The service business is competitive and getting more so with every passing day. Customers are better informed and increasingly demanding, competitors are quick to match or exceed any competitive advantage we might gain, and great customer service has become a cost of entry. As a result, customers have difficulty seeing any substantial difference between most service competitors. They tend to all look more or less the same from their perspective.

So how do we as a service company stand out? How do we win in such a competitive environment? As I mentioned in my last article, we stand out when we help our customers recognize that they are better off for having engaged us. When our customers realize that not only is their equipment running well, but they are actually operating more effectively than ever before, then we will stand out from those other service firms whose sole focus is on the maintenance of the equipment under contract.

The key to success is the ability of our field service firms to look for and recognize opportunities to help the customer succeed and willingly communicate about those opportunities when they arise. In this way, our technicians are able to provide a level of service beyond simply maintaining and fixing things — and we can measurably help our customers achieve their business goals.

Here are four actions you can take to help you accomplish this:

1. Ask for Permission

I have found that most, if not all, service firms that engage their technicians in proactive business development activities never tell their customers what they are up to. This begs the question: If the field service team’s efforts help the customer to be better off, why don’t we tell the customer what we are doing?

A simple way to do this is to ask the customer for permission to provide this level of service. The conversation might go something like this:

Mr. Jones, we have provided direction and training for our technicians to encourage them to look for opportunities to help you operate your facilities/processes/equipment more effectively whenever they visit your facility. When they find something that will help you achieve your business goals, would you have any objection if they brought the opportunity to your attention?

2. Conduct Initial Meetings on New Contracts

When a new contract is signed, it is common for the service firm and their customer to review the contract terms and discuss any specific requirements and expectations. Whenever possible, it is valuable to include a discussion of our technicians’ proactive efforts. We can reinforce their value, discuss specifics about the customer’s goals and challenges, and determine how and when the customer would like our technician to approach them when they recognize an opportunity to help.

3. Hold both Formal and Informal Review Sessions

On large contracts, we can arrange to meet on an annual basis to review our performance. The focus of these meetings can go beyond simple review of how well we’re maintaining the equipment and evaluate how well we have helped the customer to be better off. We can review outstanding recommendations, discuss how well the customer feels the technician is looking out for them and identify areas for improvement. Informal sessions can be held more frequently than formal sessions and similar discussions can take place over a cup of coffee.

4. Measure Customer Satisfaction with Your Efforts

If you promote the fact that your field service team’s proactive recommendations are of value to your customers, why not measure it to see if they agree? You can do this by simply including a question on your customer satisfaction questionnaire. Here is an example:

On a scale of 1 to 5 (with 5 being highest), how effective have our technicians been in bringing ideas to your attention that have made improvements to your business?

When the promotion of products and services by our field service team is conducted for the purpose of finding ways to help our customers achieve their business goals, then it becomes a valuable service that can differentiate us from our competitors. The goal is to support it like we would any other service and use the benefit this creates as a valuable differentiator.

ABOUT Jim Baston

Avatar photoJim Baston is president of BBA Consulting Group Inc., a consulting and training firm located in Ontario, Canada. Since founding BBA Consulting Group in 2001, Jim has focused his attention on helping technical service companies develop and implement strategies to transform field service personnel from reluctant into enthusiastic promoters of their company’s products and services. He is also the author of several books about how service companies can improve customer satisfaction and revenue, including "Beyond Great Service: The Technician's Role in Proactive Business Growth."