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Five ways to improve the customer experience in the field

Five ways to improve the customer experience in the field

When customers have great experiences with companies, they buy more, they tell others and are less likely to leave. Forrester research (The Revenue Impact of Customer Experience) and dozens of others have calculated that those positive feelings can amount to hundreds of millions and even billions in additional revenue. If you’ve looked at reviews of companies or asked friends for suggestions, you’ve been part of that engine.

Despite what seems common sense, the usual field services experience doesn’t conjure delight. Instead, one can feel a stomach knot thinking about the ensuing hassles across a many B2C and B2B industries, including telecommunications, utilities and manufacturing. Typically the interactions include:

  • Scheduling gauntlets. First, customers must navigate an IVR, contact center or web self-service gauntlet to get service. Equipment rarely comes with contact center numbers of any use and serial numbers have little or no connection to customer data anyway that would help. The worried chef at one company put it this way: “Sysco seems to bring the order whenever they want…in the middle of lunch rush. Is there a way to establish specific days for delivery?”
  • Unwieldy delivery and service windows. Next, customers must deal with delivery windows that can range up to half a day – or in the case of a moving company, up to 5 days. While this may provide firms with flexibility, it fails to account for the inconvenience, time and money (use of vacation time or unpaid leave) customers expend for the company’s sake.
  • Uninformed, unprepared & unprofessional technicians. Finally, customers may likely have to work with outsourced 3rd party technicians or service staff that have little visibility into the customers’ overall interaction history of interactions (from the point of sale, to any past service calls, etc.), making customers repeat basic histories. Without that knowledge, they often fail to show up with the right equipment, tools or replacement parts wasting time and money for both parties. And finally, to top it all off, they come with little empathy for customers, with metrics on how fast they close tickets rather than make sure customers feel well taken care of. Forget all that effort brand-building…these brand ambassadors leave the biggest impression.

Rethink field services as a form of customer engagement

Businesses and consumer alike view on-site visits as a disruption. Make it worthwhile by using these visits as an opportunity to build a personal relationship with the customer. Improve the customer experience and recognize the fantastic opportunity to engage customers. To do this:

  • Be Proactive: Hone big data to create proactive service. Smart firms will use big-data and predictive analytics to understand the root causes of service call variance and take actions to mitigate them. Even better, they will pre-empt problems entirely and focus on customer success with products and services, whether that’s through the crucial first 90 days or as part of an on-going relationship. Internet-connected sensors embedded in machines allow firms like Abbott Diagnostics to collect terabytes of data monthly that enables the firm to predict when a machine is about to fail and proactively dispatch a technician with the right equipment ahead of time to prevent the failure. Preventing problems not only has a big impact on the overall experience, it can positively impact your clients’ bottom lines.

  • Be Different: Re-think dispatch: When Uber and Lyft created their ride-sharing businesses, they didn’t just create a mobile app – they re-invented dispatch to better match resources with customer needs and along the way essentially eliminated the contact center. Design self-service with relevant customer data to automate dispatch and make it easier to make and schedule requests with flexible service levels. Examine the routing of field-based crews and re-think the dispatch model to maximize customer-facing time with tools like Salesforce Field Service Lightning. Every time a field-tech needs to return to his office or warehouse for a part or tool, they lose critical customer facing time. Consider mid-air refueling: rather than stop to get gas, the gas comes to you and you stay in the field. When feasible, bring the right material to the field to save time.

  • Be transparent: Create flexible and visible delivery windows. With 1-Hour delivery windows, Safeway shoppers can schedule a grocery delivery at an available time that perfectly fits a tight schedule. Shoppers can also save money by selecting an available 2-Hour window or an environmentally friendly “Green” 4-Hour window. Comcast’s “Uber-esque” mobile app sends customers an alert when a technician is about 30 minutes away…and allows users to track the technician on a map (Graphic source: Build in redundant back-ups, such as additional technicians to pick up slack when one visit goes long.

  • Be empathetic: Move beyond installation to customer success. While she was the VP of branded customer experience at Time Warner Cable, Catherine Cattrell initiated a pilot aimed at improving customer experience out in the field. She recruited a set of high-performing technicians, gave them a more professional uniform, provided them soft-skills training to empathize with customers’ needs, and instructed them in how to not just install the cable services but rather to make sure the customer could do what they wanted on it. While these house calls took longer, they also reduced future calls to contact center and increased the speed that customers experienced the value of the services they purchased.

  • Be attuned: Change to customer-focused metrics. Internal performance metrics often have little connection with the actual customer experience. Think about “on time departure” for airlines. How many times do airlines pull back from the gate to comply to an on time departure target only to sit 10 feet from the gate for 90 minutes due to an air traffic delay. Leading edge contact centers at firms like American Express have eliminated outdated internally-focused metrics like call handling time in favor of more engagement and better experiences that lead to future revenue – field services organizations should follow suit. Elevate customer-focused metrics like “ease of doing business” and “likelihood to recommend” (Net Promoter Score) while putting resolution time on the back-burner.

Your customer’s expectations – regardless of industry and despite being a business-to-business company – are being set by Amazon, Uber and Apple. They don’t care about the complexity of your internal operational environment or the challenges of your old and outdated IT systems. They want interactions to be easy and not waste their valuable time. Firms that succeed see customers who do more business with them and who become a powerful marketing advocate through their word-of-mouth.

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