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How Digital Transformation and the Covid Pandemic are Driving the Need for New Customer Relationship Skills

Field service and technical support organizations have been going through a digital transformation long before the Covid pandemic. Market data company Statista, for example reports that spending on Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) will exceed $4 billion in the distribution and services sector. Data researcher IDC also forecasts compound annual growth rates of more than 100% over the 2019-2024 period for the industrial maintenance sector. And IDC further predicts that, “spending on AR/VR will accelerate quickly, with a focus on targeted investments that can bring European companies clear benefits, including the ability to address many of the challenges associated with COVID-19.”

However, until the Covid pandemic hit, not all field service businesses had embraced new technologies such as remote visual support, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, etc. Of course, the pandemic changed all that as field service organizations were faced with the urgent need to continue to support their customers without being able to be physically on-site with them.

The pandemic not only accelerated the need to adopt new remote service digital technologies, it has created additional challenges for service organizations. For example, the reduction in face-to-face interactions has meant that things that can only come from direct human-to-human interactions (things like creating empathy, understanding and addressing emotional issues, trust-building and collaboration) no longer happen as frequently as they need to. In addition, because service engineers are not able to be on-site to observe problem situations directly, they can miss small but important details about the situation, as well as missing the context or other elements that they would normally pick up on simply by being in the midst of the situation.

In our experience, the impact of these limitations is not only on relationships, we believe that it can also reduce the gains provided by the new technologies. Over time the negative impact on service quality and productivity can be significant. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Instead, service engineers need to increase their active listening skills, which means asking better, informed open questions and creating open dialogues with customers.

In order to ensure that the full value of productivity from the adoption of new digital service technologies is realized, service organizations need to start looking at how the relationship and interaction between front line service people and their customers needs to change. Likewise, many of the changes to daily work life that have been caused by the pandemic are likely to remain in some form after things return to a ‘new normal’.

In short, service organizations need to start focusing on the new relationship skills that their service people need. They need to create Relationship Solutions that will ensure the success of their Technology Solutions.

How the 3 TCF Shifts Can Help

The core concept of our Total Customer Focus™ (TCF) change management program is that service organizations and service people need to make 3 Shifts in the way they think about and interact with customers. They need to:

  • Shift from being reactive to customer needs and requests, to being more proactive
  • Shift from focusing on technical issues only, to focusing on the non-technical issues that prevent customers from being successful
  • Shift from a 1-sided customer relationship, to a balanced relationship where customers and suppliers collaborate to reach outcomes that benefit both sides

Service supplier organizations that have successfully made the 3 TCF Shifts in their culture and way of working with customers (as well as internally) have achieved substantial business results and have transformed their relationship with customers from ‘good supplier’ to trusted business partner. Our experience shows that companies that combine technical advances, such as the digital transformation of service with supporting changes in people skills and behaviors, reap the greatest benefits in terms of customer relationships and return on investment.

Imagine, for example a service engineer working remotely with a customer using a virtual reality tool such as smart glasses to ‘see’ what is happening with the equipment. But what if the corrective actions suggested by the remote service engineer don’t seem to be working? Is the remote service engineer able to determine other factors that are contributing to the problem such as a lack of experience on the customer side? Or is the customer engineer panicked because of the impact that that the down equipment is having on production?

Complex technical problems are very often exacerbated by these non-technical, people-driven problems. In order to address all of the problems, technical as well as non-technical ones, service engineers need to be skilled in relationship and communication skills as well as technical troubleshooting skills.

To learn more about how we enable technical organizations to implement Relationship Solutions that maximize the impact of their technical solutions, take a look at our Total Customer Focus program.


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