In many companies, the field service engineer has the most ongoing influence over her customers.  She is their trusted adviser, she is expected to make all problems disappear quickly, and she is expected to shield the customer from home office mistakes.  In the overall scheme of things, the engineer occupies the most important customer-facing role in the company.

Unfortunately, sometimes even the most resourceful engineer cannot make every outcome meet or exceed customer expectations.  Here are the three top reasons according to an Aberdeen study of European Field Service:


  • Engineer (or technician) did not resolve the issue because of lack of parts or expertise – 55% of all European responses
  • Engineer scheduled to arrived on site after an exceptionally long time – 39%
  • Engineer was late for the appointment – 24%

Do any of this sound familiar to you?  They certainly do to me!  And none of these reasons is the fault of the engineer.

Let me tell a story about a totally messed up service call.  It will not only illustrate the three reasons customers complain about a visit but it will also discuss the three top reasons that the engineer has to return to complete the repair.

You promised that an engineer would arrive at your customer’s Phoenix location in three business days but she got held up on a job and had to stay another day.  Your dispatcher promised to contact the Phoenix customer and reset the expectation about when she would arrive – and he did.  Then, after she arrives and starts her troubleshooting she discovers that her spare part is not working.  It is now Friday afternoon (early evening on the East Coast) and she cannot get a part shipped until Monday for delivery Tuesday. While still at the customer’s office, she calls a few of her fellow West Coast engineers but, unfortunately, none has the required part either. She breaks the bad news to the anxious customer and heads home.  Think the customer is pissed?  In some variation, this scenario is responsible for 47% of return visits.

She arrives back at the customer at noon on Tuesday with the new board in hand.  She installs it; the product begins working, and passes the onboard diagnostics.  The engineer stays with the customer for about 1 hour just to make sure all is well – and it is.

At this time, everyone is at least happy; but not satisfied. However, in some cases the part is not delivered until late afternoon and shortly after the engineer arrives on-site the customer has to leave. In the European study, having to return another day because the engineer ran out of time occurred in 18% of the repeat visits (third reason).

The second reason for needing another visit is one that fortunately I never had to contend with – the engineer does not have enough expertise or knowledge (24% of the time).  There are two reasons why we never had this situation:

  1. Our engineers went through extensive factory and on-the-job training.  We did not let them go alone on a call unless the Technical Support Manager agreed that the engineer was qualified to handle the repair.
  2. If the engineer ever really got stuck, she would call technical support and reach someone immediately.  That could be a support engineer, the support manager, or another engineer doing telephone duty that day.  If necessary, the support person stayed on the phone until the product worked as designed and the customer was satisfied.

The moral of this story is that while your engineers can do amazing things for your customers, they can’t cover-up the back-office mistakes.  Your job is to make sure the mistakes do not happen.