It’s Time to Be Proactive About Engaging with Customers

The equipment maintenance and service industry is one of the last where there is a significant amount of person to person contact. Think in terms of the last time you interacted with a bank teller or a travel agent, went to the post office, or a library. Technology has dramatically reset the way that companies interact with their customers to effectively reduce customer effort. People are getting used to “instant gratification” when they purchase items and services. They demand, and get, instantaneous responses when they order a book, buy a plane ticket, and deposit a check in the bank.

When their equipment breaks, on the other hand, they still have to wait for a person to show up to service it. Can organizations bridge the enterprise gap and deliver real-time proactive customer service to their accounts in a way that meets this new consumer expectation? The answer is yes, depending on their level of digital maturity and customer experience (CX) proactiveness. Some ways that companies with varying maturity levels have found success include:

  • Using mobile devices and software for service delivery
  • Streamlining processes and digitizing field service to reduce customer effort
  • Leveraging the Internet of Things (IoT) and predictive maintenance
  • Implementing Artificial Intelligence (AI) & machine learning

Consumer Experience vs. Enterprise Experience

Studies reveal that on average, American’s look at their phones 47 times a day – almost twice that number for 18- to 24-year-olds. That is more than 9 billion mobile contact moments in the U.S. every day. Successful service leaders need to understand and leverage this shift from the telephone to the “app” and proactively deliver communication and content in their customers’ preferred method. Requesting service, ordering supplies, and providing data or instrument readings needs to be easy, straight forward, and done on the device that people use every day for everything else.

A mobile platform for customer communication is a must-have in today’s business environment. It must be simple to use, efficient, and deliver a confirmation that the product or service requested has been ordered or scheduled. Also, constant follow up of changes in status need to be sent to the customer as that status changes. Think of leading e-businesses, I get an order confirmation, shipping number, updates from the shipping carrier, and a notification that the items have been delivered, all without doing anything after the initial order/purchase. When I request a ride from a rideshare, I am immediately told where the driver is, who the driver is, what car they are in, and when they will arrive. This is all good information for an asset maintenance customer as well.

Additionally, all associated processes need to be streamlined, automated, and simplified. Ordering, invoicing, payments, and payment confirmation need to be effortless. A key measurement in the future of service delivery will be customer effort (CE).

This is a single measure metric on the amount of effort a customer has to expend to get a process completed or an issue resolved. In the age of “instant gratification,” customers are not willing to spend their time, energy, and money to ensure that your organization does its work properly. Service leaders would be wise to focus on this measurement now before they are forced to fix it later.

Step One: Go Mobile to Make It Easy on Customers

Initially, look at the steps a customer has to take to do business with your company. Identify all of the things that they have to do: emails sent, calls made, forms filled out, time waiting, and so on. Then, think in terms of your own cell phone purchase and payment of ongoing service charges. You have the option to roll all the costs together, set up automatic payments, get notifications, have access to all past invoices, and can upgrade/purchase supplies, equipment, and/or services at any time. You can do all of this on your phone without once having to make a phone call or talk to customer service.

The important point here is that this capability/data is available without you ever having to ask for it. The level of customer effort is incredibly low and the value to the customer is very high on a service that they rely on more and more every day. Is it that easy to do business with your organization? It should be and it could be.

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Step Two: Leverage IoT to Monitor Your Assets in the Field

As organizations mature, the ability to use the “Internet of Things” (IoT) to connect to and monitor the condition of assets in the field becomes more attractive. IoT provides the ability to remotely monitor asset condition, understand when and why it will need maintenance, and schedule that maintenance before the asset fails (and most importantly, even before the customer is aware that there is a problem). Leveraging this capability can unleash significant benefits for service companies:

  • Predictive maintenance can increase asset uptime by as much as 47%
  • Unplanned vs. planned maintenance is up to 7 times more expensive
  • Overall maintenance costs reductions as much as 17%
  • Technicians responding to equipment BEFORE it breaks reduce HSE risks by 11%
  • Fixing equipment before it breaks reduces overall wear and tear, extending economic life of an asset by up to 16%

These are revolutionary outcomes to service leaders who struggle to lower internal costs by as little as 5% per year. In addition, this approach to equipment management significantly reduces the overall customer effort associated with the end to end maintenance activity. This is the apex of improved customer experience. The asset is monitored as its performance degrades, a technician is dispatched before the equipment fails, before the customer is aware of a problem, and before there is an “outage.” The equipment is repaired before it breaks and the customer is made aware of the problem after it is resolved.

Step Three: Assist Teams with Artificial Intelligence

Finally, service organizations have reams of information on equipment condition, failure codes, parts required to repair, mean time to service, and mean time between service calls. The question is, what can be done with this data? How can service leaders turn this raw data into information that can change the way services are provided. Software providers have some answers. Artificial intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) applications can import legacy data, format it, aggregate it, and turn it into actionable information.

AI can interrogate past maintenance records. The systems can run probability analysis on what the most likely cause of a specific problem is based on past activities and can determine what parts, skills, and time it will need to remedy the situation. With on-going machine learning, every additional interaction with an asset (or asset group) will refine and update the AI-derived remedy or solution. As time passes, the application learns more and more about the asset, it’s subassemblies and component parts, the profile of the equipment leading up to the failure (if it is a connected device), and how to best repair and put it back into service.

This type of application exists today and focuses on AI learning from each individual interaction with an asset, or class of assets. Each interaction “teaches” the AI a little more about how to best maintain the asset. This technology will be a game-changer for service providers, allowing a far greater ability to proactively impact customer engagement and loyalty. Maturing technology and digital adoption of emerging capabilities will drive continued success in Asset Service Management.

Continue Reading: How to Differentiate Your Customer Experience: 4 Pillars of Focus

ABOUT Joe Kenny

Avatar photoJoe Kenny is the vice president of global customer transformation & customer success at ServiceMax. His career spans over 30 years of leadership positions in Operations, Sales, Product Development, Product Marketing, and Field Service. Beginning his field service experience with the U.S. Naval Security Group Command (NSGC) as a mainframe computer technician, Joe subsequently lived and worked in Asia, the U.S., and Europe. Joe has focused on customer relationship management, using clearly defined and mutually agreed to measurements of success, and driving to continually exceed customer expectations, allowing for exponential business growth and client retention.