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Why Are Your Customers Waiting?

During a recent client assignment, I noticed the frequency in which customers found themselves in the waiting mode. Waiting to be told what to do next. Waiting to be acknowledged. Waiting to be serviced. Now there’s one thing that customers delight in and that’s being provided with service in a timely manner. Waiting is high on the how to antagonize customers list. Can you put your finger on the reasons your customers wait? Here’s a few of the more common reasons customers wait.

Supply vs Demand
Oftentimes there’s just not enough personnel available (supply) to handle the number of customers (demand). Is the demand the result of a marketing campaign or new product release? Perhaps a glitch in your product has created an unexpected influx of customer inquiries or complaints. When you know what the issue is, take a moment to proactively advise your customers. If yours is a call center, utilize the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) to advise customers that you’re aware of the issue and include an estimated resolution time, instructions to obtain a replacement product or whatever it is that you want to communicate. Most customers will simply choose to take this as enough information and disconnect the call. Is it possible to place the same information on your website? Perhaps in a retail environment, data mining can assist in determining the peak periods for customer/employee interactions resulting in proper scheduling of personnel in accordance to historical data. These are just two examples for possibly alleviating stress for both customers and employees.

Seasoned vs Non-Seasoned Employee Ratio
Perhaps the “seasoned to not quite seasoned” employee ratio is somewhat on the low side resulting in a longer than normal transaction/customer interaction time. When there are not enough properly trained personnel available for customer interactions, more often than not, customers will find themselves in the wait mode. However you describe this mode – queue, line, column, etc – most customers prefer not to be there. It’s important to combine great training with great employee relations to reduce personnel turnover. The more tenure an employee obtains, the more nimble he or she becomes at servicing customers. I have a saying – “Knowledge coupled with repetition creates experience. Experience assists in creating efficient interactions.”

Options for Self Service
It’s a good idea where possible to allow your customer to self-serve. Most customers today don’t mind serving themselves as long as the transaction is easy to complete. Oftentimes when given the option to self-serve for the checkout procedure, I’ll choose to do so rather than wait in line to be checked out by an employee. What self-service opportunities are available within your organization? When the customer has the option to order products and services or set appointments via your website, is the process seamless and easy to complete? Are you able to verify the number of transactions actually completed via your self-service options vs those customers choosing to opt out to a live person (either via phone, web chat or in person)? Monitor your self-service options to insure customers find it easy to complete interactions.

Customers are depending upon companies to provide prompt efficient service. Make sure your company is ready by checking to insure Supply Meets Demand, that the Seasoned Vs Non-Seasoned Ratio indicates you’re successfully retaining tenured personnel and that your Options for Self Service are efficient and effective for the “I Like To Do It Myself” customer.

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5 Tips for Creating Great Field Service Experiences

During my last corporate stint, I spent countless hours servicing customers in the field. This experience has proven invaluable when working with clients with field service personnel. Servicing customers in the field requires one to possess both the skills necessary to meet the customer’s needs as well as customer service skills to provide a complete experience. It’s my opinion that it’s critical that customers receive the best of both skills from field service personnel. Here are five tips that will help to insure your field personnel are providing great customer experiences.
Verify Skill Set – When field service personnel encounter customers, more often than not they find themselves on the customer’s turf. The customer is depending upon the field service person to possess the skill set to perform the required tasks. Before putting your field service personnel in front of the customer, take the time to make sure that they possess the skills to address, resolve, repair, install, build, test or whatever it is that they’re required to perform for the customer. Provide sufficient product/service training to insure your field service personnel can confidently answer customer questions. Develop scenarios that field service personnel will face when servicing customers and gauge their ability to complete the task. Make sure your field service personnel understand that exercises of this type allow you to identify training opportunities. Let them know that you want them to be confident in their ability to exhibit the highest possible level of skills when servicing customers. Monitor your field service rework levels as this too may be an indicator that certain field personnel may need additional training. Your customer certainly receives a better experience when your field service personnel possess the proper skills to complete the task right the first time.

Balance the Workload – My own experience shows that field service personnel can possess the proper skill set, but may not provide the best quality of work because they may find themselves distracted by something in the near future – the next assignment. When one is faced with more assignments than can be properly completed during the workday, sooner or later the tendency to take short cuts becomes an issue. This is a tw0 headed dragon as this can lead to both employee and customer dissatisfaction. Remember that your dispatch/work assignment procedure impacts the experience received by your paying customer. Does your customer complain that your field service personnel seem to be in a hurry? Are they short on conversation when answering customer questions? These may be indicators that your field service personnel may not be allotted the proper time to provide a great customer experience. Remember that we mentioned rework earlier? Concern with checking off each assignment as completed at the end of the day may lead to work quality issues which more than likely will require rework to resolve. How much does rework cost your organization?

Tag Along! – Here’s one of my favorite ways to get an employee’s perspective of their daily experiences. Regularly schedule time to ride with your field personnel. Get in their environment to see what they encounter when providing service. Ask open ended questions that allow them to elaborate on how they feel about your organization. Take notes on improvement opportunities. Are the “office people” negatively impacting field service personnel? Are field personnel receiving enough pertinent appointment information? Does anyone understand just what information is deemed critical by field personnel? Make others within the organization aware of what’s important to the field service personnel. When “tagging along” with field service personnel, jump in to assist with the various tasks. It’s okay to get those hands (or feet or maybe both!) dirty. More than likely you’ll get an education on “real world” scenarios when you spend time in the field.

Develop Standards – Are all of your customers receiving the same level of service? Are your field service personnel aware of what their finished product (repair, installation, test, build-out, etc.) should look like? Make it easy for them by developing standards. Doing so not only makes it easy for the field personnel to gauge their performance against the standard, but it also helps to insure that all customers receive the same level of service. The ability to consistently meet the customer’s requirements helps to build a long term service provider/customer relationship. Random inspections after service completion is a simple way to measure field service personnel performance to the set standards. Standards also provide an opportunity to afford field service personnel with an objective performance evaluation. On another note about standards, how should your field service personnel present themselves to your customer? If your industry requires your field personnel to get dirty, sweaty, etc when providing services – how about a clean uniform at every appointment – especially when entering the customer’s premises! What about the company vehicle – Is it clearly marked? Is it clean? Include standards that address customer perceptions about your organization.

Provide Basic Customer Service Skills Training – In knowing that your field service personnel will have direct face to face customer contact, remember to provide basic customer service skills training. Don’t assume or leave to chance that they should know how to deal with a customer. Remember we just said they’re more than likely meeting face to face with your customer – and more than likely on the customer’s turf! Educate them on the importance of voice tone, voice inflections and body language. Stress the importance of refraining from the usage of industry jargon when communicating with customers. Stress the importance of providing timely updates and regular status reports. Some customers may be angry or upset for whatever reason so equip your field personnel with the skills to effectively deal with someone who is not so happy with your products or services.

If field service personnel actions are critical to your organization’s success it’s probably a good idea to Verify Skill Set, Balance The Workload, Tag Along, Develop Standards and Provide Basic Customer Service Skills Training. Taking these basic steps will surely drive up both employee and customer retention.

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