Customer satisfaction is increasingly important in the manufacturing sector, just as it is in consumer-facing industries such as retail. Customer expectations are rising across the board, and manufacturers are demanding greater responsiveness and additional visibility into the service of their equipment as they strive to maximize uptime. Traditionally, improving customer satisfaction has come at a cost, but new technologies that improve the customer experience have the additional benefit of actually increasing the efficiency of the service organization and lowering the cost of service.
There are three main steps through which field service organizations can both increase efficiency and improve customer satisfaction:
Seasoned field service professionals know that successful execution on the day of service is the result of careful planning for days, weeks, or even months in advance. Establishing likely levels of demand for service, and making sure the right resources are in place to meet that demand, are essential to meet the required standard of customer service. Having appropriate resources in the right locations with the right skills means that on the day of service, field technicians can minimize travel time, increasing resource utilization and enabling a faster response time for customers.
For manufacturers, data about machine performance is a key ingredient in this process, helping planners to understand the likelihood of particular machine failures. This not only helps align resources with demand, but also enables proactive service to avoid downtime altogether and eliminate any SLA penalties.
Even the best-laid plans are susceptible to disruption due to external factors like traffic, extreme weather, or customer cancellations. While there will always be a gap between the plan in theory and the execution in practice, organizations can minimize this by capitalizing on ‘actual intelligence’. This is the notion of constantly leveraging real-time information to optimize the way in which service resources are allocated and making sure there is effective communication with customers. Starting with the initial service level agreement committed to the customer, through to successful completion of service and follow-up, each step in the process offers an opportunity to delight customers and outpace competitors.
Diebold Nixdorf is the largest global manufacturer and servicer of financial self-service equipment, such as ATMs, and anyone who has ever experienced an out-of-order ATM understands the need for rapid response times. To meet these service level agreements, the company adopted technology to automate scheduling and improve operational visibility and control. As well as meeting customers’ high expectations, the company also improved scheduling efficiency and reduced mileage and travel time for technicians. After implementing field service management software, Diebold Nixdorf saw a reduction in overall travel distances by more than 300,000 miles per year and a 33 percent increase in the number of calls per day per technician.
Delivering value through improved efficiency, which also enhances customer experiences, is increasingly a core part of manufacturers’ strategies to stand out from the competition in the eyes of the customer. In the execution phase, optimizing and automating technician scheduling is where much of this value can be realized’ combining sophisticated algorithms with actual intelligence and practical input from dispatchers, managers, and field personnel increase operational visibility and ensure a tightly run schedule that meets both business and customer needs.
Real-time analysis of performance data against key business indicators not only shows how a service operation is doing versus its goals but also delivers a blueprint for improvement that can be incorporated into the planning phase. Up-to-date business performance indicators enable manufacturers to better manage what is measured and either make real-time adjustments (e.g. reallocating resources to a different region) or make more wide-reaching changes in the future (e.g. increasing training to deal with a particular service challenge). With a stream of operational performance data available at their fingertips, business managers have the right data at the right time to make the right decisions to drive service excellence.
Planning, execution, and analysis represent a common-sense framework to consider a service operation as a strategic asset that underpins competitive differentiation in the manufacturing industry. As data proliferates, and enables both proactive service and real-time responsiveness, organizations that are able to effectively incorporate this information into the framework will not only reduce the cost of service but also improve customer satisfaction levels along the way.
Paul Whitelam is senior vice president of global marketing at ClickSoftware.