Guest post by Dave Hart, vice president of global customer transformation at ServiceMax. Hart will speak at SmartVan’s 2014 Field Service Roadshow, which kicks off next week in London, about why service technicians deserve a seat at the product development table — and other ways to turn service into a profit powerhouse.
Here’s a tale of two field service companies — one that figured out how to build better products by tapping into their technicians’ on-the-ground experience, and another that didn’t and paid the price.
First, the company that stumbled: Years ago, I worked for a manufacturer that released an update to one of its most popular products. There wasn’t anything wrong with the existing version: it was easy to use, rarely broke down and, when it did, it was simple to fix. The “new and improved” version, however, wasn’t well-designed and didn’t work as well. Our field service techs were left scratching their heads. “How could we get everything so right with one product and then so wrong with the next?,” they asked.
The reason was obvious: the research and development (R&D) teams and the service techs never spoke to each other.
Now, for a different story: A large healthcare technology company has installed a knowledge management system on the smartphones, tablets and other assorted devices its tech carry with them on the road. The techs document what they and the customers experience with the products day in and day out. The information is delivered to the company’s product development team for consideration when updating the system — or even creating a new product altogether.
The lesson? Your service techs know your company’s products the best — even better than the customers do. They are on the ground every day and hear what customers like, and don’t like, about the product. They develop an intuitive sense for what can (and probably will) go wrong.
The Power of Data Collection in the Field
Unfortunately, the story of a product rollout that didn’t go according to plan is more the rule than the exception. The strange thing is, it doesn’t have to be that way. Collaboration between field service techs and product teams, such as R&D, has never been easier. Field techs carry smartphones, tablets and laptops in the field Communication apps such as Salesforce Chatter, Skype and Apple Face Time make it simple, fast and efficient for product developers to work with field service techs.
So while companies are embracing knowledge management systems on mobile devices, they’re not capitalizing enough on the information that gets collected. The operations side see the real-time updates about product glitches or common customer gripes, but the research and development side doesn’t. That’s a huge missed opportunity.
Consider the healthcare company that I described above as the exception. So far, the company has collected more than a thousand product suggestions from field workers who use its mobile knowledge management technology. Both the technical support and product teams vet the suggestions, and share the most informative ones with the rest of the company.
How Service Tech Feedback Can Boost the Bottom-Line
Here’s a basic example of how technology-enabled collaboration between service techs and product developers can improve business. Say that a product has a fundamental problem or part that needs to be regularly replaced. Field techs can often spot design flaws that, if corrected, would reduce maintenance and repair times. If a product developer can look at a product from the tech’s perspective, everyone benefits — the company, its customers and the techs who service the equipment.
Multiply that across multiple products and service calls and you start to see the time and money savings. There’s an added benefit, too: like all employees, service techs want to be heard. Giving them a strong voice in how the products they work with every day are created goes a long way toward engaging them in all aspects of the business.
The healthcare company is a prime example of how companies can tap into their technicians’ vast product knowledge. Every field service company should follow its lead.