• Joseph Augustus

Essentials of Effective Product Support Part 3: Skilled Personnel – Technical and Soft skills


We have come to the 3rd and final part of this article. In the first part of the article you would

have read about the importance of Traceability on manufactured products, followed by the 2nd part wherein certain methods to conduct a Systematic Product Complaint Review was

enumerated. Both those sections dwelt on certain processes to be followed to ensure Effective Product Support. Nevertheless the effectiveness to ensure that all those said systems and processes are diligently carried out is dependent on a critical element, and that is the human factor.


Even though the world may be gradually moving towards the path of developing Artificial

Intelligence and Robotic Interface for Customer Interactions, the human factor cannot be

dismissed during a Product’s complaint handling process. There are of course many variations of Chat Bot or Voice Bot or Virtual Assistant that might be able to simulate and process human conversation in the digital world. Their most important feature is that they are accessible 24/7 for instant replies along with a live chat feature, which is a very good aspect from the perspective of Customer Satisfaction. But they are limited in their scope of satisfying a Customer from Product Complaint standpoint. That is because a majority of such interfaces are there to provide only rule based or standard menu driven responses. Even the interfaces with machine learning or Artificial intelligence need extensive level of background data and human interaction experience so as to evolve suitably and thereby understand the context and respond satisfactorily to queries. Hence these Chat Bots are primarily used in Sales & Marketing or Generalised Customer Support applications which have repetitive standard queries with voluminous operation settings.


A Product that has been designed with various engineering inputs and operational

considerations and having been manufactured for a specific use will need a more personalised approach to Customer and Product Support. The more complex engineered or technically evolved the product is, higher is the need for human involvement to address product complaint issues. This is where the skill of the human person who interacts with the customer or handles the product complaint is vital. From the manufacturing organisation point of view, this skill is also regarded as competence for the Product and Customer Support role of their personnel. And it’s relevant in either case, whether they maybe handling internal Customer or External Customer.


Therefore a manufacturing organisation should ensure that their Customer and Product

Support personnel are competent in the following areas:

1. Technical Skill

2. Soft Skill


TECHNICAL SKILL

This is a mandatory skill that is required for every technical personnel who performs the role of Product Support or Customer Complaint handling in the organisation. This desired knowledge or competence of such personnel is specific to the product, and so will vary from organisation and product point of view. The basic educational qualification desired for such personnel should be determined by the organisation at the recruitment stage itself. This would ensure that they can be successfully trained on the technical characteristic of the product and handle the service or maintenance or technical support for the respective product effectively.


The proficiency of this Technical Skill of the concerned personnel is dependent on the employee training and development strategy enforced by the organisation. In general, certain organisations allows their personnel to gain technical knowledge of their products through “On-The-Job Training” as it needs less investment by the organisation. While this is also an accepted part of training, however this is a less productive approach towards Human Resource Technical Development. This is because it gives rise to a “Trial and Error” methodology, which might endanger Customer Satisfaction due to loss of time.


By providing a structured product specific training program, the organisation can obtain better performance results from their personnel. Involving the Product Support personnel right during the time of Design FMEA can also make these personnel highly competent and engaging on their Product Support role. Naturally these personnel will need to be up skilled during every new Product launch. Having a competent technical knowledge on the product will instill confidence in the personnel to actively troubleshoot and investigate the root cause of failure during Product Complaint Analysis by using the relevant methods that was discussed in the 2nd part of this article.


SOFT SKILL

Personnel handling Product Support function usually work under a high degree of pressure

during a Product Complaint handling situation. They simultaneously face Customer’s Frustration of an inoperative product and Organisations pressure to resolve that issue on timely basis. So more often than not, just having a superior product and technical knowledge is not sufficient for a satisfactory Product and Customer Support function. They should have certain interpersonal skills known as Soft Skills which assist them to amicably resolve Customer Complaint and strengthen the Customer relationship while technically providing a solution.


Even though this skill is related to Emotional Intelligence, and certain personalities are blessed with such traits inherently, the good part is that these can be learnt or coached as well. Few examples of the desired soft skills for personnel handling Product and Customer Support role are as follows;

  • Patient Listening

  • Clear Communication

  • Good Negotiator or Conflict Resolution

  • Time Management

These behavioural qualities in the Product Support personnel will definitely help to simmer

down tensions during a severe Customer Complaint handling process as a result of Product

failure. There are of course various other types of soft skills that are also desirable, and the

above are only a few examples of such desired traits.


It is possible that the organisation has invested in state of the art Infrastructure and systems to manufacture the products and has the latest ERP to document and direct Product and

Customer complaint solutions. But there is a possibility that the relevant manpower interfacing with the customer during a Product complaint resolution process, mishandles the situation. This can occur either through lack of sufficient product knowledge or through indifferent behaviour during the customer interactions. Such situation not only does it downgrade Customer Satisfaction, but it also damages the reputation of the organisation and its brand value. So it is therefore vital for the Product Support personnel to have a combination of both the Technical Competence & Soft skills, as it will naturally enhance their Problem Solving capability.


As expressed before, only if every personnel in the organisation handling their respective

function perform their role at highest efficiency, the investment made on the right

infrastructure and systems is worthwhile. So it’s the duty of the HR department of every

organisation to ensure that the desirable traits of Technical Competence & Soft Skill are

constantly updated for the respective personnel through regular training and career

advancement programs. This will ensure that the human capital of the organisation is self

regulated and sufficiently motivated to proactively enhance Customer Satisfaction by effective handling of Product Complaints.


Hope this three part article where 3 Essential factors for Effective Product Support was

enumerated gave some insights to improve operation in your organisation. These are not the only factors for consideration and naturally there are other aspects too that maybe relevant as per specific requirements. We will be happy to hear your views on this, and hence do provide your feedback. We wish that all your business endeavours be successful with many more satisfied customers.

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