How to Provide Excellent Customer Service in Emergency Field Service Situations
In the modern age of online guides and DIY freedom, there are two primary types of customers who will call in the assistance of a field services business: Emergencies and everything else. In general, the ‘everything else’ includes a wide range of businesses, busy homeowners, and DIY hobbyists who know their limits and are all relatively easy to deal with as customers. However, emergency situations require a special combination of experience and social delicacy in order to best help people who may well be having the worst day of their lives. In order to deal with these extreme, upsetting, and sometimes time-sensitive circumstances, both the office and field teams need to work together to soothe the customer, get the job done, and form a lasting customer-service provider relationship and sometimes this task is not easy. Customer emotions may be high and their composure is often tightly strung over an underlying wave of the panic that spurred them to call for help in the first place. It’s important to be prepared for everything from tears to rage even if your service engineers do the job perfectly.
What an Emergency Looks Like
Whether your business handles HVAC systems or cleaning services, your field teams have most likely seen all manner of work order situations ranging from simple check-up maintenance to complete disasters and the range of customer responses are just as wide. While safety is always the first priority, what counts as an emergency is really based on the perspective of the customer. For some, having the hot water heater lose efficiency just before holiday relatives arrive is worthy of tears and screaming while others may be amicable and friendly while standing knee-deep in basement flooding. The first step to successfully handling a distraught and urgent customer is to never overreact to customer emotions or minimize their concerns.
Every customer feels differently about the work orders they have to call in, and these emotions have much more to do with them than any member, team, or service your business provides. During an emergency situation, emotions will be high and the responses you see will vary wildly. Some customers will be nearly incoherent with tears while others may be shouting mad. A few might even handle the situation with apparent calm accompanied with wicked biting sarcasm, everyone deals with their panic in their own personal way. While every customer response should be taken seriously, none should be taken as a personal comment on the service you provide, the professionals who file the work order, or those who arrive on-site.
It’s also important to remember that homeowners aren’t the only customers who get distraught. The business world is a fast-moving and often high-stakes environment and a repair or maintenance issue could make or break a company, or even just a single employee of that company. Having the plumbing or HVAC system go out at the wrong time could wreck or postpone an important meeting and problems with any sort of ‘utility’ service has the potential to completely destroy a presentation or manufacturing process. This means that even businesses who call for field service assistance can be experiencing the array of emergency-response emotions.
Starting on the Phone
Excellent customer service for field industries often starts on the phone, though in the modern era the first contact could also be an email, online chat, or even through the company’s social media account. However the customer contacts you, it’s important to handle them properly from the first moment, especially if it’s immediately apparent that their call is not a casual routine request. Start by listening to them all the way through. If they want to, let them tell the entire story of how the situation occurred, what they feel about it, and what they’ve tried or thought about the problem. Not all the information will be relevant but it will help them feel better, deal with you more calmly, and may contain a few pearls of useful circumstantial data. A few polite probing questions may help to complete this process. The next step is to calmly collect the necessary information like their location and the time frame they need service to be in before the work order can be completed. At the end of the call, give them a reasonable ETA and try to establish a way to keep them posted on early arrivals or delays as travel times vary.
When your field service professional or team arrives, the customer may come out to meet you, might be ensconced monitoring their problem or, as is sometimes the case with pest control, might even be hiding somewhere on the property. No matter how you encounter the customer or how distraught they are, make sure to keep things professional, impersonal, and calm. While you may be prepared for tears or panic, don’t forget to prepare for irrational rage and accusations of lateness, as this is not an uncommon reaction for customers experiencing an emergency. The key is to not take any emotional outbursts personally and to politely find your way to the situation you’re here to help with.
Reducing Customer Panic
Especially if the customer is in tears or obviously fearful, it can be tempting to offer reassurances right away but it’s also very important that you not give any estimates or make any promises that might need to be amended after you assess the true situation. When a customer greets you in a distraught state, keep your reassurances within the bounds of things you are absolutely certain of. This will help root them into reality without providing false hope, just in case the situation is worse than you imagined. It is, for example, perfectly safe to reassure a frightened customer that their cockroaches will not suddenly grow large fangs but not that you can definitely fix their plumbing problem in 30 minutes until you’ve had a chance to completely examine the problem and consider the steps required to fix it. It often helps if you can talk to customers during the process including a number of jokes to get them laughing and relaxed.
Not Taking Offense
We’ve touched on not taking customer emotions personally, but it’s worth covering more thoroughly that no matter what the customer says or how emotionally they say it, their emergency is not about you or your team. Some people get mean when they’re scared, and some might even open the door hurling insults and false accusations but everyone on the team must ensure that these upset words are not taken as offensive, even if they would be in other circumstances. Whether they claim you’re late, overcharging, or even if they simply lurk and suggest incompetence the entire time, stay pleasant and finish the job as quickly as you can.
After the entire process of taking the distraught call, calmly gathering information, and repairing their problem on-site, there are two ways your customer relations can go. They can become a one-time, one-emergency customer or someone who will call you at least once a year for regular maintenance to avoid this emergency happening again. The difference depends heavily on how you respond to them, how quickly and well the work is done, and your own intentional outreach. Whether or not the customer has calmed down and becomes friendly during the repair time, make sure to warmly give them your card when the job is finished. Let them know that their patronage is valuable to them and that you’d like to both hear from them soon and see them again as non-emergency customers later on. You may be surprised who takes you up on the offer as even the angry ones can recognize good work when they’ve finally calmed down.
When you put the effort into customer service, the customers will reward you with appreciation, high ratings, and repeat business. Excellent customer service techniques are the key to handling any field service emergency situation, no matter how big or small the real work may be. For more helpful information on providing excellent field service customer relations, please contact us today!