Engineers have a lot to do, even after they've solved a customer's complaint.
Be your own critic
It is always appropriate to ask yourself, "How am I doing?" Are my skills everythigs they should be?" These questions are not just for annual reviews, nor are they only relevant when broached by supervisors. A keen interest in self-improvement, both honing existing skills and learning new ones, helps keep up an engineer's level of interest and motivation, as well as increase overall job statisfaction. To that end, institute yor own personal lessons-learned program to critique yor customer service skills. This analysis might include reviewing a recent project from start to finish, including:
- Conversations with those inside and outside your company. Were they friendly and successful? Did ou have trouble getting what you wanted or needed?
- E-mail and other nonverbal communications. Were they perceived as clear, understandable, and complete by the reader? Or did you have to follow-up with clarifications?
- Technical skills, Are they advanced enough to devise and implement solutions correctly and quickly?
- Company knowledge Did your knowledge of channels within your company contribute to a quick fix?
Assess weak points in the chain of events. Determine what resources could be used to bolster specific skills. A refresher course, for example, might be useful for polishign technical skills, A continuing education course through your industry's trade association might give you some customer-service tips or best practices. Or, a question-and-answer session with your supervisor could shed light on the best people to talk to within the company when problems arise.
New engineers, generally speaking, should observe customer relations before taking on a customer's problem alone. Several skills that indicate an engineer is ready for fieldwork include:
- Effective communication with people inside and outside the company.
- Problem-solving and analytical skills.
- Even temer.
- Clear and complete understanding of products and applications.
- Strong project management.
THE FIVE-STEP FOLLOW-UP
Unofficial follow-up programs, in which engineers arbitrarily decide whether or not to call customers, are just not as effective as formal ones. There will always be customers who do not get a call or times when the call doesn't follow the script. So company management should administer formal programs.
The person who led the solution team should take charge of follow-up with that customer because he or she thoroughly knows the problem, as well as the customer's needs and attitudes. The customer should also be more likely to take that person's call. And the lead person will call at regular intervals, including:
First call: No later than one week after a corrective-action report has been issued and your company considers the problem solved.
Second call: A month after last call. Third call: A month after last call. Fourth call: A month after last call. Fifth call: Four months after last call. This builds in regular follow-ups over six months. After the half-year mark, the engineer can check in again with the customer every six months. Follow-ups can also coincide with contact by other team members working with the customer.
LEARNED YOUR LESSON?
During the follow-up process, the engineer has a chance to digest what the customer has told him and determine where his company needs improvement. Perhaps the customer would have liked a more cross-functional team to create and implement the solution, or maybe the customer found the corrective action report more confusing than enlightening. No matter where the issue lies, this feedback can help the company move in the right direction.
Lessons-learned programs translate customer feedback into best practices and disseminate them across every layer of the organization. Again, formal programs are preferable. Vital information often slips through the cracks of informal setups.
This initiative garners many benefits for companies including:
- Fixing problems without fixing blame.
- Serves as an informal training tool for employees at all levels and departments.
- Helping employees better understand their jobs and their colleagues' jobs.
- Preventing future mistakes.
The program should be easy to carry out and generate a lessons-learned report for every project. Keep the report concise and easy to read for busy colleagues. The report and any other findings should be distributed immediately. Waiting for formal newsletters or other company communications wastes time.
Once the engineer or team leader completes an agreed-upon cycle of follow-up calls to the customer, the leader must analyze the project, looking for problem areas. These should be written in a short, bullet-point format, with each point accompanied by at least one proposed solution. Send the suggestions to department heads, as well as company leaders, such as general managers and marketing and sales teams, for review. This lets department heads decide how best to share the information with their teams. They may choose e-mail, or passing along a memo. Or, if suggestions focus on a particular department, a departmental meeting might be best.
Delving into customer complaints may seem like overkill, but consider all that can be gained from a more-efficient and effective workforce and fewer customer complaints.
Customers can offer valuable perspectives on your company. After all, they are the company's lifeblood and their perceptions are reality.
So an engineer's communications with customers from the first phone call about a problem to the last follow-up conversation are all opportunities to better understand customer needs and perceptions. Take lessons from them and share that knowledge with the rest of the team. It may not be possible to completely get rid of customer complaints, but perhaps the real goal should be to help each other be as perfect as we can be.