Field Service recently published an article titled ‘Three Simple Ways to Increase First-Time Fix Rates’, which highlights key technologies and systems that service managers can use to enable their people to fix problems the first time. Things like dynamic content, mobile job aids and digital analysis of best practices can align a service organization around what works best and why.
Although these solutions can be very effective in improving first-time fix rates, they overlook a fundamental skill that is essential to understand and address the problem – engaging with the customer. In addition, technology tools take time and resources to implement – people in the field can’t use these tools in their day-to-day until they are approved, up and running.
HERE ARE 3 STEPS THAT ANY SERVICE PERSON CAN FOLLOW TO IMPROVE THEIR FIRST-TIME FIX RATES TODAY!
Step 1. Create empathy
The biggest challenge for most people is overcoming the habits that prevent them from responding empathetically during those first moments when the other person seems emotional, frustrated, angry and in desperate need of empathy. And they missed the clues because they were too busy getting the customer to someone who could help. Or they assumed that they understood the customer’s problem, or decided that the problem simply wasn’t a big deal.
While being empathetic may seem like an innate ability – people are either empathetic or they’re not – anyone can create empathy by following a few simple steps.
Step 2. Ask good questions
We’ve all heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question,” and it’s true. However, it’s also true that certain questions are better than others. Some questions can ignite a continuous dialogue, while others can kill the conversation by leading nowhere.
Asking open-ended questions is one aspect of getting to your customer’s real needs and improving first-time fix rates. The purpose of soliciting and observing with open-ended questions is to gather facts, identify perceptions and feelings, and build rapport and trust with your customer.
Step 3. Get below the waterline
Addressing customers’ real issues can be difficult for many technically oriented people. This is partly cultural; technical people naturally tend to focus on technical problems. These are the problems they can clearly see and understand and usually solve. However, problems that are hidden beneath the surface require a different type of approach and skill to identify and address. But, just as the captain of the Titanic tragically learned, not getting to those problems beneath the surface can cause disaster.
Based on our experience helping thousands of technically-oriented people to create empathy with customers and discover their below the waterline issues, we have identified the most common issues to look out for.
WHAT ARE THE RESULTS?
These steps can be implemented right now in your way of working, but like with any new skill, they require practice to perfect. However, once these skills are embedded in the way you interact with others, they will become second nature. Service people who have practiced developing these 3 customer relationship skills over 90 days have seen results like:
- Getting to the Real Root Cause Reduces Rework and Speeds Results. When the customer doesn’t understand a technical problem fully, they often have a tendency to throw parts at the machine. Below the Waterline issues such as insecurity about lack of knowledge and pressure from a boss to “do something”, complicate the problem even further. In this situation, the supplier’s tech support person started by Acknowledging the customer’s hidden issues. He then did a careful analysis to identify the real root cause and provide alternative fixes and showed the risk associated with each one. The result? Substantial rework avoided and the equipment was returned to full operations in a shortened time resulting in the avoidance of substantial operational losses.
- Being Empathetic Builds Relationships and Improves Results. A Machine Tech (MT) for a customer was not quite up to the task of doing some basic preventative maintenance. Problems due to his lack of knowledge caused the customer to escalate the problem, rather than admit his own limitations. Instead of becoming defensive, the supplier’s technical support engineer applied Active Listening to get to the root cause of the issue, including the customer’s Below the Waterline uncertainties. The tech support person then recommended that he stay heavily involved in some elements of the preventative maintenance, leaving the customer MT to do the activities that he felt confident in. The approach reduced the downtime on the equipment by 60 hours, reduced the escalation time by 10 hours and preserved the relationship with the MT.