To deliver the service demanded by today’s customers, organisations must resolve the disconnect between the contact centre and field workers, says Alex Blyth.
When, at the end of 2011, facilities services company Aramark was looking for a way to improve its customer service it knew it needed to move on from asking customers to phone up or fill in forms to book staff, request a service, make changes to scheduled activity, order consumables, run audits or check a service.
So it set up a web portal where customers could do it all online. It was an important step forward - but the team at Aramark wanted to do more. It recognised the vital role its field workers play in delivering customer service and it was keen to help those field workers respond rapidly and effectively to customer requests.
Field workers – the new frontline of customer service
It is not alone in this. For many service-based organisations in the utilities, property, engineering, maintenance, cleaning, motoring and technology sectors, around 90% of the contact time a customer has with the organisation is with field-based staff and not with the contact centre. For most other types of business the figure is not much lower.
Yet, for as long as anyone can remember customer service requests have gone through the contact centre, where an agent takes down details of the request and forwards it to someone in customer services, planning or dispatch. That person stores the query in the CRM system, which at the next scheduled download forwards it to a field worker who can begin to tackle the issue, as soon as they have time to look at their messages.
At smaller companies the process may be somewhat simpler, but still there is a disconnect between the customer and the person actually delivering the service – the field worker. Information gets lost on the way, the whole process takes far longer than the customer expects, and then once the issue is resolved there is little or no feedback from the field worker to the contact centre.
Resolving the disconnect
“It is increasingly clear that to deliver the customer service required by today’s customers, organisations must resolve the disconnect between the contact centre and field workers,” says Paul White, CEO at mplsystems. “Many have shied away from the issue, seeing expensive CRM systems as the only solution.”
He continues: “They are almost certainly right to do so. Using a CRM system to tackle this issue is likely to be expensive and ineffectual. Yet there is a practical alternative. Now we are beginning to see agile, forward-thinking organisations like Aramark, Gamestec, Dunelm Mill and Metric Group use new mobile technologies to integrate the field workers with the contact centre.”
Aramark deployed tools to link its new online system directly into workers’ PDAs so that, rather than having to phone the call centre or onsite staff, those field workers can instantly update the system wherever they are.
Contract services manager for Aramark, Darrin McCartney says: “The new system allows our managers to do the job they are supposed to be doing, freeing them up from completing paperwork, faxing and other administration tasks. We are anticipating that the reduction in admin tasks will release up to 40% of their time so they can focus on providing a high quality service to our clients.”
More and more companies are recognising the potential of mobile for not only reducing operating costs and but also - and perhaps even more importantly - transforming the customer experience. For example, Gamestec provided games machines to pubs and clubs up and down the country, and it has recently worked with mplsystems to implement a system which uses mobile to link field workers to customer requests.
As the Gamestec spokesperson commented: “We needed to give clients live updates on their service requests and get engineers out to the more rapidly. Delays were usually caused by slow communications rather than a lack of an engineer in the area. The new system delivered on all this and it means we can get out to our clients much more rapidly than ever before.”
A crucial year
To date it has tended to be smaller companies that have been agile and sharp enough to spot the potential here for enhanced customer service. According to Gartner research in September 2011 only around 20% of organisations are using these field service applications.
Yet Gartner expects that number to soar in the next 12 months. It predicts that by 2013, the percentage of technicians with wireless access to a formal packaged field service management solution in a large enterprise will increase from 28% in 2011 to 50%.
As White concludes: “In the coming year we will see more and more larger organisations following suit and using mobile to activate the customer service potential of their field workers. They will enhance the customer experience and return profit to their companies. It is a revolution waiting to happen.”