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Webinar: Selecting, Training, Motivating the Right People for Technical Service Positions

Efficient customer service plays a key role in keeping customers loyal. Effective customer service begins with selecting the right people to provide this service. The hiring process When recruiting and hiring laboratory staff, the focus is usu

Efficient customer service plays a key role in keeping customers loyal. Effective customer service begins with selecting the right people to provide this service.

The hiring process

When recruiting and hiring laboratory staff, the focus is usually technical competence and knowledge. However, communication and interpersonal skills as well as problem=solving skills. are paramount in providing customer service. So lab managers should not neglect these skills when interviewing candidates for technical service positions.

One traditional screening tool for Ph.D. and M.S. job candidates is the research seminar. Lab managers should also require B.S. job candidates who have not performed research to present an employment interview seminar as well. The topic could be a job-related one chosen by the candidate or by the hiring manager. The logic behind this is that customer service specialists often have to present seminars to customers describing their employer's products, how they work and how they can solve the customer's problems.

Attitude is another very important factor but can be hard to assess since job candidates are normally on their best behavior during employment interviews. Technical service specialists must have a sincere desire to help others. The job candidate's references should be able to provide helpful information in this regard.

Beginning the job

Having hired good people, lab managers must motivate and manage them. In particular, they must coach them in their firm's customer relationship methods while helping them develop their own interpersonal and communication skills. This often requires training programs either taught in-house or by external providers. For example, when I started working for Shell Chemical Company all new employees took three-day short courses in listening skills (in the context of conversations) and oral presentation skills. These have been among the most valuable courses I have ever taken helping me in my R&D, technical service and lab management positions.

Lab managers should work with their technical service specialists to seek out opportunities to promote the firm's products to prospective customers. This often involves working with sales personnel. For example, technical service specialists could present papers at trade association meetings on the performance of new products both in the laboratory and in commercial use by their customers. Technical service customers can work with customers to help them present such papers as well.

Managers should reward performance by a combination of financial rewards and non-monetary recognition. Laboratories often have recognition programs for employees who are outstanding inventors. They should also have formal recognition programs for staff members who have also delivered outstanding customer service.

From the staff's perspective

Technical service positions can provide newly hired employees with a crash course in how their new employer works. Technical service specialists not only deal with customers, they often work with researchers, sales representatives, marketing and business managers and plant personnel. Beyond the organizational borders of their employer, they work with supplier and customer personnel.

This knowledge is a valuable asset should the lab staff member continue in technical service or focus on new product development. With this knowledge, technical service specialists can also make valuable contributions quickly should they move out of the laboratory to work in sales or marketing.

Career paths

Technical service specialists need to have paths available for professional and career advancement. Once they have shown themselves to be responsible and mastered both their job responsibilities and the basics of their customers' technologies, they should be allowed to work independently while being encouraged to consult with others as needed. Some may wish to become managers of laboratory customer service groups. Others may wish to become business managers or move into other business functions. If they do a lot of quality assurance work, they may wish to consider working in a production plant.

Once they are doing well and have gained sufficient experience, lab managers should work with customer service specialist to help them consider these career options.

John K. Borchardt

Dr. Borchardt is a consultant and technical writer. The author of the book “Career Management for Scientists and Engineers,” he writes often on career-related subjects.