Preparing Your Field Techs for their Customer Site Visits

Numerous research studies have shown that customers are most likely to evaluate the performance of their on-site service technicians on the basis of their:

  • Product Knowledge
  • Technical Skills
  • Responsiveness
  • Professionalism

Therefore, your advance preparation in each of these areas will be critical to your ability to satisfy customers on each individual service call.

Product Knowledge

Far and away, the customer’s perception of your product knowledge will be the most important factor in their evaluation of your on-site service performance. One of the biggest “turn-offs” to customers is the sense that when you arrive on-site, you are not really familiar with the specific piece of equipment that requires service. That is why it is so important to first identify what types of equipment you are supporting in the field, in general; and then re-familiarizing yourself with each specific type of equipment that you will be dealing with on each day’s service calls, as necessary.

Many of the customers you support may still be using older equipment that has been discontinued, or for which you may not have acquired the necessary documentation or training. Further, the availability of parts for some of these older pieces of equipment may be severely limited. While you may not have much flexibility with respect to obtaining spare parts for the unit, there is really nothing stopping you from gaining the proper knowledge of the product prior to making the on-site service call – especially from the perspective of the customer.

The last thing a customer wants to hear when a service engineer arrives on-site is “Gosh, it’s been years since I’ve seen one of these machines! This may take me a while”. A well-prepared service engineer will at least have spent some time going over the historical service documentation for the unit before arriving on-site.

Similarly, there are many cases where brand new types of equipment require service before adequate service history data and documentation are readily available. While it may not be your fault that you have not yet been sufficiently trained to support these new types of equipment, you will still want to avoid saying something like “Wow! This is the first time I’ve ever seen one of these units – I may have to make some phone calls to my tech support hotline before I know what I’m doing”.

With respect to product knowledge, customers are basically looking for two things:

  • Their sense that you are at least somewhat familiar with the machine, and that you are not starting from square one; and
  • The comfort that even though their machine may not be particularly “mainstream”, you still know what to do in order to repair it and, regardless of whether it is either very old or very new, this will have no negative impact on your ability to get the job done.

Technical Skills

Being familiar with the various product lines you support in the field is important, but relatively meaningless if you do not also have the technical skills required to actually repair the equipment. For the most part, the types of equipment you will be asked to support in the field will be mainstream and, therefore, the next most important factor that customers will use to evaluate your performance will be their perception and interpretation of your technical skills.

While they may be initially impressed that you have a large number of product or brand certifications, extensive experience, and many years working for the company as a service technician, their perceptions of your technical skills will be largely dependent on the basis of what they observe when you are working on their equipment.

Things that customers will tend to notice include:

  • How quickly you appear to be working on their equipment, and how comfortable you are in doing so;
  • How many times you stop to review documentation, notes, or product specs;
  • Whether you need to make a telephone call to your tech support hotline for assistance and, if so, how often you need to call;
  • Whether you need to go out to your van for technical support and, if so, how long it takes, and how many trips you have to make; and
  • How long it ultimately takes you to complete the repair.

Before you arrive, customers will “know what they think” in anticipation of your on-site performance; however, once you begin to work on the equipment, their perceptions will quickly change to “knowing what they see” on a virtual real-time basis. Not only that, they will typically be prone to operating on a “LIFO”, or “Last In, First Out” basis, whereby the last thing they observe will be the thing they remember most about your overall performance.

In summary, the best way to prepare yourself for the customer site visit with respect to your technical skills is to:

  • Do your homework prior to making the call;
  • Review your notes before arriving at the customer site;
  • Have the necessary specs and documentation available; and
  • Prepare to “Listen, Observe, Think, Speak”.

Responsiveness

Responsiveness is one of those “all-encompassing” words that simply reflects the degree to which you pay attention to your customers’ wants and needs. However, just as “Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”, so is responsiveness.

For some customers, responsiveness is measured in terms of how quickly you respond to their questions, comments, or requests. For others, however, responsiveness may be measured more in terms of how quickly you actually complete the tasks that are involved with respect to addressing their questions, comments or requests. Therefore, to cover all of your bases, you must also be able to judge – for each customer – whether their emphasis is more on your responding to their questions, or on your delivering the final “fix” that provides them with all the answers.

Some customers, similarly, will want you to provide them with an ongoing stream of information regarding the repair process, including such things as an estimated time for completion, mid-course updates on your progress along the way, the cause for the original failure, and/or projections for when future failures may occur, etc.

Others may not want any ongoing interaction or commentary from you at all, and the only time they will want to speak to you during your on-site call will be to say “hello” and “goodbye”. It will ultimately be up to you to determine which type of customer each of your customers are, and to respond to them accordingly.

The thing to remember is that the way the customer defines “responsiveness” will almost never be how you interpret it to be; rather, you will need to approach things based on the way your customers interpret it. Therefore, as always, the “Listen, Observe, Think, Speak” approach will directly apply.

Professionalism

Finally, while not necessarily the most important factor upon which you will be evaluated, professionalism will still have a place in your overall performance assessment. It may be argued that while other key areas such as product knowledge, technical skill, and responsiveness better reflect the principal factors of each customer’s performance evaluation, professionalism is more a measure of how each of these components is ultimately “packaged” and performed with respect to the field technician.

For example, if you are already perceived to have the proper levels of product knowledge and technical skills, and appear to be sufficiently responsive to the various wants and needs of the customer, but you address each of these areas in an “unprofessional” manner (i.e., looking like you don’t know what you’re doing, appearing to be unconcerned with the customer’s ongoing business operations while you are repairing their equipment, speaking with them in a politically incorrect or unprofessional manner, or just generally not looking like an “official” representative of their services vendor, etc.), you will not leave a good impression in the minds of your customers. Remember, that “seeing is believing”, and your customers will only believe you to be a true professional if they feel you are comporting yourself in a professional manner at all times.

Of course, the converse of this situation may also apply. In this case, the customer may perceive that you do not have all of the necessary product knowledge, technical skills, or responsiveness to handle them properly, but that at least you look “professional”. In the customer service trade, this is commonly known as the “all dressed up, and nowhere to go” syndrome. In other words, you may look the part, but there is no real “substance” to you – from the customer’s perspective. While you may be able to get away with this for a while, your customers will quickly catch on, and that will only make your relationship with them suffer in the long run as you try to build up your product knowledge and technical skills – and regain credibility in their eyes.

While professionalism remains an important factor in your ability to support the customer, it pales in comparison to the importance of your ability to reflect the adequate levels of product knowledge, technical skills, and personal responsiveness.

Delivering “Best-in-Class” Customer Service and Support

“Best-in-class” customer service and support is what all services organizations strive to achieve. However, many experts suggest that attaining “best-in-class” status in all aspects of customer service is – well – impossible! While one organization may be acknowledged as the “best-in-class” with respect to one or two areas of customer service – say, quick response to customer inquiries, and professionalism in the field – it may not do as well in some other areas, such as resolving the problem on the first try, or providing the best customer “fix” – even though it may have done so quickly. Another organization may be considered “best-in-class” with respect to getting the job done – but not in terms of providing adequate communications with its customers all along the way.

Even the very best customer service-focused organizations typically have one – or more – areas where they are not able to provide “best-in-class” customer support. However, whether a “best-in-class” organization really does – or can – exist, one thing remains absolutely clear: your organization – and you, as one of its primary customer contact representatives – must do everything it can to be perceived by your customers as being as close to “best-in-class” as possible.

In order to effectively move toward attaining “best-in-class” status, your organization will also need to rely heavily on the formulation, development, and implementation of what is commonly referred to as “best practices” to support its customer service operations. The following guidelines should be of some help in moving your organization closer to “best-in-class”:

1.    Make it easy for your customers to voice their concerns, and your customers will make it easy for you to improve.

Nobody likes to receive constructive criticism or have someone complain about their customer service performance to a supervisor. However, if you accept these occurrences as productive ways to ultimately improve your own performance skills, then it becomes much easier to accept. As such, you should interpret every customer-voiced concern or complaint as just another one of your “marching orders” to improve – or fine-tune – your own personal customer service and support skills.

2.    Listen to the voice of the customer.

Customer service leaders demonstrate their commitment to resolving customer concerns by listening directly to the voice of the customer. And you are typically in the best position in the company to do so. But, simply listening is not good enough – customers will also expect to hear back from you with any and all important information leading up to the full closure of their inquiry or call. However, by doing so, you can truly establish an interactive relationship with your customers to achieve results. By investing your time in communications with your customers, the payoff will be an easier path to get the job done – whether it is a service call, responding to a customer request or inquiry, or anything else that the customer feels is important. In “best-in-class” organizations, two-way communications – whether positive or negative – are only seen as opportunities to improve. And how their requests are handled by you will ultimately reflect your – and the organization’s – overall commitment to customer service and support.

3.    Respond to customer concerns quickly and courteously with common sense, and you will improve customer loyalty.

Customers tend to “reward” individuals who are responsible for quickly resolving their problems by remaining loyal customers. In addition, they are more likely to provide these individuals with commendations or citations to their supervisors as a token of appreciation for a “job well done”. Quick problem resolution can add greatly to the foundation that you are trying to build in support of customer loyalty – and repeated quick problem resolution will all but certainly “close the deal”. It may be argued that doing the job right the first time + quick problem resolution = maximum customer satisfaction and loyalty. You (and your company) can develop the same fast track toward customer loyalty among your respective customer bases if you continually focus your attention in these areas.

4.    Resolve problems on the initial contact, and build customer confidence.

A customer callback that requires two or more company personnel to follow-up will typically cost much more than a call that was handled right (by you) the first time. This is especially true when the call escalates to involve supervisors or other management personnel, or a second (or third) on-site visit. Resolving a customer problem on the initial contact can significantly build the level of confidence your customer has in your ability to get the job done. And once you earn this level of trust, it will be difficult to lose it.

5.    Technology utilization is critical in problem resolution.

Your company has already provided you with a number of technology-based tools that may be used to support your ability to quickly resolve customer problems (e.g., smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc.) – use them! Typically, in “best-in-class” customer service environments, there are a multitude of tools and databases available that you can use to identify, report, monitor, and track customer problems and concerns. Use whatever tools your company has provided – as a matter of course – as support in providing your customers with quick and effective solutions. Your competitors who may have also embraced the concept of “best-in-class” customer service are already doing so, and so are the highest-performing field technicians in your own organization. You should be doing so as well.

6.    Continue to acquire training in customer service and support.

Regardless of what customer service training you may have taken in the past, chances are you already need more training in order to remain effective. There are always new conventions, methodologies, and tools being developed over time to support your ability to provide “best-in-class” customer support – and if you do not keep up with the latest techniques, you will find yourself continually falling behind in your ability to satisfy your customers – let alone make them loyal to you and the company. Employees who practice the basic rudiments of customer service and support most diligently within the company tend to learn the company – and its customers – so well, that they are more likely to be promoted than those who do not. Some organizations use customer service proficiency as a formal “career ladder” for advancement in the company. And in most cases, it is the front-line employees (i.e., the ones with the most direct, day-to-day contact with customers – like you) who benefit the most from this experience.

7.    Focus on getting the job done; not just dealing with the symptoms.

If routine equipment and/or customer problems are effectively resolved initially at the front-line, you (and your company management) can focus more on improving the core processes, policies, and guidelines that drive customer service performance and customer satisfaction throughout the organization. A good process will ensure that you are always capable of providing your customers with “total solutions”, rather than merely “placing bandages” on the situation. Just dealing with the symptoms simply “covers up” the visible problem, but may not resolve its root cause. “Best-in-class” companies use formal processes to, first, identify the problems and; then, to empower their employees to resolve them as quickly as possible. In this way, the current repair can be done as efficiently as possible, and any similar future calls will have a much greater probability of being performed right the first time.

In conclusion, the main lessons to be learned from approaching customer service from a “best-in-class” perspective are:

  • Satisfying the customer is your top priority.
  • “Best-in-class” organizations view customer concerns and criticisms as opportunities for improvement, not just as problems.
  • “Best-in-class” organizations make it easier for customers to voice their concerns, as well as for their field technicians to quickly resolve their problems.
  • Effective customer service and support relies heavily on customer feedback and two-way communications between the customers and their field technicians.
  • Well-managed customer service and support processes make everybody’s job easier – and customers more satisfied.