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The Service hot-seat can be a very cold place

I wanted to kick off a new topic on the Cognito blog with a bit of a “wow!” and asked a well-respected guest writer to introduce the idea of ‘sustainable peak performance’ for us, from a practitioner’s perspective. I was thrilled that he agreed to share his real-world experience with us, and with you. Unfortunately, he has asked to remain anonymous. Read on and you’ll understand why …

Young man freezing in warm clothing with city concept

The phone rang. It was Helen, our receptionist, with the welcome news that the heating engineer had finally arrived. And not a moment too soon, it had been freezing in my office for days!

Cold and confused

We were in the middle of (yet) another company transformation program to see us become ‘better than the best’ – or so it was claimed by the consultants this time. I am the Service Director for a medium-sized, national IT services organization. One led by a CEO who is obsessed with all the latest management fashions and crazes. Change is our constant companion as we battle to satisfy our real customers, you know, the ones with contracts and sky-high expectations. When faced with the question "How do you get things done around here?" the answer starts "Right now we …." and always ends with "but ask me tomorrow and it will be different".

As I waited, my mind drifted back over the last five years, and wondered… Are we supposed to be customer-centric, a Lean organization, chasing Six Sigma, a profit center or something else? Right now, I have no idea. All of which is very unsettling, not to say disastrous for productivity and morale. As is being cold. Where is that *bleeping* engineer?

But none of the constant wave of adjustment to new metrics, objectives, processes and techniques changes the fundamentals of the business. My customers want me to deliver in a timely way and at a fair price. My CFO wants me to do so at minimum cost (and for less and less each year). My staff want to be treated and rewarded fairly for fixing customer issues – whether that is performed remotely or on-site. Oh, and I have to grow revenue from service, which has apparently become strategic to the company’s mission all of a sudden. Well, it may be news for the C-suite, but around here service has always been strategic!

Happy campers?

Happy customers, happy staff and happy stakeholders – sounds easy when you say it like that. But, you’ll know that’s not the case. Service delivery is endlessly ‘challenging’ – meaning complex – and ever-changing. The moment you have a plan, something changes and you are forced to react to some new emergency or priority customer. Or in our case, probably some new initiative triggered by the book the CEO read on his most recent long-haul flight.

If you are in this world – and as a reader of this blog I imagine you are – what can be done to make the kind of small changes that are sustainable and digestible, alongside the workload from the regular demands of the customers? After all, you can’t put service on hold while you make changes. And your ambition for continuous improvement has to match the capability of the service teams to accept and absorb it. Organizational maturity is key to success, meaning there is a right time to do this. But, lots of wrong times too.

Light (and warmth) at the end of the tunnel

It seems to me, there are a number of steps in the journey – and you have to take them in turn. There are plenty of examples of failed ‘projects’ (and not just inside this organization!) and few vendors who are capable of picking up the pieces when it does go wrong. So, better get it right first time.

If you are big enough to be worrying about driving consistency across your teams and striving for peak performance, you will already have some kind of ERP or Service Management software in place for job management. With that as a starting point:

1) First, mobilize your core processes. Adopt a mobility platform that can join and adapt these office-driven processes to the specific needs of field operations. One that gives you a choice of devices, robust communication and data exchange

2) Get that embedded and running sweetly. It should be delivering massive amounts of data dots from real-time feedback and you can begin to analyze it in the results. It will help you to understand the differences between best and worst performers, plus the factors that drive variations. This is the spur to making changes in both process and behavior, to support and promote best-practice - incrementally improving outcomes for customers.

3) Now, and only now, look at territories, shift and work patterns and other changes that can be catalyzed by automated scheduling tools. These can transform your ability to serve your customers reliably, and deliver those critical last few percentage points of efficiency.

And do not forget, it is not a one-time initiative, a project. To make it sustainable, it has to be a permanent answer to that question about how we get things done around here. Now, excuse me while I get onto Amazon and order that brass monkey for immediate delivery. I’m gonna need it – quite possibly to assault a heating engineer when he finally walks through that door!


Definitely some career-limiting comments in there Mr Anonymous! But a great introduction to this new topic. I cannot promise such engaging storytelling or as much humour in future posts, but can promise more on sustainable peak performance “real soon” - as Mr A himself might say.


© Copyright Keith Edkins and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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