Cross-training, technology, and 24 certified technicians keep pace with 6,000 installed Haas CNC’s in New England
WINDSOR, CT – “Machine down.” Some of us can feel the gut clench just reading those words. Those two words demand an immediate response from the machine tool builder or distributor – perhaps a solution over the phone or onsite service – ASAP. Trident Machine Tools, New England’s exclusive Haas Factory Outlet, is fortifying its service structure with a multifaceted approach to ensure that’s exactly what its customers experience. “Over the last six months, our service response time has improved from multiple days to now 90 percent of requests are serviced the same day or the next day,” said David Schmidt, Vice President of Technical Services at Trident. “When you consider the footprint of New England and the 6,000 Haas CNC machine tool installation base, this is quite a feat.”
That feat didn’t happen accidentally. Schmidt came on board about 18 months ago with the mandate to double the service staff. That mandate was driven by a leadership initiative to improve customer service in general, and specifically with regard to response time. “Finding good candidates is one challenge. Ramping them up to do the job is another,” he said. Schmidt crafted a strategic training program that involved a combination of mentoring, on-the-job training, and classes on Saturdays. Cross-training on all aspects of machine tool installation, service, and maintenance was an outcome objective from the start, not only for its new hires but also the existing engineers who required more learning in certain areas. The company also applied cloud-based software technology to make the administrative aspects of customer support more efficient to improve response time.HFO -Trident’s sales department has used Salesforce CRM for more than a decade and in late 2018 added Salesforce Service Cloud to maintain a more holistic record of each customer’s installation. “There is a lot of data in the background, but the user interface in the new service module – it’s an app that can be accessed by any device – is clean and easy to navigate,” said Schmidt. As with any new technology, there were initial growing groans, but now the technicians are so proficient with it, they’ve streamlined it even more by discovering shortcuts and sharing them with the rest of the group. “The new administrative efficiencies are such that our technicians aren’t sitting in parking lots writing call reports on their laptops,” said Schmidt. “They are driving to their next job.” They might be driving a sparkling new van, too. Doubling the field service staff required a new fleet of vehicles.
Since revamping and investing heavily in its service organization, the backlog of service calls has reduced considerably. Schmidt and his team thought perhaps that could be explained if the requests were down as well. When analyzing the call volume and case creation log, they discovered that the cases were as high or higher than before the reorganization. The backlog is at an all-time low because the technicians are closing out more jobs at a faster pace. Schmidt, citing the reasons why, said, “It’s a combination of things. We have a larger staff, going from 12 to 24 certified technicians. We’ve also greatly improved cross-training to minimize the potential for a customer waiting for a particular skill set to become available. Further, the software application is administratively reducing the burden and the time spent on those aspects.”
While the technology adeptness is making a positive impact on response time and customer satisfaction, the repair knowledge of even the recently hired technicians is playing a significant role in earning high marks from customers. “Haas has an excellent certification program, but how to onboard the new employees quickly, getting them productive to meet the demand, was our particular challenge here at HFO – Trident,” said Schmidt. “One important note to clarify here about ‘demand’ is we have 6,000-plus Haas CNCs installed in the region. That is a large number, and we needed to expand our bandwidth. Plus, a good percentage of them are 25 – 30 years old. Legacy machines tend to need more attention to keep them running, just like our own aging bodies do. It’s just a natural phenomenon of time and wear; yet it also tells you how long a Haas machine lasts,” said Schmidt. “Another marker of the machine quality is how many new parts are required. If components are failing, parts are necessary. Less than half of our repairs require parts. That’s impressive.”
Regarding training, one of HFO – Trident’s certified trainers, Bob Perkins, had always taken on the task of onboarding new trainees in the administrative aspects of the job. Perkins considered Schmidt’s new goals of cross-training, evaluation with consistent measuring metrics, progress tracking, and feedback communication parameters. Perkins, along with the three other certified trainers and Trident’s service manager, Dino Baldoni, developed and launched a mentoring program. On any given day, a trainee would be out with a certified field service engineer, and each trainee was assigned a mentor – one of the four certified trainers. They took on new responsibilities to touch base with their trainees at least weekly, tracking and evaluating their progress. They also made sure that their trainees were exposed to a variety of situations. The immersion included in-house training classes held on Saturdays. When the backlog of repair jobs reduced, they sometimes held classes on weekdays.
With the reduction in repair backlogs, the service team was able to add another important activity surrounding customer satisfaction – follow-up calls. If a technician is in the area where he recently made a repair, he’ll stop in or call the customer and do a check-up to see if the machine is still running fine and also ask if anything new needs addressing. “We had a case recently where the technician was on his way to make a follow up visit with a customer, and that same customer was on the phone to our service department reporting a different machine was now down and required a visit,” said Schmidt. “While the work order was being processed on the phone,” Schmidt continued, “our technician was at the customer’s front desk checking in for his courtesy call, so they actually got not just same day, but same minute service!”
That customer surely was pleased, and Schmidt reports positive reactions from many customers about HFO – Trident’s service reboot. He’s received complimentary emails on the quick response time and the technicians’ expertise. “I certainly enjoy getting good feedback. We take it in, and it provides the acknowledgement that we’re on the right path and we’ll stay moving ahead on it. We have more ideas we’ll be applying to make HFO – Trident’s service organization the best in the industry. The truth is, I was dealt a winning hand. We have a great team, from customer support in the office to an exceptional team in the field. And most importantly a leadership team that fully supported the initiative with investments in software and manpower.”