The service industry has been going through a time of transition in the pandemic. Hands-on and on-site visits are turning into virtual services, a change which has become necessary for service professionals globally.
Sean Jordan, the Service Director at Biotek Instruments Inc., talks about the top business challenges being faced by the service industry today and how they are coping with the adjustments of pivoting to a hybrid of virtual and in-person services for their customers.
Having spent 10 years doing consulting work with companies all over the U.S. and abroad, Sean’s area of expertise is the Lean Six Sigma area for improvement and helping companies find solutions for their issues. Today, in his leadership role in Biotek, he finds joy in empowering employees as well as making improvements to drive the growth of the business and help customers.
Biotek, which is in the life sciences instruments industry, manufactures the scientific equipment and software used in research. This includes a wide variety of tools ranging from microscopy to liquid handling. One of their achievements is democratizing imaging platforms for the scientific masses by making traditional microscopy and imaging tools more affordable. Their innovations would make them more accessible for universities and young startups.
What Sean’s team is responsible for, is servicing all these products once they have gone out to customers. They handle everything from installation to training the customer how to use the software and hardware equipment correctly. They also assist customers in doing basic user maintenance. They also do annual maintenance and repairs when needed.
Apart from field service, Biotek has a massive support organization that trains employees and authorized distributors around the world. Service leaders like Sean, who are based in Biotek’s headquarters in Vermont, have the opportunity to travel the world and train people. Biotek releases three new products every year aside from its new innovations. With the complexity of its equipment, a lot of training and interaction is involved.
Call centers and technical support are on hand to provide assistance to Biotek’s customers, all without the usual matrix of automated operator services to go through. A customer can call a 1-800 number and get quickly patched through to an advanced member of the technical support team, some of whom even have PhDs in life science.
Biotek also has service contracts to handle its customer concerns. The service team is responsible for the technical documentation as well as the service manuals and their updates when new innovations are developed. It is a collaborative effort where equipment and documentation are adjusted based on customer feedback.
For unprecedented events such as the COVID pandemic, Sean understands that things will have to be done differently. He observed that there was a mutual acceptance between customers and service providers alike, that virtual tools would become a necessity where on-site options would have been initially employed. With Biotek’s own safety protocols in place for its employees, sometimes the best option is for services to be done remotely.
One major observation in the market is the acceleration of virtual strategies due to the pandemic. With the onset of logistical challenges, particularly with travel, virtual support has become mandatory rather than optional. While virtual interaction may cause some slight degradation in the quality of interactions, the trade-offs are too significant to be ignored. Biotek has been rapidly deploying tools and resources necessary to handle the shift to working remotely.
There is a sense of urgency involved in this transition that could make its rapid pace unsustainable in the long run. To confront this issue, Sean and his team of managers have been diligent in having employees turn off the computer when the workday is done, for all but a few who are responsible for handling urgent issues with customers after work hours.
Sean is transparent with his team about the difficulties of working from home coupled with the personal anxiety of having to live in a pandemic. This is only the tip of the iceberg on the list of things that can wear people down which drain their energy and focus on work. He is adamant that his team members take time for themselves to rest. He recognizes that part of ensuring work gets done involves first and foremost that employees take care of themselves, their families, and their communities.
With the way that Biotek has pivoted towards addressing customer service remotely, Sean believes that there are some changes that will permanently become part of their standard operating procedures even after the pandemic has passed. One is figuring out how to do a hybrid of hands-on and virtual service that will help the team maintain their safety even when field service becomes feasible once more. Sean shares that Biotek is currently in the fore of investing in training and content.
Another is changing the perception around the value of doing remote sessions. Sean and his team assess which of their services and content they can deliver without having to be physically present. The target is to deliver content that will empower customers to do self-installations on basic products. Self-service has become a more widely acceptable method for customers to continue operating without having to wait for a Biotek representative to become available to assist them in person.
With the recent acquisition of Biotek by Agilent, Sean is optimistic that it will be a good relationship moving forward. Both companies have complementary organizational customers that are focused on people. In addition, a highlight of this acquisition is that Agilent was firm on their stance that no employees would be losing their jobs or experiencing pay cuts because of COVID.
There is less need to worry about the safety protocol of the organization, with the infrastructure of facilities and safety teams at Agilent’s disposal. Rather, Sean can focus on being able to focus on his service teams. Agilent’s vast pool of resources will only help Biotek deliver more products and services, along with their complementary offering that will drive science forward. Agilent’s goal is to help Biotek stay successful by investing in the organization and committing to keep the headquarters in Vermont.
Sean believes that now, more than ever, it is essential to stay in contact with employees. Regular calls and videos are important to establish that he as a manager is genuinely listening to their feedback on what their customers need. The constant communication also helps him ensure that they prioritize the projects where they are most needed. Transparency is key in finding solutions for his team.