Effortless Field Service Doesn’t Stop in the Call Center: Part 2
Co-Founder & Managing Director – SSC & DS, Harry Radenberg continues his deep dive into the key phases of effortless field service
This article was originally written in April 2021.
In part 1 of our Effortless Field Service blog series, we spent some time explaining how the core concepts of the excellent book The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty by Matt Dixon, Nick Toman, and Rick DeLisi don’t stop at the call center but also extend to your field service operations. As a reminder, I have zero affiliation with Matt Dixon and the company – I’m just an avid fan and a big believer in their findings and methodologies. I won’t re-hash what we covered in part 1 (long story short – read part 1 first and read the book if you haven’t), but we broke out the field service process from the customer standpoint into the following five phases:
5 Key Phases to Successful Field Service (continued)
- Determination: The period where a customer is figuring out their problem and determining if a field visit is needed to resolve their issue.
- Scheduling: The process of scheduling the visit once it’s been determined it is required.
- The Wait: Until we invent teleportation (I have some of my best people on this, and they’re not doing well), there is a window between when that visit gets scheduled and when someone rolls up to a customer’s door.
- The Work: The work that is needed itself and everything that is involved with it.
- Wrap-Up: The work has been completed, and now the technician has their wrap-up process.
We have been applying the findings from Effortless Experience to these phases to make your field service experience less of an effort for your customers and increase customer loyalty. In part 1, we explored the Determination and Scheduling phases. Let’s jump right into the next phase – The Wait.
We’re defining “the wait” as the time between when a customer schedules the appointment and when the truck arrives at the destination to begin the work. This window will vary in time, but regardless of the duration, there are plenty of opportunities here to lower the overall effort of your customer’s experience. I’d say a good argument could be made that this phase is what separates the organizations that “get” customer experience and effort from those that don’t. Success in this phase depends on Communication, Flexibility, and Preparation. Organizations that build their processes to ensure they excel at all three of these will give their company a fighting chance to create an experience requiring less effort on their customers’ behalf. For those that don’t, sadly, they have probably lost the battle in their customer’s minds before that technician even starts their work.
Let’s start with communication. You’ll want to communicate expectations and timing early and often, significantly, if the conditions of your visit are changing. Having your worker arrives at a customer is a disruptive experience regardless of how smoothly it goes. Your customer literally must stop what they are doing to let your worker on site, and then it is essential for “on-call” to be disrupted anytime your worker needs something while they are there. We wrote about the dreaded arrival window in part 1, and the broader that window, the more you ask your customer to disrupt their day. If you can’t provide a tight window for scheduling, you must do it during the waiting phase and communicate that to your customer. Again, even if you can’t give an exact time, providing a customer with a two-hour window is dramatically less disruptive than a four-hour window.
Say you’re scheduling two weeks in advance; at scheduling, all you can commit to is 8 AM – 12 PM that day. Not ideal, but two weeks out, it’s okay. You can tighten that within a week to 10 AM – 12 PM. Communicate that. You know it’ll be from 11 AM – 12 PM two days before – communicate that again. The earlier you can tighten that window for your customer, the more you are freeing up their time to do other things and disrupting their day less. Disruption is an effort when it comes to an onsite visit.
Outside of communications around expected arrivals, you should send reminders and guidance to your customers at appropriate times. We wrote an entire post on how a messaging platform can be a game-changer for your customers, and it really comes down to proactively getting ahead of high-effort issues. Don’t burden your customers with remembering you have a visit coming. Remind them – and when you remind them, remind them with enough time for them to reschedule if needed. A reminder an hour before you arrive is great as long as they are ready for it. It’s even more aggravating for a customer if they aren’t prepared. You have shown the customer you can remind them but chose to do it without enough notice. At a minimum, I’d send that reminder the day before. These reminders should include instructions on what you expect from the customer.
Do you expect the customer to be there for you? If not, great, but what should they do to ensure you’re good without them being there? If you need that Doberman locked inside of the house instead of roaming the backyard where you need access – well, tell them that. Especially these days, if the customer needs to be home, ensure you’re communicating your COVID protocols to them. Let them know what you expect of them and what your workers will be doing on their side. This is an excellent opportunity for issue avoidance – don’t make your customer search for your knowledge; worse, call customer service to get these answers. Send it to them directly and with enough notice so they can prepare. Finally, the “last mile” notification is also a welcome communication.
Even if your worker is on time, it doesn’t hurt to notify your customer that they are on the way, ten minutes out, and on time. This will reduce the stress of a customer trying to guess if you’re going to be on time or not. There are a few excellent ways to do this, including proximity alerts/geofencing (although this does get tough if you have a few appointments next to each other) or just by triggering the alert based on the Service Appointment status changing with the expected travel time.
In a perfect world, everything goes as scheduled; however, Field Service is far from ideal. Customers change their plans, things break, traffic and weather happen, and work can take much longer than expected. This is why good field service organizations build robust but flexible schedules that they can adjust and optimize throughout the day. Communication is the key to your customer if the changes are not due to them (so it’s your issues or outside factors like weather). If you are late, you must let your customer know. Remember, the disruption for them starts when they expect you, not when you arrive. They’ve already scheduled their meetings and day around you.
Missing that window ratchets up the tension and most likely causes even more disruption to the customer. How you communicate depends on how late you’re going to be. I’d say anything more than 30 minutes needs a phone call. I’d also argue you need the same for being early. Showing up thirty minutes early without notification is just as bad as showing up thirty minutes late. While being early is probably great for your field worker and you – as it means the day is humming – for the customer, it’s causing them effort. The fact of the matter is they probably aren’t ready for you, and now you’re surprising them. I’d follow the same communication rules for being late if you’re also coming in ahead of the provided window.
Finally, if you need to cancel and reschedule, you should be calling and not just emailing/texting that news. Obviously, this is never a great conversation – and essentially, you’ve lost the effort battle at this point, but the goal here is not to make it worse. If the customer initiates the change, the challenge concerns rescheduling. Trying to be flexible to accommodate their change will be essential as they may be asking for a new date and time that you can’t make, depending on how last-minute this change is. The “can you be here an hour later” type request is tough to accommodate without impacting your other customers, so you will need to empower your dispatch team to handle these situations in a reasonable manner that doesn’t suddenly turn this into a negative for you.
We covered this in our Messaging Platform for Field Service post, but it’s worth repeating here – sending SMS alerts is terrific, but if you do, you had better be able to receive and handle replies to them. If you send an SMS and then force the customer to call you to ask a question or to make a change, you’re essentially adding a channel switch to your customer, which is an additional effort for them. Instead, allow them to respond via the channel your alerts are leaving.
Sometimes, you can add a bot to enable automated responses to customer’s questions or actions – like canceling an appointment. Finally, don’t make the call to ensure they speak to an agent. This is where you can route that SMS message into a conversational chat with Digital Engagement and have a live conversation via SMS with the agent. As a reminder, our Omni Alerts for Field Service platform handles a lot of this logic for the Salesforce side and can plug into all the major messaging platforms for the actual delivery.
Preparation is another crucial step for a field service team. What can you as an organization prepare in advance to ensure the visit has the highest chance of success and the least burden to your customer? Prior site knowledge is critical if your service appointment is for something recurring – like a delivery or a monthly service. Pictures of the driveway so the truck knows where to park, gate codes, heads up about pets and kids that tend to be running around, and even the history of past work/issues that have been handled at the customer – all of these should be right at your worker’s fingertips and associated to the work order. Make sure your worker asks the customer questions that you, as a company, already know.
Get them right into your worker’s hands. This also extends to what your customer will need for the job. Do you know in advance what parts or tools your worker will need for the work type? If so, communicate that in the work order so your worker has them in the truck. Not having this increases the chance that you’ll need to do a second truck roll, which is costly and a massive high effort for your customer. No customer wants to hear, “I don’t have the right part and will need to return.”
The easiest way to wrap up this phase is that all these items are effort avoidance. If you don’t do these, you are essentially piling extra effort and burden onto your customers. Most customers will barely remember or notice that you’re doing these things – but they’ll remember if you don’t or bungled them. This can make a big difference to how your customer opens the door to your worker – are they already frustrated and hassled or ready to let your technician get to work?
We’re finally at the point where you get to do the work, you’re making the trip for! Excellent how much must be done before you even get to your customer’s door. From a process standpoint, there is little to discuss with the work itself. Of course, your worker needs to deliver the work professionally and not do anything to offend or upset the customer – but if you need help there, you might want to focus on those basics before you start trying the more advanced stuff we’re talking about.
I think the biggest thing to acknowledge here is that there will always be jobs that are much harder than expected, and accept the fact that when those are hit, there’s nothing you can do to reduce that effort score for your customer. Even if you’re explaining the issue thoroughly and it’s not your fault, you are taking more time than expected and maybe even billing the customer more. No one will ever be happy with that – you need to roll with it and try to minimize the damage.
I’ve got my personal experience here that drives this home. Especially considering I’m in the business, I go out of my way to understand customer and field, service agents. They have a tough job, and 99% of the time, the problem isn’t due to them (not only that, but I geek out a little on what they are doing. When I had Andersen Windows at my house to replace a window, I was trying to get a better look at their field service app and see how they’d set it up, especially once I realized it was Salesforce). I live in an old house, and it must have settled and severed a wire for all the lights in my living room. We had an electrician come over to repair this, and this turned into an epic battle including an extra worker, them having to climb into the crawl space of doom, holes cut into my living room wall, multiple observations of how “thorough” our insulation foam spray was in the basement (it was), severing my internet line (due to it being hidden in that thorough insulation foam).
Finally, six hours later, with triple the expense, I had lights in the living room again. None of this was their fault – they didn’t put metal beams in my floor or insulate the basement so heavily you couldn’t see all of the wires trapped in the foam – but they were the ones there tripling my time and money effort, causing me to reschedule meetings and then forcing me to work off my phone for two hours before they restored the internet. If I’m a 9 or 10 on the reasonable scale and I felt the effort here (and even though it’s unfair will probably not call that electrician again), you must assume most customers are a 6 or 7 at best. Basically, when stuff goes wrong – and it will on occasion – you just need to minimize the damage because it’ll be impossible not to have a negative effort experience.
That said, some things are in control while you’re working that can reduce customer effort. The first is issue avoidance. If your worker sees something that can also be fixed – or if they see an upcoming appointment that they can knock out while there – that is a positive. You are reducing your customer’s effort by eliminating a second onsite visit. If there’s an extra cost to do this, explain it to the customer and give them the option. However, if it’s an issue you’d need to come back for, most customers prefer to take care of it now instead of having a second visit. If you’re eliminating a trip that’s already scheduled, let them know that you could get that work done and tell them you’re canceling the second trip. Get credit for that trip avoidance!
Second is any upsell process you have. Sometimes you’ll need something different than the customer ordered, or you might need to do it differently. Sometimes these will be very natural and obvious – the customer was quoted for five windows, and it turns out they had six. Others are more a true upsell – “Were you aware we also can spray for mosquitos and not just handle rodents?” Upselling is part of the business, but you’ll want to ensure you do it in a way that doesn’t start to turn the experience negative. Limit the offers that a worker needs to make. Especially if the job is already in negative effort territory, give your workers the latitude to pass on making an offer. If you have promotions, ensure your workers are equipped (back to the preparation steps we discussed above) with the latest offers so the customer is well-charged. Finally, make these offers simple. Remember, field workers are typically not salespeople.
Ironically, the whole reason we’re making this service appointment is the area you can control the least when it comes to reducing your customer effort perception. It’s more likely to cause a negative experience than a positive experience with the ever-present threat that something unexpected happens.
What you were sent for is now completed (hopefully with no unexpected issues), and you must wrap up the appointment. This phase has a couple of gotchas as well as opportunities. First, anything your customer needs to do to sign off on the work should be painless and entirely within your field worker’s control. They should be able to generate a service report or receipt from the customer site and make any necessary edits and changes to these. It’s critical that any changes – including as part of the upsell process – can be handled by the field worker. It doesn’t require introducing a channel switch by making the customer speak to sales or customer service. Even a field worker needing to call into customer service/dispatch to get the work order adjusted to generate the output is an issue as it’s adding time for the customer, who is typically standing there waiting while the field worker is on the phone. Sometimes you need to get creative here – especially when using 3rd party workers – but it’s worth getting creative to not add additional effort on the customer.
One ample opportunity here is around issue avoidance. A lot of times, the work could lead to future issues or symptoms down the road. When these happen, the customer is going to call customer service. To avoid this, arm your field worker with the ability to leave behind instructions for the customer and explain these to them. Two minutes of the field worker guiding the customer on what might happen in a few weeks will save your customer service team ten minutes later (and eliminate an interaction from your customer, thereby reducing their effort). One thing to remember is that this can be something other than your field worker delivering this. As part of your communication channel, you can follow up a day later with a knowledge article about what to expect after the work has been concluded. It’s a terrific way to be proactive and get ahead of a customer call. If your service is recurring, you can communicate or schedule the next visit and leave instructions on what to expect there. This will keep your customer from having to call customer service to do this.
Finally, you can survey your customers about your field visit. Customer Service teams routinely send surveys around cases, but it’s less common around field visits. Why? We’ve just walked through many areas that can lead to customer dissatisfaction if things go wrong – it’s worth seeing how you’re performing. The surveys should ask about the effort of the visit to the customer. Find out how much effort your customers spend on your visits. Very quickly, you’ll be able to start seeing trends in different work types or areas where you’re putting too much effort into the customer. One super interesting aspect of comparing is your customer service effort score versus your field service effort score. Are you squandering a perceived low-effort experience with a high-effort field service experience in the call center? You may already have a high-effort customer service experience, putting you in the negative for the field service experience. There’s only one way to find out.
There are many opportunities across the field service experience to reduce effort on behalf of your customers.
One of the key points that Effortless Experience drives home is that every customer service interaction has a stronger chance of being a negative experience than a positive one for your customer. I think that goes double for field service interactions. Coming into someone’s home or place of work is already starting in an awkward spot, and we just discussed so many factors that can go more negative from there. It’s tough – and in many cases, it isn’t fair – but it’s reality, and you need to model your processes and technology around these facts.
Not all these ideas will work for every type of work – but many of the concepts can be applied regardless of what your field team does. Are you reviewing your field service processes for the customer effort involved? If not, you could risk your field service organization being an adverse driver to customer loyalty – even if you’re performing the work exactly like you need to. Let us know what you think – there’s a lot here, and it’ll be a topic we come back to.
Finally, if this has been an eye-opener for you and you want help on this journey, reach out. We’ll get you a copy of Effortless Experience and then talk to you about how we can get you onto that effortless journey.
– Harry Radenberg, Co-Founder & Managing Director – SSC & DS