Although it’s hard to avoid the term “customer experience” these days, its meaning is not always clear. For many, it’s just another term for customer service; for others, it’s a technical term and practice applied to product design or user experience.
Keeping up with the latest business and design jargon is hardly the highest priority for field service companies. When you work with customers every day to deliver great service while fixing pressing problems, why bother with new words for old ideas?
If we look past the jargon, though, “customer experience” gets at an important change in the business environment, and its relevance to field service management—while already large—will continue to grow.
What is Customer Experience?
According to TSI, a professional services firm specializing in customer experience, customer experience is the cumulative effect of all interactions--sometimes referred to as “touchpoints”--between a company and its customers. Similarly, a recent Harvard Business Review article states it is the customer’s “end-to-end journey” from her first to last company interaction. Most companies have multiple customer experiences: there is the journey from prospect to customer, a customer asking a support question, a customer requesting another job, and more.
Although there are many reasons why customer experience has been getting more attention lately, a big one is simple: technology—specifically, the Internet and mobile devices.
Think about how your smart phone has changed the way you interact with companies. You pay your bills on an app, hail Ubers and Lyfts after pressing a few buttons, schedule doctor’s appointments, plan vacations, apply for jobs, and more.
Now think about how different this experience is than it was just ten years ago. We interact with companies constantly in a fast paced, user-driven manner; we expect the information we need to be available—without interruption—whenever we want it.
Below is a sample graphic from rehash.org that covers the customer experience of going to a mechanic shop
The Importance of Customer Experience
We might not be at the point where every company is thinking about customer experience, or to when it applies to every consumer, but things are moving in that direction. The percentage of technology native customers is on the rise, and this generation has grown up with user-driven, fast-paced customer service. As a result, they have new expectations about what companies should deliver to get more business. “Customer experience” is the term we use to understand these new expectations and explore how companies can meet them.
As such, it’s important that we move from thinking about customer service as a collection of isolated interactions—or touchpoints—between your company and your customers, and to a customer’s journey from her first to her last interaction with your company.
Let’s put these concepts in action by thinking about a real-world customer experience in the field service industry—how your existing customers request future work—and see what takeaways we can find.
Customer Experience in Action
Imagine you’re a 28-year old graphic designer who just bought a new home and you need to hire a handyman. You choose to work with same handyman you used once with before. Let’s imagine how this process can look in two different ways.
1. You dig through an old filing cabinet searching for an old work order. The handyman company doesn’t have a website. You feel frustrated because you can’t find the number and wish there were any easier way to contact the company. By the time you find the work order, it’s already too late, so you decide you’ll call tomorrow during your lunch break.
2. You call the number but can’t get anyone on the line. You’re squeezing these calls while on you’re on lunch hour and feel a little stressed.
3. You call again and reach a receptionist. You explain the situation and schedule a time that works. You feel at ease because the receptionist is nice and easy to talk to. After some back and forth, you schedule a time for the handyman to visit.
4. On the day before the job, you get a phone call from the company to remind you of your scheduled visit. You miss the phone call and it goes straight to voicemail; you listen to the first few seconds of the message and delete it.
5. The handyman arrives two hours later than expected. He apologizes and says he had to return to the office a few times that morning due to communication difficulties. When he gets there, he’s very knowledgeable and helpful. You enjoy working with him.
6. The handyman gives you a paper work order record of the job. His handwriting is messy and hard to read. He tells you they will mail you a copy of the bill. You put the work order on the kitchen table, where it starts to get buried beneath mail and bills.
7. The company mails you a bill. You rummage around for your checkbook, write a check, and send it to the company via snail mail. You don’t have any stamps, so you have to go to the post office one on your lunch break.
8. The next week, you get an invoice in the mail. You put it in a drawer at home, where it gets buried beneath some old papers.
1. You login to your customer portal, which is located on the company’s website, and schedule a job directly onto the calendar. Minutes later, you receive e-mail confirmation about your job. You’re at work, and you do this very quickly without thinking about it much.
2. On the day before the job, you receive a reminder email and text from the company; both include a description of the work to be done, and a picture of the technician who will be coming. Because someone is coming into your home, you appreciate the personal touch.
3. The handyman arrives on time. He is very knowledgeable, kind, and helpful. He completes the job and records his progress on a company iPad, taking photographs, filling out forms, and more.
4. After completing his work, the handyman collects your payment on his iPad. Almost immediately, you receive PDF versions of your invoice and work order in your email. The handyman leaves. You appreciate his kindness, and being able to take care of a payment on the spot.
5. Later that day, you log back on to your customer portal. There is a record of this work order and invoice, along with all the forms and pictures the handyman filled out during the jobs. These documents are neat, professional looking PDFs. You log out, and continue with your day.
Analyzing the Experience
Although neither scenario is a terrible customer experience, the second is better for a few different reasons.
Start with the customer: Don’t design the best customer experience; design the best customer experience for specific customers.
Scenario two works in this case is because the customer is young and works in a high-tech field. He or she would naturally prefer a more user-driven experience that leverages technology. Had it been a different type of customer—say, an older middle-aged homeowner—the high-tech option could have been confusing and irksome. As such, before designing a customer experience, ask yourself who your customers are, what they expect, and design the experience accordingly.
Along with this, ensure the technology you are using provides a positive customer experience. Technology that is cumbersome, slow, and difficult to navigate negtates any of the benefits laid out in Scenario #2. The wrong software leaves the customer more confused and frustrated then traditional methods. When evaluating any program for your business, try to look at it from the position of the customer and understand the customer facing features.
Customer Service isn’t everything: In both cases, the interaction between company employees and the customer is excellent. Having said this, the second scenario is better because the cumulative effect of all touchpoints is more positive. As such, it’s the big picture that’s important, not the quality of isolated touchpoints.
The fewer touchpoints, the better: People are busy. Although the digital age has made us more efficient and connected, it can lead to more stress and less time. The longer it takes your customer to get through your company’s process, the more likely she will have a negative experience.
Technology plays a role, but not always. It may seem that having good customer experience just means having good technology. While good technology can improve customer experience, it’s more important to think about who your customers are and what they expect than dazzling them with the newest tools.
What can I do?
Before investing in new tools, start small by asking yourself some simple questions:
What customer journey do I want to focus on?
Should it be new customers? Returning? Customer support? Rather than overhaul your whole process, work with one customer journey at a time.
Who area my customer(s)?
Once you’ve decided on the journey, think about the different customers you have and the ones you would like. Develop a profile for these customers that unpacks their background, expectations, and buying habits. There a lot of resources to help you build customer profiles—here is a good one to start.
What are the steps in this customer’s journey?
Just as we did above, walk yourself through your customer’s journey and imagine how they feel at every step.
How can I limit the amount of touchpoints?
Is your current process too long? Consider how you omit unnecessary steps and tighten up your process.
What technology should I use to keep up with market competition?
Technology has changed a lot about consumer habits. The most successful companies know this, and understand that, to grow revenue, they must optimize their customers’ experience. Field service companies have a wealth of options when it comes to affordable, user-friendly tools that can optimize their customer experience. But before making a large financial investment, field service companies should think about who their customers are, and what steps their company can take to optimize their customers’ experiences.
Not sure what the right solution is for you? Contact us. We’d be happy to talk about your company, your industry, and where you want to go.
Want to learn more about Customer Experience? Check out TSI, a Chicago-area company specializing in customer experience that regularly publishes blogs, whitepapers, webinars and more covering the world of customer experience.
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