Service skills seen as the next competitive differentiator for best-in-class companies

While most companies believe they are customer-friendly, many do not consider their service skills to be a competitive differentiator. With the right service-management applications in place, improved customer service can translate into increased profits. “In some sectors—such as automotive—it is common for some equipment to be in service for 20 to 30 years.


While most companies believe they are customer-friendly, many do not consider their service skills to be a competitive differentiator. With the right service-management applications in place, improved customer service can translate into increased profits.

“In some sectors—such as automotive—it is common for some equipment to be in service for 20 to 30 years. This longevity offers the perfect opportunity to improve on service,” says Gary Brooks, a company VP for Servigistics , which has a service management system offering.

Service management is thriving in commoditized markets such as high-tech as well, where manufacturers must maintain a large spare parts inventory due to product obsolescence.

After installing the Servigistics Service Management system, Juniper Networks , a Mountain View, Calif.-based networking supplier, says customer satisfaction improved 10 percent, customer dissatisfaction decreased by 40 percent, material availability increased by 15 percent, and on-time delivery increased by 27 percent over a six-month period.

“Some of our customers use service as a strategic tool and competitive differentiator,” says Brooks. “Service is moving from the back room to the board room, and it is a good way to reach customer intimacy.”

A main reason service calls fail is that parts and field technicians are not properly planned for and orchestrated. “A part may be missing, or a company may not have enough technicians scheduled,” says Brooks. “Parts may not be in the right location, or technicians may not have the right skills to do a repair.”

The ultimate service goal for many companies is to deliver a higher level of service at a lower cost. Servigistics Enterprise Command Center establishes visibility, allowing customers to determine when calls are failing, or are in jeopardy.

“The screen displays a large map that constantly monitors a specific geography,” says Brooks. “Users can click on a red light to drill down and see why a call is failing. Or they can see how many technicians are needed at a specific site, or if a part could be sent to a different location.”

From dismal to dynamic

“Our service [ranged from] mediocre to dismal before we installed Servigistics,” says Steve Blaz, a Juniper Networks company VP. “We missed delivery times by hours or even days. Now our on-time delivery is more than 90 percent, and when we look for something on the shelf, it's there.”

Juniper Networks previously used a manual process with two spreadsheets to manage service parts. “It took 40 hours to do a monthly planning session,” says Blaz. “Users had to look in several places to cross reference when they were trying to find a part.”

Juniper deployed Servigistics in January 2006 across 180 distribution centers. Six planners use the system, which integrates with a call tracking system, ERP system, and procurement solution. Juniper also built a service-availability tool on top of Servigistics, which determines if technicians can service a specific area.

Serving the midmarket

Service optimization is an important component in both CRM and ERP systems. When integrated with a CRM system, a service management solution can determine which workers are available according to specific values, skills, time slots, regulations, and cost restrictions.

ClickSoftware is another service-management vendor that believes service excellence is fast becoming a key differentiator, targeting midsize companies with 50 to 200 field technicians. “Up until now, only large organizations focused on service optimization,” says Nigel Clark, VP of alliances. “Today's midsize companies want to improve service and maximize their workforces.”

Clark says workforce planning not only reduces travel time and cuts cost, but also leads to improved service. ClickSoftware's Service Optimization system enables short- and long-term planning using a 7-7-7 model—i.e., forecasting out seven months, seven weeks, and then seven days in advance.

“To minimize costs, you must maximize the use of internal staff before looking elsewhere,” says Clark. “There is a fine line between scheduling enough workers—and having too many, because you don't want them sitting idle.”

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