Even in high technology industries, customers typically still enjoy a traditional approach to service, where the sales and service teams know their names and what equipment they have installed, and are highly responsive when there’s a problem. For growing companies that approach can only continue to work if field service management processes are automated and modernized.

Biotech specialist Fluidigm recently transitioned from a manual, spreadsheet-based approach to service management to a cloud-based solution that has allowed the company to keep up with its rapidly expanding customer base without stretching its service capabilities too thin. Fluidigm makes microfluidic-based chips and instruments for polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based molecular biology applications, next generation DNA sequencing sample preparation, and other types of biological research. Based in South San Francisco, CA, the company employs a team of highly skilled support and service engineers that assist customers with installation and maintenance of their equipment.

While the company’s customer base was growing rapidly, its field service management capabilities could not keep up. The company used an Excel spreadsheet to manage its customer records and service documentation. “We put a ton of manual work into that system to make it work,” says Christian Gawronski, Fluidigm’s manager of field service. “It was a file-based system, and it was incredibly difficult from a revision and control point of view. Who was updating these records? Who updated it last? There was no way to alert anyone if something in the record changed, and there was no scheduling capability. We quickly outgrew that, and we needed something better.”

Fluidigm has always been a high-touch company when it comes to customer support, but maintaining those standards was difficult as the company grew. “That was one of the biggest drivers: how do we deal with more and more touchpoints and obligations with an antiquated system?” Gawronski says.

The company had already adopted the Salesforce.com Web-based customer relationship management (CRM) platform, and decided that running its service business in the cloud would be the way to go. An initial attempt to build a solution internally, however, was not sufficient. “We tried to go it on our own, using a custom configuration and some actual customization in Salesforce.com,” Gawronski says. “We had some short-term gains over Excel, but we lacked the data structure to make it effective.”

Take a Web-Based Approach to Field Service

Fluidigm next turned to ServiceMax, a Web-based service management solution that is actually built on the Salesforce.com platform. “What ServiceMax provided was a data structure that explained the relationship between the various records and events,” Gawronski says. “With our Salesforce.com as our only solution, we ran into dead ends on reporting because essential objects and relationships weren’t there. Our lack of resources and time didn’t allow for a full-scale customization project.”

When a customer calls to ask a question or report a problem, Fluidigm staff can pull their records up in ServiceMax and know immediately which instruments the customer has on site, whether the devices are under warranty, if the customer has a service contract, and when was the last time a technician visited the customer site. They can also see any past or open work orders.

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