Problems are not always repairs to down equipment. Field Service problem solving may be application issues, obtaining documentation such as installation qualification certificates, re-programing, and contract and billing inquiries and so on. Customer relationships are built by solving problems and earning trust and building confidence. Even diagnosing technical problems frequently involves working with various contacts who may have different issues or needs.
My friend and colleague, Jennifer Schonher, spoke at the University of Vermont’s College of Engineering 2013 commencement ceremony about her first job as a Field Service Engineer. She was making the point to those graduates that to provide value in their career, problem solving was both a necessary skill as well as a refreshing way to approach their career. Jennifer’s first job out of college was in Field Service for Beckman Instruments (later Beckman Coulter), and by approaching her job as a problem solver, enabled her to excel at her career and advance to many other roles in the company.
Jennifer’s success in field service engineering was cited in my book, The Intentional Field Service Engineer. The value the FSE brings to the customer is first understanding and then solving the customer’s problem. Recently Tom Erbach provided a guest blog to this site on customer focus and the true need for today’s FSE to spend the time recognizing the true problem the customer has – yes there is a down piece of equipment but the customer is severely impacted by this down equipment for production backlogs, over-time cost, missed orders and even his/her reputation with their management.
Field Service problem solving by the FSE starts with properly recognizing the problem(s) and acknowledging such in the FSE’s communication and action planning around the real problem(s).
Field Service Engineers, as the company’s face-to-face representative with the customer, strengthens the relationship, and ultimately the company’s brand equity. Settled in customer relations, FSEs are attuned to listening and being observant in their interactions with their customers. Often a single service call has many customer contacts, there may be different problems and points of concerns within the single site. One of my favorite experiences comes from another friend and colleague, Jim Jones who stated in my book that he would take the customer’s monkey off their back and place it on his until the problem was completely solved. This wonderful technique provided assurance to the customer and earned confidence in Jim’s ability as a senior level FSE. Clearly his employer at the time, Beckman Coulter, valued this degree of personal customer interaction and targeted problem solving.
A limited view of a field service only to diagnose and repair dampens the value of a FSE and jeopardizes customer loyalty results. The opportunity to be face-to-face within a customer facility is enormous and most any organization would love to have the opportunity to solve problems and use such strong customer relations to leverage additional business. Compared to expensive marketing and even product features, professional FSEs and relationship building provide a 100% return on investment. Quality, and field service problem solving sells.
The FSE and field service organization who demonstrate field service problem solving enjoy multiples of market share and pricing advantage over their competitive field service organizations who simply meet limited expectations. I’m balancing two important distinctions of customer relationship building and field service problem solving, but I will argue they are one of the same as it’s a two-step process of keenly understanding and sometimes uncovering problems, then following through by putting the monkey on the FSE’s back to ultimately solve the problem.
In my Blog dated Jan. 29, 2017, The Differentiated FSE, I reflected on FSE resourcefulness. FSE’s don’t have to have all the answers and do everything, but they are critical to identifying the problems and use their full bag of company resources to jointly solve the problem including using escalation triggers and other company support processes. Jennifer, Tom and Jim, as good and experienced as they were as FSE’s, used their full arsenal of support and were very proactive in their communication and partnering with their teammates and company resources. Be the field service “Problem Solver”.