In an increasingly technology-driven service industry, the value of investing in the latest digital tools is straightforward. But service techs need more than “tech” to keep customers happy — and your business thriving. Without a team that understands the fundamentals of fostering customer loyalty, even the best products fall flat.

According to Jim Baston, a consultant with more than 35 years of experience in the services industry, soft skills are just as important as technical prowess when it comes to differentiating businesses in the competitive service market. He’s the mind behind an approach called “Proactive Service,” which enables technicians to be the hub of business development through soft skills training. Here, Baston explains the value of arming your workforce with soft skills and why technicians are the root of customer success.

Briefly explain what you mean by ‘Proactive Service.’

Jim Baston

Jim Baston

Proactive Service is really a description of the technician’s role in bringing new ideas and concepts to a customer. There’s a lot of discussion in the marketplace today about service technicians selling. It is a subtle difference, but I don’t like to think of it as a service technician selling.

Proactive Service is about engaging that technician in business development to provide a higher level of service for the customer, as opposed to generating more revenues — although the result is often exactly that.

Why are field technicians so often a missed opportunity when it comes to a company’s business development strategy?

The real challenge for a service provider is to somehow provide a higher level of service to the customer. There’s only so much you can do from a customer service perspective. It dawned on me that the highest level of service you can provide a customer is if the customer can honestly say they’re better off because of their relationship with you. Not only does their equipment operate effectively, but they’re also saving more money than ever and perhaps using less energy than ever.

The people who are best positioned to do that for customers are the technicians. They have proximity to the customer, and they also have knowledge and expertise about the company’s technology and capabilities.

Are managers ever skeptical about using their techs to drum up more business?

shutterstock_202643476Most people who I talk with see the value in engaging their technicians. But I do get pushback from managers who wonder how they’ll pay for that technician’s time.

If you do the math, it can be quite eye-opening. A Harvard Business School study found that a 5 percent improvement in customer retention results in a 25 to 95 percent improvement in profitability. Customer retention alone drives a huge return on investment.

Why should techs be receptive to this approach?

We’re not asking the technician to do anything significantly different in terms of time. What we would like them to do is keep their eyes open to the opportunities that may exist. And, perhaps in conversation with the customer, get to know a bit more about their objectives, some of the challenges they’re facing — and then bring to the customer’s attention ways that the company could help.

Why are soft skills essential to provide this level of service — and how should managers convey that expectation to their techs?

First of all, there are technicians who are naturally gifted at bringing ideas that help their customers, and the customers absolutely love them. Generally, they’re the most successful technicians in the group—even if they’re not the most technical. They can recognize the need and have empathy to share their customers’ concerns. The tech who’s great at this doesn’t have to worry about work, because they’re constantly in demand by their customers. That’s one way to promote it.

The other way is to make techs recognize that this isn’t just a nice thing to do for a customer. It’s also an obligation, and it’s as much a part of the service as the tech’s ability to fix a product.

The largest piece in all of this is the technician’s credibility with the customer. There’s personal credibility, which is the level of trust that the customer has in the technician, and there’s professional credibility, which is the trust the customer has in the tech’s competence. When you have those two pieces, you can start a real conversation with the customer.

Check back next week for Part 2 of our interview with Baston to learn about his “Five-P” strategy for conversing with customers, the important role of a sales manager and more.