Sponsored by AUE
By Jim Carr
Imaging techs need a variety of skills and experience to do our jobs properly. Because our jobs are so technical, there is a tendency to focus on that, and not give enough time and effort to learning and practicing what I believe to be just as important; the soft skills we collectively call customer service.
I have known several field service engineers that were not the best at the technical part of the job, taking longer and more calls to complete a repair than anyone else, yet their customers absolutely loved them! Those people tend to be naturally charming, people that could as easily be in sales. But even for those who possess that talent, the ability to be friendly and a good communicator under any circumstance is difficult.
By our nature, most imaging service engineers are task oriented, analytical, dogmatic, and are generally perceived to be introverted (especially when we are working). We rightfully take our jobs seriously, and need to concentrate so we can diagnose and fix the problem as quickly as possible. Those are all good qualities for our job of repairing scanners, but not so great for communicating with other human beings.
Many customers will tolerate a fair amount of a less than personable behavior from their service tech, understanding that we might have different personality traits from, for example, the salesman that sold them the scanner. If they trust you, know the status of their scanner, and issues are resolved in a reasonable time, they are OK with us not being outgoing. However, to be a truly great imaging tech requires customer service skills that are better than the average person typically possesses at birth. We need to be better than most at patience, listening, communicating bad news and responding to customer concerns.
Whether a customer is explaining the problem they have, objecting to a policy, or is unhappy with the results of your service call, you need to carefully listen to their complaint, employ patience and not take it too personally. A good technique, especially if you need a moment to formulate a response, is to play-back what the customer said by paraphrasing and possibly adding a question to make sure you fully understand their issue.
If they complain about something, like the price of the part or the fact you haven’t fixed the problem yet, it is important to acknowledge their right to have their opinion. The response could be similar to “I can understand why you think that. Let me try to explain why this part costs that much.” Don’t be argumentative, pass the buck to your manager or disparage your company. And whatever you do, do not lie to your customer. Maintaining your credibility is critical and if you are caught in a lie, it will cause problems from which you might never recover.
Communicate Your Plan and Actions
After you acknowledge and investigate the problem, explain your plan to address their issues and the timeline. When there are multiple issues, such as they have a problem you need to fix plus they want information on a new system, provide a summary. If you don’t complete the call, tell them the next step and when you will be back. If a part shipment doesn’t come on time or you’re running late, apologize and let them know when you will be there, as soon as you can. Provide regular progress reports, without overdoing it and annoying them.
Adapt to Your Audience
Our customers come from varied regions, backgrounds and cultures. Knowing the best methods of communicating with each one is difficult, but also important. Many will appreciate it or even expect you to make a little small talk. Finding out and remembering some personal information about them shows you care about them as a person, and helps establish a bond. (Use your contact manager to record the names of their spouse and pets when they tell you.) Do not overstay your welcome, though; we all have work to do. Some just want it quick and to the point. If they don’t ask if you are married or where you grew up, they probably don’t want you to ask them those things. When you find a method that seems to work, stay with it. Being able to adapt quickly, and being sincere and consistent in your methods of communicating with variations to fit each customer, is a trait of world-class customer service.
Learn and Practice
Imaging techs often have to think and react fast when communicating with an unhappy customer. Training that includes role play is important in order to develop and practice the skills so they become a learned response. Thinking ahead about what a customer’s response might be will help you prepare for an upcoming conversation.
Great communication and customer service skills can be the toughest part of the imaging service job. We spend months and years learning the technical knowledge we need. Put time and effort into learning communication skills, and then practice and improve them throughout your career. It can help assure your job and take you to the top of your profession.
Jim Carr is Director of Service and International Operations for AUE. He may be contacted via email at JCarr@auetulsa.com.