As the retail industry continues to transform, stores become more and more connected. That digital infrastructure — cabling, routers, point-of-sale terminals and servers, kiosks and more — has to be installed and maintained. Performing this work across thousands of stores and restaurants, for brands from Abercrombie & Fitch to Gap and McDonalds, is a company called Spencer Technologies.
Brands like these are demanding customers, and this infrastructure is mission-critical for them. A retail outlet without a digital connection can't service its customers — in the worst case, can't even make sales. That means that a service provider like Spencer must not only be responsive, it must anticipate needs. Rudy Goedhart, the firm's Business Intelligence Director, explains:
We want to be ahead of the curve. We don't want our customers telling us something went wrong. We should tell the customer, 'Something's gone wrong, but here's what we're doing about it.'
This depends on having the right information to hand. Spencer uses field service management software from IFS to manage its full range of operations, from managing store setup and teardown projects, to parts inventory, to scheduling service call-outs. This is the company's core business system, says Goedhart:
For us FSM is our primary system of record. Everything we do, except for the financial ledger, resides in FSM.
Collecting information is important, but what's even more crucial is showing the right information to people when they need it. Spencer has built its own dashboards to keep its own teams and customers informed, not just of what has happened, but also to forewarn them of future issues, says Goedhart.
We have dashboards that show basically, everything that is important to whomever is looking at it. Two weeks from now, we're going to not have sufficient stock to fulfil that installation. This technician's overbooked, you're not going to get them for the next job. All of the information that is both informational as in, this is going to be a problem, as well as, this is a problem right now.
Clients have open visibility to service data
In today's always-on world, customers expect real-time information. One way in which Spencer goes above and beyond is in sharing information openly with its customers. Spencer gives them direct access to dashboards and its report server so that they can see what's happening whenever they want. But it's important to contextualize the data, he says:
We have a report goes out to the client, we say these are the things that happened, this is the impact it had, if it had any impact. And these are the KPIs affected.
It's open visibility — we share whatever we can with the client.
It's always better to share information proactively than to end up having to react when something blows up. Once an issue gets out of hand — whether it's a missing item or even something as seemingly trivial as a technician wearing the wrong kind of shirt — you can spend a huge amount of time and resource calming things down, he explains.
If you're on reactive data, you've already failed ... The customer starts running their analysis to try and see where did it go wrong? What is going on?
So now you're running reactive data, you go deeper than you would have ever gone proactively, trying to regain that trust in your numbers that you failed to provide upfront.
Collecting enough of the right data is indispensible to that effort, and Spencer's systems are set up to collect everything that might be relevant.
We use a problem management tool for recording anything and everything that goes wrong at a location, the technician showed late, the technician showed in inappropriate clothing, the technician didn't behave right, or didn't have the tools. Whatever the case may be, or anything that could go wrong, is recorded.
Taking responsibility for outcomes
Taking responsibility as an organization rather than passing blame around is an important part of getting the service ethos right, he adds.
One of our core values, besides delight the customer, is 'one team'. It doesn't matter to our customers, whether the technician didn't show up, or whether you forgot the scheduling, or whether he had a flat tire or et cetera, et cetera. The outcome was the same. Spencer Technologies failed as an organization, we did not deliver.
Using FSM we're trying to leverage the software to get us there, to record what is relevant, to define actions where it is relevant, and to provide the right information to both our clients as well as our internal resources — so they can take action, as well as report back to the client the current status of their field service request.
With the increasing need for digital infrastructure at physical stores, the 43-year-old company's business has tripled in the past five or six years as demand has risen for its services. It can't afford to stand still, as customers become more sophisticated in their service needs and their demand for up-to-date information and speedy, efficient completion of work. Spencer is keen to continue advancing its use of technology internally so that it can carry on evolving its offerings.
One lesson learned has been the need to package up its services for smaller customers rather than designing a custom contract for each one individually. While it makes sense to tailor services to the demands of larger chains, the best way to service smaller customers is to provide a proven package, says Goedhart.
Asking customers what they want is the worst thing you could be doing. For all of these smaller organisations, it doesn't make sense for us to offer customized solutions to them.
It has been much more efficient for us to just say, we do this, this is our job, trust us to be your partner. Here's what our standard data set is, and this is what we provide for services. This is what we're really good at and it works for all of the other retail locations. Let us do our job, and trust us to take care of you.
Because if you customize all your solutions for all of your smaller customers, you're going to set yourself up to not be scalable and not be successful.
The flip side of traditional retailers going multi-channel is that their stores need to be connected. That digital imperative sets up a demand for physical infrastructure to keep it running smoothly, which creates a new opportunity for a company like Spencer. Its raediness to adapt to those emerging demands and provide a connected service offering provides a useful case study in how the digital world is also changing the service industry.