Answering the Service Call of Duty

Those who look at service calls as a headache and a drain to the bottom line are missing the boat. Proper training all down the line from sales to installation to service to customer minimizes service call frequency and maximizes opportunities.

Celebrating 2013’s Small Business Saturday here in Orlando, Fla., brought to mind a tech service story I would like to share about a favorite service company in my neighborhood. Although it focuses on an air conditioning systems service provider, it has relevancy for security systems service specialists as well. The fact is that no matter how specialized your technical products and services are, the fundamentals of quality service calls are all the same.

Living in Florida you learn quickly to revere your AC system and, more importantly, your AC service person and company. A short while back, I was having trouble with my aging AC system and called my company for service. Over the years I had grown to rely on not only the fine and prompt service the company had provided, but the professionalism and technical wisdom of my AC serviceman.

This last AC service call was special for both myself and the service provider. In just a few well-chosen words, he explained the problem and the pros/cons of considering a new system installation. This turned out to be what you would truly call a win-win situation. I finally purchased a long-needed, more efficient and technically advanced system, and the company made a nice upgrade sale with a new system that going forward will be easier to service and repair.

As a security systems contractor, the big question to ask yourself and your staff is whether service call fundamentals are being carried out properly. Let’s review some ways to make your service operation more efficient, more profitable, and more enjoyable overall for your customers and service staff.

Analyzing Top 5 Service Call Causes

A recent SSI Web poll asked, “What is the most common reason for a service call?” The results, while not totally surprising, reveal important areas that need our utmost attention if we are to stay competitive in this rapidly changing technical world.

1. THE ALARM USER. More than a third of the survey respondents (36.7%) stated the alarm user was the reason for the service call. What was the user’s real issue? Did they have a false alarm due to not understanding the system’s functions? Did they not understand how to operate modes such as ‘stay’ and ‘away’?

Prompt service is important; however, do not just throw any technician at the customer because the customer said they had some trouble. Be sure to have technically knowledgeable staff politely contact the customer to find out exactly what is the problem. Apply simple concepts, like who had the problem, what was the issue, and where, how and when did the incident happen? This can be done in a few simple questions. Your company should develop its own service call triage methodology. It will save you time and money in the long run. A skilled support person can often help the customer over the phone and make sure the best tech and solution is available.

In many instances, the biggie here is training the customers to better understand and use their alarm systems. Maybe training was hurried at installation or they now have new users who do not understand how to arm/disarm the system.

The call may have been motivated by a false dispatch fine. One of the biggest failures by alarm company management here is to assume that if you have smart technicians you have qualified trainers. As a manager you must take the time to train your technician to be better at training the customer.

I always remember the Confucius saying, “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.” It may appear to a technician that the fastest way to training a customer is to explain how everything works. The best way to train a customer is to take the time to have them manually operate the alarm system. The technician should ask brief questions in order to verify they understand what they are doing. Technicians should also learn to use layman’s terms rather than techie terms the customer probably will not understand. Remember, when a trainee is asked, “Do you understand?”, they will almost always respond, “Yes.” Ask simple, direct questions like, “What should I see on the keypad when the system is turned on or armed?”

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About the Author


Bob is currently a Security Sales & Integration "Tech Talk" columnist and a contributing technical writer. Bob installed his first DIY home intercom system at the age of 13, and formally started his technology career as a Navy communication electronics technician during the Vietnam War. He then attended the Milwaukee School of Engineering and went on to complete a Security Management program at Milwaukee Area Technical College. Since 1976, Bob has served in a variety of technical, training and project management positions with organizations such ADT, Rollins, National Guardian, Lockheed Martin, American Alarm Supply, Sonitrol and Ingersoll Rand. Early in his career, Bob started and operated his own alarm dealership. He has also served as treasurer of the Wisconsin Burglar and Fire Alarm Association and on Security Industry Association (SIA) standards committees. Bob also provides media and training consulting to the security industry.

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