Strategy & Leadership

ForeFront’s Anne Marie Berger: Take The First Step Toward Modern Service

Asked to pick a word that encapsulates the service industry in 2017, you would be hard-pressed to find a better candidate than “transformation.” Service leaders have heard, time and again, about companies that have transformed their service divisions with new technology. They might have even decided that now is the time to modernize their own service organizations.

But how?

Understanding where to begin — and why — can seem like a daunting challenge. It’s a question Anne Marie Berger, managing partner at cloud consulting firm ForeFront, has helped numerous service leaders answer during her more than 20-year career. Field Service Digital spoke with Berger about how service leaders can overcome the stress and “analysis paralysis” involved in adopting new technology — and why, for most service organizations, now is indeed a good time to start.

Field Service Digital: You’ve worked in this industry for more than two decades. Are there any tell-tale signs that it’s time for an organization to modernize its approach to service management?

Berger: It’s easy to spot these service organizations for several reasons: They make extensive use of spreadsheets to track everything from technician availability to operational reports. Teams use email to triage customer incidents, information is stored in silos, and a simple question from a manager (or a customer) turns into a four-hour hunt for documentation.

This is common for service groups that grow organically over time. But as the demand for fast, high-quality service increases, what used to be the norm is now absurd. Thanks to the Amazons and Ubers of the world, customers have come to expect a frictionless experience. They want good service — quickly and on-demand — and expect a high-tech interface. (Carbon copies don’t cut it anymore.)

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a death sentence for older companies. There are many options for cloud service applications — and businesses that choose to adopt one can realize measurable gains.

Once a company reaches that inflection point and is ready to modernize, what’s the most logical first step?

First, set clear goals. There must be pain points that trigger consideration of a field service management solution — what are they? These goals should be specific, such as: “We need to improve mean-time-to-repair by having the right parts on the truck the first visit.”

Too often organizations fall into analysis paralysis and the project never gets going. — Anne Marie Berger, ForeFront.

Once you have these goals, build a request for information (RFI) template and review field service management software providers. Ensure that the provider’s software can solve or improve the problem. Be careful though. Too often organizations fall into analysis paralysis and the project never gets going. We advise organizations to do “smart planning” with an industry-savvy implementation partner that has experience to guide them in their preparation, in making the solution work for the business, and in avoiding common pitfalls.

This is a big decision that will require significant effort and investment. Do you have any advice for service leaders who feel overwhelmed by the process?

It is indeed a big decision, but as Desmond Tutu said, “There is only one way to eat an elephant…one bite at a time.”

At ForeFront, we suggest a “crawl, walk, run” approach. Prioritize your needs based on the processes that affect most of the people, most of the time, within the service department. Trying to fix every problem out of the gate can lead to scope creep, missed deadlines and frustrated team members.

How should service leaders make those prioritization decisions?

Every investment should have at least one of three outcomes: increased sales, decreased costs or improved reputation. I’d challenge leaders to list the new capabilities and rank them in each of these categories. Will this investment increase sales? If so, by how much? (3 = high impact, 2 = medium impact, 1 = low impact, 0 = no impact). Combine the rankings to create a list in descending order from most to least impactful. If done correctly, this takes emotion out of the prioritization process and allows the team to focus on execution.

Any examples of companies that have successfully gone through this process?

ForeFront has had the pleasure of working with many companies, from manufacturing to life-sciences, industrial services, and more. One of the companies is a manufacturer of high-tech lighting devices. The company realized a payback in just over six months, significantly exceeding expectations. This company was very diligent in measuring five key metrics directly tied to their payback goals. They analyzed the data prior to implementation, and again immediately after, and set up their service management software, ServiceMax, to monitor the metrics indefinitely. This gave management an on-demand view into project success.

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