For manufacturers, equipment usage and outcomes, whether jet engine thrust or MRI machine uptime, are increasingly the “product” being sold. It’s a significant change in the service and manufacturing industries, fueled by IoT-enabled equipment capable of generating loads of data. One result is that companies can no longer afford to treat service as an overhead expense.
Continuous service contracts that cover maintenance for a machine’s lifetime are an important source of revenue. But there are still C-suite leaders who don’t care about service, a risky attitude that can filter down to customer-facing employees in the field.
“At the end of the day, management directly impacts whether an employee will take responsibility and ownership for the customer’s problem,” says Steve Burrows, managing director of SBA, a management and business technology consultancy.
“Leaders, whether they like it or not, are stamping their culture on their organization,” says John Hamilton, president of Service Strategies, a customer service consulting and training company. “If managers don’t lead by example, it permeates and threatens the culture of the organization, creating one of mistrust,” Hamilton says.
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Managers don’t even have to be blatantly negative to put a damper on employees’ attitudes. “It’s not so much negative attitudes as it is disinterest,” Burrows says. Too often, managers are removed from the day-to-day of their staff. That’s especially true in field service, where technicians may not even report to a central office before heading out on a call.
Here are three ways managers can positively impact their frontline workers’ attitudes.
Tip 1: Walk the Talk
One common complaint among field service workers is that managers seem too aloof, Hamilton says. One way managers can better relate to techs is by going for ride-alongs. “They can see what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a field engineer. Also the word gets out to the other folks in the field that this manager is taking the time to spend a day to come out on a service call to see what life is like,” Hamilton says.
Tip 2: Focus on Non-Transactional Metrics
“Management needs to be able to measure and value the benefits of reputation and customer loyalty,” Burrows says, adding that too often management sees service as a cost to minimize. If they treat it as an opportunity to differentiate, rather than a line item, they’ll have a major competitive advantage.
Tip 3: Communicate with Purpose
The very nature of field service often makes it difficult for managers to be in tune with the teams that they lead. Workers in the field may hear rumors, for example, that cause unnecessary fear and mistrust. Managers need to regularly communicate on a personal level with each of the individuals on their teams.
“Scheduling out those communications so that they do actually happen is so important,” Hamilton says. When communication is sporadic, people tend to feel isolated and neglected. Managers should make it a point to call individuals once a week or schedule monthly group conference calls, Hamilton says.
At the end of the day, if managers show enthusiasm for great service, their teams in the field will follow suit. “It all falls down from the top as to whether the company wishes to be seen as a provider of first-class service, or if it’s in the business of performing equipment repairs as economically for itself as it possibly can,” Burrows says.