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September 30, 2020 | 22 Mins Read

7 Keys to Software Upgrade Success

September 30, 2020 | 22 Mins Read

7 Keys to Software Upgrade Success


Katie Hunt, Service Operations Leader at APi Group, shares with Sarah insights gleaned and lessons learned during the company’s recent field service software upgrade.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we are going to be talking to you about seven keys to software upgrade success. If you have ever been in the midst of a software upgrade project, you know that it is no easy feat, and there are plenty of lessons to be learned along the way.

I'm excited to welcome today Katie Hunt, service operations leader at APi Group. Katie, welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast.

Katie Hunt: Thanks. It's great to be here.

Sarah Nicastro: So before we dig into these seven keys to success, which I'm excited to share, tell us a little bit about APi Group and your role. And I know that this is a topic that is very fresh for you because you had just come off of a major project. So fill us in.

Katie Hunt: Yes. So I'll start with APi Group. APi Group is a family of companies that provides business solutions for safety, specialty, and industrial services. We have over 15,000 employees and are in 200 locations in the US, Canada, the UK. And what's really unique is that our purpose is building great leaders, which for a construction company is sometimes looked on as unique. And so while we focus on that project delivery and great customer service, we also want to grow our individuals, grow our teams ,and make sure we can share knowledge, best practices, and just push each other to the next level.

Katie Hunt: So myself, I joined APi Group after going through the leader development program. I joined after I was in the military, and that was just a very unique opportunity to learn the industry and kind of develop some skills there. And I had the opportunity to join an operating company and then lead this project, which eventually led to leading the full-time service operations team at APi group.

Sarah Nicastro: Awesome. So you are fresh, very fresh off of a major upgrade of your Alliance service software platform. So, I've talked with you a few times along the way, and I think it's an excellent opportunity to share these seven keys or seven lessons today because it did just happen. So inevitably, you go through a big project like this, and you learn some lessons along the way, but time just kind of washes them away and kind of just makes them not so clear in your mind. So I'm excited to talk about seven aspects that you have uncovered that you feel are particularly critical to having a smooth upgrade and to having a successful project.

Sarah Nicastro: So the first key or the first tip is to be clear on your why. So explain what this means and why it is so important.

Katie Hunt: So ultimately, I would say that the why equates to the vision of a project. Identifying the why is so important because it not only lets stakeholders know why we're doing this project, but then it also serves as a benchmark for project efforts. So you can avoid that scope creep, and you can make sure you're staying on task. So once you create that vision, like we did, of standardizing processes, moving to a hosted environment for those benefits, or just setting the groundwork so that you can truly scale your business, you can then communicate effectively throughout the organization and really just maintain that focus and discipline and ultimately compare all of those decisions back to that strategic vision and keep the project on track.

Katie Hunt: I also wanted to call out, it's so important to know that the whys might be different for different cohort groups. We have a very large organization, and when I'm communicating, and my teams communicating to executives, it's a different message sometimes than the end user or the branch level professionals, which is fine. But ultimately, they all need to tie back to that strategic vision, so that they're all in alignment.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. That makes sense. So, tell us a bit about APi Group's whys with the recent upgrade. So what were the major strategic drivers that kind of led you through this project?

Katie Hunt: Sure. So APi Group was recently acquired and by J2, and we've now become a public company, in that one of the main driving factors for that purchase, and it's been mentioned by their leadership, is just our ability to perform a service and inspection operations because it's that reoccurring revenue, as we all know through hard times lately. And it's just very important. And so they are really pushing us to grow and scale that side of our business. And as such, we have over 20 companies that conduct service work, along with all the subsidiary companies. And a key factor of that is standardizing processes. So getting everyone on the same system, that was one of our key factors.

Katie Hunt: And another one was simply starting this movement to a hosted environment, to have that higher-level support, greater performance and stability, and really just setting the stage to grow the business and move to that next level.

Sarah Nicastro: Perfect. Okay. So you have these pillars that are leading you through the project, and you need to, as you said, have these in place, so that as things ramp up, as things get stressful, as things get hectic, as opportunities arise to kind of go off path, you can stay focused on what it is that you have set out to achieve. So that's the first key.

Sarah Nicastro: The second is defining the team that will be responsible for leading the project. So tell us what you learned here, in terms of this point.

Katie Hunt: Right. So this project was unique, in that we really relied on the operating companies to provide insight and guidance and decision making across the board. We had the core team, which was very lean, including myself and about four other key team members, but we did learn that we could have used a couple more people, not only a dedicated project manager to delineate the project management from business decisions, but also just having an extra set of eyes for different perspective. So that was a lesson learned.

Katie Hunt: But one thing I think we did extremely well was rely on the operating companies to provide feedback. We had a unique structure with a service steering committee, where we had one representative from each company. They came together, and they really made the agreement upfront that this would be the decision making body. Even if everybody didn't agree, we would move forward with the decision of that committee, so that we could standardize processes. And so although we had great discussions and sometimes people didn't agree, we were able to make those decisions, move forward. And it really took the ownership off of APi Group to push this initiative, and it put that on the companies to drive this change forward, which was phenomenal for our team and just a big success overall. So we definitely recommended that for future projects.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think that's a really good point because if you're going to have issues up for discussion or perhaps discrepancies in opinion, all of those things, if you're doing it by committee, it gives the sense of being far more fair. So if you handle those things on a case by case basis, it's easier to have someone be upset about decision that was made. Whereas if it's just an understanding of we're going to discuss, we're going to vote by committee, and whatever the outcome is, the outcome is, that would alleviate a lot of frustration, I would imagine.

Katie Hunt: Right. And I think it gets buy-in, too, from the committee.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, absolutely. All right. So number three, key number three is to develop guiding principles, so that as the inevitable ebbs and flows of the project occur, you know exactly what to stay focused on. So, tell us about what APi's guiding principles were, and if you have any examples of kind of how and when they came into play.

Katie Hunt: Sure. We had four that we outlined. We actually did a full vision with guiding principles, some goals, and that kind of thing, just so everyone was aligned. And the first one that we focused on was maintaining focus on end user needs. We didn't want to have a holistic technology solution that didn't meet what the end user needs from the field professionals to those office leaders that are really the ones executing the work.

Katie Hunt: Our second one was being open to changing processes. Change is hard, but we know that we all agreed, hey, we might have to change our processes. We're doing this for the betterment of the group. And that was just an agreement up front.

Katie Hunt: The third one was leveraging the ideas and suggestions of the service steering committee, which we've already discussed, which worked very well.

Katie Hunt: And then the last one was valuing time over process changes. And this one was a little bit unique that I'll expand on because we really, when we were conducting the project, had a couple constraints, including time, the scope of work, and the budget. And what we were saying with this is, our go live date needs to be met, despite all the process changes being fully complete.

Katie Hunt: And so an example of that was where, as we grew closer to go live, we had a list of items that had not yet been implemented. And we prioritized, made sure we hit those really key items, brought them forward before go live. And we're still working in sprints after go live, to continue to refine the system. So we wanted to view go live not as a stopping point, but really as something we could continue and use as a springboard to keep developing our processes, systems, et cetera.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So these four guiding principles are what really kept you focused on those four aspects that you felt were most important for the success of the project. Do you have any other examples of... Within the project, where one of these came into play and kind of steered you back on track, if you will?

Katie Hunt: Yes. So one good example, I would say, is the focus on the end user need. It's very easy when you see the bright, shiny object, and you want to go make this cool change, but then during the actual testing and training, the end user gives us feedback that, hey, this is really not what we want. And so what we really tried to do is, during our testing and training, we utilized a Microsoft team session and page, and it was open forum session. Anyone can provide feedback. We documented everything, to make sure that they had feedback. They were heard. I think at one point we had 480 responses or something.

Katie Hunt: But you're just going through these and really trying to make sure that the end user knows that, one, they could speak up. There was no ramifications. They were being listened to. And then we understood that their needs were very high priority. So we had to take a step back a couple of times on some enhancements we thought would be beneficial and really look at it from their perspective. And so we did that as much as possible.

Sarah Nicastro: That makes sense. And I think what you said is a really good point of not only for the project team, but for everyone involved, to make sure it's communicated to look at the go live as just the starting point. So that people understand if there's feedback they've given that can't make it for that go live cutoff, it doesn't mean you're not listening, and it doesn't mean that it's not going to get incorporated. That there's going to be opportunities to continue to evolve what you're doing, but being able to use those principles to keep you on track with not just continuing to brainstorm and never actually getting the result out. That makes sense.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So key number four is the importance of testing. So talk to us about all things testing.

Katie Hunt: Oh, goodness. Okay. So testing, we love it and we hate it because there's never enough time for testing, but there's so many different methods of testing. And it's just so crucial. I would say one thing I learned that I did not know going into this project, was how many different methods and different types of testing you could do, from the load testing to the off-road testing, to the scripted testing, to automated, there's just a whole gamut of how you can test the system.

Katie Hunt: And I think going into it, one, just having a really, really solid plan. Before I came on board, the team already had an excellent script of testing items and what we needed to do. So we had a really good baseline that we could springboard off of and really develop and test. And then we just wanted to make sure that we put the system through the paces and tested as if we were conducting real-world operations.

Katie Hunt: And that was the key thing, was rehearse like you want to actually execute. And it's like a military thing, I've learned, you want to rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. So I would say that's one thing that we did well, especially with rehearsing the actual cut-over, but also with testing.

Katie Hunt: One thing that I would suggest that had been used at APi Group before I was on board was the testing matrix and really just holding the companies accountable and checking in and asking the question of not only who has tested, but when and what. Because if you have a whole group that focuses just on one end of the testing and you miss the portion where you need to invoice the work order, rather than just create it, you have a gap in the testing. So by spreading it out and having the end users do the testing and staggering it correctly, I think it's very, very beneficial. And that's one of the most crucial phases that we possibly could have gone through.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So you said at the beginning of this question, there's never enough time for testing. Okay. So that makes me wonder, how do you strike the right balance of testing enough without, again, holding yourself back from ever crossing the finish line?

Katie Hunt: So this goes back to our initial constraint of time, that being just a key factor. We almost had a point where we were testing and continuing some configuration and development at the same time. So this is a lesson learned for us, is making sure that you have the schedule outlined, where you have the users in the system soon enough to catch any bugs or issues or concerns, but having them in late enough so the development is done, so they can have a good testing experience.

Katie Hunt: So really, I think we did a really good job of having a test phase and then almost a recovery phase to address those issues, and then have a second testing cycle. But one thing I would say that we could have probably done a little bit better job on is clearly annotating, during those testing cycles, specific items to test as well as specific items not to test that were still in development. And that way, it's just very clear. But at some point you have to go live, and I think it's one of those things, it's a judgment call of what are priority one items, what are priority two, and what can we live without until after go live. And that depends on the company and system.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. That makes sense. Okay, good. All right. So key number five is providing ample and effective training. So tell us how you tackled training and any advice you have for folks here.

Katie Hunt: Okay. So I will say training is one item, I am extremely proud of our team on this. We receive some very positive feedback, and we're continuing to use some of these items as we move forward. We really tackled it by... We created videos within our LMS system with APi Group. And we kept them short, no more than five minutes, because attention span of most people is not more than that when watching the training videos. And then we also made cheat sheets. We made quick reference guides that folks can print off on a one pager for key topics, put it in a little folder, or guys can throw it in their trucks, as they're out on site, and just references as needed. And then lastly, we did make those user manuals that are very in depth. They have screenshots, they answer those tough questions, deep dive, and really, people can search them and use the PDF and that kind of thing if needed.

Katie Hunt: The other item we did is we had weekly live trainings. This was a suggestion by one of our steering committee members, and we essentially dedicated a topic each week, and we opened it up on teams where people could just ask questions. They chatted questions. We had the live stream. And basically, we had really good participation. I think week after week, about 150 people would log in, ask questions, and share ideas. And I think having that service community through our team's page has just been a really good benefit, but we are going to continue to take those trainings and use them for onboarding new users and then refine them, probably quarterly as we move forward, just as a continued resource. Okay.

Sarah Nicastro: So when you're doing these trainings through the teams page, and you're having these interactions, are you able to capture... Obviously, you had your testing phase, and you captured feedback, and then you incorporated it into the system. As you're training, so obviously this wouldn't be feedback that isn't necessary for go live by any means, but as you are training folks, and there's something that they think of that's just a good idea, so it's something that maybe you didn't think of during the critical phase of the project, but now that it's out, it makes sense to incorporate, are you capturing those insights and able to have access to that information and decide how and what to work on?

Katie Hunt: Yes. So we did push the training ownership on the companies. That's one thing I failed to mention is that, although we're developing all these resources and the weekly trainings, we are asking the companies to do that as well. But in that, if they were to find something that they wanted to add, let's say a change request or something that's a configuration change, we are essentially conducting two weeks sprints, and we're still ongoing in that phase right now, where they can submit that request through our ticketing system or on teams and let us know that they think they want this idea, provide the justification. And then what our team can do is test it out, research it, run it by the steering committee still. And if we think it's something we want to implement, then we will bundle that together in our bulk migration of code every two weeks or three weeks, as those changes become ready.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. That makes sense. Okay. So key number six, one of my favorites, is prioritizing the need to manage change. So I think when you and I initially talked about doing this podcast, I maybe suggested putting training and change management together, and you very rightly said, "No, no, no, those are two totally different things." And you're right. You're right. That's actually a representation of, I think, some of the mistakes that often gets made in the industry, is this tendency to kind of de-prioritize or under focus on the criticality of change management.

Sarah Nicastro: So tell us, from your perspective, why it is so important and what your experience was, what you think you did well, what you would maybe do differently, how you tackled this.

Katie Hunt: Sure. So, the first thing is, change is never easy. And I really think, even though this is a very intangible part of the project, it's one of the most important, just because it often gets pushed to the side when the budget gets tight, or you're short on time, and you don't have time to effectively communicate. So I would just encourage, this is definitely something we did not want to lose focus on. And we did have times where we slipped. Everyone does. But at the same time, I think we did a pretty good job of circling back and making sure that we communicated this effectively.

Katie Hunt: Our strategy overall was not to push this on the companies, but to really have the companies take ownership. We are 100% there to support, assist developing these training tools, develop the testing, outline the plan. But for a three person, four person team, it's not feasible to train and really manage that change for 20 companies, 3000 users. It's just not feasible. I don't have enough hours in the day for that.

Katie Hunt: But so really, we pushed the ownership on the companies, but we did everything in our power to explain the why behind these changes. And if they had pushback, if they had feedback, we would listen. And there were times where we didn't make a change, or we've switched the processes, but we did that in a standardized manner to make sure that everyone was in alignment. And so really, I think we just constantly tried to solicit feedback, really tried to over-communicate whenever possible, and focus on what I think is the most important resource of the project, is the people. No matter the technology, no matter the system, if the people don't support it, and the people don't understand why, and they aren't getting what they need to conduct their work and be successful, the project's ultimately going to fail. So we didn't want to lose focus on the people. We wanted to maintain communication and really just make sure that people understood the why of the changes and how it helped them personally, not just the company overall.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. That makes sense. I'm curious, you said there was a couple of times you slipped, and everyone does. I don't know if it's too much to ask. Is there an example you can share? I just think it would be helpful for someone to hear, in reality, what that looks like and how you circled back to kind of work on something that is an inevitable. No one's perfect. So you're not always going... No matter how critical you know it is, you're not always going to do things perfectly.

Katie Hunt: Sure. I think one of the best examples, especially during testing, when it's very high paced, and especially how we manage the reporting of different questions, issues, process changes, et cetera, it was fast and furious on teams with people reporting, emailing, calling, having so much feedback. And we were trying so hard to document everything and capture it and respond and execute. And I think sometimes, I know me personally, I would get caught up responding to tickets and responding and solutioning the symptoms and making sure we got these tickets closed, rather than looking at the root cause of why someone is asking this question. Is it a lack of understanding of training, or is it maybe the process isn't correct, or the system does have a bug. And so really just taking a step back, kind of soliciting some advice from our core team and then the steering committee and say, "Hey, can you guys test this out? Am I off base here?"

Katie Hunt: And really, it takes time, and it's harder than just responding to tickets or responding to people with the first answer you can come up with. But I think in the long run, knowing that we're taking the time to really deep dive into these issues and find a good solution and good process change helps in the long run, rather than just that quick, "Oh, we got your ticket closed. You're good to go." So, it is hard and it does take time, but I think as long as we circled back to maintaining the focus on the why and the people, it worked out.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, no, that is a really good example because you're going fast, you're in problem solving mode.

Katie Hunt: Exactly.

Sarah Nicastro: So you get this issue, and it's like, great. I can fix this. Boom. Without thinking, I wonder why they're asking this question. Maybe they don't totally get this part of the objective or what have you. I think that's a really good point.

Sarah Nicastro: And it sounds like... I tend to think one of the most important aspects of change management is making sure people feel heard. And there's a difference between people feeling heard, and you always agreeing or acting on feedback. So they're not the same thing. You can let people know that they're heard and that you value their input, even if you're not using it.

Sarah Nicastro: And so I think that it's important to understand that because I remember one of the companies, I'm not going to remember which company it was, but a number of years ago, we were talking about change management, and they said every single piece of feedback, they made sure it got followed up on. If they had a meeting, they would write it all down. And even if that was saying, thanks for your idea, but we didn't use it. But they still wanted people to know that they were listening, so that they would continue giving that feedback and stay engaged and feel a part of the process. So good stuff.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So our final key, number seven, is to set KPIs from which to measure progress and determine the project success. So talk with us about KPIs.

Katie Hunt: So I would say this is one thing we definitely could have done better. And I think it circles back to our team structure. And that was just an aspect of, we had individuals filling multiple roles. We had one individual that was the project manager, as well as the business process lead. So they're not only managing logistics, resourcing, budget, but they're also doing the process analysis, business decisions, and architecture. And having that, something's going to slip through the cracks. So I think that was a lack that we've identified for future projects.

Katie Hunt: And what the downstream effect of that was, is we did not really have project KPIs. Our BI and metrics team has done a phenomenal job of creating operational performance metrics. But in terms of the actual project itself and key milestones, making sure vendors are on track, making sure our other work streams are on track, that the operating companies... I think we could have done a better job measuring those milestones and KPIs and actually having other KPIs rather than just on time and on budget, which is what most people focus on. We could have been more granular and had more holistic KPIs.

Katie Hunt: But I think it's very important because it really keeps that project on track, in scope, on budget, and on time. And so I don't have much on this topic because it is an area we can improve, but I would say it's important just to make sure that you have somebody dedicated to that aspect of the project.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that makes sense. Okay, Katie, I have two bonus questions for you.

Katie Hunt: Oh, gosh.

Sarah Nicastro: So the first is I know you come from a military background, and I'm curious what military learning you found to be most helpful for you within this process. So what's something from that part of your history that proved to be very useful in this project?

Katie Hunt: So I would say that one of the biggest one is rehearsals. Before any mission, any military exercise, anything, you always rehearse. You run through the motions until you can't forget them. And specifically with this project, the cut-over and that cut-over weekend, we rehearsed, I think it ended up being four times, and the original scope had only one rehearsal. And so we added those on, simply because it wasn't right when we did it the first time, and we kept doing until we got as close to go live as possible.

Katie Hunt: I think also just testing the capabilities and making sure you put both the people and the systems through their paces. Similar to rehearsals, you want to push those things to the limit when you're practicing, so that when you're actually executing and lives are on the line, you can execute how you need to. So I would say those are the big ones. That's a tough question. There's so many things I learned in the military. It's hard to kind of go through them all.

Sarah Nicastro: I bet. Okay. Last question is... I know this was a different experience for you. It was a new challenge for you in your career. What do you feel you, as an individual, what was the biggest lesson you as a person learned throughout this project?

Katie Hunt: I've actually had this conversation with my team a little bit, and really, it goes back to your point of listening to everyone's feedback. But ultimately, it's okay to say no, and it's okay to push back a little bit and make sure that you look at all the perspectives, you hear everyone's input, but ultimately, you can say no, and you can push back a little bit, in terms of what your final decision is. And you're never going to make everyone happy. I think with a project this large, that was a tough lesson because I love for everyone to get along and work well together and collaborate. And there were people upset at different points in the project. And it's not personal. It's really just what's best for the business and what's best for the organization overall. But yeah, just it's been a challenging experience, but at the same time it's been pretty rewarding. And I would just say the people I've gotten to work with and the team has been phenomenal. So I'm just grateful for all their work that they've put in.

Sarah Nicastro: That's really cool. I think it's awesome. I'm sure it's been challenging, but it is always rewarding to push yourself out of your comfort zone, and to really do different things and learn different things. So I'm really excited for you. I really appreciate you joining us today and sharing these seven keys to success, and I look forward to connecting again soon.

Katie Hunt: Well, thank you very much for your time. I appreciate you having me on.

Sarah Nicastro: Thanks, Katie. You can check out more of our content by visiting us at You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter at the Future of FS. The Future of Field Service Podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more about IFS Service Management by visiting As always, thanks for listening.

September 28, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

Weighing the Decision of Disruption

September 28, 2020 | 4 Mins Read

Weighing the Decision of Disruption


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

A few weeks ago I welcomed Sae Kwon, VP of Customer Experience at Cisco, to the Future of Field Service podcast to discuss some of the trends he’s navigating in the word of CX. We had a great discussion around his 24-year tenure at Cisco, how Cisco is tackling CX, and how he leads – but one of the points that came up during our conversation was related to weighing the decision to disrupt. Sae relays a fairly recent story of Cisco realizing that between its professional services and technical services teams sat a gap in customer need – the customers had help getting their systems up and running, and technical help if they needed it once established, but they were feeling the pain of not having ample help really managing the change and use of the solutions and promoting adoption. To fill this gap, Cisco created what it calls customer success, a function that assists customers with these needs.

However, as Sae explains, what was challenging about making this decision is that both the professional and technical services businesses, which operated separately, were very successful. “A big part of the decision was timing, because we had professional services and technical services and they were both very successful businesses on their own. It was a separate organization, but very successful businesses, but we could see in the longer term that we needed that customer success function as well and we needed to bring the teams together,” he says. “It was a very difficult decision, but we couldn't afford to wait until these businesses started to slow down. When you have three successful large businesses, it's hard to make that decision to disrupt, because you're disrupting a lot of people, a lot of organizations. I think I once described it as, we put everything into a box, shook it, turned it upside down and then put it down and then we started from there – it sort of felt that way at the time.”

Sae’s point struck me, because often when we talk about the need to disrupt it is in relation to changing the “status quo” – and the connotation of status quo is often stale, outdated, less-than-innovative. But what about when your status quo is working incredibly well? That makes the decision of disruption far harder, because you have the weigh the risk of shaking up those well-performing businesses. “I think that having that courage to disrupt early on is really important. It can be very risky and scary, but if you do that, you open more room for growth. Rather than allowing a really strong business to sort of slow down or plateau, if you make that transformation at the right time, then you can go through that growth curve again. So, the timing is so important, and having the courage to disrupt earlier is really important.”

Defining Your Disruption

According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of disruption is the act or process of disrupting something: a break or interruption in the normal course or continuation of some activity, process, etc. In Cisco’s case, disruption was a combination of creating a new business to address the needs of customers and making changes to the organizational structure of its existing business to fit this new function. It’s important to consider the different types of disruption that exist: it can be innovative disruption, like brining a new offering to market or fundamentally changing how you serve your customers. It could be operational disruption, where you restructure how your business works in some way (perfect example in today’s quest for Servitization is changing fundamentally how, and by whom, service is sold). Or it could be technological disruption, where you decide it is time to modernize an area of the business to take advantage of today’s digital tools. Each of these types of disruption can be incredibly valuable, and to Sae’s point – having the courage to act early can be very advantageous.

However, disruption is a major undertaking and you need to work smart. It takes alignment, cohesive strategy, and a major focus on people and change management. Most important of all, I believe your disruption should be customer-led. You shouldn’t be introducing a new product or service or taking your company in a new direction unless you are confident it is what your customers want or need. If you’re disrupting operationally, it should be driven by a need to evolve your business to better serve your customers’ needs. And if you’re disrupting technologically, you should do so in a way that brings greater value to your customer, better insights to your business, or makes the lives of your frontline workers easier.

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September 25, 2020 | 6 Mins Read

Understanding Optimization Through Super Mario

September 25, 2020 | 6 Mins Read

Understanding Optimization Through Super Mario


By Tom Paquin

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the most famous video game hero: Super Mario. I’ve discussed video games a few times here before, and I think there’s a lot to learn about service from the simulated, self-contained worlds contained within the cascading ones and zeroes of the digital world. This is true of AI, operations, and certainly true of parts and resource management. Video games, especially simulations, like my beloved Civilization 6, provide a complex microcosm with which to test theories of resource management, optimization, and scenario forecasting. But what about Mario?

Mario, and his games, are slightly different, both in terms of the character of Mario, as well as the game mechanics themselves. Characteristically, Mario is the rare video game character with a stated career, and it happens to be in the home services space. Mario is famously a Plumber. Yes, he apparently went to Med school at some point but we’re not getting into that. In a video game landscapes full of knights, mercenaries, soldiers, and theoretical physicists, it’s somewhat refreshing to see a blue-collar guy stand as the official mascot for video gaming, and it offers a great deal of avenues for exploring Mario’s character here.

Of course, I can’t actually think of any instances in which Mario does any plumbing in any of his games, unless you count traveling through pipes, which I rarely have seen actual plumbers do. For that reason, the service angle looks fairly tenuous from a character perspective, so let’s look at the mechanics.

Mechanically, although Mario has been featured in kart racers, fighting games, puzzle games, sports games, roleplaying games, mobile games, and others I’m certainly forgetting, the core Mario experience has been the simple platformer: a game in which a small character moves, usually from left to right, jumping onto various—you guessed it—platforms in order to complete a series of levels. From his debut as “jumpman”, taking down Donkey Kong in arcades, through his meteoric rise on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Mario’s primary action has been to jump, and to navigate simple maps. Simple as it may be, let’s take a look at this through the lens of service.

Now, while the original Super Mario Bros. remains the quintessential Mario experience, my favorite game has always been Super Mario Bros. 3. I also feel, with its complex world maps and many secrets, it’s a perfect template for service technology solutions, specifically optimization. The game world is made up of eight sequential boards. Here is World 1:

Courtesy of

Each of the numbered squares here are levels, that, upon completion, are “resolved”. Yes—just like service appointments. Now the player, as they’re going through the game, will be setting their own “agreements” for how they want to “resolve” each of the items on the eight world boards. Usually, for the player, it’ll fall into one of three categories: Experience, Completionism, or Efficiency. “Experience” players execute on their own whims, going from level to level as they see fit. It’s like a technician setting their own schedule based on appointment needs. “Completionists”, try to finish everything, every job, every item grab, even if it prolongs the experience or needlessly prioritizes the wrong tasks. Think of this as a planning leader with poor optimization. “Efficiency” players are looking to resolve higher-level conflicts as quickly as possible, while leaving some of the lower-level conflicts to other technicians (Luigi, perhaps?) or for a later date in favor of more pressing/profitable options. We’re going to focus on optimizing for efficiency.

Typically, “efficiency” players become what they are by playing and learning the game. The more you play a Mario game, the more you understand the world layout. Remember—these early games existed before you had the ability to save on a cartridge, so each time you turn your console on, you start back at Level 1. This allowed players to get good and learn secrets through repetition.

This is great if there’s time and capabilities in place to do so. When you’re relaxing with a video game, it’s fine. When you have 500 technicians to manage and 3,000 jobs to complete, you don’t have the luxury of trial and error. To illustrate this, here is level 1-3 (you can click on the picture to enlarge):

A novice player would likely take some variation of the following path to complete the level:

And that’s fine, but an efficiency-minded player should know that there’s a secret item hidden in this level that would permit them to skip ahead several worlds, thus decreasing the amount of time needed to complete the most pressing objective: Beating the game and saving the princess. Imagine, then, that a novice player had a technology tool that directed them to take this path instead:

This would allow the player to collect the warp whistle, which lets them skip ahead, more efficiently completing their task.

This knowledge, which, on its face may seem counterintuitive, perhaps even take more time in the immediate, is the crux of what AI-powered optimization offers in service, as well. As Mike Gosling from Cubic mentioned on our podcast late last year, technicians, when handed a list of jobs, often build plans that seem on paper to be the most efficient. But a smart system understands the underlying complexities, can be calibrated to prioritize specific outcomes (uptime, jobs completed, estimated job value, etc) and make decisions that at first blush may not seem like the most logical ones, but can often present the most viable path through a complex world. Is this as fun as playing through all the levels you're skipping? Not necessarily, but we're not going for fun, we're going for efficiency.

That’s optimization from a purely scheduling and routing perspective, but let’s take that a step further and look at the full picture of optimization. To do that, let’s look at another level.

Thinking about Mario as a service technician, and levels as service jobs, it’s clear that this job is fraught with certain challenges. For instance, there is no ground. If Mario misses a jump he will lose a life. This would imply that an optimization system would do one of two things. One scenario: It’d make sure the right service person was available with the right skills. Luigi canonically has a longer and more precise jump than Mario’s, so he might be a better fit for this job. If this is Luigi’s day off, the alternative would be ensuring Mario has the right tools for the job. In Super Mario Bros. 3, Mario can wear something called the Tanooki suit, which gives him the ability to fly. By ensuring access to the right parts, optimization systems can make sure that the job is completed the first time…no lost lives.

Surprisingly like Mario levels, service needs and appointments are increasing in complexity. It’s great when seasoned technicians, like seasoned players, know what each encounter will require, know the most optimized routes, and can make the right decisions. But in an industry with high workforce turnover, that’s not always an option.

In gaming, the technology to optimize systems, provide the best routes, and arm you with the items you need to do jobs right the first time would be what’s called a cheat—cheating the system the designers intended to make the game easier. In service, good optimization might be exactly the cheat code you need to take your business to the next level.

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September 23, 2020 | 38 Mins Read

3 Themes Driving the Future of Service

September 23, 2020 | 38 Mins Read

3 Themes Driving the Future of Service


Sarah shares a recent keynote she delivered for Aston Business School’s World Servitization Convention, which includes her presentation of three key themes she feels have surfaced as a result of COVID and will impact the future of service across industries as well as a discussion with Larry Blue, CEO of Bell and Howell; Kevin Starr, Global Program Manager, Advanced Services at ABB; and Robin Butler, Group Field Service Director at WaterLogic about how these themes have presented in their companies and what they feel the future holds.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we're sharing with you a keynote session that I recently delivered at Aston Business Schools Advanced Services Group World Servitization Convention. Say that three times fast! I was asked by Aston to join the event and deliver a session discussing some of the key themes that I've found in my conversations with service leaders this year that I think are a result of COVID, but things that will ultimately drive some significant progress forward for the industry. So in this session I am presenting those themes and then welcoming a panel to join me and talk through their thoughts on the themes, what they've witnessed in their businesses, and what they think the future of service will hold. I think it's a great discussion. I hope you enjoy it. If you haven't checked out the research the Advanced Services Group is doing, it's well worth the time to do so. So have a listen and enjoy.

Sarah Nicastro: Hello everyone. I am so excited to be here with you all today. My name is Sarah Nicastro. I am creator of Future of Field Service and Field Service Evangelist. I am going to go ahead and share my screen so I can share some slides with you all, and we will get started. So very, very excited to be here with you all today. Want to talk a little bit about some of the themes that I've picked up on that I think are going to drive the future of service forward.

Before I do that, let me tell you a little bit about me. So as I said, Sarah Nicastro, Field Service Evangelist, creator of Future of Field service. I live in Erie Pennsylvania, right on Lake Erie. It's a beautiful place this time of year, but we pay for it significantly in the winter months with some serious snow. Today is actually my wedding anniversary. I've been married to my husband, Eric, for seven years today, and we have two young boys. Evan, who turned five in June, and Ellis, who will be four in October. So they keep me very, very busy, that and work. But in my free time, when I do have some, I love to read nonfiction books. I love to travel when travel is possible and I love to spend time outside.

So, as I said, my role is running an industry resource called Future of Field Service. So Future of Field Service is published in partnership with IFS. I was asked to join the IFS family just about two years ago. Prior to that I was the publisher and editor in chief of a North American publication called Field Technologies. I had been there for about 11 years, and joined IFS late 2018 to launch Future of Field Service, which came to fruition in January of 2019.

So, what is Future of Field Service? Future of Field Service is an educational platform for any business across industries with a service focus. So even though it says field service it really is service as a whole. Our editorial philosophy, if you will, is heavily focused on sharing the voice of the community. So the vast majority of our content is derived from interviews with service leaders themselves, talking about the projects they're working on, the initiatives they're driving within their companies, the transformations they have underway, their paths to Servitization. We feel that sharing those insights from peer to peer is one of the most valuable ways for folks within the community to learn from one another.

Aston invited me here today to talk with you all about some of the macro trends that I've picked up on in my conversations with those service leaders this year. We all know that this year has been a particularly different and very challenging year for us all in a variety of ways. The way that businesses have been reacting to COVID challenges, the way that businesses have seen themselves evolving as a result of what's happening, there are some commonalities. While it is a very unfortunate situation, I do think that these three trends in particular are sort of a positive outcome of a negative situation in the sense that as we recover I think these themes are going to really drive significant progress in the industry and on the path to Servitization.

I am going to talk with you about some of the trends, three trends in particular, that I've noticed this year as I'm interviewing service leaders. I will present them at, like I said, a macro level. I'm going to share with you some quotes from some of the interviews that we've done and talk with you about some of the folks that I've had the good fortune to speak with this year. Then I'm going to invite on a panel of some of my friends who I've talked with that are service leaders themselves. I'm going to ask them to weigh in on these three themes, what they've noticed, and most importantly, how we see them driving things forward.

Let's go ahead and get started. So the first theme that I want to talk about is the theme of openness to change. So each of these themes I'm going to talk with you about today is something that could be on a continuum, okay? So some organizations were already really quite good at these things, and they've just gotten better under pressure. Other organizations that were lagging have had more of a gap to fill.

So, openness to change. So we know that change is very hard, and honestly, I would say in my 13 or so years speaking with service leaders and discussing transformation in service industries, I think that resistance to change, mismanagement of change, managing change and not prioritizing change management is one of the biggest areas that prohibits a company from transforming in the ways they would like to.

Change is hard, personally, professionally, it can be very challenging, right? And it's natural for folks to want to do things a way that they're comfortable with, that they're familiar with, right? But what we've seen as a result of COVID is far more openness to change, out of necessity really, right? So companies can't continue to do business the way they were doing business in December of last year. They need to do business differently. Employees can't continue to work the way they were working December of last year, they have to work differently. So that force has really, really opened people's minds and hearts to doing things differently than we've done. I think that while that is a challenging process, it is one that I think will have a long-term impact as businesses recover from this. So let's take a look at a couple examples.

So the first is Reihaneh Irani-Famili from National Grid, and I like what she said. So a situation like this is helping leaders across industries to build those change readiness muscles. So if we think of it as a muscle that we need to exercise, and build, and flex, that's what this situation has done for organizations and individuals alike. Companies are finding ways to be more creative than they've ever been, more agile than they've ever been, and really getting some necessary practice at doing that.

You see a quote here from Reeve Bunn, who is the president of DSL. Again, I like what he says. You get to early March, and all of a sudden you have to be laser focused. The speed at which you start to do things is quite amazing. It reminds you of what you're truly capable of. You can move a mountain pretty fast when you have to, far faster than we probably thought we could back in January. So I think this is a really good summary of what I mean here. Each of the companies that I've spoken with that I feel are reacting well to this circumstance have looked at this situation and the need to change and they've jumped at it, whether it was comfortable or not. I think that there will be a long-term effect of this as we go forward, because some of that resistance to change has diminished, because people realize they can do it, they have done it, and they can do it in different ways we need to as things continue to improve.

So that's the first theme. Moving on to the second is closeness with customers. So again, I don't say this in the sense that companies were not close with their customers before. Some were very, very good at that, particularly when we talk about Servitization. If you look at the Advanced Services Group's forces for Servitization, one of those is market pressure. It's what your customers are demanding from you. So to be good at evolving on that Servitization journey, you have to be in tune with what those customer needs are. So some folks were already really good at this, and some weren't. Some were, again, stuck doing things the way they had always done, or getting by out of a need to just get by. But this situation has really forced organizations to become closer than ever with their customers. Again, it's a time of great change, right? So what your customers needed from you late last year or early this year is completely different from what they need from you today, and the only way to stay on top of what those needs are and be able to react in an agile manner and a creative manner to meet them is to be close with those customers.

Let's take a look at a couple of quotes here. So Nicola Buckley is the executive vice president of Park Place Technologies, which is an IT services firm. She talked, we had her on the podcast, she talked a lot about how quickly and with great flexibility the company reacted to what their customers need. So this has been a difficult situation for folks from a financial perspective, and a lot of decisions have been put on hold or decisions are different than they looked a while back. Park Place Technologies has done a great job of reacting very fast to taking that into consideration and looking at from a services standpoint the contracts that they were offering. How could they change? So they introduced shorter contracts, they introduced more flexible terms. They really listened to the challenges their customers are having and they reacted quickly. She said to me that in this situation they feel that reacting in a way that puts their customers' needs first is a great way for them to build long-term loyalty and long-term relationships, which will ultimately pay off.

The next quote is we had Jamie Beck from Peloton on. They're one of the organizations, one of the industries that has actually been busier as a result of COVID. Everyone wants to move to home workouts. They have turned to field operations actually as a way to, as he says, put a strategic moat around what they're doing as a business. So they're looking at what those customer needs are. They recognize that with more bikes and more treadmills deployed in the field, they'll have a greater need for a service force. They wanted to provide that service themselves rather than relying on third-party providers. So they're, again, getting close to what those customer needs are and finding ways to scale up, in this case quickly and react adeptly.

I think that the other thing that's interesting when you talk to manufacturers is a lot of them have seen a spike in interest in service agreements. Companies wanting to do their best to extend the life of their equipment that they have because they aren't at a point where they want to make large capital investments right now. So, in a sense it's also opening customers' minds to the idea of Servitization and what service can do to benefit them. So, that's the second theme.

The final theme is recognition of the digital imperative. So again, if you think of this as a continuum there are obviously organizations as we came into this situation that were well on their digital transformation journeys and there were those that were lagging behind. I've talked with folks on both end of that spectrum, and those that were already making a lot of progress when it comes to digital transformation and embracing digital tools were A, very thankful that they had been, and B, able to build on that foundation very quickly to react to changing circumstances and how work needs to be done. Those that were lagging are working to play catch-up. They're realizing that this is something that they need to prioritize and they need to get up to speed on, because not only do they need to react to this situation, but they need to be ready to react to the next situation.

If you look at this quote here, this is from Jens at Alfa Laval. Alfa Laval had been looking into remote assistance, pre-COVID. This is another theme we hear, this acceleration of digital transformation, right? So this is something that was on Alfa Laval's radar, and it was sped up significantly as COVID hit, because the company realized that it's something that could help them immediately. But as Jens says, as this situation evolves and we begin recovery, this is a tool that will take them from business continuity to business transformation. So it's something that the organization has been able to derive immediate value from in being able to keep service consistency in this situation, but it's something that they'll evolve the use of and build on as things improve.

Similar story here from Roel at Munters. I like what he says, is one of the greatest benefits of technology is how it will equip Munters to bring its vision for Servitization to reality. So he says here, "I'm thankful for how the technology is helping us address today's challenges and excited for what the future holds." I think that is a good synopsis of how folks feel about the digital imperative. They're thankful for how it is allowing them to navigate through this crazy time, but also excited about the potential that it will bring to organizations as recovery ramps up, particularly knowing that there is that greater openness to change that I spoke about first.

So, these are the themes we're noticing, these are the macro trends that we have seen time and time again, conversation and conversation again. But what is going to come next? So I want to invite on three friends of mine who I have talked with at different points about this situation and their journeys, and I want to get their thoughts on these themes and what they've noticed related to each theme, and most importantly, what we think the future will hold.

Sarah Nicastro: So Kevin, Robin, and Larry, can you please turn your cameras on and join me now? There we go. All right, fabulous. So I'm excited for the-

Larry Blue: Hey, Sarah.

Sarah Nicastro: Hello, hello. Thank you all for being here. I'm excited to have you.

Robin Butler: Hi, Sarah.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, so to start I'm going to ask each of you to introduce yourselves. Say a bit about our organization and what the business does and your role. So Larry, I'll let you go first.

Larry Blue: All right. Great. Thanks, Sarah. My name is Larry Blue, I'm the chief executive officer for Bell and Howell. Bell and Howell is a North American automation equipment service business and value added distributor. So we do sell some equipment for some of our partners, some of our customers, and we service that equipment. So it feeds into our service business. So Sarah, thanks for having me.

Sarah Nicastro: Thank you for being here, Larry. Robin, can you go next?

Robin Butler: Sure. Good morning and afternoon. I'm Robin Butler. As of last week I am the group field service director for WaterLogic. We're a global business with direct representation in about 19 countries. We provide point of use water dispenser in office environments largely. We do have a very small consumer element too. Each of the units are relatively independent businesses with their own independent operating models. Really my role is to come in and start to create some career best practice and standardization process operations.

Robin Butler: My background though, as I said, I've only been in WaterLogic for seven days. My background is actually in the telco market, and I imagine Sarah will be talking a lot about that at least as much, if not more, than my six days experience in WaterLogic.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. Great, and Kevin.

Kevin Starr: Hi, I'm Kevin Starr. I've been with ABB 33 years. It's a automation industrial supplier of all kinds of products and services. I work in the process industry section, where we deal with paper, pulp, minerals, mining, metals, cement, food and beverage, and now data centers. So I've been involved with service, and I'm being brought in to help usher us into the digital age of service.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. Excellent. Well, thank you all for being here. I'm really excited to have you with me and to have this conversation. So before we talk about the themes, I do want to bring up the Advanced Services Group's services staircase. So this is ... I know each of you had taken a look at this because I sent it to you, and hopefully most of the folks on have as well. But this is their staircase, and I'm hoping that for context for the discussion we're about to have each of you can kind of talk a little bit about where you think your organization falls on this staircase. So Kevin, can you weigh in here first?

Kevin Starr: Yeah, sure. Actually, this falls in line very, very well with what we call our industry care service agreements, where there's four components to start. Well, we do sell parts and products, and that's a big component of our business globally. Then we get into the break and fix, we call that rapid response. When it breaks, somebody has to be there. Then we get into the performance improvement, or the lifecycle management, which is sort of in the middle tier there, where you're doing better preventive maintenance to make sure a problem doesn't happen.

Kevin Starr: Then we get into performance improvement, where we're trying to be faster at reducing first time fix. Then we get into operational excellence, where we do forecasting and predictions. We're finding that typically your digital alignment, you can do more things remotely as you get further up the ladder there.

Sarah Nicastro: That makes sense.

Kevin Starr: We're in all of those different areas.

Sarah Nicastro: Good. Larry.

Larry Blue: Thanks, Sarah. In looking at this, a lot of what Kevin just said is pretty much the same for Bell and Howell. However, I think we're more toward the guaranteeing the outcomes from our products, and we're investing right now pretty heavily into data analytics to move up to being able to guarantee the outcomes of business practices and business processes. We're not quite there yet. We're kind of spotty. We service equipment from about 60 different manufacturers who've outsourced their service requirements. So some of the machines tend to be very legacy machines, and it's a little harder to instrument them, a little harder to connect them to the internet, and therefore be able to get the kinds of remote data that you need to be able to guarantee business processes. We are doing that in some cases, where we're taking sensors, putting it onto different types of equipment and starting to move in that direction. But I would say that's where we are.

Larry Blue: We've been doing remote monitoring and repair on some of the newer types, more intelligent types of equipment for about the last four years now. So we're trying now to use that data that we're getting and being able to start looking at the business processes for our customers.

Sarah Nicastro: Excellent. Okay, and Robin.

Robin Butler: Yeah. I would say we're kind of a mix, much like the other two. I mean, essentially we're a product business. So the orange is a big part of our revenue stream, and in fact we sell indirect too. So that element of the business is solely product. The core of the business I would then say is sat in the middle with the assured maintenance. So most of our units are sold with a service contract. In many of the markets they can only be sold with a service contract, and is very much assured maintenance. So we are trying to maintain about every six months, depending on the machine, to prevent any breaks.

Robin Butler: But actually we do have one or two much higher value offerings, where the product itself is more orientated towards specific outcomes, particularly in the hotel and catering sector. I would say we're probably moving into the customer asset capability area there. So that first tier, the blue. There is talk about whether some of the markets weren't climbing up that value chain into the capability sector as well, but that is certainly a couple of steps for us on a majority of our machines.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, good. All right, so that gives everyone a little bit of context for where each of you are at. So now I want to revisit the themes that I walked us through at the beginning of the presentation, and I really just want to have an open discussion and get each of your thoughts on what have you observed within your organization and in the industry as a whole related to each of these themes. And mostly importantly, how do we feel these themes are going to impact the future of service? So, how are they going to carry us forward as this situation evolves? So we can keep this open, but I will prompt us along. So the first obviously is, as I discussed, is openness to change. So Kevin, can you start and just talk to us about how you've witness this theme and what you think that long-term impact of this will be?

Kevin Starr: Ooh, yeah. This has been a ... Well, this year especially, I think that accelerated. We've been expecting the digital revolution to hit for several years actually, and COVID really sped that up. I kind of think about this a lot, is the fear of change is sort of inversely proportional to the risk of staying. When folks could hit their targets by not changing, why would they? COVID stopped that. So the industrial revolution 4.0 is upon us. The information that's available, the assets. As Larry mentioned, we also have legacy equipment, 30, 40 year old stuff and new stuff. So the amount of information that our customers have to be able to understand is staggering. So when they used to be able to call us, say, "Hey, my system is down." Now that could mean 20 different things, which could be 20 different skillsets. So if we send in the wrong person at the wrong time with the wrong solution, it makes everybody mad. So we're realizing customers are like, "We cannot stay where we're at. Please, help us." So we're being asked to do ... I've done more digital webinars, we've introduced more digital, more remote. We've had more remote connections than we've ever had, because we can't get people to site.

Kevin Starr: We've used technology where the remote insights, where you can see through the lens, HoloLenses and all that. I mean, it's some of the stuff that we were dreaming of, even at the different conventions is actually being we have to have it now. So if you're not open to change right now, you're probably going to have a hard time staying in business.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think one of the things that I maybe didn't mention about this theme is how it is permeating businesses from top leadership all the way down to the frontline worker. So I've talked with I mentioned Alfa Laval, Munters, are a few organizations that I've interviewed since COVID hit that have deployed remote assistants, right? Remote assistants is a tool that when I was interviewing folks about it last year they were excited about it at the leadership level, but at the frontline workforce level it was a lot of, but we're not sure how to get them excited about it. They just want to keep doing things the way they've always done, right? So even at the frontline level I think this situation has ... If you can't go on site and you need a way to continue working, it's really pushed these folks to be open to these tools that a lot of times at the leadership level companies have been excited about for a while.

Larry Blue: Sarah, just to comment on that. I think the willingness to adopt these tools I also think is a generational thing. I think if you look at our workforce, we've brought in probably two, 300 new field technicians in the last three, four years. That group seems to be very open to adopting the new tools, in fact, they kind of expect it. Some of the guys that have been here a long time, and we are pretty bifurcated in our workforce, they were a little less accepting, but as they saw the power of the tools, particularly in the last six months, we've seen good uptake from that group as well.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That makes sense. Robin, what are your thoughts on this first theme?

Robin Butler: Yeah. I got two really, I think, to pick up really directly on the points Larry and you just made. You know I talk a lot about the case for change, right? You're going to land change successfully, you've got to create a compelling case. That is often difficult with the frontline in particular, but I guess what we've got now is we've got such stark choices, and many businesses are facing this horrible decision of change or disappear, and that's a threat what would've felt really distant and perhaps improbable to many people on the frontline. I think that is a much easier narrative to tell. It really is the case for many organizations, and the people on the frontline will know and believe it, and therefore be much more willing to accept those cases for change.

Robin Butler: So, I think you're right. Right to the organization there is much more openness to change. Of course because it's driving change, successful change drives a greater appetite for change. So because people are doing it and doing it quickly and landing change, that will create more kind of enthusiasm and support for change.

Robin Butler: I do wonder though whether this is a lasting change, a lasting trend, or whether it is simply a consequence of the situation we find ourselves in today. Ultimately-

Sarah Nicastro: And we'll get comfortable again.

Robin Butler: Yeah. I mean, human beings, we're kind of resistant to change, right?

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Robin Butler: So that's millions of years of evolution have led us to this point. Is a global pandemic and this rapid disruption going to change that longer term, or as you say, once we get comfortable again with these new things we've adopted, the change imperative disappears, unless there are structural changes within an organization over how it makes decisions, then I'm not sure how lasting the change will be. If it fundamentally changes the appetite for risk and how they go about making decisions, that's going to make a lasting change.

Larry Blue: Robin, just to comment on that. One of the areas that we've seen in terms of how is this going to impact the future of service is we have implemented as a result of COVID a lot more virtual training. As I mentioned earlier, we service about 60 different manufacturers' equipment and we're bringing new ones on board pretty regularly. As you bring those new pieces of equipment on board, you need to train your field staff. We had started down that path prior to the pandemic, but we have moved very quickly and pretty successfully into virtual training on many types of equipment that we're now servicing. The interesting part of that and the thing that I think will make it a standard way for us to do training is the fact that it actually increased the rate at which we could derive revenue.

Larry Blue: We recently signed a new digital printer company to a service contract, and we had to train on their equipment. We made a comparison to a prior customer in terms of the amount of time, the ramp to revenue, and we were six months faster in getting to revenue with the new customer than we were with the old customer, as a result of being able to train the field faster because we were doing it virtually.

Robin Butler: Actually, it's a good example, Larry, I think of ... I like it because it's not a direct customer orientated change, but it's a change on how you do change, and so that's likely to lead, sorry to overuse the word, lasting change for how you do change, right?

Larry Blue: Yeah.

Robin Butler: Yeah.

Larry Blue: It certainly will. It's become in fact, we're going through our budget process right now, and honestly the budget per training is changing significantly as the result of this process and this practice.

Robin Butler: Great.

Sarah Nicastro: So Robin, I think it's a really great point that you brought up. One of the things I was going to say is, I think where there is change being operationalized, I think it will be a lasting change. Where it's this sense of openness to change out of necessity, particularly at the frontline level, that I think will diminish. But one of the aspects of this that has come up in conversation after conversation that is more on the operational side is more rapid decision making, right? So organizations that used to meet on a monthly basis or a quarterly basis, they're now having to meet and make decisions weekly, daily, right? So they're putting steps in place to make that possible, obviously to have the right data that they need to have those meetings, to make those decisions. But in that, operationally, they're not only getting comfortable changing more quickly and being more agile, but they're putting systems in place to make that a longstanding impact.

Sarah Nicastro: So I think it's a good point, though. I think that there are areas of it that as we reach this next normal and people get comfortable again I think will diminish, and then there are areas that I think will stick. Go ahead.

Larry Blue: We're seeing some of that, Sarah, already. It gets to one of the other areas that became kind of interesting, and that is at our customers' sites, people are ... Here in the US masks have become a political weapon.

Larry Blue: We have a number of situations where at our customers' sites they're not mandating the wearing of masks. Part of our job as leadership of service companies is to keep our employees safe. So we've given our techs the freedom to say, "Look, I'm not going in there because I don't feel safe." So they have the ability to do that. Because people have started to believe that okay, COVID is going away in certain areas, people aren't wearing masks. So we are reverting back to that comfort factor there, but it still represents an issue for us in management to make sure that our folks understand they have the authority to walk away from a job because it's not safe. I think that part will stick. I think the masks and everything we're already starting to see what Robin was mentioning.

Sarah Nicastro: Right, yeah. There is certainly more empowerment of the workforce as well. So I want to keep progressing along, and I think actually when you talk about the first theme, openness to change, it ties in very well with the next theme, because not only are we as organizations more open to change, but customers in a lot of ways are more open to change than they have been as well, right? So again, out of necessity customers who maybe were kind of stuck with well, I don't want to change our service agreement because this is just what we've always done, or I don't want to talk about outcomes based service or Servitization because we just have this comfortable thing. There are a lot of situations that are forcing customers to think differently, want to do business differently, to view the value of service differently. So I think that first theme ties in with the second theme.

Sarah Nicastro: So let's talk a bit about what have your organizations witnessed in terms of your relationships with customers. Again, how do you think having to be closer and more creative in this time will have an impact on the future? So I don't know. Kevin, do you want to start?

Kevin Starr: Sure. Why not. I think part of the closeness is customers, and I guess to Robin's point about will it stick or not is I've always found that value sticks and cool sometimes doesn't. So how do you know if you're hitting the mark if you don't know your customer? So at the end of the day, if they don't make money, we don't make money. So we have a lot of effort going into the value of services rendered. So what if this machine doesn't start back up? Or what if it does start back up? And the difference is it's kind of amazing with all the different industries that I get to work in is with uptime or downtime avoidance, or to be able to predict a problem before we even walk into it, from do we have the right spares mix. All of that stuff has a lot to do with our customer's bottom line, and if we don't know what our customer is doing, that's very, very challenging. So our closeness with customers is that we know their process. We've been in their industries, we know the equipment, and we can help them reach their goals.

Kevin Starr: There's been a lot of that right now as their goals change this year. So we've been with them to ... Our contracts, they ask us for terms and condition adjustments, for how we change our cashflow, how we work with them on everything. But that's part of sticking with our, they're our colleagues. We're here to help them, and if they don't make money, they don't need us. So we're in this together, and feel that when we have that trusted advisor status where they know that hey, we're calling ABB, they'll help us. We're going to come out of this and we're going to even be stronger than ever. So that's that relationship, that bond with the trusted advisor and that we are genuinely interested in helping them meet or exceed their value requirements. That's becoming a bigger topic. I guess on the top end of our staircase there is more of a consultant maybe at one point, but still part of our operational excellence. It's not just enough if the equipment is on. Is it on and driving performance?

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Kevin Starr: That's where analytics come in and all that fun stuff.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. They want more than just uptime, right.

Kevin Starr: Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: Now, Kevin, you, ABB has seen an increase in service interest during this time, right?

Kevin Starr: Yes, yes.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. I think that that is in line with a lot of the folks I've talked to. They've either really ramped up on the services side, because again, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of companies aren't in a position to make capital investments. So they want to look at how can we work with you to extend the life of our equipment? How can we work with you on these different service related things? A lot of organizations have even introduced new service offerings, right? I've talked with HVAC organization that are doing air checks, and more quality stuff. I've talked with companies that have introduced safety services and things like that. So it's been an opportunity for folks that might be not doing as well on the product side to really ramp up those service offerings.

Kevin Starr: I would even say the staircase is almost is very traditional starting with a widget or an asset, or something that you can touch and then you grow into service. This year that's almost flipped upside down as we start with service, and oh, by the way, we make some good products. It's almost the opposite. Is they're looking for the long-term service provider that has a variety of solutions that can be tailored to fit, and then we also make equipment that they can continue to invest in their process.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. Larry, Robin, what are your thoughts on this theme?

Larry Blue: I agree with a lot of what Kevin said. I mean, we're finding that our customers have a more positive, I would say a more positive opinion of the services that we provide, because guys are showing up in the middle of a pandemic. We're continuing to meet our service level agreements, we're continuing to do the preventive maintenance stuff. We're moving to predictive and then to I think that consultative kind of level with what we call a prescriptive maintenance, and that requires a lot of this data that we were talking about earlier. But I think Kevin's point about service coming first, making sure that you can in fact get all the equipment, that you've got highly skilled employees that can fix it quickly, because let's face it, the cost of a lot of this new equipment is such that it's a critical piece of gear, and it's not redundant. There are no extra systems laying around for folks to get back up and running and run those particular tasks. So having that equipment as a single point of failure makes a rapid response, and with the right kind of response. Again, to Kevin's point, you got to have the right people with the right skills there at the right time. I think we're seeing that more so with our customers today because of the environment, because of COVID.

Larry Blue: Whether that's one of those temporal changes that Robin was talking about, we'll see. But certainly during this period we are seeing that.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. And Robin.

Robin Butler: Well, I think first of all this is more likely to be a lasting change than the openness to change one is, because ultimately we are social animals, right? It's in our nature generally, maybe not as individuals, but as a species to interact and be social, and want to understand each other. We're inquisitive beings. I think, I mean, specifically on closeness to customer, I've got a huge amount to add on top of what Kevin and Larry have said. I kind of agree with it all, but I would almost expand it slightly and say it's actually it's been a great time to be in field service, because it's going a bit beyond closeness with customers and probably a bit more like closeness with society as a whole. We're seeing society as a customer. We're seeing lots of people step up and start to produce products to help fight the pandemic, even though that's miles outside their core, but they've got facilities to do it. Many of us will have people who are classified as key worker status, which anyone from the UK will understand what that means. The telco and IT sector, where I've come from, that stepped up and played a key role in building these enormous kind of super hospitals and delivering the infrastructure that is helping the planet fight the pandemic.

Robin Butler: I think it's driven much more appreciation of people who do these types of jobs. The people like, I think as Larry said, you still get up every day and go into sites, while everyone else is sat working from home, sort of shielding themselves from the virus, out they are. They're out there, making sure the infrastructure works. I think that's driven personal pride of the individuals doing it, but also kind of pride from society. I think it has driven that closeness, and I certainly hope that's something that lasts and we'll start to see some benefits through kind of retention rates and the ease with which we recruit.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah, that's a really good point. I think there is not a theme in here around sort of the humanity of this all, but it has been something that's come up in conversation after conversation, both in how folks are relating to their employees and how they're relating to their customers. Just this idea that how you treat people right now is something that they're going to remember for a very long time. So from a customer perspective what that looks like, again, is to Kevin's point, if we give them what they need right now we're building a loyalty, we're building a relationship, and that's a long-term investment that will pay off. I think that companies for the most part have been very, very good at that.

Sarah Nicastro: I think related to the topic we're here to talk about today in terms of Servitization, I do think that this change in customer relationship and sort of change in how customers view service is something that I think will have a impact on the journey to Servitization going forward. Because just as simple as someone saying, "No, I'd rather buy the equipment." To, "No, I'd rather pay a monthly fee to use the equipment." I mean, just differences in that mentality right now are huge, and the realization of how important service is and the role it plays, and that trusted advisor status, and those true business partnerships. I think that that will really kind of spur this journey forward.

Robin Butler: It's really exposed the interdependencies I think between organizations and the ecosystems they exist in.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes, exactly. I think that it's going to make it so that it's not a company trying to drive a Servitization journey, versus a company meeting its customers with what they need and having it be a mutually beneficial outcome.

Larry Blue: We got a quick question here about how all of this, closeness with customers was going to impact the future of service. Speaking from a Bell and Howell perspective, we've had a lot more customers be willing to allow us to gather more data on their machines, because we can say, "Look, we may not be able to get a tech in there because of safety concerns, et cetera, but if you allow us to connect to the equipment to be able to monitor the health of that equipment, we can provide a similar level of uptime." Or lack of downtime to Kevin's point, with remote kinds of services, remote assistance. I think that has helped tremendously because if you're close to the customer and you're open with the customer, you develop that trust that Robin was talking about. As you develop that trust, they know you're not going to misuse the data. I think that's an important aspect, and certainly we're seeing that openness with certain customers that we currently have.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. That's a very good point. Okay, so I forgot to say this guys earlier, but we are going to try and take some questions from the audience. I do see that there are some. So let's get through this third theme and then we'll try and save a few minutes to answer some of the audience questions that we have. If you have one and you're listening, please go ahead and type it in now. We will get to as many as we can and I'm sure that all four of us would be happy to follow up after the session today as well.

Sarah Nicastro: So last theme, recognition of the digital imperative. So digital tools have helped us to persist through this situation and to have business continuity, and they are also what will enable a lot of the long-standing change that we're talking about. So customers want more data, customers need more solution advisor and consultative relationships, and data is how we deliver on that.

Sarah Nicastro: So let's talk about what you each have recognized in terms of the digital imperative and what we think will happen going forward.

Kevin Starr: I guess to me we're in the midst of a digital revolution. That's why they call it digital revolution 4.0. I mean, that was before COVID was coming. Sometimes you have to sit back. So, what does that mean? That means there's a paradigm shift. The way you think in the old paradigm won't work in the new paradigm, and that's where people get scared. In the old paradigm of service we could train a person to be a subject matter expert and they could handle pretty much an entire class of assets. Today, the amount of assets, functions, and processes that are in the industrial sector that our people have to know has grown exponentially. It's actually grown beyond point of singularities, going beyond what a person can know. So there's always sort of the whack-a-mole kind of in today's world is well, what's going to get hit today? And if I'm an expert on a transformer, I'm not an expert on a drive. If I'm an expert on a drive, I'm not an expert on the control system, or in HMI, or data space, or a control.

Kevin Starr: So what we're seeing is we are having cybersecurity, and IT, and OT. There's specialties now that require tremendous levels of knowledge, but they don't all break at the same time, but they all interact. That's what we're seeing, is customers are frustrated. They don't know who to hire. Well, if I hire a control guy, I don't have a cyber guy. Then we don't know if we hire a subject matter expert but they're not a generalist, that's the imperative that we're in. We've recognized that and we've shifted to a connected engineer by sort of like we call it the project Iron Man, is how do we put a platform in place that a person can plug into and automatically kind of like The Matrix, and okay, now I'm an expert on this. That can't happen with the technology that's available today. We're trying to leverage the expertise that we have globally and then bring it to the point of contact, which is our field service organization that comes in contact with the customer so that they can have that trust, and that sort of like, hey, what's your problem? I can fix it, doesn't matter what it is. You know?

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

Kevin Starr: That's what we are seeing. Is if you think you can hire one person who knows everything, you're thinking in an old manner and that's not going to work. You're going to hurt the person, you're going to hurt morale, and you're going to stagnate. So you have to think different, and this digital imperative is, what I'm seeing is if you don't think different, you're going to hurt yourself or hurt your business.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. Larry.

Larry Blue: Yeah. I was just scribbling some notes here. I mean, one of the things that ... Kevin is absolutely right. You can't hire a MacGyver that can fix everything.

Kevin Starr: That's good.

Larry Blue: Right? You just can't do it. What you have to do is you have to give your guys in the field access to those SMEs, right? The way you give them access is through artificial reality, virtual reality, the Google Glasses, those kinds of things so that you can have the SME looking over your shoulder when you're working on something that you haven't seen before, right? Or if you've seen it, you saw it in training six months ago, a year ago, or whatever, and you need a refresher.

Larry Blue: All of that is now possible with today's technology. We've implemented some of it. We've got a lot more to do.

Larry Blue: But the reality is you now have tools that are available to you, and you have bandwidth available to you and connectivity that you didn't have before to be able to create the network of experts that then can virtually parachute in to a problem. I think that's a really important way to look at this and to be able to provide the level of support customers need, right?

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. Robin, what would you add?

Robin Butler: I think the digital imperative has been there a long time, like Larry and Kevin have already said. Your terminology is spot on here. It's really COVID has emphasized and it's created recognition of both the opportunity and in fact the imperative, because I think what we've already started to see in the telecoms and technology sector in particular is, IT sector, is some organizations have already fallen behind the curve on it, and it can be very capital intensive to make the change. If they don't do it soon enough, if they do it in a reactionary way, they won't perhaps have the funding to be able to make the change, and then they're on a hiding to nowhere.

Robin Butler: I think it's important though, when this big kind of shock we've gone through, it would've driven certain types of digital adoption. I won't say innovation, because I don't think we've innovated very much, we've just adopted, which is really kind of the first point we discussed. So I think it would've changed the business case behind the adoption of some of these elements. I always talk about three threads to digitalization. One is digitizing the product that the customer interacts with, actually their product. The second is the way they interact with a service organization, things like WhatsApp or chat. Then the infrastructure that your own employees work upon. That can be digitized too, ERPs and CRMs. I think it's really important that people out there push forward on all three of those journeys in a coordinated and cohesive way. Don't just suddenly grab the product element and say, "We need to make that change now because of COVID." And forget that you can and should be making the other two at the same time, because actually I suspect you'll end up with a fragmented approach and you'll end up trying to replace an ERP many years after you introduced many of the functionalities that would've benefited from a coordinated cloud based ERP.

Robin Butler: So yeah, I think that's probably what I would add on it.

Sarah Nicastro: Awesome. Okay, so let's see if we can just move through. So these are just some key takeaways. Remember that all of this is still a "people thing," right? So people are always first, whether that's employees or customers. I think companies right now are doing a good job keeping that in mind. We talked about operationalizing, faster decision-making, and really taking this digital imperative seriously and working to either build upon the success you've achieved or catch up.

Sarah Nicastro: I'm going to hop over and see if we have time for just one or two questions. Before I do that, I just want to invite you to, if you aren't already familiar, check out what we're doing at Future of Field Service. I am very, very passionate about what I do, and giving this community a platform to learn, and connect, and collaborate, and I would love to have you check it out. So let's see if we can squeeze in just a question or two.

Sarah Nicastro: So this one, first one I'm reading is for Larry. If I understand correctly, your company services equipment from many different manufacturers. How do you get access to digital monitoring data and present that to your field technicians?

Larry Blue: Great question. I was just typing out the answer because I didn't know whether we were going to get time or not. We price our services assuming that the remote monitoring ... Again, as I mentioned earlier, and I'm getting a little ahead of myself, it does vary depending on the intelligence of the equipment. Some of the equipment just isn't connected, some of the equipment just isn't all that intelligent because it's 40 years old. The more intelligent equipment, we price our services assuming remote monitoring and remote repair, so the customer gets a better deal. We're also able then to provide some of that consultative capability so that we're able to actually make the equipment run better and save them run time. So we offer that as part of it, and generally they'll run an ROI, and as long as that you're not looking at any PII, because we all understand cybersecurity and those issues, that you're only looking at machine data. Then we're able to justify the ROI typically with the savings they get on their service as well as the additional uptime they get from the prescriptive maintenance offerings.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay. All right. Sadly, we are out of time. It bums me out because I could talk with Robin, Larry and Kevin for at least another hour or two. We didn't get to all of your questions, but rest assured we will follow up with you. Gentlemen, I appreciate you being here with me very, very much. So thank you for your time this morning and for sharing so openly your insights with myself and with our audience. To everyone that tuned in, thank you so much for spending some time with me as well. It was my pleasure, and I hope to talk with you all again soon.

Most Recent

September 21, 2020 | 6 Mins Read

Women in Service: Leading the Industry Through Change

September 21, 2020 | 6 Mins Read

Women in Service: Leading the Industry Through Change


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Last week I had the good fortune to moderate a panel discussion for the Service Council’s Virtual Smarter Service Symposium that featured the perspective of amazing women in service – Cindy  Etherington, Vice President, Dell EMC Education Services at Dell; Linda Tucci, Senior Global Director, Technical Solutions Center at Ortho Clinical Diagnostics; Dr. Marlene Kolodziej, Vice President of Centralized Services at RICOH USA; Sonya Lacore, Vice President of Inflight Operations at Southwest Airlines; and Sophia Williams, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Telecom and Technology Business Unit at NCR Corporation. Those of you that have follow me for any amount of time know how very much I love moderating event sessions and facilitating insightful conversations – I must say, this was one of my favorites. These women are all so strong and accomplished yet were open, honest, vulnerable and really engaged with one another. I am going to discuss some of the highlights that I took away from the session and I’m also going to share the panel’s responses to a question we ran out of time for but you should be sure to watch the full session as well.

One of the points I took from the conversation is to embrace who you are – find confidence in your strengths and hone your skills. This point was made as two of the women described their quite different characteristics, and we discussed the fact that there are many “right” ways to be a strong leader. I shared that I’ve often wished away some of my own characteristics, wanting instead to be “softer” in ways. The conversation reminded me how important it is to focus energy on being your best self instead of wishing you were someone different – and it was also a great illustration of how women from different backgrounds, with different personalities, and having different leadership styles can all be significantly effective and successful.

Another point I loved is that good leaders know they don’t have to have it all figured out. In fact, good leaders know it isn’t a leader’s job to know everything – holding on to the fear of admitting when you don’t have an answer or need to call on a different skill set than your own shows a level of insecurity in your own strengths. A strong leader draws on the strengths of their entire team and knows that the sum of the team’s parts is far stronger together than any one is alone.

Finally, I loved the discussion we had around the importance of vulnerability – especially given this year’s challenges. Hearing some of the stories shared on how to lead by example when it comes to being vulnerable were enlightening around the power that comes from opening up and being human. I think there’s a misconception that if you’re vulnerable you will be mistaken for being weak, but as this conversation highlighted, I think that vulnerability is a critical strength in leadership.

Advice to Your 20-Year Old Self

I could have talked to these women for hours! I hope I’ll have the chance to do so again soon. We ran out of time before I was able to get to my last question – “what advice would you give your 20-year old self?” I asked the ladies if they’d be willing to send me their answers so that I could share them with you all here (and also because I was too interested in their responses to miss out myself!).

From Sonya Lacore, Vice President of Inflight Operations at Southwest Airlines:

  • Don’t be so overly ambitious to make “getting there” or promoting your primary goal. Instead, the goal should be to love what you do, do it to the best of your ability and promotions will be the natural progression of your hard work and determination. Maya Angelou says, “Pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”
  • You can have it all – you may just not be able to have it all “right now.” There are seasons in your life – so be careful not to miss them. As a parent, spouse, sibling or friend, there will be seasons that your desire or focus will require heavier engagement for periods of time and that’s okay. Just enjoy those moments and don’t overlook the value of those. Remember, at the end of your life, no one ever says they wish they had worked more or had more promotions – it’s always about family and friends instead. It’s a marathon, not a race and there is always plenty of time to achieve your goals. Timing is everything. Pauses are okay.
  • Never measure your success to the success of others. Everyone is different – take time to discover who you are and then use those talents and strengths to make a difference, not only in your work or family, but in society in general. That is true success.
  • Listen more and talk less. You rarely learn by talking!

From Dr. Marlene Kolodziej, Vice President of Centralized Services at RICOH USA:  

  • Don’t expect to always “know” what you are doing or how to do it. It’s okay to ASK for help.
  • DO spend time to understand “office politics.” Not necessarily play the game, but be cognizant of the environment and the players, and participate wisely, if you choose. It’s not a waste of time, but a way to navigate the environment to get work done.
  • Develop relationships outside of your immediate organization, and not only with peers, superiors, subordinates. Be sure to make time cultivating relationships throughout the company and business and use that information to be a partner in their success (and in turn, yours).
  • Don’t equate the number of hours you work with your level of success or effort. Be sure you have a social life and room for family and friends. Respect the concept that time is money.
  • Seek mentors and provide mentorship. Be sure to learn everything you can from those who came before you and be sure to pass along your knowledge to those who follow.
  • While you don’t want to worry too much about what others “think” about you, be sure you know your brand and the perception of your corporate value.
  • Be sure you and your work are respected. This is not a popularity contest so don’t be too concerned with being “liked” or being “nice.” If you are respectful, kind, considerate, operate with integrity, and your work is valued, solid, and needed, you will be more than “liked” or considered “nice” and adequately rewarded.
  • Speaking of rewarded…KNOW your value to the company and to the people you work with and expect to be compensated appropriately.

From Linda Tucci, Senior Global Director, Technical Solutions Center at Ortho Clinical Diagnostics:

  • Stop saying you’re sorry!
  • Stay true to your core values. Live with conviction and don’t compromise!
  • Stop thinking so much – get out of your head and live from the heart.
  • Travel more for fun not just work, spend more time with family.
  • Surround yourself with positive, like-minded people who will help you grow.
  • Sometimes the best lessons are learned through our failures so take the time to learn from each experience.

From Sophia Williams, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Telecom and Technology Business Unit at NCR Corporation:

  • Find a career that lets you do what you love. Life is too precious to do anything else with the majority of your waking hours. Time is the one resource you can’t replace – once it’s gone, it’s gone. So, make sure your time is well spent on something worthy of this investment.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. And, remember that just about everything, in the overall scheme of things, is truly small stuff.
  • Be fearless – but not reckless or arrogant. Know your stuff better than anyone else. Then move forward and execute with confidence.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Have fun!

From Cindy Etherington, Vice President, Dell EMC Education Services at Dell:

  • Be deliberate about cultivating your professional and personal network.
  • Continuously identify and build relationships with people who inspire you and who you aspire to emulate.
  • Balance your network with coaches, mentors and sponsors. Developing a treasured and valuable network takes time and effort. Dedicate time every month and hold yourself accountable to specific actions to sustain a healthy network.

Most Recent

September 18, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

Back to Basics: The Building Blocks of Customer Experience Excellence

September 18, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

Back to Basics: The Building Blocks of Customer Experience Excellence


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:

We’ve spent the last two articles discussing the general service delivery capabilities, as well as the underpinnings of operations that define excellent service. What’s left is the back office—the glue that holds your field operations together—and how those functions are defined, utilized, and changing.

Frankly, this is not a topic we talk about a lot on Future of Field Service. We remain so fixated on the field operations (some of us have claimed that dispatch activities may cease to exist in a few years) that it’s easy to overlook the importance of centralized operations. But discounting the importance of this area of your service business is not a winnable strategy.

So as we have done previously, let’s make a short list of the key capabilities that make up customer experience systems:

Before we dig into this list in any detail, let’s think of the contact center in the low-fi world before digital systems: You need an appointment, you call an office, a worker schedules an appointment. Or some variant of this. Many businesses still work this way in some part. Were I to call up my oil company, I’d talk to the one receptionist who would dispatch one of their half-dozen trucks.

But that’s not all that they do. I’m on an automatic refill plan, which means I’m in their system. Which means when I call, and my number appears, they have a delivery history for me, and my payment info on file. Which saves me having to read my credit information over the phone, or them having to deliver me an invoice, and helps to mitigate negligent payments. Plus, with their customer service CRM, I can log on and see all my delivery history and usage information.

This is a simple example, but it shows the way that extremely low-impact customer experience utilities can provide utilities and service changes that really move the needle for customers. This was a comparatively light lift—some telephone enhancements (“Ok Mr. X, I see you had work completed on your boiler in December of last year…”), and a solid customer management system, and it goes a long way.

For a small shop like in the above example, there might not be the need to employ chatbots, or remote assistance, but for enterprise organizations, B2B, and servicers of large machinery, these tools can really make the difference.

As has been our refrain throughout this series, not all capabilities are created equally. The biggest issue that I see with customer experience utilities, because shovelware is a dime a dozen, in service is when organizations employ boilerplate solutions that don’t actually understand service operations. When that happens, a huge amount of customization needs to go into the product to get it where it needs to be. And if it’s not specific enough, not only does it not provide any value, it is easy for staff to overlook or ignore.

There are certainly some subtopics worth delving into in the CX space, and I’d expect to see more content coming down the pipeline on that in the weeks and months ahead. Next in this series, though, we’re going to take a step back from the key capabilities of service management and look at the stages of service software implementation, starting with a fresh installation of a brand new utility.

Most Recent

September 16, 2020 | 30 Mins Read

Cisco Adapts to CX Trends

September 16, 2020 | 30 Mins Read

Cisco Adapts to CX Trends


Sae Kwon, VP of Customer Experience at Cisco, talks with Sarah about the changes in customer expectations he’s taken note of across his 24 years at Cisco and how the company has adapted to meet some of the most recent needs to deliver an exceptional customer experience.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. I'm excited to welcome to the podcast today, Sae Kwon, Vice President of Customer Experience at Cisco. Today, we're going to be talking a bit about some of the trends that Sae has recognized related to customer experience and how he and his team at Cisco are adapting to meet and exceed with the new and evolving circumstances. Sae, welcome to the podcast. Thanks so much for being here.

Sae Kwon: Hi Sarah, thanks for the opportunity to be here with you.

Sarah Nicastro: Happy to have you. It is my Thursday night and Sae's Friday morning, so I was just telling him before we went live that I'm jealous that he's a little bit closer to the weekend than I am. So, Sae before-

Sae Kwon: Happy Friday.

Sarah Nicastro: Happy Friday, Yeah. All right. So before we dig into the topic, tell us first a little bit about yourself and your history with Cisco.

Sae Kwon: Okay. So I grew up in Sydney, Australia, and I went to The University of Sydney and studied computer science there. And I joined another company before Cisco as a programmer, software programmer, spent a few years there and then I joined Cisco. When I joined Cisco, it was 1996 as a call center agent in the technical assistance center. And when I joined, I thought about what can I do to get ahead in a company like Cisco? And I looked around and there was a certification called CCIE, Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert. And I did that and then I became an engineer in the technical assistance center and then I had the most amazing career in Cisco over the 24 years, which I can go into more detail if you want.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And you and I when we spoke before, we talked about how great it's been for you having been with the company for that long but never having gotten bored or feeling really the need to go anywhere else, because you've been able to do a lot of different things and continue learning and growing and expanding your skillset and having a lot of new experiences. Feel free to tell us a bit more, I would love to hear it.

Sae Kwon: Yeah. So I'll give a short summary first and then I'll go into a bit more detail, but in a short summary, 24 years, I probably didn't have the same role for more than two or three years at a time, so every two or three years my role was changing, also I had the opportunity to work across four different countries in roles that were country leadership role or regional leadership role. So it's just been really exciting, a lot of opportunities were there, whether it's moving to another country or doing a different role. One of the first big opportunity I had was in year 2000. That's when Korea was going through an internet boom at that time. The government was really encouraging the service providers there to roll out high speed internet in Korea, so our business was doing very well over there and we needed to set up a Korean Technical Assistance Center in Korea.

Sae Kwon: So Cisco asked me to go to Korea and set that up, and that was a huge opportunity for me because until then I was an engineer. That's when I had the opportunity to build a business. It sort of felt like a venture within a company, venture company within a company because I had the opportunity to build a business plan, put the processes in, hire people and set up the Technical Assistance Center in Korea. So I did that and I spent about four years in Korea just making sure that the whole Technical Assistance Center was settled in and then I passed it on to a local manager and came back to Sydney.

Sae Kwon: Then spent six years in Sydney doing various regional roles, like Focused Technical Support which is a premium service for the top customers where we have dedicated engineers and operations managers to support them. And then 2010, I had the opportunity to go to Japan and lead the technical services in Japan, which was another huge opportunity, I never imagined I'd work in Japan because I don't speak Japanese, I don't have any ties or any background there, but went there, had a great time. Really big business in Japan as you can imagine, and the people there were fantastic, so I spent about two and a half years there, excuse me, really enjoyed working there, helped grow the business, was involved with some of the recovery efforts during the big Japan earthquake as well, which was really good to give back. And then, came back to Sydney.

Sae Kwon: At that time I did something called service enablement, which is sort of like a business development role, but really focused on new services. So whenever we would launch a new service, this team would go in there, build a plan on how do we enable sales? How do we accelerate? And just get the ball rolling and then once the business is up and running, then the sales teams take over.

Sae Kwon: And then I had the opportunity to lead the Technical Services for APJC, that's when I moved to Singapore about three years ago. And then about two years ago we went through a huge transformation in Cisco, from Cisco Services to Customer Experience. That's when we realized that we can't just have reactive services, we needed to be thinking about the whole life cycle of the customer's journey, right from the presales to design implementation, onboarding adopt, and to support and then to renewal as well, because we wanted to make sure that we were helping the customer all along their life cycle as they used their solutions. That's where I am now. But it's been a really exciting 24 years.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think it's really cool that you've been able to spend that much time with Cisco and always feel challenged and feel satisfied and fulfilled, I mean, it speaks to when you have a good gig, right? Just hang onto it and keep having those great experiences, I also always think it's interesting when I speak with someone who's in a customer experience role that has had a long tenure with a company, because I think it gives you a unique perspective of how customer needs and expectations have evolved over time. And for someone like yourself who has worked in different regions of the business, different areas of the business, it gives you a unique perspective on some of the ideas of how Cisco can adapt to meet those needs. So, very cool.

Sarah Nicastro: So let's talk a little bit about that. When you and I connected previously, we talked about Cisco's journey toward being a more solution centric business, right? Which is a journey that a vast majority of companies are somewhere on. And you mentioned the customer journey, so I know, we talked a bit about how you at Cisco over the last little while have noticed some areas in the customer journey that you needed to evolve to meet some new demands. So I know that you've kind of restructured the business a bit to meet those, tell our listeners a little bit about the evolution of what the customers are needing from you and how you're adapting to meet those needs.

Sae Kwon: Yeah. So, if I go back to when I started with Cisco, 24 years ago, we were basically selling hardware boxes, right? With software on there, but it was being sold as a hardware product on its own, and services attached to that. And then we realized that customers were not buying just that box, they were buying a solution essentially, it's many boxes connected together, but it's a solution. So, I can't remember the exact time, but it was in the 2000s, that's when we introduced what we called Solution Support, because we had many different types of products that made up a solution, and the customers sometimes were getting very confused in terms of, okay, where is the problem lying when they had an issue, right?

Sae Kwon: So we introduced Solution Support where we said, Hey, Mr. Customer, you don't have to worry about where the problem is, just call us when you see the problem, we will do that searching for you and find out where it is and hide that complexity for you. So that's one of the evolutions we had in the early stages.

Sae Kwon: The other one was, I talked about the focus technical support before, the premium level services where we have dedicated engineers and operations managers. That's another one that we introduced in the 2000s because we realized again, that when the customer calls us, we spend a lot of time just trying to understand the customer's network environment, the IT environment, but when you have a dedicated engineer and operations manager that already understands the customer's environment, when a problem occurs that troubleshooting and finding that root cause and the resolution becomes so much faster.

Sae Kwon: So that's another one and also I'm going to talk about it a bit more later, but services, although it's about technology, at the end of the day it's all about people, and having dedicated people that not only knows your infrastructure but has a relationship with you as a person, is also really good. Because when you don't know the person and you're in a network down situation, you're under pressure, I'm talking from a customer perspective, under pressure from your bosses, things can get really heated. But when you have someone you can trust in Cisco that you know that, He knows my environment, that's when you can have a much much more productive and constructive discussions and troubleshooting so that you can find the resolution faster.

Sae Kwon: So I think that was a really good service that the customers liked. So that was in the early stages, and then we looked at all the intellectual property that we had collected over the few decades of service that we were providing to our customers. And we realized that a lot of the basic questions were repeated over and over again. So we put that online and made it possible for the customers to do self service, that made it possible for us to focus engineers onto the most complex issues, for the simpler repeatable issues, customers can come in and just get the answers through self service online, and which it allows us to provide a more cost effective service, but also allowed us to focus our top engineers onto the complex issues that the customers really needed the attention on.

Sae Kwon: So that's the other evolution that we did, and then we also looked at analyzing and using those intellectual property and using analytics to start to see how we can predict issues from reccurring, because we realized that there were patterns, there's certain patterns in the network were occurring before an issue would occur. So using those patterns, we used to call them digital signatures, using those patterns we could start to tell the customers that, "Hey, Mr. Customer, if you see these patterns in your network, you may be hitting this problem. So let's take an action to avoid that." So we can start to help our customers to avoid problems from occurring because fast troubleshooting is good but when the trouble doesn't occur it's even better.

Sae Kwon: So that was the other thing that we were doing. So we were going through that evolution and then the most recent transformation that we did that I talked about two years ago, is when we thought, okay, it's not just about the problem, it's not just about troubleshooting or avoiding the problem. We have to start right from when the customer purchases a solution. We have to help them design it well and we had professional services team that did the design.

Sae Kwon: We already had that, but we didn't have anyone that really helped the customers to onboard the solution into their business and build a plan on how to adopt and consume that within their business. These customers would have had a business requirement and that's the reason why they bought our solution for a certain outcome that they were thinking about, but we were not in there helping them, we were leaving it to the customers.

Sae Kwon: And that's the transformation that we did two years ago when we moved from Cisco Services to customer experience, was to bring professional services and technical services, which we already had but they were in siloed departments, bring them together and then create what we call customer success, where we had the onboarding and adoption capabilities.

Sae Kwon: And we're starting to see some really good outcomes and customers are starting to give us some really good feedback both verbally as well as from a business standpoint as well, so we can see some really good early signs.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And I think it's such an important thing to talk about in terms of a few aspects, I mean, one is examining that customer journey often enough and carefully enough to recognize where those gaps exist. I think it sounds very simple but companies get just in the day to day and they don't always think to do that or take the time or resources to do that and to your point, you have the professional services team on the front end and you had technical services there to help them in a later stage, but there was this big gap in between that was a fantastic opportunity for Cisco as a business to tackle and then also a fantastic opportunity for you to endear yourself to your customers because you're fulfilling a very valid need that they have.

Sarah Nicastro: The other point that I think is important to touch on is, as you mentioned, the need, when you look at the customer journey and when you look at customer experience, to break down some of those silos. I mean I'm sure the professional service team was doing a fantastic job and I'm sure the technical services team was doing a fantastic job, but if you don't have a function looking at that bigger picture and really looking at it from that customer perspective of where those gaps are and how to fill them, you can have a siloed operation where everyone's doing a great job, but it's still not creating a consistent, seamless customer experience. So, I think that's really interesting.

Sarah Nicastro: So as you've been on this journey, in identifying these needs and working as a business to pivot and adapt to restructure to be able to meet them, are there any lessons you've learned or tips you would share for other organizations that are kind of doing this work of exploring the customer journey, looking for opportunities to provide new and different services, that sort of thing.

Sae Kwon: Yeah, definitely. I think one of the things that come to my mind is timing, because we had professional services and technical services and they were both very successful businesses on their own. It was a separate organization, but very successful businesses, but we could see in the longer term that we needed that customer success function as well and we needed to bring the teams together. It was a very difficult decision but we needed to make it at the time and we couldn't afford to wait until these businesses started to slow down. So, but as you can imagine at that time, when you have three successful large businesses, it's hard to make that decision to disrupt, because you're disrupting a lot of people, a lot of organizations and I think I once described it as, we put everything into a box, shook it, turned it upside down and then put it down and then we started from there, it sort of felt that way at the time.

Sae Kwon: But having that courage to disrupt early on, I think is really important. It can be very risky and scary, but if you do that, then you have a really strong business sort of slowing down, plateauing but if you make that transformation at the right time, then you can go through that growth curve again, I think. So the timing is so important, and having the courage to disrupt earlier is really important. And then it's all about people, you change management, because in a services businesses our most important asset in a services business is people.

Sae Kwon: So we want to make sure that we talk about the why, why are we doing this? So that people will buy into it. And it takes time, some people buy into it faster, some people buy into it later, but it takes time and we need to take everyone through the change journey, and then bring them along through that journey. So I think those two are probably the main things, there's a lot of other things that you've got to be thinking about, Timing and change management, just making sure that you bring the people along.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I think the timing point, I really like, because I often say you can't just stay with the status quo. Right. But I think that sometimes there's an interpretation of status quo as average. Right. And in this case, the status quo was really good. Right, and the status quo was going very well. So to your point, it becomes even more difficult to decide to disrupt that status quo because it's working well. Right. But if you recognize this opportunity for it to work even better, to your point, you need to move when the time is right, to realize the full value from doing that. So I think that's a really important point. So as you've been on this journey of the last few years with the new customer success function and your role with customer experience, there's a number of trends that have surfaced that you've realized and are working around.

Sarah Nicastro: The first is, we had a discussion and it relates to the introduction of customer success because it's basically the idea of customers wanting outcomes, they don't necessarily want a product or a service, they want peace of mind, they want business partners, solution providers. So, tell us a little bit more about what you've seen as it relates to customers, demanding outcomes.

Sae Kwon: Yeah. We've seen a trend where we... I think probably about up to about 10 years ago, we were talking mainly to IT departments and selling to them. So we were mainly doing technology selling faster, easier to use, easier to operate technology selling. But the trend we saw since that is the business owners, so that business function is not the IT departments, business functions and business owners were looking for solutions, whether to adopt within the organization or to adopt the technology solution that could help them to differentiate against their competitors. Right.

Sae Kwon: So, banking is a great example. I think banking has gone through, during the last decade, they've gone through a huge transformation, right? Where in the past they used to have branches with people everywhere, a lot of the banks have many less branches now, and it's a lot of online banking and they enhancing that all the time, right? Even the branches have become very digitized, usually when you walk into the branches. So you can see that sort of transformation, so we're now starting to talk to people that are not necessarily IT people they're business people.

Sae Kwon: So they look for a certain outcome or a business solution, and we have to package our solutions in that way for them. Yeah. So that's from a product and services perspective and then... hardware and software perspective. And then from a services perspective, we have to do the same because the company is moving in that direction, solution selling, so that's why we have to introduce solution support and make sure that we're not leaving the customers to go through the complexity, we want to hide the complexity, let the customers, allow them to focus on their business.

Sae Kwon: So that's one area, and then the other area that we see in terms of changing how the customers want to work with us is how they want to buy? In the past they wanted to buy and own, but we're seeing more and more customers not wanting to buy and own it, but they want to buy and pay as they go, or pay as they use. So that's the other model that we call a subscription model, and that's the other model that we see becoming more and more popular amongst the customers, because they have budget constraints, they don't want to spend a large amount of capital upfront, they want to be able to stagger that. So that's the other trend that we've seen in terms of change?

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I think that makes sense. And I often say, I mean, the future of service, I think, is learning how to master all of this complexity to present simplicity. I mean, that's what customers want, and I think that there is so much complexity on the backend for a company to deliver seamless, simple service and customer experience. But getting good at that is really, you know what needs to happen.

Sae Kwon: So if I can jump in, I mean, in terms of outcomes and solutions, I think last nine months has been really interesting, because of COVID-19, and those required some solutions that we never thought about before, like remote workforce, working from home solutions, yeah, secure connectivity, and now the solutions that customers asking for is returned to the office solutions. So those type of solutions. So, it's not technology solutions anymore, I mean, it's made up of technology, but solutions are real business outcomes that the customers are looking for now.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. Yes. And I think that's another good point, I was talking to a company a couple of months ago and he was kind of venting and saying I'm just really frustrated, because we've deployed IOT and no one's buying it. And I said, well, I mean, have you thought about that because your customers don't care if you're using IOT. I mean, that doesn't matter to them, they care about what pain of theirs that can solve, so it's interesting when you really dig into how this world is evolving, and the level of complexity companies have to take on to evolve and be successful, because it isn't just technology, it's how you sell, it's how you market, it's how you're operationally structured. You know what I mean?

Sarah Nicastro: There's so many different aspects of it, I find it really interesting and exciting, which is why I love what I do, but it's a lot of hard work to keep up with the way things are changing and what customers are demanding. So you've mentioned a couple of times since we've been speaking today, that one of probably arguably the most important ingredient to all of this is people, right? So to your point, you can have this great vision, if you don't have change management, it's going nowhere, you can have the best technology, if people aren't on board, it's not going to help, right? So, we know that people are absolutely imperative to companies accomplishing this mission and being able to deliver the customer experience you want.

Sarah Nicastro: And one of the questions that comes up a lot right now is around the issue of recruiting and hiring and retaining good talent, because not only is it important, but it's increasingly difficult to come by. So tell us a bit about your thoughts on people as it relates to customer experience and how Cisco is tackling the whole hiring, developing, and retaining of good talent.

Sae Kwon: Yeah. So I start with hiring, I think our hiring processes have evolved over time as well, and at the moment, really focusing on making sure that we bring in, we tap into the diverse diversity, because let's look at gender diversity for example, we don't have that many female IT engineers, they are very few, which means we're missing out on half the world's talent, right? So it's just making sure that we tap into and can bring in the whole talent, whether it's gender diversity or whether it's cultural diversity. So what we're doing at the moment is trying something called blind interviews, right. Just not knowing what the background or any of the other, just looking at the skills and experience and so forth, and that's working out really well and that's helping for us to hire and tap into the much more diverse workforce and then bring them in which has been working really well.

Sae Kwon: And then I think once we bring people into the company, I think what we need to do is we need to create an environment where you're not working like a robot, because one of the challenges that we had in that 10, 15 years ago in the early times when I joined is technical assistance center can easily be seen as a call center. But engineers don't like working in a call center, they want to be innovating, they want to be troubleshooting, they want to be creative, they want to be empowered.

Sae Kwon: So trying to create that environment where the engineers feel like they're coming in, they're growing, they're innovating, that's really important, but they still need to pick up the phone and talk to the customer and help the customer, but in an environment where it doesn't feel like a call center, it feels like a place where they're innovating and they're really empowered to make decisions. So that's the other area that we try to really create, so that technical assistants and the engineers don't feel like a call center agent and working off scripts, but they're really empowered to support the customers. Of course there are processes and tools and trainings that we provide to our engineers because we also need to make sure that the experience that our customers have with their technical assistance center is consistent.

Sae Kwon: We can't have inconsistent levels of, in the early days we used to have that customer would talk to engineer A, have a great experience, talk to engineer B, not so great experience. So we wanted to make sure that we sort of make that more consistent through trainings, and soft skills trainings and things like that. But you can still provide a consistent experience but also provide an environment where engineers are feeling like they innovating and they empowered.

Sae Kwon: And then the other one is I think, fun, I think just making sure that people are having fun as they come in is also important. I mean, some people may say it doesn't work, doesn't have to be fun, you can have fun outside. But if work can be fun, it's so much more better. So creating that environment where people can come in and enjoy each other's company, work hard but also have fun I think that's so important. So creating that sort of environment through, it's not always just fun events. I think it's the culture that the company creates, the culture that the managers creates for their teams. It's also really important for the engineers to come in and feel like they're being valued and they're enjoying, when they come in.

Sae Kwon: And then the other one is just creating a lot of different growth opportunities, like I've personally gone through. Making sure that if you want it, there are many different opportunities there. And Cisco is one of the companies that's a global company, luckily we can provide a lot of different opportunities, whether it's a different function, different city, different country, depending on what people want to do, what they want to work towards, of course you don't just get it, you have to work towards it, but if you want to work towards it, there are many opportunities to do other things. So I think all of those things come together to provide that environment where once people come in, they don't necessarily want to leave because everything is provided here.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I think that's a really good point and like you've said, you're a good testament of Cisco's ability to create that environment that people want to stay in. So I think that's really good. I've written a few articles in my time talking about the correlation between employee engagement and employee satisfaction and the customer experience. So it's, I think sometimes when companies go down the customer experience path, they can do so at the cost of also focusing on the the employee experience and what do their employees need, and it is really important to consider how big of a piece of the puzzle it is because you can't rely on disconnected unhappy people to deliver this amazing experience to your customers-

Sae Kwon: I think that's a really good point because when I was working in the technical assistance center and managing the team there, you sometimes think that customers, because you're on the phone, you're not seeing each other, customers may not know how that engineer is feeling, but they know. If their engineer is empowered, is passionate, he's happy, they know. If their engineer is not happy, they know as well. So making sure that engineers are really motivated, really empowered, happy is so important.

Sarah Nicastro: And to your point, yes, that comes through. If you can create an environment, like you said, yes, you want to have standards and you want to have expectations, but then give these people the freedom to be themselves a bit and to be engaged and that's what makes them committed and into what they're doing and that 1000% comes through. So I think that's a really good point. I want to talk a little bit about some of the trends you've seen related to how different technologies play a role in the customer experience. So we've touched on a few, but let's go back through and just talk a bit. So we talked about an increase in acceptance of remote support as well as self service.

Sarah Nicastro: So tell us a little bit what you're seeing related to maybe a change in perception from the customer side of the value of those tools and how it can benefit them.

Sae Kwon: Yeah. So the benefit of self service is you don't have to wait in the phone queue, you can just go in, search for solutions and the solutions are there. And I think as the younger generations' coming to the workforce, they're more used to that type of online activity, so I think that that really suits them really well. So self service is becoming bigger and bigger and that really helps us to run a much much more efficient operations, because we can solve a bulk of the customer queries through self service, online self service. Remote delivery, that's also really important because in the past everyone wanted to do things face to face. Everyone said, Come on site, meet me face to face. But with some of the tools that we have, in Cisco we have our Cisco WebEx tool, which is a similar one to what we're using now and we use that to have meetings with our customers, discussion, whiteboarding, troubleshooting, sharing information, all of that can occur through there.

Sae Kwon: And especially during the COVID-19 situation, when no one could travel, this has become a huge opportunity for us to demonstrate the capabilities of these tools that we had. And again, it allows us to be more efficient, provide a better ROI to the customer as well. And the other thing that it does is also if you focus on onsite and face-to-face delivery, or face-to-face engagements, you can only tap into your local resources. But Cisco being a global company, we have experts all over the place, and when we have the remote capability, now we can start to bring in the best talent from all around the world for that customer. So I think that's the other opportunity that this brings up. You can tap into the top talent everywhere, anywhere.

Sae Kwon: Of course you have to watch the time zones, but that's the other big advantage that it opens up that I see.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I'm a people person and I really miss face-to-face events and all of that, but I do absolutely agree that this situation has kind of forced folks to realize how much can be done remotely, and so there's certainly a time and place for seeing people in person and all of that, but it is interesting how there's a little, well, not a little bit, a lot more openness to some of these things than there was just a very short time ago.

Sae Kwon: I don't think technology, no matter how good the video conferencing technology is, I don't think will ever a 100% replace face-to-face, I think humans need that human interaction. That's always going to be there, but I think, like the self service has played a role in making us more efficient, I think this will do that as well. And we will be able to provide a much better service using these tools, but it will never replace 100% face-to-face.

Sarah Nicastro: When you were talking about self service, I was thinking, it's such a delicate balance to get right, I mean the role you're in and just the jobs that play a part in that customer experience. You want to make them feel empowered to solve problems on their own when they want to, but boy, when they want to talk to someone, someone needs to, I mean it's just I'm thinking of, I don't want to name any names because that's not nice, but I'm thinking of a service experience I had not too long ago where I had an issue and no matter how frustrated you are, you can't get someone on the phone. And while I would rather do self service, if it gets to that point and then you don't have the help you need, it's just incredibly frustrating. So it's a big puzzle of making sure that, whatever your customer wants, however they want to interact and whatever those preferences are, you're there to meet those needs.

Sae Kwon: Yeah, I think the key is giving customers a choice on how they want to interact with us, and whatever method they choose, we need to be there ready. Just because we have self service option, it doesn't mean that we can start to neglect the phone calls, right? We need to make sure that if the customer want to call us, we're there picking up the phones quickly and we are responding back to them quickly. We need to make sure, and we continue to look at time to pick up and time to respond, stats, so that we can ensure that we have enough people there to support those customers, but they need to call us as well. So, that's the balance that... So important that balance.

Sarah Nicastro: Like you said, it's taking on all of that complexity so that when a customer wants to self serve or they want to call or whatever, someone's there. But when you think about what's going on in the back end, it's pretty impressive. So I also wanted to talk a little bit about... You had talked about Cisco's move toward predictive service, and all of the data you have at this point and being able to notice those patterns and start to work with customers to predict some of the issues you know will likely arise. How do you see your use of artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data? How do you see that expanding in the coming couple of years?

Sae Kwon: I think that's going to... I think the word I would use would be that's going to explode. I think that's going to be a huge opportunity to leverage AI and intellectual property and the data that we have and combined that together, it's going to be so powerful. And it's again similar to self service and remote, this is going to be another tool that's going to help us to provide our customers with much, much better solution, much, much more consistent, data-based support that our customers are looking for, reliable support that our customers are looking for.

Sae Kwon: Similar to self service and remote support, I don't think AI will ever 100% displace people, because people are always going to be at the core, because once the automation or AI comes in and comes up with a solution, there's got to be some people that sort of goes through that and analyzes that and makes that relevant for their customer because, every customer is a little bit different, the environment depending on what country they're in, what business vertical they're in and what market their customer bases are, they're all very different. So there's always got to be the people there. And customers always want to have the choice of being able talk to people as well as we just talked about so... But I think AI part is going to explode it and it's going to be a huge opportunity for us and for our customers as well.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, when you start thinking about... When you draw the parallels between outcomes based service and predictive analytics, I mean, there is no better outcome than a customer just having peace of mind that their systems are going to continue working. Right? So, I mean, it's sort of the ultimate outcome, so the more capable companies can get in leveraging that data they have to really analyze where those failure points often are and really get ahead of those things. It's making strides and delivering the best possible outcomes that people are going to be willing to pay for.

Sae Kwon: Yeah. And it's going to be so much more important because, technology is becoming more and more complex, although, on the surface, when you use it, it's making life so much easier or making businesses so much more competitive, they can differentiate but, at the back end, how the technology comes together is so complex. And you need to make sure that you have the right people to be able to put that together but, having AI, having all the different tools to help go through the complexity is going to be really important as well. Because these days, when you look at one solution, it's not just one technology, there could be the network that needs to be put together, and then there's got to be security and then there's got to be some data center ability and then there's got to be virtualization ability and then there's got to be collaboration, video conferencing, they need to come together to form a solution that provides that business outcome for the customer, right?

Sae Kwon: And it's going to get even more complex as we go, because these things will probably, even the customer solutions will have things like AI and automation that come in and start to bring all these different technologies together. So, I sometimes feel a little bit sorry for our engineers because, when we go to... When I used to troubleshoot, there were maybe two or three products in a solution. Now when an engineer's going to troubleshoot there's many, many different products, and they need to understand that. And it's not easy for one or two engineers to understand everything. So they need to work together, and when you can have things like AI and automation tools come in and help our engineers, it makes it so much better. So, complexity is another reason why AI is going to be so important and automation is going to be so important.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. To your point, it frees them up to work on the things that... If you can automate some of the more simple things, it frees them up to work on the things that their expertise really is needed for. So last question Sae is, what's the biggest lesson you as a customer experience leader have learned, that you think others could benefit from hearing?

Sae Kwon: The first one is listening to customers. That's where everything starts from, right? We need to continue to talk to customers and listen to them because things are always changing, the requirements are always changing and you need to be able to move with that, that will be the number one thing. And then number two would be look after your people, make sure that you hire the best people, train them and retain them and help them to grow within the company, because motivated employees will look after your customers, right? So that's so important. And then third one would be, continue to disrupt, and it's not always easy, especially when you have a very successful business. Right? But you have to continue to disrupt, especially in the technology area that I work in.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I love that. I love that you spoke earlier about timing and having the courage to take those chances, I think that's a really good message for folks. And certainly, I think there's a lot of organizations that have really good intentions on customer experience, but they start to go down these paths on a lot of assumptions, versus actually talking to the customers and not only talking to them, but listening and really hearing what they're saying. So it sounds like customer experience, listen to your customers, it should automatically go together, but unfortunately that is not always the case and it is imperative, and of course we talked about how critically important people are in making this all happen. So very good advice, very good insights Sae, I really appreciate you being here with us today.

Sae Kwon: Thank you. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Sarah Nicastro: It was great, thank you. For more content, be sure to check us out at You can also find us on LinkedIn, as well as Twitter at The Future of FS. The future of field service podcast is published in partnership with IFS, you can learn more about IFS service management by visiting As always, thank you for listening.

Most Recent

September 14, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

Is Parts Management the Missing Ingredient in Your Recipe for Service Optimization Success?

September 14, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

Is Parts Management the Missing Ingredient in Your Recipe for Service Optimization Success?


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

I have a confession: I don’t write about parts management much because it isn’t exciting to me. I was a Psychology major in college and I just incline for many reasons to the “people” stuff. Leadership effectiveness, change management, sales and service strategy, innovation and transformation? Love it. Parts management? Meh. Why am I telling you this? Because it’s a shortcoming I’m owning up to – and also because it isn’t just me that is underdiscussing this topic. In a webinar I hosted recently we talked about how parts management is one of the most underemphasized aspects of service delivery. Everyone tends to think worrying about parts is “someone else’s job” and therefore it can get overlooked and underprioritized which inevitably unravels a company’s progress when it comes to all of the topics I listed that I do love discussing.

Further, we are entering a time where parts management will become more critical than ever. As recovery from COVID-19 ramps up and demand increases, the pressure that puts on service organizations will be infinitely amplified if there isn’t visibility into inventory and appropriate allocation of parts. If your organization is still in a lull from the impact of the pandemic, now – right now – is the time to get a handle on this to ease your transition to the next normal.

Ineffective Parts Management Will Ruin Your CX Efforts

Most organizations today are heavily focusing on the customer experience. When you think CX, parts management might not be the first topic that comes to mind. But the reality is, ineffective parts management processes are detrimental to your CX efforts. You may have the best strategy for selling service, the most personable and consultative technicians, and the latest in mobile technology to help them on site – but if you haven’t tackled parts management and they show up without what they need to get the job done, none of it matters much. It’s an imperative area to incorporate into your overall digital transformation journey around service optimization. Parts management is most impactful when it is not siloed from service but integrated into the service and scheduling systems. I have heard the phrase “right person with the right skills with the right parts and the right time” no fewer than 10,000 times in my career, but that is the case because it is true – underprioritizing any variable in that equation leads to missing the mark.

The Future of Service Requires a Holistic Approach

Ineffective parts management is also costly to your organization. Repeat trips and aging inventory are detracting from your bottom line. Moreover, the idea of any function being overlooked or operating in a silo is outdated and will not hold up to the demands of today’s service businesses. The future of service, if you really boil it down, is in maximizing your ability to manage complexity so that you’re offering the utmost in simplicity to your customers. Seizing the opportunity of Servitization or outcomes-based service requires a holistic approach to service delivery – the elimination of silos and the creation of an aligned, digitally-enabled, cohesive operation that can take on the burden of complexity to deliver what appears to be a simple solution to your customers’ greatest challenges. For this to happen, parts management can’t be handled in a silo – operationally or technologically – and either should any other function. The silos need to be broken down and, in their place, rebuild an open-concept culture where communication, collaboration, and interconnectedness are the norm. This means integration of operations and alignment across service, logistics, supply chain and procurement teams – as well as investment in a technology stack that can synergize insights of parts inventory into the service management and scheduling mix.

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September 11, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

Was Our Shift to a Service Economy a Mistake?

September 11, 2020 | 3 Mins Read

Was Our Shift to a Service Economy a Mistake?


By Tom Paquin

150 years ago, New Bedford, Massachusetts was the richest town per capita in the world. New Bedford was a port city, a particularly well-positioned one for the burgeoning whaling industry. Whale oil was a hot commodity as a fuel for lamps, among other commercial uses, and that helped drive the economic prosperity of this small city in southern Massachusetts.

I’d like to say that an ethical enlightenment towards the treatment of whales led to the death of whaling, but in reality, whale oil smelled terrible when burned, and by the late 19th century, the wide availability of the much cheaper and less gruesome kerosene rendered the industry—and in many ways New Bedford—obsolete.

Money and innovation drove another sharp product shift, and it’s one that we’ve seen dozens of times since. More recently, manufacturing remains roiled by automation upgrades and shorter product lifecycle windows, which has created its own cycle of boom and bust among product-oriented businesses. This has led to a reshuffling of the economies of the developed world away from product-oriented businesses towards service-oriented businesses, and it’s why 2/3 of the GDP of countries like the United States are in services.

For most of this time, the move to services seemed like both good business and solid economic theory: As manufacturing work eroded due in large part to automation, the services sector offered a burgeoning opportunity for high-margin work that kept skilled jobs plentiful. As services themselves evolved, buffeted by technology advancements, outcomes-based offerings helped solidify service as the way forward for many companies.

This of course was all before 2020, when a once-in-a-century pandemic rips across the globe and shatters social interactions for the better half of a year (So far).

In its wake, service-oriented work is negatively impacted across the board—from food services shuttering to home repairs being postponed. In the wake of Covid, then, are we on the brink of a shift away from service-oriented work, back towards product-oriented business? Will the pendulum swing back the other way?

The obvious answer is no, but there’s a few layers that need to be unpacked, of course. For starters, the cascading effects of global shutdowns had a strong impact on a variety of industries simultaneously. Because of this, there’s no straight line between service specifically and covid. Service providers have made similar adjustments and concessions to straight product manufacturers, retail, hospitality, and so on. Those mandates will persevere for months or years and reshape the regulatory environment and types of interactions in these industries, but that does not make service any less viable or lucrative.

Moreover, businesses have, in many ways, taken the crisis as an opportunity to servitize themselves. Take, for instance, restaurant suppliers sitting on increased stock, who have shifted their model to offer subscription delivery services directly to consumers, or supermarkets’ increased capacity for at-home delivery. I’ve spoken at length, as well, about how retailers at Best Buy are now shuttering physical locations to the public, reimagining them as ecommerce hubs. These changes all speak to the exact inverse of the collapse of service under the weight of Covid-19. These speak to the flourishing of new service opportunities.

You will likely have noticed that these advancements generally have a few things in common: They are reliant on technology and connectivity, and they represent broad, disruptive changes to the go-to-market infrastructure. Imagine the logistical challenge for a restaurant supplier as they transition from delivering to 100 locations in a region to 1,000. Because of that, as always, a thoughtful logistics a plan remains the key to success.

It’s safe to say that traditional service businesses will not emerge from this crisis looking the same. It’s up to individual businesses, given where we are, if they emerge from this crisis stronger than before.

Most Recent

September 9, 2020 | 22 Mins Read

New Metrics for a New World of Service Delivery

September 9, 2020 | 22 Mins Read

New Metrics for a New World of Service Delivery


Bill Pollock, President and Principal Consulting Analyst at Strategies for Growth, weighs in on how he feels organizations need to evolve how they measure progress and success in today’s service landscape.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we're going to be talking about new metrics for a new world of service delivery. We've talked a lot lately about how many things are changing for service organizations. And another thing that needs to change is the way that you're measuring your progress and success. I'm excited to welcome back to the podcast today Bill Pollock, president and principal consulting analyst at Strategies For Growth. Bill, welcome back to the podcast.

 Bill Pollock: Thanks for having me back. I appreciate it.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely, absolutely. Glad to have you. So you are doing a lot of research in this space, and you and I have known each other a long time and we've both seen this evolution that's taking place in service and witnessed some of the trends that are occurring. Before we dig into to how KPIs and metrics and measurement need to change based on those trends and the evolution, let's first talk a little bit about the history of how service success or failure has been measured. And then we'll talk about why we need to evolve from there.

Bill Pollock: Sure. That's a really great way to start off this session. The way that success has been measured over the years depends really on how sophisticated or knowledgeable or how vulnerable a services organization is. For example, there've been many cases over the years where I've seen companies that have been doing fairly well and they figure, "Well, we really don't need to measure our success because we're successful all the time." And the problem with that is that whether it's self-inflicted or an existential like COVID-19 or an economic meltdown, even those that are doing well year after year after year ultimately hit a point where they're not doing well. And if they haven't been measuring things on a regular basis, then they don't know at the outset, "Why did we just tank? What happened that made us not satisfy our customers anymore?"

Bill Pollock: So the thing is that what I believe is that if you're not doing well or you're always on the cusp and you always are striving to do better, then you really do need to measure things and see how your performance is trending over the years. The paradox though, is that if you're doing well and you're making some money and you have a high profit margin, you may not be tempted to measure as much, but that's the time when you really should measure, because you've got the resources, you've got the cash in hand to do some measurement. I don't believe there's a single organization out there that can say, "Regardless of how we're doing right now, there's absolutely no improvement that we can make. We're doing the best that anyone can. No improvements are possible." That's not possible. Traditionally, what we've seen is things all over the place.

Bill Pollock: For example, one of the first field service management surveys that we did at Strategies For Growth over a decade ago, we asked questions, "What do you measure?" We had a laundry list. "Do you mentioned this and the other thing?" And one of the questions was, of course, "Do you measure customer satisfaction?" And at that time, and again, this is like 15 years ago, the response was something only like 47%, less than half. And then another question was, "Do you measure customer retention?" And 65% said, "Yes, we measure customer retention." And my question is, how can you measure customer retention if you're not measuring satisfaction? And it leads me to believe... I did a workshop for one of the trade associations once years ago and I said, "What is the quickest way to improve your customer satisfaction performance?" And everyone started raising their hand. "Pay more attention to customers, listen to the voice of the customer, do some market research."

Bill Pollock: And I said, "Well, this is tongue in cheek, but the best way to improve your customer satisfaction overnight is notify all your customers who are not giving you a perfect score that you're no longer customers." All you have left are customers that are giving you a perfect score. Well, of course that's nonsensical, but there are many organizations, one organization, for example, said to me, "We're doing about 85% customer satisfaction now. How much money can we save if we did only 82% customer satisfaction?" I was an economics major in college, I understand the elasticity and sensitivity of numbers crossmatched against each other, but that's not the way to manage a business. So, really, and as far as customer retention is concerned, at the end of the career of the business, just before the business closes, if you still have every customer you ever had and they're still buying things from you and they're still relatively satisfied, then you had a nice career and that business and had a good reputation.

Bill Pollock: But you can't wait until the very end to measure something. You have to measure it all along. So really, the history of service success measurement is, some people will say, if you're measuring more than six KPIs, that's too many. Others will say, if you're not measuring 20 or 24, that's not enough. The rule of thumb is wherever you're not doing well and you know it, or you may not be doing as well as you could, but you're not sure can, any areas where you believe you're vulnerable because of what you're doing and about to do or what one of your competitors is about to do, or there's a merger or acquisition in the competitive landscape, they're the things that you have to measure.

Bill Pollock: Some people make the mistake of measuring only things that will ultimately impact their merit reviews and their bonuses. And that's good for you, but it's not good for the company, it's not good for the customers. So it's been all over the place. It long enough has passed that it's time to rethink and reengineer the way you measure things, and COVID-19 has made it even more critical to do it now instead of tomorrow or next year.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. So a couple of themes that you just brought up are obviously the variability, which makes sense. Every company is going to be a bit different in how they view this, how they approach it, what KPIs they use, et cetera. So certainly understand that there's no uniform approach or advice. The other theme is you're saying that companies have a tendency to want to measure more when they are struggling. I would argue that a third thing that's important to talk about though is that customers today are demanding more visibility than they ever have before. So that is, I think, another reason that organizations need to expand and evolve the metrics that they're using and how they're tracking their progress and success.

Sarah Nicastro: Because I've heard a lot of feedback from folks that customers used to be happy if it was just, "Hey, you showed up, you got the job done. Great." And now they want to know all of the details on what that looks like. And so having that data becomes important from that perspective as well. So knowing, Bill, that there's no singular answer to this question, can you give me a couple of examples of metrics that have maybe been historically used that are becoming a little bit ineffective or obsolete in today's environment?

 Bill Pollock: And getting back to a point I just made before, everything needed to change anyway and COVID-19 said, "You got to do it now." But even before the COVID pandemic, the transformation of the industry from an analog world to a digital world and from an onsite fix to a remote fix or prevention made it such that in trending your performance data from year over year over year, it's not only not apples and oranges, it's apples and vegetables to try and make those comparisons. Like in department stores, they always measure one week's sales this year compared to the same week's sales last year. Well, it doesn't make sense for them to do that now, just as it doesn't make sense for us to, as an industry, look at our performance this year compared to last yeah. It's almost like there's a need to have two sets of books.

 Bill Pollock: As we move from analog to digital and onsite to remote, things just don't mean the same anymore. Like for example, and forgive me for looking down at some of the notes I have here, in our 2020 field service management survey that we conduct every year at Strategies For Growth, the top five or six KPIs that are being used by a service organization, number one has always been number one in every one of the surveys we've done, customer satisfaction. And it's always in the 70 to 77, 78% say, "This is one metric that we use."

 Bill Pollock: The second one has always been total service revenue. And you're running a service organization, you want to generate revenue. What we did is we compared our notes from 2020 to 2011, which is basically 10 years earlier, to see what kind of differences there were. We did not differentiate between service revenue and service profitability 10 years ago, but we do it now. So the number three factor, if we standardized the two surveys and those two years would be looking at total service profitability. But it's almost pointless to say which is second, which is third, or third or fourth because they're pretty much the same. You're looking at revenue and you're looking at profitability.

 Bill Pollock: But then we see some differences. 10 years ago, the next three factors were field technician utilization, which is basically the time that a field tech spends performing a repair divided by the total time that he or she is working that day for the company. And then total service cost, onsite response time, and the percent of total service revenue under contract. So 10 years ago, they were the top five or six factors that we were seeing. Fast forward to this year, first time fixed rate pops way up from seventh or eighth place into third place.

 Bill Pollock: So what customers are looking forward to is they don't want to jerk around with having to make repeat calls on their half to the service company or to the service company say, "Hey, it didn't work. We got a signal from your system. We have to come back and do something else." They wanted to fix the first time. The beauty of it is that many customers don't really realize that something's broken or about to break because it's fixed remotely before it breaks. So the first time fix rate I believe is going to diminish in its important because you're really looking for a first time prevention/ fix rate where a failure is prevented rather than fixed right the first time. But there's a whole series of other things like meantime between failures. That used to be along with meantime to repair, two of the biggest metrics 10 years ago, 15, 20, 30 years ago.

 Bill Pollock: But equipment and systems don't fail as often anymore. And even when they're about to fail, they can be prevented from failing remotely. So when I said two sets of books, maybe you used to measure meantime between failures. Maybe now is the time to start measuring meantime between prevented failures. There are some cases where the equipment is just as likely to break down after 18 months today as it was after 18 months last year or 10 years ago. The thing is last year and 10 years ago, it would break down every 18 months. This year, it doesn't break down here every 18 months because it's being fixed before it breaks remotely. So the whole concept of break-fix, I believe is transforming into break-prevention. So what happens is the old metrics and the new metrics might coincide in terms of when the equipment is likely to fail, but it's not going to fail because you're doing something remotely.

 Bill Pollock: And this is the whole concept between the old break-fix model and the, newer, it's not so new anymore, servitization model or the outcomes-based model. So we're seeing the transformation based on going digital, adapting to a civilization model and employing the use of remote diagnostics and remote fixes more and more over time.

Sarah Nicastro: So that all makes sense. So this new world of service, and if we look at the root cause of why measurement of progress and success needs to evolve, it's really related to the evolution toward predictive service, outcomes-based service servitization and looking for ways to measure and reflect success in those new terms. So, as you said, some of the metrics that would be more related to the traditional break-fix models are things that over time maybe become obsolete. So the other thing that comes up a lot when I talk with folks about this topic is it's not only that the KPIs a company may need to use are changing, but it's also the speed at which that data is being reviewed and communicated needs to become faster as well as. Is that correct? What are your thoughts on that?

 Bill Pollock: That is correct. I've written a couple or a few pieces over the years, and many other writers have about the problems with data collection. And [inaudible 00:16:42] data lakes are out there and you're catching titles in some of these articles, you don't want to drown into data lake, but you need water to survive. And the thing is that many organizations now have the tools they never had before to collect as much data as possible, whether they're collecting it proactively or unilaterally by leading leaders or it doesn't make sense to me much, but some organizations still are manually transcribing numbers into a spreadsheet. But there's so much information that now has been collected and transmitted and shared by the equipment and the systems themselves. And companies are finding themselves in a situation where they're collecting too much data and they either don't have the bandwidth to process it and analyze it and assess it.

 Bill Pollock: And then once it's analyzed say, "Hey, this is good stuff. This is not so good stuff. Let's take the good stuff, who should get it? Who do we share that with?" So that's where the data lakes can become data oceans and you can drown in that data. But there are other organizations that collect information and never do anything at all with it. I know for example, that one of the critiques that we've received over the years is that our customer surveys, the field service management and others are long. There are many questions. And what we find is that we process the same data every year and do some trend analysis, but there's some data from some questions that we ask that we've never really done anything with. So in the past couple of iterations of our surveys, we started cutting back on some of the data we were collecting because we knew we would never use it and it would not be that important in the overall scheme of things anyway.

 Bill Pollock: But then the converse of that is if we're collecting it and we think that it may provide some information, that it may be of interest, then we sit down and we analyze it and then we write about it and we share it with our clients or our clients share it with their customers. And it's the same thing with the data that's being collected. I do not believe that you can move from a break-fix environment where you're scheduling your PMs four times a year and your performance is measured on the basis of, "We have to arrive on site within four hours or eight hours the next day." You can't move from that model to servitization where everything's measured in terms of outcomes, without breaking away from collecting the right data and not collecting the wrong data.

 Bill Pollock: I think that Brian Wilson said it so succinctly in the song Wouldn't It Be Nice. "Wouldn't it be nice to have this data" is not a mandate for collecting that data. I need to know is your mandate for collecting the data. So there's need to know and there's nice to know. And you might want to take a step in every once in a while because you might find something that you wouldn't have found otherwise, but you really need to focus on the need to know and your KPIs, and metrics that you use to measure your performance have to focus on those sets of data so that the data you're collecting is actually used in a proficient way to allow you to enact change management, make things better.

Sarah Nicastro: Sure. Yeah, I think that's a good point. I also think this is a really clear example of where today's digital tools come into play in the sense of having strong business intelligence and business analytics tools and being able to leverage the data you have to look at different scenarios and plan accordingly. I mean, you mentioned a couple of times the impact that COVID has had related to this topic and it comes up in almost every conversation I'm having that these organizations have moved from reviewing data and making business decisions weekly or monthly or quarterly to day to day and even hour to hour, right? Because the circumstances are just evolving so rapidly. So it's just a really important area for these businesses to consider. I agree with you that as you move toward outcomes-based service, you need to focus in on the data that's most important, but you also need to be very, very proficient at processing data and deriving valuable insights from it.

Sarah Nicastro: So I was hoping, Bill, if you could share with our listeners all of the things we've considered. So we talked a bit about the historical perspective, we've talked a bit about what is changing and what has changed and some of the pitfalls to avoid, I guess. But if you, based on your research, based on your expertise were to suggest five key KPIs for the new world of service, what would they be and why? And I understand, just to put the disclaimer out there, that there is no prescriptive approach for every service organization. But if you had to look at what, in your opinion are five of the most important, what would those be and why?

 Bill Pollock: Well, obviously I'm a prime advocate for always measuring customer satisfaction. If you're a services organization, you've got to measure your service revenue trends, your profitability trends and your cost trends. But there are other things, like for example, I wrote a report once on contract and warranty management, and I thought, "This is going to be not the most exciting report I'm ever gone to write." I didn't really appreciate the value of things like contract attach rates and contract renewal rates and things of that nature. But what I saw is the difference between those organizations that are using a solution that helps them to basically annuitize their contracts that takes the work off of their table from having to say, "Oh yeah, it's two months before this client renews. I better send them an email."

 Bill Pollock: What they found is that they were able to annuitize their revenue stream and bolster it. You still have to work at it, but much of the heavy lifting is already done. So what I would advise any services organization is to look at the solutions and the modules that are available to them from IFS or whomever they're using, and to say, "What difference is it going to make if I improve our activities in this area?" Whether it's a service contract compliance or contract renewals, or just things like, "Why don't we look at total revenue per field technician as a ratio and see can we still generate the same revenue gifts because of COVID-19? We're losing some workers that we had to furlough them or they've gone elsewhere." Look at the opportunities. And then you need to establish a baseline first. "Where are we before we execute this change?"

 Bill Pollock: And then six months, or most likely one year later, "Let's revisit this again. Let's ask the same question. Where do we stand today?" And in most cases, a year later, you'll stand in better shape because you're using a solution that helps you to generate more revenues or cut costs or increase the contribution of individual employees or field technicians. Very rarely have I seen organizations use new solutions and one year later it just costs a lot of money and they didn't see any improvement. So the rule of thumb would be where you're most vulnerable, measure that. Start measuring that now if you're not, and take steps to remove your vulnerability. And it could be something as simple as your Salesforce is not as good as your competitors' Salesforce is. It could be something as simple as you might have the best product around but you're not promoting it well enough, so your marketing needs to be stepped up.

 Bill Pollock: So in that latter case, it's a matter of, "Well, let's start measuring marketing dollars spent toward increases in our market awareness or increases in our sales." So the thing is, it's almost like you're building an exoskeleton for yourself, and it's going to make you stand up straighter, walk faster in the right direction and improve everything. But each element of that skeleton really has to address areas that you're looking to improve in, areas that you're looking to avoid, some of the pitfalls that you had in the past few years. If you know you're going to be merging or acquiring another company, what do you need to know before that happens to ensure that the metrics you're measuring now, you can separate and measure a year from now under a new scenario? So it's a matter of what fits you the best.

 Bill Pollock: But I think what we're seeing in servitization and outcomes-based, if all you've been measuring in the past is your ability to be in compliance with your contracts, to arrive on site at the right time, to fix things on the first visit, and you're not looking at new metrics for measuring throughput rather than system uptime, you can't have throughput, you can't be processing something on an assembly line if your systems aren't working. But the question is, "What do we have to do as a company, as an organization to make sure that our volume, our capacity, our throughput is maximum for what we have as tools and resources and staffing? And if there are any breaks in the fence, what do we need to measure in terms of ensuring that those breaks don't become catastrophic breaks and cut our throughput?"

 Bill Pollock: So it's a mindset from the overbearing manager who looks at individual metrics and says, "They were five minutes late to arrive on time. Our system uptime was one tenth of a point short of the 90% they guaranteed us." Instead of nitpicking like that, you've got to change your focus to, "What do we need to measure to make sure that our throughput goes through cleanly, regardless of how many times there were prevented failures and how many times, God forbid, there were real failures that had to be fixed?" So it's a change of mindset. Some companies get it, some companies don't get it. And in fact, I just wrote something for the Future of Field Service about, are you getting a servitization? And if not, why not? When are you going to get it? So those organizations that get it are already making the migration or transformation from the old way of measuring things to the new way of measuring things. And those that aren't doing it yet really need to [inaudible 00:29:49] so they don't fall further behind.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. I agree. So I understand, like I said, the variability from organization to organization. So you started off with customer satisfaction and service revenue and profitability. Are there others specifically that companies need to be thinking about or considering?

 Bill Pollock: Well, sure. If you've got a field force that's still going to the field, some of them, many of them are shrinking from what they used to be because remote diagnostics and remote repairs are taking over in those areas, you really need to focus on field service utilization. Again, and that's how much time you're spending actually doing repairs divided by the total amount of time you're spending that day working for the company. There's a few field technician productivity, and historically that's been based on the average number of calls per day. But in many cases, that metric is changing substantially because you may have fewer field texts and fewer needs for onsite calls. So the metrics are changing, but there's so many organizations that need to measure that. What I like is a third in that hat trick, if you will, field technician efficiency, which is the average daily calls completed by the total calls assigned.

 Bill Pollock: So what are the total calls are dwindling on a daily basis from 10 to eight to six? How many are they completing efficiently divided by how many they had to do that day? And then all the other KPIs that we've been talking about, fixing right on the first time and those kinds of things start to fall into place. There is one thing, it's tough to measure, but I'm a strong proponent of this, and that's fixing the customer while you're fixing the equipment. You can imagine that if you're walking into a manufacturing plant, the assembly line is down. The plant manager say, "When is this going to get fixed? We're processing milk. We're going to have to throw out thousands of gallons of unprocessed milk. It's going to cost a fortune then we're going to have to add a third shift tonight."

 Bill Pollock: And what you need to do as a field technician, or if the technician doesn't go on site, what you need to be able to communicate, whether it's through chat or chat bot or whether it's by telephone or however you communicate with your client to let them know from the outset that, "This is a minor thing, we'll take care of it in about 20 minutes." Or, "This is a major thing. It could take an hour or more to fix. We'll keep you apprised along the way." So it's really tough to measure that. That's more customer relationship management, but I would venture to say that any of these quantitative KPIs that we've been talking about are important. So is the more qualitative KPI of fixing your customer while you're fixing the equipment.

 Bill Pollock: And there are surrogates that you can quantify the percentage of time that you communicate with a customer before an anticipating failure, during the failure, following up after the failure, what they could do to prevent a similar failure later on. So there are ways to communicate that. So if you're running an organization where you do not believe that your field technicians or your dispatchers or any of the employees are really treating the customer while they're treating the equipment, you might want to look at those kinds of quantifiable metrics to see what percentage of customers that have had problems with you or complained with you, what percentage of them had actually been communicated with in terms of, "Here's what you're likely to face. Here's what we're going to do about it. Here's the estimated time for completion."

 Bill Pollock: And if you find that you're not talking to them enough, that may be enough of the reason for why they're unhappy with your service tech or your company as a whole. Nobody wants to hear bad news, but if it's bad news, then they need to hear it. And once they hear it, then they're not as likely to complain to you about your performance afterwards if they know why it was caused and what you've done to prevent it from happening again.

Sarah Nicastro: Right. Yep, that makes sense. And that is along the lines of how we see the field technician role evolving, right? So as you said, as we look at organizations utilizing technology to enable more remote systems, remote assistance, remote service, remote repairs, what is required of those onsite visits is changing to be more of a face of the brand, a personal touch, a consultative relationship, those sorts of things. So, yeah, I think there's probably a lot of areas that companies are looking at in terms of how metrics and how measurement needs to evolve to reflect the way that the field technician role is changing, along with the way service delivery itself is changing. So, that makes sense. Any final thoughts or comments, Bill?

 Bill Pollock: Yeah. I'm as guilty as any other research analyst or consultants of using the phrase new normal. Nobody wants to hear new normal anymore. I thought that I was a little different by originally talking about there's not going to be a new normal, there's going to be a series of new normals. And then others started saying the same kinds of things. When you get right down to it, nobody a year ago could have foreseen exactly what shape we would be in a year later today. And we don't even know what our fall, winter and spring are going to look like right now. So the thing is that whether you call them new normals, old normals, a new way of doing things, whatever, just be prepared to change. And there's one phrase that one of the major computer manufacturers used the year I started my business and it was the use of the expression "agile adaptability."

 Bill Pollock: And I loved that because agile to me doesn't convey even half the image. Agile means, well, I can move this way. I can move that way. But what way are you moving? Adaptability means that you're adapting to your new situation, your new scenario. So you've got to be both agile and adaptable to be able to sustain your business through COVID-19, and quite frankly, through any normal circumstances. But we've got turmoil in the streets, we've got economic crises, we've got medical and healthcare pandemic, and they're saying we're going to have locusts later this year, too. So yeah, it's really a mess out there. And whether you can predict what's about to happen or not, and I don't think you can very well, you need to have that agile adaptability to make sure that your service organization can turn virtually on a dime and deliver to the marketplace, to your clients and customers, and especially to your prospects what it is that you can do for them tomorrow, regardless of what tomorrow is. So I think that that's a parting phrase.

Sarah Nicastro: All right, Bill, well thank you so much. I appreciate you being here and sharing your perspective with our listeners. You can find more on service transformation and how companies are grappling with COVID-19 challenges and working towards servitization by checking us out 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.

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