March 13, 2014

m-ize Transforms the Warranty Experience:

For years, cutting costs has been the main focus of warranty departments. As the economy turns around, companies are now changing the focus of their warranty spending onto improving the customer experience. Warranty can drive sales by providing a better service experience to increase customer satisfaction, loyalty, and repeat purchases.

There is perhaps no better example of the recent shift of focus in the warranty industry than the career path of Ashok Kartham.

Back in the early 1990s, Kartham was a consultant at Deere & Co., the farm equipment manufacturer based in Moline Illinois. In 1995, he left Deere to form 4CS Inc., which for many years was the one and only vendor of warranty transaction processing software. Before Warranty Week was launched, before the Warranty Chain Management Conference first convened, 4CS turned its website into a kind of news and information center for the warranty industry, which helped it sell what was then a fairly poorly understood concept: warranty automation software.

Over the next 15 years 4CS gained numerous customers in both the product warranty and service contract industries, primarily in the automotive and heavy equipment industries. Eventually, Kartham sold 4CS to PTC Inc. in 2011 and moved from snowy East Moline to sunny Tampa, Florida. But rather than retiring, he formed a new company to take what he saw as the next step in warranty software.

Kartham founded Mize Inc. (m-ize) in 2012, taking the name from the phrase "Mobilize to Monetize." In fact, he said we should refer to the company as m-ize, in all lower case with the hyphen in the middle, to emphasize the slogan behind the name.

"Mobile takes companies where customers are and social enables customers to market, sell, and co-create products with the brands," Kartham said. "In the connected world, customer experience expectations are rising and companies must adapt next generation warranty and service solutions to fulfill the customer demands."

Kartham said m-ize was launched around the idea that warranty is no longer just about claims processing, but can be a driver of additional service revenues and profits for companies. m-ize approaches warranty from the perspective of improving customer experience to drive customer acquisition, retention, and advocacy. m-ize's core offering is something called Smarter Customer Engagement, which enables companies to connect with and directly engage today's connected, mobile and social customers through the smartphones they always now carry.

Mobile and Social Inflection Point for Enterprises

The warranty software business Kartham left nearly three years ago is now in the process of consolidating. Many of the other vendors that offered warranty management software or services in competition with 4CS, including Entigo, Active Web Services, ProQuest, NAT Inc. and ServiceBench, have been acquired by much larger companies or have ceased operations in recent years. One of the few direct competitors left is Tavant Technologies, though PTC, NEW, Snap-on and others continue to sell into the market.

Meanwhile, as we all know, there has been explosive growth in the use of smart mobile devices by consumers and employees in all walks of life. Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have now surpassed personal computers and laptops as the primary computing device of choice, leading to the recent decline in PC sales. In fact, mobile is becoming the primary device for people to research, shop, and access services online. Mobile commerce sales are predicted to reach $23.8 billion in 2015, according to Coda Research Consultancy.

People now carry their mobile phones everywhere they go. This change provides a huge opportunity for companies and their channel partners to reach and engage the customers one-on-one instead of using mass media.

The rise of social technologies is also bringing new opportunities and risks to companies. The damage to brand reputation on social networks from disgruntled customers can result in much more significant cost than the cost of a warranty claim. Brands will need to pay attention to how the social networks can impact goodwill allowances, product recalls, and warranty service. Somewhere between 78% and 84% of consumers now rely on their social networks when researching new products (Source: IBM report).

In addition to the growth of mobile devices, all kinds of products, including cars, appliances, televisions, and others are being connected to the global network, forming the new Internet of Things. That concept is gaining more industry attention as marked by the recent Google acquisition of Nest, a maker of smart home products. As products become more connected, they are able to proactively send diagnostics and other information. Automotive, appliance, electronics, and other manufacturers are scrambling to leverage these smart capabilities which can significantly impact how warranty and service is delivered.

m-ize is harnessing the confluence of these mobile, social, cloud, and smart technologies to facilitate better customer engagement and experience.

Technology's Impact on Warranty Management

Warranty management has been looked at from accounting, process streamlining, and product quality perspectives by different software companies in the past. Warranty has been managed as a cost center and the focus has been on reducing costs and improving efficiencies. Even though many talked about turning service into a profit center, progress has been slow and only a few companies have taken big strides.

Kartham said his new company is focused on improving several key metrics within the product warranty and service contract industries, including product registration rates, plan attach rates, and Net Promoter Scores (NPS), in addition to warranty performance.;

Product Registration

The m-ize product registration application can be used by dealers or customers to quickly scan a bar code or Quick Response Code, simplifying the whole process. The same processes are used to allow the customer to track all the products they own and gain single touch access to manuals, knowledge bases, and service history. "Registration is critical for warranty tracking. Simplifying the process and providing additional value will drive the registration rates higher," Kartham said.

The m-ize warranty solution may be used by all stakeholders including end-user customers, manufacturers, suppliers, and service providers. Kartham said m-ize's customer-centric approach enables end customers to register products, track warranties, manage protection plans, receive recall notifications, provide direct feedback on service levels, and access information through multiple channels including mobile and web.

Return Material Authorizations (RMA), product inspections, and diagnostics also can be enhanced with usage of mobile technologies, he said. Images, videos, and diagnostic information from mobile devices can be attached to claims to assist with failure descriptions. Gaining accurate failure data from customers, dealers, and distributors will enable brands to improve product quality and recover a greater percentage of warranty costs from suppliers.

Service Plans

m-ize can transform how companies market, sell, and support service plans. Providers directly connect with and present offerings to consumers via retail, web, mobile, and social channels. These technologies are changing customers' expectations. m-ize is focused on enhancing customer experience throughout the customer lifecycle. Mobile tools are also changing how field service personnel work. Service dispatch, scheduling, and parts ordering can all be significantly improved. Subscription programs can be used for maintenance and to provide consumables that need to be replaced on regular basis. Companies can also convert service plans into recurring revenue plans as some utility and media companies have already implemented.

Smart Blox

m-ize Smart Blox are based on pluggable components as compared to monolithic software making it easier for companies to integrate into their current processes. Workflow, business rules, and web services based architecture makes it easy for companies to adapt and implement the solution faster. In addition to the latest technologies, Customer Centricity is one of the biggest differences in the company's approach.

After decades in the business, Kartham said he believes that Warranty groups tend to be laggards in technology adaption, as warranty is one of the last areas to be addressed by overburdened IT groups. However, the industry needs the innovation that companies like m-ize can bring to this space. Lengthy implementations and customizations are painful and risky for both the software vendor and customer. Now, m-ize is primarily offering cloud-based warranty solutions in software as a service model to accelerate implementation and reduce costs.

"We have learned from the experience of long and complex implementations in the past. Our approach this time is very different. We now have the advantage of new technology developments in the last decade as Internet and enterprise architectures have matured. Our platform and portfolio of Smart Blox reduces the time to implement, as well as the cost of customizations," says Sushil Bhattachan, the senior product manager at m-ize.

Customer Insights

m-ize uses business intelligence platforms such as IBM Cognos and SPSS to offer complete analytics solution. m-ize is employing SPSS to provide warranty fraud detection using the latest data mining algorithms. "Predictive analytics helps predict warranty costs and identify customer propensity to buy service plans," says Rahul Agarwal, a m-ize program manager. "m-ize enables companies to collect and track customer feedback to provide key metrics such as Net Promoter Score (NPS)."

Depth of Experience

m-ize employs several other industry veterans with decades of warranty experience. Terry Hawkins, the president of the Global Warranty and Service Contract Association, who has spent over two decades in the warranty space, is advising the company and making connections. Said Hawkins, "I have known Ashok Kartham for a long time. When he approached me about his plans, I immediately got on board to help because I think this industry needs some new thinking and innovation. Service contracts have not changed much over the last two decades and vendors have generally competed on price. I think it's time to differentiate and add value using the technologies consumers have already adopted. I don't think anyone but m-ize is applying these new enabling technologies to this space."

m-ize business analyst Elaine Lombardi worked at John Deere for over 30 years, managing warranty for the company's construction division. After taking early retirement, she joined 4CS eight years ago and was happy to join m-ize when the opportunity arose. She is currently helping customers as a business analyst to implement m-ize software.

There has also been a lot of new talent added as the company has grown to employ over 60 people globally within the last year. m-ize's target customers are manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and service providers in high value durable goods in both consumer and business space.

Brooks Cutter, who spent sixteen years at Microsoft on music and Xbox services, is responsible for ensuring customer success with m-ize software implementations. He said several major enterprises in durable goods have already signed up for m-ize warranty and service solutions. "m-ize has a capable team focused on ensuring customer success. We are dedicated developing software and solutions that meet the emerging needs of today’s consumers and B2B customers," Cutter added.

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