You’re in the Business of Customer Happiness — But Are You Delivering?

[An edited version of this article was originally published in the April 14, 2016 issue of Field Service Digital.]

Customer service has always been important, but never more important than it is in today’s services-oriented environment. More and more companies are measuring customer satisfaction, and the tools for monitoring field service performance are becoming both more sophisticated and more pervasive among the leading businesses in every field.

Undoubtedly, your organization is already measuring, monitoring, and trending customer satisfaction performance on a regular basis. However, it is important to acknowledge that it is actually the field technician that is the principal, if not sole, representative of the company to ever set foot at the customer’s site (after the initial equipment sale) and, as such, each customer’s degree of satisfaction will be largely dependent on its relationship with the field tech – personally. Fair or unfair, this is the case, and the organization’s overall customer satisfaction ratings will ultimately depend on its field technicians’ ability to deliver exactly what will make their customers happy.

Past studies have shown that what really makes customers unhappy is having to deal with someone who does not take ownership of the situation when a problem has occurred. Since, in most cases, the field technician will typically only be called to the customer site after a problem has occurred, the customer will be waiting for him or her to arrive to fix all the problems, make everything work, and leave them much happier than they were when they first arrived on-site.

They will be looking for an informed and well-prepared service technician to arrive on-site – one who can articulate what needs to be done, communicate in a language they can understand, and make the repair as quickly as possible – without disrupting any of the ongoing business operations. Therefore, the more information the field technician has available in advance with respect to the customer profile, the equipment history, and any previous service call activity, the better prepared it will be to deal directly with the key concerns of the customer – and this, in turn, will likely set the stage for able to making the customer happy.

Most companies look for a variety of character traits, skills, and experience when they are hiring for customer service and support-related positions (especially for field technicians). These typically include:

  • Problem solving ability
  • Skill in handling tense, stressful, and multi-task situations
  • Strong sense of responsibility and accountability
  • Good communication skills
  • Business writing skills
  • Knowledge of relevant processes
  • “People skills” with both customers and co-workers
  • Compassionate, customer-oriented attitude
  • Strong desire to help customers
  • Computer skills or aptitude
  • Data entry, processing and other diagnostic skills
  • Vocational training degrees are desirable and oftentimes required
  • Technical and/or Services-related certifications

If the field technicians already have all of these character traits, skills, and experience – plus a strong commitment to providing customers with “total solutions” for their service and support needs – they will find themselves in a good position to deliver exactly what their customers want to make them happy.

However, being able to deliver what will make customers happy also requires having the proper frame of mind for doing so. For example, if the field technician is personally not happy when it arrives at the customer site, then chances are it will also be unable to make its customer happy. While no one can be expected to be in a good frame of mind all of the time, it is more a matter of putting on your “game face” whenever there is contact with customers, than trying to hide anything from them.

There have been many studies conducted to measure the degree to which a service technician’s attitude influences the customer’s satisfaction – or dissatisfaction. This is commonly referred to as the “transference of satisfaction”. What this basically means is that an unhappy service technician is more likely to make his or her customers unhappy, whereas a happy service technician will be more likely to garner higher levels of satisfaction from customers.

Of course, making the customer happy is not exclusively dependent on the service technician’s frame of mind; however, this is always likely to have at least some impact on the situation – and usually not in a good way. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the service technician, as the principal on-site “ambassador” for the company, to make sure that its interactions with customers are always cordial, constructive, informative, and resulting in the main task at hand – namely, fixing the equipment, and letting the customer get back to business as usual.

[For more articles on similar topics, and for a wealth of field service-related information, please be sure to visit Field Service Digital.

Going For The “Gold” Is An Olympic Event — Especially for Services Organizations!

In light of the current proceedings of the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, I thought this piece would be relevant to all those Services Organizations striving to be “World Class” (i.e., “going for the Gold”)

Even Gold May Have a Silver Lining

For Field Services Organizations, “going for the gold” may mean very different things. For some, it may mean nothing more than struggling to generate increased service revenue (i.e. “gold”). For others, it may mean attempting to upsell existing service level agreement (SLA) accounts from “bronze” to “silver” to “gold” levels (is anyone out there still offering “platinum”-level services?). However, another good way to define “gold” levels of service performance is to compare your organization to the athletes striving for their own version of “gold” — an Olympic gold medal!

The Olympic and the services communities share many things in common, ranging from striving to attain perfection to generating a profit after the scheduled event is over. However, they also share another very important attribute in that both communities typically go into an event (e.g. a 200-meter freestyle or an on-site service call, etc.) with some pre-event expectations.

For example, Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecki are, arguably, the world’s best male and female swimmers and, as such, went into the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro with extremely high expectations. However, it was never a certainty that each would win Gold medals in all of the competitions for which they were qualified to compete. Nonetheless, the expectations were high for each swimmer — even before they arrived in Rio.

While Michael Phelps ultimately ended up winning five Gold and one Silver medal; and Katie Ledecki won four Gold and one Silver medal, each are still acknowledged as the best of the best in their respective fields.

The same situation also exists for services organizations. If your organization is one of the larger ones in the field or has won numerous performance awards in the past, the community will expect it to perform like a world-class provider (i.e. one that is able to meet its customers’ total service needs while delivering world-class levels of performance). By performing reasonably well in the past, the marketplace will also expect you to also perform well — and even better — in the future. The bar is constantly being raised.

For Michael Phelps, the defending champion in the previous two Summer Olympiads, the prospect of not winning several gold medals was unthinkable – although he did not seem to be all that phased that he had to share his Silver medal with two other swimmers. He has won both Gold and Silver medals before, and performed about the same in his most current Olympics.

For Katie Ledecki, for whom this was her first (and, possibly, last) Olympics competition, the bar has been raised again for all female swimmers who will ultimately enter the Olympics in her wake. World class does not necessarily mean “perfect”! There can still be a Silver lining wrapped around your Gold standard.

By the time this Blog post is published, it is also certain that other gymnasts — from the U.S., and around the world — will excel in their competitions as well. However, merely having the goods does not assure Gold in the Olympics — and it is exactly the same for services organizations. You still need to execute — and strive to be as close to perfect as you can.

The Role Of Social Media In Service

Finally, in this year’s Olympics, social media will be expected to take on an even more prominent role than in the past. Virtually all of the Olympic events will be accessible to viewers all around the globe through various forms of Cable and Broadcast TV, Social Media and other types of digital transmissions. As a result, Twitter, FaceBook, and independent blogs will, once again, take up the slack on presenting (and editorializing) all of these Olympics-related events — all in real time! Again, the similarities between the Olympics and the services community abound.

Just as many Olympians are encouraged by their trainers to communicate often — in real time — with their supporters and fans, so must the services community adapt to the practical uses and applications of the available social media. It is truly time to recognize that social media is not merely an acquired taste, but a way of life — especially when it comes to communicating about service.

The 2016 Summer Olympics are nearly over, but already, athletes from all over the world are preparing for the next summer games just four years away. All of the medalists for these upcoming games will ultimately win their respective races by first choosing a field, then acquiring the necessary resources and skills, preparing for the race, and aggressively moving forward.

This is also how most services organizations have historically approached service, especially with respect to meeting — and exceeding — customer requirements. However, you won’t necessarily need to have a medal draped around your neck to be recognized for good service — you simply need to perform at a level of performance that is higher than an ever-raising bar, and let your customers place their perceptual medals around your neck.

Knowing How and When to Cross-Sell Your Company’s Products and Services

It is important to understand the difference between cross-selling and up-selling. Cross-selling is basically the art of selling additional items to existing customers on a “horizontal” basis. For example, if any of your company’s salespersons were to sell additional parts, consumables, software, or peripherals/attachments to an existing customer, that would be considered as “cross-selling”. Similarly, selling additional units or devices to the same customer would also be considered as “cross-selling”.

Other examples of services cross-selling may include:

  • Selling a preventive maintenance contract to an existing T&M or service agreement customer
  • Selling training or consulting services to an existing services customer
  • Selling software updates to an existing product customer
  • Selling telephone hotline support to a customer who has historically only been using on-site field support (or vice versa)
  • Adding other customer facilities (on other floors, or other buildings) to an existing service level agreement
  • Selling service agreements for additional installed equipment at the customer site as a “package” with the existing covered equipment

Of course, there are numerous other examples of services cross-selling that would also apply; but it will ultimately be up to the onsite services technician (i.e., in many cases) to identify these opportunities on the basis of his or her direct experience in supporting both the customer and its installed base of equipment.

Cross-selling does not only apply within the product-only and services-only segments; in fact, some of the strongest cross-selling actually occurs between these two segments – going both ways. For example, if the service technician’s observations and experience suggest that a customer may have outgrown the capacity and capabilities of one of its units, then they may suggest that the customer considers acquiring a second, or third, unit. If this is the case, then it would be considered as cross-selling; however, if the most effective solution is to upgrade to a new machine, then that would be considered as “up-selling” (more on this later).

Examples of cross-selling between product and service may include:

  • Selling any existing customer a service level agreement of any kind
  • Selling any existing customer a preventive maintenance agreement
  • Selling any existing customer advanced or remedial training, consulting, or engineering services
  • Selling any existing customer any other types of services or support of any kind

Examples of cross-selling between service and product may include:

  • Selling any existing services customer a product of any kind
  • Selling any existing services customer parts, consumables, or other physical items
  • Selling any existing services customer product and service “bundles”, or packages, of any kind

In addition to these various types of cross-selling, there are also many opportunities for simple, direct product-to-product and service-to service sales as well.

There is never really a bad time to cross-sell your customers. Chances are, if they’ve already got one of your company’s products, they are already using some of its services. If they are not using all of them, however, it may be either because (1) they don’t feel they need anything else from you in support of the equipment; (2) they are already acquiring these services from another vendor, or performing them themselves; or (3) they were unaware that your company offers them at all.

In the first two cases, it is simply a matter of your providing them with the relevant information for the first time; finding out whether or not they are interested in acquiring these services from your company; and, if not, simply making a note of your conversation for use at a later time. As situations change, the service technician may want to bring up the matter with them again in the future.

However, in the third case, it will be up to the technician to let them know that the company does, in fact, offer additional services; find out in which areas they may require additional support; and then match the company’s services offerings to the customer’s specific needs in the most effective manner. This methodology works well in both product-to-product and service-to-service sales, as well as across each of the two segments.

Some of the more opportune times to consider cross-selling the company’s products or services would be at the following:

  • Leading up to, and within 90 days of, a service level agreement expiration
  • When an existing unit’s warranty coverage is about to expire
  • After one or more occurrences of equipment failure due to significantly increased volume, throughput, or overuse
  • When a customer’s business is about to merge, or has just acquired, another business
  • When a customer is about to relocate, consolidate, or expand its existing department or facility

Other times when cross-selling opportunities may abound include at the beginning of the customer’s annual business planning cycle (i.e., this is different for individual companies, but typically in the fourth quarter, or just after Labor Day), or at the end of a financial quarter or the company’s fiscal year. However, the service technician will need to check with each individual customer on a case-by-case basis to see what their respective financial planning cycles are before they can get a good feel for the proper timing for these potential opportunities.

Cross-selling is an integral component of any business’s sales and marketing program. It is generally embraced by most businesses, as the relative cost for doing so is typically quite low.

The benefit to the service technicians, however, regardless of whether the company currently has a cross-selling incentive program in place, is that they can assist in consolidating the installed base of the equipment that they will be servicing and supporting in the future by playing a part in the “clustering” of the respective installed bases of some of their customers, and this will probably result in less travel time required to support the same customer installed base. In any case, both the customer and the technician, and your company, win in any “cross-selling” scenario.