Why can’t field service be like other services?
Author: Israel Beniaminy
When you look for a convenience store, you search for a sign “open for service”. You walk in, see the products on the shelves, see the prices, make your selection and complete the purchase. It’s simple, transparent, accessible, and you can see whether you’re treated similarly to the way they treat the other customers at the store – no surprises, no hidden unfairness, and no complexity. All service should be like that, right?
It should, but it isn’t. Say you need a technician to come to your home and fix your air conditioner – and that’s just an example: I don’t mean to single out HVAC service, and you can relate this example to just about any other kind of field service management, for consumers or for businesses. Feeling the heat, you go to a service organization’s web site to see whether they can fix your AC, and when they could send someone to do that. You really want it done quickly – there’s an unexpected heat wave, as it seems is happening more and more often. However, unlike products at the convenience store, the service’s availability (not to mention costs) is not clear from browsing the web site – you’ll have to phone the call center. Skipping the part where you wearily wait for some human agent to answer, we now get to the point where you’re told “we can be there next Monday between 8AM and noon”. Don’t try to ask whether they know the specific AC model that you have, or whether they have the parts for it – the call center agent won’t know the answer, but at least you make sure that they write down the model and the problem. Still, wouldn’t you like to know how they decided how to prioritize your call compared to their other customers? If some customers are treated differently, shouldn’t there be a visible policy stating whom they consider to be “gold customers” and how you can get to be recognized as one? Well, if you don’t know the answer, you’re in good company, as you’re probably not the only one who is unclear about such policies. Chances are that if you asked the call center agent, the technician, the dispatcher and the regional manager you’ll get four different answers regarding the customer prioritization and appointment-booking policies.
The day of service finally arrives. Still suffering from the heat, you wait at home. By 11AM, you start doubting that the service would ever happen. You phone the call center again, but they don’t know where the technician is. You’d really like to take a few minutes to refill your supply of cold drinks, but you’re afraid the technician would take exactly that time to appear and disappear; leaving the dreaded note “you weren’t at home”. So, when the technician arrives at 12:20PM, you’re too relieved to complain that he’s late – that is, until you discover that he never even received the information about the model of your AC. The reason: he works for a small local outfit that subcontracts AC repair in your area, and all he received was a phone call from the service organization that you initially called. To end the story on a happier note, let’s assume that the technician is a committed and resourceful guy, and he manages to contact another subcontractor, get the required parts and work out a solution. Of course, this takes him time, and he’ll be late to his next appointment even more than he was late for yours.
Finally sitting back in your air-conditioned living room, getting over the surprisingly high amount you were billed for the service, you think: What’s wrong with this picture? Why wasn’t the service as open transparent as the convenience store, where you knew exactly what to expect at what step? Should we accept that it just has to be this way, because field service is more complex?
No. It does not have to be this way.
In my next post I’ll look at some directions the service industry can take to improve, but don’t expect easy fixes. It will take substantial effort, which raises the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) question: Does the service organization have any incentive to do better? We’ll visit that question as well. In the meantime, please send me your views: What should our expectations be? Is there really a problem? If so, what are the underlying causes, and what would it take to fix it?