Article | August 23, 2017

A Firsthand Opinion On The Value Of Consultants

Source: Field Technologies Magazine
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Sarah Nicastro

By Sarah Nicastro, publisher/editor in chief, Field Technologies
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Field Service Consultants

I recently interviewed Roger O’Connor, VP of product support at Gosiger, for a cover story we did on his company’s rollout of a new field service software solution. During our interview, Roger and I discussed Gosiger’s use of a consulting firm, and he had some specific thoughts on the pros and cons of using consultants. I asked him to share those thoughts with us here since all of this detail won’t fit into the larger story we’re working on for the upcoming September/October issue.

Field Technologies: How did Gosiger initially determine its need or desire to work with a consulting firm?

O’Connor: We felt that our service organization was very competent compared to the competitors in our industry. But we are concerned that our industry, as a whole, lags others in terms of providing world-class customer service. We had all had experiences in our personal lives where we felt we had a superior customer service experience, and we worried that we might not be providing this level of exceptional experience to our customers. So the idea of working with a consultant that had clients outside of the machine tool industry really appealed to us.

Field Technologies: Once the need was determined, how did you decide which firm you were going to work with?

O’Connor: We started with our local university, the University of Dayton, and our contacts there gave us some names of consultants that we interviewed. We found that these contacts tended to be more management consultants and lacked a specific focus in field service. Then we came across the Field Service USA conference in Palm Springs, CA, where we met several potential candidates, including Jolt Consulting, which is who we ended up engaging with. A major decision factor for us is that we wanted a firm that had both a wide variety of experiences, but also specific experience in field service as well as some experience in our industry.

Field Technologies: The consultants helped you in three major areas, the first of which was developing key metrics for you to measure and use to maximize performance. Can you tell us about that process, and how the metrics are working for you?

O’Connor: Our problem with KPIs prior to going through the consulting process was that we had dozens of metrics and we’d focus on different ones depending on the “topic of the day.” Jolt led us through a process where we put all the different metrics that we were using (or that we could even think of using) on a big white board and then we categorized them into different areas. This happened in several sessions and we intentionally left time between them to let some ideas sink in and for other ideas evolve. 

The real value in the process was 1) we had a fairly large group of managers from all our different geographic areas participate in the process, which gave us some immediate buy-in because they participated in making the final selections.  And 2) we committed ourselves to getting to no more than 5 KPIs. This made it hard, but ensured that we really focused on getting them right. When we reached what we thought would be our final KPIs, we asked ourselves if anything that could go right or could go wrong would be reflected in one of these KPIs. For example Mean Time To Repair (MTTR) was a metric that we previously used, but that did not survive the cut to five KPIs. We determined that MTTR was reflected in a combination of two other metrics that we did include: Response Time and Same Day Fix Rate. If we are responding in a timeframe that meets our goals and we’re fixing machines on the same day at a rate we expect, our MTTR must be also be good.

We have been using these five final metrics for about three years now, and while I’m not going to say we will never change them, we have seen a lot of benefit from having a consistent message to our employees about what is important. And we can really get a sense that something has changed if we see a KPI move from the trend line.

Field Technologies: The second area you worked with them on was developing service contracts. Can you tell us about that process and the value it provides?

O’Connor: This area is still a work in progress. The vast majority of our service work, over 90 percent, is done on a break-fix basis. We felt we could add more value to our customers by offering service contracts. We’ve done the work to put the contracts into place and have gotten good feedback from some customers, but this is one of those aspects of our industry that I was referring to above — our industry as a whole just has not yet embraced the concept of covering equipment on a service contract. I’m talking with people every week that have their HVAC, their air compressors, or their fork lifts, etc. covered on a service contract, but it is taking time for them to come around to embracing the idea of service contract for their machine tool. Our challenge here is to continue to work on the value proposition for the customer and make sure that the program is truly a win-win arrangement that aligns our goals with our customers’ goals. I am convinced we are on the right track, it is just taking time.

Field Technologies: The third area you worked with the consulting firm on was your technology roadmap. How was the roadmap developed, and how does it align with your needs?

O’Connor: Jolt came in and interviewed a few people from every area that touched our service business.  This included our field technicians, our schedulers, our managers, our parts people, and our accounts people that do the billing. This painted a picture for us of where some of the pain points were with our current system. It is not that we didn’t know these pain points existed, but Jolt was able to help us better understand the number of people these pain points affected. They were also very helpful in helping us to understand the capabilities of the products that were on the market. This led us to see how an investment in these technologies would lead to real-world results in reducing those pain points.

Once we established the “what” (what we wanted to be able to do); we then turned to the “how.” We briefly considered doing an all-encompassing upgrade to our entire system. This had some attractive aspects, but we settled on a multi-year plan that allowed us to make technology investments over time so that we were not disrupting each area of our business simultaneously, and of course spreading out the investment over several years. 

So far we have made two investments from the roadmap. We now have Geotab’s GPS system in all of our vans, and we have invested in IFS’ Field Service Management software. Still on the roadmap is developing a customer portal (likely to be on the same IFS platform) as well as in an improved knowledge management system.

Field Technologies: Overall, how would you describe the value or biggest “pros” of working with a consulting firm on these efforts?

O’Connor:  We have been able to leverage the knowledge of an organization that has experience outside our company and outside of our industry. We will invest in new software once every five to 10 years; consulting organizations are helping people make these decisions every day. Working with a consulting firm helped us avoid any obvious mistakes. A slick sales person with a glitzy demo might be able to fool us into believing a product is more capable than it actually is — having a consultant involved, they have had the benefit of seeing these products fully implemented for other customers. They also helped us to consider what questions to ask. I would not have wanted to have a consultant choose a product for me, but I felt much more confident in our decision with their expertise behind us.

There is also a benefit in holding yourself accountable. It’s easy to make big plans and then write it all down and stick it in a drawer. Working with the consultant, you have a tendency to pull those plans out a little more often and honestly review how much progress you have made versus your original plan.

Field Technologies: You mentioned that one drawback to working with a consulting firm is that you have to caution against becoming too “hands off.” Can you explain what you mean by this?

O’Connor:  You have to keep in perspective that the consultants will never know as much about your business as you do. I knew going into the IFS implementation that one of the challenges was going to be keeping the resources (both internal and external) focused. I asked our consultant to take on a project management role for this implementation. In hindsight, I realize this was a tough ask. I had much more influence over our internal resources then they did. And as the customer with control of the purse strings, I probably had more influence on the external IFS resources as well.  You have to be cautious in deciding what tasks an outside resource like a consultant will be better equipped to accomplish versus an internal resource.  

Field Technologies: Based on your experiences, what is your best advice for a company looking to hire a consulting firm?

O’Connor: Be very clear with yourself on what you expect the consultant to bring to the table. I know there are extreme examples where management consultants are brought in to take over a failing business, but I think those are rare and happen when an owner is ready to turn over control due to a severe lack of talented management.  That is not the kind of engagement we were looking for.

We worked with our consultant to first define and then execute on specific deliverables (better KPIs, a solid business strategy for contracts, and a technology roadmap). I feel good in saying that we achieved those objectives and I fully expect our three-year relationship with Jolt to continue. They continue to add value as subject matter experts in field service technology, and they are a valuable voice to have at the table as we develop our business strategies going forward. Just remember consultants can help but ultimately it’s your business to run and that affecting the desired change is your responsibility.