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serviceManagers and executives engaged in field service or maintenance often talk about how customers are becoming more demanding. But how often do we step back and look at what those customers really want?

A couple of weeks ago, I spent time with a company that operates major facilities, discussing the proportion of service and repair work that was insourced and how much was outsourced.  Their policy was in line with a number of similar organizations, keeping core Mechanical and Electrical services internal, but outsourcing a number of tasks to specialist service providers, citing the additional cost involved in obtaining and retaining the skill sets needed to manage their diverse facilities and assets. What they have to say ought to be very much of interest to those involved in providing aftermarket service, maintenance or warranty repair to industrial customers!

As the discussion progressed, a number of questions about the value delivered by some of their service providers were raised. After 20 minutes of debate, it was abundantly clear that their level of expectation far exceeded the perceived value given by the service provider; despite the service provider in question not missing an SLA for over two years.

That got me thinking: How do we ensure that our customers feel we are providing the best value, regardless of the words and KPI’s in a contract? Here are three tips. To some extent they can be facilitated through the application of field service management (FSM) or enterprise asset management (EAM) software. But really, it is a management decision to committing to these practices that can improve the perception of your service organization.

Communicate, communicate, communicate:

Having taken a call, how many times do we take the initiative and communicate proactively?  When an issue is reported, ensure that the customer is aware of progress in fixing it. Let them know when the parts are available to undertake the repair. Let them know when the engineer is likely to arrive, and if things are likely to be delayed.

If we did it, prove it:

Is it right that the only interaction with the customer is a quick signature on the engineer’s mobile device and an invoice for the job? How many times does the workforce run through the details of the job with the customer? When your car goes in for service work, the dealer now calls you before undertaking any unexpected work and again before the car is returned to you to tell you what has been done and why. This fiercely competitive consumer environment is raising expectations in commercial service.

If we don’t ask, we don’t get:

How many times does a contract go back out to tender instead of being a straightforward renegotiation and renewal? How many times are we surprised when our customers don’t renew? Just because we have no complaints, it does not mean our customers are happy! So we need to ask for feedback and proactively manage relationships throughout a contract or we won’t get the opportunity to address complaints.

Ultimately, service is a complex business. It will always be a people-intensive business – a service delivered by one person to another. And it is a complex business with many dimensions in play – people, place, skills, time, supply chains, contractual arrangements and last but not least human emotions. What looks like a simple fault to the service provider might be mission-critical for the customer and create real negative sentiment.

Managing the work is one thing; proving ourselves day-after-day is quite another.


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