less investment, quicker deployments.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. That makes sense. So, I'm curious. How has the employee feedback been on the introduction of smart glasses? And has there been any difference between the different applications, so manufacturing, R&D, in the field? And I ask this because we commonly see resistance to change and new things. And I would say smart glasses are a pretty new introduction to these types of applications. I mean, they've been around for a while, but as I said at the beginning, we're just now starting to see them get more widely deployed. And so, how have your employees responded?

Roel Rentmeesters: Luckily, we have a bunch of these millennial people inside our organization, the ones that are keen for new technology and look into that. And you will see most of the junior technicians that you will bring in are also younger and grown up with more technology than the old generation has. This being said, I can feel a trend change inside Munters, where we really look at new technologies to help us in our evolution for the future. So from top management, this is something we're really... R&D is looking into this, product management is looking into this, and field operations is also looking into this. So we try to make people warm on this new technology, so we're showing them the benefits of it. And I can really feel that some are really eager for us to come up with this new technology. So you have, of course, both cases, the more traditional people that say, "I don't need this."

Roel Rentmeesters: On the other hand, we're asking now, those more traditional, maybe different generation, to provide the support to the ones that are on site. And if the one on site says, "Maybe you can guide me using the app. I have the glasses with me," the technology gets more embraced and people see the benefits of it as well. I can see when we deployed this solution with the smartphones in the beginning, lots of people started testing it, so then it fell a bit silent, also because of the fact that we could start traveling again. Now I see it rising. I see the use of the solution rising back up because people start to see the benefits of it. And it's the same with the smart glasses. But the top sponsors is actually management. Management is using them to do virtual tours of the factories, to inspect the factories, et cetera. So management is starting to use them a lot, actually.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So, when you have someone providing the insight, so like you said, if you have a junior technician out in the field that has the glasses on, the experience for the person providing the insight doesn't change, right? So it doesn't matter what's on the receiving end. That instruction is the same.

Roel Rentmeesters: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: But seeing the use of those glasses and how it helps the person on the other end can help them warm up to the idea of it a bit. That makes sense. And I think, going back to my question I asked about, would you recommend starting with smartphones then introducing smart glasses, or introducing them together, it might be another check in the column of introduce smartphones first, because it gave your employees an opportunity to see the value of the technology and become familiar with the use of the technology before you introduced something else that was cutting edge. So it kind of phased that change a bit, to where they could welcome the remote assistance, and then you introduced this new thing, and perhaps they were a little bit more willing to consider that since they had found value in the tool already. That makes sense.

Roel Rentmeesters: Yeah. I can see a lot of possibilities using smart glasses, from parts recognition when you look at them, when you glance at them, et cetera. So I really look forward into the new technologies and possibilities that will come out using smart glasses, from a training perspective, where you explore the views and you have virtual devices, from a marketing perspective, from a sales perspective, et cetera. And I think as new technologies come out and things we can do with those glasses, people will start embracing them more and more and more. It will become part of our life and the way we work on a day to day basis. This is the beginning. We are just at the beginning of what these things can do.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Last question. And we touched on a couple of things here, in terms of you mentioned the weight of the glasses and making sure that they're comfortable, you mentioned the clarity of the view for the user, as well as the clarity of the camera for the user on the other end. What other criteria would you mention that are critical for people to have in mind as they're evaluating the wearable options that are out there?

Roel Rentmeesters: Probably the way to manipulate the glasses. The fact that you need to find an easy way to scroll, or to change apps, et cetera, specifically if these wearables will be used more using different applications, maybe to report on your call or your ticket that you're performing, et cetera. The way you be able to control and manipulate will become very important on top of the fact that they need to be very comfortable and not fall off, et cetera. Wearable on helmets, if needed, or on hats. You can see that is really coming. So if they're difficult to operate, people will not use them. That's something, for sure.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. Now, you mentioned the battery life can be a challenge. Did you find that to be pretty universal, in terms of the options you evaluated?

Roel Rentmeesters: I didn't really check that, I must admit. But there is solutions. The fact that it's HDMI, et cetera, you can use a normal power bank to continue to charge the devices. So it's not that it's a problem in the long end, but I think it's normal that the battery life... I think it's consumes a lot, and I think it's normal because of the camera and screen at the same time. Actually, we have the same with mobile phones. If you use a solution on mobile phones for quite some time, you see the battery drainage as well on the phone. So I think it's normal on the technology.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. It's just something to be aware of and plan for. So, that makes sense. All right. Well, thank you Roel, for coming back and talking us through this. I'm certainly excited to see how the use of Vuzix expands within the organization to the field force, and then also, as you said, as things evolve and more aspects of the technology become possible.

Roel Rentmeesters: Thank you. It was my pleasure.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. If you haven't yet had an opportunity to listen to the previous podcast we did on Munters' journey to Servitization, take a look at that on Future of Field Service, You can also find us on LinkedIn and Twitter, @TheFutureOfFS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more about IFS Service Management by visiting As always, thank you for listening.

Most Recent

August 17, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

3 Keys to Delivering a First-Class Field Service Experience

August 17, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

3 Keys to Delivering a First-Class Field Service Experience


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Next week we’ll release a podcast episode with Jamie Beck, VP of Field Operations at Peloton discussing how the world’s largest interactive fitness platform has decided to invest in field operations as a strategic differentiator. The conversation is an excellent illustration of a trend I’ve witnessed – the recognition by companies of how the face-to-face interaction that field workers provide can be an opportunity not just to “get the job done” but to deliver an experience that sets your company apart from the competition. I urge you to stay tuned for the podcast, coming August 26th, to hear the Peloton story firsthand – but today I wanted to share some insight on a topic that came up during that discussion: what are the keys to delivering a field service experience that provides a premium customer experience?

As Jamie talks through how Peloton views the opportunity to differentiation through its delivery and service functions, he describes three key points that enable the company to use field operations to provide a customer experience that Peloton members expect from the top-tier brand. An experience that leaves them feeling not only satisfied but also appreciated, valued, and part of the Peloton world. Even for companies not selling such well-known household brands, I believe these three keys are worth considering in the context of how you’re evolving your field operations to align with the type of customer experiences desired today. If you want to “wow” versus simply work, you have to think about how to create a field team that can deliver that premium experience. Here’s how Jamie of Peloton says the company is doing this:

#1: Hire on Personality; Train on Skills

“Delivering a strong customer experience starts with hiring the right people,” says Jamie. “We look for people that you would feel comfortable coming into your own home. There's a whole wide range of experience among our employees – we don’t have a prototypical field specialist for Peloton. We have former division one athletes. We have people that have worked retail. So, it spans a lot, but it's generally just good people. It starts there.”

Peloton has adopted this philosophy of focusing more on personality because the company knows it can train on the necessary skills. “For the scale that we have been growing at, we could not hire enough people if we just looked at technical skills,” explains Jamie. “We can teach the technical skills, and so as we've grown, we have built in what we call our master technician courses that allow that field specialist to promote into a role where now they can go into the home and they're not delivering anymore. We've looked for more personality, knowing that we can train the skills in order to do the service.”

#2: Don’t Be Prescriptive – Promote Creativity

“The training we provide obviously is knowledge about the product, but the thing that we don't do is we don't give our team a script,” says Jamie. “We don’t want to be prescriptive in how they treat the member or what the experience should consist of, because each member is different, and we want them to tailor the experience. A key word that we've learned in the experience is they're going to be patient with a member, to make sure they focus on that member’s questions and areas of interest.”

The idea is to provide a unique, white-glove experience – and Peloton knows you can’t do this by being prescriptive. I’d also suggest you’d have trouble hiring the caliber of people you want to provide that experience if you think you can do so by feeding them a script. Peloton, instead, hires good people and then promotes creativity. “When I started four years ago, my team was maybe 20 people to 2,000 people today,” says Jamie. “So even though my title's the same, my roles and responsibilities have changed a lot. But one of our value statements as a company that has remained along the way is to hire smart creatives and get out of the way.”

#3: Relinquish Control and Focus on Empowerment

Finally, Peloton is big on empowering its field workforce rather than controlling every aspect of what happens onsite. “We talk a lot about empowerment at Peloton, especially within the field operations team, and it goes down to if you're a field specialist delivering a product and maybe you don't have the answer, but you know it's a good decision for the member, it's a good decision for the company, and it's a good decision for you, then make a decision. I think the worst thing that a member customer wants to hear is, ‘Let me check with my manager,’” explains Jamie.

Empowered employees are engaged employees, and this fuels the cycle of those employees providing the type of experiences Peloton wants its customers to have. “When you empower teams, they are so much more engaged and they are doing what you want them to do and more,” says Jamie. “I think that's the biggest thing I've learned is, as we've grown in scale, putting people in positions that can do that and just continuing to step back and let them lead at their level has been the biggest contributor to success.”

Most Recent

August 14, 2020 | 2 Mins Read

What Aren’t You “Getting” About Servitization?

August 14, 2020 | 2 Mins Read

What Aren’t You “Getting” About Servitization?


By Bill Pollock

There’s plenty to “get” about Servitization! So, why have so many field service managers not yet taken steps to adopt Servitization within their own organizations? Break/fix was decades ago; and so was Network Services Management (NSM). Self-support and customer portals? Yesterday’s news, as well. However, Servitization is here – and here to stay – at least for a long while.

But, what is there left to “get”?

I suppose it makes sense that you will need to “get” a full understanding of what Servitization is before you’re actually able to acquire a Servitization-based Field Service Management (FSM) solution for your services organization. OK – I “get” it!

So …, here’s your path forward:

  • First, learn as much as you can from trade associations, virtual Webcasts and conferences, industry experts, peers and online case studies and testimonials. Word of mouth testimonials are also good. And, oh yeah – you may also want to schedule some time with an actual Field Service Management (FSM) vendor that bases its solution on a foundation of Servitization.
  • Next, review the material you have collected for consistencies/inconsistencies, soundness, delivery, maintenance, practicality, scalability, user ratings – and price. Don’t just look at the suggested list price – those days are long gone (i.e., another traditional software acquisition mechanism that has bitten the dust). You will need to look at pricing in a completely different way, in terms of monthly fees based on things such as system uptime; system capacity, bandwidth, usage and throughput; results/outcomes and, ultimately, the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) (i.e., which, by and large, has replaced Value-in-Use, or ViU).
  • Look for prospective matches between what your “new” FSM solution offers and what your services organization delivers to see where there may be gaps that may need to be filled. Making the transition from the traditional on-site support and Preventive Maintenance service delivery model to an outcomes-based model will not necessarily be easy. Management has to buy into Servitization from the outset – and that may not be easy to achieve. In fact, you may run into a great deal of resistance from the top – especially if you have not communicated the anticipated Return-on-Investment (ROI) that can be realized through the transition.
  • Prepare to be “shot down” once or twice – or more. To avoid this, take steps to really know your material before making any presentations – to anyone. Enlist the help of your peers and support teams elsewhere in the organization. There will be strength in numbers that you will be able to leverage.
  • Set a realistic bar for your expectations – and be careful not to set it too low, or too high. Too low, and there will likely not be a groundswell of support for your path forward. Too high, and you will probably never reach your goals. Either case is bad: the former because you may not get the chance to move forward; and the latter, because you may be told “I told you so” following the transition.

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August 12, 2020 | 20 Mins Read

Sub-Zero On the Criticality of Effective Training for Customer Experience

August 12, 2020 | 20 Mins Read

Sub-Zero On the Criticality of Effective Training for Customer Experience


Tyler Verri, Customer Service Manager - Training and Installation Strategy at Sub-Zero Group, Inc., talks with Sarah about the crucial role training plays in ensuring a positive customer experience – particularly as Sub-Zero relies on third-party providers for service.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. On today's podcast, we're going to be discussing the criticality of effective training on the customer experience. I'm excited to welcome to the podcast today, Tyler Verri, Customer Service Manager for Training and Installation Strategy at Sub-Zero Group. Tyler, welcome to the podcast.

Tyler Verri: Hi Sarah.

Sarah Nicastro: Thanks for being here. So before we dive into today's topic, tell our listeners a bit about yourself and your role at Sub-Zero.

Tyler Verri: Absolutely. So I'm Tyler Verri, I've been with Sub-Zero about 14 years. Sub-Zero Group is a manufacturer of high end residential cooking, refrigeration, and we recently got into dishwashing products. 12 years I actually spent in IT, managing a variety of teams, and the last two years I've actually been in customer service, as you mentioned, as the manager of the training and installation strategy.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So, you and I had caught up prior to this and I said, "Wow, the transition from IT to customer service is an interesting one." So how have you liked it?

Tyler Verri: It's definitely been a unique path to get here. Obviously, my role in the past in IT, very focused on internal operations and support of our organization, and now I've shifted to one where I'm supporting external partners and direct contact with our customers. It's definitely been a welcome changed, it's pushed me to expand my business knowledge, and learn how we go to market, how we support our products in the field. So extremely grateful for Sub-Zero and the opportunity to develop my leadership in different forms.

Sarah Nicastro: Cool. Yeah, it is an interesting transition, but in my former role, I hit the 11 year mark, not quite 12, and it was time for a change, so it's a good time to try something different and expand horizons. So what I want to talk about first is the structure of Sub-Zero's installation and service business, because, I think, for our listeners understanding how you do those things is going to be important in framing the conversation we have around training, and what effective training entails, and how training impacts the customer experience. So Sub-Zero, for both installation and service, you leverage partner networks for both functions. So, talk our listeners through what that structure looks like.

Tyler Verri: Yeah, correct. So network is a bit unique in terms of we leverage certified third parties to provide our installation and service of our products. So our service network is a bit more defined than our installation, being we have control, we pay the service companies if they're doing warranty work for us, and we've really narrowed that down to specific service companies in very large metro markets. And they can provide, and majority of them do, sole support of the Sub-Zero Group brands. Our ultimate goal by doing this and leveraging third parties, we really want to make sure that we're giving them the most touches on our products, whether it's from an installation or a service perspective. So we really try to drive the majority of our business, for our customers, through the certified companies that we have in our network.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, good. So you leverage third party for both installation and service functions. And in talking with the service community, one of the biggest concerns we hear when it comes to the pros and cons of relying on contingent workers or a third party workforce, is really that loss of control over the customer experience, right? So that tends to be one of the biggest hesitations in embracing that model. So at Sub-Zero, and in your role, you are relying heavily on training to preserve the customer experience. So what I want to talk about first is some of the aspects that you feel make for effective training, that therefore help companies retain some of that control.

Tyler Verri: Absolutely. I think the big thing, for us, on creating an effective training is making sure that we understand what are the needs of our partner organizations, and ensuring that we're building to meet the different learning styles. So not just creating something that is web-based when we know, some people, they can't sit in front of a computer and do something. These are technicians, they work with their hands, they want to get hands-on. So making sure that, yes, we do have some content that is web-base, engages videos, but we also want to make sure that we also are creating hands-on curriculum, forcing critical thinking, understanding what are the tools that they can leverage that we have built for them.

Tyler Verri: But then also understanding that as much as we want uniformity in our network, we want to make sure that they have autonomy to continue to fit the needs of their culture and identity as their organizations. The thing that I do find unique, we're a family-owned company, third generation, and a lot of the companies that we have partnered with, they're very similar in that manner, they're smaller scale, but they're usually family-owned, multigenerational companies, you have owner-operators, from that perspective. So I really see the ties of culture connecting that way, and it really helps us in the synergies.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that makes sense. And I think that what you articulated, that balance between autonomy and uniformity is really what companies are striving to achieve. And I think that that balance is really relatable, not just for companies that are leveraging third party workers, but even companies that have a really large geographical footprint and have different divisions of their business, regions of their business that have traditionally operated fairly independently. And as organizations look to really standardized service delivery, making those, either departments, or in this case, partners, feel that we're not trying to control you and we don't want to take away all of that autonomy, but we do want to be consistent with our customer experience, and we do want to provide some level of uniformity that people can be assured to have when they have a Sub-Zero service, right? That is a really important balance. And I'm curious, what are some of the ways that you, from a communication perspective, try and strike that balance?

Tyler Verri: So communication, for us, is leveraging key partners in the field that have been vocal about what we're doing and how we're doing it, and making sure that we engage them on a reoccurring basis of, how are we performing and what are the things that you need? And we've created an advisory council that leverages both service, installation. We bring them together as a peer group because, yes, they're usually two very separate businesses in terms of how they operate. Service generally isn't doing installation, and once again, installation is not generally doing service, but they are... Ultimately the goal of providing that customer experience and aligning us from manufacturing all the way to service is key, and that's why we do bring these groups together and engage them.

Tyler Verri: How do we do it? We generally, on a yearly basis, have a partner summit. Obviously, with the current climate we live in, we've had to think differently in how do we continue to engage and get this feedback. But for us, it is tying very closely to our partners, and making sure they understand what we're doing, we understand what they're doing, and how do we all continue to march in the same direction.

Sarah Nicastro: That makes sense. So, you touched on the importance of a multi-format approach when it comes to training. And so, rather than as an organization thinking about it from the context of what's the easiest and most efficient way for us to get this information out there, you really need to be thinking about the fact that, as you mentioned, not everyone can learn the same way. Not everyone consumes information in the same way, so that multi-format approach is important. And as you said, you're looking at opportunities to leverage digital and video, hands-on, and also when possible, an in person aspect. But we also talked about in that multi-format approach, you have three tracks of training that you're focusing on. So share with our listeners what those three tracks are and why they're important.

Tyler Verri: Absolutely. Yeah, as we were looking, knowing that our partners are onboarding new employees, especially from the service and installation companies, there's turnover, there's retirements, there's a lot of things that play into the changes and growth of these organizations, and we wanted to make sure that we meet those changes. So as we were looking at how do we deploy and develop training, we developed three tracks. So we have the e-learning, which is our first and I would say our basic track, it's self-paced, you go online, it's on demand, you can take it as you need it, and we generally structure them to be about 20 minute classes. So you go in, a new employee can come on, they really can learn about Sub-Zero, Wolf, Cove culture, and do a 20 minute training onboarding them to the brands. Before they get into the technical weeds of everything, it's just, "What am I supporting?" And starting at that level.

Tyler Verri: The next is regional based training. We understand that taking technicians off the road, whether they're doing installation or service, that's taking away profit from those organizations. They're not able to go out and make money, so we really wanted to provide a training format that limits their amount of time off the road. And so we've developed a regional training spaces to really fit those major markets, where are the majority of our partners so that they can travel there, receive some of that hands-on. Especially understanding, from a regional basis, if we sell specific products in that market, we can train specific to that. Not a, everybody gets everything, because that's not successful in terms of, if you don't see the product often enough, you've wasted that individual's time.

Tyler Verri: And then finally, the immersion one, which is factory training. Bringing them back to the Sub-Zero campus in Madison, Wisconsin, immersion into the Sub-Zero culture. So that's usually multiday training, it involves at least two days of travel to get here. Madison, not a major airport, so some of those issues we run into from a travel perspective, but it's a huge commitment of time for our partners to be able to take a week off the road to getting here. But that's where once they've made that investment in the organization that they're joining, or have been a part of it for a significant amount of time, that's usually where that fits, where you come back to the factory and get indoctrinated in what we're doing and how we're doing it.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, good. So what I want to talk about next is some of what you're covering in this training. So you had said, before we get to the technical stuff, which obviously is important so that they can be effective in the service they're providing, but before you get to that, you really want to do some training on the Sub-Zero culture, the Sub-Zero brand. And then there's the technical training, and you and I had also talked about a really heavy focus you have right now on soft skills training. So tell us about some of those areas and what type of insights you're striving to provide through the training, and then secondly, why that soft skills component is so critical.

Tyler Verri: Absolutely. Yeah, soft skills is a key component of the customer satisfaction. We've noticed, it's not just fixing the product in the customer's home, but it's also, now you have to fix the customer. They're frustrated, you have to step back and resell them why did they make the investment in the product that they did. And these individuals aren't salespeople, but they have to put on that salesperson hat of reselling why do they buy it, and the product is fixed now, but what do we need to do as we move forward. So soft skills, for us, we had been doing it and developing it regionally, and one of the things I wanted to shore up was consistency of how we deployed that. So I actually spent some time working with our sales and marketing team, and they had created a selling skills track for their dealer network a couple of years ago.

Tyler Verri: So we took the fundamentals of that training, and really transformed it into an essential skills training to fit the way that we engage with our partners. And we're actually going to be piloting soon with our partners, and it really aligns so that we have a seamless transition when a customer goes into the showroom, when they're interested in looking at getting our products, and then they work with a dealer, and next they work with the installer. And if necessary, they have to work with a service provider and receive service, we want to make sure that those experiences, being their third party individuals, are really aligned to the brand and what we're doing. So that's been a big push for me, how do we ensure that continuity all the way through the process and aligning with what have they been told upfront, and making sure it's consistent all the way through that chain.

Sarah Nicastro: So that continuity that you're striving for, whether it's from the showroom to the dealer to the install to the service, when you think about it in the context of the customer experience, what are some of the priorities in terms of that customer experience you're looking to provide all the way through? What are some of the characteristics that you focus on teaching so that the customers experience those characteristics from the showroom to the dealer to the install to the service?

Tyler Verri: For us, I think it's focusing on luxury. Our appliances are pretty expensive, and making sure that we're tying to the luxury, as well as the quality of our product. Now, everything that has a computer or technology in it, it will break down at some point. So that's where, for us, you've invested a significant amount of money, so how do we make sure that you're realizing the investment, you're understanding that the value of the product, but you're also understanding the use and care. What do you, as a customer, need to do to maintain it to ensure it's operating at the proper state, as well as all of the features and functions that are a part of the product? Because I think that's a lot of the things that are overlooked, that it's, "Well, it cooks or keeps things cold." Well, there's so much more to it, and if you don't have everybody through that process, continuing to tout the features and functions, that's where you start to break down of, "Well, it was really expensive, but it keeps things as cold as my other refrigerator that I spent half the cost on."

Sarah Nicastro: So when you think about the soft skills perspective in particular, and let's take service for example, what are some of the soft skills that you're focusing on so that when that service technician goes into a customer's home, they know to do X, Y, or Z? Or not do A, B or C, right?

Tyler Verri: For sure. Well, for the course that we've constructed, we really have them do prework before they even show up, to think about what are some of the experiences that they've had as a customer, to really put them in a frame of mind of, "As me, the customer, what would I expect?" And so we put them through that exercise. And then when they come on site, it's really understanding what their role is and making sure that they're following suit with asking specific questions, pointing them in the right direction and not, "Well, that's not my job, or I don't know who sold it to you or gave you those benefits."

Tyler Verri: So it's not placing the blame, it's understanding what's going on. And they have enough knowledge of the network to say, "Here's what I know, but I think you need more information. I can get you to a dealer or a showroom where they can provide you more tips and tricks around how you do certain things." So making sure that they really have the skills to break down the customer, to make them understand that there is a network of people out there willing to support any of the needs that they have around the products, versus, "Well, this is my only hope, is this individual, and they didn't give me what I need so now I'm done."

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. It's an interesting conversation, thinking about how important it is to prioritize soft skills in training when you are a luxury brand, right? So I was having a conversation recently with another luxury brand, and just talking about, from a customer experience perspective, if you're selling a premium product and you're sending folks on site that maybe have really strong technical knowledge but are not polished in how to present to the customer, it's not going to give the premium or white glove experience that you want those customers to have, knowing that they've made a significant investment with your product. So it really is important. I honestly think that the correlation between a focus on soft skills and how that impacts the customer experience is an important correlation, whether it is a premium product or not, but even more so, right, when you are selling something like that. So that makes sense. So you have been leveraging a learning management system to help you keep track of and manage all of this training, so tell us a bit about that and how it's been helping you?

Tyler Verri: Absolutely. So my amazing training team spent a year developing and building out this system. We actually just rolled it out in March, and we're already starting to realize some of the value of just the speed with which we can deliver training now, and roll it out to our partners. Whether it's through all the three mediums that I mentioned, e-learnings, regional trainings, factory trainings, the ability to get that out there and have that visibility to our partners is critical. For us, the really big part that we're able to gain from this is the reporting on who's done what and when, down to the individual technician level. And we can slice and dice the data to really understand within a territory, do we have an issue with a specific product, do we need to level up some of the training, have they attended the training, but there's still issues with first call completes, what can we do, what do we need to develop?

Tyler Verri: And allowing us to continuously improve what we've developed, and or develop new content to fill some of the gaps that we're starting to notice based on what the data is telling us. In the past, it was spreadsheet upon spreadsheet and manual work, and so to do this it would take a tremendous amount of time. Now it's a few buttons, you're clicking, you're building reports, and you can provide it out to those individuals within the field, and we really have a better view of what's going on. So it's still in its infancy in what we can do, but it's been incredible to see the quick wins that we've had with getting people in, and really pushing some of our partners to make sure to sign everybody up, to get people access. Because it was amazing to see the amount of people that actually did not have access into our system and the tools that we had available to them. So, the ability to make them more efficient through this process has been great to see as well.

Sarah Nicastro: Now, do you correlate any of that data that you're getting on the training completion? And looking at how that relates to first time fix and therefore, perhaps, effectiveness of the training or what have you, do you correlate that at all to customer feedback?

Tyler Verri: Yeah. And that's one of the goals as we are now rolling it out and have better visibility. So we're creating the baseline of tying that to the customer feedback, CSAT for service, installation, first call completes, on the product that we've trained on. And then also measuring our trainers and their effectiveness, because that's been the biggest challenge of, it's a tremendous investment to build out training, to have trainers, and we want to make sure that we're proving our value and showing the worth of the team. Otherwise, it's very easy to have that cut from the budget and back to the days that we had in the past. And so that's our goal, to be able to track and trend and really show that we're moving the needle.

Sarah Nicastro: That makes sense. And I think it just gives you the insight you need to create effective training, rather than just creating something that you hope will resonate or hope will work, and throwing it out there and crossing your fingers, so that makes sense. And I think it'll be interesting to see what you find when you cross reference the insights from the learning management system with the customer satisfaction data, so that you can really start to pinpoint areas that you need to focus more on, or training that maybe you thought you created perfectly that you need to go back and look at why is this causing this reaction or what have you. So that makes a lot of sense. So the next question, Tyler, I wanted to ask is, what do you feel are the biggest missteps that companies make around training, and what advice would you provide on avoiding those?

Tyler Verri: So, few missteps? And I think I have a different idea kind of taking it from internal, obviously we're working with external partners, so some of the things that the partner organizations... For me, there's no secret. The technician of today is different than the technician was 20 or 30 years ago, especially for our industry. I mean, just the sheer number of products that we developed 20 years ago versus what we developed today, it's tremendous, and the complexity of the products is so vast. So keeping that in mind that I'm going to go back to, they don't invest enough in building training in different formats to meet the way that people learn.

Tyler Verri: Whether it's a young technician that's very used to technology that will embrace watching a YouTube type video to learn how to do it, versus you have an older technician that they want to be hands on, they don't need to hook up a computer to diagnose it, they can do it by listening and testing certain things. It's trying to find the way to navigate both of these worlds. So, for me, the biggest takeaway and misstep is making sure that you engage with your participants in training. So survey them, talk to their managers, what works, what doesn't, be flexible to their needs. And as I mentioned, the training program should encompass continuous improvement along that way to ensure that we're meeting the needs of everyone that's taking and participating in that training.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that makes sense. And I think that, going back to what we just talked about with the learning management system, I don't know that I would say that it would be a misstep to not leverage something like that, but I do think that it is a significant opportunity to understand the impact your training is having. So I would think that would be an important area of focus for folks as well.

Tyler Verri: Second misstep, for me, is when times are good or you're busy, training is usually shifted to the back burner, and when it's done right it should be a part of your organization. So really making training a part of your culture, whether it's biweekly, weekly, monthly, I think it's evaluating what fits for your organization. Everybody's going to be a bit different, but showing that focus and commitment and investment to your employees and training is critical, because I think it's very cyclical of, "All right, we have time now, let's cram in a bunch of training," and it's the wrong mindset. It should be continuously learning, and in making that investment and enhancing knowledge, creating those efficiencies which ultimately should make you more money.

Sarah Nicastro: I would think there's also a psychological component to that of, if continual training as a part of the culture and ongoing learning is just something that is built in, it feels different than if all of a sudden we're going to focus on this, which means you must be doing something wrong. So we don't always do this, but now we have this focus on X because you're falling down in this area. That then gives a totally different feeling to someone than being able to bob and weave a bit with something you always consistently do, by just feeding the insights of what you feel like those folks need to focus on, rather than having those periods of not doing any training and then heavily focusing on something.

Tyler Verri: For sure. And one of the last points, I think, from a misstep is the mindset of, "Well, I provide training all the time." Only to have them leave to a competitor, or the job has high turnover so they make the bare minimum investments in training. I think it really is seek to understand why do employees leave, build a culture that can continue to keep them coming back every day. I look at it as create a pay scale or a recognition program that reinforces training, do so many classes, achieve a certain level, you get a wage increase or time off. What fits your culture and your organizations and your employees, figure out how you do that to move that training process and program forward.

Sarah Nicastro: That makes sense too. Good. All right. Good. Well, any other comments or closing thoughts?

Tyler Verri: No. I just want to say thank you, Sarah, for the opportunity to share with the community. To me, it's exciting. I'm very passionate about what can I share, the learnings that we've had here, because I learned so much from others. Whether it's the same industry or not, we're all in this together to create that customer experience that really leaves the customer saying, "Wow." And telling their friends, because that's ultimately what it's about, word of mouth, spreading that way. And I realize everybody's trying to monetize social media and all the different aspects, but it really is hearing it straight from the individual that had that experience and selling it that way, that's really been the cornerstone of our company and has driven where we're going from a customer service perspective.

Sarah Nicastro: Well, I appreciate you being here, Tyler, and sharing your perspective. I mean, that is what we're all about, so we love to hear from different folks and learn about what they're up to, how they're innovating, how they're tackling challenges. And training isn't a topic that we've discussed a whole lot, even though it's a very, very important one. So, thank you for coming on and for sharing today.

Tyler Verri: Absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: You can find more content on training, on engagement, on customer experience by visiting us at You can also find us on LinkedIn, as well as Twitter @thefutureoffs. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS, you can learn more about IFS Service Management by visiting As always, thank you for listening. All right.

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August 10, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

Is AI Delivering On its Promise?

August 10, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

Is AI Delivering On its Promise?


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Perusing tech news headlines or looking at conference agendas, you see AI everywhere. While you innately know better, with the messages being delivered, it can be easy to be persuaded into thinking, “I bet AI would solve all of my problems.” We had Seth Earley, author of The Artificial Intelligence Powered Enterprise, on the podcast not long ago to discuss why he feels AI has failed to deliver on its promise to businesses everywhere and his advice for how derive value from the technology.

The AI Conundrum

Seth points to a few reasons he feels AI is failing to deliver on its promise. The first is what I eluded to in the intro – the hype surrounding the technology. “One of the biggest challenges we have with AI and machine learning is the tremendous amount of hype in the marketplace. AI is an umbrella term and the technologies we're seeing today have a history of components and underlying algorithms that have really been around for decades,” he says. “We see anything with an algorithm being called AI and what that does is it creates the wrong expectations.”

According to Seth, this hype leads organizations to look at AI as something that is brand new which feeds unrealistic expectations. “I think the big problem is that organizations are looking at AI as something that's brand new, and that it is going to solve problems that they haven't been able to solve,” he says. “In some cases that may be true, but it also creates unrealistic expectations. That's partly because whenever there's a big shift in technology it creates uncertainty about what this means to the business. This leads people to start making investments without really understanding the capabilities of the technology, or what processes they needed to really address.”

Seth isn’t saying AI isn’t valuable, but rather that companies need to look beyond the hype into the realities of not only the capabilities of the technology but, more importantly, what the business case is for their company for AI. We see a lot of money being wasted on AI projects that are trying to boil the ocean or solve very intractable problems,” he says. “I think the biggest challenge is that many organizations don't have the basic foundational elements in place. Foundational processes, or the quality data that they need, and they're not necessarily understanding the nature of the problem they're trying to solve before going down this path.”

Advice for AI Success

To derive value from AI, Seth offers some advice to help organizations avoid the hype and unrealistic expectations and look at the technology through the lens of how it can solve business pain points. The first step is to know what those paint points are – to know what problem you are trying to solve. “The foundational piece is understanding what problem you're working on solving. And then, looking very carefully at the technology and saying, "What can this technology do, realistically?" he says. “There's a lot of successes out there, but there's a lot of failures. The reason for those failures really has to do with a lack of understanding of the true capabilities of the tools, and the processes that people are trying to enhance, and the business outcome that they're looking for. And, of course, not having the data.”

With the hype surrounding it, AI can be portrayed as a superpower-like technology – but the reality is, it isn’t magic. Like all technologies, for it to work for your business requires a strong foundation.  “You can’t automate something you don't understand, and you can't automate a mess,” says Seth. “While AI is powerful, you still have to teach the technology about your business – your product, your services, your solutions, your customers. You have to give it the terminology that you're using, and the concepts that are important to the business. An ontology is basically a framework for that. I think the key piece for leaders to understand is that this is not magic, and there's a lot of foundational work that needs to be in place to make AI work. It's not sexy, it's really the basic blocking and tackling. You still have hard work to do; governance is important, and metrics.”

Part of this important foundational work is knowing the needs of your customers. “A lot of organizations fall down by not necessarily understanding the needs of their customers,” says Seth. For instance, we worked with a company that wanted to do personalization for their customers. So, we built the architecture, had some algorithms. And then, at the end of the day, they couldn't define what the personalized content should be. They couldn't say, well, how is this audience different than this audience? What do they need? They didn't know. They didn't know enough about the customer in order to use the technology to personalize that experience.”

Seth suggests starting small and building upon success. “Starting off with big, ambitious goals that stretch the organization and stretch the technology is inherently risky,” Seth explains. “That doesn't mean you can't have a big vision of what AI can do for the organization but going through the process of planning and doing small experiments will yield a lot of value. These experiments deliver learning and maturity that needs to be built up in order to be successful.”

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