Service-intensive supply chains: it’s all about the experience

CUSTOMER satisfaction plays a huge role in the success of service-intensive supply chains, particularly those that have a high level of involvement with their field service fleets. 

Poor customer experience due to late or missed service appointments, or multiple call-backs before the problem was fixed or the service was delivered, not only creates a high operational price tag for fleet and field operations management, but also impacts on that company's reputation. 

A 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer study by American Express in the US, released earlier this year, found that 55% of respondents, who expressed intention to go through with a business transaction, said that in the end they decided not to go through with it based on poor service experience in the past. The same report showed that 75% of customers spent more time with a brand or product because of a history of positive customer service experiences. 

The correlation between positive experience and returning business has proven to be rewarding for both the customer and the business. Data from a 2012 Aberdeen report, Customer Experience Management, Using the Power of Analytics to Optimise Customer Delight, also reinforces this trend. The report findings showed that higher customer satisfaction boosted retention and loyalty among the customers, bringing increased profitability for the servicing organisations. In fact, the research demonstrated that field service businesses providing best-in-class customer service are the most profitable. 

Be flexible, but realistic 

People often have no choice but to take time off work to facilitate appointments from service providers. This means existing and potential customers are sacrificing time, productivity and wages to ensure these appointments take place. Consequently, it makes sense for businesses to offer greater flexibility and reliability when arranging such visits as part of a premium post-sales support and customer service experience. If this is not an option, the reasonable thing to do would be to update your customers accordingly at the earliest convenience, rather than set unrealistic or high expectations that cannot be met. It's just as important to ensure that as a business, you are offering realistic expectations that can be met in a timely manner. Offering hour-long delivery windows is also becoming common practice among businesses, with pre- and after-hour visits and support heralded as a bonus, or even a deal breaker for potential customers when considering a purchase. 

Making the most of your data

Data analytics is a powerful tool for any large-scale organisations. Supply chain managers can best utilise data gathered over time to identify the ill-timed hours of the day and the types of jobs that are often missed to better manage the forecasting and planning involved for fleet staff. Understanding and using this data will help businesses address these issues, resulting in higher customer satisfaction and staff productivity, increased likelihood in meeting the set expectations and less chances cost your fleet time, money and reputation. 

Real-time technology

Many businesses have implemented a sophisticated technology solution that will alert managers if an appointment is expected to begin late or if it needs to be cancelled and rescheduled altogether. By staying up-to-date with the job status and the location of field service workers, the system can anticipate any roadblocks and tackle the issues either by reassigning the job to a more suitable mobile worker or at worst, updating the customer in a timely manner as this has been shown, anecdotally, to help ease any customer aggravation.

However, in the real world there are huge numbers of variables to factor in, therefore real-time monitoring plays a crucial role in ensuring that the necessary interventions can take place for a seamless customer service experience, regardless of whatever the changes in the situation occur.

Implementing the right solution can tackle these issues as it monitors the fleet staff's behaviour and uses the data gathered to help improve dispatch speed, increase communication to mobile devices to update work status and assign tasks to workers without having to call all staff back to the office – all of which help the employee arrive at the customer site and resolve the service issue on time.

With real-time updates, fleet management solutions improve overall customer satisfaction with faster and more accurate responses as well as provide better communication with customers and field service staff about service call timing. 

Running supply chains or field service businesses can be daunting and complex. But by implementing the appropriate technology and processes can certainly help ensure a seamless experience for the end-customer. This approach will improve first-call fix rates, the workforce's productivity and increase the company's profitability – but most importantly it will make sure that your customers won't feel let down.

Tom Scahill is Trimble Navigation ANZ business area director for field service management, transport and logistics.

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