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The service paradox: how call center agents know more than the on-site engineer

The service paradox: how call center agents know more than the on-site engineer

The service paradox: how call center agents know more than the on-site engineer

November 12, 2008 ClickSoftware 0 Comments

“Hello. Thanks for calling Customer Support, Ms. Davies.”“My printer doesn’t print.”“Is this the G73 printer you bought in February?”“Yes.”“I see it’s under warranty. Since you’re under business coverage with our company, we’ll have someone there within the next four hours. Also, I see that the last time you bought toner cartridges was in April. Would you like to buy more?”

This is an example of the service levels we’ve come to expect from a well-run call center– though we don’t always get it. We’ve seen improvements in personalization, multiple inbound and outbound channels, automated phone systems that understand your voice, and continuity of interaction across processes (purchasing/subscribing, installing, billing, supporting) and across products and services. All these not only give customers better service – they also reduce churn and costs for service organizations while creating opportunities for higher revenues (additional sales, offers and costs customized for customer type, etc.).

So far so good, but the printer is still not printing. To fix that, the service organization dispatches a field service engineer (FSE). Unfortunately, too often you won’t see the same level of quality in your interaction with the FSE. Are the following situations familiar?

  • You sign up for a service or buy some equipment, and as a result you need an on-site visit. Only after you sign up or pay, you are told to call another number to arrange for the visit. And then you have to repeat the information about what you bought and what you need done.
  • The FSE who arrives doesn’t know what the equipment is, doesn’t have the parts, or isn’t trained on maintaining this equipment.
  • You tell the FSE it’s the third time this problem has occurred, but you’re still asked to repeat the problem description.
  • The FSE immediately says “it’s a common problem, you need part X, I don’t have it in the van, I’ll ask headquarters to call you and set a new appointment.” Why didn’t they equip the engineer with this part when they knew the complaint and knew your model number? Why can’t the appointment be made on the spot? And why does the call, when it finally happens, start with “so what part did the engineer say you need”?

We have a paradox here: The faceless customer service representative is sitting hundreds of miles away or on the other side of the world, and yet she can help you with far more issues, and has far more information at her fingertips, than the FSE who’s right next to you.

Why is this happening?

First, the call center and the service workforce are often managed by separate groups, using different tools and processes, and recording different information about the customer and service incidents. Second, call-center service is conducted a few minutes at a time, in a single step: the phone rings and the interaction starts. Field service may take between 10 minutes to 8 hours, and involves up-front planning of several steps (e.g. getting parts, dispatching, routing). Therefore, there are many more opportunities for losing information, or for missing a crucial step.

Lastly, the FSE may be right next to you, but he might be too far from headquarters. He needs sophisticated mobile applications to reach the level of real-time information accessibility and usability that the call center has.

Obviously, this paradox is a lose-lose situation: Unhappy customers, unhappy FSEs, wasted customer time, wasted service workforce productivity, multiple drives to the same location leading to increased travel costs, not to mention the negative effect on the environment.

Imagine a world where the whole service process is smoothly connected. A world where no matter whom you talk to – call center agent, FSE, salesperson – that person has all the history to make things happen for you, with minimal costs to you and to the service organization. A world where the service experience is shared and improved every step along the way. A world where your feedback is sought, recorded and used.

We began with a call-center example showing that part of the world already exists. Would it be so difficult to extend its boundaries all the way to the customer’s premises?

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