In the inaugural episode of the Five Questions for a Field Service Expert Podcast, we chat with Jim Baston, author of “Beyond Great Service: The Technician’s Role in Proactive Business Growth.” Jim offers great insights on how to empower field techs to drive new sales opportunities and contribute directly to service revenue. The episode runs about 17 minutes.
If you prefer, you can read the full transcript below:
Mobile Reach: Welcome to the Five Questions for a Field Service Expert Podcast. This is the show for field service professionals where we dig into the big questions about field service delivery and management. Every episode, we ask a field service expert five questions that can help you do your job better.
Today we’re talking to Jim Baston, president of BBA Consulting Group. BBA focuses on helping field service companies develop and implement strategies that transform field service personnel from service delivery professionals who do their jobs quite ably to enthusiastic promoters of their company’s products and services. So, Jim focuses on two worlds essentially, field technicians as service professionals and field techs as business development professionals. So, thanks for being with us today, Jim.
Jim: Well thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Mobile Reach: Great. Well, listen, we have five questions for you as we do with all of our field service experts and the five questions are unique to your area of expertise. So, let’s jump right in. Jim, you work with field service organizations to make them more sales-minded. In your experience, what’s that one sticking point that you encounter most often in getting field service leaders and technicians to think about their jobs in sales terms?
Jim: That’s a really interesting question. I think it boils down to one of perspective. That is, the whole perspective of what sales is and who sales people are. And, as you can appreciate in the service industry, it’s not always a positive view. I think the biggest sticking point we have is helping those technicians realize that actually promoting their services in a positive manner for those customers that can benefit is actually more of a service than a sales activity. And when they don’t see that, they don’t necessarily see promotion as part of their jobs or part of the jobs of the service team and therefore want to avoid it. I think the other aspect of that, too, is a concern about trust with the customer. I think there’s a very real and genuine concern that by encouraging the field service technician to be more active in promoting services that you actually may erode the trust you have with the customer. So, I think those are the big sticking points.
Mobile Reach: That’s really interesting that the notion of trust is so subjective or squishy. How do you gauge the degree of trust of that relationship?
Jim: It is really interesting because if you look at the various roles within that service organization, I would suggest to you that the person with the highest level of trust is the field service professional. You can see evidence of that every day.
My background comes from the sales side of the business. In my own experience, I would often make sales calls with the field service technician with me to promote a particular product or solution to a customer. The field service person would be there to provide technical information and support. What is interesting is that when I would make a claim of what the benefit of this particular product or service was, invariably the customer’s eyes would move from me to the field service professional to get that nod of approval that what I was saying was actually correct.
The reason they have such a high level of trust is that they are not there to sell anything. They are simply there to serve the needs of the customer. That’s why they have that close relationship. Also, trust is based not only on the personal level but also on the professional level, meaning that the customer has high levels of trust in that technician’s competence and in the quality of the work they do. And certainly, the technical person within the organization probably scores higher on the professional trust scale than anyone else.
Mobile Reach: That does make a ton of sense. And you go into this in-depth in your book “Beyond Great Service: The Technicians Role in Proactive Business Growth” that you published a few years ago. I wanted to explore one idea that you kind of unpack in that book in detail. How do you go about shifting the reluctant service technician’s mindset so they become more open to selling?
Jim: The first thing is to help the field service professional understand that promoting services to a customer is really a service, it’s not a sale. It’s part of their job. And in my mind, it’s every bit as part of the job as the ability to fix things or repair or maintain the equipment they are servicing. I think that once you help them understand that viewpoint, they are much more willing to become engaged in participating in it. The problem is today we often use terminology like selling and winning orders and things of that nature. With the field service professional that’s not necessarily viewed positively. I think we need to help them understand that they should only make recommendations where the customer will benefit. Don’t try to sell the various services simply because you offer them. Then, make sure you get the right people in place so they can follow up and support the customer and allow them to make an informed decision of whether or not to go forward.
Mobile Reach: Is there a certain type or size of field service organization that seems to be the ripest for this type of thinking?
Jim: No, I I think smaller organizations probably have an advantage because they have more control over the culture across the entire organization than perhaps larger ones. And also some of the important interacting divisions in the company are probably closer as well. As an example, an important component of the efforts of the field service technician is the role of the sales department. Because in many cases the field service person will find an opportunity that would benefit the customer but the details the customer required to make a decision would probably come from the sales department. So having a clean interface between the two is very important. At a smaller company its easier to control and get consistency across the organization. So apart from that, there’s probably not a great difference in terms of one being riper than another going forward.
Mobile Reach: OK, it’s good to know there’s parity in that regard. I imagine, though, that there are gotchas or moments of doubt or backsliding. What are some of those pitfalls that a field service organization could potentially fall into when attempting to reorient their thinking around more of a biz dev or sales posture? And then, how do you avoid them?
Jim: I think there are quite a few pitfalls sort of laying in the weeds. If you don’t address them I think you are in trouble. We’ve already talked about a couple of them, including the technicians’ view of the salesperson. Technicians don’t often have an overly positive view of the sales department or salesperson. So, if they feel you are asking them to become a salesperson themselves, it’s unlikely they are going to be enthusiastic about becoming one. That’s not why they were hired. So, they may pay lip service to the initiative but won’t engage fully in supporting it.
And related to that is the customer’s view of the technician. Again, we touched on this earlier, but one of the reasons they customer has trust in the technician is because they are not there to sell them anything. They are there to serve. And if or when the field service professional starts to act like a salesperson, it confuses the customer and erodes that level of trust which gives them that opportunity in the first place to make a recommendation that will be listened to.
Another thing to think about is the processes and systems that are in place to support the field service professional. If they make a recommendation to a customer, and it’s not appropriate followed up on, chances are they are not going to be enthusiastic about making it again. Sometimes you are asking them to do something which involves them to make some effort, So anything we can do with the tools and automation available to us that will support them and make it easier for them will really help to ensure they continue to follow on with the practice.
One of the most important pitfalls is lack of management, coaching, and support. This often happens with a service organization as it tends to be a day-to-day business. There are always fires to put out and things occurring that you hadn’t anticipated at the beginning of the day. It’s very easy for management to not take on the less urgent tasks of coaching and supporting their employees. It’s interesting to note that probably the single most factor of success will be the efforts and activities of the field service management in supporting their field service employees as they move to become more focused on business development activities.
And then finally, I would suggest the interpersonal skills that are necessary to conduct a conversation with a customer about a recommendation of a product or service, many field service employees would feel uncomfortable in engaging those conversations, because they may not be used to them. So it really is important to provide techs with some simple approaches they can take and use them until they are comfortable. Because if they are uncomfortable, they probably won’t engage at all.
So, how do you deal with all of these? I think it’s really quite simple. The first is to ensure the technicians fully understand their roles in making recommendations as a service and not a sale. And ensuring they only talk to the customers about their company’s capabilities when they truly believe, using their knowledge and experience, that it’s in the best interest of the customer to go forward.
It’s also important to look at processes and systems and making sure their fail-safe in how opportunities are captured and addressed. Then, making sure that there is good communication back and forth between the tech and sales department so the technician is kept fully informed. And, of course, that you fully utilize the tools you have available to you to support the activities you asking the field service professional to do. Management plays a big role as we mentioned before, so look at what you can do to support the field service technician as they grow in the particular area. Also, watch your language. Make sure you’re talking about the initiative from the perspective of the customer and not necessarily the service company. So instead of wins for the company, it’s more savings and benefits that the customer is enjoying as the result of the activities of the field service technicians. And then providing either through a third-party or internally some coaching and support on how to conduct those conversations with the customer and perhaps having some role play activity to practice in a safe environment.
Those are the pitfalls and some of the ways to address them to ensure they don’t come back to bite us later when we’ve made this large investment in engaging our technicians to then not being particularly happy with the results.
Mobile Reach: That’s fantastic and as comprehensive of you as that is into the pitfalls and how to address them, I know you also have a planning guide which is a complement to the “Beyond Great Service” book that walks a field service leader or leadership team through this type of transformation and helps them look out for these types of potential setbacks.
Jim: It’s just a step by step guide that ensures you don’t miss anything as your putting together your plan to engage the technicians. It’s also for those that are already doing it and not getting the results they expected. It may provide some insight into things they are or are not doing that is preventing success.
Mobile Reach: Awesome, and we will give your website at the end of the podcast. Last question for you, Jim. This is actually question six, so we’re not staying true to the podcast, but nonetheless, we had to get that trust question in there, haha. So I imagine there are all kinds of benefits to top line, but maybe not so obvious, what are some of the advantages a field service organization sees beyond, of course, new money in the door, from this type of transformation to becoming more sales oriented?
Jim: Well, I think there are a few benefits beyond top line sales. One is that if the field service professional is truly acting in the interest of the customer, they will uncover some unmet customer needs that perhaps even the customer hasn’t anticipated. That directly impacts customer satisfaction. So an organization should see customer satisfaction rise. And, as a consequence of that, seeing retention scores improve and that is a big component in terms of the overall success of the service organization over time. I also think that by engaging field service technicians in this way it creates a more exciting environment for the technicians themselves. They can start to see real value in what they do and get personal satisfaction from it. And so it really helps to include maintain employee retention because it becomes a more exciting place to work.
I work with a company on the West Coast that has really adopted this culturally in a very large way. And they also no longer have to worry about hiring new employees. Because good potential employees, some of the best of the crop, come to them on a regular basis looking for a position because the organization has become the place to go for field service professionals who want a career that’s exciting and an opportunity to really advance. Those are some of the things we can see as a result of engaging our technicians in this way that goes beyond simply more revenues and more profits.
Mobile Reach: Awesome. There you have Jim Baston, president of BBA Consulting. You can learn more about Jim and his consulting services at http://www.jimbaston.com. Jim, thanks for much for all the expertise you shared with us today. This has been Five Questions for a Field Service Expert, and we look forward to working with you again in the future.
Jim: Thank you very much. I really appreciate the opportunity.