Field technicians are often tasked with more than simply a turn of the wrench. As the only face-to-face interaction a company has with its customers after the sale, these technicians are expected to not only fix the problem, but also provide great service in the process. Too often technicians are sent to a job without an important tool to deliver that service: an understanding of their customer.

Forrester Research analyst and customer service expert Kate Leggett explains why customer data is key to proactive, personalized service — and why it’s so hard for companies to effectively use the data they already have.

How can companies mine their customer data to provide better service?

Think about what customers want out of an interaction. They want easy, effortless and efficient service. They want personalized and proactive service, whether the service happens in the field or over the phone.

The company needs to know who the customer is, what products they’ve bought and what interactions they’ve had with a company. In terms of proactive service, customers want companies to look out for their best interests. If there’s an issue with a part, the customer wants an e-mail to proactively let them know about it and to schedule time to fix the problem.

In terms of productivity, think about what productivity means: it means that field service has visibility into its workforce and the ability to monitor the performance and optimize routes for that workforce. It means being able to effectively manage all of the interactions that happen in the field as well as the logistics of returning parts and managing depot repairs.

How can companies best harness their customer’s data and funnel it throughout the organization, including to employees in the field?

The reality is that no company is going to kick off a data management and governance project. These tend to be in the purview of IT, so companies have to frame these projects in terms of business value. I hardly ever see these data projects happen as a big bang. Instead, I see data management activities tied to another customer-facing project, as part of a new mobile field solution, or as a customer service solution.

So it’s less about starting from scratch and instead bolting these data projects into other initiatives?

Yes — and always frame business value of why you are conducting a data project in terms of ROI: better customer satisfaction, lower costs, higher productivity, better compliance, et cetera. Companies need to have real processes in place to say who’s allowed to update and modify data. Putting those rules into place, even if it’s a mom-and-pop show, is important.

Data is really hard, but putting in a good foundation of data management is really important in a company’s ability to support their customers in the way they want to be supported.