For any company that deploys a mobile workforce, a coherent training program can ensure that interactions with customers will be successful. These service interactions, which are often the only direct contacts that customers have with a company, can have a major impact on customer satisfaction. For Vital Network Services, Naugatuck, Connecticut, which provides a host of professional support services for the networking equipment of nearly 30 manufacturers, training its field engineers to consistently deliver high quality service on a wide range of products is essential to the bottom line. "All we do is service," says Pat Travers, training manager for the company's North American operations, "so our people are our products."
The company, which provides support services to end-users, resellers, integrators and service providers, as well as equipment manufacturers, has invested heavily in training its field engineers and in-house staff. In North America alone, the firm has a dedicated training department of 11 instructors with experience in networking service and support to handle training of external customers; in-house workers, such as systems engineers, customer service reps or dispatchers; and more than 80 field engineers. The training department works with supervisors in the field to make sure that all mobile workers learn new products, technologies and upgrades.
When the company takes on the responsibility for supporting a new product, a team representing training, technical support and field support meets with the manufacturer to gain a thorough understanding of the technology. In consultation with field supervisors, the team puts together a training plan that takes into account the complexity of the product or underlying technology and the current skill sets and experience of the field engineers. The plan defines any customized classroom training or materials that may be necessary, including the creation of a multimedia CD to provide installation and service instructions for each product. "We don't have a cookie-cutter approach," says Travers. "We have to evaluate every person who works for us on an ongoing basis and every product that's brought into our family for service."
Engineers who are already experienced in the technology may only need to review a step-by-step training CD to learn about a new product. Instructor-led training may be provided as a supplement to the CD training, if required, especially for engineers with less experience. The instructor-led classes incorporate hands-on exercises in which students are challenged with real-world problems. For announcements, such as changes or updates to products, the company can also use Web conferencing to reach its mobile workers.
The company also provides soft skills training for mobile workers. Service engineers are given multimedia CDs with courses on customer service principles. The company is also considering customer service road shows to bring this training to the mobile workers in the field. The training program at Vital Network Services is an essential part of workflow planning. Supervisors keep a record of the training that each field engineer completes, and a database identifies each engineer's product expertise. Dispatchers use this database to send the most appropriate person to each service call. "It's the match that's important," says Travers. "As a company, we know that we can do the job, but if the right person with the right tools doesn't go to the right place, then we won't be successful."
Vital Network Services' engineers support a wide variety of large networks, and any mistakes they make can be very costly. "If we were a manufacturer, and we needed to invest a million dollars for product improvement initiatives, we'd think nothing of it," says Travers. "Well, at Vital, we take those dollars and invest them in our people because they are our product."