All service companies, regardless of size and function, have the same goals and different methods to accomplish them. Though, in water companies, one result more often than not seems to bubble to the surface with higher-rated companies: client loyalty. Whether your client is a homeowner, hospital director or industrial manager, how you treat them and how timely you react to their needs often determines whether they call back. How you react to their communication and respond to their needs with speed, the right parts and answers can guide the next decision they make with their water system.
Communication is Key
Calls and emails come into the office from clients, sometimes after normal business hours. How do you respond? Do you put them on a list, or immediately react to them as the number one priority? The reaction is the second step, not the first. The first step should be acknowledgement; the size of your firm and your interpersonal communication style will dictate everything after that.
Whether you take down information on the phone when customers call, respond to an email to say, “I will get back to you with some information very soon,” or send a response of acknowledgement to a 3 a.m. emergency message, you need to communicate in some fashion. After the initial response, do your best to determine all the facts and issues that are present so you or your staff can respond appropriately to the service call. The information gathered prior to responding avoids return trips to the client and gets them up and running faster.
The goal is to diagnose as much of the problem as possible before you get to the site. It likely takes time in front of the equipment to determine the exact problem, but preparation creates a dialogue and trust between you and the client. If the client knows you have come as prepared as possible, generally you will either walk out of the facility a hero or your client will understand you tried everything you could to get them back up and running even if you need to return to fix the issue.
Even if you will not be able to address the physical problem until hours in the future, your response time in conjunction with communication is what kindles customer loyalty. Many clients have a strong knowledge base, and even if they do not, they often come to the phone with a part on hand or a good deal of information about the problem. If they present the need to order the part, I recommend responding with affirmation of the need, a timeline to get the part and at least a rough figure of the cost. If they present only the fact that a system is down or broken, ask as many questions as necessary to see if parts are required or if troubleshooting over the phone is a possibility. Getting the owner involved on simple issues and in a safe manner often is the swiftest and easiest way to solve a problem, and it will garner more loyalty.
When all else fails, gather the necessary parts and tools, and head to the site. Do not over commit yourself, which is easier said than done. When possible, do not short another client to react to someone else unless you have made the proper arrangements. When talking with the client, be sure to have a plan that you discuss with or email to them. Sometimes getting to the site is the plan, but have a solution in mind that you can relate to the customer prior to arriving at the site.
Speed is not just about getting to the site. Planning and setting all the parts in motion to fix the issues that have been presented to you is the fastest and most efficient approach. It often is just as fast, if not faster, to follow a prescribed plan rather than jumping into an issue head first.
Having a good parts resource can make or break good service companies. Whether you use a “just in time” approach or stock items for a rainy day, eventually every service company needs something quickly that they do not have on hand. For example, my company needed greensand for a client with an overdue re-bed and we did not stock that particular brand. Fortunately, we elect to have two possible supply sources and a couple of regional partners to barter with in the event that the supply houses do not stock what we need. When one did not come through for us, other options were available.
Make sure you invest the time to determine if you have reliable resources that either stock what you need, have solid relationships with manufacturers, or, better yet, both.
After the plan is approved and the parts are secured, the most important item is left: diagnostics. Whether you are introverted or overly social, you need to have a diagnostic process. Diagnosis is not just telling the customer what you think is wrong, it is figuring out why the system failed. Flicking switches and turning dials is nice, and billing for items that fail helps the business, but understanding the system that you work on or knowing who to call for guidance is much more important.
Approach each system in the same manner by understanding the piece that does not function and how the system moves water. Make sure you understand if there is a temporary work around available to get the water flowing again. Once you understand the system, you can communicate options for the client during your diagnostic process. If you do not understand the system, components or functions, make sure you have manufacturer resources available that you can consult for help. Try to give your client as much information as possible, but do not guess and offer incorrect information. The latter wastes both time and the client’s money, which etches away at loyalty. Sometimes the best response can be that you do not know the issue, but will get back to them with the answer in a timely fashion.
Diagnosing a water issue can get complex when general mechanical issues (fouling, reduced pressure, stuck valves, etc.) cross paths with chemistry (exhausted resin, pH, dissolved matter, etc.) and electronics. It is important to use your system knowledge and eliminate as many issues as possible before chasing others. This is just as important whether your focus is pretreatment or high purity. Simple steps for diagnosis are the following:
- Gather data from the client on what the issues are and visual or non-visual issues with the system (i.e., high dP, reverse osmosis alarming, pump leaking, etc.). Pictures are helpful, as well.
- Review the system and note anything out of normal parameters.
- Review the stated problem (i.e., controller error, pump malfunction).
- Record data from the system (i.e., voltages, gauge readings, burned boards, etc.).
- Safely bypass the issue to see if the system will run.
- Record the problem.
- Correct the problem by fixing the issue, or ordering parts and bypass the system if permissible and necessary.
- Document the process. Review the issue with the customer and notify them of the schedule for the fix if it cannot be done immediately.
Once you have communicated the issues and the suggested next steps, the information that you have given to the client helps them have some control of the next steps. This is key to the success of the relationship.
There is not a book that will help with every client. Regardless of your approach, you should understand what they need and respond to that need effectively and efficiently. Ultimately for dealers, the best customer relationship is one in which the customer returns time and again for service. Communication is the cornerstone for success with almost all customers as it breeds the loyalty that the service industry needs to survive.