“Once upon a time, there was a beautiful princess, who lived in…where?”
Thirty pairs of wide eyes fix on the speaker, and 30 kindergartner hands shoot up.
“Yes, you?” she calls on one of them.
“Good! A castle! And in this castle, there was a…” she pauses, and 30 hands pop up again, faster than brokers on the NYSE floor.
The 30 attentive kindergartners in question had been a mob-like milieu mere minutes prior. Now, they were fixated on the teacher at the front of the class.
So was I, for a different reason: I was watching a raw example of how stories shape our experience. By telling a story and getting the kids involved, the teacher in question had silenced the combined power of kindergartner adrenaline, Fruity Pebbles sugar highs, and the residual effects of a 24-7 kid-sploitation media.
This was the day I learned that “the power of storytelling” isn’t just a cliche. A story ordered that classroom the same way stories order our experiences.
That’s why this post is about ridiculous field service stories worth sharing. I could just list good and bad field service practices, but you’d forget them in 15 minutes. Stories, however, stick with you. Moreover, they’ll do a better job of ordering your future experiences.
Also? They’re a lot more fun.
1. Wet vac disaster averted
The first story comes from service industry expert Bill Pollock, president of Strategies for Growth. Pollock has run a professional service industry consulting business for decades, but it’s a story from his personal life that stands out.
My story’s halfway between field and professional service, and deals with a carpet cleaning company. They dispatch the field force to go out and use wet vacs and dry vacs to clean carpets in homes and commercial establishments. This experience is a classic example of turning a disaster into a ‘no way in hell I’ll switch from this vendor.’
I called them to schedule an appointment for all the carpets in my house. I was working out of my home office. The technician’s working in an upstairs bedroom, and I hear a pop, and the technician yells, ‘oh crap!’
I walk to the doorjamb of the room where he’s working, and the guy asks me not to come in. I said no, I need to see it. The wet vac hose had exploded—it hit the walls, the ceiling, the carpet, the bedspread, the drapes.
The technician said, ‘give me 45 minutes, and this room will look like it did before. Every once in a while,’ the technician said, ‘a hose explodes. We have a rigorous system of monitoring the hoses, we look for leaks and stretches, and anything that looks like it will be potentially damaging, but things do happen.’ I said, ok, and went back to my office, thinking there was no way he could make it spotless.
About 50 minutes later, the guy says, ‘come on in, I want to show you something.’
Everything was spotless! He’d even made the bed. There wasn’t a hint of the earlier trouble. If I hadn’t been in the house, I never would have known anything about what had happened. On the way out, I said I wanted to call his manager to say what a great job he’d done. The guy thanked me, and said he’d noticed my three Oriental rugs, as well as a small spot on our sofa. ‘If you don’t mind, I’d like to clean the three rugs and the sofa for free.’
Anyone can come in and do a fantastic job, but to come in and have a disaster happen and be able to fix it like that, is, for me, the greatest success story in customer service and field service I’ve ever seen.
The moral of the story? Every disaster is an opportunity, if your customer service is good. What could have resulted in litigation was instead a major success story, all because the technician realized what the customer needed and wanted.
2. The Northwest Territory Compaq Iditarod
The oddest experience I had was as a senior level technician with the now defunct Compaq Computer Corporation. It was midwinter, and one of the worst winters on record in North America. I got a call from a fellow in the Northwest Territory in Canada. He was having issues with his system board, and the computer would not boot. We went through all the troubleshooting, and I determined the board was bad. I advised the customer that his warranty covered on-site repair for the first year, and I would have someone come out and replace the system board. The customer responded, ‘I don’t think that’s going to be possible—we just had three feet of snow on top of a five-foot snowpack. He probably won’t be able to get here.’
I pondered for a moment on how to respond to this, and then I told the customer that I would order the board, send it by air to Anchorage, and leave it up to the technician to determine how best to get the part to him. The customer agreed and said if it had to wait for spring he would be OK with that.
A couple of months passed, and as I was working, I overheard a coworker speaking to a customer. It appeared from the conversation to be the fellow from the Northwest Territory. I asked if I could speak with him, and when I got him on the phone I asked how the repair went. The customer replied ‘Dang great service sir! Your company is unbelievable. I never expected to get my computer repaired before spring, but two days after we spoke I got a call from your tech. He asked if I would be home in two days, so he could come out and fix it. I told him I would be, but warned him that he may not be able to get here with the snow. Two days passed, and there he was at the door—all dolled up in his business suit, with his tool bag perched on the back of a dog sled! He wasn’t looking too happy either. He said he had driven to the nearest town and when confronted with the snow he contracted with a dog sled team. Two days from town by dog sled, and he fixed the computer in less than an hour! Well, we put him and his sled team up for the night, and my wife fixed them a nice meal. Best service I’ve had from any company. You’ve got my business!’
The moral of the story? One moral to this story is obvious: dedication pays off. Another, however, is that this technician could have benefited from the telematics capabilities of modern field service management software. Though I doubt anyone’s going to outfit a fleet of dog sleds with a GPS trackers, your field service technicians can benefit from route optimization, even without having to hire a team of huskies.
3. Did you try unplugging it?
The third yarn’s from Gene Caballero, cofounder of GreenPal, the Uber of lawn service.
Before I started my entrepreneurial journey, I was an outside sales technician for a Fortune 50 company. I was a level-three technician, so I would only be sent out to our ‘white glove’ customers in the event of a catastrophic event. I had 24-hour direct access to our smartest engineers, if there was something I was not able to troubleshoot.
I got dispatched to one of the largest universities, which had requested someone come onsite immediately because one of their exchange servers was down. I drove two hours to access the situation.
I knew the IT director, because I had been out there before, but needless to say, this was a wasted trip. After entering their server room, I ran my diagnostics, and there was not any power going to the mainframe. Come to find out, the UPS (uninterrupted power supply) had been disconnected. I didn’t have the heart to tell him, so I told him that the power supply was bad and just fixed it. Literally, it could have been up and running in seconds.
The moral of the story? Customer service can matter as much as field service. Knowing how to finesse a situation is an important part of the overall service experience.
4. Be our guest…
And speaking of the overall experience, one thing great field service technicians know is that they’re a guest in their client’s house. It’s a lesson that one of the young technicians R.J. Schuster worked with learned the hard way. This story comes from his book “101 Ways To Suck As An HVAC Technician.”
Today, there is competition, and fierce competition at that. It’s not enough to just show up and fix the problem (although, it seems that we can’t always even do that!) Usually, you need to put on ‘the show,’ which we’ll talk about again and again in this book. Part of that show is to prove that you care about your customer’s house by keeping it clean. That could mean any number of things, but for now, let me tell you about Eddie.
Eddie was a service tech who was usually good at what he did, although definitely hyper and always scatter-brained. One day in mid-March, he was sent on a no-heat call. He was having a hard time diagnosing it, so I went to see him on the job site. It had snowed the week before, but today the sun was out, and it was about 35 degrees out. As I pulled up to the house, I saw that the warm day had turned the driveway into a long mud pit, and Eddie was parked about 100 feet away from the house. In his defense, that was as close as he could have parked, but that’s all I will defend.
I grabbed my booties, and made my way to the house, where I saw that the customer had placed a small drop cloth in the doorway. Beyond that was a trail of muddy foot prints across (and I know this sounds like I made it up but it’s true) the brand new white carpeting. The extra carpet scraps were even still there. Well, I cleaned up the footprints before the customer could see them, gave Eddie a pair of booties to put on now, and I decided I would deal with the ‘coaching sessions’ later.
As we figured out what was wrong, I sent Eddie out to his truck for a part. I wandered over to the window as he left the house only to see him walk through the mud, with his booties still on! ‘Ed, what are you doing? The booties!’ I yelled. He got to the truck, and then took them off. Once he found the part, he walked back through the mud, into the house, and onto the drop cloth where he put his booties back on. Yes, he put the same ones on that he just walked through the mud with, and, of course, continued across the new, white carpet. Did I mention it was white?
The moral of the story? Don’t forget about “the show,” and realize that the role you play isn’t just that of a repair person, but also that of a guest.
5. Privacy is overrated
First-timers in any industry are going to make mistakes. The downside? You goofed. The upside? So long as your boss isn’t Darth Vader or a Bond villain, mistakes aren’t the end of the world. They can make for great stories, and those stories help us remember the right way to do thing.
A rookie plumber in England had installed a toilet. When his boss asked him how he’d done, the novice stated, “[expletive-ing] not bad.”
Sadly, the emphasis was on the “expletive-ing.” “You wouldn’t do me a favor?” the boss responded, and asked the apprentice to close the bathroom door. And close the door he did—right into the toilet. The U.K.’s Daily Mirror has a video clip of the failed toilet installation, which is amusing, but, be forewarned, the plumber doesn’t say “expletive-ing.”
The moral of the story? Measure twice, cut once. It’s good to be excited about your job, but don’t let it lead to mistakes.
Field service stories I haven’t heard?
I hope you have some field service stories I haven’t heard. If you do, I’d love to read them in the comments section below. Every story you share is another chance for another technician to learn something new!
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