When an angry customer writes a negative review, a fully empowered team fails to resolve the issue, a highly competent service technician quits the job out of frustration, troubling questions inevitably arise about what went wrong.
Could the crisis have been averted if…?
The “ifs” for many stop at the change of tools or a new action plan. But a rare few manage to break the chain of thinking and identify triggers that may have caused the problem.
These triggers in the service business could be found in the way the situation has been dealt with.
Who handled it?
Was the way the technician approached the problem right?
Would the result have been better if the technician had taken a different route to solve the problem?
Contemplating these factors becomes necessary in crisis because an ideal service response involves both technical competency and soft skills. While technical competency is required to fix the problem, soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, and execution excellence are needed to break through the initial chaos caused due to the problem and form an effective coalition to provide a resolution.
What are soft skills?
Soft skills are non-technical personal attributes that are useful to complete a job within an organization. These skills help professionals work in harmony with each other and make better decisions in the workplace.
How far can the soft skills impact the service response and its success?
Are soft skills learnable or teachable?
Or these are inherent characteristics of a person formed in their early life or based on educational qualifications?
These are not simple questions to answer, and could only be answered by someone with deeper experience in the service industry and problem management. In our attempt to get the answers, we combed through hundreds of job postings and talked to recruiters, field service leaders, and our own customers with field service operations to identify the top 10 soft skills for service technicians and how they impact business success.
In our conversation with service industry insiders, we found a set of practices they stress to drive the service response and achieve expected results. The critical factors that stood out in the conversation about top 10 soft skills were:
1. Commitment is a service essential
While many would not really consider “commitment” as a skill, but a personal trait, it is widely prevalent in every aspect of service response. As it is the commitment that inspires an individual to assume the responsibility towards a task and achieve the expected result.
A service technician who is committed to tasks reflects a “whatever it takes” attitude in everything they do. It is evident in their thrust to develop competencies in using power tools for maintenance works or in the sense of urgency to resolve customer issues. A service technician committed to the task is focused and effectively prioritizes their actions to achieve results.
A service manager we talked to said,
“Commitment is a service essential. It has no trade-offs,”
And that makes perfect sense, as for example, a highly skilled technician without commitment could not be trusted for a job where timlinessness has a cost associated with it or negligence to compliance may lead to serious consequences.
2. Master the “When” in Communication
Bruce A. Breeden, in his book The Intentional Field Service Engineer, states that “proactive communication is a must” for field service engineers. He elaborates that FSEs need to keep a bigger picture of customer relations in mind, which requires them to “communicate, communicate, and communicate—proactively.”
In the daily tasks of field service technicians, their ability to present ideas, concepts, solutions, and information effectively affects their job performance and business success. Having good communication skills for service technicians is not a “competitive advantage” to get a promotion or a trick to win more business, but a bare necessity to perform the routine tasks.
A technician with good communication skills knows when to stop talking and start listening, when to speak with authority to negotiate a deal, and when it is the right time to tune down the ego to build a consensus.
3. Make a Conscious Decision to Hear
Many people mistake listening for hearing. The hearing could be unintentional, or may not require participation or influence decision-making.
Listening on the other hand is a conscious decision to understand the viewpoint of the speaker and demonstrates responsible behavior. Active listening induces empathy, which is “the ultimate form of customer insight,” according to Don Peppers, founding partner of management consultancy, Peppers and Rogers Group.
When you empathize with your customers and colleagues, it reinforces that you care, value their opinion, and would act in their best interest. This is how customer relationships are built in the field service business, which according to Mr. Breeden, with 37 years of experience in the field service industry, is “the principal responsibility” of a field service engineer.
4. Thinking “What and Why” Without Biases
Global consulting firm, McKinsey, has enlisted critical thinking as one of the “high-level skills that will become increasingly important” with the rise of digital and AI technologies in its latest article, “the future world of work”.
Critical thinking is a subset of the cognitive category of soft skills, which further splits into 4 parts:
- Structured problem solving
- Logical reasoning
- Understanding biases
- Seeking relevant information
Field service technicians, who mainly serve as liaisons for problem solving and escalation, need critical thinking skills to:
- Analyze the problem
- Interpret or advise appropriate personnel
- Create a recommended plan for specific action
- Execute the plan or assign the tasks to the right person for the job, and
- Provide feedback to the operations staff
At every step, from the creation of a service ticket to the resolution, technicians have to act as the service owner for the operations staff and customers.
Critical thinking abilities enable them to seek accurate information and overcome biases, which is essential to identify the appropriate causes of the problem to draw a conclusion. It makes field service engineers resistant to misleading information and misconceptions and pushes them towards precise solutions quickly.
5. Going Beyond a Convenient Prefix
Proactive has become a convenient prefix for many elements in field service in today’s time, mainly inspired by proactive maintenance strategies. However, its presence in the service industry is undeniably historical and important, best explained in the words of the successful entrepreneur, Steve Shallenberger, an “action today can prevent a crisis tomorrow.”
Deloitte, the largest professional services network in the world by revenue and number of professionals, in its article, future of field service, also emphasizes on being proactive for early and accurate detection of incidents and to deliver elevated customer experience.
Being proactive helps field service engineers to take action in time before they escalate into something bigger, focus on desired results, demonstrate a “can-do” attitude, and act on feedback to prevent future conflicts.
6. No “us versus them,” It is not a Competition
Problem-solving in the field service industry has many layers, which involve a large number of people from diverse roles, technical competencies, and skill sets. These teams are often vulnerable to “us versus them” thinking, which makes them withhold information from one another or prevent taking up responsibility towards tasks owned by other persons or departments.
While companies use digital tools for transparency and effective collaboration between teams, efforts are needed to create a service mindset that lets everyone see the common purpose. “While the tools are necessary, service managers cannot rely on them entirely and put soft skills essential for teamwork effectiveness on the back burner,” said an HR personnel, with 7 years of experience in hiring for the field service industry.
Concerted efforts are required to build a strong process and cultivate a service mindset that inspires field service teams to work cooperatively with one another to accomplish common objectives, share each other’s ideas and opinions, and support the team’s decisions.
7. The “How” of Service Delivery
Execution is the “how” of service delivery. It is the “ability to achieve individual goals and objectives,” as defined by the HBR.
As individual goals of the field service technicians are relative to the quality of service delivered, cost incurred to deliver the service, and customer satisfaction provided by the company; developing execution skills becomes imperative for the service technicians.
An excellent execution skill is evident in the technician’s ability to manage multiple schedules, effectively prioritize tasks, use goals and processes to create guided action plans, and optimal utilization of resources. Companies also must take significant steps to help technicians manage day-to-day execution by empowering them with powerful field service management tools for faster turnaround time, high first-time fixed rate, and low operational cost.
8. The Devil is in the Details
Field service organizations are collecting data like never before. From people to equipment and service requests to resolution, every aspect of the field service could be tracked and monitored in real-time, which provides a huge set of information about the company, client, and the service tasks in the hands of the field service technicians.
To optimally use this information in the best interest of the company and the customers, service technicians need to be detail-oriented. Being detail-oriented requires them to pay close attention to all the information provided to complete the tasks.
A very basic example could be reviewing the historical trend of breakdown of an equipment the technician is there to repair, identify patterns, and address the core issue before it leads to heavy losses either in replacement or down-time.
9. Not a Stranger Anymore
Mr. Breeden, who started out as an associate field service engineer and advanced up in his career to vice president of service operations, explains that “people do business with the people they trust”. People typically trust whom they find consistent and respectful—one that they believe has similar values.
With rapport-building skills, it becomes easier for the field service technicians to generate customer’s trust in them and the company in the process. Having excellent rapport-building skills means an ability to establish a connection with the customers or colleagues, with whom they can share information and work together towards a common objective.
10. Overcome the Effects of Derived Demand
Advancement in manufacturing technologies and the adoption of new technologies in the consumer segment have derived demand effects on the MRO sector, which brings automatic changes in the requirement of technical competencies in maintenance professionals. As these derived demands are outside their control, they have to constantly update their learning to be relevant in the industry.
Learnability in service technicians is about getting new skills or improving their knowledge about the new products, or an updated version of the products and associated maintenance issues.
It not only helps technicians to resolve the issues more effectively but also to outperform at work and have a long, satisfying career. As for the company, it saves their critical resources spent on hiring and training the new employee to become productive, which takes around 1 to 2 years, according to Training Industry Quarterly.
The Trio: Skill, Action, and Impact
Take a quick look at all top 10 soft skills for service technicians, what action each skill influences the technician to take, and their impact.
Act on Soft Skills
As said, “you don’t need the best people, you need the right people to make your business succeed”; people who are committed, who can work in harmony with each other to accomplish common objectives.
The right soft skills in technicians make it easier for service leaders to make them “right for the business,” and to inspire, educate, and train them to achieve great things in life and in the service industry.
4. Free Download: Technicians’ Cognitive and Soft Skills Assessment Framework Template
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