01 Jul Service Skills for the Field Technician
When it comes to spa retail, we all get that customer service can have a significant influence on business performance. But not just on the sales floor. Harvard Business Review studies found that “organizations able to skillfully manage the entire [customer] experience reap enormous rewards: enhanced customer satisfaction, reduced churn, increased revenue, and greater employee satisfaction.” Furthermore, the Aberdeen Group’s State of Service Management: Outlook for 2013 found that companies who surpassed a 90% customer satisfaction rating also saw an annual 6.1% growth in service revenue, 3.7% growth in all revenue, and 89% level of customer retention.
Given these stats, it’s important for retailers to remember that the hot tub customer’s purchase in the showroom is just the beginning of the complete customer experience. As hot tub and spa products become more complex, more problems may arise, however, customer tolerance for product operating issues is lessening. Today’s customers expect things to just work. In cases where a problem does arise, customers expect it to be resolved with great speed and even better service. This presents a challenge, but also an opportunity, for retailers to step up their service operations, focusing on quickly getting spas back up and running for the customer.
Efficient service operation is not just about getting a repair tech to the customer as soon as possible … At the end of the day, your service operation is ultimately measured by the quality of each individual customer experience.
Service technicians represent a critical link between customers, their product satisfaction, repurchase loyalty, and word-of-mouth communication. According to Jim Baston, a consultant with more than 35 years of experience in the services industry, “Soft skills are just as important as technical prowess when it comes to differentiating businesses in the competitive service market.”
Unfortunately, providing a positive customer experience can be overshadowed, and oftentimes completely overlooked, by the fix-it mentality within the field technician environment. In fact, Bart Plante, Service Manager of Bullfrog Spas, estimates that only one in ten customers is truly satisfied with the tech support they receive on their hot tubs. How sad is that and what does it say for our industry?
Customer Service Characteristics
What does good customer service really mean for the technician? Harvard Business Review reports that the number one most important factor in a customer’s loyalty is effort reduction (the work they must do to get their problem solved). An effective service department must recognize that its goal is to take care of people though, not just the problem. To that end, field techs should deliver customer service with just as much professionalism as a sales rep.
Here is a useful checklist with six basic characteristics to evaluate a service technician’s professionalism.
Among consumers, field technicians have a notorious reputation for being unresponsive. Does your service department return all calls? Do technicians show up when they say they will?
How your technicians present themselves is a reflection of their professionalism and your retail business’s values. Do your service techs dress appropriately in the field? Do they pay attention to personal hygiene and cleanliness?
Demonstrating product expertise not only facilitates fixing the problem, but provides the customer with a sense of confidence and security. Do your service team members qualify as expert technicians? Do they offer specialized know-how above and beyond the competition?
Operational processes can determine whether or not a tech is adequately prepared for a service appointment. Nobody wants to hear that you’ll have to order a part or go back to the shop. Are your field technicians fully informed of the issue they’re responding to prior to their meeting with the customer? Do they show up with the right tools or technology to get the job done at their first appointment?
In addition to showing respect for their time and space, customers expect a problem-solver to show interest in and compassion for what they’re going through. Does your tech team understand the emotional nature of customer engagement? Do your technicians strive to ensure customer validation?
Words can sound promising, but it’s the action that follows which drives customer satisfaction. Do your service techs do what they say they’re going to do? How are they accountable for their task completion?
“Technicians who are able to relate to, converse with, and explain complex technical problems become invaluable resources as companies struggle to grow customer satisfaction and improve retention rates.”
Customer Service Best Practices for the Tech Department
Once you’ve made the commitment to customer service in your service department, the next steps can be critical to ensuring success. Paying particular attention to the following areas should make the process of improvement more manageable.
“Technicians who are able to relate to, converse with, and explain complex technical problems become invaluable resources as companies struggle to grow customer satisfaction and improve retention rates,” according to MSI Data, a field workforce automation software company. So it is critical to select people who, beyond tech skills, already demonstrate awareness of and practice strong customer service characteristics. Applicants who respond in timely matter, show up for their interview on time in presentable attire, come to the interview with references, and share stories about customer feedback received illustrate good customer service characteristics.
While they may know how to fix equipment, can your service technicians make an unhappy customer happy again? Part of good service delivery is knowing how to transform a “bad” service call into a “good” one. These customer skills are not typically included in any technical training manuals and often need to be learned through formal instruction.
When looking for worthwhile training programs, consider the following:
- Look at courses that are based on a sound pedagogical design and incorporate multiple tools, ensuring students are directly involved in the learning process.
- Choose a learning system that delivers relevant industry content in a manner that will inspire your technicians, providing them with the tools they need to achieve their goals.
- Take a demo course to provide you with some “real” comparative information.
- Assess whether the selected program is easy to navigate.
- Make sure you have the ability to track the technician’s course performance.
Without the proper training, most technicians will typically fall back on what they already know they do best—repairing equipment. Mark Challenger, founder and president of E-learning software company MindBuilder Group, believes that “teaching technicians to understand and effectively communicate and build relationships with their customers should be a critical component of their overall training.” He promotes teaching technicians to utilize the “Listen, Observe, Think, Speak” approach.
Your field technicians have already received extensive training on how to fix various types of systems and equipment, and they probably take remedial courses from time to time or whenever the company introduces a new product line. Customer service is no different. Follow-up courses are necessary to maintain those skills over time.
Of course, selecting the right people and providing applicable training are just part of the equation. The foundation of any spa retailer’s customer-service focus lies in the support it receives from the business’s culture and the internal processes that bring it together. By incorporating customer-centricity into the business mission and values statement, customer satisfaction will be communicated consistently among the various retailer operations. This is essential within the scheduling processes of your service department.
Efficient service operation is not just about getting a repair tech to the customer as soon as possible. In the report Fixing First-Time Fix: Repairing Field Service Efficiency to Enhance Customer Returns, Aberdeen’s research found that top-performing field service organizations have benefitted from shifting focus away from cost-cutting to putting the customer first. In other words, prioritizing issue resolution ahead of travel time has proven to pay off.
It is integral that a technician gets scheduled efficiently to visit a customer in need, however Best-in-Class organizations go the next step to make sure the technician that is sent can resolve the issue the first time to satisfy the pressing customer need … . (p. 4)
This focus on the customer can be further integrated into a retailer’s operational processes by linking service tech performance and compensation to customer satisfaction.
Each Customer Experience Matters
At the end of the day, your service operation is ultimately measured by the quality of each individual customer experience. Customers don’t want to know about the moving parts or what goes on behind the scenes. They just want the right technician to show up on time during a convenient window, with the right tools and knowledge to get the job done and without the need for a return visit.
Perhaps even more importantly, your customers just want to feel respected, listened to, and, as one insurance company so eloquently puts it, “in good hands.” It’s these hands that tend to play a key role in the overall bottom line for many spa businesses.