Mobile Reach hosts a podcast series called “Five Questions for a Field Service Expert.” In this episode of the Five Questions for a Field Service Expert Podcast, we chat with Nick Frank, co-founder and managing partner at Si2 Partners. Nick talks about how to turn business conversations with your customers into co-creation of new service opportunities. He also provides insight into growing your field service organization and the importance of having a “service-savvy” business culture. The episode runs about 24 minutes.
If you prefer, you can read the full transcript below:
Mobile Reach: Welcome to the Five Questions for a Field Service Expert Podcast. This is the show for field service professionals where we dig into the big questions about field service delivery and management. Every episode we ask a field service expert five questions that can help you do your job better.
Mobile Reach: So today we’re talking to Nick Frank at Si2 Partners. Nick has worked as an international consultant for more than six years in a range of industries including engineering, high volume manufacturing, and technology. It runs the gamut, really. His expertise includes the development of strategic methodologies, initiatives, and support mechanisms both technological and organizational. Nick truly brings a holistic perspective to all of his engagements for organizations who are looking to rethink, re-imagine, and re-engineer their field service processes. So, thanks for being with us today, Nick.
Nick: Yes, looking forward to it.
Mobile Reach: Great. Terrific. As you know, we have five questions for you. These are unique to your areas of expertise and this is of course “Five Questions for a Field Service Expert.” So being an expert yourself, Nick, let’s jump in right away with the first question.
Mobile Reach: Nick, you work with companies to help them transition from a product-driven business model to a blended model of products plus services. When it comes to servitization, how do you see a company determining what their customers value most in that equation?
Nick: I think it’s key to really understand the customer, their value chain, and also their position in the industry. This is how you start to understand how you can combine products and services to really make a difference to your customers. And that’s the key when people talk about servitization. They can really get hung up on the terminology when it’s really about combining the know-how and capability of your business to make a difference.
You really need to understand how they make money in the industry value chain. And the best way to do that is to talk to them. You’ve got to have a business conversation with your customer and really get in deeply into how their business works and how they make money. Then you can develop the conversation into how your business makes a difference to them. You’ll be very surprised as you get into this discussion with your customers how you then get a spark of creativity. Some people call it co-creation, but you’re basically working together with your customer and trying to develop ideas on how you can make a difference.
What I find is that most customers are very positive to this kind of approach because it’s actually about making them successful. On the other hand, it’s not a simple process. I think a lot of people when they talk to their customers, they ask the question, “What is it that you value, Mr. Customer?” And that is not going to get you anywhere. You really have to approach it from a much higher business level.
You should ask questions like: “How does your business work?” or “How does what we do really help you be more competitive?” These open-ended questions will help you more.
Another method is to continuously talk to your people and get perspectives from all areas of the service business. But you have to be really careful when talking to your salespeople because they have a specific perspective on the customer. It’s useful to get certain insights from them, but, at the end of the day, they are trying to sell to the customer and they have a certain perception that’s biased by that perspective.
The third thing I think you can do is desk research. I think especially for larger companies, where maybe they have annual reports available, I always recommend looking at the annual report and the CEOs overview because in there you’ll find insights into the direction that the CEO really wants to take the business. And if you can relate your service offerings to those three or four strategic actions that the CEO is trying to drive forward, I’ve found that is a very useful way of making sure you have a very relevant discussion with your clients.
Mobile Reach: That’s a really wise answer. In all my years of understanding the market for various purposes and trying to understand where it’s headed and where my customers are going, I’ve never heard before to check out the target company’s annual reports and read the letter from the CEO. What an insightful way to get a read on the market’s direction. Really terrific.
So, there is any number of service dimensions or components a company can look to improve. In fact, you mentioned just a minute ago, there might be three or four areas of focus in the CEO’s letter to shareholders. How do you recommend that field organizations select from all of those different opportunities?
Nick: Well, it’s a complex answer because businesses are complex. I tend to split the business down into four different areas as I try to understand the key problems the company is facing. The first area is value. It’s absolutely key to understand how your customers see your business in terms of the value you can offer. Do you really understand what your clients really need?
The second area is the go-to-market strategy. Because even if you’ve got a great understanding of your value-add, if you can’t bring service offerings to market effectively then you are not going to succeed. But there are two separate aspects to the go-to-market strategy. The first is the framework from which you work from idea to the deployment to the service proposition. And this is really key to ensure the quality of the service and also that you actually blended together the product development and the service development process. Because with digitization, products and services are really blurred. The delivery process for both products and services should be pretty much entwined.
And even if you are good at developing the products, you then have to sell them. That’s the second half of the go-to-market strategy is making sure that everyone in the organization understands the value you can bring to your customers, not just the salespeople. Because selling services is not just about sales guys who are out there on the front lines talking to customers. There are other people in the business talking to customers, including your customer support center, your field engineers, etc. There are many people talking to customers and they all need to be able to talk at different levels about the value your organization can bring This is what I mean by “service savvy” is that the whole organization has to understand the value proposition for your services. So, I look at how well a company does that.
The third area of the service business and a place where a lot of organizations start is service delivery. Because often that’s where you see the problems initially. Are you able to deliver a consistent level of service? Are customers satisfied with first-time fix rates? Are you fixing their problems? Are you working as a partner? Are they having a good experience with you?
The fourth area of the service business I look at is the leadership. And leadership is not just about the ability to communicate and inspire people but also how well the business plan flows down. Do you have consistency between what the business is trying to achieve and what the service business is trying to achieve? Is it documented and actually resourced? It’s a complex animal to understand.
I think the important thing is to take a step back and look at those different areas, and if you can identify what the key problems are, those that are the most relevant to you and relevant to your customers, then that’s a good place to start. Because it’s very contextual, you really have to develop a broad framework to suit the customer. It takes quite a lot of skill to step back and see where the real problems are.
Mobile Reach: Well that makes a ton of sense. As I mentioned, it’s great to have that holistic view of the business and work backward from the point where you interact with the customer. So assuming growth equals health, and you are engaged by any number of organizations to ensure a degree of growth or augment growth in some way, how do you see a company going about attempting to grow their field service organization? Is there a point where it’s most helpful to actually begin looking to do that?
Nick: Well, I think there are kind of two phases of growing a field service organization. There’s the operational phase, where you have to really become excellent at providing a service, and then there’s the business growth phase. And you really can’t get into growing a service business in terms of revenues and profits — you won’t really succeed in growing — unless you are excellent on the operational side. Because growing a service business means taking on more responsibility for the customer’s business. That’s where the value really is. And who’s going to hand over that responsibility to a company that is struggling to deliver just on the basic support? So I think that’s really where a lot of organizations should start. They should start on the service delivery side. Start really looking at the processes and metrics. And then try to have a clear direction as to what the expectations are around servicing the customer and what a satisfied customer really looks like.
I think it’s dangerous just to concentrate on techniques and the technical side of management. The other side is the people side, which I think is really the key. Because when you start to grow an organization, it is all about the people. Even though there’s a lot of technology now involved, there are still people using that technology. You need to get them into the right mindset. You have to get your people inspired and get them into a self-learning culture where they start to motivate themselves to learn more and to drive themselves forward.
In all the great organizations that I’ve worked with that are good at customer service, one thing that you see is that they have a tremendous passion for the customer and a passion to make sure the customer is successful. I think the people aspect is very important. You’ve got to get that right. You’ve got to get your operations right so you can deliver the service. Then when you are in that zone you can really start to look at expanding your business from a sales perspective and certainly more. I would see it in those three phases.
Mobile Reach: So, from there, let’s get more specific in terms of a specific company you’ve seen improve its field service operations. Is there a story you can tell about an individual organization that you’ve seen be successful at growth and how they did that?
Nick: There’s an organization I used to work for, an injection molding company. In this particular business, they are renowned for having the best service within their industry sector. It really started with the people and having a service team that was really dedicated to serving the customer. Absolutely their No. 1 priority was to make sure the customer’s machine was up and running. We had a tagline: “Keeping our customers in the lead.” This was quite a powerful way of inspiring people and giving them a very clear expectation is of them and what you are trying to do as a business.
I think that’s the first aspect is that mindset. But then you’ve got go a lot further you have to make sure those people are well-trained. You have to have a formal training program, very structured. Now that you can do e-training and videos, it’s much easier to manage. It doesn’t have to be all onsite training, which can be difficult for a global field service organization.
Then, by monitoring field technician performance in the field, you can also weed out poor performers. It’s a competitive business, I think that’s what all businesses have to do is set the bar high. And if people aren’t performing, try to help them get better. If they aren’t getting better, allocate them to another job, or unfortunately, they should look for a job somewhere else. I think the people side is very important baseline.
But once you start to get to a certain size and you start to grow, you have to make sure you have the right tools in place. The right tools enable you to plan the service tech’s time, make sure the parts arrive at the same time as the technician, and also make sure that you’re in control to be able to record what’s being done. You have to develop your KPIs.
These planning tools, service management systems and platforms, are very important. This specific company has really excellent service but doesn’t have the best planning tools. I think the lesson is there is always room to improve if you have great people who are dedicated. You will always be able to provide a certain level of service. But you always find in any business, there are areas that you have to improve so this is where this business is particularly looking to improve Especially with the advent of mobile solutions and looking to improve the flow of information and knowledge back and forth between the service technicians and the customer support center.
And that brings me on to the fourth aspect which really teamwork. Field service isn’t just about the guy on the front lines. That person needs to be supported by a whole team. You’ve got to get parts to the person at the right time, so there’s a whole logistics organization behind them. You’ve got a huge amount of knowledge when you have a quite complex industrial equipment with the different ages, legacy equipment, etc. It’s a complex job and they need support from the customer support center. It’s very important that they have good teamwork and work very closely with the customer support center, especially as we start to see remote diagnostics augmented reality and other technologies starting to become much more mainstream. What you are starting to see is the blending together of the field service organization and the central support center.
Another important part of the team is the sales force. It’s important they know what is happening, that they have visibility. But also I think the service guys can help the sales guys get insight into what’s happening with the customer because they are seeing it from a different perspective. And, vice versa, the sales guys can often open a door to service sales because they have contacts to higher management levels within the business. So it’s very much that teamwork side of it.
Mobile Reach: That’s incredibly thoroughly. Again, I appreciate the holistic perspective you bring to how a particular organization has improved its field service operations. And in that response, you referenced tools and platforms that organizations can use to improve and to grow. I’m wondering, for our last question, how with the technicians being central to service delivery of course, how have you seen a field service organization ensure their technicians are just as effective as they can be in their work?
Nick: I think it’s a very exciting time and this where the tools really make a big difference. Because the essence of good field service is having the right person at the right time in the right place with the right tools to do the right job and also with the right level of support. That’s the essence of it. And what we are seeing now is an exciting period where service management systems are becoming much more integrated with other parts of the business. For example, integration with the ERP systems, where they start to see parts, and CRM systems so technicians can see more background on customers. So I think it’s this transparency that the tools are bringing.
Which is a really exciting time for the business because how do you achieve those things? It’s all about information and having the right information of the person who’s managing the process. It’s also making sure the field service technician has access to knowledge and information. Also where these tools are really exciting, but also we are in the early days of that. People are getting hung up on this idea of digitization, it’s really about the flow of information. We’re really just starting to understand how we get information and knowledge to our service techs. And then how do we actually manage that whole process using all of the information in the business that’s available.
I think it’s a very exciting time. I think the other thing you need alongside the systems and the processes, you also need the coaching. That’s a really important part. As you get more transparency, you can see what people are doing from service reports and see which technicians are solving which kind of problems more easily and who are having a harder time. It’s very important that managers really spend time using that information and helping them in terms of targeting their training to people who need it as well as mentoring. This really propels this cycle of continuous improvement that all businesses strive for. So I think it’s a very exciting time for this industry at this moment.
Mobile Reach: Excellent, Awesome, you’ve just heard Nick Frank provide his perspective on five questions for a field service expert. Nick is the co-founder and managing partner at Si2 Partners. Nick thanks for speaking with us today. We greatly appreciate all of your expertise.
Nick: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.