What is the problem?
By guest blogger Tom Erbach – TJ Erbach & Associates, LLC.
Put yourself in this scenario: You are dispatched to repair a chronic problem on a two-year-old machine. As you greet the customer he lectures you in an angry, frustrated voice.
“This is the fourth time in three weeks that I’ve had you guys out to fix the same problem! Does anybody there know what they’re doing? You’re the third person they’ve sent out. Do YOU know how fix these things? You guys are driving me to the edge! I have a backlog of orders a mile wide, I’m paying overtime to run a second shift, and my boss is in my face three times a day. This is the most unreliable machine I’ve ever seen and none of you guys seems to know anything about your own equipment. Either fix it right – and fix it now – or take it away for good!
If you’ve spent any time in field service you run into frustrated customers. While this is an extreme example, it does happen. Your job is to fix the problem AND restore the customer’s confidence. The key is to identify the most important problem. So take a minute, re-read the customer’s complaint and write your statement of the problem in one short sentence. (hint: you don’t have to know any technical details)
If you wrote something like “His high backlog is costing him overtime.” you’re right. If you wrote “His high backlog is costing him overtime and hurting his reputation with his boss.” You are even more accurate. Your primary focus is on the customer. If you wrote anything to do with reliability of the machine or the competence of other engineers you’re focusing only on the technical task. The customer wants you to ultimately fix his problem, and the machine may be the root cause, but there is collateral damage that must also be addressed. This is where amateur field service representatives miss a big opportunity. With every crisis comes an opportunity to win customer loyalty.
In cases like this it is important to first acknowledge the customer’s business and personal problems that are caused by the technical failure. The emotion expressed is aimed at his personal pain. His anger is not at you – he needs you to fix his problem. So start by reflecting back to him that you understand. I recommend starting your response with simple comments like, “Let’s get this fixed; then I want to hear more about the backlog. I may have some options to help you get caught up.” Such a response begins to diffuse the emotion of the moment. It let’s the customer know that you understand the business and personal impact of the technical issue.
Once you have resolved the technical issue and the machine is running again, take as much time as is necessary to discuss the rest of the problem with the customer. In my career I have found many ways to help beyond the repair. Are there product features they could use to increase throughput? If so, teach them. Can you provide a loaner machine until the backlog is caught up? If so, arrange it. Is there an operator maintenance issue causing the problem? If so, train them and provide a checklist.
You get the idea. There are lots of things within your control that you can do to become a great resource to the customer. Customer loyalty is often earned by your response to a crisis. You can be only a repair person or earn the right to become a trusted advisor. It’s about customer focus.
Tom Erbach spent over 30 years in field service and service training and now works as an independent consultant. He is profiled in Part III of “The Intentional Field Service Engineer – available on Amazon https://www.amazon.com/dp/0692770453