Flying the flag for service engineers

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The independent service engineer is facing very tough times. At the annual conference of DASA, the industry’s trade association, the sector’s experts and suppliers reviewed ways of improving its profitability and suggested ways of modernising its service offer. Anna Ryland reports.

DASA, the Domestic Appliance Service Association, represents companies repairing major appliances in the white goods sector. The association’s members range from one-man operations to companies with over 50 engineers, repair-only companies and retail and repair companies. Its associate members are also intermediary work providers and manufacturers – striving to provide a better experience for the consumer and a fair work environment for the engineers.

In today’s difficult trading conditions, the service sector, like the rest of the electrical industry, suffers from declining profitability. The fast changing technology also means that the engineers have to service products incorporating sophisticated new systems often without adequate training, while both manufacturers’ and customers’ expectations of service provision are constantly rising.

The key issues

At the annual conference of DASA in Peterborough, Steve Debeger, DASA chairman, described to IER the main challenge the industry faces at present: “It is the distribution of the service income. The provider of the service is not necessarily the party that receives the equitable value from that service call. Another issue is the fact that other people, not service engineers, are driving the service offer expectations. When a service offer is requested, a supplier issues a service offer, which has to be met by a service engineer, who often does not have any involvement in formulating these expectations. We need far more dialogue within the industry and understanding of the costs of providing service and the way the provision of service is recompensed.

“The next big issue is provision of training. This relates to both professional qualifications, and some regulatory control of them (such as are in the gas or electrical industries), and to customer service. Some progress has been made with regard to customer service training, as some companies have taken advantage of the NVQs courses on offer, but the admin staff taking the calls would still benefit from such training.”

Another key issue which the sector needs to address is the perception of a repair process, commented David Wild, DASA marketing & communication executive. “An appliance repair is seen as a necessary evil, not something which should be a worthwhile experience for the customer. Hence there is a degree of animosity between the customer and the engineer even before the engineer arrives. Therefore the engineer has a big job countering this and giving customers a good experience. Sometimes manufacturing companies offer customers service which is not backed up by resources to complete them successfully. These offers are made without the involvement of the servicing company.

“When the service repair is done out of the warranty period,” continued Mr Wild, “a customer has to pay a certain amount of money for the service. Manufacturers, insurance companies and work providers are all pitching for this money and taking a slice of this income. The repairer who performs the service, but is at the end of this process, gets significantly less than before. At the same time the customers’ expectations are higher. The manufacturer also expects the repairer to give a high quality service that encourages customers to invest in the brand again. In fact, all manufacturers recognise that a good service experience enhances their brand image and brand loyalty.”

The recommendations

Mr Wild, who is also a digital marketing specialist, urged the independent white goods repair companies to review their service package to match it with modern expectations. He suggested improving the consistency of the service provision by investing in both professional skills training and office staff training so they always deliver good customer service. He also recommended joining hands with other product and service providers in the industry, such as spare parts manufacturers, insurance service providers, distributors and customer care specialists, to create economies of scale and take advantage of specialist skills. It is also key to use the internet for promotion and information distribution.

Musafa Shevket, corporate development director, at Birmingham Metropolitan College, describing the training programmes which were developed by the College for the engineering profession, illustrated how the skill gap (brought about by technology advancements and aging of the workforce) could be addressed. He stressed that the improvement in professional training not only enhances the competitive standing of the company but also increases staff loyalty and retention.

Making every customer feel special, was a recommendation of Graham Roberts-Phelps, of the In House Training Company “A repair is not just about fixing the machine. It is about solving a problem and doing it in a way that the customer feels special.” This requires treating the customer and their needs in a personalised and courteous manner, keeping them informed about the progress of the service and displaying a ‘can do attitude’.

This approach creates the foundations of a long-term relationship between the customer, the engineer and the brand, and leads to world-of-mouth referrals which are key in the service sector.

Mr Roberts-Phelps also suggested that to deliver a consistent level of service the business needs to establish clear service standards, put systems in place to deliver them and develop professional and customer service skill across the organisation.

During the second part of the conference a number of suppliers to the industry explained how their services could benefit independent white goods repair companies.

Ron Hide, technical training inspector at Gas Safe Register, described how regulating the skills of service engineers dealing with gas appliances promotes the professionalism of the sector and ensures the safety of the customers. Gas Safe Register, introduced in 2009, replaced the former CORGI registration scheme. Widely promoted to the general public, it currently associates 125,000 engineers who periodically undertake review and updating of their qualifications. Chris Naya, of WasteCare, an organisation offering recycling and waste management service to industrial and business sectors, but specialising in hazardous waste, explained how it could help service companies not only in disposing of the waste but also collecting appliances that could be refurbished and sold to charitable organisations at a shared profit.

Meanwhile CBS, Combined Buying Services, are “all about purchasing power,” explained Steve Haslet. CBS provides substantial cost saving solutions to business across all sectors, such as spares purchasing, telecommunication and postal services. The combined buying leverage of its 1,000+ members gives the organisation a strong negotiating position.

A unique characteristic of year-old warranty provider, Warranty Solution,
launched by Karen Neagle, is empathy for the needs of customers (simple language, no hidden costs and no excess payments) and for service providers who should get a justifiable amount of commission. The company offers extended warranties, multi-appliance warranties on domestic appliances and CE gadgets, and insurance cover on products that have just been repaired, on which service engineers who sell it get a 10% commission.

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