Karl Baum is managing director of F-TEC, the UK's technical training centre for forklift engineers. Established by the FLTA and BITA, its primary objective is to raise training standards in the UK.
While customers typically buy their first forklift via a sales person, it's said that service engineers are responsible for selling that second, third and fourth. Indeed, the person who cares for the machine is often the one caring for the customer, too. Despite having the power to make or break a relationship, these pivotal roles are almost always carried out by someone with no formal customer service training.
Like many other sectors, our industry invests a great deal of time and money to ensure technical and engineering staff are properly trained: equipping them with the practical skills appropriate to the tasks facing them. However, that training almost invariably stops well short of the interpersonal skills needed to retain business and generate further sales.
The F-TEC process is underpinned by five key principles of customer service:
1: To customers, front-line representatives are the company.
Customers are usually unaware of what goes on behind the scenes, so their opinion of your organisation stems from 'customer touchpoints'. These occur each and every time a customer meets your company... and influences the customer's perception of all you are and do.
Because they are in direct and regular contact with customers, your frontline employees - especially service engineers -are responsible for the majority of 'touchpoints'.
Investing in their communication skills is an investment in the customer experience.
2: Employee satisfaction matters
Studies confirm a strong link between an employee's job satisfaction and the quality of his or her performance. Customer service is intrinsically a rewarding job - it feels good to be of service; to make life better for someone else. It's at the heart of a strong culture of customer service. But, it's a risk unless the individual feels valued by his/her employer. Without job satisfaction, there's a danger they'll do just enough to get by.
3: Show customers they're valued (don't assume they know it)
The most effective way to demonstrate how much you value your customers is by meeting their needs quickly and efficiently.
But, this isn't enough. Your customers' needs go beyond a 'transaction'. They want (and need) to be appreciated, respected and to feel that your company genuinely cares. And this needs to be expressed to them clearly.
Encourage your employees to end customer conversations by telling the customer that their business is appreciated.
4: Look inwards as well as outwards
All too often, companies are good at external customer service, while internal customers are given less priority (which could come at a high cost).
Why? Because, inevitably, somewhere down the line, the service provided to an internal customer will show up in an external customer transaction. The timing, quality, and accuracy of communications with colleagues will help them succeed in their own work. A true customer service culture doesn't differentiate between internal and external care. It's about excellence in every task.
5: Train your staff - and hold them accountable
Don't take it for granted that employees know what's expected. You can't expect them to meet your standards until you've given them the knowledge and skills to do so.
They may have good instincts, but you'll need to show them what good customer service looks like in practice. You will need to teach them your company's customer service policy, alongside job-specific skills.
Once trained, employees must be held accountable for putting their customer service skills into practice. This means clear and consistent coaching on an ongoing basis. F-TEC can provide the necessary help, guidance and training to help facilitate this.
Positive engagements with your customers add real value to their experience, opening the door to future business ...