Service is Not Break-Fix

As a student of business, you may have come to realize that with a recurring-service-revenue business, you can not only double the revenues of the company, but also quadruple the margins. I recently spoke with an executive of a large European company who has a 50/50 business; 50% of their revenue is selling machines and 50% is service on those machines. He said, “In 2008 our revenues went down, but our margins went up.”

But what is service? Is it answering the phone nicely from Bangalore? Is it flipping burgers at McDonald’s? No. Service is the delivery of information that is personal and relevant to you. That could be the hotel concierge giving you directions to the best Szechuan Chinese restaurant in town, or your doctor telling you that, based on your genome and lifestyle, you should be on a specific medication. Service is personal and relevant information.

I’ve heard many executives of companies that make machines say, “Our customers won’t pay for service.” Well of course, if you think that service is just fixing broken things, then your customers will think you should be building a more reliable product.

Service is information. In 2004, the Oracle Support organization studied 100 million support requests and found that over 99.9% of them had been answered with already known information.

Aggregating information for thousands of different uses of the software, even in a disconnected state, represents huge value over the knowledge of a single person in a single location. Real service is not break-fix, but rather information about how to maintain or optimize the availability, performance or security of the product.

Above is my Amazon home page. Every time you log in, Amazon attempts to deliver information that is personal and relevant to you. For instance, people like you bought this book. If you look closely at the image, you might guess who uses my Amazon account. Now, let’s point something else out, namely the little shopping cart in the upper right hand corner. That’s the transactions processing system. It has to operate securely with scalability, but how important is it?  Not very.  Instead, most of the real estate of the page, and therefore of the company, is dedicated to delivering information that is personal and relevant.  

Service is information.


Timothy Chou, Ph.D.

Timothy Chou has lectured at Stanford University for over twenty-five years and is the Alchemist Accelerator IoT Chair.  Not only does he have academic credentials, but also he's served as President of Oracle's cloud business and today is a board member at both Blackbaud and Teradata. He began his career at one of the first Kleiner Perkins startups, Tandem Computers, and today is working with several Silicon Valley startups in roles from investor to executive chairman. Timothy has published a few landmark books including, The End of Software, and Precision: Principals, Practices and Solutions for the Internet of Things, which was recently named one of the top ten books for CIOs.  He's lectured at over twenty universities and delivered keynotes on all six continents.