By Bill Pollock, president & principal, consulting analyst, Strategies for Growth
Most service technicians have at least a fair understanding of who their customers are, and what kinds of relationships the business has with them. However, even the “good” technicians are often deficient in their full understanding of exactly how to manage those relationships.
In some cases, it may be that the technician has the basic understanding – but not the tools – to fully manage his or her customer relationships. In other cases, the technician may have neither the tools, nor the understanding, to make it work. Of course, the latter is the worse of the two scenarios, although in either case, it is abundantly clear that without proper management, there can be no “real” relationships and, ultimately, there will be no customers. There is no question about it – services organizations cannot afford to let management be the weak link in their customer relationships – and neither can you.
Managing your customer relationships is comparable to managing any other aspect of your business – with the one main difference being that successful execution will be a critical component of your overall performance evaluation. If you do not manage your customer relationships effectively, you will still have your customers to deal with on a day-to-day basis, and you will definitely have relationships with them – although they may be bad ones, or ones that will ultimately make your own day-to-day job that much more difficult to handle. This is why every service technician in the field needs to pay a considerable amount of attention to the management of their customers.
We have seen many organizations implement a customer relationship management (CRM) software solution from a major CRM vendor and think that they now have everything in place to effectively manage their customers. However, many of them have yet to see the desired return on their investment because the CRM solution will only work if it is integrated into all aspects of the business – particularly those areas that directly "touch" the customers, such as field service and technical support.
To improve your own chances for success, and to be able to manage your own customers better, you will first need to:
- Start with a solid customer-focused CRM philosophy;
- Translate this philosophy into reasonable and achievable goals and objectives for success;
- Understand the processes and tools that you have available;
- Become aware of the data and information resources available to you; and
- Prepare yourself to utilize all of the resources that your company’s organization and infrastructure provides.
You will also need to be able to measure and monitor your performance over time to ensure that you are continually meeting your goals.
Let me explain further.
The impact of technology, real-time accessibility of data and information, and instant access to e-mails, texts, tweets, posts, and cell phone calls, have given all of us the tools we need to manage our customer relationships much more quickly and efficiently than ever before. But these tools will only work for us if we use them to a dedicated purpose – and use them effectively.
Ultimately, everything we do, we do for our customers. Given that we already have a good understanding of their specific services and needs requirements, we should just naturally attune ourselves to provide them with any of the information they need as quickly as we receive it ourselves. We already know what they want; now it is time to deliver it as quickly and completely as possible.
Goals and Objectives
The next step is to translate your personal understanding of the CRM philosophy into specific goals and objectives for the way in which you would like to manage your customer relationships. At the individual level, you may wish to set your own CRM goals and objectives for key things such as:
- Communicating with your customers better – and more frequently (i.e., utilizing the Listen, Observe, Think, Speak, or LOTS, approach as much as possible);
- Providing those customers who require more detailed information with the level of detail they require;
- Following-up faster, particularly for specific customers and/or problems that require immediate attention or quick resolution;
- Taking better notes to ensure that you never walk into a customer site either unprepared or uninformed;
- Taking advantage of all of the internal company tools and resources available (i.e., company memoranda, e-mails, newsletters, customer/equipment databases, documentation, etc.);
- Taking additional technical and/or customer service training courses to improve your existing skill sets; and
- Taking whatever steps are necessary to improve your ability to get your job done and manage your customer relationships better.
Processes and Tools
In most situations, your company will already have a defined set of business processes and tools readily available for your use. These may include anything from the more traditional resources (e.g., product documentation, hardware specs, repair guidelines, etc.), to the availability of more sophisticated real-time customer and installed equipment databases, web-based technical support, augmented reality (AR), and the like. Use these resources as a matter of course; they have been designed to help you, and they will – if you use them.
Data and Information
Information is the key to successful CRM, and is also crucial for the ultimate success of your own customer service performance. Just remember, the majority of the data and information your company makes available to you will essentially be "global" in nature, and may not be as customer-specific as you would probably like. This is why it is so important to collect your own customer data and information on a regular basis, to augment what you already receive from the company. Again, this does not have to be a formal database – just an aggregation of important notes, comments, and observations that will ultimately help you to understand your customers better, and improve your ability to provide them with the best technical support and customer service possible.
Organization and Infrastructure
Whether the company you work for is large or small, it is probably fairly well organized and comprised of a formal infrastructure designed to support you and your peers out in the field. Take advantage of this infrastructure by getting to know all of the resources that are available, how you may gain easy access to them, and how you may use them to support your customers.
Also, make sure you've read all of the internal memoranda and emails you receive so you can be continually updated on any internal changes that may ultimately affect you and your customers. The more lead time you have with respect to any impending changes, the easier it will be to deal with them at the customer level.
Monitoring and Tracking
Last, but not least, the key to your own success in implementing your CRM philosophy will be your ability to monitor and track your own performance over time. This is why it is so important to set specific goals and objectives in advance. Whatever the goals, make sure that you can measure, monitor, and track them over time to see whether you are truly making any improvements.
All of the efforts you put into managing your customer relationships better will ultimately bear fruit if you are sincere – and serious – about succeeding. You will be amazed at how much valuable information you can obtain directly from the input and feedback you receive from your customers if you build the proper two-way communications channels between you and them.
CRM does not need to be a complex exercise. It is not “rocket science” – it is just managing the relationships you already have with your customers better. Sometimes you will need to go “outside the box” to find all of the tools and resources that will make it work, and you will almost always need some outside help to get started, or to take your understanding of CRM to the next level.
CRM is not just for the mild-mannered, nor is it strictly for the progressive over-achievers. It is for every employee that deals with customers – and within your own organization, this will probably apply to you most of all.