Donald B. Stephens is a 30-year senior customer service engineer with the Xerox Corporation. In this post, he explains why field service technicians need ongoing training in the do’s and don’ts of customer engagement. 

The year was 1985, and I was a new hire with no training. We had a comprehensive company orientation back then, with a strong focus on customer relations, but that particular class was three days away. In the meantime, the company paired me with a surly, mountain of a tech named “Rick” for some in-the-field training.

If he had had the same customer engagement training I was about to receive, it was long forgotten.

My first taste of Rick’s brand of customer relations came at a copy shop in Berkeley, Calif. The customer had called about spots on copies, a common problem. The spots were often the result of dirty document glass, and that was the reason for this service call. This was a classic customer training opportunity since a trained operator would never call about a problem that could be resolved by simply cleaning the glass.

Field service, education, Donald B. Stephens, XeroxRick recognized the problem immediately, rolled his eyes, pointed to the spot and said, in a low, forceful tone, “If you call me for this again, I’m gonna break your neck.” He then buttoned up his tool case and smirked at me as we headed for the door, leaving the operator quaking in his boots.

This is clearly an extreme example of bad customer relations skills — I’ve often wondered if any amount of training could have changed Rick’s behavior — but the anecdote does highlight an often overlooked side of the service industry: Customer service training shouldn’t end after new-hire orientation.

As the face of the organization, service technicians need to occasionally recalibrate their customer interaction skills. Here are four reasons why:

Customer Expectations Change

All service organizations worth their salt provide some form of customer engagement training, yet few consider how changes in work processes impact technicians — or how they should present those changes to the customer. This can create problems that take a lot of time and energy to resolve, but they could be avoided if managers had provided a simple “talk track” beforehand.

Techs Need Communication Tools 

In my previous article, I discussed the mindset that often accompanies changes to work habits and processes. Technicians’ poor attitudes about new technologies or processes can spill over to the customer, especially if management doesn’t explain why it’s making the changes. In such cases, technicians are left to say whatever comes to mind about a situation they might be struggling with themselves.

Managers can avoid such problems by spending 15 minutes explaining what to say (and what not to say) about a new program or process. The minimal effort required is always worth the time.

Remember the Adage About Assumptions  

In my thirty years of service, I’ve heard techs say things to customers that would curl your hair. Assuming that techs will say the right thing presumes they possess the social skills of your top salespeople. That’s not always the case, of course. Most techs won’t say something to intentionally rile a customer, but they might not appreciate that, say, a new computer system, designed to speed response times, has actually been delaying dispatch. Technicians are likely suspicious of the program and can’t wait to bad-mouth it to someone. A simple reminder for techs to tell customers that the company is experiencing technical difficulties could go far in keeping any grumbling within the ranks.

Managers Should Learn, Too

The best managers maintain an open dialogue with their employees and have an ear that is open to their concerns. I’ve worked under managers who would say, “This is the way it’s going to be, so deal with it,” and others who’ve said, “Tell me what you think of the new program.”

The latter approach will teach managers where to focus future training efforts.