One of the central themes of the 2017 “After:Market business platform” is building a customer-centric service business, however what does this really mean for those responsible for running Service Operations? Service In Industry bloggers were asked by Copperberg to explore this question through the different presentations at this year’s event.

What do we mean by Customer Centric Operations?

Most people would agree that if the Service Delivery process is designed with the overall customer value and experience in mind, then customers should be more satisfied and businesses more profitable. But is that a good description of a customer centric operation? In simplistic terms this might be the goal, but to understand how this might be achieved, it is important to look deeper into the business. Service professionals often pick out three key elements when asked to define the components of a service operation:

  1. Processes: Many professionals will use processes to describe the activities an operation must deliver to achieve the desired outcome or output. In reality, they should cover much more! Processes should include the management rules that guide how an operation should work, such “as aligning parts inventory worldwide”. They should also include the Performance Management tools such as KPI’s or objective setting, so the business has consistent metrics to ensure goals are met. Achieving process excellence is much more than a flow chart. To succeed, it is vital that all these activities and frameworks are designed to support the end goal, that is the customer experience.
  2. People: Operational processes rely on people whose skills and capabilities are critical to the successful and profitable execution of the delivery processes. However, this is a very narrow perspective. How people think, their attitudes to their job and knowledge about their customers, all these factors influence their mind-set, which in turn will define whether an operation is focused on delivering customer value or not. A good way to gauge your customer concentricity is the language your organisation uses. For example, as business leaders you will all be well versed in the management language of objectives, action plans and direction! However, our people and especially customers do not appreciate being talked to in this way. Ask yourself the question; ‘Do you as a manager talk to your employees in the same way you talk to customers?’ Does your communication focus on the benefits and outcomes of your services or the delivery process you undertake? These are questions that are well worth asking and will give you insight into where you stand on the customer experience continuum.
  3. Tools: In the industrial world, all operations use tools whether they be plant, equipment or computer systems, to deliver or create an outcome. The interesting thing about tools in the modern era is that they no longer just ‘do stuff’. These days they either produce a lot of data that can bring real insight to the customers operation such as remote connectivity. Or as in the case of Service Management systems, they help coordinate and manage huge amounts of data about our own delivery performance. The key is that there is a huge amount of data being generated which we do not use and the interesting thing about data is that it does not have physical boundaries.  We are only limited by our imagination in how to use it. The message is do not get intimated by the terminology of Digitalisation, De-materialisation or Industrie 4.0. Rather focus on how to use this data to make more money for your business, and deliver more value to your customers. Then look at the new exciting capabilities that are bringing data transparency across the organisation and greater analytical power.

What we see is that operations that are truly customer centric have the mind-set that develops processes, tools and people that are all focussed on delivering the best value to their customers, both internal and external to the organisation.

But how should business leaders move forward.  As companies strive to become more customer centric, they often take one of two approaches to improving their situation:

  1. When there is a clear but broad business issue, they may go down a traditional ‘consulting’ assessment or benchmarking route, in order to identify the root causes. Often the assessment itself is a tool to convince others that there really is a problem, and what the solution might be.
  2. When problems are better defined, they will address that issue with a specific project. Often though this might just be addressing the symptom and not the route cause. Field Service Management systems can be a good example of this. There is more to running a good service business than the IT and mobile solutions you use. However, it is very tangible and so often an easy place to start. This kind of investment can also be a great way to start a deeper change process that begins to address the real route cause. And usually this comes down to the culture and the mind-set of the whole organisation.

If you are benchmarking yourself against the outside world, trying to get a more Outside-In perspective, these may be some of the questions you should be asking yourself.

Finding your way through the After:Market Business Platform at Hamburg

For those interested in developing more Customer Centric Service Operations, the After:Market event in Hamburg will offer a good opportunity to benchmark your thoughts and organisation against what other companies are doing in often very different industries.

We have picked out some presentations you might want to attend which follow the theme of Process, People and Tools.

How to ensure processes reflect Customer Value

The flagship presentation for understanding value must be the Service Mastery day where Todd Snelgrove will explore what is value and how to quantify it. This is absolutely critical when it comes to design the service operations and the customer experience required to deliver this value.

There are a number of other presentation that could be of interest:

  • Process redesign is all about getting things done, and “New Types of partnerships enabled by connected products and assets management’ may present new ideas that are offered by connected technologies
  • Transform International to Global Service Operations” is all about creating a consistent customer experience wherever you are in the world, which is a key goal of any Customer Centric service delivery operation.
  • Case Study: Service Parts Optimisation at Mitsubishi Corp will look at how a a global leader gets parts to the right place at the right time to satisfy customers, but also to ensure their own profitability
  • An interesting circle discussion might be Service Design. This is a thinking process that helps teams focus on customer value. Operational managers may find it a useful approach in bringing the customer into their internal processes.

Customer Focused Mind-set

We have picked out 4 discussions that are particularly relevant to mind-set change:

  • Value based partnership in Service’ will talk about developing a Solutions Mind-Set that runs end to end across business processes.
  • The Panel Discussion on ‘Building a service culture’ will focus on this critical aspect. It will also give attendees an opportunity to ask service experts on different aspects of achieving cultural change.
  • We often talk about the importance of being ‘easy to do business with’. The session on ‘Limiting friction with your customers’ promises to not only look at this high-level objective, but the nitty gritty journey that deals with cultural change and getting important topics to the top of the management agenda.
  • Disruption is all about people finding new ways of doing business, and the panel discussion on ‘Disruption in Service’ will explore how new technologies can transform your relationship with customers.

Tools that enable transparency and insight

A common description that runs through many of the presentations is the word digital or digitalisation.  We have picked out 6 discussions, which we believe will help attendees to understand that its essence is how to combine ‘electronic’ data and systems with your organisations inherent technical capability to discover new value streams within your own and your customers businesses.

  • Digitization with Purpose’; this is a case study from SKF that highlights how digitalisation has been an enabler for business growth, but that it is nothing really new. In fact their philosophy has always been ‘how to use knowledge to create value’.
  • On a similar theme “How to Develop a Disruptive Digital business” explores how these capabilities affect all aspects of introducing new outcome based services.
  • Looking specifically at how to more effectively use information and connectivity in operations, ‘Digitizing Spares & Service functions – a challenging opportunity?’ Examines how a global equipment manufacturer have used tools such as ERP, Customer Portals and Knowledge Management to improve the customer experience for spare parts.
  • Case Study: Service Digitisation at Outotec looks at the impact of information and connectivity on providing improved equipment performance to enhance the customer experience.
  • Within the Executive Circles, we would recommend the ‘AI & machine Learning’ These are mathematical technologies that really help turn data into insights and so will in the future be critical for all customer centric organisations.
  • ‘The Power of Data’ is a chance to hear how a non-industrial company uses its data to create new revenue streams, and in particular the move from free to fee.

As we have seen Customer Centric Operations are all about mastering challenges around processes, people and tools.  The After:Market business platform looks like being able to provide valuable insights in all three of these critical areas.

This article was first published by Copperberg as part of the After:Market Business Platform conference.

Nick Frank is Managing Partner at Si2 Partners, a consultancy helping clients leverage services to win in industrial markets. Nick is an expert in Service Transformation, specifically helping organisations use technology to find new value within their customer’s value chain, facilitating bootcamps to help teams solve challenging problems, and business assessments to kick start the change process

He can be contacted at or +352 621 215 856