The Future of Time Slots: From Narrower to Fewer
The service world is undergoing a slow but highly beneficial revolution: The “We’ll be there between Tuesday and September” kind of vague timing is becoming extinct, replaced with 4-hour and 2-hour time slots, and even within these slots some service organizations are already offering a tighter estimate of arrival time, reminders, notifications and more.
Clearly this trend can only go so far: As customers, we’ll be glad to see time slots narrow even further, but if the overall service visit is expected to take, say, two hours, does it matter all that much if we were promised a 30-minute time slot for the technician arrival, rather than 45 minutes or 15 minutes?
True, this question is somewhat academic since very few of us are lucky enough to get time slots narrower than two hours, let alone one. Still, if our service provider promises to notify us 20-30 minutes before the technician arrival, by SMS or outbound automated voice calling for example, then for some purposes we can think of the time slot as having been squeezed down into half an hour already. Therefore, it is legitimate to ask: After narrowing the time slots has delivered all the possible benefits for the customer, is there anything else we can do to improve the appointment booking experience?
It turns out that the answer is yes – in fact, the next change could be even more revolutionary than the revolution I mentioned above. To see why, let’s recognize that nobody is glad to stay at home for receiving service. If so, what’s better than making each such incident shorter?
The obvious answer is: make sure there are fewer times we have to stay at home!
Let’s leave aside the ongoing efforts to reduce the number of equipment failures and to increase the first-time-fix rate (that is, the number of service calls which are resolved in one visit and don’t require the customer to stay at home again – say, dispatching a field service engineer who does not have the required parts, skills and/or information) – these are important initiatives, but there’s also another way to reduce the number of times we have to stay at home: get more accomplished in each such incident.
Think of the last time you moved to a new home. Do you have one supplier for your phone, internet and television (“triple-play”)? If so, how many service visits did it take to install and activate these three services? Unfortunately, for many suppliers the answer would be “at least three visits”. The reason is that while the provider appears to be one company, it may be internally divided into three mostly-separated groups: one for each service, typically due to delivery of triple-play via mergers and acquisitions and to each of these services being built on a different technology foundation – different cabling, installation, provisioning and activation. But why should consumers understand all this? Why shouldn’t they expect – nay, demand – that all of the work should be completed in one visit?
Addressing this demand may be difficult for service providers, who already juggle thousands of balls in the air as they match service engineers to service calls, to parts availability, to network availability, to locations, to skills and so on. Now they would need to juggle even more, doing all this matching across three separate groups and technology infrastructures. That’s the bad news. The good news are that service optimization is by now more than capable of taking on the extra juggling challenge; and that a service provider which has taken this step becomes much more competitive in terms of customer satisfaction, as well as saving money on travel, accomplishing more work per day, and even reducing environmental impact.
I don’t mean to single out triple-play providers. Most service organizations occasionally find themselves assigning several service visits to the same customer during the same week. While this may not happen often, each such occurrence has the potential to irritate the customer, who will be quick to make friends and acquaintances aware of it. Now that there’s such a small gap between one person’s irritation and hundreds (or sometimes hundreds of thousands) hearing about it via blogs, Facebook, Twitter etc., it pays to work even harder to keep the customer satisfied.
This is not fantasy: The technology and best-practices to follow the “narrower time windows” revolution with the “fewer time windows” revolution exist today, for each service organization to use.
And here’s something that still borders on fantasy: What if I could use a “timeslot-unifier” service that contacts several service providers (say, cable TV activation, air-conditioner maintenance, window cleaning, property insurance assessment), negotiates time slots, and finds one time slot in which all them commit to appear? Wouldn’t it be great to have to stay home only once and have everyone come in?
It does not have to be a fantasy – it just requires “timeslot unifiers” to be developed using existing technology, and it requires service providers to agree to cooperate with such unifiers. And we all know what will make this revolution happen – as in most revolutions, people need to care enough to want and demand a change.