Talent, Data, Value: Key Takeaways from Services Executive Symposium
The general symposium theme of improving profitably through services partnership and customer commitment ran through much of the event’s discussions. The crux of those conversations congealed around a few key takeaways:
Folks in the services industry are accustomed to dealing with workforce issues such as retiring workers and the burgeoning skills gap. The discussions at this year’s Services Executive Symposium took on a more fine-grained approach to labor issues, namely efforts to reallocate roles as businesses move toward becoming more connected organizations.
“We heard a lot from organizations around the redistribution of front-line agents and technicians to put them into higher levels of support,” said Sumair Dutta, Chief Customer Officer at The Service Council. “There’s a lot of discussion of training and training tools as well as using feedback from the use of those tools in order to accomplish that.”
With 70 percent of organizations are expecting an exodus of workers due to retirement in the next 10 years, Dutta said he expects conversations about labor and talent to stay top of mind in the services industry in the near term.
“This will be a major challenge moving forward,” Dutta said. “While increasing efficiency and investment in automation may eliminate some service-related vacancies on the front-lines, there will still be a major shortage felt in supporting service demand.”
Many presenters and attendees of this year’s symposium boasted significant investments in customer-facing initiatives that involve data-producing systems like remote monitoring and the Internet of Things (IoT). The growing concern, however, is that these businesses’ ability to process all of that data may not be keeping up with their capacity to generate it.
“It really isn’t about needing more data,” Dutta points out. “Most organizations understand that they have the data they need. It’s about organizing it. Very few have been able to consistently drive insight from the collected information.
“Some of it can be predictive, some of it is more about reporting the state of the business. It’s really about figuring out what the data is saying and what type of direction that should lead us.”
The challenge of Big Data and analytics is not just a technology problem, but a people problem as well. Organizations are beginning to find themselves strapped for specialized talent in the areas of data analysis and data science, which could further hamper their ability to leverage their initial IoT and remote-monitoring investments.
“Analytics and business intelligence will continue to see a surge in investment, both as it relates to technology solutions as well as the search for talent,” Dutta predicts. “There is definitely a talent gap here. There will continue to be a big run on data analysts and data scientists from a service business perspective.”
Scratching the Collaboration Surface
Few subjects in the services industry have received more attention and buzz than collaboration. Much has been made about collaborative tools, collaborative workspaces and the like. But from the ground-level view at the symposium it became clear there remains much work to do when trying to get different business functions to actually collaborate in pursuit of unified business goals.
When it comes to real collaboration among service and IT — or service and sales, service and marketing, service and product design — “there’s very little sophistication behind that and there’s still a huge opportunity for organizations to do better and really build in processes,” said Dutta.
The answer, he says, is not simply about finding technology tools to address the collaboration conundrum.
“The first step to enhancing collaboration is in building a process that links various groups,” he said. “The next step is to build alignment tied to the customers’ needs. The third step is to use data as the grounds of collaboration.”
Defining Customer Value
Much of the initial symposium discussion about creating value for the customer revolved around the adoption of technology as a services and business enabler. But as the conversation progressed, it became clear that there remains a disconnect between efforts to enhance customer value and the value customers actually perceive from those efforts.
One case study in particular highlighted a firm that had implemented a number of cutting-edge remote monitoring and IoT technologies with ties to its services. For example, they now had predictive algorithms in place to track when equipment was near failure in order to deliver proactive service calls.
But the high-tech augmentation hadn’t yet answered the ultimate question about whether the customer really valued the additional capabilities.
“We need to ask, will [customers] pay for such additional remote monitoring or will that be commoditized because everyone else is doing it?” Dutta asked. “The discussion of value is really a discussion about communication of that value to customers.”
Things like predictive analytics can reduce the visibility of the service organization in the eyes of the customer even as they improve the quality of service. “It presents a communication challenge to servicing organizations to continue to make customers aware of the value presented in a service relationship,” Dutta adds. “Does this value take the form of loss aversion? Higher service performance? Customized offerings? That’s yet to be determined as different customers align with different messages.”
Design Before Commercialization
Lots of organizations profess to be focused on revenue growth through services, but much of their effort still targets things like upselling, renewals and other basic enhancements of services-led revenues. What’s lacking is real introspection over how those services offerings look to the customer and how they can be fundamentally re-engineered — or replaced — to achieve better performance.
“We haven’t seen a lot of companies step back and think about the design of their service offerings or design of the customer experiences that they deliver,” said Dutta. “A lot of the hesitance about design comes from lack of knowledge on the topic. It also comes from the idea that a design experience or a design project will take a significant amount of time.”
Presentations from several organizations at the symposium tried to make the case that it doesn’t need to be that way, with a number of services innovators sparking discussions about the importance of rapid design when it comes to developing a new service product.
“It’s an underappreciated art,” Dutta said of services and experience design. “But we definitely think that design can really help organizations maximize effectiveness and is something that organizations should and need to look at.”