FAS: Troubleshooting Customer Questions

Respond to and document a customer’s troubleshooting questions

Background

A field application specialist (FAS) is typically a primary customer-facing employee of a company. One main responsibility of a FAS is to help the customer use their company’s technology in-person (e.g., in the field). An FAS job requires excellent communication and interpersonal skills as well as broad and in-depth technical and scientific knowledge. The specific responsibilities of an FAS job can vary depending on the size of the company, the technology/product catalogue, location of customers, and whether the FAS professional is involved in pre-sales and/or post-sales interactions with the customer.

The FAS is often the first person to respond when something goes wrong with a technology/product. FASes need to be able to quickly assess the situation and clearly explain to a customer how to solve their problem over the phone, via email, or in-person.

The Process

A FAS’s contact information is often placed next to or on the equipment/technology when a customer receives the technology, so this is often a way FASes are contacted for troubleshooting. A FAS might also be emailed or contacted through a company’s help desk. A FAS may also be asked for help troubleshooting when they least expect it, such as during a routine client visit or after a seminar.

This is an sample process once a customer has the FAS’s email after a sale:

  1. FAS receives a customer’s email with question about a product or technology
  2. Start a “case” to record details of the interaction. These cases are sometimes used by companies to create FAQs, or as a database for tech support
  3. Respond to email and seek more details – what is the model number, or the lot number of the product, how was the experiment done, is there data to examine, etc..
  4. Customer sends additional information
  5. Research the problem and gather supporting documentation – link to a paper, .pdf of a page in the user’s manual, sometimes re-analizes customer data to verify, etc..
  6. Send potential solutions with supporting documentation and asks if the problem was solved.
  7. Depending on the customer’s response and the protocol at the company:
    1. call or visit customer
    2. continue researching/ providing solutions
    3. direct customer to a more specialized tech support
    4. follow up with customer
  8. Finalize details to the “case” including how the problem was solved

Eventually, customers naturally (or FASs help them) transition to asking tech support for troubleshooting if such a group exists in the company so that the FAS can use their time for other responsibilities and new customers.

The exercise:

For this exercise, you in your first year as an FAS at Bio-Rad. Respond to a troubleshooting email. Then practice your skills in real life!

Task 1: Read the email and research the technology

Pick one of these sample emails with anonymized questions sent in by actual Bio-Rad customers and research the technology/protocols in the email.

Research the technology using the product’s user manual and protocols available on the company website (http://www.bio-rad.com/).

Task 2: Respond to the email

  • Keep the email as short and direct as possible – no multi-paragraph emails!
  • Don’t spend 10 minutes when you can spend 5. (FASes sometimes receive 30-40 troubleshooting requests daily!)
  • Make sure they’re using your product and using it as specified; your job is not to troubleshoot other companies’ products or to help with things not covered by protocol
  • Be friendly and polite
  • Present the information clearly and repeatedly so there’s no confusion – a point-by-point reply is the best strategy!
  • Phrase everything to sound positive. Make it so they want to keep using your technology. For example, “Obviously, the answer is X” is not an appropriate response.

Pay attention to the tone, brevity, and manner of answering. Don’t worry about having the ‘right answer’ at the moment. At some companies, the onboarding process for an FAS would include several months of becoming familiar with protocols, instruments, and concepts before interacting with customers.

Task 3: Write up a log

Write a summary of the troubleshooting emails to enter into a log of customer questions.

Create a table with the following columns, and type in the information according to the email:

  • Type of Query – such as sequence request, SDS (safety data sheet) request, service request, problem, technical question
  • Product line – such as PCR reagents, antibodies, etc..
  • Origin of query – e-mail, phone, web
Type of Query sequence request
Product Line
Origin of Query
Question
Answer
Additional Notes

Other fields that might also be filled in include:

  • Territory & corresponding sales person or distributor
  • Pre-sales or post-sales question
  • If a no cost replacement is needed, you would include a PO number, product catalogue reference & product lot number

In most companies, FASes create and close a case (write up a log) like this for every interaction (phone, email, in-person) so that the company can (1) keep track of the most common issues, (2) spend less time finding a solution to an issue if a solution has been previously found, (3) identify what trends there are in the use of their products, and/or (4) provide feedback to R&D for product improvement and sometimes even new product development.

Task 4 (advanced): Troubleshoot on the spot!

FASes can sometimes find themselves in a situation where they need to help their customer in-person. FASes must then be able to think on their toes to help their customer. FAS training sometimes includes a job shadow experience where you learn to troubleshoot on the spot and get feedback on it.

Tell a labmate, rotation student, or colleague that you’d like to practice your troubleshooting skills with a technology that you know very well. Bring a notepad with you. Ask them explain to you a problem they’ve had with the technology recently. Ask them to include details of the experiment, any data they obtained, etc. 

Remember to listen patiently before providing an answer and ask clarifying questions.  Answer their question briefly in a 5 minutes or less. In crafting your verbal response, it might help to refer to the guidelines from Task 2. For tips on how to actively listen, check out the resources list. 

Then, ask your colleague the following questions:

  • Did you answer their question satisfactorily?
  • Did they feel you were knowledgeable about the topic?
  • Was your answer clear and concise?
  • How could you improve?

Be sure to thank them for their time!

The Deliverable

Task 1 & 2 – Email response 2-3 short paragraphs in a word processor.

Task 3 – Case log entry as a table.

Task 4 – Report of  your troubleshooting in real life with feedback in a table.

Include the following columns:

  • Technology name
  • Description of the problem
  • Your answer
  • Their feedback

Sample Deliverables:

 Task 2 sample – Once you have written your own email response, compare your email response to the corresponding replies sent by Bio-Rad professionals.

Resources:

Skills used to perform this task: 

  • Written communication – clear technical writing
  • Verbal communication (Task 4)
  • Acting skills (Task 4) – how to stay positive regardless of the issue presented
  • Technical knowledge
  • Technical experience
  • Ability to communicate science clearly

Skills used in this field:

  • Verbal & Non-verbal communication – how you or your customer are physically presenting yourselves can really affect an interaction!
  • Acting skills – a customer might take out their frustration with the product on you, how do you maintain calm under duress?
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Technical knowledge (of a product/catalogue)
  • Technical experience
  • Technical writing skills
  • Presentation skills
  • Critical thinking & problem-solving
  • Ability to communicate science clearly to different audiences
  • Ability to quickly adapt to customer’s needs
  • Teaching skills – explain how to use a product

Additional tasks in a FAS career:

A professional in the field of Field Application Specialist may also perform these tasks:

  • Present a pre-sales seminar
  • Give a pre-sales demo
  • Present a post-sales seminar
  • Train customers post-sales

In recent years, FAS roles have evolved to include a sales perspective or actual sales responsibilities. In this case, a FAS needs to balance how much time they spend troubleshooting and generating sales leads for the company.

You are viewing a job simulation. To get started, set up SMART Goals to perform this simulation in a reasonable timeline. If you have completed the task, fill out the Self-Reflection Sheet.

Simulation author: Linet Mera, PhD

This simulation vetted by FAS professionals in the Bay Area