According to Don Blumberg of D.F. Blumberg Associates, Inc., the European service market will grow from about $220 billion in 2000 to close to $400 billion in 2005. A significant change, says Blumberg, is the fact that quality, continuity and geographic coverage have become as important as price. Customers are demanding better response times, logistics support, 24-hour service, and the ability to repair or replace equipment quickly and efficiently.
According to Peter Semmelhack, president and CEO of Antenna Software, customer expectations in Europe vary from region to region. In Germany, for example, customers expect high quality and pride themselves on being very organized and prompt, he says. Through its partnerships and products, the company is focusing on helping other service providers who are trying to internationalize become more competitive. David Prawel, president and CEO of Critical Reach, agrees that customer expectations are higher in Europe: "I think it stems from the fact that people are closer together, so they're used to face-to-face discussions." A provider of Web-centric software solutions for optimizing manufacturing after-market sales and service operations, Critical Reach has enjoyed a measure of success in the European market and now hopes to break into the U.S.
One of its customers, Miele, is the largest manufacturer of appliances in Europe. Service technicians use the software to access catalogs and service manuals for parts ordering and repairs. Detailed diagrams allow them to drill down and zoom in on specific parts, stripping away the outer layers as necessary and rotating the equipment for the best angle. Once the part has been identified, the user can obtain a diagnosis and instructions on how to repair the problem. "Europeans seem to adopt service-oriented technology faster," says Prawel. "[They] seem to spend more energy on worrying about how to have good quality relationships with customers."
Cultural differences also need to be taken into consideration when servicing customers in different regions. "Geography has everything to do with the politics of the regions and I think those geographies end up being very culturally specific," says Semmelhack. If the company is interested in a mobile project in a particular region, he recommends having someone from that region working for the organization. "If you're going to win business and grow from a field service standpoint, you have to have a very specific knowledge of those areas."
Both Semmelhack and Prawel agree that another important difference between the United states and Europe is the fact that in Europe you are dealing with multiple languages.
"In Europe, so many things depend on multiple language support," says Prawel. "It's a problem we don't have to deal with in the U.S. European companies spend a lot more energy on service for another reason: They're relatively far from the center of knowledge. The person who knows everything might be speaking in a different language, so they really want to deploy that knowledge in the right language to the points of service."
When it comes down to it, field service organizations the world over share similar concerns. George Faigen, chief marketing and strategy officer for Broadbeam, lists some of these concerns as reducing costs of delivering service, decreasing the service window and the time it takes to perform a service, ordering parts and billing and selling add-ons or upgrades to the customer while on the job site. "Customers the world over want good technology and good support," says Faigen. Taking care of the customer seems to be a universal theme--no matter what culture or language you're dealing with.