Communications before, during, and after the customer site visit are all important – and all essentially the same, just with some variations upon a theme. However, you will find that the common threads that go through all of the communications between you and your customers are typically based on the “Listen, Observe, Think, Speak”, or LOTS, approach (that we previously outlined in one of our earlier blogs). It really does not matter when you are having communications with your customers – what matters is that when you do, you are consistent and responsive. This is where the LOTS approach can truly help.
Communications Before the Customer Site Visit
Of course, the types of communications you have with your customers before, during, and after the on-site visit are likely to differ significantly by content. By content, we mean what you will be speaking to them about, rather than how you will be speaking to them.
For example, prior to an on-site call, there will probably only be a few different types of conversations or exchanges that you will be likely to have with your customers. These may include areas such as scheduling or confirming an appointment, alerting them in advance that you may be late for an appointment, asking them to describe the symptoms of an equipment failure so you will know what you will be dealing with once you arrive, or any other number of informational courtesy-type exchanges.
For most pre-visit conversations that are essentially courtesy-based, much of the “pressure” will be reduced, and it will simply boil down to a matter of confirming dates, times, places, and other pieces of information that will allow you to quickly get to work as soon as you arrive at the customer’s premises. However, as easy as these types of conversations could be, if you do not pay attention to what the customer is saying, or if you let something “slip through the cracks”, you may end up paying dearly for it before too long.
You have probably heard of some cases where a field technician has called the customer from the road to let them know they are on the way to the site; but once he or she arrives, there is nobody there to let them in. After waiting five or 10 minutes, the field technician leaves. However, if they had truly “listened” to the customer during that initial telephone conversation, they would have noted that the customer had asked to call them on their cell phone upon arrival, since they would not be at their own desk at the anticipated time of arrival. The end result of not listening carefully in this case is (1) an incomplete service call that now needs to be rescheduled, (2) a piece of installed equipment that remains unusable, and (3) a customer account that started off frustrated, but now has become angry because the field technician didn’t listen to them.
It is generally understandable – and mostly forgivable – to miss something when the communications are difficult, rushed, complicated, or otherwise out of the ordinary; but, when you let something “slip through the cracks” on an otherwise simple, yet important, item of communication, you have only yourself to blame – and your customer will let you know it! That is why communications prior to the on-site visit are so important, even though they may be so simple. Nonetheless, they set the stage for the entire customer relationship throughout the duration of the service call – and well beyond.
Communications During the On-Site Visit
Different customers are just like different service technicians – some like to talk a lot, and some don’t like to talk much at all. In most cases, you will have to be the judge. However, there are still some guidelines for communications during the on-site visit that may be helpful, as follows.
You must remember that when you are making an on-site visit, it is typically because of a specific reason – and one which is most likely negative, such as an equipment failure, software problem, or another circumstance that is making the equipment unusable. Even a scheduled PM will make the equipment unusable for a brief period of time. While you and your customer may be genuinely happy to see one another and share your thoughts on anything from the weather, to the local sports team results, to the latest stock market report, the primary order of business – and remember, you are both managing portions of your respective company’s businesses – is to get the equipment up and running as soon as possible.
The best types of on-site communications are, again, those based on the “Listen, Observe, Think, Speak”, or LOTS, approach. Keep in mind that as soon as you arrive on-site, this will be the customer’s first opportunity to tell you – sometimes at great length – exactly what they think went wrong, when it happened, what they were doing when it happened, and why it is important that you get it fixed as soon as possible. In many cases, this is nothing more than the customer’s best opportunity to vent to you once you arrive.
Just as a courtesy, you will probably have to listen to most, if not all, of what your customer has to say at this time; however, these introductory communications will also serve to set the stage for where you will need to look, and what you will need to do, in order to perform the fix. If the customer hangs around while you are performing the work (although this is generally not advised), there will be additional time for the two of you to engage in “small talk”.
However, regardless of where the customer “hangs” while you are performing the work, you can count on only one thing – they cannot wait until you have finished the work, and are able to tell them the magic words, “Everything is fixed. The unit works perfectly. You can begin using it immediately.” This will always be your first priority while you are still on-site. But they will also expect you to tell them why the failure occurred, what they may have done differently to have avoided it, and what they can reasonably expect to experience in the future (i.e., in terms of related or anticipated equipment failure, etc.). Accordingly, this may also be a good time to talk to them about possible equipment replacements or upgrades, extended warranty agreements, or the like. These will generally be considered as appropriate types of communications to engage in at this time – even from the customer’s perspective.
Communications After the On-Site Visit
Communications after the on-site visit can oftentimes be categorized into communications following a “good” call, a “bad” call, or an “incomplete” call – but, however you classify them, they are all really the same in terms of what you will ultimately be required to do. Regardless of whether it was a “good” (i.e., the repair went well, and the machine is working again) or “bad” (i.e., the repair did not go well because you did not have the right spare part with you, or you arrived late, etc.) call, the customer will always want to know “what happens next?”
Following a “good” call, the customer will probably expect to hear from you in the next day or so regarding whether the machine is still running as expected, and whether there have been any other problems that they may have encountered since you completed the call. For a repeat service call, the customer may be waiting to hear from you with respect to whether or not a replacement unit or an equipment upgrade would either be required or recommended. As such, this may also represent an excellent opportunity for you to cross-sell or upsell this particular customer.
However, for a “bad” call, all the customer will really want to hear from you – and, as soon as possible – is what are you going to do to resolve the problem. In cases like this, it will be to your advantage to be as proactive as possible, calling your customer with the proposed solution before they feel they have to call you to ask about it.
It always pays to remember that the communications that occur after the most recent on-site visit will pretty much set the stage for the communications that transpire before and during your next on-site visit with that customer. In a classic television commercial for an automotive oil filter, the tagline was something like, “You can either pay me now, or you can pay me later.” When you’re dealing with your customers, believe me, it is always better to pay attention to what you need to do upfront so you do not get caught having to pay for it later – because you will!
Until next time – keep your customers satisfied!