Ah, the joys of being a service technician during the age of COVID-19. Face mask? Check. Hand sanitizer? Check. Gloves? Got ‘em. Disinfectant spray for machines? Right here. Maybe disposable work mats and booties, or anything else that makes a tech look more like a surgeon? Sigh.
Temperature taken, end-user questionnaire filled out, and now awaiting customer to allow access into the building. The whole process adds precious time to the on-site call, and not a single screwdriver has been turned. Such is the life of a tech who has to ensure he/she is fully compliant with safety guidelines before entering a customer’s premises. And frankly, there are no guarantees that the client is as health-conscious as the service provider; there have been stories of techs contracting COVID while completing a call. And we have one such unbelievable tale.
These measures have been universally accepted and implemented by service providers across the country. But the process and headaches associated with safely entering, executing service and exiting the job site do not end there. As part of February’s State of the Industry report on technical service, we surveyed dealers as to some of the less obvious but equally frustrating aspects of maintaining high-caliber service delivery under less-than-ideal conditions.
Mike Brown, COO of XMC Inc. in Memphis, Tennessee, points out that reallocating the overall workload is one of the biggest challenges, especially as team members test positive themselves or are quarantined due to coming into contact with someone who has tested positive. Having enough techs available at all times is taxed as a result.
Another issue the pandemic has caused is the difficulty in securing inventory, with a significant increase in back orders on parts and certain supplies. The offshoot of that, according to Brown, is anticipated freight cost increases for 2021 due to demand.
The impact on morale and mental health cannot be discounted, either. “This has been a hard year, everyone wants to be safe and do what is right but at the same time, we miss being together,” Brown said. “We want to have lunch together and do things the way we used to. Communicating virtually has been vital and like everyone else, we look forward to being able to make normal contact again.”
While Advanced Imaging Solutions (AIS) of Las Vegas has gone to great pains to resolve as many issues remotely as possible, the inevitable need to tackle issues on-premises prompts conversations to ensure that both the dealer and client are reasonably safe. Some customers request current testing to ensure techs are not positive…though everyone has their own definition of “current.”
And while the dealer is mindful of customer privacy, it can entail asking if anyone on-premise has tested positive recently, then making a judgment call based on the answer, according to Gary Harouff, president of AIS. “We are doing our best to make sure we are not too intrusive into their personal issues, but we also want to keep our staff as safe as possible,” he said. “As we all have seen a huge decline in service clicks, we want to make sure we are doing everything possible to keep those essential businesses up and running.”
To smooth over the experience, AIS’ marketing team has produced videos, content and emails that are sent to customers to provide an overview of what they can expect from the site visit. The dealer even created a live tracking system for customers, similar to what one would see in a delivery or transportation app, which allows them to track the technician’s arrival. Clients receive an email 30 minutes prior to arrival that contains the employee’s photo, a description regarding the device that will be serviced, and point person contact information. Post-service, a service is sent to the client to rate the repair visit, ensure the office area was left clean, see if the technician adequately described the work performed, and get feedback on how AIS may improve its service calls.
“We’re even adding antibacterial film to all of our office equipment, such as high-touch areas like display screens or paper trays,” Harouff noted. “This film kills any bacteria living on that surface, making it safer for the customer to use once removed.”
One of the tallest orders has been balancing workloads while working through COVID-related illnesses and quarantines in order to meet customer service-level agreements, noted Frank Paulich, vice president of service, EO Johnson Business Technologies. The dealer has had to handle being short on techs and support staff absent on top of individuals taking normal paid time off.
“Customer training has also been challenging due to workers at home and social distancing,” Paulich remarked. “We’ve enabled a couple types of remote learning where customers are geared up with a camera and tablet device while connected with a trainer through video conferencing software. It is a little clumsy, but has been successful.”
Chip Crunk, president and CEO of Nashville, Tennessee-based RJ Young, points out that having customers with employees working remotely can add another layer of difficulty. Networking and scanning features, in particular, can be greatly impacted based on the end-user’s personal setup and network configurations.
“Additionally, the coordination of access to physical offices for both service delivery and actual order delivery has made logistics and utilization a challenge to monitor organizationally,” he added.
CPI Technologies of Springfield, Missouri, previously used to encourage techs to double up on jobs during slow service call periods. The ride-along practice came to a halt after one technician contracted COVID, forcing both to quarantine at home for two weeks. Techs now drive their own company car to on-site visits that require added support.
Another issue, according to President and CEO Erik Crane, was that CPI noted its truck restocks were “way off” when activity began to pick back up around August. “Our system uses a six-month average to set our restock levels, and with the shutdown, we did not stop the system from resetting the restock levels,” he said. “So you can imagine the difference with almost no usage for four months.”
Perhaps the worst of experiences comes from end-users who do not notify the dealer regarding their own employees who have recorded positive tests. This was the case for Virginia Business Systems of Richmond, which has seen several of its techs come down with COVID-19 simply because the client did not inform the dealer that one of its own had contracted the disease, or that the environment may have been compromised. This, despite the fact that VBS and its sister company, Edwards Business Systems, devised a script early in the pandemic to ensure the customer environment was safe to enter, much like it assured clients that its personnel had taken necessary precautions and were following all safety guidelines.
Of course, it’s the employee and dealer that pays the price, and in the case of one VBS tech, he was sidelined for a month with the disease. VBS President Jim Dotter pointed out that the dealer was stung again not long ago. Two techs were on a site performing a network installation when the end-users point person strolled up to them, in person, and reported that he was COVID-19 positive, per a test he had taken a day or two previously. In fact, multiple people from the client’s company had been exposed. And that wasn’t even the worst part of it.
“(The client) didn’t feel it was necessary to notify us, in order to not put off the installation,” Dotter said. “He felt he had a moral obligation to complete the network upgrade as opposed to the moral obligation of notifying our team that there was a positive COVID test. I think his moral compass is broken.”