Trusted Advisor at Pitney Bowes

By Ian Barnes

Working in Field Service at Pitney Bowes has given me an opportunity to work with the engineers and to make sure that Service is seen as a revenue-generating part of the business rather than just a cost centre. I was tasked with finding ways of leveraging the engineers status as a trusted advisors, to the benefit of the customer, Pitney Bowes as well as the service engineers themselves.

So what is a trusted advisor?

Well if you Google Trusted Advisor you will get many descriptions, but for me it is simply someone who understands their clients business and is able to work with them to offer added value services. This can generate revenue for us and help save costs or improve quality for the client.

In every service organisation I have worked in, it is the front-line engineer with whom our clients build the best relationships. These are built on trust and honesty which the engineers provide in bucket loads.  Our clients love our engineers and in many cases, they have known their engineer for years. Some even consider them to be an extended part of their team and this is reflected in our client satisfaction scores that rate their engineers in the 90% range. Engineers are able to talk to the clients in a very different way than a salesperson and so see new perspectives about the clients, their business and how best Pitney Bowes can support them.

This is the key reason we have started our trusted advisor journey with our engineers.

However, this does not mean that engineers are good at leveraging their Trusted Advisor status! Some engineers cringe if you mention anything to do with “selling” or “generating revenue” as they just want to get in, fix the issue and get the client up and running again as soon as possible and then ride out as a hero!   I found it important that we pitched it to the engineers in the right way and gave them the support they needed.  And when I say pitch it right to them, I mean get them to look at it  from the point of view of Pitney Bowes. The company’s goal is to enable its clients to flourish and make their businesses more efficient and successful. By spotting opportunities where Pitney Bowes can offer a solution, the engineers are helping their clients rather than “selling”!  And Engineers love to help and fix these things for clients. If they go in with that mindset, I have found that they are more willing to look for opportunities and have conversations with their clients. 

So where to start?

At Pitney Bowes we started our journey by looking at our language. You will have noticed that I am using the word client rather than customer. We found that customer implies a one-off transaction, and this is not what we want. We desire a relationship over many years and so we felt that using Client would be critical in driving this message home to our service team members.

We then looked at the three critical components of our balanced scorecard:  Client, Shareholder and Employee.

For the shareholder element, we targeted our engineers in 3 revenue-generating areas:

  • Equipment Sales.  Any items of hardware or software
  • Supplies Sales.  Pitney Bowes sells inks, paper, envelopes, stationary, machine covers etc
  • Chargeable Service Solutions.   Offers such as Run Assist where we will run jobs for the clients, additional Preventative Maintenance if machines are heavily used, additional operator training and things like that.

We feel it important that there is a real incentive to promote services and so we offer a commission on leads generated:

  • Equipment and supplies commissions are paid for by the relevant sales teams!
    Typically the engineers will get 10% on supplies and chargeable revenue and there is a sliding scale for equipment sales that starts at 1.75% and steps up to a 2.75% maximum.
  • Chargeable Service Solutions: Commission comes from my budget and is typically about 5% of the value.

Commission is always a contentious issue.  I have spoken to other service providers who target their engineers on revenue generation and don’t actually offer commission. We have tried on a couple of occasions to do that, but in our team and culture, it really has not been effective. We have found that a consequence of paying commissions to engineers has been to bring them closer to their sales colleagues.  

When I reflect on why we have been successful, I can see 12 distinct actions we undertook that really helped us:

  1. Conflict training:   Everyone attended a course about how to deal with conflict.  It wasn’t a “Sales” course, but programme on how to deal with clients who are being a little bit tricky. This was  a great way for our engineers to learn how to interact with clients if they were annoyed about something, but also if they were talking to clients about potential added value services.  And we found it really useful!
  2. Simple processes: You really have to make the process simple.  When we have an opportunity with the client, we fast track the details to our sales teams through our service system.  Sales then contact the client and discuss further, giving more details, working out costs, completing the paperwork etc
  3. Constant feedback:  There needs to be good quality feedback to the engineers, so once the lead has been submitted, the engineer gets a notification at every stage of the process and as the lead progresses down the pipe. If you do not communicate effectively with the engineers, they start to lose faith in the process and stop submitting leads.
  4. Triage Leads before forwarding to sales: For equipment, the leads are “triaged” before they get to the salesperson.  We initially had some issues around non-qualified leads reaching salespeople, which meant they were not taking action because they didn’t really trust them.  The triage process ensures the lead is real in that the person whom the engineer spoke to is really someone who has the authority to make that commitment and that the client has the financial means to complete the transaction.
  5. Lead feedback process to Engineer: You need to have a robust escalation process that is open, honest and transparent in case leads go astray or are rejected.  We hold regular sessions with sales to go through any leads which the engineer is not paid for.
  6. Building relationships with Sales at all levels. This is really key, whether it is a strategic discussion when setting out business plans (and getting the commission agreement!), or understanding how our engineers can support sale campaigns and most importantly between the engineer and their sales colleague.  It is no coincidence that the most successful engineers and salespeople in terms of revenue generation are those that have a really good relationship and talk to each other on a weekly basis. 
     
  7. Monthly call: We hold monthly calls where we get the sales teams and the service teams together to look through the existing engineer leads and talk about any that have stalled or whether there is any other info or intelligence the engineer can add.  It is during these calls that the engineer can often add information such as whether there have been any personnel changes, changes in business strategies etc.  It can also be an opportunity for the engineer to agree on actions for the next time they visit that particular client whether it is to produce a condition report if we are looking to replace a piece of kit, or to just have another conversation to see what is causing any delays. These types of conversations are easier for the client to have with the engineer rather than the sales person. 
  8. Joint Visits.  Sometimes it is helpful for the engineer and the salesperson to go and see the client together. We have found that the very presence of the engineer during the conversation helps with the process and certainly, the engineer can add value when talking about the old kit, or the capabilities of the new kit and how that can help the client.
  9. Sales attendance at Local Engineer Group meetings:  The engineers get together on a monthly basis in small area groups and Sales are invited to attend, not just to talk about leads or potential leads, but to build the relationship further over a coffee.
  10. Salesperson to contact engineer every time a lead is submitted:  This enables the engineer to talk about the lead, who they spoke to, if there is any interest for the client to go elsewhere etc and really sets the scene for the salesperson prior to their client contact.  It also allows the sales person to say to the client that the engineer has spoken to them and suggested that they contact them, so it is a sort of foot in the door if you like.
  11. Competitor knockout:  Our engineers also know when our clients have kit from other suppliers, so they can provide vital insights as to why and when that happened. This enables the salesperson to be far more prepared when having conversations about replacing competitors kit. 
  12. Work on specific campaigns to support sales:, We pro-actively go to clients who have purchased their equipment outright at the start of our relationship and the product guarantee had expired. We wan to get the client to renew their kit which ties us into another 5 year service contract cycle and for supplies. We target specific special deals on certain items, whether they are envelopes, paper, machine covers etc.

You can see from this list that it is the relationship between Sales and Service which is the key to success and I urge anyone to get this bit right before you launch into any collaboration. 

So does it work? 

Since we started the programme , we have seen a 45% increase in the revenues generated on average per Service Engineer.

As with any group of people, there are some that are fantastic at sales leads and othersthat find it harder.   Through 1:1’s and coaching our managers aim to reduce the gap in performance. Often we buddy up engineers who are good at revenue-generating activities with their peers as part of the engineer’s development plans.

As we continue to work with sales and engineers, I believe there is still a fair amount more we can do to improve performance. Often this is to give more responsibility to the engineer to talk about prices, send paperwork for signing and do more of the whole deal without Sales being involved. We had a small trial in Ireland where we gave some more but not all responsibility of the sale to an engineer and this did show signs of success. We will need to analyse the feedback to understand whether this concept would work in a wider group. There is even a school of thought where we could equip the engineer with smaller machines in their cars, so they can do instant sales! In India, our colleagues already do far more with the sales process so I will be looking to see if I can replicate any of that in the UK and Ireland. 

As Pitney Bowes looks to drive more sales activities to the web, as the onboarding system becomes simpler and slicker, the Engineers Trusted Advisor skills will become more critical in building client relationships. 

As a summary, I would say these are the key takeaways for a Service Manager to consider when looking to use the Trusted Advisor to generate more value for customers and their companies:

  1. Sales Relationship needs to be strong
  2. Make the process simple for the engineer
  3. Constant feedback (of what is happening in the process and between the sales person and the engineer)
  4. Offer commission!
  5. Keep supporting the engineer (through coaching, 1:1’s and development plans)

 

Ian Barnes is Head of Service UK & Ireland at Pitney Bowes

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Service Innovation for value-driven opportunities:

Facilitated by Professor Mairi McIntyre from the University of Warwick, the workshop explored service innovation processes that help us understand what makes our customers successful.

In particular, the Customer Value Iceberg principle goes beyond the typical Total Cost of Ownership view of the equipment world and explores how that equipment impacts the success of the business. It forces us to consider not only direct costs associated with usage of the equipment such but also indirect costs such as working capital and risks.

As an example, we looked at how MAN Truck UK used this method to develop services that went beyond the prevailing repairs, parts and maintenance to methods (through telematics and clever analytics) to monitor and improve the performance and  fuel consumption of their trucks. This approach helped grow their business by an order of magnitude over a number of years.

Mining Service Management Data to improve performance

We then took a deep dive into how Endress + Hauser have developed applications that can mine Service Management data to improve service performance:  

Thomas Fricke (Service Manager) and Enrico De Stasio (Head of Corporate Quality & Lean) facilitated a 3 hour discussion on their journey from idea to a real working application integrated into their Service processes. These were the key learning points that emerged:

Leadership

In 2018 the Senior leadership concluded that to stay competitive they needed to do far more to consolidate their global service data into a “data lake’ that could be used to improve their own service processes and bring more value to customers. As a company they had already seen the value of organising data as over the past 20 years for every new system they already had a “digital twin” which held electronically all the data for that system in an organised fashion. Initially, it was basic Bill of Material data, but has since grown in sophistication. So a good start but they needed to go further, and the leadership team committed resources to do this.

  • The first try: The project initially focused on collecting and organising data from its global service operations into a data lake.  This first phase required the development of infrastructure, processes and applications that could analyse service report data and turn it into actionable intelligence. The initial goal was to make internal processes more efficient, and so improve the customer experience. E+H looked for patterns in the reports of service engineers that could:
    • Be used to improve the performance of Service through processes and individuals
    • Be used by other groups such as engineering to improve and enhance product quality.
  • Outcome: Eventhough progress was made in many areas, nevertheless, even using advanced statistical methods, they could not extract or deliver the value they had hoped   for from the data. They needed to look at something different.
  • Leveraging AI technologies: The Endress+Hauser team knew they needed to look for patterns in large data sets. They had the knowledge that self-learning technologies that are frequently termed as AI, could potentially help solve this problem. They teamed up with a local university and created a project to develop a ‘Proof of Concept’. This helped the project gain traction as the potential of the application they had created started to emerge. It was not an easy journey and required “courage to trust the outcomes, see them fail and then learn from the process”. However after about 18 months they were able to integrate the application into their normal working processes where every day they scan the service reports from around the world in different languages to identify common patterns in product problems, or anomalies in the local service team activities. This information is fed back to the appropriate service teams for action. The application also acts as a central hub where anyone in the organisation can access and interrogate service report data to improve performance and develop new value propositions.
  • Improvement:  The project does not stop there. It is now embedded in the service operations and used as a basic tool for continuous improvement. In effect, this has shifted the whole organization to be more aware of the value of their data.

Utilizing AI in B2B services

Regarding AI, our task was to uncover some of the myths and benefits for service businesses and the first task was to agree on what we really mean by AI among the participants. It took time, but we discovered that there are really two interpretations which makes the term rather confusing. The first is a generic term used by visionaries and AI professionals to describe a world of intelligent machines and applications. Important at a social & macroeconomic level, but perhaps not so useful for business operations -at least at a practical level. The second is an umbrella term for a group of technologies that are good at finding patterns in large data sets (machine learning, neural networks, big data, computer vision), that can interface with human beings (Natural Language Processing) and that mimic human intelligence through being based on self-learning algorithms. Understanding this second definition and how these technologies can be used to overcome real business challenges is where the immediate value of AI sits for today’s businesses. It was also clear that the implication of integrating these technologies into business processes will require leaders to look at the change management challenges for their teams and customers.

To understand options for moving ahead at a practical level we first looked briefly at Husky through an interview with CIO Jean-Christophe Wiltz to CIOnet where we learned that i) real business needs should tailored drive technology implementation, and ii) that before getting to AI technologies, there is a need to build the appropriate infrastructure in terms of database and data collection, and, most importantly, the need to be prepared to continually adapt this infrastructure as the business needs change.

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