Manufacturers increasingly recognize that a focus on post-sales services can drive significant revenue. From tightening processes in entitlement management to building new long-tail service solutions, aftermarket service for manufacturers is growing in importance. Key to this transformation is technology to power service operations, processes, and people. With the advances in cloud-based service solutions, manufacturers finally have viable, robust options for their complex environments.

Manufacturers face dual challenges in delivering support, as they must manage both inbound contact centers and mobile, onsite field teams. Contact centers must efficiently manage high volumes of calls while capturing customer data on trends that can impact product design. And, they must be able to track and manage detailed information on SLAs, vendor warranty programs, and other entitlements.

Field-based service teams need a solution that seamlessly links to corporate financial and warehouse/logistics systems in addition to automating business processes and workflows to improve response and repair times. They, too, must comply with service-level agreements (SLAs), warranties, and entitlements. An added twist is enabling mobile support to enable communications between the field and the home office, including parts databases and service knowledgebases. And, the solution must capture customer information for use in future product design changes and enhancements.

Traditional service management solutions required on-premise installation in order to benefit from the full set of features and functionality, and to integrate with important back-office systems and data. But advances in cloud-computing technologies are driving today’s dynamic field-service and contact-center support operations, all while integrating seamlessly with corporate applications, databases, and partners.

The following outlines the elements that are important to consider when building a world-class post-sales service operation.

Why Cloud?

Cloud computing has become a proven strategy for manufacturers for a number of reasons, not the least of which is cost. Simply put, cloud-based solutions save money – the software developer houses the application on its servers, and is responsible for investing in the infrastructure and technical expertise to support them. Software upgrades are automatic and immediately accessible, and require no additional investment or downtime for deploying. And manufacturers can pay as they go on a subscription basis vs. purchasing on-premise licenses – an attractive proposition to manage scale.

Companies that work in heavily regulated environments, or that have very complex service needs with a lot of integration touch points can deploy solutions that run in a private cloud. Solutions that can run both on-premise and in the cloud offer companies the right balance of cost-savings, flexibility, and data control.

Integration Points

The goal of a post-sales support solution is to run the business better while improving customer service – this means building a closed loop where information gathered from all customer-facing techs and agents gets into the right back-office systems, that appropriate information gets to the service professionals, and that engineering is apprised of equipment performance trends and recurring issues.

Cloud-based service solutions make it easy to integrate with other systems including ERP. Many manufacturers miss out on revenue by not tracking warranty management; others can’t track parts efficiently or streamline invoicing. Cloud-based integrations improve the service solution and can increase productivity and profitability. Features such as on-site signature capture speed the invoicing cycle by enabling field engineers to get immediate client approval for work done, and transmit it to the back office. Companies can shorten the billing cycle from several weeks down to one or two days – a big boost to both cash flow and productivity.

Also, with the proliferation of sensors networked together on equipment, manufacturers will be looking to integrate with IoT platforms (such as Microsoft’s IoT Azure Suite) to take advantage of proactive and preventive service opportunities – a way to hone preventive maintenance (PM) cycles and increase equipment uptime for a leaner service business.

Manufacturers have complex field service needs, including SLAs, warranty management, inventory and reverse-logistics management, RMA/depot, dispatch, and multi-tiered scheduling, to name a few. These functions often need to be integrated with external partners, such as for inventory management, and they need to integrate with back-office systems such as ERP to streamline billing. Manufacturers that want to drive profitability and improve service management need a robust system that can manage these functions and integrate seamlessly with important solutions and partners.

Mobile Support

Mobility is an enormous issue for post-sales support. Real-time connectivity between the field and the back office is vital for effective support. However, technicians will find themselves in environments where wireless service isn’t available. Some institutions forbid technicians from using connected devices in their workplace. Others require service in areas – such as factory floors or shielded rooms — that just don’t support online connectivity. While any field service solution needs a robust mobile solution, it must also be usable even when the tech is offline. Look for solutions that offer online, offline, and hybrid capabilities.

Social Collaboration

Social media has made a huge impact on post-sales support because it enables more proactive relationships with customers, and helps to disseminate knowledge across the enterprise. Companies can gather intelligence in real time, stay on top of trending situations, and arm field techs and contact center agents with information to resolve support issues better and quicker.

While most companies use public channels such as Facebook and Twitter to monitor customer feedback, some of the most innovative organizations use private social tools that enable field and headquarters teams to exchange information in a closed, corporate channel. These applications link agents, field techs, managers, and other company representatives to any piece of information in real time. Managers can “follow” service trends on a particular product line, sales reps can subscribe to information about their customers including billing issues and service requests, and field techs and contact center agents can “follow” service issues on specific products. This kind of private social ecosystem streamlines information sharing throughout the organization.

Multichannel and Mobile Customer Engagement

Today’s customers want to connect with manufacturers by more than just the phone for post-sales service – they want to leverage their mobile devices with email, mobile self-help options, featuring updates in real time, anywhere, anytime. Cloud-based solutions make it easier to effectively capture customer feedback and deliver it to the appropriate groups within a company for a multichannel approach. It is well documented that the customer’s experience is a company’s major differentiator and needs to be connected across the service supply chain.

Business Process Management and Project Management

Manufacturers can improve business performance and enhance customer service using a cloud-based post-sales solution, but in order to be successful, they must have strong business processes. Companies need to regularly evaluate processes to ensure that they support business objectives, and their technology solution must enforce them. The solution must enable the business to create new processes, and modify existing ones when needed to adapt to changing market conditions or corporate targets. Look for a solution that enables the business users to manage this task without depending on developers.

Manufacturers’ complex post-sales environment requires robust project management. Cloud-based solutions enable a single-point-of-access to create, monitor, and manage complex service projects encompassing multiple locations, teams, products, and other variables. Look for in-depth work breakdown that can assign summary and successor tasks and sub tasks, including dependencies, and to cross-connect them with project resources including people and parts as well as budgets and variances. Cloud-based, real-time views into each aspect of a project’s status help companies manage field service projects with an extensive array of parts, labor, and expense requirements while tracking project performance against milestones. Project managers can set up automated notifications triggered by any activity, including notifications of potential overruns or other issues, to alert them in time to take appropriate corrective measures.

IoT and advanced AI

Another impact of the cloud on today’s post-sale service environment is the proliferation of AI-enabled interactions, including those generated by the Internet of Things (IoT). Fast-paced service interactions driven by automated notifications and alerting will become the norm. Look for solutions that are prepared to handle the future of service interactions that will be prompted by machines, not people.

Post-sales service and support can be a powerful business driver for manufacturing organizations. With the right cloud-based solutions that offer rich functionality and powerful integrations, companies can take advantage of this new era in service.

Contact us today to see how we can help you take part in the revolution in post-sales services.