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Field service management (FSM) and customer relationship management (CRM) are best-of-breed solutions that are essential to the work of field technicians. Both tools manage different aspects of client needs, but if they’re not working together, businesses will miss out on new opportunities and more productive work processes. So how do you synch the two? FSM Read More

Field service management (FSM) and customer relationship management (CRM) are best-of-breed solutions that are essential to the work of field technicians. Both tools manage different aspects of client needs, but if they’re not working together, businesses will miss out on new opportunities and more productive work processes. So how do you synch the two?

FSM and CRM are usually integrated with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) to eliminate duplicate data entry, avoid costly mistakes due to lack of data, and share customer information in real-time. FSM software vendors and others offering best-of-breed solutions generally offer standard integration approaches, but in most environments it also makes sense to integrate FSM software with CRM software. This ensures a consistent customer experience regardless of whether a customer is interacting with a CRM user or a field service technician. It is for this reason that some software vendors have created standard integration models with ERP products.

A deeper dive into FSM
While CRM is designed to manage the customer experience, field service management software helps companies go deep into their data to ensure customers can be served profitably and successfully in the field. Good FSM software has a vast detail of built-in functionality, but here is a topline list of what it covers:

  • Dispatch and service scheduling, appointment setting, calendar-based scheduling from maintenance plans and automated scheduling optimization
  • The ability to issue and record completion of work orders
  • Contract management to ensure service agreements are adhered to, even when terms are customer-specific
  • Service inventory, including inventory on each technician’s vehicle
  • Warranty management, so technicians in the field can determine which work is covered by warranty and which carries an additional charge
  • Tools to enable technicians to upsell new services, issue quotes and secure approval on quotes
  • Reverse logistics to take parts and subcomponents back into inventory, repair or scrap them, track ownership of the part and whether the customers or subcontractors are entitled to a replacement
  • Service billing, used to collect details of billable service, pass it to ERP for invoicing, and provide customers visibility into billing activity in the field

This takes us to the heart of the issue because even when a CRM package has field service capabilities, it alone cannot enable a company to deliver all these functions – especially if competitors have a more advanced service offering. So, comprehensive FSM software is the key, but if run as a standalone entity, even the most advanced field service product will leave gaps in the ability to address the entire customer lifecycle, maximize revenue and improve customer satisfaction.

When two become one: 360-degree view

So, how does this combined view of the customer across both CRM and field service improve customer service and increase revenue? If a field technician can see in the CRM solution what service has been performed on a customer’s equipment in the field, then that technician can – based on frequency of service, cost of service and parts, and even predictive analytics – record a sales opportunity to potentially replace the equipment and make that business case directly to the customer.

In this scenario, a field service technician may learn that the customer site they are working on will be expanding and can quickly create a sales opportunity for additional equipment that might be sold. Combining these solutions is essential, as a company delivers a better experience when their employees across the organization know about recent customer conversations, transactions, service calls, open issues, customer-specific requirements and correspondence.

Identify the two-way streets
There is also specific information that should be subject to a bi-directional integration with FSM and CRM, ensuring data is created, synched and updated in both systems. Recording service history and ongoing sales activity is a must to allow sales, customer service and field service personnel to get a 360-degree view of the customer and better understand the facts on the ground. As is sales history information, which gives field service technicians better visibility into products or equipment at a customer site that may not yet be covered by a service agreement and which may represent additional revenue opportunities.

Warranty information and contract management is another important consideration, as it can provide CRM users with a better idea of warranty renewal sales opportunities for each customer and show how well the field organization is performing against contractual requirements. Current sales promotions can also be included in both systems to allow field technicians to see opportunities that are relevant to the customer and use that to upsell or provide appropriate discounts.

Open architecture means you can tailor-make your solution

Some enterprise software integrations are associated with high costs and risks, but not all systems are built the same. To avoid this, businesses should look to solutions built on an open integration architecture, creating standard but configurable implementations to CRM offerings. No two implementations of either of these CRM products is truly the same, which means that each integration will be somewhat unique. That is why the integration needs to be configurable and user-friendly – for example, using a drag-and-drop tool to add fields, repurpose fields and add tables.

This streamlined approach to integration also increases enterprise agility. As the way you do business changes and those changes are reflected in a Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics 365 solution, the integration can change with you, without custom programming or external consulting fees – the result is quick, cost-effective and simple onboarding.

There are still some decisions to be made

In planning your integration, there are a few decisions to make about how you want to handle transactions as they are passed between systems. Some database fields are typically integrated synchronously, which means before a transaction relating to a particular field is recorded in one system, it must be confirmed by and recorded in the other. Others are handled asynchronously, which means the transaction is recorded in the system immediately, without any acknowledgement that it has been received and approved by the other system.

Some fields that are typically handled synchronously include quotes and estimates, which need to tie back to current pricing in CRM or ERP, inventory commitments to ensure available-to-promise status of parts, and credit approvals, which need to be checked against payment history and credit limits in CRM or ERP.

Asynchronous integration is typically used to make the full customer list from CRM available in field service. This is valuable to a field service technician so they can see all contacts at a company and have an idea of their role in the organization. The service history can also be made available in a periodic update to CRM to keep customer service and sales people informed of the nature of the total service relationship.

Better together
It is critical for the various software products you rely on to share data where it makes sense, but integration can only be considered with a sound business case. In identifying that business case, ask yourself how you want the integration to enable your business to beat the competition and how an integration can help increase customer satisfaction and revenue.

Field service management software should not be an island unto itself – it should extend into other enterprise software, including CRM and ERP. Integrations can increase solution expense and complexity, so standard integrations that easily accommodate your unique solution set are extremely valuable. When considering integration, make sure to identify the barriers you want to overcome, so you can reap the rewards of a high-quality enterprise solution.

Andrew Lichey, Product Manager, North America, IFS Andrew is responsible for developing and evolving the IFS Field Service Management software product. He has been leading field service management software development projects since 1996. Prior to that, he served as an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Army. He holds a degree in computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Andrew can be reached at Andrew.lichey@ifsworld.com.

Four pro tips on how to cope with ever-growing consumer demands and better serve today’s digitally fluent customers You don’t have to be a fan of HGTV’s hit show Fixer Upper to be familiar with hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines. These days, the husband-wife duo has become the face of the American DIY Dream to Read More

Four pro tips on how to cope with ever-growing consumer demands and better serve today’s digitally fluent customers

You don’t have to be a fan of HGTV’s hit show Fixer Upper to be familiar with hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines. These days, the husband-wife duo has become the face of the American DIY Dream to transform an unsightly space into something chic and beautiful. And while the experienced contractor might understand the projects featured in each 30-minute episode actually take eight weeks or more to complete, home makeover shows make it look fun, easy—and unrealistically quick.

Considering the huge popularity of HGTV and DIY networks, there’s a good chance your customers are familiar with – and have been inspired by – the Gaineses and other home makeover stars.

In addition to HGTV and DIY network, your customers are likely fans of services like Amazon Prime two-day delivery, on-demand ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft, and any number of other apps, websites and virtual services that have conditioned the average American to expect what they want when they want it.

This is the world in which we live and paint. In-person visits to a prospective customer’s house or business to spec out a project are being replaced by a growing number of mobile apps and web services like Paintzen, Houzz and Angie’s List that provide instant access to contractors, reviews, project estimates and design inspiration. This trend presents new challenges for the painting pro, but also new opportunities.

“Any time you can get people interested in what we do, we can add value by providing that service to them,” says Kevin Nolan, President and CEO of Nolan Painting in Havertown, PA. Nolan, who has nearly 40 years in the industry, says customers that look to platforms like Houzz and programs like Fixer Upper for design ideas are likely to have a more adventurous approach to their project and a clearer idea of what they’re after, not to mention a photo or video clip to help share their vision.

Tom VanDerkolk, 25-plus-year industry veteran and owner of VanDerkolk + Kooi Painting in Grand Rapids, MI, agrees, specifically citing how communication technology advancements have made his team more efficient. “Most projects are going to have questions, concerns or misunderstandings. We work to plan around those as much as possible, but simply knowing if our customer prefers a text, call or email allows us to solve an issue quickly.”

Here are four takeaways to help you stay relevant in the digital era and manage ever-growing customer expectations.

Get Social

If your business doesn’t have a Facebook or Instagram page, start there. Both platforms offer a free and easy way to showcase your handiwork. There’s a good chance your customers will share those project photos with their networks, which could lead to additional business. Or, you could pay to boost one or more of your posts to reach a larger network of potential customers. Both Facebook and Instagram allow you to choose your budget and target your posts to specific geographic regions and user interests; for even as little as $20, you can increase the probability of getting your craftsmanship in front of people most likely to need your services.

If you specialize in commercial work, sharing with photos, videos or behind-the-scenes tidbits about your work processes on LinkedIn might help you catch the eye of other local businesses.

Many of your prospective customers look to Pinterest for inspiration specifically for home painting projects. Having a Pinterest presence will show your customers that you are up to date with current trends and can be useful in helping your customer pinpoint the paint color or design scheme they are after.

Learn to Use a New Tool: Technology

While there are plenty of ways you can spend money to get noticed online, there are also a variety of free tools. For example, VanDerkolk says his team often uses Google Maps’ Streetview and Google Earth imagery to view a new job site – a simple practice that helps them prepare for the job. You can also review your business’ Facebook page insights (they’re free) to get a better understanding of your audience’s age, gender and location demographics – information that can be of use when designing a seasonal sales push, tailoring the tone of your social media content or deciding where to target an advertising campaign. And storing frequently used sales and marketing materials on cloud storage services like Google Drive or Dropbox allows for quick and easy access out in the field. Some painting contractors take their use of technology one step further — Google AdWords campaigns (an inexpensive form of online advertising) can help generate new leads, for example.

Own Your Reviews

Nolan and VanDerkolk’s combined 67 years of experience hasn’t yielded a sure-fire way to avoid negative customer feedback, but it sure has taught them a thing or two in how best to deal with it. Both owners recommend taking the time to respond to any negative reviews that show up on Google, Facebook, and Yelp, an effort that at minimum demonstrates to anyone who may encounter the negative review that you are genuinely concerned about your customers’ satisfaction, and in the best-case scenario may even result in the dissatisfied customer amending the negative review (or removing it altogether) or giving you another shot at the business. Additionally, don’t be afraid to ask your satisfied customers to leave a positive review of your business online – having a high volume of good reviews on Google, for example, will help your business show up in search results.

Maintain Your Humanity

No amount of technology will replace the value of a human connection with your customer. So while some homeowners may opt for the ease of a website or app to get a project estimate, the reality is that many more will seek your business out because of your reputation or as the result of a recommendation from a friend or family member. VanDerkolk recommends going the extra mile with customers whenever possible; he’s been known to surprise families who are without use of their kitchen for a few days due to a renovation project with a gift card to a local restaurant or tickets to a sporting event. Similarly, Nolan recommends finding ways to give back to the community around you. Whether you are sponsoring a community event or doing pro bono work for a community organization, you are demonstrating your business’s character and culture in a way that no digital service can ever replace.

Diane Walsh is Vice President of Market Development and Sales Operations for ShurTech Brands, LLC, maker of FrogTape® brand painter’s tape. Diane also serves as director of the ShurTech Brands Professional Paint Advisory Board, working with leading contractors from across the country to explore industry trends and share innovations for the benefit of the entire trade. Diane was awarded 2018 PDCA Associate Member of the Year.

Just a couple days ago I returned from an event that has me so excited about working in the trades and what it means to be “Made in the USA”.  The RIDGID Experience is only in it’s second year of existence but its clear to me that this will be an amazing annual event for Read More

Eric standing in front of RIDGE Tool Just a couple days ago I returned from an event that has me so excited about working in the trades and what it means to be “Made in the USA”.  The RIDGID Experience is only in it’s second year of existence but its clear to me that this will be an amazing annual event for years to come. Here’s how it works: All across their social media channels RIDGID invites anyone who uses their tools, any and all of the RIDGID tools to show off their pride in the work they do with those tools. There’s an official entry process and some hashtagging involved but its super simple and fun. Once entered RIDGID picks the winners of the contest and those winners are treated to a total first-class experience with factory & hands-on training center tours, an inside look at new upcoming products and tools, meals, lodging, airfare, limo, professional photo shoots,  a box suite at the Indians ball game and even a fishing trip on Lake Erie! Oh man, I gotta tell you it was a blast!

Of course factory tours are exciting, getting to see how our favorite tool is made and even meeting the people who make them daily leaves me with a higher level of respect for the brand and excitement for my work. That was definitely the case for me after the #RIDGIDExperience.

Unfortunately we don’t always get to take the camera’s along for every step of the tour but I’ve posted a few cool shots on our Facebook and Instagram along with some comments along the way. I’ve included a video of the final steps in the assembly of the iconic 300 below; its hard to believe that machine was ever so clean and shiny!

I’d like to thank the entire team at RIDGID and those involved who organized and pulled off a truly memorable experience for all of us “winners”. It’s clear the entire company knows and cares about who their customer is. Thank you, Eric Aune.

 

 

It seems like everything we buy today is temporary; like everything is just replaceable. Even some houses, or at least parts of houses. I’m not just talking about the TV on the wall or the appliances that seem to only last 5-10 years at most. Unfortunately our parents were likely the last to own a Read More

It seems like everything we buy today is temporary; like everything is just replaceable. Even some houses, or at least parts of houses. I’m not just talking about the TV on the wall or the appliances that seem to only last 5-10 years at most. Unfortunately our parents were likely the last to own a washer and dryer for 25 years. When Heather and I built our house nearly 15 years ago we did our research, we thought we bought the best appliances that fit our modest budget only to replace them seven years in just days before hosting Christmas for our extended family.

I had a great conversation with a national salesperson for a major tankless manufacturer recently and was surprised to learn from him that the average life span of a domestic tankless water heater in North America is just 8-9 years. The conversation took a sharp turn when we started talking maintenance and proper installation practices. That 8-9 year death rate is crazy to me considering I’ve got 15 year-old units out there I installed and service annually that show no sign of stopping. So I have to ask, is a tankless water heater just another throwaway appliance like the junk washer and dryers at the national big box store?

There are some things we can hang our hat on as being permanent these days when talking about our work. Generations gone by installed huge threaded or welded piping systems that are still in use today. Our version of the same might very well be PEX, although its hard to know for sure just yet. All opinions aside, its just too early to say modern plumbing systems wont last as long.

Just the other day while installing in-floor tubing for a radiant slab in a basement and garage of my little sister’s new house I got to thinking that it was definitely permanent. Unless someone decides to remodel the basement bathroom piping, that tubing isn’t going anywhere and I have no doubt it will last quite a while. After all, I did my research and selected the product to fit the budget, right?

Reverse logistics is becoming an integral part of operations for manufacturers, distributors and service providers to minimize lost revenue when moving products, parts and sub-components back into inventory. Recent Statista research shows that goods returns cost $246.3bn per year in North America and must span customers, service organizations, supply chains, receiving departments and even a Read More

Reverse logistics is becoming an integral part of operations for manufacturers, distributors and service providers to minimize lost revenue when moving products, parts and sub-components back into inventory. Recent Statista research shows that goods returns cost $246.3bn per year in North America and must span customers, service organizations, supply chains, receiving departments and even a repair depot operations or subcontractors. In order to minimize lost revenue, organizations need to assess their approach to reverse logistics.

Here, I outline three common reverse logistics scenarios. If these ring true then it may be time to evaluate whether your reverse logistics strategy is costing you time, money and customer satisfaction.

  1. Do you deploy technicians and support assets in the field?

The field service process alone includes multiple reverse logistics steps. The technician pulls a component out of a repairable piece of equipment at the customer site and replaces it with a part out of his truck inventory. In a situation where the technician does not have a spare part and cannot, an inventory order will need to be placed. The field technician will need complete visibility of whether the part is under warranty or if the customer is entitled to special pricing as a result of a contractual commitment.

Without an integrated end to end service platform, you would be relying on a technician to communicate with separate field service, reverse logistics, warranty management, contracts and installed base systems to get the answers he or she needs.

Obviously, some type of communication between field service and reverse logistics software is necessary if only to prevent losing track of parts or components pulled from customer equipment in the field. But in these situations, there needs to be a seamless way to track whether or not the part is going to be repaired, who owns the item as it enters the reverse logistics process, whether the part, or repair, is billable, and then the part must be tied with a return materials authorization (RMA) through the original field service order.

Regardless of whether an environment is focused entirely on reverse logistics or in the field, companies expect their software platform to handle knowledge transfer. A technician in the field should be able to access tutorials on various repair processes, which in turn makes those with less experience more productive while increasing first time fix rate. Reverse logistics software can now embed in the workflow detailed videos designed to walk a worker on the repair bench in the workflow. The result –  increased productivity and putting knowledge into the hands of technicians where and when they need it.

  1. Do you rely on an intricate supply chain?

In most organizations, the reverse logistics process can be delineated by new product and after use returns. In an after-use environment, the reverse logistics process involves multiple stakeholders, and this means that a software product used to manage this value chain must encompass all, not some, of these stakeholders. Here’s why.

The customer service department generally authorizes the service and repair work through the call center, or increasingly, digital customer portals, chatbots or even social media.

If a replacement part is due for shipment, the customer service representative will check inventory availability, and may have to contact purchasing. If the product replacement requires a build order, the customer service representative may have to involve manufacturing or supply chain departments.  If the defect is to be received for repair, logistics will be engaged to receive the defect and route it for repair. Each of the stakeholders has a role to play, and each has their specific process to follow. This gets even more complicated when there is a field service component to the reverse logistics process.

Throughout this process, there is a set of rules that must be followed. These rules cover everything from the asset or product itself, which parts are sent to which repair facility or depot, whether the part is covered by warranty or contract entitlement, whether a customer has a replacement for the part in inventory or whether you need to ship one and much more. Clear communication, beginning with the task of defining processes and ensuring that the correct business process is followed, maybe with configured workflow, is very difficult without some enterprise reverse logistics and repair software. Check yours out.

  1. Are you outsourcing elements of your field service operations?

Combining reverse logistics with field service is challenging enough when you are relying on your own employees. But more and more organizations now outsource field service work to subcontractors for specific tasks or in times of peak demand. Subcontractors introduce several new logistical steps into a reverse logistics process. Reverse logistics software needs to account for multiple subcontractor types, and reimbursement policies in order to manage the complex situations caused by sub-contracting.

First, in order to delegate tasks to a subcontractor, you need to establish their availability given the time constraints and ensure they have the parts and expertise needed for the job. The contractor must provide a not-to-exceed cost figure, receive a purchase order and perform the work.

But what if the subcontractor removes a part from a customer’s equipment for return? This is where things can get very, very complicated. If they replace part A with part B, what happens to part A? The subcontractor may send an invoice and want to get paid for the part they used out of their inventory. Depending on the arrangement you have with the subcontractor, they may get paid for the new part only when you receive the returned original part. Or, if we have a stronger relationship and have built more trust, the subcontractor may be paid once a material return is authorized or when shipping confirmation is received by the contractors. All of this can change by individual subcontractor, customer,  product line or by geography.

If the work and part are covered by a warranty, the subcontractor will bill the vendor for the part. But if the part and work is out of warranty and the subcontractor in fact owns the relationship with that customer as an independent service provider, as a reverse logistics organization you may only get back parts if there is a core credit involved.

Looking back to go forward
It’s clear that reverse logistics operations span a complex network of players, parts and, in some case, organizations. If you are encountering these common challenges on a regular basis then it’s time to reassess your approach to reverse logistics as a discipline. The next step is to see how enterprise software can alleviate reverse logistics pain-points – the right solution should help handle large supply networks and reduce costs.

Tom DeVroy, Senior Product Evangelist, North America  IFS

Tom DeVroy has over 30 years of experience in high tech service operations including work with hardware, software and consulting firms, as well as premier global service organizations like Ericsson, DHL, Xerox, and Ingenico. He holds a degree in business administration from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.