Lessons Learned from WBR’s 2019 Field Service Amelia Island Conference – Advancing Service Together through Innovation, Cross-Industry Best Practices & Transformation

[WBR’s annual Field Service Amelia Island conference is one of the premier Field Services event of the year – and this year was, once again, no exception! More than 350 field service professionals attended the conference from August 18 – 21, 2019.

The following is a brief excerpt from SFG℠‘s “Lessons Learned …Analysts Take report, written and distributed under the auspices of WBR. Our suggestion? Don’t read the following excerpt – go to the bottom of the page and download a complementary copy of the full report, and read up on what the key players in the field services community had to say with respect to “Advancing Service Together!“]

Since 2003, WBR has been bringing together the world’s leading services organizations to “benchmark, establish best practices, embrace new technologies and build a strong network to enhance its attendees’ services businesses and field operations.” Each successive conference over the past 16 years has provided participants with “future-facing content and a mix of interactive session formats that ensure [they can] learn and network most effectively.” As such, these annual (and mid-year) Field Service events are designed to set up its attendees “for maximum profitability and competitiveness in [their] service business.”

And this year’s Amelia Island event did not disappoint, as the nearly 400 onsite attendees would most likely attest!

“At Field Service Amelia Island I learned that Field Service professionals love to learn new ways to improve service delivery since that is often the first (and only) personal contact a customer has with their brand. They are especially eager to explore what technology can do to optimize their field service fleets to get them to job sites efficiently and safely.”

– Carol Roden, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Lytx

The main theme for WBR’s 2019 Field Service Palm Springs conference was billed as “Advancing Service Together”, similar to the Palm Springs event held earlier in the year – and the succession of speakers, presenters, moderators, panel participants and practitioners all supported that theme throughout the conference by sharing examples (i.e., mostly success stories) about how it takes a strong commitment to teamwork to have any chance of meeting, let alone exceeding, management goals for improving employee and customer satisfaction – while at the same time, driving increased services revenue streams and making a profit by doing so.

“After attending the Field Service Conference on Amelia Island, the importance of disruptive service, and understanding that what got our businesses to their current level of success will not take them to the next level of success is evident. In an XAAS world, those organizations that embrace these transformations with technology and culture will win!”

– Mary Flake, General Manager – Coastal Southeast Service, Comfort Systems USA

The ”Lessons Learned” at the conference were many, and we have attempted to summarize the main sessions (and lessons learned) in the text that follows. Please note that not all of the sessions are highlighted and summarized in this document; however, there are many others that are available through WBR directly. Also, if you missed the chance to have one of your “lesson learned” quotes included in this paper, … well, there’s always next year in Palm Springs or, again, at Amelia Island!

Each of the three Main Days of the conference had a particular focus, beginning with Day One setting its sights on “Technology and Process Innovation for Efficiency”; Day Two focusing on “Disruptive Service & Customer Value; and Day Three focusing on “Leadership & Service Revenue Generation.”

Overall, WBR’s 2019 Field Service Amelia Island conference gave every attendee the opportunity to learn, question, network, buy/sell and interact with vendors, practitioners, editors, writers, industry experts, consultants, research analysts, peers and competitors and every other important person or company in the field services business.

The temperature was not as hot as in Palm Springs, earlier in the year – but the topics covered at the conference were still “red hot”. One of the key learnings from this year’s event is that “the main benefit of this conference is that it represents a middle ground between what we all learned last year, and what we will expect to learn next year.” As such, this year’s conference represented another key milestone in the Journey that we, as an industry, are taking along with our customers.

At the risk of repeating myself from the “Lessons Learned …” Analyst Take paper distributed following this year’s Palm Springs conference, I believe the following quote still stands true:

“As Bob Dylan once wrote and sang, ‘The times, they are a’changin’.    He must have been singing about the field services industry!”

– Bill Pollock, President & Principal Consulting Analyst
Strategies For Growth℠

Here’s looking forward to seeing you all at Palm Springs and Amelia Island again next year!

[To download a complementary copy of the full “Lessons Learned …” report, simply click here: @@@ 2019 Field Service Amelia Island Analysts Take Report (Final Draft – 19-09-17).]

Key Staffing Issues Faced When Replacing Retiring Technicians with Millennials

[Bill Pollock’s response to the first of seven questions posed by Brian Albright, contributing editor, Field Technologies magazine. An edited version of Bill’s responses will appear as part of a Technology Update Article in the August, 2016 issue of the magazine. This excerpt, in particular, sets the stage for how millennials are likely to be assimilated into the existing field service workspace.]

BA: What are some of the key staffing issues field service companies face when it comes to replacing retiring technicians?

BP: Historically, the replacement of a retiring field technician was nothing more than the “changing of the guard”, that is, hiring a new, typically younger, individual to serve in his place (i.e., given that, historically, most field technicians were male). This would require the presence of a sound and professional Human Resources (HR) operation and, once the new hire was selected, a full round of training, certification and company orientation classes to ensure that the replacement technician could move into his predecessor’s slot without any major disruption either to the quality and consistency of service delivery, or to the customers’ ongoing business operations.

In general, the only area where the replacement technician would not be up-to-speed from the get-go would be with respect to the retiring individual’s accumulated knowledge and familiarity with the installed base of equipment, company policies and procedures, and – most importantly – with the experiential knowledge of the individual customer interactions that had taken place in the past. The retiring technician would have undoubtedly learned all the “tricks of the trade” and “secret sauces” for managing his customer, obtaining parts, making quick fixes and otherwise taking care of the installed base of equipment.

However, he would also have an accumulated knowledge of the customers themselves, in terms of their names and nicknames, their requirements and expectations for service, their position and roles within the company, how involved their supervisors would normally get with respect to service calls, etc. They probably also knew the names of their family members, their favorite sports teams and, generally, what it would take to make them happy.

It is typically in these “softer” areas of customer service where the new hires would find themselves to be most disadvantaged. This would not necessarily be the end of the world for them and, for those individuals who are basically user-friendly to begin with, would not represent a particularly long-term problem. Of course, this may not apply to all of the millennials just now entering the services workforce.

In the past, the accumulated knowledge of each individual technician was generally quite extensive (i.e., both from a technical aspect, as well as from a customer relationship vantage point); also, the technician training and certifications undertaken were typically routine (if not boilerplate) and easy enough to apply to the next generation of hires.

However, in today’s world, instead of sending new hires to the same types of training classes and certification exams as their predecessors, there is a much more fragmented set of alternative training scenarios available (e.g., on-site, distance learning, self-administered PC training, etc.). Further, with the growing use of Augmented Reality (AR) in support of field technicians, some organizations are likely to cut back even further on training, since the Internet and/or AR could be used as impromptu “on the job” instant training, whenever the case warrants.

Still, there will always be numerous geographic, skill set, personal interest and training considerations that will need to be addressed whenever new hires are brought into the mix. This will not likely change over time. However, a proficiency for utilizing new technology will separate the “good” new hires from the “bad”; but there will always remain the question of chemistry – both with respect to dealing with their peers, as well as with their customers.

[Watch for more of Bill’s responses to the Field Technologies questions over the next few weeks. The publication date for the Technology Update Article is August, 2016. A direct link to the article will be provided at that time.]

Selling Services – How to Recognize Customer Buying Signals

Understanding your customers’ needs, and knowing what is available for sale, complete one key equation; however, there is still one other key unanswered question: How can you tell when your customer is ready to buy?

Recognizing a customer’s buying signals is one of the most difficult things there is to teach. In fact, many will argue that this is an innate trait that only “true” salespersons are born with. Whether this is true or not is really only a side issue. The main issue is that every one of your customers and prospects sends out signals that you can rally around with respect to determining when they are ready to buy. Some will be “hard” signals that you can practically take right to the bank; although most will be “soft” signals that will vary from customer-to-customer, person-to-person, and situation-to-situation. Let me explain.

The various types of buying signals “transmitted” by your customers may typically be classified into the following categories:

  • Overt
  • Passive
  • Observed

Overt Buying Signals

An overt buying signal is the closest thing to a gift that you may ever receive from your customers. This is when the customer calls you, or comes right up to you, and says something like, “Our copier is pretty much shot, and it simply won’t handle all of our volume anymore. Don’t you guys have a newer machine that you think can do the job for us?” Or, “You know, our machine will be coming off warranty soon. Don’t you guys offer some kind of extended warranty contract? If you do, we’d really be interested.” While these opportunities may seem just like manna fallen from the heavens, the problem is, if you do not take immediate advantage of them, the opportunities themselves may either fade over time, or go away altogether.

For example, given an opportunity like one of these, it may simply be a matter of speaking briefly with your customer, showing him or her a new brochure or directing them to your company’s web site, and casually discussing the enhanced features of a new system or service offering on a face-to-face basis. However, if your response is more like, “I have a few ideas. Why don’t I get back to you in a week or two when I’m not so busy, and maybe we can work out something.” By the time a couple of weeks go by, the thought of acquiring a new piece of equipment or service offering may have moved from your customer’s top-of-mind to their back-of-mind – and once there, it may involve much more work on your part to get it back up front.

Overt buying signals do not happen all the time; but when they do, you pretty much have to take advantage of them as they occur, rather than run the risk of having the customer push it far back into the recesses of his or her mind – or even worse, allowing them to have the same conversation with a competitive vendor’s sales or services person.

Passive Buying Signals

Passive buying signals may not be as obvious; however, they are still fairly easy to identify, and even easier to take advantage of. The tell-tale clues that your customers may give to you typically manifest themselves in comments or questions such as, “Man, this old machine keeps breaking down, and breaking down, and breaking down. I don’t know what I’m going to do if it shuts down during one of our big production runs”; “Ever since this machine came off of warranty, whenever we call for service, we end up paying you guys on a time and materials basis. There’s got to be a better way”; or “I don’t know. It just seems like our other division on the next floor gets their copy work done a heck of a lot faster than we do. I think they have a new machine up there, and they just keep making us look bad in comparison”.

Any of these comments or questions represent just as valid a selling opportunity as any of the overt buying signals we just talked about earlier. The only real difference is that, in these cases, you will typically need to be the one who initiates the conversation about replacement units, new machines, and/or enhanced service level agreements – and not the customer.

Even so, you may still be surprised as to how receptive your customers will be in having such a conversation. What’s more, since you already understand your customers’ needs and requirements for business imaging systems and equipment, and you know what your company has available for sale, you can probably step right in, provide some specific suggestions or recommendations, and convert a potential customer problem into a potential company sale.

Observed Buying Signals

Sometimes the customer does not even have to say a word. Since you already visit the customer’s site, on average, about once a month or so, you are probably in an excellent position to observe how one or more of their machines are routinely being overused, misused, or otherwise used improperly. You have probably also seen some of your customers reach new levels of frustration in dealing with machines that simply cannot ratchet up to their increased levels of volume or throughput, or effectively deal with emerging areas of business imaging applications.

We have all heard the expression that “a picture is worth a thousand words”. In both the overt and passive buying signal situations, it will primarily be the words that are either conveyed to you, or conveyed by you to the customer, that will ultimately lead to the potential sale. However, in an observed buying signal situation, it is the “picture” you observe at the customer site that will ultimately tell you the “story” that you will need to focus on in order to ultimately make the sale.

At the end of the day, it really does not matter whether the buying signal you get is overt, passive, or simply observed – what does matter though, is that you get the signal, you know what to do with it, you take advantage of it, and you serve effectively in your role as an intermediary between what your customer needs, and what your company offers.

The Differences Between “Best-in-Class” and “Mere Mortal” Customer Service Organizations

The main differences between “best-in-class” and “mere mortal” customer service and support organizations may best be summarized as follows. “Best-in-class” customer service and support organizations actively:

  • Encourage customer feedback
  • Seek to delight their customers
  • Understand their customers
  • Manage customer expectations
  • Know how to say “No”
  • Maintain the human touch

Encourage Customer Feedback

In many of the “mere mortal” customer service and support organizations, customers typically have no idea who they need to talk to if they have a problem that is anywhere out of the ordinary. In fact, most customers will think that it is simply not worth the effort to complain, “create waves”, or “rock the boat” – because it is unlikely that anything constructive will ever come out of it! Some may also be skeptical as to whether the organization will actually do anything at all, or they may even fear retribution from certain impacted individuals.

However, “best-in-class” organizations actively encourage customer feedback – even complaints. Some companies refer to what they do to encourage complaints as “marketing” their complaint system. Many companies (perhaps yours) hand (or mail) out customer service/satisfaction cards immediately following service calls. Most solicit feedback wherever they can, and make it easy for the customer to fill out a form and mail or e-mail it back to the appropriate department for review and response. Without customer feedback, services organizations operate in a vacuum; however, only with the ability to “hear” the voice of the customer will they (and you) ever hope to be able to identify the key areas that require improvement.

Seek to Delight Your Customers

“Best-in-class” organizations often use the phrase “delight the customer” to signify the extent to which they “go out of their way” to “exceed customer expectations”. Sometimes, all this necessitates is the ability to “lend a compassionate ear”; other times, it requires a much more proactive, and interactive, approach.

If all you ever do is just what the customer expects from you, then it is a fair bet that you will only be able to satisfy them – but that won’t delight them, and it certainly won’t make them loyal. Only by going “over and above the call of duty” will you ultimately be able to delight them with your ability to meet – and exceed – their needs.

Understand Your Customers

“Best-in-class” organizations also tend to demonstrate a much greater commitment to understanding the customer – but, from the customer’s perspective. Many companies conduct customer surveys on a regular, periodic basis to see exactly where they stand with respect to customer service and support, and how their performance may have changed over the course of a year or so. Some also conduct surveys among customers who have recently experienced “poor” service, or who may have otherwise complained with respect to a recent service call.

The best way to look at it is that every time a customer communicates with you, it is providing you with “free information” about their service and support needs, requirements, and expectations. And this is information that you can use to improve the way you are able to support their needs in the future – through this increased understanding.

Manage Customer Expectations

“Best-in-class” organizations do not typically wait for customers to come to them – they go directly to their customers on a regular basis. Since you are already in direct contact with your customers on a frequent basis, you are in an excellent position to be able to anticipate their needs and problems – before they hit the radar screen – and to set realistic expectations for them through company and/or self-taught customer service and support education and communication strategies.

Past studies have shown that up to one-half of complaints typically come from customers who have received inadequate, or incomplete, information about a product or a service. Using your own customer input/feedback communication channels to collect information that allows you to understand your customers’ expectations and needs better will allow you to “tune in” better to their innermost concerns and, thereby, put you in a much better position to manage their expectations more realistically.

Know How to Say “No”

Sometimes the answer will be “yes”; but, sometimes, it may have to be “no”. In every case, it will be helpful to know when – and where – you have to draw limits. In those circumstances where it is not possible to give the customer what it wants, it is still possible for a customer to feel that he or she has been “heard”, and has been treated fairly. However, this will be almost entirely up to you, as you are typically the one that has most of the interaction with your customers.

While you should always strive to provide your customers with full and “total” solutions, sometimes, it simply cannot be done. However, much of the negative fallout from having to say “no” may be avoided simply by your ability to conduct yourself in a professional and caring manner at all times until the situation is finally brought to a close. In some cases, it may be necessary to close a call even though it is felt on the customer’s part that the company has not done everything that could be done. Recognizing that it is not always possible to satisfy every customer, it is important to feel confident that you are supported by the proper processes, policies, and procedures – and training – to handle these cases to the best of your ability.

Maintain the Human Touch

Technology does not do the job – people do the job! Technology merely supports the people. Customers cannot make eye contact with technology – they make eye contact with you. Therefore, you must always make sure that you allow this eye contact to take place – and that you maintain the human touch as much as possible. Don’t use technology as a crutch; use your own people skills to deal directly with the people whose equipment you support.

Stifling customer feedback, providing “average” customer service, treating all customers the same, being “surprised” by customer wants, saying “yes” all the time (even when it cannot be done), and hiding behind technology is what makes “mere mortal” service organizations “mere mortal”. However, encouraging customer input and feedback, seeking to delight them with your customer service skills and expertise, understanding their service needs and requirements, managing their expectations, knowing how to say “no”, and maintaining a human touch at all times is what will make you a “best-in-class” service technician – even if your company has not yet become a “best-in-class” customer service organization.

Identifying the Differences Between Customers’ Wants and Needs

In many cases, there may be great differences between a customer’s wants and a customer’s needs; but sometimes there may actually be only very little difference. It all depends on the specific customer. However, the way in which you manage each customer relationship will ultimately make the greatest difference with respect to your prospects for gaining customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Typically, the more knowledgeable customers are about the equipment they are using, the more their wants and needs are likely to be the same; however, less knowledgeable customers may not really have a clear idea of the distinction between the two.

For example, a copying machine customer may want you to clean the equipment while you are on-site if they had been noticing black marks or spots on the copies coming out of the unit; when, in fact, the main reason for the black marks may have entirely been due to a worn-out roller or other part that needs to be replaced. In a case like this, what the customer really “needed” was clean copies coming out of the machine; however, what they thought they “wanted” was simply for the machine to be cleaned.

If you had listened only to the customer, you might have embarked on a faulty corrective action with respect to satisfying their needs. Remember, when it comes to repairing the machine, you are the expert – not the customer!

Similarly, a customer may want you to take the machine apart and put it back together again, or replace a part that is not really defective, simply as an exercise to ensure that the copier continues to run “smoothly”. However, what the customer may really need is a more effective preventive maintenance schedule for the equipment that would otherwise negate the need to actually have to take the machine apart or perform a parts swap, etc.

In this case, what the customer “wanted” was for you to take the machine apart and put it back together again; however, what they really “needed” was a machine that would not break down in the near future as they were preparing for a major copy run. Properly scheduled preventive maintenance would have accomplished this, making any further corrective actions entirely unnecessary.

The best way for you to understand the differences between customers’ wants and needs is to help them to understand the differences in the first place. It all goes back to the “Listen, Observe, Think, Speak”, or LOTS, approach. By listening to the symptoms that the customer is describing once you arrive on-site, and the problems that they tell you they have been experiencing until you got there, you will probably already be in a good position to surmise what is needed. However, upon further observation with respect to the machine, you will undoubtedly have an even clearer picture. In fact, by this time, you should probably already have a good idea of exactly what the customer “needs”.

This would also be a good time to explain to the customer what the initial diagnosis is, what you plan to do about it, and the anticipated amount of time it will take for you to repair it. By providing this information early, you can avoid running into situations where the customer is telling you they “want” one thing and being forced to tell them they really “need” another.

In other words, the best way to avoid a “debate” about what is “wanted” vs. what is “needed” is to identify the problem and appropriate course of action as soon as possible, keep the customer informed on an as-needed (or as-requested) basis, and let them know what they “need” upfront, before they feel compelled to tell you what they “want”.

Of course, it may not always be this easy. There will always be situations where what you feel the customer needs is not what the customer wants. This is where an ongoing educational process between you and your customers needs to take place. This does not mean to say that the two of you need to sit down, read the equipment manuals together, compare notes, and enter into “philosophical” discussions about equipment maintenance; but, rather, that a series of ongoing, brief discussions should take place every time you are on-site to repair the equipment to ensure that the customer understands why the machine failed, what they could do to lessen the chances for failures in the future, what the recommended “fix” is, and why your way of addressing the situation is better than their way. Sometimes, the solution may be as simple as upgrading to a newer unit.

Basically, what the customer really wants is a piece of equipment that is always up and running, ready to use, unlikely to fail, easy to repair, easy to manage, and easy to use. The details with respect to how each of these is accomplished should really be of no consequence to the customer – although they usually are!

Your role, over time, will be to make sure that you always communicate to the customer about what is “needed” to the point where they have full faith in your knowledge and experience, and are willing to defer to your judgment. The more communications there are between you and your customers, the quicker they will get to the point where they will defer to your recommendations, and the quicker the distinction between their “wants” and their “needs” will disappear.

There Is an Alternative to Staffing Your Field Technician Force Yourself – the Case for Utilizing an Onsite Freelancer Platform

“The world of work has changed,” according to Jeffrey Leventhal, CEO and co-founder of Work Market, a leading platform and marketplace for finding and managing freelance labor. And this may be especially true for the services industry, where simply doing things the same way they’ve always been done just doesn’t cut it anymore.

However, Leventhal also warns that, “finding the right talent is one of the primary challenges in building an on-demand workforce. Especially for companies who use freelancers at scale, it’s imperative to find a reliable place where you can routinely tap into top-tier freelancers.” For the services industry, top tier typically means highly trained – and in many cases, certified – field technicians that may be confidently dispatched shortly after being recruited and vetted by the organization. Oh, yeah – and they must also be conveniently located proximate to a wide distribution of customer sites.

How can this be done? And what are the potential pitfalls of not having a well thought out plan for action, or not employing the proper tools to support an expanding market demand? Well, … unfortunately, there are many potential stumbling blocks – unless the plan is built on a foundation structured upon an effective onsite freelancer platform.

According to Diego Lomanto, vice president of marketing for Work Market, “there are six tools, or processes, that a services organization requires in order to effectively manage its field technician freelancers. They are find, verify, engage, manage, pay and rate.” Each of these tools may be described as follows:

Find

Identifying and finding the right freelancers for the job at hand represents the best place to start. For many businesses, it is relatively easy to screen lists of potential freelancers in easily defined industry segments, such as accountants, home healthcare aides, plumbers and electricians, etc., by relying on any one of a number of widely used list sources such as Craigslist, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), LinkedIn or Google, etc. However, in the services community, most of these list sources will often come up short.

However, an onsite freelancer platform, such as that offered by Work Market, can handle things much more efficiently by providing a tool that:

  • Allows the user to build assignments quickly, based on previous work,
  • Identifies candidates that best meet the required skill sets, and
  • Provides a mechanism for generating and tracking community ratings for each selected candidate (i.e., to assure a consistent level of freelancer quality)

Verify

The verification of the required skill sets represents another major obstacle for most services organizations in terms of their ability to check out the candidate’s background and capabilities, as they relate specifically to field service. In other words, do they have the right stuff – stuff meaning skills, experience and certifications, among others?

The use of an effective onsite freelancer platform takes nearly all of the burden out of the verification process by allowing the user to:

  • Verify the candidate’s credentials via an integrated verification process; and
  • Identify limit functions which, in turn, will automatically off-board the independent contractor when compliance thresholds are reached, or if certain details change, (i.e., such as expiring insurance coverage or certifications, etc.).

Engage

The engagement process is typically where too many organization begin the process, as it is typically far less painstaking for some to start with the recruitment of “warm bodies”, rather than mounting a concerted effort upfront to find the most qualified candidates – and be able to verify that they are, in fact, eminently qualified for the job.

This is where an onsite freelancer platform provides, perhaps, one of its greatest value propositions to its users, by allowing them to:

  • Organize their field technician workforce into groups for easy assignment en masse; and
  • Eliminate the need for having to deal with only one contractor at a time, or conversely, having to rely on group e-mails that make it impossible to manage responses quickly or effectively.

Manage

Managing the freelancer field force should require the greatest levels of attention and oversight by the organization; however, many managers find themselves too overwhelmed and/or understaffed to effectively handle the situation. Nonetheless, this is often the single process that ultimately defines the direction – and the success – of the organization in terms of its ability to send the best qualified people to each site, and track their performance and progress over time. Many services organizations utilize fully functioning mobile applications to communicate with their mobile field force in real time – but this may not be enough!

By utilizing an onsite freelancer platform, users benefit from a variety of tools that allow for:

  • All field communications and management tools to be resident in a single system,
  • The use of geo-location tools to identify the exact locations of their freelance contractors in real time, and
  • The ability of workers to upload and complete all tasks directly through their mobile devices.

Pay

Paying the organization’s mobile field force freelancers should be one of the easiest jobs to do – but any HR or accounts payable professional will likely tell you different. What should typically only involve the tracking of hours, and cutting checks to the appropriate individuals is generally anything but easy – and PayPal simply doesn’t cut it!

What can make this process as easy as it gets is the ability of the onsite freelancer platform to empower the organization to:

  • Allow for Application Programming Interface (API) integration into existing payment platforms so they can continue to manage their respective accounting processes all in one place, and on a business-as-usual basis; and
  • Create a robust mechanism for reporting key financial and compliance data to HR, Accounting – and the CFO – as necessary.

Rate

However, the series of processes does not end once the freelancer is paid, and the transaction is reported. In fact, the process is never-ending – and cyclical – in that the performance of each and every freelancer is rated, tracked and ranked to identify top talent for future projects, and measure the performance of the onsite freelancer model as a whole, over time. It can also be well argued that the organization will likely have greater confidence in the ratings provided directly by their customers (and/or, their territory managers) rather than by an outside third party, such as Angie’s List or the Better Business Bureau (BBB), etc.

Therefore, the principal benefits of an onsite freelancer platform are that it provides users with:

  • An online capability for rating, and viewing ratings, on a much broader scale, and
  • The ability to determine the “height of the bar” with regard to the desired, or expected, quality of the worker’s performance.

Coordinating all of these individual tools into a single set of processes may be daunting for many organizations – but not so much when they have the power of an effective onsite freelancer platform such as that offered by Work Market, at their disposal. It is difficult enough to run a services organization (or any business, for that matter) in general – but it is far more difficult to attempt to do so without the support of the proper technology, tools and processes.

[To download a complimentary whitepaper on “Finding & Managing Onsite Freelancers” for businesses and field service organizations, please visit the Work Market website at Work Market Guide to Finding & Managing Onsite Freelancers.]

Evaluating Your Own Customer Service & Support Performance (Part 2 of 2)

The best driver of your own customer service and support performance will ultimately be the establishment – and use – of realistic self-guidelines that balance all key aspects of customer service and support. For this, we suggest the following:

Define in your own mind what means the most to your customers by fostering an interactive services partnership with them, based on “real” two-way communications;

  • Commit to making changes in the way you manage your customer relationships wherever you – and your customers – feel it to be necessary; and
  • Maintain your flexibility by recognizing that customer service and support performance management – and CRM – is an ongoing process.

Taking this all down one step further, we also suggest that you strive to incorporate each of the following into your customer service and support “way of life”:

  • Adapt, don’t adopt; make “best practices” work for you.
  • Acknowledge that customer service does not come from the top, but rather from all levels within the organization – and especially from the field.
  • Listen to your customers; “hear” what they have to say.
  • Listen to your managers and co-workers; work together as a team.
  • Partner with your customers; manage your customer relationships better.

Adapt, don’t adopt.

A best practice process may not always be adopted exactly the way it is done in another “best-in-class” organization; but it can generally be adapted to fit your organization’s needs and culture with some modifications, changes, or “tweaks”. At the end of the day, you will need to adapt a specific approach that fits your own – and your customers’ – particular needs.

Acknowledge that customer service does not come from the top.

Customer service management is important, but it does not necessarily come down from the top levels within the organization. Leadership by example – by employees like you – in managing customer relationships, resolving their problems, and converting satisfied customers into loyal ones are what makes for a successful customer service and support organization.

Listen to your customers.

You will never know what is important to your customers until they tell you – and no matter how smart you think you are, or how well you think you know them, they will continually surprise you with what they say. Learn to listen to them (i.e., LOTS), and learn to act as quickly as possible based on what they say.

Listen to your managers and co-workers.

Your managers and co-workers may also have a great deal of historical knowledge and experience on a day-to-day operations level with respect to the systems and equipment you support – as well as some of the customer themselves. Don’t underestimate the importance of this information and expertise – and don’t prevent yourself from gaining from this expertise. Make sure that your channels of communication with your managers and co-workers is as open as the ones you have with your customers.

Partner with your customers.

Finally, the more you partner with your customers, the more likely you will be to provide them with “over and above the call of duty” customer service and support. Also, the better you are able to communicate with them (and them with you), the more quickly you will be able to act in their (and the company’s) behalf.

Remember – these are only guidelines, designed for the masses. But, you are an individual; and every one of your customers is different – no matter how similar they may appear to be at any given moment in time. Establish your own set of measures and guidelines – and then, follow them! Remain flexible and open to change as you deal with your customers, and they will lead you down the proper path. You can bet on it!

Customer service is not a game, any more then the technical training you have received is a game. Both are serious matters, and both go hand-in-hand. We would strongly argue that you cannot be successful in your position without a fair mastery in both areas.

You have probably already received extensive training on how to fix various types of business systems and equipment. You probably also take remedial courses from time-to-time; and whenever a new product line or upgrade is introduced, you probably receive special training on how to service that equipment as well. Customer service is no different. There’s no question that you will need to take follow-up training courses in this area over time as well. That’s the nature of the business, and you’re directly involved in it – right at the front lines.

Whether you call it “customer service”, “technical support”, “field service”, “Customer Relationship Management”, “CRM”, or whatever – it just makes sense to treat your customers better! It’s basically a win-win situation for everybody involved. The “best practices” organizations have already learned this – and now, you have as well.

When you think of it, isn’t that what we’re all looking for – making our jobs a little easier on a day-to-day basis; earning the respect and trust of the people we support; improving the way we are able to conduct our own affairs at our respective jobs; and treating each other the way we want to be treated ourselves?

There is nothing difficult about customer relationship management. In fact, if you do it right, it can be argued that fixing the customer is really a lot easier than fixing the equipment.