How to Provide Exceptional Aftermarket Service

Service reps encounter all sorts of issues from limited availability of technicians to parts shortages to setting up new service accounts, and these issues must all be simultaneously addressed while still meeting customer demands in a timely fashion.

When a customer has a problem with a product or a service, they have just one thing in mind: their immediate need for prompt, competent and friendly service. The customer is focused on finding a solution to his or her problem—and it’s up to the supplier to determine whether the problem can best be solved by technical assistance, timely product delivery, prompt and accurate field service, or a combination of all three.

Providing aftermarket service can be stressful for both the customer and the supplier as, at first glance, most problems appear to be mission critical with an immediate solution required. But by delving more deeply into the effects of the issue, suppliers often can come up with creative solutions that satisfy customer needs without unduly upsetting normal supplier service procedures and scheduling. The key is communication between the front line service reps and the customer, not only initially, but every step of the way until the issue is finally resolved to the customer’s satisfaction.

Scheduling service may sound simple to the customer, but it can be quite complex for the supplier. Largely unbeknownst to the customer is the behind-the-scenes work that suppliers do to ensure everything goes as smoothly and as quickly as possible with little or no impact felt by the customer. 

Service reps encounter all sorts of issues from limited availability of technicians to parts shortages to setting up new service accounts, and these issues must all be simultaneously addressed while still meeting customer demands in a timely fashion. 

Service reps have to allocate limited resources among multiple customers, and this often necessitates schedule changes, and the diversion of parts and technicians from one customer to another. Knowing how to balance customer needs and make optimal resource allocations is a key skill for customer service reps, and it can often be the difference between a satisfied and a disgruntled customer.

When adjusting schedules, a key point is determining priorities, and that’s often decided by the degree of customer need. Is the customer a hospital where lives could be at stake? Are they a school or a retirement home where children or the elderly could suffer? Is someone without water, power, heat, or air conditioning? These potentially life-threatening situations must take precedence.

But in other cases, the bottom line is the driver, particularly when a production process is shut down until a situation can be resolved with a supplier. If a customer is losing thousands of dollars per minute due to downtime, a solution needs to be determined and implemented as soon as possible.

The most important rule for allocating limited resources is keeping the lines of communication open among the service reps and the customers. If a critical situation arises with one customer, service reps can often talk to other customers who have service schedules already in place to ascertain if these customers can accommodate a delay.

If the customer is kept informed and made a part of the scheduling process, they will often agree to a schedule adjustment, particularly if a line of trust has been built, starting with the initial contact. In many cases, just by picking up the phone and making a two-minute call can save time and aggravation on both ends. This personal touch is much appreciated by customers, and often is sorely lacking in today’s world of voice mail answering systems and automated email responses.

Another key resource allocation task is making sure that all necessary parts are in stock prior to finalizing a particular customer’s service schedule. Knowing stock levels keeps reps from making promises that can’t be kept, a sure way to create bad feelings and damage trust.

Having the right parts ready when needed often requires a tool set of solutions that constitute a backup plan. One tool is to stock a separate and dedicated quantity of parts for common service items. Another tool method is to maintain a network of distributors that may keep stock of specific parts that they can ship immediately. Having an alternate source for commonly used service parts can be a saving grace in critical times. 

If field service is needed, an important scheduling task is matching the right technician with the particular service issue, as disaster can strike if the wrong person is dispatched to a customer site. Service reps must have training records up to date and accessible for all technicians, both in-house and third party.

Key field service scheduling factors include:
  • Location, how close is the technician to the site?
  • Response time, how quickly can the technician reach the site?
  • Expertise, what products is the technician trained on, and is he or she up to date with certification?
  • Competence, how good is the technician at solving problems of this type?

A great way to track the competence of each technician is by sending out a survey once the service has been completed. This performance report card yields valuable information regarding technician performance, and can also be used to judge overall customer satisfaction.

Service technicians must effectively communicate with the customer from the initial call to final resolution. They also need to have a backup plan for parts supply, along with knowledge of technician availability and skills. A climate of trust must be maintained with the customer at all times, which means never making promises that can’t be kept. Following these guidelines will keep service techs ready for effective action at all times, and this in turn will help build repeat business.