Using trigger points to manage your service business

Sometimes it feels like being a jack of all trades when managing a service business. On the one hand you act like a firefighter, on the other hand you know service is strategic to your business’s future earnings. That said, how do you elevate your job from the reactive to the proactive? Establishing trigger points may be the key ingredient to manage your business on an 80/20 basis. Thus, giving you the focus on interventions that matter.

Define success

When do you know you are doing a great job? In speaking to many service executives, it is not always clear what the norm is. “We want to increase service revenue by 20%”. Why 20%? Why not more? Why not less? In my blog Mind the Gap I tried to establish a norm for a maximum service revenue. In a blog by Shawn LaRocco he defined a norm for Cost to Serve. Both blogs have in common that success is put in a perspective of a norm.

Triggering the outliers

A facilities management customer of ours is processing 15,000 – 20,000 workorders per month. In the past they had a team of 30+ people in the back office validating and correcting all debriefed work orders. Based on gut feeling and experience there was a belief that 80% of the work orders did close within a bandwidth of ±5% of expectation. By formalising that bandwidth through trigger points, they now have a tool to filter the volume and start managing by exception.

Timely intervention

Apart from managing your workload on a 80/20 basis, trigger points serve as an early-warning system allowing for timely intervention. You don’t want to pay penalty cost for a missed SLA. Instead, you want a service job to be flagged if its progress jeopardises SLA attainment. E.g., a break-fix job needs to be completed within 4 hours. After 3 hours you could ping the technician to ask if completion is still on track. If not, you could provide the technician with support and/or contact the customer with a heads up.

A trigger point is thus a floor or ceiling boundary on a metric triggering an event. Using workflow, you can route the event to the mitigating personas in your organisation.

Value = Result minus Expectation

Many years ago, the value of trigger points was eloquently explained to me by university professor Meindert Flikkema. He stated that every event has both an expectation and a result. If somebody gets more than expected, then that person is happy … and vice versa.

In the context of running my own service organisation at Bosch I tweaked Meindert’s equation and added the concept of a bandwidth around expectation. Similar to the above example of ±5%, I strived to manage my operations inside the bandwidth. Inside the bandwidth I let the business run on automations. If I managed well, that would account for 80% of my workload. The outliers I routed to my attention queue. Over time trigger points would help me focus on what really matters for both my customers and my CFO. I’ll use the business driver contract profitability to illustrate the value equation and its impact.

Contract profitability in action

Suppose a customer wants to buy a full-service contract with a scope-of-work containing preventive maintenance, capped break-fix events, calibrations, software maintenance and an included set of spare parts and consumables. Using a CPQ-like tool the scope-of-work totals to a calculated cost of $75,000, a calculated revenue of $100,000 and an expected margin of 25%.

Throughout the lifecycle of the contract executed service activities will impact the cost you accrue. If those cost exceed the $75,000 you have either over-delivered or over-run on your calculated cost. Your CFO will see a less-than-expected margin contribution. If your margin is significantly more than the expected 25%, then either you are over-charging or under-delivering. Your customer may get a feeling he/she is not getting value for money. 

Tipping the trigger level should make you curious. Challenge both expectation and result. Do you have a clear understanding of cost-to-serve? Are you taking the life cycle of the product into account? Did the product owner accept your mid-life-upgrade proposal?

Pro-active

As service leader you don’t want to be told about under or over-situations by your CFO when it is too late for corrective intervention. Similarly, you don’t want you customers to churn. Trigger levels act as an early-warning system before you accrue irreversible cost or impact customer expectation negatively.

  • It’s November. Show me all contracts at 80% of calculated cost. Let’s see what service activities we can push out to ‘save’ this years’ margin contribution.
  • It’s July. We anticipated six break-fix events for a full year. We’ve already had four. We want to flag future break-fix service requests to inform the customer service agent and technician to be stricter.
  • It’s September. The year-to-date contract margin spikes at 35%. Upon investigation you find that a contracted and scheduled calibration activity has been cancelled by the customer. Instead of treating this as easy money, you engage with your customer to pre-empt contract renewal conversations.

Managing intelligent

As long as we have unplanned downtime, firefighting will remain an element of a service leaders’ job. Service execution tools are a great help to facilitate the transaction and collect service data. The true value manifests itself when you use transactional data in combination with trigger levels. Trigger levels give you that early-warning to become pro-active instead of reactive. Trigger levels add direction to your decision making. And better decision making makes you more intelligent and more strategic. Not only inside the service domain, but across your organisation.

Identifying new revenue streams in Service

It is no big secret that service revenue streams are profitable. Thus, it is to be expected that many CFO’s are the driving force behind your organisations’ service revenue growth ambitions. Especially when margins on product sales are dwindling. And indeed, we see the majority of today’s CSO’s having a revenue target. This is where the real transformation starts.

Having a cost-centre heritage practically all CSO’s know how to drive cost reductions in the service delivery process. Ask those same CSO’s if they know how to grow revenue, and the answers are less clear. Read on for the missing insights.

A small personal anecdote. In 2012 I was responsible for selling service contracts for a division of a € 60 billion family-run German company. Because my targets were revenue based, my role was moved from the service domain to the sales domain. The CRO asked me how I would achieve my goals and what marketing budget I needed. I said I would first build the delivery capability and then go for the marketing budget. How naive I was.

Voice of the Customer

How could I know what capabilities to build without understanding what customers really value? Without ever having put a lot of thought to my current services portfolio my service revenue stream was more a bookkeeping metric than a conscious business driver. Looking at my website under the services heading I saw the usual suspects; installation services, periodic maintenance, spare part sales and a helpdesk for break-fix scenarios. Remembering the words of the CRO; how did I market these offerings? Well, beyond the website, I didn’t. It made me aware that I needed the voice of the customer.

Customers expect assets to work

And when I asked, the answer was really simple; customers expect their assets to work. They want to maximise uptime while at the same time minimising operating cost.

The Preventive Maintenance story

May I make a guess? Preventive maintenance is a significant portion of your service revenue stream. But what if your customer starts questioning your rationale of ‘preventing’ and how those activities link to the achieved uptime? What if the procurement department of your customer pressures you to reduce the maintenance cost?

In our previous blog on how to sell customers on the value of preventive maintenance we have shown that value recognition of service delivery is moving from the actual execution to the insights you can provide. Sure, the service work needs to be done, but beyond fixing the asset, you have to ‘fix’ the customer. So, if you perform a periodic maintenance, try to shift your focus to the reporting and the interpretation/ communication of what the outcome means to the customer.

A customer may respond with:

  • Did you find any anomalies during PM and what impact do those have?
  • Do I need to reserve any additional budget to keep the asset going?
  • How can I improve the performance of the asset?

From fixing what breaks to knowing what works

Beyond reactive services

Considering revenue streams based on reactive type services are in jeopardy, the way forward is offering services that focus on the output and outcome of the asset. This implies that you have to change your paradigm from a product focus to a customer focus. At the core of your service delivery is not the product, but how your customer is using it. It makes a big difference if the same product is used intermittently at a 25% utilisation versus a 24/7 usage at 99.x%.

The key to selling uptime and performance-based services, is your understanding of the ‘cost of downtime’ of your product in the context of its use. Thus, we’re back at the voice of the customer.

I love penalty clauses

A ‘great’ way to engage in a value conversation with your customer is the topic of penalty clauses. I love them! Not because I, and my CFO, like to include the penalty liabilities into a service contract, but because penalties are a surrogate for something that is important to your customer. Try to discover the ‘why’ behind a penalty clause and focus on the mitigation of that reason. You may discover new types of services you can sell. 

My guess, it’s all about availability of the machine. Apply more curiosity and your customer will tell you when that availability matters … and when not. Even a 99.x% utilisation will have ‘black out’ windows allowing you to perform the necessary service activities without the stress over-dimensioning your service delivery organisation.

Sell first, then build delivery capability

Going back to my CRO. On a continuum of potential services, I could offer a full range from reactive to pro-active, from product to usage-based services. In the end, the determining factor is not me, the seller of the services. It’s all about the buyer of services. My CRO ‘cured’ my naivety. I first listen to my customer and sell what he/ she wants. Then, if I have a state-of-the-art and flexible service execution platform then I do not need to worry about the service delivery capability being able to catch up.

This article is published in ServiceMax Field Service Digital on November 24th, 2020

Post-Crisis Handbook – Managing the Backlog

We’ve been talking about disruption for quite a while, but many could not fathom out its consequences or that it would even hit us. Nations, organisations and individuals have discovered that their business continuity plans could not mitigate the impact.

Now we’re past the initial shock, what is business-as-usual going to look like? How do we pick-up and how do we process the backlog created by three months of lock-down?

In the previous chapter of our post-crisis handbook @Daniel Brabec provided four handles that are top of mind when navigating the service world in the New Normal. In this chapter we will focus on managing the backlog.

Perpetual Backlogs

Right now, all focus is on Covid-19 and its impacts. But if you look deeper, you will see that many COVID-related themes have pre-existed in varying degrees; its only now that we look at them through a magnifying glass.

  • Remote service procedures have been around for more than 30 years. Rethinking business continuity plans will likely expedite their adoption.
  • Digital tools allow you to remodel your business processes and simulate the amount and mode of touch points. Social distancing guidelines add an additional ingredient to that business process (re)engineering.
  • Balancing the availability of technician capacity and contracted workload is an ongoing exercise for each service-focused executive. Disruptions and imbalance exist at all times. Only Covid-19 is a major shock, illustrating that business-as-usual balancing mechanisms can’t cope.

Balancing Supply & Demand

For about three months many businesses have seen huge fluctuations in both the volume of work and the availability of resources.

The existing workforce has been confined to work from home, has been furloughed or has taken sick/ care leave. In addition, those that are available have to spend more time on a job for extra precautionary activities. In all, you have less capacity to execute work.

From a workload perspective we see that many jobs have been pushed out. We see some equipment being ‘sweated’ to maximum usage (e.g. medical diagnostic equipment) and others going into hibernation (e.g. aircraft engines). This will have a huge impact on the life cycle of the asset warranting a more asset centric approach.

The Impact of the Backlog

Just try to imagine all the impacts a work-related backlog might have on the business:

  • Compliance: For three months Preventive Maintenance (PM) and Inspection jobs have been pushed out. All time-based schedules and counters will see non-conformity. To what degree can you apply flexibility to compliance dates and how do you manage those shifts?
  • Service Level Agreement attainment: There are many relevant questions that need to be answered in the measurement of SLA performance. How does one measure uptime for e.g. medical diagnostic equipment that has been running 24/7? How do you measure uptime of equipment for furloughed organisations? And How do penalty clauses apply; or is the pandemic considered an act-of-god? And finally, how do you filter/ clean metrics that are impacted by Covid-19?
  • Contract renewal: This possible renewal scenario might play out between organizations and customers. Procurement at the customer may say “We’ve not had the benefit of contracted services for three months, so we will only renew in three months” or “We’ll only renew after completion of the pushed-out PM jobs”. Try to imagine and forecast the impact on your contract revenue streams.
  • Dispatching priorities: How does contract renewal drive the priorities for rescheduling the PM backlog? If you have more jobs than capacity, what jobs get priority and what will be the impact to the above three bullets?
  • Workforce capacity planning: Now we have more jobs than capacity, how long will it take us to process the backlog? Will we strike the backlog, or will we contract additional/ temporary capacity? What jobs will we assign to 3rd party technicians and what jobs will our own people do?

To reiterate, the above impacts are not only related to Covid-19, they are universal and timeless. You might recognise yourself in the synthesis of pre-Covid-19 quotes made by various companies: “At present we can only deliver on 85% of the contracted work due to unavailability of skilled resources. In the execution of work, we take calculated business risks balancing compliance, cost and revenue streams”.

Running Scenarios

Ultimately, the challenge for any organisation is the balancing of supply of resources and the demand of (contracted) work. And as we know by now, we have to be able to handle disruption in various degrees of intensity. This brings us to the requirement of being able to run scenarios.

Some examples:

  • What is the revenue & compliance risk of executing 85% of the jobs versus adding resources to get to 95% execution?
  • What happens to my contract renewals, SLA attainment and penalty clauses when I prioritise pushed-out jobs of gold-contracts over bronze-contracts?
  • Can I use knowledge on capacity availability in my service-sales process when making commitments on execution dates?

In its most generic form, running scenarios will help you making informed decisions on both capacity/ resource management and prioritising (contracted) workload.

The New Normal is Business-as-Usual

So, what is so new about this New Normal? Is it new? Or is it business-as-usual under a magnifying glass? I believe it is the latter. I believe backlog management in the past has focused a lot on the transactional aspects. Now the disruption is visible to all, I believe the time is right to make backlog management a strategic decision-making function.

This article is published in Field Technologies Online on June 22nd, 2020.

Mit Servicevertragspartnern ein konsistentes Kundenerlebnis sichern

Beim Aufbau und der Umgestaltung einer Serviceorganisation wird unweigerlich das Thema des Umgangs mit externen Dienstleistern und Partnern (Contractors) zur Sprache kommen. Ob es nun darum geht, zu skalieren, flexibler zu werden oder die Kosten zu senken – die meisten Diskussionen drehen sich um das „Wie“. Wie können wir eine Vielzahl potenzieller Partner verwalten und gleichzeitig die Kontrolle über Kunden und deren Erfahrungen behalten? Und was können wir tun, um die Chancen einer Zusammenarbeit zu maximieren und die Risiken zu minimieren?

Konfigurierbares Ökosystem

Um das richtige Gleichgewicht zu finden, definieren wir in der Regel zunächst Begriffe wie Outsourcing / Insourcing und (Sub-) Auftragnehmer / Partner. Je nachdem, ob Sie ein OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer), ein Third Party Maintainer (TPM), ein Anlagenbetreiber oder ein Facility Manager (FM) sind, ergeben sich unterschiedliche Auswirkungen.

Wenn Sie also Vertragspartner zu Ihrem Ökosystem hinzufügen möchten, müssen Sie die Regeln für die Einbeziehung klar festlegen und diese mit unterstützenden Tools und Prozessen festigen. Diese Regeln können an Bedingungen geknüpft sein, die je nach Region, Produktgruppe, Art des Auftrags usw. variieren.

Partner einstufen

Ähnlich wie bei der Beziehung zu Ihren Lieferanten werden Sie wahrscheinlich ein unterschiedliches Maß an „Nähe“ zu Service-Vertragspartnern haben. Diese Beziehung ist definiert durch die Verfügbarkeit von Partnern und deren Wettbewerbsposition gegenüber Ihrem Endkunden.

Zudem bieten Servicepartner heute die Flexibilität, verschiedene Servicemodelle umzusetzen: 
Partner

  • verwenden Werkzeuge und Prozesse von einem OEM
  • bringen ihre eigenen Geräte in die Prozesse des OEM ein
  • verwenden ihre eigenen Tools und Prozesse – Arbeitsaufträge werden als Blackbox eingeplant
  • verwenden ihre eigenen Tools und Prozesse – Aufträge werden mit vollständiger Transparenz eingeplant

Diese Flexibilität erlaubt Ihnen, Ihre Partner gezielt so einzusetzen, dass Sie mehr Kunden besser bedienen können.

Kundenerlebnis messen

Sie haben nun mehr Flexibilität, Servicepartner zu nutzen, wie können Sie dennoch das Kundenerlebnis steuern? Einige unserer Kunden wünschen eine konsistente Servicebereitstellung, ohne dass der Endkunde weiß, ob der Service von ihrer Organisation oder von einem Partner erbracht wird. Andere Kunden möchten die Unterschiede zwischen den Serviceleistern hervorheben und dies als Wettbewerbsvorteil nutzen.

Um erfolgreich das Kundenerlebnis zu messen, müssen eine höhere Sichtbarkeit geschaffen, die Performance der Serviceleistungen gemessen und einheitliche KPIs für alle Serviceerbringungen definiert werden. Wenn Sie Daten gemeinsam nutzen, ohne über deren Interpretation „verhandeln“ zu müssen, können Sie Ihre Geschäftsziele an den Geschäftszielen Ihrer Servicepartner ausrichten. Infolgedessen gewinnen Sie, Ihr Contractor gewinnt und Ihr Endkunde gewinnt.

Partner messen

Abgesehen von strategischen, kaufmännischen und technischen Aspekten ist die Steuerung eines Servicepartners wie die Steuerung der Serviceerbringung. Bis zu einem gewissen Grad sollten Sie die Arbeit externer Ressourcen auf ähnliche Weise messen wie die Arbeit Ihrer internen Mitarbeiter. Ihr Endkunde soll das erhalten, worauf er Anspruch hat, gleichzeitig möchten Sie eine angemessene Marge erzielen.

Da Servicevertragspartner zu marktüblichen Konditionen arbeiten, sollten Sie sich auf die folgenden drei Messgrößen konzentrieren, da diese die Kundenerfahrung, die Serviceerbringung und die Leistung der Auftragnehmer am unmittelbarsten beeinflussen:

  • First-Time Fix: Ist die Servicequalität gut, wurde das Problem sofort behoben?
  • Mittlere Reparaturzeit: Wie lange dauert es, bis das System wieder verfügbar ist? 
  • Net Promoter Score: Ist der Endkunde mit dem Service zufrieden?