Service professionals are often an untapped goldmine for increasing an organization’s revenue. Whether working in a call center or servicing a site, they are the frontline, trusted advisors of their customers. While sales professionals are often perceived as having an agenda – service professionals aren’t, giving them greater access to people, places and insights.

Service professionals have the opportunity to strengthen business relationships and gain more insights into customers’ needs. With this knowledge, they are better able to leverage their expertise and partner with customers to ensure those needs are met.

Service professionals are in the unique position to observe how the company’s products and services work in tandem with others. They can learn which competitors’ parts and products customers are using, and – with enough trust and skill – they can even learn why. Service professionals can observe opportunities to make value-added recommendations regarding new products, enhanced services and customer training. They can ensure customers have the appropriate equipment and service level for their needs. Service professionals have the ability to demonstrate value to the customer, in turn strengthening customer relationships while adding value to the business.

Meeting Customer Needs While Maintaining Value

Every customer has needs. Yes, they need to ensure the product is up and running, but they also have personal needs: to be assured, to be heard, to understand and to be understood. Often, service professionals are engaging with a customer who is anxious, unsure and under pressure. Service professionals have an enormous opportunity to ease that pressure. These opportunities elevate service professionals’ role and consequently strengthen the relationship. Repair people and technicians are often perceived as interchangeable; trusted advisors are not.

It’s also important to note that service professionals have an equal opportunity to damage relationships and cost the business money. With customers frequently under pressure, service professionals face many requests and demands. There is often added pressure placed on service professionals to provide free parts, services or training; do work beyond the stated scope of a job or underbill for services; provide services that are not covered under a warranty or work overtime for free. The overt cost of these concessions may seem obvious. Even if a service professional made only two concessions a year, for a company of 200 reps, that can easily amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. For a company of a thousand reps, the loss enters the millions.

While service professionals may intend to strengthen relationships by agreeing to customer demands, there is more often a boomerang effect. When something is given away, the product or service is naturally devalued in the eyes of both the giver and the receiver. The relationship weakens as customers expect more concessions in the future, and, as soon as a rep is unable to meet a demand, trust erodes.

Adding Differentiated Value With Soft Skills

Most service professionals are proficient at the technical aspects of their job. However, many are less proficient, or at least reluctant, when interacting with customers. It’s easy to overestimate the customer’s understanding and appreciation of all a service professional accomplished on any given call. While the solution may have ultimately been replacing a switch, that doesn’t account for the diagnostics the rep performed to arrive at that solution or any other service that might not appear on the invoice. The service professional must make sure their value is seen, and that requires engaging and involving the customer.

The most brilliant doctors in the world rely on the insights provided by their patients. Regardless of doctors’ technical and medical proficiency, their ability to efficiently diagnose and prescribe is directly linked to their ability to work with the patient. That requires skillful and purposeful probing, listening and responding. Patients can feel rushed, panicked or unsure, and our customers are the same. Service professionals must take a proactive role in skillfully and purposefully guiding the dialogue to accurately diagnose and prescribe a solution.

Enter COVID-19

According to one study from the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA), 78% of service organizations polled completely stopped sending technicians to customer sites during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. With eight out of 10 companies restricting or eliminating on-site dispatches, service professionals are more frequently diagnosing and prescribing remotely.

Video technology is a powerful tool, but without that capability – and even with it – the service professional is completely dependent on their ability to evoke, elicit and glean the insights necessary to resolve issues. The ability to prescribe and install solutions remotely reduces the need for travel and the potential for exposure. And though the COVID-19 crisis will ease at some point, the obvious economic and logistical benefits to remote technical support will continue to add value in the new normal. Skillful communication will be your competitive edge.

Of course, sending service professionals to sites will be inevitable at times. That said, with restrictions surrounding travel and access to customer sites, representatives must be able to work more efficiently to understand the issue, solve problems, communicate updates, gather valuable insight and even make additional recommendations.

Further, as products and services evolve to keep up with the drastically changing environment, the value a trusted advisor can bring by proactively updating anxious customers is greater. People don’t know what they don’t know, and service professionals can become invaluable informants. To inform a customer requires involving a customer. For example, according to a TSIA survey with service professionals in March, only 6% of those polled had reached out to their customers to discuss or renegotiate service level agreements in spite of disruptions to the organization and its processes.

Though that percentage has increased somewhat since March, TSIA pointed out that, “While moving in the right direction, this lack of engagement remains a major gap for field service organizations.” They go on to recommend proactive communications with customers: “These are not normal times. Normal contracts and communications are insufficient.”

For all of the necessary technical and product training that organizations must invest in for their service teams, it’s easy to overlook and underestimate the need for soft skills. However, leaving this goldmine untapped could be to the detriment of the service professional, the customer and the organization. Tapping it will require organizations to acknowledge and invest in the cultivating service professionals that are able to communicate, involve, and work with their customers.