Communication could turn an otherwise bad service into a good experience

Insurance companies and housing associations may set increasingly tough Service Level Agreements for their building services providers but with so much commercial emphasis on a good customer experience, why are these organisations not demanding more transparency and visibility of service delivery to ensure that customer expectations are always proactively managed and met, asks Martin Taylor, managing director, Impact Applications? Given that a bad customer experience could result not only in customer loss but also brand damage, why is low cost mobile technology that can keep the customer informed every step of the way not prerequisite for all building services contractors?

Undoubtedly the building services industry has worked hard over recent years to dispel the cowboy builder image. To be fair, it has had to, with insurance companies, housing associations and local authorities becomingly increasingly aggressive in their Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and willingness to replace suppliers failing to meet the new, higher standards.

But, for insurance companies in particular, investing heavily in a marketing message that emphasises their ability to deliver a good customer experience during an emergency call out, is the SLA really enough? The fact that an engineer turns up within the appointment window is no guarantee of a good customer experience especially if the customer had no indication of just who was going to turn up and when. In fact, even a job that caused problems, ran over-time and demanded additional work could deliver a good customer experience if the customer was kept informed of all problems and potential delays in a timely and proactive manner.

Why are these organisations prepared simply to hand over a customer call to a third party with no accountability? Often the first indication that a job has been completed is an invoice arriving several weeks later (if at all) hardly proactive management of the customer experience. And, if anything goes awry, these companies have no point of contact to ascertain the real nature of the problem or pacify and help the increasingly disgruntled and litigious customer. The only option is to send an apologetic letter and compensation when the issue is raised. But arriving often weeks after the event such activities are generally far too late to ameliorate the sour taste left by the bad experience.

Of course companies can impose a penalty if the SLA is breached. But a bad customer experience at the hands of a building services provider will prompt repercussions far beyond the likely loss of that customer to the potential damage of brand. Isnt it time these organisations started demanding more of their building services contractors to ensure customers receive the experiences the advertisements promise?

The days are long gone when individuals could rely on a trusted pool of local plumbers, electricians and builders to undertake repairs especially those funded by insurance claims. Today the service is more likely to be booked through a third party call centre and provided by an anonymous contractor. If the experience is to be good, the lack of familiar face should, at the very least, be replaced by excellent customer communication. A customer knowing in advance the name, vehicle registration and time of arrival of the contractor will be far happier than one left waiting for several hours for a nameless individual to turn up, however good the quality of job delivered.

Of course, while keeping the customer informed is a great objective, few, if any, building services companies can afford dedicated customer services personnel constantly telephoning customers with an update on when a contractor will arrive to carry out work.

Yet technology exists today and is in use today that can transform the management of that customer experience through excellent, timely, informed communication. Using zero-client mobile communication not only can the customer be kept informed in real time via low cost text message but the process of deploying a contractor on site can be significantly streamlined, hence also ensuring faster response times.

Critically for an industry ill-equipped to support complex and expensive IT implementations and sustained by a large number of self-employed sub contracted labour, the zero-client technology ensures it can be deployed across a wide range of handheld devices, from rugged industrial units to low cost consumer PDAs.

Using real time communication, the company can quickly locate and confirm which contractor can undertake the job and communicate the expected time of arrival via text to the customer.

However good the intentions, it is never possible to arrive on time 100%. Just as building services companies can leverage this zero-client technology to deploy contractors faster, should problems arise - due to traffic or a previous job taking longer than expected - the contractors themselves can update their ETA on their handheld device to trigger an instant text message to the customer with the new expected arrival time. Such a small, low cost action can transform the customer experience, demonstrating a real commitment to support customer needs irrespective of external challenges.

Furthermore, such an integrated solution ensures there is little opportunity for the customers requirements to be misunderstood or misinterpreted during the process of transferring information from call centre to building services company and down to individual contractors. Information is input once at the call centre and it is this information that determines who is sent to the customer, and what parts are required; a process proven to reduce wasted visits and improve the number of jobs completed first time - a key objective for organisations looking to improve the customer experience.

Of course, the customer does not always get it right: typically if the work required exceeds the original description, additional authorisation will be required before it is undertaken. Today, that process can take up to 48 hours, hence demanding a second visit. Using real time technology the authorisation can be provided within minutes, again enabling more jobs to be completed first time, and reducing customer inconvenience.

Contractors can also proactively manage any additional customer work requirements that fall outside the remit of the existing job. Information on the potential work can be recorded within the system via the hand held device including a photograph if required prompting the building services company to create a quote for the customer within the next 24 hours, boosting potential revenue as well as customer perception.

Meeting Expectations
Emergency repair requirements are, by their very nature, extremely stressful for the customer no one enjoys a burst pipe or collapsed ceiling. While the primary focus today is on the time based SLA it is good communication that underpins an excellent customer experience. How much happier is the customer that receives, within minutes of an initial call for help, a text message providing the time the contractor will arrive, the name, vehicle registration number and a telephone number to call for further information? This information, delivered at a low cost by the building services company, provides the security, peace of mind and, critically, responsiveness that determines a good customer experience.

Building services organisations that can deliver a good customer experience, based on good communication and information, will have a clear opportunity to win additional businesses from insurance companies, housing associations and local authorities keen to meet their public pledges and boost image and brand. Why should the customer have to settle for less?

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