WannaCry? Servers will make you.

WannaCry? You will after this so-named ransomware takes over your Windows computer, encrypts all your important files, and charges you $300 to decrypt them, if you’re lucky. This virus is sweeping the globe and making headlines because of its widespread impact. Before you read any further, make sure you have run the latest Windows update if you are using a version older than Windows 10.

Losing your family photos and personal files on a PC to ransomware is unfortunate. Losing the critical infrastructure that runs your business because you’re still using local servers is catastrophic. That’s right, these viruses are indiscriminate and business servers are not exempt from these attacks. Local servers are especially risky because they represent a single point of failure if they aren’t backed up. And how confident are you in your backup systems? Do me a quick favor and go unplug your servers. Are you 100% sure they are going to start up where they left off? If you’re at all hesitant, then ransomware is only one of a host of concerns that you should have:

Disgruntled employees – Is there any way for you to prevent an unhappy employee from stealing your data or wreaking havoc on your company’s servers?

Natural disaster – Fire, flood or tornado. Enough said.

Disk failure – Computers degrade over time and will eventually break down.

Failed updates – If you didn’t update your servers with the latest Windows patch, you are susceptible to WannaCry. On the other hand, every update has the potential to introduce compatibility issues.

Other viruses – WannaCry is just the latest example in a growing trend of PC and local server hacks. And, while it’s possible to recover your files from a ransomware attack, other viruses are less forgiving and will destroy files outright or render your machines completely useless.

How do you avoid these risks? Dump the servers and adopt cloud-based applications like ServiceTrade. Why are they less risky? Without going into detail about the advanced technology they use for security and backup, the easiest way to understand how they work is to compare them to banks. Is your money safer under your bed, or in the bank? If your home is robbed or burns down, you lose your money. If the bank is robbed or burns down, your savings are insured (backed up) and your checks and debit cards still work. It’s that simple.

Don’t keep your business data under the bed. Dump the servers and move to the cloud.


In case you’re curious how WannaCry works, here’s a video of it in action:

Money for Nothing

In 1985, Marc Knopfler, the front man for the band Dire Straits, overheard a guy in an appliance store grudgingly admiring the MTV rockers performing on the store display TVs. Knopfler memorialized the reflections he overheard in the grammy winning, number one hit song “Money for Nothing” later that year. The song opens with the lyrics:

Now look at them yo-yos that’s the way you do it
You play the guitar on the MTV
That ain’t workin’ that’s the way you do it
Money for nothin’ and chicks for free

He goes on to declare “them guys ain’t dumb” and that the rocker “is a millionaire” while lamenting that he has to “install microwave ovens, custom kitchens” and make “deliveries” to get paid his meager wage. Now the truth of the matter is that not every rocker gets paid like a rock star, and those that do are paid handsomely for delivering hits that their fans love. If you are a service contractor, how can you get paid for delivering hits instead of delivering labor? How can you get paid “money for nothing” by becoming a rock star for your customers?

If the only time you get paid is when your customer needs your techs to show up and install, repair, or deliver something, you are destined to get paid like the guy in front of the TV instead of the guy on the TV. The graphs below illustrate the dilemma you face in a business model that requires skilled labor to drive revenue.

Customer demand is always lumpy. If you staff at a level that matches peak demand, you will deliver great customer service, but you will be losing money during the periods when your crews are idle.

Graph of lost profit to maximized customer service
If you staff to optimize for profit, you will certainly lose customers (and revenue opportunities) during peak demand when you cannot deliver the repair.

Maximize profit and lose customers
The ideal situation is one where you can shape the customer demand curve in a manner that allows you to staff for great customer service while also maximizing profit.


So how do you do this? How can you shape the demand curve? How do you get customers to pay for “hits” instead of paying for “performances?”

For your customers, your “hits” are actually not “hits” at all, but instead just plain old boring outcomes where nothing ever breaks and all the labor you deliver is for planned maintenance instead of emergencies. Never an emergency. Never a disruption. Never an outage. Money for nothing.

Customers want predictable outcomes for predictable fees, and you can get paid “money for nothing” (i.e. no breakdowns) if you can deliver on a “no drama, just results” program. It is unlikely that you can be perfect in this scenario (i.e. nothing ever breaks), but you can certainly adopt an approach that minimizes the breakage while maximizing the profit and the customer service. Here are the elements to consider:

Offer a preferred customer service plan. Preferred customers “subscribe” to your proactive maintenance plan (for an annual fee) in exchange for lower, preferred rates and guaranteed response on “demand” work. To do this program well, you need to have a very strong understanding of their existing equipment and its condition, a periodic inspection and preventative maintenance routine, and a waiver for any equipment that represents a high risk to the plan. Generate a good, strong contract from the equipment records you collect in the survey of the customer’s facility (with exactly what you service and what is excluded) and collect the annual fee up front as a fair trade for the lower rates.

During your routine inspections and maintenance, any deficiencies you note that represent risks need to be immediately turned around to the customer with a preferred rate quote for remediation. If the customer declines the quote, the equipment is automatically excluded from the preferred rate plan, and higher rates for future remediation now apply.

Develop a monitoring and early warning system for high-risk situations. Certain equipment you maintain may be prone to expensive failure modes. Look for solutions to generate early warnings and preclude expensive and dramatic failures with low drama, scheduled repair and replacement. These solutions do not necessarily need to be extremely high tech. For example, if you know that a sprinkler section may be prone to freeze in very cold weather, just tag that location with a freeze warning that automatically sends the customer an email reminder to engage auxiliary heating. When the pipes burst at your competitor’s locations, you buy Google ad words that night and use the high drama to add your competitor’s customers to your preferred maintenance plan.

Consider offering warranties for important equipment. This further extends the concept of preferred rates with a “pay in advance” mentality for a “guaranteed hit.” In this case, the preferred rate is “zero” in exchange for the “pay up front” warranty fee. Aggressively monitor and maintain the important equipment to be certain you avoid warranty losses. You will not win on all of them, but a data driven approach with strong maintenance discipline will usually result in “money for nothing” for you along with a happy customer.

Being a rock star requires talent and hard work, just not necessarily the hard work of skilled labor installing “microwave ovens, customer kitchens [and] deliveries.” Instead, it is the hard work of selling a program that pays “money for nothing” when you get paid up front to deliver boring outcomes with no drama instead of relying on high-risk demand work where great customer service and high profit present a difficult, if not impossible, balancing act.

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Say “yes” to the quote

Are you worried that customers are going to “shop” your repair or upgrade quote around to other service contractors? If so, you failed earlier than you may realize. Getting customers to a “yes” on quoted work starts well before you ever find a problem and send a quote. It starts with trust. I’m not talking about the kind of trust built through personal relationships and old-school customer service. That’s not scalable or reliable. I’m talking about trust built on a technology-enabled, convenient customer experience. I’m talking about giving your customers the Amazon experience so they won’t consider buying from anyone else.

Amazon is dominating its competition because it innovated for the customer instead of focusing on backend efficiency. Now, they don’t have to compete on price. Walmart, on the other hand, focused on efficiency and logistics. They are the low-price leader, but the markets have spoken and you can see from the stock chart below that consumers will pay a premium for convenience. I, for one, will happily pay a few extra dollars to avoid:

  • Fighting for a parking spot
  • Wandering around looking for products
  • Waiting in line to check out

It’s not just the brick-and-mortar retailers that Amazon is dominating. Other ecommerce retailers struggle to compete with Amazon’s innovations. Even though other sites have lower prices most of the time (just check Google shopping), Amazon customers are loyal and don’t consider buying from anyone else. Why? Two reasons. Amazon’s order process is more convenient, reliable, and transparent than any other ecommerce site. From beginning to end, Amazon’s customers can trust that they are ordering the right products based on pictures and reviews, and that their order will arrive on time based on notifications received throughout the process. Prime is the second reason Amazon customers don’t shop around.

Amazon sold the program when it introduced Prime, a service that gives customers free, 2-day shipping on most orders for an annual fee. It’s not like 2-day shipping is a new concept, and customers are still effectively paying for expedited shipping with the annual fee, but the concept built loyalty. Prime customers are bought into the program so they feel obligated to buy exclusively from Amazon and buy more to get their money’s worth. It’s brilliant.

Service contractors can take a page from Amazon’s playbook. First, sell the program to build customer loyalty from the beginning. Your program won’t look exactly like Prime, but here’s a webinar showing what it means to sell the program as a Service Contractor. Once they are in the program, use technology to give your customers a convenient, transparent, and reliable experience. Then, when you send a quote for an upgrade or repair, customers will trust that you are the only option to consider.

5 incredible ways driverless cars will change service contracting

Driverless cars are coming and we are all going to feel the impact. There will be winners and there will be losers. While the transportation industry undergoes a massive transformation and sheds its workforce, service contractors will harness the new technology and available labor. Service companies that are ready will grow. Those that aren’t will be left behind. Here’s what to expect.

Hire from a new labor pool

When semi-trucks, delivery vans, and taxis don’t need drivers and all of those jobs disappear, the unskilled labor pool is going to overflow. With no new demand for unskilled labor and a massive increase in supply, economics tells us that the cost will go down. Hiring low-skilled workers is going to get cheaper and easier. This won’t solve the skilled labor shortage, but you will have a huge selection of candidates to fill entry-level and apprenticeship positions. Prepare for this labor glut by building an effective and scalable training program for new employees.

 

Reduce fleet management costs

Do you consider your technicians good drivers? Do they speed, accelerate too fast, brake too hard, and get in the occasional fender bender? Of course they do. You don’t have to worry about that with driverless cars. Your driverless vehicles will be involved in fewer accidents, use less fuel, and put less wear and tear on your fleet thanks to their better-than-human driving record.

 

Simplify parts delivery

Moving parts from your warehouse(s) and parts houses straight to job sites will be much faster and cheaper. Uber already offers a low-cost delivery service in some cities and driverless cars are expected to further reduce prices of local delivery. As I wrote in another blog post, the cost of delivering parts directly to your techs is already a lot cheaper than the opportunity cost of your technicians driving around picking up parts. Driverless cars will only make this option more practical.

 

Gain technician admin productivity

What are your techs going to do with all that time in the car if they don’t have to drive? Put ‘em to work! They’ll have plenty of free time in the truck to prep for their next appointment or wrap up the administration for the previous job. Turn windshield time into productive time.

 

Sell the Program

When you show customers how you take advantage of technology to reduce costs and provide better customer service, you’ll stand out from the competition. We call this Selling the Program. Driverless cars are a perfect fit for the program. They’ll enable your company to reduce costs for you and the customer while also opening up productivity for improved customer service. Besides that, how cool do you think it will be to take your customers for a spin in one of your new driverless trucks?

 

Driverless vehicles will be as transformative as the internet and successful service companies will adapt quickly. Just like the companies today that still use fax and paper to communicate instead of internet-enabled technologies, there will be Luddites and slow adopters of driverless cars. They will get left in the dust. Companies that are prepared will dominate.

All-in-One is Pre-Internet Ideology

One of our most quoted blog posts is this one – where Billy says that in all-in-one software, the ALL will be SMALL. You should reread it, but the summary is that all-in-one providers can’t offer the same innovation as a suite of connected applications from providers who focus on one part of your business.

When was the last time you saw a TV-DVD-VCR combo? It’s a throwback to when innovation moved at a snail’s pace. The VCR was introduced in 1964. The DVD player – the next widely-adopted element – came along THIRTY-FIVE years later in 1999. That’s hardly a blazing trail of innovation in home entertainment. The all-in-one unit was a good idea when you didn’t expect anything to change. Ever.

Now think about the ways that your home entertainment system has changed since 1999. There are dozens of components and streaming services you can incorporate into entertainment, gaming, and audio systems. Things started developing on Internet time.

The same is true in business operations applications. The idea of all-in-one software is from the pre-Internet era when innovation was slower to occur and slower to be adopted. Technologies evolve at different rates – an all-in-one eventually hobbles the entire system with the limitations of its weakest parts. You can’t just throw out the VCR, you have to let it sit there and draw power from the rest of the system.

All-in-one platforms keep you from adopting new applications that would help your service business do new things in better ways. Connecting a mobile solution for field service management to an all-in-one would be like trying to connect Netflix to your TV-DVD-VCR unit. You might be able to pull it off, but it will be a hassle to setup and to work with.

Billy said that “the ALL will be SMALL.” I’m saying that “pieces of the ALL will become OBSOLETE and keep you from ADVANCING.” Maybe mine doesn’t have the same ring to it.

Also read:

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Service Hazard (Infographic)

What’s holding your service business back? Is it double data entry and other accounting inefficiencies in the back office? If you solve those problems, are you going to create more value for your customers, make your techs more productive, and differentiate yourself from the competition? Nope. Accounting doesn’t drive better customer outcomes. So, why do accounting issues get all of the attention? Well, it’s easy to fall into the trap of prioritizing those back-office problems because they are in your face every day. They are like a thorn in your foot; very obvious. However, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Under the water is something much more deadly.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I decided to show you what I’m talking about:

Field Service Management Hazard

 

Hiding under the surface is what’s really holding you back. Scattered customer service data slows everyone down. The symptoms are pervasive, and the costs are enormous. Why do you think the front office is always behind, techs waste time on callbacks, and sales is struggling to win new customers or make upsells? Well, when service history, customer quotes, contact information, recurring service schedule, and asset details are all stored in different places, it’s no wonder there’s so much confusion and so many slowdowns. Instead of a central system that helps your team collaborate, you’re stuck with ad hoc calls, emails, conversations, txts, and paper.

On top of that, when your service information is disorganized, it’s impossible to give your customers any visibility to the value you provide. When you don’t even know exactly where your techs are, what they are doing, or what work they’ve completed, how are you supposed to share that information with your customers? Remember what it used to be like to schedule a taxi? It was miserable. Calling the taxi dispatch took forever, you’d have no visibility to where the taxi was, no idea what they were going to charge you, and they may not even show up. It’s no wonder Uber is dominating that entire industry. All it took was a change to the process that removed risk and aggravation for customers.

Icebergs perfectly demonstrate what’s going on with most commercial service contracting businesses. It’s easy to get stuck thinking about back-office problems. They are the tip of the iceberg. But, hiding below the sea is a mess of customer service data that is slowing down the entire organization and limiting your ability to provide a better experience to your customers. When you organize that data and move it to the cloud, you can cut your costs and Uber your competition.

 

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Write your Vows to your Premium Program Customers

We’ve mentioned (here and here) how much more profitable it is to sell a premium program that gives the customer better outcomes than it is to negotiate on labor rates.

 You’ll need a few things to sell a premium program:

  1. Technology-enabled differentiators
  2. A proactive maintenance and/or inspection plan
  3. A defined service level agreement (SLA)

The goal of your SLA is to clearly state your customer service promises that will reduce their pain and indicate how easy you’ll be to work with. Your SLA should cover:

  • Your commitment to respond. Be specific about how quickly you will respond to emergency work.
  • A promise of a priority response. Give your attention to them first for maintenance or inspection work over customers that haven’t committed at the premium level.
  • How you’ll share the risk. Explain that by buying into the program, they’ll receive a valuable customer rate and/or eliminate some additional charges that non-plan customers pay like trip charges or OT labor.  

You don’t have to go so far as to promise to love, honor, and cherish your customers, but let them know what you promise in return for their agreement to buy in at your premium program level.

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Break the Profit Vise

Service contractors, you’ve got 2 huge problems. First, skilled workers are expensive and hard to find. We call this the “Skilled Labor Squeeze.” Second, small-time competition is undercutting you on price. We call these fly-by-the-night operations “One Truck Chuck.” With expensive labor driving costs up and cheap competitors driving prices down, you’re stuck in a profit-squeezing vise. So, what are you going to do about it? It may seem crazy, but the answer is to organize your customer service data.

Not sure what I’m talking about? Take a look at this blog post from a couple weeks ago about the inefficiencies hiding in most service contracting businesses. Basically, customer service data, the information necessary to provide world-class service, is usually scattered or locked up in an accounting system and filing cabinets. Data like service history, scheduling information, equipment failure records, and customer contact information, to name a few, are stored in a hundred different places and in a hundred different formats.

Effective collaboration makes technicians more productive and helps customers understand why you are different and better. If your information is locked up and inaccessible by technicians and customers, you’re especially vulnerable to the Skilled Labor Squeeze and One Truck Chuck. Why? Let’s break it down:

Technicians
Administration, callbacks, and downtime are extreme wastes of tech time that are all caused by messy customer service data. Taking calls to answer questions about the work they performed last week is a waste of time. Calling the office or other techs to understand service history at a location is a waste of time. Going back to a location to gather data that was lost in the office is a waste of time. Coming back to the office to drop off paperwork is a waste of time.

Real-time collaboration of centralized customer service data in the cloud eliminates all of that waste. When skilled labor is more difficult to hire than ever, it’s critical to keep field technicians as productive as possible.
Customers
If your only vehicle to inform customers about what you do for them and why you’re important is an invoice, Chuck is going to steal your customers. In their eyes, you and One Truck Chuck look the same. You need to show them how you are more valuable. Queue the customer service data!

Once your data is organized and accessible, you can differentiate yourself from Chuck by collaborating with customers and providing visibility to the quality of your work. You can show them how thoughtful your program is. You can show them the pictures and videos that demonstrate equipment failure. You can show them how you save them money by keeping your techs productive working on their equipment instead of wasting time on administration and callbacks. You can show them how you help them make better decisions because they will have better information.

You will stand out against One Truck Chuck when you collect and use service information in helpful ways for the customer.
Organized customer service data enables collaboration. Collaboration makes techs productive. Collaboration creates value for customers. This doesn’t work when the data is locked up in an accounting system. This doesn’t work when data is scattered across spreadsheets, email inboxes, and paper. Organize the mess, free the data, and start collaborating.

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Fill the Stadium for Your Customer Service Features

So now what?

You’ve completed a big project to add new capabilities or value for your customers – something like implementing ServiceTrade or adding the Service Portal to your website. How do you get the word out so your customers start using and appreciating it?

If you have asked those questions, you aren’t alone. I’ve heard them half a dozen times so far this year.  While you’re basking in a successful implementation, it doesn’t take long to realize that implementation was just the beginning. So what’s next? Driving adoption is the next project – and you’ll want to jump on it fast.

Feed Adoption with Customer Marketing

Every time we talk about marketing with service contractors, I feel like the response is something like “I got 99 problems and marketing is #99.” But marketing communications will help your customers understand and use your great customer service features.

Billy said this in chapter 7 of The Digital Wrap: “The strongest benefit of the digital wrap approach to marketing is that your marketing and sales impressions are actually valuable to the customer instead of being an aggravation or interruption.”  He was writing about the marketing impressions that should be built into your service cycle, but it’s a pretty good rule for every marketing impression.

Marketing outreach is a good way to educate your customers about what you’re offering and why it’s good for them. You don’t want to send your first Service Link (online after-service report) and get a call from the customer asking, “What is this and why did I get it?” But your marketing must be seen as helpful, not annoying.  Here’s how.

Invite Your Customers to Play Ball

Since a few people have asked for our advice for bringing awareness to their new customer service features, we have assembled examples, templates, and first-draft copy that you can use. Some of the materials available in our marketing resource center are:

  • Example websites from our customers
  • Bannerstand for trade shows or conferences that you can borrow
  • Powerpoint slides
  • Example email, invoice insert letter, and handout or postcard
  • Screenshots of customer service features, and more.

Take a look at those marketing resources and use them as a starting point for your own programs. You can run a marketing communications program without dedicating a ton of time or financial resources – doing a little is more effective than doing nothing at all.

Bring Them on Home

With a little bit of thoughtful outreach and follow up, you can:

  • Get your customers to adopt all your customer service features.
  • Help your customers understand how the program they bought from you continues to be good for them.
  • Keep the stream of communication open and ongoing.

Your account managers could do this work 1-to-1, but marketing can do the same 1-to-many. Make marketing communications do the heavy lifting, and have account managers follow up with their accounts.

There was a quote in the movie A Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” Why that may be true for lost baseball legends on a farm in Iowa, it is most decidedly not true for service contractors who want customers to take advantage of their new, modern, online customer experience. Like with modern baseball, you’ve got to do some work to get butts in the seats.

The Digital Wrap

 

 

Read Chapter 7 of the Digital Wrap for free!  You’ll gain an understanding of how many valuable marketing impressions you can earn with your customers (and sometimes with prospects) during your service cycle.

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Scattered Data Could Sink Your Ship

Every day, we talk to service contractors that think the biggest problem with their business is double-data entry into their accounting system. We tell them the same thing every time. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface, it’s hard to see the hundreds of small, but cumulative inefficiencies caused by scattered customer service data. Organizing that data will lead to leaps in efficiency and bounds in customer service.

By “customer service data,” I don’t mean accounting information. I’m talking about the data necessary to provide top-notch customer service and efficiently deploy your most expensive resource, skilled technicians. Data like service history, scheduling information, equipment failure records, and customer contact information to name a few.

Where is your customer service data stored? Multiple spreadsheets and Word documents on a server? Paperwork, files, and whiteboards? Pictures and videos on phones and random computers? Even worse, an accounting system that isn’t designed for customer service that only a few back-office staff have access to? Furthermore, how is that information communicated throughout your team? Email and text? Phone calls? Fax and snail mail? Cup and string?

Let’s dive a little deeper and take a look at how scattered data makes your team slow, inefficient, and prone to error.

Back Office

Bookkeepers shouldn’t be chasing wild geese. Hunting down coworkers to get the information they need to correct invoices, complete payroll, and record costs is a waste of time. And, it’s easy to blame sloppy front-office staff and technicians for the mistakes and oversights that they have to deal with. However, sloppiness is not the root cause of the problem. Instead, consider the inevitability of data getting mismanaged or lost by the front office and technicians when there are so many systems in place to store and communicate it. That means more time spent chasing the data, and less time spent billing the customer.

Front Office

The front-office team, typically responsible for scheduling, customer service, and quoting, is the biggest victim of scattered data. Accounting systems are either unable or are poorly equipped to help them manage customer service data. In that vacuum, they implement a patchwork of paperwork, software, and processes to accomplish their goals. The resulting hodgepodge slows everyone down and is prone to error. Here’s what I mean

Q.) What did we do last time we were at that location?

A.) Let me dig up the file. I can’t read the tech’s handwriting, so I’ll send him back out.

 

Q.) What was the problem with my equipment and when can I expect a quote to fix it?

A.) Someone else takes care of quotes. They are on vacation so I’ll have them call you back in a week.

 

Q.) When is a tech supposed to be on site?

A.) Check the calendar. Oh wait, that calendar is out of date. I don’t know.

 

Q.) Can you get that file for me?

A.) No, the server is down.

Technicians

Skilled labor is the most expensive and coveted resource for service contractors. Technician downtime and missed opportunities can be attributed to disorganization and miscommunication of customer service data most of the time. The ball gets dropped somewhere in the multitude of channels used to tell techs where they need to go, when they need to be there, and what they need to do. When the work is done, the information about what was discovered or completed is slow to travel back to the office, if at all and is often unintelligible. That means more communication with the tech to find out what happened and more wasted time.

All of our customers thought that double-data entry was their biggest problem when they first approached ServiceTrade. A couple months after implementation, they gained visibility to the underside of the gigantic iceberg that was slowing down their business. However, after 6 months of using ServiceTrade, that iceberg turned into an ice cube when they were finally able to streamline their customer service data.

Field Service Management Hazard