Waiting is the hardest part–Improving customer service through better time management

by Jeffrey Wartgow, TOA Technologies

Want to improve customer service? Hire more technicians and call center employees, right? Not necessarily. More staff means customers receive service sooner. But this approach alone rarely results in better customer experience.

Getting an appointment as soon as possible is important. But good customer experience means being transparent and arriving on time within a reasonable service window and performing fast, expert work done right the first time.

With tighter margins and a more competitive landscape, customer service can be used to attract new and retain existing business. Not valuing customers’ time by being late and scheduling additional visits to complete work is a sure way to send business to competitors.

Modern technology can eliminate the frustration everyone feels from not knowing service wait times, can empower the professionals delivering that service and can help companies improve first-time fix rates. Leading mobile work force management solutions elevate the consumer experience and help utilities reduce costs and work more efficiently.

Ideal solutions use powerful, intelligent algorithms that measure field activities with minute-to-minute accuracy, giving systems the ability to predict where each field resource should be at any moment. That level of detail allows for highly efficient job routing that results in 20-25 percent increases in field service productivity.

Waiting is the Hardest Part

Tom Petty was onto something when he wrote that line. Waiting, or more specifically waiting without knowing how long you’ll have to wait, is the hardest part.

Few things are more frustrating than waiting at home in the dark for a utility to restore power while your fate rests in the hands of a mobile field-worker at some unknown location. The waiting is bad enough, but the real annoyance is uncertainty.

Think about a traffic jam: sitting behind the wheel, waiting for the car in front of you to move. In 2001, the U.S. Department of Transportation studied the impacts of highway information signs that posted expected travel times. Drivers were significantly less frustrated in the same situation when they were informed how long they’d be stuck in their cars.

Similarly, mobile work force solutions can offer customers transparency about appointment times as they wait for utility services. For example, advanced mobile work force solutions can provide updates to customers through their preferred methods via phone calls, texts and emails, reminding them of upcoming appointments, providing notice a technician will arrive within a specific time frame and offering the ability to cancel, confirm or reschedule appointments. Some systems can provide pictures of technicians to confirm the person wearing a company uniform really is a utility representative.

Customers want to know they are a priority and utilities value their time as much as their business. Facebook and Twitter give a clear picture of the number of people who complain about waiting without knowing anything.

In a recent customer survey on attitudes about waiting, 29 percent said being forced to wait made them feel as though companies “don’t care about my time.” Only 22 percent gave service providers the benefit of the doubt and said the length of time needed to perform service is unpredictable.

The Transportation Department report on highway signs found drivers got less frustrated with waiting as travel time accuracy improved. Offering specific service times and meeting those schedules should cut aggravation levels.

The right field service management solution–one that simultaneously prioritizes the customer and a utility’s operational efficiency–can quickly and cost-effectively improve customers’ experiences. Offering more convenient appointment times, optimizing routing and scheduling, accurately predicting appointment times, and ensuring properly trained and equipped technicians meet those tight schedules and keep customers in the loop during the process improve satisfaction.

Uniformed Face of Your Company

Great service must go beyond transparency. The service employee in the field is the final representation of your brand and often the only representative of your company who interacts face-to-face with customers. Those interactions are more important to maintain a good brand image than putting nice logos on vans.

Avoiding that dreaded waiting-in-the-dark problem is the first step to better service. The next is offering accurate appointment times that best suit customers’ needs. Top field service management solutions can help by creating efficient work schedules that increase the number of jobs technicians can perform each day without increasing manpower costs.

To generate those efficient schedules, top-of-the-line systems need detailed information on what crews are capable of doing. Some systems schedule based on averages, such as the average time to complete a job, the average load-out needed for a particular vehicle and the average skill level for a technician. The best solutions recognize each technician has a unique skill set and way of doing things. With unique personal performance profiles for each employee, this technology can predict how long each job will take each person in any situation.

Precise predictions allow for more sophisticated planning and enable many service providers to offer appointment windows of two-hour or less instead of asking customers to wait all day and ensure technicians meet those windows nearly 100 percent of the time. This difference is magnified for appointments late in the afternoon when legacy systems typically struggle with early morning delays that ripple throughout the day.

Customers Care About Technician Skill Levels

Getting the right person to the job is critical. If the wrong technician takes forever or is unable to fix a problem, what impression does that create? Again, this employee represents the last and sometimes only company representative customers will meet.

In the customer-waiting survey, 81 percent of respondents said being impressed with a technician’s skill level gave them a good impression of the service company. On-time arrival was important, but service quality was the bigger influencer.

Customers typically don’t ask to see their technicians’ certifications or compare repair-time performances to those of other technicians. High skill-level marks generally mean a technician quickly resolved a problem.

To a customer, good service means getting the job done right the first time, preventing costly and annoying follow-up visits. Getting the right field employee to the right appointment on time isn’t just important to solving field issues; it can be what defines power companies to their customers.

It’s also something service providers can control using the proper tools.

Social Technology Enables Technical Collaboration

Customer service and operational efficiencies are key, but ensuring the work force deployed to deliver field service is enabled with the right tools to do the best job possible amplifies these benefits.

Many mobile solutions can match technician skills with available jobs, and the field service agent knows how to deal with the problem he or she expects. Modern inventory management tools give mobile crews a sense of needed materials to get the job done right the first time.

Leading solutions go further, giving mobile employees access to technical knowledge bases because despite the best planning, unexpected challenges arise. Even if a technician is trained on a specific piece of equipment, unfamiliar problems arise. Technicians should be able to do what many young adults do when they run into a problem: crowd source solutions using social collaboration tools.

Instead of asking dispatch to send a new technician, which adds cost to the service provider and aggravation to the customer, social collaboration tools embedded in some solutions are directly accessible for the technician. Those tools allow them to ask field peers if they have seen this problem. Or, service experts at a technical center could help guide field crews through such problems without dispatching someone new.

On the materials side, top mobile solutions go beyond simple inventory management and allow for mobile coordination. Using the solution’s social collaboration tools, a technician missing a key piece of equipment could search the truck inventories of nearby colleagues.

Instead of routing that engineer to a parts depot, adding nonproductive travel time to a job and possibly delay on-time appointment arrival, dispatchers or technicians could coordinate exchange points in the field. By knowing where technicians will be throughout the day, thanks to personal performance profiles and mapping systems, solutions can find crossovers where a technician who isn’t using a tool can hand it off to the technician who needs it.

Through personal performance profiles, collaboration tools, selecting the proper technician for the job and keeping the customer informed, modern field service management tools can enhance appointment scheduling and the service work, transforming the field work force from a necessary piece of the service delivery cycle to a component that drives efficiencies, reduces costs, enhances service and your brand.

Author

As vice president at TOA Technologies, Jeffrey Wartgow is responsible for developing and managing the TOA Technologies channels and alliances team. In this role, Wartgow manages the company’s many partner relationships and supports the successful launch of mobile work force projects integrating field service management solutions with many back-office, customer-facing and information technology systems.

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