I have a minor plumbing problem that has been dragging on for three months. So far, I've had three visits from technicians and two missed appointments. Actually, all three visits were missed appointments as well (they missed the 10AM to 3PM window and only showed up after I called them).
A huge piece of this is related to the home warranty policies and their preferred vendor. But 98% of my frustration is from the plumbing company and how they use their service board.
Having managed service boards with a staff as small as two and as large as thirty, I think I have a good idea of what's going on in the background. And, of course, there are a few lessons for IT consultants.
First: They rely entirely on their automated service board. I get text messages and need to respond with text messages to make appointments.
This is the practice I hear the most push-back about from IT Pros. They say clients won't use the system, or don't trust the system, or don't like the system. Believe me, this is ALL about how you implement the system.
We've all used automated systems that were good. For example, last year I had a great experience with my electrical utility. I called the number and an automated attendant asked me a few questions, and then told me that a technician needed to be dispatched. I was given a small window (one hour) and the tech was there on time. If all service was this good, the world would be a better place.
Unless you have millions to invest in a super high-quality automated system, however, it is best to keep human beings involved. I love putting automated systems in place, but I never removed the people. To the extent that the technology makes a client feel loved and taken care of, use it. But also make sure that there's enough human interaction that the client feels like they know you and your team - and trust you.
Clients need to feel taken care of. That messy human emotional stuff is hard to replace with robots (today).
When you automate customer service, you have to increase the human interaction until clients feel comfortable that they are being taken care of. Clients don't actually resist putting in a ticket: They resist being handed off to an automated system that gives them no reassurance that they're being taken care of.
We always encouraged clients to enter a ticket in our system. But if they called us instead, we simply said, "Have you entered a ticket, or would you like me to do that?" Entering a ticket is NOT a variable. There has to be a ticket before work can begin.
Note, also, that I highly recommend that the phone be answered by an administrative assistant, office manager, or anyone else who cannot fix problems. Entering the ticket is separated from actual work on the problem. But, at the same time, the client is reassured and feels "heard."
Bottom Line: Be careful how you implement your automated systems. They should increase service, not alienate clients.
Second: Technicians did not document their work, report back to their supervisor, or move the job closer to resolution. In the case of the plumbing problem, the first tech who actually showed up never entered anything into the system. So all I heard was silence until I called again and found out that there was nothing in the system.
That led to sending out a second technician to do what the first one was supposed to do. The second technician was not qualified to turn off the water to the house, so he couldn't do anything without supervision. So that was a total waste.
Another call (and a third co-payment) resulted in a technician who did what the first technician should have done. So now we're on the path to getting an estimate on the real work that needs to be done.
No progress has been made yet, but it took three visits to determine what progress might look like.
Do your clients experience this? It's caused by two common problems. One is that a technician does not enter notes into the ticket, or closes the ticket without enough information. So the service manager doesn't know how to proceed. The other is that a technician is assigned who cannot actually complete the job. This guarantees rework - and a dissatisfied customer.
The worst part for me, since I understand how a service board works, is the feeling that we are starting over every time a technician leaves without doing any work. In one case, a tech showed up at 4:30 PM. I knew he wasn't going to start doing any real work. And when he left, I knew the next technician would have no idea what might have been done, so he would start over completely.
Bottom Line: Think about how you feel with both good and bad customer service. And think about how it might relate to your own business. When you feel frustrated, ask yourself whether your company behaves in a similar way with your clients. When you feel taken care of, also ask yourself whether your company behaves in a similar way with your clients.
Your clients know what it feels like for problems to drag on and never get resolved. With luck, that's due to some other company.
When you make changes, especially around automation, you need to make sure you don't tap into the fear that they're doing down that road to poor service. Once they see that service is improved by automation, they will feel comfortable embracing it. Just be aware that that might take some time.