Companies are well aware of the danger of developing a bad reputation on social media and ratings sites. A good online standing has become essential to everyone. But these same companies often neglect the one area of influence they have the most control over—one that not only affects current customers but can also hinder future growth.

I’m talking about what comes out of the mouths of employees—specifically, the mouths of field service technicians. In my thirty-four years as a field service rep, I’ve heard technicians say things to customers that would leave any manager speechless (before they blow their lid). 

It’s impossible to stop all negative talk, but there are a few preventive measures managers can take that will protect their company’s name.

Bad Day Negativity

It’s a given that everyone experiences bad workdays, and plenty of us say things during those times of frustration that we wish we could take back. Technicians are no exception. In fact, they should be cut extra slack because they do their jobs in front of customers—rarely do they have a cool-down period after a frustrating repair before interfacing with an individual. Most customers understand this, but sometimes a manager will hear from someone who is appalled by a technician’s behavior during a bad day event. 

The way that manager responds matters.

Once, after a tire store clerk had yelled at me for asking a simple question, his manager defended his behavior, saying, “Give him a break. He’s had a bad day.” I didn’t want excuses. I wanted someone to apologize for the offensive behavior. I never went back to that store, and I made sure to tell everyone I encountered that day how they treat their customers. The worst thing a manager can do is make excuses for bad day outbursts. A simple “I apologize for my employee’s behavior. How can I make up for this?” can stop negativity from spreading. 

The Negativity of Change

A service rep’s day is never the same, but we all need some stability to keep us grounded. That’s why something as seemingly minor as switching from a hardcopy machine log to a digital log might invoke a bit of grumbling. The greater the change to a service rep’s day, the more negativity that might be expressed to your customers. Managers often assume that their employees will handle these changes professionally, but in my experience, that’s not always the case. Technicians work closely with customers, with whom they’ve often established an easy rapport. Unfortunately, that makes it easier to overshare: Techs may well gripe about a job-related change, not realizing the damage they’re doing.

Here’s how to potentially prevent that venting: All changes that have a direct effect on the day-to-day processes and procedures your service reps use should be presented at a team meeting. A time for questions and comments should follow so that everyone gets a chance to voice any frustrations before they get in front of customers. If there is an abundance of negativity expressed, it’s a good idea to remind everyone that the complaints need to be kept in-house and not expressed to the customer.

Back-Stabbing Negativity

I worked with a tech who felt that it was his duty to tell customers how incompetent all of the other technicians on our team were. He would point out all of the things the previous tech had missed and how lucky they were that he was there to straighten them out. We even had a customer who dubbed him “The Bus Driver,” because he not only threw everyone under the bus, he also insisted on being the one behind the wheel.

This is perhaps the most dangerous behavior of them all. Not only does it present a negative view of your service team to the customers, but it also creates an atmosphere of distrust and contention when other techs learn that they are being disparaged behind their back. It’s not good for a company’s reputation—let alone for building a cohesive service team. 

A manager needs to have an ear to the ground and deal severely with anyone who purposely disparages their coworkers. If not, the negativity will spread like cancer until it infects the entire service force, like it did my team. The results weren’t pretty.  

Systems Negativity

Even though most field service technicians work alone, they’re still reliant on many systems that can hinder their performance. Parts that fail prematurely or are on back-order, computer glitches that affect the call-dispatching and documentation process, broken escalation processes for difficult repairs, and any other part of a company’s operations that is out of their control can easily become fodder for complaints.

Techs will often criticize the systems they rely on to excuse a slow repair, but what they don’t realize is that, in doing so, they are essentially telling customers that their company is incapable of providing the level of service they deserve. This, too, can sour a customer’s view of your business.

Educating techs is the quickest and most effective way to prevent this from happening. If it hasn’t been a part of your talk-track with your techs, it should be. When you hear gripes about your systems, occasionally remind employees that the complaints should not reach the customer. Adding it to any formal customer relations training is fundamental.  

The Right Attitude Adjustment

I’ve lost count of the number of glass-half-empty technicians I’ve come to know over the years, but I can count the number of glass-half-full techs I’ve encountered on one hand. Technicians were born to fix things, so pointing out the flaws in virtually everything is second nature to them. I’ve found that those with a more positive, everything will work out in the end outlook tend to gravitate toward sales or management. Most techs need to learn how to be positive.

The good news is: This is entirely possible. Educating your techs in customer relations is the answer to most, if not all, forms of negative speech. Whether it’s a formal, class-like session, where techs are given scenarios and taught how to respond, or a team meeting that addresses the concerns I’ve laid out here, managers need to broach the subject of what should and should not be said to a customer. 

Constant reminders are essential because you’re asking workers to go against their instincts, more or less—not to mention, old habits die hard. But soft skills like these are what will make a tech excel in his career, saving your company’s reputation in the process. 

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