You work every day with new technology to improve your IT systems, product offering and create new solutions for customers. But are you giving the same consideration to using new technology to improve your field communications? Communication technology is not just for salespeople and upper management. In fact, communicating with your customer in the field can be the difference between being a good integrator and a great one.
Every day we face issues on projects, delays in schedules and unexpected surprises. Experience says that customers don't like any of these things (especially the surprises). They go into a project hoping, perhaps believing, that there is a perfect plan that will be executed as expected. Anything different means money and resources that they hadn't planned on. But we know that these unexpected things are going to happen. The key is to communicate an issue as soon as possible.
Without the use of current technology, effective communication can be cumbersome: the field person places a call to the project manager or engineer, who then has to track down the salesperson or some other support person, a strategy is created and then the customer is contacted. By this point, the problem may have developed into a bigger one than you accounted for with your new strategy.
But let's say your field person and project manager have an iPad, smartphone or other mobile device. The field person sends an e-mail or GPS coordinates to all parties at your office who can address the situation. The project manager and salesperson can then each respond immediately with input. As a result, the project manager should have everything necessary to create a strategy and can immediately send that information to the customer in a detailed form. Imagine the possibilities-pictures of the situation for all to review at the click of a button; multiple options created and presented to the customer; and immediate response to keep the customer and other parties aware of the situation.
Interestingly, advertisements for smart phones, portable electronic notepads and the like are brilliant at demonstrating these situations. We see commercials about logistics companies and delivery organizations which show stark differences in effectiveness between companies who use these technologies and ones who do not.
Use the right response tactic
The best way to handle unexpected situations is to communicate with a swift, proactive response. When a delay is imminent or a promised date may be missed, don't just let it pass without contacting your customer. They may react unfavorably at first, but in the end there is a good chance that they will be appreciative of your honesty and for letting them know quickly before the issue became larger.
Keep in mind that just giving field personnel devices and telling them to go forward will not achieve the desired results. Chain of communication must still be established to make the tools useful. Having a valuable e-mail, text or download is worth nothing if you don't know the correct person to send it to. With a good plan and a clear understanding of each role in the process, these tools are invaluable.
Technology keeps you in touch with your customer and lets them know you are on top of what is happening to their investment. Utilize the latest tools to aid in your correspondence with customers and others but also practice proper communication etiquette. Don't let important information go unaddressed for days. The problem may be simpler to address than you think and in the end you will have a happy customer, one who is sure to last.
Peter Kavouras is the operations manager for SimplexGrinnell, Cincinnati. He has 15 years experience in the security and fire alarm industry.