It's a full-on blizzard over here in New England so I find myself yet again…
1. Effortless Field Service – Effortless Service Doesn’t Stop in the Call Center: Part 1
I’m a pretty avid reader, but I tend to read mostly science fiction, fantasy, and weird fiction (although during the pandemic I’ve broadened out a bit into more standard fiction). For me, reading is the way I shut off my brain from work and exercise it a different way. Due to this, I’m not a big reader of business methodology/business transformation type of stuff – which I realize is a little ironic considering the field I’m in. I do read these types of books, but for me, they need to be one that literally changes how I look at challenges and makes me re-think my approaches. Not a lot of them do that, but one exception is The Effortless Experience: Conquering the New Battleground for Customer Loyalty by Matt Dixon, Nick Toman and Rick DeLisi (just to be super clear, I have zero affiliation with them – I wish I did – but this is all unsolicited and uncompensated praise). If you are in the customer service space and you haven’t read this book, you honestly need to go pick up a copy – and grab your highlighter (or if you’re on the Kindle, get the highlight function ready) because you’re going to be taking a lot of notes. This is a terrific book that challenges a lot of the traditional thoughts around customer service and backs them up with a ton of stats. The research this book tackled was beyond impressive and the authors do a terrific job mining these statistics for some really impactful discoveries and recommendations.
This post isn’t explicitly about the book, it’s more my take on extending the findings of it a bit, but I do need to give a little background of what those findings are for things to make sense. The overarching theme of the book is that the best way to make your customers happy is to reduce their effort. It’s not about wowing them or going above and beyond with customer service, (in fact, the authors make a strong argument you need to avoid having customers talk to customer service as much as possible) but rather solving that customer’s problem with as little effort as possible. On the surface that sounds really obvious, but when you start to take a step back and look at what customer service organizations do and how they train their agents, they are inadvertently (and sometimes purposefully) adding effort onto the customer. It’s a fascinating read and it goes into multiple ways that effort is added and how to reduce that effort – all of these methodologies are backed by a ton of statistical data.
So how does this apply to Field Service? Well, I got to thinking about this after someone had posted within the Field Service United LinkedIn group (if you’re interested in Field Service, this is a great group to join to hear the latest thoughts on the space) and mentioned Effortless Experience. While the book itself is mostly focused on the call center and self-help side of customer service, Field Service really is an extension of that. Think about all of the work you could have put into making your call center experience effortless – reducing channel switching, getting customers to the right agent/channel on the first try, and enabling your agents to truly make the experience more effortless for your customer – and after all of that, the end result is that an onsite visit is required. Maybe it’s for an installation, an upgrade, or even a repair – but it involves rolling a truck and getting a technician onsite to your customer. How quickly could that great experience unravel if your field service experience is loaded with effort? What’s worse is all of the positives you gained in during the agent and self-service side will be forgotten and all that will be remembered is the negative field service experience. At the end of the day – if you’re a believer in effortless experience (or you’re just starting to read the book and are getting blown away by the concepts) and your service experience includes a field aspect – you’re going to need to extend that effortless philosophy into the field.
Let’s dive into how to make this happen. Obviously, I’m not going to have the stats that Matt Dixon and team have at their disposal, but I’ll leverage a lot of the concepts that they advocate for within the book. If you have a field part to your customer service experience, basically, there’s five “phases” to a field experience that your customer goes through. We’ll look at each phase and break down ways you can make them more effortless for your customers. In this post we’ll hit the first two phases, and then we’ll go through the rest in Part 2.
- 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, now the technician has their wrap-up process.
The determination phase has the most overlap with your traditional customer service. I won’t re-hash the book and all of the things that can be done with the call center or that your agents can do with handling the customer interaction (there’s a lot – but read the book), instead I’ll focus on the parts that really impact field service. The biggest factor here is do you actually need to dispatch someone to the customer, or can you resolve the issue with your agents? Matt Dixon and team cover in depth the concept that channel switching leads to higher effort for your customer. So, a customer that has to go to your website, then call your call center has already switched channels once. I’ll go on a small limb here and say that an in-person dispatch is another form of channel switching. In these covid days that might even be more so. To be fair, I do think certain situations won’t be as bad. For example, if your customer’s kid just threw a ball through their window and they are explicitly calling to get a technician out there to replace that window pane – the impact of that channel switch will be low. The customer is self-aware that it is required – however, I don’t think the impact drops to zero in these cases. It’s still effort to deal with this. However, there are definitely situations where a customer is hoping this can be resolved without someone coming to their house. Their internet is down for example. They have gone to your site, looked for an outage in the area, then hit your self-help tools trying to reset the router themselves and now they are calling your agent and going through multiple attempts all with no luck. When you hit them with the news that you need to get someone to their home to look at it – that’s a channel switch with a lot of perceived effort wrapped around it.
While it’s impossible to avoid all dispatches, customer service teams need to be thinking about ways they can eliminate these to reduce that effort. The biggest tool here is giving your agents the ability to see what the customer is looking at. In that internet example above, maybe the customer isn’t tech savvy and is having trouble understanding what cables or indicator lights the agent is talking about. Sometimes the problem is simply identifying what product the customer is talking about. Think about your own home – do you know exactly what model your windows are? Your garage opener? Your boiler? Half the time we’re lucky if we can figure out the brand let alone the model. Now, what chance does your agent have on a phone call? This is where pictures and video are worth 1,000 words – or maybe at least a truck roll deflection. Everyone has a mobile phone these days – take advantage of that and have your customers share what they are looking at. At a bare minimum, have a way that your customers can take pictures and send them to your agent. Super simple approach here – have a SMS-enabled customer service number that they can send pictures to and just have the customer type in the Case number. With very little work you can then have those images automatically associated with that Case and visible to the agents while they are still on the phone. Another great option is camera sharing. Give your agents an app that allows them to see through your customer’s camera. Agents can tell the customer where to point it and can even take screenshots while they are watching – this is a perfect way to guide a customer through a process. There are a few AppExchange products that integrate directly with Service Cloud for this. We wrote about Glance’s Camera Sharing app a few months after covid really shut everything down. A few months after this, Salesforce released their own Visual Remote Assistant product as well.
Overall, the goal of this step should be providing your agents or self-help with any tools possible to avoid sending a technician onsite. At the same time, as I mentioned – some problems simply need someone onsite to solve them. For those types of issues, definitely don’t make it tough on your customer to figure this out. Don’t create self-help articles that give the impression the customer can solve this on their own when it’s simply too complex. A big part of the effortless experience is making sure to tell your customer the right channel to solve their problem. If that right channel is a technician visit – make that clear and get them right to the scheduling phase. Making it difficult for your customer in advance and then hitting them with the need for an onsite visit will just make things worse – and is the opposite of making it effortless for them.
The scheduling process can have a few factors that can drive extra perceived effort for your customers. First and foremost is do your customers need to switch channels in order to schedule a visit? If you have a service that you’re not trying to deflect a truck-roll as we mentioned above – like propane delivery or routine maintenance visits – you’re going to want to ensure your customers can schedule visits on their own versus making them call or reach out to schedule. For other service types – you need to balance the odds of deflecting the field visit with the ease of booking. What’s a bigger effort for the customer? Having to call in and speak to an agent who manages to solve their problem on the phone, or giving a customer a self-service ability to schedule an onsite visit for something that didn’t need a visit? That balance is really probably determined by the product/services you offer and your odds of successfully avoiding a visit. If you’re not sure here – surveying your customers is critical – and be sure to include effort-related questions about the field visit. Find out what they think the effort is. One other big effort note here – if your customers are speaking to an agent as part of the determination process you need to ensure your agents are empowered to schedule the visit if it’s needed. Don’t introduce a negative effort by forcing your customers to be transferred to a dispatch team that controls the schedule. If you need to do this due to the lack of a scheduling system – it’s time to talk to Salesforce about Field Service. If you have a system like Field Service and your process still forces this, you’re honestly doing something wrong.
Outside of how to schedule a visit, a big effort factor is also around the availability of resources to schedule. If your internet is down and you can’t get a technician to the customer for a week – that’s a massive inconvenience to your customer and no matter how successful your agent and technicians were with their pieces, that week of being down is going to be the negative that is remembered. I think a big factor here is your schedule priorities and how you apply your weights. Is your lack of availability because you’re trying to optimize cost savings too much and you’re refusing to allow a technician that’s a bit longer of a distance to take a Work Order? If so, you’re hurting your customer loyalty by saving a few dollars which in the long run will be more costly. Another idea here is to tier your work types. Not all work types are equal and they shouldn’t all be scheduled as if they are the same. Using the internet example, work types where a customer is down should have schedule priority over an upgrade, for example. This doesn’t mean you just keep re-scheduling upgrade work that has already been scheduled (spoiler alert – re-schedules = effort) but rather make sure you’re only allowing a certain number of lower priority work types to be scheduled per day or per week. Salesforce Field Service has this capability and essentially this ensures you always have some slots available for higher priority work types – even if they come in last minute. If you have your next week of work already at capacity and it’s all lower priority work types, when that emergency work order comes in, you’re going to make it worse by having to schedule it even further out (or in some cases really increase your costs by doing it off hours, etc.).
A big part of reducing a customer’s perceived effort is proactively avoiding future issues – or effort. While scheduling, you have a big opportunity to potentially reduce future effort by seeing if there is future work that can be done at the same time as this visit. “I see you have an annual maintenance visit coming up in 45 days – why don’t we knock that out for you while we’re there?” Music to a customer’s ears – now you’re actually reducing their effort by preventing a future visit. On the flip side, is there anything more aggravating when you have someone over for service and then like a week later you get the notice for the next regularly scheduled visit? Your first thought is immediately, “why didn’t you just do that while you were here!” and now that effort perception of a regular visit has gone through the room.
Finally, let’s talk about the dreaded service window. I think it’s pretty safe to have the rule that the larger the timeframe you provide for your scheduling window, the more effort you’re putting on your customer. Telling your customer – even with say two weeks notice – that their appointment can be any time in a given day is essentially preventing your customer from scheduling other things that day, which is a hassle, which is effort. The tighter you can keep that window up front, the less burden you are putting on your customer. I completely get that some businesses can’t get down to a specific time too far in advance because the actual route of all the work orders that day plays into it. Deliveries are a great example of this. If you can’t give a specific time to your customer at the time of scheduling, you’re going to want to get them a specific time as soon as you can. The longer the customer needs to wait for that specific arrival time, the more likely you’re going to be perceived as a high effort to them. We’ll discuss more in more detail how to go about this in “The Wait” next.
That’s it for Part 1 of Effortless Field Service. In Part 2 we’ll go over The Wait, The Work itself, and what we can do in the Wrap-up and beyond to reduce your customer’s overall effort. I think from the above, it’s pretty clear that the Effortless Service findings apply just as easily to Field Service. I think this gets even more credible when we get into the next phases in Part 2 – especially with The Wait phase. In the meantime, please let us know what you think. Give us examples of effortless Field Service in the comments – or if you agree that these finds apply. We’d love the dialogue!