Remote support begins the servitization journey at Panasonic’s heating and cooling business

Profile picture for user Karl Lowe By Karl Lowe September 22, 2020
Summary:
Karl Lowe, Head of European Service at Panasonic Appliances Air-Conditioning Europe, describes how remote product support will enhance the service Panasonic offers as it modernizes its business model

Panasonic HVAC Installer-Engineer
(Panasonic)

In the automotive sector, it is no longer fashionable to call a business a car manufacturer; they are suppliers of transportation solutions. This is not twisting the meaning of the message. It is a very true example of how organizations that once manufactured the asset that carried out the task of transportation, have now become end-to-end service providers. General Motors investing in ride share service Lyft is just one example of a manufacturer becoming a servitization business.

The HVACR sector is going through a similar period of heated change as automotive. Industry professionals demand more than just solutions and products; they expect a full-service offering. Panasonic Heating & Cooling Solutions is transforming its business model to be service-centric.

At Panasonic we recognize the need to adopt a service mindset and my remit is to develop and mature our service organization, which means working with partners with a like-minded care and approach to the customer. In the past, our organization had a technical approach to service, but in the 2020s service means so much more, whether the customer is commercial or residential.

Panasonic, which turned 100 in 2018, is a leading contender in the HVACR sector, one that the International Energy Agency (IEA) says will see installation demanding growing year-on-year until 2050.

Service-centric

Our first step in the journey to servitization was a holistic analysis of the service operations right across the organization, including a business maturity assessment. With this understanding, we put in place a three-step strategy to develop the level of maturity servitization requires. Step one has been the adoption of common tools that use similar processes and reporting, to guarantee that everyone can work in the same way.

Let me take you back to the automotive sector for an example of why this is such a crucial step. If you were to drive your car into a showroom, if you go into Germany, if you go into the UK, if you go into France, it's a similar feel, it's a similar approach. You should probably expect a similar kind of service. And that's really what we're trying to achieve within Panasonic Heating & Cooling Solutions, so that no matter where the customer is, whether it is Italy, Czech Republic, Spain or Norway, they receive a consistency in service.

The challenge we have faced is that historically, each nation and region has operated with a high level of independence. This has led to a silo mentality. To counter this, but respect independence, we have developed a service offer that has a top-down governance in terms of the technology platforms in use and the operational tools and processes to sell service and report on growth and sales.  We don't want to take away the independence or the free-thinking of our National Sales Companies (NSCs), but we do want to move away from each country doing it in their own way. We believe that offering common approaches and processes will really help our organization.

Standardizing technology platforms is a crucial part of this transition. Panasonic has partnered with enterprise software provider IFS for a central software solution to be used by sales, support and technical staff across Europe. This is an important first phase of our strategy, as it offers a truly unified way of working. Everyone in the organization has to work in the same way, and to the same high standard.

One of the first IFS products we have been able to deploy has been a remote solution to provide our teams with a merged reality software platform that blends two real-time video streams into an interactive environment. Installers, field technicians, engineers and customers can share real-life situational context with remote product experts to diagnose issues, share knowledge in real-time and accelerate the repair time rates.

A pilot project of IFS Remote Assistance in the German and UK NSC's has been well received, with positive feedback and a viral interest in the technology and new way of working from across Panasonic. This project means the potential of our highly skilled workforce is unleashed, no matter where they are based.

Panasonic is already seeing business benefits. In the past, repair time rates were typically seven days, and we are seeing that decrease, which has an instant benefit for the customer. We are reducing, and in some cases eliminating, the need to make site visits, which is reducing travel costs and lowering the environmental impact of our business. In addition, our interactions with service customers is now captured, and the knowledge transferred, which protects Panasonic from losing technical insight, which in the long-term means we will always be able to educate and upskill our workforce.  Sessions are recorded, which allows Panasonic to notice issues and alleviate them in training.  We can now provide our workforce with a collaboration tool that delivers a far more enhanced experience than a telephone call can.

As these new solutions are widely adopted, Panasonic is expecting to see improvements in response times; an increase in remote diagnostics and resolution, reduced site visits and the connected cost savings, and with the improvement repair speeds, a higher customer satisfaction and reduced friction.

In the UK, customers would previously call a third-party triage service that passed the information about a service issue to Panasonic. Today, a service session can be initiated immediately to determine what the issue is, and whether a site visit is required.  This improvement in business processes, and therefore the customer service, will soon be standardized across the European region.  

Future opportunities 

Phase two of the adoption of servitization will be an examination of the service sales structure to determine how Panasonic Heating & Cooling Solutions sells service, which will be one of the largest challenges of this business modernization programme. We want customers to see us as a solution to their problems, rather than a company they buy products from. Panasonic needs to examine what offerings are appealing to the customer base, and how to develop those into subscription-based offerings. Panasonic aims to deliver outcomes, and for the customer to trust Panasonic to guarantee their HVACR is always operating optimally. If you look at hotels, hospitals, retail, restaurants, warehouses, industries, offices, and many other applications, they want to get on with doing what they do best — they don't want to worry about HVACR equipment. That's our job, and we need to determine how to best meet that need.

As Panasonic Heating & Cooling Solutions moves to a servitization model, then so too must the service engineering modernize. Opportunities in the near future include providing feedback from the engineers in the field, and from customers to the Panasonic research and development (R&D), which will improve the creation of new products and solutions.

Panasonic Heating & Cooling Solutions has mapped out its route to be a servitization business success. In today's economy, the customer expects that if a premium product is purchased, then a premium service has to be part of the same offering. Our ultimate goal is to maximize customer retention, and to do that we need to mature and innovate in how we provide service to our customers. This is a new approach, a new beginning for Panasonic and I'm excited for the journey.