By Paul Hesselschwerdt, Global Partners Training
Hiring and onboarding new field service people have been a major challenge for technical service companies for several years. As experienced engineers retire, finding replacements with the requisite technical skills as well as the willingness to deal with frequent overnight travel, constantly changing technical requirements, and demanding customers seems to be an ongoing struggle.
Add to that the post-pandemic surge in business for technical and industrial equipment businesses and it’s no surprise that there has been an increase in demand for training for new hires. Interestingly we also have observed an uptick in demand for non-technical, customer success training for new field engineer recruits. Technology, industrial, and medical equipment companies recognize that technical and product training is no longer sufficient to deliver the service experience and outcomes that customers expect today. What’s needed is training in two essential “soft skills”:
- Creating empathy, which means understanding what’s going on in the head of another person and taking action based on your understanding, and
- Active listening, using deep listening and the right sequence of open questions to draw out all of the customer’s needs and issues.
Of course, these skills are essential for experienced as well as new field service engineers. However, they are especially helpful for new engineers, who will be trying to build high-trust relationships with customers and internal colleagues as quickly as possible.
Typical learning objectives for such an onboarding program might read as follows:
- Enable new field engineers to interact effectively with customers, colleagues, and internal stakeholders
- Ensure that all service people present a professional, customer-focused image in every interaction with the customer and with each other
One reason organizations may not have previously provided training in these soft skills as part of their onboarding is simply the lack of time. Critical technical and product areas, not to mention safety and other compliance training, require many days of intense presentations and practice applications, leaving little time and energy for skill-building in other areas.
However, this can be addressed by integrating soft skills training with technical training. For example, the core soft skills, empathy, and active listening can be introduced adjacent to weeks-long “boot camps”. Powerful messages are passed upfront (ex: “We are a customer-centric company first!”), and with encouragement trainees can begin practicing their new skills immediately in a variety of situations during their onboarding. Brief interactive reinforcement sessions can be done in the following weeks, giving trainees a chance to report on their experiences, get valuable feedback and gain confidence before facing live customers.
Targeting Unique Challenges For New Field Service Engineers
An important layer of soft skills onboarding training is targeting the customer interaction challenges that are especially relevant for new engineers, for example:
- New engineers are eager to impress customers with their technical knowledge and at the same time nervous about not being able to answer a customer’s question or solve their problem immediately. As a result, they sometimes overstate their knowledge to the point of misleading the customer or avoid providing an answer altogether and appear useless. The active listening skills in the training teach the trainee how to ask thoughtful questions that don’t require deep technical knowledge but do cause the customer to provide more details about a problem. By asking such probing questions the engineer can usually draw out the information they need to provide a confident and calibrated response to the customer.
- Another challenge that is especially important for new engineers (or anyone new to interacting with customers for that matter) is the ability to quickly recognize that the customer has non-technical, sometimes personal issues that need to be addressed to completely fix the customer’s problem. Trainees are taught to use an ‘Iceberg’ tool to sense these hidden, ‘below-the-waterline’ issues. Not only does this result in a faster and more complete resolution of the customer’s issues, but the Iceberg also helps to quickly create empathy and build trust with the customer.
Impact Of Soft Skills Training
We believe that providing soft skills training customized specifically for new field service engineers enhances the readiness of recruits to provide the high-quality service experience that today’s customers demand.
When trainees make comments such as:
- “I now understand listening and empathizing with the customer's situation is a necessity"; and
- “By breaking down the problem into the above- and below-the-waterline elements, I understand my customer at a deeper level.”
we know they are developing a new appreciation that fixing the person can be every bit as important as fixing the problem. Recruits are well on their way to aligning with your customer-centric culture and goals.
About The Author
Paul Hesselschwerdt is a partner at Global Partners Training. During more than 30 years in the training industry, he has designed and implemented programs in customer service, sales and marketing, and project management across a range of industries, including healthcare, industrial equipment, and high technology. For additional insights, please visit https://globalpartnerstraining.com/