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