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Field Service Training: How to Improve the Effectiveness of Your Field Service Organization

There is inherent, yet often uncaptured, value in field service. No matter the industry, the country, or the business, field service professionals represent untapped potential for both businesses and their customers. The problem? Service engineers aren’t seen as a value-added branch of a company, which results in an overall lack of investment in their field service training.

Before we go any further, it’s critical to understand that field service training must be about so much more than nuts and bolts, hardware and software, or workflows and logistics. Optimal field service training starts with interpersonal skills, customer interaction, and truly listening to pain points and business disruptions. This line of training is what we call field service relationship training, and when put into practice, it has been proven to improve customer satisfaction, sales, and the overall effectiveness of your field service offerings.

THE MOVE TO FIELD SERVICE TRAINING: Which Training Format is Right for Your Organization?  >>

What is Field Service Training?

Field service training is a process for enabling field service engineers and team members to help customers and companies get more value out of field service and customer relationships. But technical training is not enough. Given the ways that service people need to interact with customers, it is just as important, if not more so, that they also receive customer relationship training.

Technical Training vs. Customer Relationship Training
Traditional field service training models have had a one-track mind, sharply focused on the technical aspects of a field service engineer’s job – the equipment, software, hardware, tools, etc.

However, as the field service field has grown and leaders in the industry have seen the value in this branch of business, field service training has now developed a second focus, customer relationship training. To be more effective and achieve the positive outcomes businesses expect from field service – improved revenues, higher customer satisfaction, reduced rework, and higher savings – field service team members need to learn how to nurture and make the most of their front-line relationships with customers.

Complete field service training takes technical training and builds upon the customer interaction. With proper instruction that focuses on social interactions and engineer-to-customer relations, customer relationship training helps support and improve upon technical training by:

    1. Helping engineers shift from being reactive in responding to customer requests, issues and problems, to being proactive by anticipating the needs of others and taking action to address them.
    1. Shifting the focus from technical problems that are clearly visible to the customer and the supplier, to identifying and addressing problems and issues that are not so easily seen yet are often those that prevent people from fixing problems completely and permanently.
    1. Empowering technicians to go from doing things for the customer and occasionally giving in to unreasonable demands, to working collaboratively with the customer to reach solutions that balance the interests of all sides.

Why is Field Service Training Important?

Field service training has one primary goal, but many potential positive outcomes. Think of it like a pyramid — there is one primary, ultimate goal, and many secondary results that support the end goal while also improving other areas of the business.

Field service training should first and foremost drive the effectiveness of your field service offerings. Field service technicians have many opportunities to uncover real insights about your customers and find value for them.

Technology Services Industry Association research indicates that service people are in front of their customers an average of over 70 times per month — in an organization with 100 field service technicians, that adds up 7,000 opportunities every month. This amount of facetime with customers is a great opportunity to foster trust, learn real insights about customer pain points, and leverage these connections into positive relationships for your business and your customers.

So what benefits emerge when these relationships are leveraged? Here are some important outcomes that companies have observed and that may be primary drivers behind your push to transform your field service organization.

    1. Improved Revenues
      Improving the customer relationship skills of your field service people will enable them to generate new revenue opportunities. Their newly acquired customer relationship skills help them cultivate more trustful relationships and collaborate to help customers achieve their most desired business outcomes, and also achieve new revenues for their company via cross-sells, up-sells, upgrades, service contracts and extensions.
    1. Reduced Service and Parts Giveaway
      Suppliers often compensate for poor customer service or make up for problems in their own performance by giving away service or providing spare parts for free. But sometimes the supplier is simply giving in to demanding customers because they don’t know how to have an open discussion and achieve a balanced outcome. Field service training that focuses on relationships enables suppliers to push back on unreasonable customer demands, reach solutions that work for both the supplier and customer, and maintain positive forward-looking relationships.
    1. Reduced Time and Resources Spent on Troubleshooting
      Think of the resources used by suppliers in troubleshooting problems. As problems take longer to resolve, they often require advanced knowledge available only from a small number of people (who are typically the most expensive). Likewise, senior managers become involved as the problem escalates, and very quickly the situation moves from being manageable to an out-of-control fire. Field service engineers who have been through customer relationship training have the skills to de-escalate problems before they get out of hand, and will likely prevent such problems from recurring simply through better communication.
    1. Improved Productivity
      One way to streamline productivity is by simplifying and speeding up internal processes. For example, a new product installation requires careful coordination of many functions within the supplier organization as well as with the customer. By proactively meeting with all of these “internal customers” involved in a new installation, asking, “What could we do better in your area?” and then working their responses into the plan, a company can reduce its new installation time by weeks, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars per installation — just for the supplier. 

What Does Effective Field Service Training Look Like?

A quality field service offering has shifted from a reactive model to a proactive model. To enact this culture change and help your service team transform, an investment in field service training is likely in order. But run-of-the-mill training programs or soft skills offerings do not embed the interpersonal relationship skills required to truly transform how your field technicians perform their jobs. Good field service engineer training possesses a few unique qualities that help ensure program success.

    1. Use of role-playing during training
      Like learning to fly an airplane, no one can learn new interpersonal skills without putting them into practice. Field service technician training should always incorporate role-playing of different customer service scenarios, preferably based on real-life scenarios. This helps technicians observe, practice, and get feedback on their new skills in a safe environment before they begin to use them in the field.
    1. Customized training based on your industry and company
      A field service engineer’s interactions in the healthcare industry will likely be quite different from those in the world of telecommunications. Therefore, the role plays and case studies should also be directly applicable to the unique situations they face in their jobs. Such customization is more engaging and helps participants learn and retain more information.
    1. Holistic training for engineers and support teams
      Invest the time to train everyone who works around and supports the initiatives of the field service engineers as well. Supervisors, managers, product reps, and the service sales team can all benefit from field service and customer relationship training. If these teams aren’t supporting the field service engineers, your company is not going to get the full benefit of a robust field service training program. These programs represent a company-wide cultural shift, so widespread buy-in is imperative to its success.
    1. Measured and refined approach to instruction
      If you want to achieve real business results, field service engineer training can’t be a one-day auditorium seminar. To create cultural change, you need to change the day-to-day skills and behaviors of a critical mass of individuals within your service organization. This requires:

      • A long-term embedding process that includes multiple rounds of action plan creation and implementation.
      • A follow-up coaching and support program to help improve skills adoption.
      • An assessment of training progress, which measures how well skills are being applied in the field, which leads to a measurable result for the organization.

One major benefit of this training method is the ability to continually put the training into practice, measure the results, and adjust training accordingly. If one concept is hard for engineers to implement, perhaps more time is needed on it. If one strategy is particularly effective with your customers, then it should receive more emphasis.

Benefits of Field Service Training

Field service and customer relationship training is only successful when it’s truly adopted and put into practice by field service engineers and technicians. After successful adoption of new tools and strategies, these are some of the biggest ways your team will benefit from field service training.

Understand Your Customer’s Big Picture
As we know, customers want suppliers who are focused on helping them achieve their larger business outcomes. And in order to do this, you need to know what these outcomes are. You need to understand your customer’s big picture.

What is your customer trying to achieve as an organization? Reduce costs? Increase productivity? Increase growth? Become more competitive? Maybe they are focusing on a couple of these areas at the same time. The point is, if you understand what your customer is trying to achieve, you can begin finding value for customers in the areas that matter most to them.

Take this example from a supplier service manager who got to truly know his customer and used those insights to deliver exceptional service. The service manager knew that a key factor in his customer’s strategy for maintaining industry leadership was to adopt the latest advanced technology. However, the customer was struggling to implement the technology because its own engineers didn’t understand the new technology and weren’t communicating internally about their lack of knowledge.

The service manager knew far more about this technology than his customer did, and after learning about the customer’s struggles, he implemented a plan. The service manager proactively filled the customer’s knowledge gaps and provided the knowledge and expertise that the customer lacked.

As a result, the customer significantly shortened the time needed to fully implement the new technology. The customer then used their new cutting-edge technology acumen to win back a significant share of business worth hundreds of millions of dollars. This led to further adoption of the supplier’s new technology worldwide.

Field service engineers and managers who understand what their customers are trying to achieve — their Big Picture — are able to anticipate the challenges their customers will have reaching their goals. They can then take proactive steps to address their customer’s challenges, provide solutions for day-to-day problems, and fill in knowledge gaps that customers have.

Uncover Your Customers’ Real Problems
When dealing with a customer request, do your field service engineers take time to understand the problem? Not just the technical issues, but the real, root cause(s)? An easy way to illustrate this concept is with an iceberg. At the top of the iceberg, above the waterline, we experience the technical-related issues that we can easily see. However, at the bottom of the iceberg, deep under the waterline, there are typically bigger problems that are harder to uncover.

A machine tech for a customer was struggling to do some basic preventative maintenance. He lacked the knowledge and skill required to perform the task but refused to admit his own limitations. This caused the customer to blame the machine supplier, which escalated the problem.

Instead of becoming defensive, the machine supplier’s technical support engineer applied active listening techniques to get to the root cause of the issue, including the customer’s below-the-waterline uncertainties. The tech support engineer then recommended that he assist with some elements of the preventative maintenance, leaving the customer’s machine tech to do the tasks that he felt confident enough to perform. The approach reduced the downtime on the equipment by 60 hours, reduced the escalation time by 10 hours and preserved the relationship with the machine tech.

Field service people are highly skilled at addressing the technical, above-the-waterline problems. Getting below the waterline, however, requires different skills in communicating with customers. Field service people need to create empathy with customers, beginning with acknowledging the customer’s personal issues and state of mind. Sometimes customers themselves aren’t even aware of these problems. There could be a personal issue or an organizational barrier. By discovering and addressing real customer problems, solutions arrive faster and with more clarity.

Come Up With Ways to Delight Your Customer
What are your customers’ expectations of your field service people? Fast response times and solving their stated problems come to mind. Your customers expect you to do these things well. These are the types of things your competitors may also do well. And in fact, if you don’t do these things well, you end up with dissatisfied customers.

But field service is in a perfect position to differentiate your organization by looking for ways to delight your customers. By being proactive and identifying these types of opportunities — such as creating a cheat sheet for an equipment operator or placing a tickler to call the customer periodically to check on performance — you’ll begin to pull ahead of your competitors and build trusted business partner relationships with customers. Understanding your customer’s big picture and uncovering their real problems will enable you to more easily find these types of opportunities.

Sometimes just figuring out how to fix an issue can make a customer feel more valued by their service provider. In one instance, a customer and service supplier were experiencing problems with hand-offs during routine maintenance. Problems were sometimes caused by the customer, sometimes by the supplier, and sometimes by both. Rather than meet the customer’s basic requirements only, the supplier used an analysis tool learned during field service training to identify errors caused during handoffs in routine maintenance, regardless of who made them.

The supplier then fixed the handoffs so that he could verify that all handoffs were error free, resulting in substantial increases in output for the customer and reduced rework and lost time for the customer and supplier. In addition, the actions of the local service team led to the identification of new revenue opportunities valued at more than $100k.

Field service engineer training is a complete transformation in thinking and behavior. If you commit to making these three shifts — from reactive to proactive, getting from technical-only problems to real needs, and from doing whatever the customer asks to achieving balanced outcomes — you will see a change in your interactions with customers and ultimately an improvement in the effectiveness of your entire field service organization.

What Is the ROI for Field Service Training?

Increasing revenue and profit through your service organization requires your people to shift their thinking and behavior in fundamental ways. Making such a substantial change in culture, while simultaneously establishing new skills and behaviors, requires a sizable investment. And with any investment, you want to know what the return on that investment will be, and how it will be calculated. While some of the benefits of these programs seem intangible, the ROI of field service training is real and measurable.

What companies often find is that the investment in improving customer relationships connects directly to improved profits, customer satisfaction, and loyalty. Typical areas where increased revenues and cost savings are reported after field service engineer training include:

  • New revenue opportunities
  • Improvements in productivity/time/bandwidth
  • Increased equipment uptime
  • Customer cost savings on repairs
  • Overall time savings (for supplier and customer)

Beginning a field service and customer relationship training program is an investment – of time, of money, and of people. When you’re ready to make that investment, we hope you’ll reach out to Global Partners Training.

Our team will help you calculate a reasonable ROI for your field service training program and help you get a better understanding of where profitable changes can be made. As part of the process, the GPT worldwide network of facilitators and customer relationship success experts will assess your current and future needs, outline objectives, and customize a plan to match your vision.

2 Format Options for Your Training Program

You get the ultimate in flexibility with GPT training programs. For each of our industry-leading customer relationship training programs, you can choose between two robust, complementary formats — blended or virtual.

Core knowledge and skill components are the same across both formats, and programs are delivered via: live training led by experienced facilitators (onsite and/or virtual); self-paced e-learning modules; peer coaching and optional individual coaching sessions; and individualized project work and role-play exercises tailored to real company challenges and opportunities.

 

Blended Format

Distinguished by an impressive track record of building next-generation customer relationship skills that hold the potential to transform your business, our time-tested blended training programs include both face-to-face and virtual components. Notable features of this format: Your team members are “in the room” with the instructor and fellow students. Full-day immersion. Flexibility to shift from blended mode to full virtual mode as conditions change.

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Virtual Format

Companies seeking fully virtual training options will want to explore our 100% virtual format. Virtual programs use interactive instructor-led webinars and self-service e-learning modules to lead participants on an exciting learning journey down parallel knowledge and skill tracks. Notable features: Smaller class sizes. Minimal time out of the field. Improved virtual communication skills. Convenience. Potential cost savings.

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