Customer Communications

You call your bank to check on a charge to your account that you do not recognize. “Please say or type your 16-digit account number,” says the automated voice. You dutifully oblige and then push the “3” button to reach a human. After a couple of minutes, a live voice appears on the line. “This is Kim. How can I help you today?” You respond with your issue and the very next question is “I can help you with that. For security purposes, can I please have your 16-digit account number?” “What?” you think to yourself. “I already provided this information.”

The scenario above represents one of my biggest pet peeves when working with any financial organization. It suggests a number of issues – lack of integration between automated systems and the ones that representatives use, an assumption that I might not be very good at identifying and pushing buttons with numbers on them, or that scammers and thieves can be easily thwarted by having to say an account number, rather than just pushing the buttons on a phone. I believe that the first reason, lack of integration between systems, is primarily at fault, but the key point is that I no longer prefer the phone to deal with my financial institution.

This brings us to the systems that a field service company uses to manage its business. Many of these systems are inward-facing, dealing with payroll, accounting, inventory, and the like. But how well have the externally-facing systems been set up? These systems represent the ways that customers interact with the business and they are critical to acquiring and retaining customers, especially as the way they work, and that we work with them, has been forced to evolve. Whether by phone, website, email, or text message, the interactions need to be consistent, despite their unique qualities and need to be supported whether someone is in their office, in their home, or in some other location. Where consistency can be enforced across all these scenarios, the dividends will be substantial, supporting brand awareness and creating a positive customer experience across all communication channels.

First Touch

Perhaps one of the most critical touchpoints for any service organization is the first one. How easy is it to navigate the phone menu, or make a request on the website? Better yet, is there a dedicated line for service requests that bypasses the lengthy menus and recorded messages? After all, the potential client is dealing with an issue that needs fixing and time spent navigating through phone menus could feel like a lifetime. If you have a number of customers under maintenance contract, consider a dedicated number that gives these important customers more direct access and a VIP experience.

For non-emergency scheduling, consider a few different channels where the customer can identify the problem and provide preferences for scheduling the service call. These channels could include a web portal, a specific email address, or even text messaging capabilities. Again, for those customers with maintenance contracts, consider a proactive, outbound message to initiate the service visit, based on the maintenance interval time. When considering a web portal, make sure that there are no onerous software or browser dependencies. This capability should be easily supported on a standard configuration, especially as many people are now doing their jobs from home.

Once initial contact is made, are automated responses and confirmations sent quickly? Ideally, there’s a mechanism for responding quickly to voice mails, emails, web requests, or text messages. If there is no

automated way in place to accomplish this, does someone on the service team have the responsibility to connect with the customer? This key step lets the customer know that their request has been received and is being worked on. Bonus points for being able to personalize automated responses with company or contact name.

Scheduling the Service

Coordinating a technician to meet the customer’s timetable can be challenging, but customers should be insulated from those challenges as much as possible. From an internal perspective, leverage tools that help match the right technician to the job. Their suitability at the time could depend on several factors – location, areas of expertise, and equipment and parts on board their vehicle, for example.

Once the technician has been scheduled, let the customer know what the schedule looks like and when they can expect service. Windows of time are a necessary evil with a remote workforce due to unforeseen issues that might impact the arrival time. But being able to shrink the window, say from a 4-hour window to a 2-hour window will give customers a more positive perception of the service company and its ability to manage the remote workforce. If the time window can be shrunk to an hour or less, that represents best-in-class.

When the Technician Is On the Way

The service call has been scheduled and the technician is assigned. Keeping customers informed through a variety of communications keeps the lines of communication open to further reinforce a customer-centric approach. For example, a confirmation can be sent via the customer’s preferred channel. But rather than send a one-way communication, consider adding a feedback mechanism for the customer to confirm that the time still works, or to provide updates relative to their own availability.

Even more important is the ability to keep the customer informed as their service time approaches and should include a call from the technician when they are 15-20 minutes away. Leveraging technology even provides interactive mapping capabilities that will show where the service technician is on an interactive map, taking any guesswork out of the arrival time, as it approaches.

Completing the Service Call

Once the work is completed and it’s time to sign off, what does the customer review? Traditionally, the technician would walk through the work that was done and answer any questions. But with concerns about direct, person-to-person interaction, why not attach pictures to the job that was done? This approach reassures the customer and shows them exactly what work was performed, since the field tech may not be able to do a traditional review, and equipment placement often precludes customers from seeing the work for themselves.

Once the technician leaves the worksite, what kind of follow-up is conducted to provide the customer with a review of the problem, and the fix? Take advantage of the field service management technology and roll up the results of the repair. This can include an overview of the work done, as well as the pictures documenting the failed part(s) and showing the replacements. For certain types of equipment, it would be helpful to include any regulatory documents that need to be filed, or that were filed on their behalf.

The Billing Process

Now that the work is done, it is time to get paid for it. What does this process look like with technology applied? For one, it can be considerably quicker and can eliminate the physical transfer of paper documents from one person to another. Also, since the information from completed work orders can be sent immediately back to the office, invoices can be turned around in hours, or a couple of days. But, be aware of the agreed-upon billing terms for maintenance customers and make sure the due date doesn’t reflect anything other than those agreed-upon terms.

But think about the billing process as an opportunity to accomplish a few other objectives, including additional awareness about services you might offer, as well as a request for feedback. No need to do a hard sell, as the contact is already a customer, but certainly a chance to demonstrate the full range of service offerings. As far as customer feedback, it is essential to give customers the opportunity to share how their experience went, whether good or bad.

Follow-up

The service has been completed and the invoice has been processed and sent. Now is the perfect time to stay top-of-mind with a follow-up. The beauty of this communication is that there is no ulterior motive or sales angle, so the customer perceives this purely as goodwill. Yet, you can subtly support your objective of a quality customer experience.

This communication can take several forms, depending on how much work is performed for that customer on a regular basis. It might be appropriate to send a follow-up that summarizes the single visit, or perhaps roll up all visits for a certain period of time – monthly, quarterly, etc.

Synopsis

At the end of the day, it is about associating service with positive customer experience at every stage of the journey. From beginning to end, companies need to take advantage of every opportunity to smooth the path to completed service, whether planned and scheduled, or based on an emergency situation. Maintaining consistency in the look and feel of messages, regardless of the channel, will enhance the service company’s brand, keep the customer informed at all times, and provide a customer experience that differentiates the service offerings from competitors.

Field service management solutions can help open up additional communications channels, leverage the internet for self-service options and real-time technician tracking, and aggregate information for the customer that demonstrates exactly what was done, including pictures, to eliminate billing disputes and resolve any discrepancies that might arise. Additionally, the same solution can streamline internal processes, eliminate tedious, paper-based tasks, and drive efficiency for greater revenue. Sounds like a win-win!