Going the extra mile
Customer service in times of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This article is posted on our Sartorius Blog.
Despite all the preparation to visit customers, Kevin Mascol had some concerns. “I thought, “If I get down there, what if I can’t get back?” But then he put his foot down on the gas pedal of his black pickup truck and off he drove – roughly 1,000 miles away from his home. Because customers were waiting for him. A road trip through almost the entire western United States – in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a Sartorius Field Service Engineer, Kevin needed to support installation or calibration of equipment for 15 different customers in Southern California. But during a pandemic, travel restrictions and closed hotels made in-person meetings difficult and travel almost impossible. “There was a lot of uncertainty and there was even talk by local authorities about shutting down the state as a safety measure,” he remembered.
However, some projects just can’t wait. Customers rely on Sartorius to continue with their important work, including the development of life-saving vaccines. “My manager Dennis Webb and I discussed how we can safely go forward. I had the support of the team as well as supervisors and managers. I wasn’t the only one out there. The service department worked really hard.”
So Kevin drove from Idaho to Southern California, and found a particular way to meet the challenge: To prepare for the 15-hour road trip, he loaded up his pickup truck with necessities and pulled along a recreational vehicle to serve as a place to sleep during a time when air travel was not an option and many hotels and restaurants were closed. “It is 985 miles each way and it took two days to get there. I went overboard; I packed up as much as I could. I stowed enough food and water to last a couple of months,” said Kevin laughing. During his journey, he slept in his Airstream travel trailer designed for sleeping or resting. And needless to say, Kevin got the job done.
He was finally rewarded for his long journey – not only by satisfied customers, but also by the beautiful landscape of the Arizona desert. “I definitely would do it again,” he concluded. “We can’t all stay home. Somebody has to go out there and do the job. I think when it comes to something this overwhelming, it’s up to each person to figure out their own way. Everybody has a different level of exposure.”
At the height of the closures in each U.S. state, Kevin wasn't the only one on the road. Geoff Barger went the 700-mile-distance to support a company that focuses on gene therapies for patients with rare diseases. Because of air travel restrictions, Geoff drove to Florida from Virginia. He needed one entire day to drive down there – and arrived 15 minutes early. After spending one day working on site for six hours and completing his work, he then drove on to Durham, North Carolina. Geoff ended up spending the night in a hotel as its only guest. “I carry a can of Lysol with me wherever I go now. When I enter the hotel room, I spray all of the soft surfaces. It’s the first thing I do. I spray the couch, the bed, the chairs and light switches.” There was no food locally or at the hotel, so he ordered takeout through a food delivery service.
It was worth the effort as the customer was satisfied with his work: “He completed the period maintenance service on three units in a timely manner.” The customer, who deals with multiple vendors, emphasized that Geoff also maintained the current distancing requirements of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Others have just postponed visits indefinitely. So, I am impressed with the service from your company.”
After four days on the road, Geoff finally arrived at home again. “The concerns are always in the back of your mind, but I love my job and I’m here to do what needs to be done,” he concluded.
Always willing to help
As an Ambr Field Application Specialist, Don Traul is on hand to provide Ambr 250 training and initiate Covid-19-related collaborations with customers and partners. They are involved in Covid-19 research and need their systems up and running. “Our team doesn’t think twice about it; they’ll do whatever it takes to be successful and make the customer successful. We are focused on figuring out solutions,” said Don. He developed this attitude early on. “I worked on a farm during my formative years — sixth grade through high school — and if the sun was shining, there was work that had to be done,” he emphasized.
Always willing to help a client, Don traveled from his Colorado home to Vancouver, Washington, an approximately 1,200-mile trip one way. Due to the pandemic, his flight on Sunday was delayed and he did not arrive until after midnight in Vancouver. Then his return flight on Friday was canceled so he had to travel home Saturday morning. “Some of the interesting observations was how quiet the airport was and there weren’t any cars in the parking lot. Planes were parked on the tarmac and sitting idle,” he reported.
Despite all the risks, he felt safe. “I had buy-in from all of my managers and their guidance. My wife got me gloves and masks and I was as protected as I was going to be.” The only thing he was concerned about was eating. “I knew restaurants would be closed and I didn’t know how I’d deal with it, but there was a really nice supermarket nearby. I went to a coffee shop, the same place every day for breakfast and lunch. So I felt pretty safe.” Probably also because he had the full backing of his supervisor. “The responsibility was on me. My managers said traveling was all up to my discretion. I could back out at any point if I felt unsafe. If I ever thought the risk was too great, I wouldn’t have done it.”
Whether it is Kevin, Geoff or Don - they are all proof of what it means to go the extra mile. Jerry Varvaro, Head of BPS Service in North America, is proud of the teams. “It’s great to see them achieve what they had to in order to get over the obstacles we’ve had because of Covid-19. Everybody pulled together.”