By Bruce Breeden, VP of field service operations, Fairbanks Scales
Field service problems are not limited to repairing down equipment. Problems may be application issues, obtaining documentation such as installation qualification certificates, re-programing, scheduling, contract and billing inquiries, and so on. Solving problems, earning trust, and building confidence build customer relations. Even diagnosing technical problems frequently involve working with various contacts that have different issues or needs.
At Fairbanks, we have based our service technician development, the Field Service7 program, on technical skills, soft skills, and job skills. The combination of these three major skill areas develops an organization of problem solvers who build long-term, value-added relationships with our customers. Besides their enormous operational and financial contributions to our company, our field service teams are also our brand ambassadors resulting in repeat sales and growing market position.
Our program was driven by real-life experiences of successful field service engineers and technicians who had a passion for solving problems in their roles. Over the years, I’ve had the benefit of working with real-life problem solvers who advanced to both key technical and management positions and promoted their problem solving approach to new field service engineers.
The value the field service engineer brings to the customer is first understanding, and then solving, the customer’s problem. As Stephen Covey stated years ago, seek first to understand. Recently Tom Erbach, president of Erbach & Associates and former field service engineer, blogged about the true problem. He stated that yes, there is a down pieced of equipment that needs repair, but before solving, a field service engineer (FSE) must first understand how that customer is severely impacted by this down equipment in production back-logs, over-time cost, missed orders and even her/his reputation with their management.
Problem solving by the FSE starts with properly recognizing the problem(s) and acknowledging such in the FSE’s communication and action planning around those real problems(s). The double-sided benefit of this type of problem solving is both customer service success and the positioning of product and service solutions.
FSEs as the company’s frontline representatives have a unique opportunity to strengthen the customer relationship, and ultimately the company’s brand equity. Settled in customer relationships, FSEs are attuned to listening and being observant in the interactions with their customers. Often a single service call has many customer contacts, as there may be different problems and points of contacts within the single site. One of my favorite problem-solving anecdotes comes from a former FSE colleague who approached a customer service call with the outlook to “take the monkey” off the customer’s back on put it on his back until the problem was solved. Positioning himself that way relieved the customer and established confidence in the FSEs ability to address the problem.
Quality Field Service Sells
The limited view of a FSE role as only to diagnose and repair equipment issues dampens the true value a FSE can provide, and jeopardizes customer loyalty results. The opportunity to be face-to-face with a customer is enormous, and most any organization would love to have the opportunity to solve problems and use such strong customer relationships to leverage additional business. Quality field service has a direct impact on Net Promoter scores as research has proven, and similarly, poor field service creates anti-sponsors in today’s social media and networked world. Compared to expensive marketing and advertising options, professional FSEs that build relationships provide an exponential return on investment. Quality service sells.
The FSE and service organization that demonstrates problem solving enjoy multiples of market share and pricing advantage over their competitors who simple meet expectations. While there is a distinction between customer relationship building and problem solving, I would argue they are often one and the same in field service as the two-step process of problem solving and then building relationships unfolds. A keen understanding and sometimes uncovering problems is followed through by putting the monkey on FSE’s back to ultimately solve the problem.
Resourcefulness is the key tool for the FSE in problem solving. Seldom are FSEs a one-person team, they may be onsite as the sole representative, but typically have technical and customer service resources at their disposal, including fellow FSEs. FSEs don’t have to have all the answers, but they do need to use critical thinking to identify the problems and then use their full bag of company resources to resolve issues.
Being a field service “problem solver” is about having a passion for customer support, listening, presenting options with clear communications, and being resourceful to provide resolution.
Bruce Breeden is the author of the Intentional Field Service Engineer and creator of the Field Service7℠ technician on-line training program He currently serves as VP of Service Operations for Fairbanks Scales. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org