High Priority

Increase Satisfaction, Put Scheduling in the Hands of Your Customers

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  May 01, 2011


This article originally appeared in the May 2011 issue of Customer Interaction Solutions

TMC’s (News - Alert) Juliana Kenny recently discussed the inability of service providers – cable operators, specifically – to provide quality customer care, putting them in danger of losing more and more subscribers to alternative Internet-based video services (www.tmcnet.com/58837.1).

Kenny appropriately points out that today’s consumers represent a new breed. They are more self-service oriented – Web self-service, in particular – and want to be able to quickly report an issue and facilitate a service appointment. They have little desire to wait on the phone listening to hold music and repeating their account information multiple times before going through a series of questions to finally qualify for a service appointment.

Anyone who has ever had to schedule an appointment with a cable operator, phone company, or other service provider knows exactly how that works – or rather, doesn’t work.

The fact is there will be issues with almost every service provider from time to time – that’s a byproduct of the modern era, where 100 percent uptime is nearly impossible when factoring in growth, technology evolution, unpredictable surges is usage, and other variables. While service issues are a nuisance, many customers are likely to overlook them if they are able to quickly and easily resolve them.

That being the case, providers should look closely at how they manage their customers’ inbound interactions, offering options that allow each to use whatever medium is most convenient. More often than not, that is becoming a web-based, self-service option, not only because customers have little patience for waiting on hold, but also because of the continued proliferation of smartphones and tablets, creating an increased demand for automated options that can be accessed anywhere – a must for today’s mobile lifestyles. In fact, even when at home, users prefer to be able to leverage automated systems that allow them to complete their interactions in a fraction of the time it takes to speak to a live agent.

Most service issues are not unique, nor do they have unique resolutions. Given that, it’s very reasonable to expect providers to be able to set up automated systems for troubleshooting and appointment setting – both IVR- and Web-based.

This is the very point Kenny makes, and which service providers should consider a prime opportunity for enhancing their service operations. Users log in to a Web interface (or call into an IVR-based system using their Bluetooth-enabled device while in transit), provide account information, answer a series of service-related questions based on a logic tree to ensure only relevant information is requested (other than having to repeat information, there is nothing more irritating to customers than being required to answer questions completely unrelated to their service or issue), then are quickly offered a self-service solution, whenever possible, while always allowing a easy option for scheduling a service call automatically, at any point during the interaction. With today’s sophisticated scheduling software, combined with vast amounts of information for accurately predicting the time required to resolve common issues, allowing users to automatically schedule a convenient service time should be easy. (The same holds for initial installation appointments.)

In fact, Moshe BenBassat, CEO and chairman of ClickSoftware (News - Alert) (one of several vendors with scheduling software on the market today), suggested to Kenny the situation is far more than a matter of convenience. Rather, customers are quickly demanding the ability to “log into the site, click ‘appointment booking,’ tell them what the problem is, get options for the time they can send someone, click ‘yes’ on one of the options, and be done with it.”

Of course, once an appointment is scheduled, the burden shifts back to the technicians’ having the proper training, education, and customer relationship skills to facilitate a positive end-to-end experience. But, the chances of that are significantly increased – and customers tend to be much more tolerant – when their initial experience is a positive one.

Frankly, this same strategy should be applied by not only technology service providers, but any schedule-based service operation, from dental practices to hairdressers to photo studios. Every provider has a predefined set of standard services and an intimate knowledge of the time required to complete each service, and they should all be able to – and want to – provide an automated system that not only expedites the process, but gives customers an increased level of satisfaction derived from a sense of ownership and control over the process.

Last month, I wrote about optimal ways of conducting post-interaction customer satisfaction surveys. It’s a safe bet that businesses that employ self-service technologies effectively will find their post-service feedback to be significantly more positive than those that do not. It may not be enough to stem the tide of defection from cable operators to alternative providers, but it might slow it enough to allow them to develop additional retention strategies.

Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell