Many companies are currently in a fire fighting mode and need to get on top of the situation quickly. What helps? Clear chains of command, consistent and unambiguous messaging, prioritization of what must be done, emotional intelligence to motivate service staff, and utilizing technology -quickly and at scale. Finally, companies need to think about the future – and avoiding the destruction of organizational capital is more important than the short term fall in revenue, as dramatic as it is.

Si2 organized a couple of general mini Web-Conferences both within and outside the Service Leaders Network. Here is a summary of what some companies are doing, the challenges they are facing and some very first lessons learned. We have decided that the next web conference will be focused on technology: What technology can help right now and how can it be deployed and scaled up fast. Info on signing up at the end:

  • Some companies are prioritizing very effectively and very specifically/narrowly. For example, by focusing only on customer/product support and keeping supply-chains intact, particularly for parts. All other activities have been frozen or suspended for the time being.
  • Many companies are prioritizing customers not according to previous criteria (e.g. strategic importance as a customer, profitability), but according to their importance for the effort against COVID-19. Hospitals, healthcare facilities, pharma are top priorities and then come other industries, e.g. those providing critical supplies, food and beverage, paper and packaging, etc as well as critical infrastructure (power, water, waste management…).
  • Providing clear direction and messaging is crucial. Companies with built-in organizational ambiguities, e.g. matrix organizations, etc are suspending those in the crisis so that messages from the top can cascade down the hierarchy quickly and uninterrupted and undistorted. A clear chain of command is extremely important.
  • Perhaps the biggest problem service organizations are facing right now is the management of service personnel in the field and organizing support of customers. This is multifaceted: More service engineers become absent (from infections and quarantine to taking care of family members to burn-out); Customers who need support have problems organizing to receive the support for the same reasons; Organizing travel and accommodation is very difficult -in some cases impossible; There is growing need to provide personal protective equipment for staff -in some places at least- and that is becoming difficult because of shortages; Communications with customers are becoming harder; It is difficult to get spare parts at the right place at the right time; etc.
  • Service companies have set up crisis centers, larger ones have set up many around the world, both to firefight on a daily basis and to keep communication channels open to end-customers, distributors, dealers and local subsidiaries using various technologies like Microsoft Teams or Zoom.
  • Keeping service staff motivated and at work while not placing undue pressure requires significant emotional intelligence and this is something many companies find very challenging as the crisis deepens. Building resilience is key, but it is not easy.
  • Many are working closely with partners (logistics providers, third party service providers, alternative parts suppliers, software companies…), even with competitors in some cases to be able to marshal the required resources and capacity they need to cover the market.
  • Others are speeding up in-house training.
  • Of course, the best way to solve a complex problem is to remove the complexity. For example, by reducing the need for service engineers in the field in the first place. One way is by getting personnel at customer sites (who are already there) or local partners to do the work while providing remote support -either conventionally or through Augmented Reality. Here there are stories of service organizations implementing or ramping up new technology solutions at unprecedented speeds. Other companies are expanding their customer portals providing more and better-structured information as well as human support and a few are experimenting with training AIs to diagnose technical problems and provide troubleshooting advice.
  • A number of companies are dealing with financial issues: How to price services during a crisis? Should the price reflect the scarcity of resources? Are customers paying their bills and if not what to do about it? And what to do with customers who have contracts that cannot be serviced or Service Level Agreements that cannot be fulfilled. Some companies are talking intensively with customers to find solutions, but a few are looking at force majeure clauses.
  • Finally, some organizations are thinking about the situation after COVID-19 or at least the time after restrictions are relaxed. How will the length of restrictions affect the market? How will it affect own capacity? Will there be pent up demand and how quickly will it materialize? How to build up the necessary capacity to satisfy this demand without taking undue risks. Together with disappearing revenues and cash one of the biggest risks to companies right now is that “organizational capital” -the ability of organizations to get things done through people, know-how, and processes will be destroyed and this is something that must be avoided at all costs.

The next Si2 mini Web-conference will be on 8 April 2020 at 15:30 CET. You can register here: Registration Form