But, if handled poorly, it gives your customers the excuse they need to buy from your competitors. Your customer views product failure as an emergency, especially if it affects business operations.
Take a dentist, for example. If his or her vacuum system stops working, the office must shut down until it’s repaired. This is inconvenient for the dentist, the staff, and the patients. It also represents loss in business revenue until the system runs again. This kind of situation is high priority for field service organizations servicing dental offices.
In industrial settings, when a product fails, you may have to deal with irate customers who have spent lots of money with your company. This can be a golden opportunity to show customers that you support them with speed and efficiency.
“90% of what I deal with starts as a problem, but I don’t look at it as a problem. I look at it as an opportunity to delight a customer,” says Michel Yasso of MSR Consulting Group. Customer service organizations offer the following steps when first contacted by a customer with a problem. Field service organizations should follow the same steps:
• Empathize with the customer; do not make excuses.
• Don’t patronize or talk down to customers; this will only make the situation worse. Really listen to what the customer is telling you, take notes regarding the situation, and ask for clarification.
• Remain calm even if the customer is not.
• Apologize, if appropriate. Say something like, “I’m sorry you are frustrated; let’s see how we can resolve this situation.”
• Promise to try to fix the problem or to try to find a solution. This will ease the tension the customer has created. The customer is looking for a resolution. Then do what you promise.
• Answer confidently, and take responsibility for assisting, even if this means you must refer the case to someone else.
• Give the customer a time when you will get back in touch—one hour, four hours, one day, etc. Then be sure you call back at the appointed time. Keep following up at regular intervals until issues are resolved.
• Take action to get the customer operating as soon as possible, or obtain information and estimates when this will happen.
• Write clear, concise reviews of incidents. Document issues and resolutions. Keep notes about anything that may assist others who deal with the customer in the future.
Your customers know that things will break, but they will be upset anyway. Your ability to react quickly and efficiently is crucial.
Sometimes, field service doesn’t go as expected. It may be appropriate to escalate to your customer’s executive management, especially when situations involve significant disruption in business. In these cases, your service executive or director should call the customer C-level executive and apologize. Give realistic estimates for repair, and perhaps, tell the executive you are going to make suggestions, after the issue is resolved, about how to avoid future disruptions. This may include things like more frequent maintenance or the purchase of redundant systems for critical business processes.
Professor Morris Cohen of The Wharton School notes, “The objective of service is to generate customer satisfaction. And satisfaction results from the difference between the customer’s perceptions of service versus the customer’s expectation for service. If the perception is greater than the expectation, the customer will be satisfied or even delighted.” The opposite is also true, no matter the objective quality of service. So, set realistic customer expectations, and strive to exceed those. You will have delighted, loyal customers.
(c) 2013, Rosemary Coates and Jim Reily
This article is Rule 2 from the new book “42 Rules for Superior Field Service“. Purchase it today!