Field services have long been a difficult offering to keep revenue growing, quality high and costs low.  Whether we are talking about computer storage solutions or industrial hoses on drilling platforms these solutions enable production and sales and must be monitored and maintained on time and kept functioning because of the revenue, cost and safety impacts. Combinations of third party maintenance partners, remote monitoring and diagnostics, parts logistics, and training have all played a significant role.  However across this systems and teams services have been inconsistently delivered and in large volume industries independent outside parties have offered cut rate labor and off brand parts have reduced the service revenues to the manufacturer and channel and left behind possible future major issues.  Many industrial and POS systems have 20 plus years of accident free useful life when maintained correctly. The acceptance of shared support applications have been blocked by channel and service partners don’t necessarily want the manufacturer to have their customer information due to the risk of the manufacturer going direct to the customer and cutting out the partner.

In the meantime, access to GPS, GSM, RFID, POS, WiFi, Sensors, Smart Phones, and Satellite technologies have become pervasive and ubiquitous even in remote locations and the third world.  Integrating these technologies into an improved delivery and shared support system via the Cloud is complex, development intensive, and costly.  Building an integrated process with a cloud application and the right partners can massively reduce the complexity, risk, development and costs. This new capability provides the manufacturer with a service offering that can yield additional business revenue, cost reductions and differentiation while improving service standards, lowering training costs and providing access to compatible or refurbished parts and information.

In a recent example; InSync along with AT&T, AMCI, Motorola, Angel, Salesforce, Zenprise and Rackspace all teamed together with a Global Industrial Hose Corporation to deliver a worldwide integrated Industrial Hose Maintenance and Support Solution for their distributors and channel partners servicing Oil and Gas Drilling sites and Heavy Construction Equipment.  Many of these sites are located in the remote areas of West Texas to Dubai and the North Sea.  The solution needed to track new hoses from manufacturing (often custom), certify them for their purpose through to the installation and maintenance as well as ongoing tracking of their usage conditions (Temperature, Pressure, and Hours) and eventual replacement.  By monitoring the usage conditions via Sensors (communicating via AT&T and AMCI) the company is able to predict (via their Patent Pending Algorithms) accurately the maintenance and replacement needs to coordinate services trips with planned maintenance windows eliminating unscheduled downtime. Detailed work orders provided by InSync via Motorola MC75A certify the steps competed, time, location, and photographs of the results.  The work orders and maintenance steps are downloaded to the Motorola MC75A via the InSync Mobile Application. The work order steps can be changed and implemented in real time by the company experts wherever they are located and not wait weeks for IT. The installation, replacement and work order data is synced in near real time via AT&T Global and WiFi to the InSync Cloud Application hosted by Rackspace.  Access to customer contact details is only available to the distributor or the partner but the technical data is available to the company to predict replacement resources for planning and product improvements.  Because of the predictive IP, differentiation, productivity, service level and business intelligence provided by the solution, the company is reselling the Solution on an annual subscription basis to their distributors and service partners.   The combined team will provide technical support by InSync via the Cloud services from Angel Telephony Service and EveryWAN Remote Support integrated with the Salesforce Call Center and Knowledge Base applications.


When I first heard this quote I first thought it was Patton or a Tech executive but no it was a founding father Thomas Paine (English born American Writer and political pamphleteer, whose ‘Common Sense’ and ‘Crisis’ papers were important influences on the American Revolution. 1737-1809).   I have seen the quote contributed to Ted Turner but no that is not the case.

With any next step and in order to execute you have three choices; Lead the execution, follow the leader or get out of the way, PERIOD.

The perfect game . . . rare if not impossible in most of life, work, and sport.  My service teams have delivered to 96% and 97% customer satisfaction rates but never 100%.   These are world class numbers and the team that delivers them should be rewarded. In running any customer service business this is something you have to be comfortable and happy with, because there will be mistakes and the game is to provide a return to investors and enable the success of your customers.  It is a people business, resources are finite and not every situation can have a perfect outcome.  People can fail, systems can fail, expectations incorrectly set and communication can be misunderstood.  I always remind my teams that baseball players get millions for being right less than a third of the time, learn from your mistakes, fix the problem and then get on with the next issue.   Don’t negatively dwell on the mistakes or limitations but catalog them mentally (situation, response and result)  for the lessons you learned.  Too many formerly successful companies grab failure from the mouth of victory by dwelling or worse punishing imperfect execution.  Instead celebrate the successes and learn from mistakes.  There are too many variables in life and nature to expect perfect performance.  Take the advise of a founder father:

“I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection.”
– – Thomas Paine

The first surprise for some senior executives is that that good and great support results in more cases.  While this may seem counter intuitive and scary to those who fear of cost per case and worship call deflection, this is a good thing.  Great service as defined by fast response and resolution time via correct answers changes entire nature of the relationship with the customers.  Quality support is more than offering SLAs.  Support means giving customers someone to contact or even call when there is a problem or they have a question.  Customers grow to depend on support services (via phone, email, chat, automated, knowledge base,  pro-active, etc.) that are predicable and delivered in a reliable manner. Customers will use support more often and learn to trust the service and seek advise.  The result is a lower cost per case, better margins, better and more successful utilization of the products and customer buy more products and services.  With more calls, you move up the learning curve faster. Very simple model.

Those who fear the cost per case (and more cases)  in the situation described above have to remember that poor service causes higher cost per case because of fewer calls, poor product utilization, lower sales, and customer distrust.    Better service equals better value and higher account renewals and sales. Companies that are satisfied with 75% to 89% customer satisfaction are leaving money on the table.  Long term poor service can create a a downward spiral customer returns, lower sales, declined service renewals and lower margins.  Bottom-line poor support is the greatest case deflector because no one wants to call.

90% plus customer satisfaction should be the target metric.  The number one support process issue in a company should be collecting and processing feedback from customers.  This process goes to the heart continuous process improvement.  The number two process is service readiness.  This is that group of processes that delivers on-going training, new product training, tools, and service automation.  All of those efforts drive up product and service quality and lowers cost.

Why doesn’t it happen at all companies if its so simple?  Fear of cost rather than focus on delivering value.  Also because its requires hard work and a passion for improving the customer experience.    Why do we do it?  Its fun to solve problems and take on new challenges.

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall – Confucius 551-479 BC

Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity – Gen. George S. Patton

Give your team directions and goals and let them go.  They need the what and not the how or the lines to color within to grow and bring innovation.  When you let your team use their own ingenuity you help drive increased capacity to add value to your customer.  They could fail and getting up and trying again they grow in both knowledge and confidence.  With confidence your customer will feel greater trust and that trust can release the energy that may be blocking there progress and success.  Success leads to great customer satisfaction and more sales and lower costs.  Its not a difficult process to understand it just takes managerial courage to get it started.

If your team can only work within the lines you draw for them, you will never get to the service productivity needed to grow rapidly and scale.

For a long time I knew I wanted to write about how do work with difficult customers but I could not come up with the right title that both expressed humor and notion that you have gone too far until I saw this sign in a shop in Fredricksburg, Texas.

The first point about a customer going too far is to not let it go that far.  This process while simple can get lost in the focus and analysis needed to solve a customer issue.  The prevention is to set up the action plan with the customer, time expectations, follow-up, keep the customer informed and reset action plan if needed.  Follow-up with that model and you will keep the customer working with you.

From time to time you do run into a customer that is at its kindest, difficult to work with.  Most of the time behind the scenes things are happening that you are not privy to are the cause of those problems.  As you sense the customer’s  boiling point rising you may need to dig for those problems by being open letting the customer know you sense there is a problem and how can you help.  It may be a good time to bring in your manager to talk to the customer’s manager to assure them all is being done and you have the right person on the case.  At other times problems outside your control may be the cause and you have to fall back to letting them know that you understand there concerns and they may be valid.  Use the words “However correct me if I am wrong but we agreed on the action plan and is it still the the right course of action?”  This approach can free up the energy to get the problem solved.

At other times there are customer through no fault of yours, the product, or keeping the customer informed they become too abusive and too painful to work.  Get your supervisor involved and perhaps escalate to the customer’s supervisor involved.  In the few times I have had this happen to me, the supervisor was already aware of the problem with the individual and acted quickly to get another person on their team involved to resolve the situation.  In a very few case the individual was already on their way out the door with several previous warnings about their behavior.

From a customer service perspective, conversations with customers can blow from a combination of  different directions or styles.  These can be described as  defensive, elusive, friendly, and authentic.  If you are not aware of the tactics you,  and that of the customer’s are using, you can waste a lot of time and frustrate both sides.  Like the wind we cannot change the customer direction but we can adjust our sails to get the right tacking.  By choosing the working style most appropriate the work will move faster with much better results.  Lets look at each style, their tactics and the right strategy for each.

DEFENSIVE:  The me only customer is abusive, hostile, and intimidating.   This is not about you but the use of a tactic to get a reaction and intimidate.  From the customer perspective this person is seen as a hero going into battle the evil service prevention department.  Thus they likely have some history on their side and they did not want to call because of that history.  The strategy is to avoid arguing, absorb the initial abuse and probe assertions.  Be firm and stay focused on the problem by using facts,  summarizing often and moving in small steps to gain confidence and show progress.   As trust is built the process will move faster.

ELUSIVE: The not me customer.  This customer is a time sink.  They often delay, recant, procrastinate, use quasi-data, fail to follow-up,  and  then nit pick.  These folks have a ton of work to do and are going to work late again to try to catch up.  Their staff has been cut and new technologies added to “help them” do with less staff.  Their behavior can be shy, cautious, distrustful, questioning, and apathetic.  The strategy here to avoid going too fast keeping emotions under control.  You will need to summarize often pinning down their understanding of the details while stressing the routine nature of the solution.  Follow-up often and keep them on track.

FRIENDLY: The you and me customer.   This customer is too friendly and tends to be too social and compliant.  The result is the customer stays at too high level or big picture and glosses over details that are actually needed to solve the problem.   This customer is often an expert in one area but unfortunately not the area the problem involves.  This is about pride.   With this customer you can’t inundate with information but you have to keep them on track and keep looking to uncover the missing information, deadlines and artificial limits the customer is placing on themselves on what they can do or how much time they have available.  Keep it friendly and supportive and avoid criticism, and be patient.

AUTHENTIC: The Us customer.  This is the flexible customer who is open, authentic, and consistent.  They involve others and deals with the situation.  This is a high trust situation on both sides.  There are no games here and this customer is on top of the situation.  Your strategy is to check often for understanding and be prepared to deal with your own weaknesses while remaining flexible and looking at all the options.

No customer blows from just one direction so recognizing where the wind is blowing goes a long ways to speeding up the process.  Recognizing when the wind changes and respecting the implications of that change is critical.