Leveraging Techs' Customer Relationships

March 5, 2007
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In a market that is becoming increasingly competitive and undifferentiated, service firms are looking for new ways to add customer value and increase their revenues without adding to their overhead. There is a tremendous opportunity to do this through the relationships that the service technicians develop with customers.

Experience shows that the solution is not as straightforward as it may initially seem. Few service companies have been able to successfully leverage their service technicians’ customer relationships into increased revenue and business growth because they have not considered the key hurdles to success. This article discusses the four key hurdles that directly and negatively impact the service technicians’ effectiveness in selling more services to customers and what can be done about them to ensure success.

IDENTIFYING HURDLES

Hurdle No. 1: The Salesperson Paradox - “The harder I sell, the less effective I am.” Customers trust the service technician to give them objective advice based on their knowledge and experience.

Unlike salespeople who are compensated for what they sell, service people are compensated for what they know and using that knowledge to do their job well: installing, diagnosing, fixing or maintaining things. They are viewed as trusted advisors, telling it like it is with no hidden agendas. It would seem natural that, if they just put a little more effort in selling to those trusting customers, then they would be instrumental in building more revenues and profits for the company.

The paradox, however, is that the harder the technician tries to sell to the customer, the less effective they will be in the long term in building new business. The moment service technicians begin to sell, they transcend that bond of trust that has been forged with the customer.

Regardless of how genuine the service technician is, the very reason the customer trusted the service technician in the first place - the fact that they aren’t out to sell them anything - is suddenly no longer the basis of the relationship. When this happens, the customer becomes confused and the advantage that the service technician had over the salesperson disappears.

Hurdle No. 2: Service Technician Self-Image - “If I had wanted to be a salesperson, I would have become one.”

When working with service technicians to help them become an integral part of a firm’s business development strategy, the largest concern they have is to be turned into a salesperson. Technicians with this view of selling are often insulted by the fact that management would want them to become salespeople. The perceived pushiness and less than honest nature of the role, is often enough to turn a technician off. They didn’t enter into their profession to be a salesperson, they wanted to fix things, and use their knowledge and expertise to provide a service to others.

Hurdle No. 3: Systems and Processes - “No one responds to the opportunities when I find them.” The third hurdle to the strategy is that the sales effort by the service technician is often not supported by the firm’s processes and systems.

The lack of systems to efficiently and consistently handle any resulting inquiry by the customer will often short circuit any attempts at business building that the service person might try. Without a process to handle new opportunities, the firm might fail to get back to the customer in a timely manner. This can be embarrassing for the technician and potentially catastrophic for the customer.

It will be hard to convince even the most dedicated technicians that they are adding value to their customer relationships when dropped balls and unhappy customers are the result of their efforts.

Hurdle No. 4: Management Coaching and Support - “This is too hard. I’d rather go back to the old way.” As human beings we are naturally resistant to change.

Change represents uncertainty and causes discomfort. When people try new things - like engaging a customer in a conversation about our firm and how it can help them achieve their objectives - they can feel awkward and ill at ease. To make matters worse, when people try something for the first time, they often do not do it very well and this just adds to the discomfort. The path of least resistance is to revert to old ways.

Strapped for time, today’s service managers may optimistically assume that new skills will be readily adopted and applied. They have little time to follow-up and provide support to encourage skills adoption. Without ongoing coaching and support, technicians will likely avoid using the new behavior, even if they know that they can be more personally successful if they persevere. It shouldn’t be a surprise if new skills are left untried and behavior reverts quickly to previous ways and the new skills go wasted.



HANDLING HURDLES

A business development strategy built around the field service technician can be rewarding for both the service company and its customers. The key to success is to ensure that the four hurdles are addressed - that is, we must consider the needs of the customer, the concerns of the field service technician, the logistics of how opportunities will be handled and the responsibilities of management to help in the adoption of new skills.

Handling Hurdles 1 and 2: Overcoming the Salesperson Paradox and the Technician’s Self-Image. In the mind of the customer, when field service technicians focus on selling, the technician has just changed from being a trusted advisor to just another salesperson.

The solution is to train the field service technician to focus only on business opportunities that are based on solving the needs of the customer - not on the need to sell the services of the company. This subtle change in approach directs the field service technicians to change their focus from their firm and their services - i.e. what they have or do that can be sold - to the needs of their customer and how they can best serve them.

When business owners train their technicians to focus on the needs of the customer and identifying how their firm can best solve those needs, they are also addressing the field service technicians’ concern about becoming a salesperson.

Although they will be using selling-based skills to engage the customer, this approach is not a typical sales call. It is simply a conversation with the customer - an exchange of information in a manner that is familiar to the service technician - using their knowledge and expertise to provide a service to others.

In fact, most technicians will understand that they have an obligation to apply their knowledge, skills, and experience to help their customers realize how they can run their facilities more productively and be more successful at achieving their business goals.

Handling Hurdle 3: Filling in the Gaps - Ensuring You Have a Fool Proof System to Handle New Opportunities. Major nonmotivating factors can be eliminated from the equation by examining your own processes and systems for holes that may cause opportunities to be mishandled. Management must ensure that their systems allow them to handle all inquiries quickly and effectively and at all times provide feedback to the technician.

Handling Hurdle 4 - Coaching and Supporting New Behaviors. To many, the skills to engage the customer and act as a trusted advisor will seem foreign and uncomfortable. Service managers need to provide ongoing support to encourage the technician to take the risks accompanied with trying these new skills. Skills adoption and application is greatly improved when coaching follows training - some studies suggesting as much as four times more effective.

Coaching and supporting new behaviors also serves another purpose. It tells everyone involved that this is an important strategic initiative for the firm - not simply the latest management fad.

CONCLUDING FACTS

An engaged and focused field service team dedicated to solving customer needs can be an integral part of your business development strategy and will clearly add value to customer relationships while differentiating from competitors. Technicians will become even greater business partners to customers - respected, trusted advisors who use their expertise to help each customer solve business problems and capitalize on opportunities. Customers will be impressed with the approach and be constantly reminded that they have made the right decision when they decided to do business with the technician and his or her company.

To make this strategy work for you, ensure that you invest your time and money carefully and support that investment through your management and business systems. Help your technicians to clearly understand your business strategy and the value you bring to your customers. Invest in skills training that go beyond simply selling skills to help your technicians to have meaningful conversations with your customers and to capitalize on your technicians’ inherent nature to want to help the customer. Support them with systems to ensure that their efforts are followed up on. Engage your management with supporting new skills adoption. Your customers will thank and reward you.

Publication date: 03/05/2007

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