Tyler Verri, Customer Service Manager – Training and Installation Strategy at Sub-Zero Group, Inc., talks with Sarah about the crucial role training plays in ensuring a positive customer experience – particularly as Sub-Zero relies on third-party providers for service.
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Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Nicastro. On today’s podcast, we’re going to be discussing the criticality of effective training on the customer experience. I’m excited to welcome to the podcast today, Tyler Verri, Customer Service Manager for Training and Installation Strategy at Sub-Zero Group. Tyler, welcome to the podcast.

Tyler Verri: Hi Sarah.

Sarah Nicastro: Thanks for being here. So before we dive into today’s topic, tell our listeners a bit about yourself and your role at Sub-Zero.

Tyler Verri: Absolutely. So I’m Tyler Verri, I’ve been with Sub-Zero about 14 years. Sub-Zero Group is a manufacturer of high end residential cooking, refrigeration, and we recently got into dishwashing products. 12 years I actually spent in IT, managing a variety of teams, and the last two years I’ve actually been in customer service, as you mentioned, as the manager of the training and installation strategy.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. So, you and I had caught up prior to this and I said, “Wow, the transition from IT to customer service is an interesting one.” So how have you liked it?

Tyler Verri: It’s definitely been a unique path to get here. Obviously, my role in the past in IT, very focused on internal operations and support of our organization, and now I’ve shifted to one where I’m supporting external partners and direct contact with our customers. It’s definitely been a welcome changed, it’s pushed me to expand my business knowledge, and learn how we go to market, how we support our products in the field. So extremely grateful for Sub-Zero and the opportunity to develop my leadership in different forms.

Sarah Nicastro: Cool. Yeah, it is an interesting transition, but in my former role, I hit the 11 year mark, not quite 12, and it was time for a change, so it’s a good time to try something different and expand horizons. So what I want to talk about first is the structure of Sub-Zero’s installation and service business, because, I think, for our listeners understanding how you do those things is going to be important in framing the conversation we have around training, and what effective training entails, and how training impacts the customer experience. So Sub-Zero, for both installation and service, you leverage partner networks for both functions. So, talk our listeners through what that structure looks like.

Tyler Verri: Yeah, correct. So network is a bit unique in terms of we leverage certified third parties to provide our installation and service of our products. So our service network is a bit more defined than our installation, being we have control, we pay the service companies if they’re doing warranty work for us, and we’ve really narrowed that down to specific service companies in very large metro markets. And they can provide, and majority of them do, sole support of the Sub-Zero Group brands. Our ultimate goal by doing this and leveraging third parties, we really want to make sure that we’re giving them the most touches on our products, whether it’s from an installation or a service perspective. So we really try to drive the majority of our business, for our customers, through the certified companies that we have in our network.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, good. So you leverage third party for both installation and service functions. And in talking with the service community, one of the biggest concerns we hear when it comes to the pros and cons of relying on contingent workers or a third party workforce, is really that loss of control over the customer experience, right? So that tends to be one of the biggest hesitations in embracing that model. So at Sub-Zero, and in your role, you are relying heavily on training to preserve the customer experience. So what I want to talk about first is some of the aspects that you feel make for effective training, that therefore help companies retain some of that control.

Tyler Verri: Absolutely. I think the big thing, for us, on creating an effective training is making sure that we understand what are the needs of our partner organizations, and ensuring that we’re building to meet the different learning styles. So not just creating something that is web-based when we know, some people, they can’t sit in front of a computer and do something. These are technicians, they work with their hands, they want to get hands-on. So making sure that, yes, we do have some content that is web-base, engages videos, but we also want to make sure that we also are creating hands-on curriculum, forcing critical thinking, understanding what are the tools that they can leverage that we have built for them.

Tyler Verri: But then also understanding that as much as we want uniformity in our network, we want to make sure that they have autonomy to continue to fit the needs of their culture and identity as their organizations. The thing that I do find unique, we’re a family-owned company, third generation, and a lot of the companies that we have partnered with, they’re very similar in that manner, they’re smaller scale, but they’re usually family-owned, multigenerational companies, you have owner-operators, from that perspective. So I really see the ties of culture connecting that way, and it really helps us in the synergies.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that makes sense. And I think that what you articulated, that balance between autonomy and uniformity is really what companies are striving to achieve. And I think that that balance is really relatable, not just for companies that are leveraging third party workers, but even companies that have a really large geographical footprint and have different divisions of their business, regions of their business that have traditionally operated fairly independently. And as organizations look to really standardized service delivery, making those, either departments, or in this case, partners, feel that we’re not trying to control you and we don’t want to take away all of that autonomy, but we do want to be consistent with our customer experience, and we do want to provide some level of uniformity that people can be assured to have when they have a Sub-Zero service, right? That is a really important balance. And I’m curious, what are some of the ways that you, from a communication perspective, try and strike that balance?

Tyler Verri: So communication, for us, is leveraging key partners in the field that have been vocal about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, and making sure that we engage them on a reoccurring basis of, how are we performing and what are the things that you need? And we’ve created an advisory council that leverages both service, installation. We bring them together as a peer group because, yes, they’re usually two very separate businesses in terms of how they operate. Service generally isn’t doing installation, and once again, installation is not generally doing service, but they are… Ultimately the goal of providing that customer experience and aligning us from manufacturing all the way to service is key, and that’s why we do bring these groups together and engage them.

Tyler Verri: How do we do it? We generally, on a yearly basis, have a partner summit. Obviously, with the current climate we live in, we’ve had to think differently in how do we continue to engage and get this feedback. But for us, it is tying very closely to our partners, and making sure they understand what we’re doing, we understand what they’re doing, and how do we all continue to march in the same direction.

Sarah Nicastro: That makes sense. So, you touched on the importance of a multi-format approach when it comes to training. And so, rather than as an organization thinking about it from the context of what’s the easiest and most efficient way for us to get this information out there, you really need to be thinking about the fact that, as you mentioned, not everyone can learn the same way. Not everyone consumes information in the same way, so that multi-format approach is important. And as you said, you’re looking at opportunities to leverage digital and video, hands-on, and also when possible, an in person aspect. But we also talked about in that multi-format approach, you have three tracks of training that you’re focusing on. So share with our listeners what those three tracks are and why they’re important.

Tyler Verri: Absolutely. Yeah, as we were looking, knowing that our partners are onboarding new employees, especially from the service and installation companies, there’s turnover, there’s retirements, there’s a lot of things that play into the changes and growth of these organizations, and we wanted to make sure that we meet those changes. So as we were looking at how do we deploy and develop training, we developed three tracks. So we have the e-learning, which is our first and I would say our basic track, it’s self-paced, you go online, it’s on demand, you can take it as you need it, and we generally structure them to be about 20 minute classes. So you go in, a new employee can come on, they really can learn about Sub-Zero, Wolf, Cove culture, and do a 20 minute training onboarding them to the brands. Before they get into the technical weeds of everything, it’s just, “What am I supporting?” And starting at that level.

Tyler Verri: The next is regional based training. We understand that taking technicians off the road, whether they’re doing installation or service, that’s taking away profit from those organizations. They’re not able to go out and make money, so we really wanted to provide a training format that limits their amount of time off the road. And so we’ve developed a regional training spaces to really fit those major markets, where are the majority of our partners so that they can travel there, receive some of that hands-on. Especially understanding, from a regional basis, if we sell specific products in that market, we can train specific to that. Not a, everybody gets everything, because that’s not successful in terms of, if you don’t see the product often enough, you’ve wasted that individual’s time.

Tyler Verri: And then finally, the immersion one, which is factory training. Bringing them back to the Sub-Zero campus in Madison, Wisconsin, immersion into the Sub-Zero culture. So that’s usually multiday training, it involves at least two days of travel to get here. Madison, not a major airport, so some of those issues we run into from a travel perspective, but it’s a huge commitment of time for our partners to be able to take a week off the road to getting here. But that’s where once they’ve made that investment in the organization that they’re joining, or have been a part of it for a significant amount of time, that’s usually where that fits, where you come back to the factory and get indoctrinated in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it.

Sarah Nicastro: Okay, good. So what I want to talk about next is some of what you’re covering in this training. So you had said, before we get to the technical stuff, which obviously is important so that they can be effective in the service they’re providing, but before you get to that, you really want to do some training on the Sub-Zero culture, the Sub-Zero brand. And then there’s the technical training, and you and I had also talked about a really heavy focus you have right now on soft skills training. So tell us about some of those areas and what type of insights you’re striving to provide through the training, and then secondly, why that soft skills component is so critical.

Tyler Verri: Absolutely. Yeah, soft skills is a key component of the customer satisfaction. We’ve noticed, it’s not just fixing the product in the customer’s home, but it’s also, now you have to fix the customer. They’re frustrated, you have to step back and resell them why did they make the investment in the product that they did. And these individuals aren’t salespeople, but they have to put on that salesperson hat of reselling why do they buy it, and the product is fixed now, but what do we need to do as we move forward. So soft skills, for us, we had been doing it and developing it regionally, and one of the things I wanted to shore up was consistency of how we deployed that. So I actually spent some time working with our sales and marketing team, and they had created a selling skills track for their dealer network a couple of years ago.

Tyler Verri: So we took the fundamentals of that training, and really transformed it into an essential skills training to fit the way that we engage with our partners. And we’re actually going to be piloting soon with our partners, and it really aligns so that we have a seamless transition when a customer goes into the showroom, when they’re interested in looking at getting our products, and then they work with a dealer, and next they work with the installer. And if necessary, they have to work with a service provider and receive service, we want to make sure that those experiences, being their third party individuals, are really aligned to the brand and what we’re doing. So that’s been a big push for me, how do we ensure that continuity all the way through the process and aligning with what have they been told upfront, and making sure it’s consistent all the way through that chain.

Sarah Nicastro: So that continuity that you’re striving for, whether it’s from the showroom to the dealer to the install to the service, when you think about it in the context of the customer experience, what are some of the priorities in terms of that customer experience you’re looking to provide all the way through? What are some of the characteristics that you focus on teaching so that the customers experience those characteristics from the showroom to the dealer to the install to the service?

Tyler Verri: For us, I think it’s focusing on luxury. Our appliances are pretty expensive, and making sure that we’re tying to the luxury, as well as the quality of our product. Now, everything that has a computer or technology in it, it will break down at some point. So that’s where, for us, you’ve invested a significant amount of money, so how do we make sure that you’re realizing the investment, you’re understanding that the value of the product, but you’re also understanding the use and care. What do you, as a customer, need to do to maintain it to ensure it’s operating at the proper state, as well as all of the features and functions that are a part of the product? Because I think that’s a lot of the things that are overlooked, that it’s, “Well, it cooks or keeps things cold.” Well, there’s so much more to it, and if you don’t have everybody through that process, continuing to tout the features and functions, that’s where you start to break down of, “Well, it was really expensive, but it keeps things as cold as my other refrigerator that I spent half the cost on.”

Sarah Nicastro: So when you think about the soft skills perspective in particular, and let’s take service for example, what are some of the soft skills that you’re focusing on so that when that service technician goes into a customer’s home, they know to do X, Y, or Z? Or not do A, B or C, right?

Tyler Verri: For sure. Well, for the course that we’ve constructed, we really have them do prework before they even show up, to think about what are some of the experiences that they’ve had as a customer, to really put them in a frame of mind of, “As me, the customer, what would I expect?” And so we put them through that exercise. And then when they come on site, it’s really understanding what their role is and making sure that they’re following suit with asking specific questions, pointing them in the right direction and not, “Well, that’s not my job, or I don’t know who sold it to you or gave you those benefits.”

Tyler Verri: So it’s not placing the blame, it’s understanding what’s going on. And they have enough knowledge of the network to say, “Here’s what I know, but I think you need more information. I can get you to a dealer or a showroom where they can provide you more tips and tricks around how you do certain things.” So making sure that they really have the skills to break down the customer, to make them understand that there is a network of people out there willing to support any of the needs that they have around the products, versus, “Well, this is my only hope, is this individual, and they didn’t give me what I need so now I’m done.”

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. It’s an interesting conversation, thinking about how important it is to prioritize soft skills in training when you are a luxury brand, right? So I was having a conversation recently with another luxury brand, and just talking about, from a customer experience perspective, if you’re selling a premium product and you’re sending folks on site that maybe have really strong technical knowledge but are not polished in how to present to the customer, it’s not going to give the premium or white glove experience that you want those customers to have, knowing that they’ve made a significant investment with your product. So it really is important. I honestly think that the correlation between a focus on soft skills and how that impacts the customer experience is an important correlation, whether it is a premium product or not, but even more so, right, when you are selling something like that. So that makes sense. So you have been leveraging a learning management system to help you keep track of and manage all of this training, so tell us a bit about that and how it’s been helping you?

Tyler Verri: Absolutely. So my amazing training team spent a year developing and building out this system. We actually just rolled it out in March, and we’re already starting to realize some of the value of just the speed with which we can deliver training now, and roll it out to our partners. Whether it’s through all the three mediums that I mentioned, e-learnings, regional trainings, factory trainings, the ability to get that out there and have that visibility to our partners is critical. For us, the really big part that we’re able to gain from this is the reporting on who’s done what and when, down to the individual technician level. And we can slice and dice the data to really understand within a territory, do we have an issue with a specific product, do we need to level up some of the training, have they attended the training, but there’s still issues with first call completes, what can we do, what do we need to develop?

Tyler Verri: And allowing us to continuously improve what we’ve developed, and or develop new content to fill some of the gaps that we’re starting to notice based on what the data is telling us. In the past, it was spreadsheet upon spreadsheet and manual work, and so to do this it would take a tremendous amount of time. Now it’s a few buttons, you’re clicking, you’re building reports, and you can provide it out to those individuals within the field, and we really have a better view of what’s going on. So it’s still in its infancy in what we can do, but it’s been incredible to see the quick wins that we’ve had with getting people in, and really pushing some of our partners to make sure to sign everybody up, to get people access. Because it was amazing to see the amount of people that actually did not have access into our system and the tools that we had available to them. So, the ability to make them more efficient through this process has been great to see as well.

Sarah Nicastro: Now, do you correlate any of that data that you’re getting on the training completion? And looking at how that relates to first time fix and therefore, perhaps, effectiveness of the training or what have you, do you correlate that at all to customer feedback?

Tyler Verri: Yeah. And that’s one of the goals as we are now rolling it out and have better visibility. So we’re creating the baseline of tying that to the customer feedback, CSAT for service, installation, first call completes, on the product that we’ve trained on. And then also measuring our trainers and their effectiveness, because that’s been the biggest challenge of, it’s a tremendous investment to build out training, to have trainers, and we want to make sure that we’re proving our value and showing the worth of the team. Otherwise, it’s very easy to have that cut from the budget and back to the days that we had in the past. And so that’s our goal, to be able to track and trend and really show that we’re moving the needle.

Sarah Nicastro: That makes sense. And I think it just gives you the insight you need to create effective training, rather than just creating something that you hope will resonate or hope will work, and throwing it out there and crossing your fingers, so that makes sense. And I think it’ll be interesting to see what you find when you cross reference the insights from the learning management system with the customer satisfaction data, so that you can really start to pinpoint areas that you need to focus more on, or training that maybe you thought you created perfectly that you need to go back and look at why is this causing this reaction or what have you. So that makes a lot of sense. So the next question, Tyler, I wanted to ask is, what do you feel are the biggest missteps that companies make around training, and what advice would you provide on avoiding those?

Tyler Verri: So, few missteps? And I think I have a different idea kind of taking it from internal, obviously we’re working with external partners, so some of the things that the partner organizations… For me, there’s no secret. The technician of today is different than the technician was 20 or 30 years ago, especially for our industry. I mean, just the sheer number of products that we developed 20 years ago versus what we developed today, it’s tremendous, and the complexity of the products is so vast. So keeping that in mind that I’m going to go back to, they don’t invest enough in building training in different formats to meet the way that people learn.

Tyler Verri: Whether it’s a young technician that’s very used to technology that will embrace watching a YouTube type video to learn how to do it, versus you have an older technician that they want to be hands on, they don’t need to hook up a computer to diagnose it, they can do it by listening and testing certain things. It’s trying to find the way to navigate both of these worlds. So, for me, the biggest takeaway and misstep is making sure that you engage with your participants in training. So survey them, talk to their managers, what works, what doesn’t, be flexible to their needs. And as I mentioned, the training program should encompass continuous improvement along that way to ensure that we’re meeting the needs of everyone that’s taking and participating in that training.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that makes sense. And I think that, going back to what we just talked about with the learning management system, I don’t know that I would say that it would be a misstep to not leverage something like that, but I do think that it is a significant opportunity to understand the impact your training is having. So I would think that would be an important area of focus for folks as well.

Tyler Verri: Second misstep, for me, is when times are good or you’re busy, training is usually shifted to the back burner, and when it’s done right it should be a part of your organization. So really making training a part of your culture, whether it’s biweekly, weekly, monthly, I think it’s evaluating what fits for your organization. Everybody’s going to be a bit different, but showing that focus and commitment and investment to your employees and training is critical, because I think it’s very cyclical of, “All right, we have time now, let’s cram in a bunch of training,” and it’s the wrong mindset. It should be continuously learning, and in making that investment and enhancing knowledge, creating those efficiencies which ultimately should make you more money.

Sarah Nicastro: I would think there’s also a psychological component to that of, if continual training as a part of the culture and ongoing learning is just something that is built in, it feels different than if all of a sudden we’re going to focus on this, which means you must be doing something wrong. So we don’t always do this, but now we have this focus on X because you’re falling down in this area. That then gives a totally different feeling to someone than being able to bob and weave a bit with something you always consistently do, by just feeding the insights of what you feel like those folks need to focus on, rather than having those periods of not doing any training and then heavily focusing on something.

Tyler Verri: For sure. And one of the last points, I think, from a misstep is the mindset of, “Well, I provide training all the time.” Only to have them leave to a competitor, or the job has high turnover so they make the bare minimum investments in training. I think it really is seek to understand why do employees leave, build a culture that can continue to keep them coming back every day. I look at it as create a pay scale or a recognition program that reinforces training, do so many classes, achieve a certain level, you get a wage increase or time off. What fits your culture and your organizations and your employees, figure out how you do that to move that training process and program forward.

Sarah Nicastro: That makes sense too. Good. All right. Good. Well, any other comments or closing thoughts?

Tyler Verri: No. I just want to say thank you, Sarah, for the opportunity to share with the community. To me, it’s exciting. I’m very passionate about what can I share, the learnings that we’ve had here, because I learned so much from others. Whether it’s the same industry or not, we’re all in this together to create that customer experience that really leaves the customer saying, “Wow.” And telling their friends, because that’s ultimately what it’s about, word of mouth, spreading that way. And I realize everybody’s trying to monetize social media and all the different aspects, but it really is hearing it straight from the individual that had that experience and selling it that way, that’s really been the cornerstone of our company and has driven where we’re going from a customer service perspective.

Sarah Nicastro: Well, I appreciate you being here, Tyler, and sharing your perspective. I mean, that is what we’re all about, so we love to hear from different folks and learn about what they’re up to, how they’re innovating, how they’re tackling challenges. And training isn’t a topic that we’ve discussed a whole lot, even though it’s a very, very important one. So, thank you for coming on and for sharing today.

Tyler Verri: Absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: You can find more content on training, on engagement, on customer experience by visiting us at www.futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn, as well as Twitter @thefutureoffs. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS, you can learn more about IFS Service Management by visiting www.ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening. All right.