The Evolution of the Service Engineer: A conversation with Ron Zielinski

By Cindy Elliott

“Today Coherent embodies a culture of customer responsiveness”

At Field Service USA this spring, I met Ron Zielinski, VP Global Customer Care at Coherent, a provider of lasers and laser-based technology for scientific, commercial and industrial sectors. He has worked with Coherent in a services capacity for three decades. Since it’s so rare for me to run across an service leader with 30 years’ experience, I probed him for his most notable learning over the years.

When asked what is the biggest change in service that he’s seen, he replied quickly “the people”. He described the service organization “back then” in his early days with Coherent, when almost everyone working in service tended to originate from the product or engineering teams and he used the phrase, “the most reputable ones were hugely quirky”. Those were the workers who had extreme technical competencies but who marched to their own drummer. People on this team could go off the radar for days at a time, but were kept in the family because of their technical acumen. They thrived on fighting fires, and I will assume, probably helped fuel the fire through their quirky behaviors? And then, they were rewarded for coming to the rescue.

Needless to say – these were not individuals who were hand-picked because of their customer service skills.

But times have changed. Ron goes on to describe how the Coherent services environment today is completely different. He mentions a time in the 1990s where a collection of developing service professionals, including himself, knew that they had to make services work better and be more customer friendly. They couldn’t continue to depend on sheer force of will to get the work accomplished.

Today Coherent embodies a culture of customer responsiveness and, as a result, the entire organization has “leveled up”. This cross-functional shift has occurred in part because of service and product development initiatives, but it can mostly be attributed to Coherent becoming more aligned with their customers.

Ron describes that as Coherent has become more knowledgeable about their customers’ businesses and pressures – ie: driving down operations costs, increasing business performance, improving their own customers’ experiences – the dynamics inside the Coherent service organization began to transform as well to better reflect their customers’ needs.

For example, as the customer expectations were increasing around service response and overall product utilization, Coherent focused on shrinking service cycle times by connecting their equipment and introducing remote service – even before a machine failure. This has improved uptime and throughput for the customer, but it also began to shift the requirements for their service technicians to be less about the technical fix and more about the fast customer resolution.

They found they needed less quirky fire fighters and started to develop service professionals that represented more well-rounded personality traits to include emotional, social, organization and – of course – technical aspects. Coherent sees that positions in services have become a career destination rather than an afterthought.

And as they continue to become more customer and machine aware, Coherent service and product development teams have become more intertwined as well – delivering smarter products more quickly now that everyone is much more attuned to the customer environment and building more tailored offerings. “This customer-focused initiative is creating new excitement in engineering”.

However, Ron and Coherent are experiencing a common development of this emerging trend. Although customers are asking the right questions and know that they want change to happen, they are still uncomfortable themselves in embracing a non-traditional service model. And this matter will further challenge the characteristics of the services professional. They will need the competency to help the customer understand the new services journey and how to collaborate with their customer to define mutually beneficial final outcomes.

Finally, when asked about what he anticipates could be the biggest impact in the next 5 years – Ron shared that he’d like to see a time come when a customer actually relies less on the traditional service experience itself and instead realizes the full value of combined product with services that Coherent offers from the usage of the lasers, perhaps in a pay-as-you-go model. As this business model evolves, Coherent will need to refine yet again the services organizational capabilities – two of these could include having strong relationship skills to nurture customer relationships over time and how to leverage new insights from IoT-enabled services to proactively deliver tailored solutions for the customer.

My key take away? Regardless of the fact that our businesses are built around the products and services that we provide, the greatest impact on our success is the ability to attract and develop the right people that can deliver on customer expectation – and not just the right people in services, but in sales, marketing and product development and beyond.

#organisationalculture #CindyElliott