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December 19, 2019 | 3 Mins Read

Last-Mile Customer Communication is Ready for Prime Time

December 19, 2019 | 3 Mins Read

Last-Mile Customer Communication is Ready for Prime Time


By Tom Paquin

Around this time two years ago, I wrote an article about the frustration associated with consumer location tracking for field operations, as organizations were, at the time, tinkering with Uber-style city overlays with real-time vehicle tracking.

I stressed how important it was to be thoughtful about what—and how—you’re sharing information with your customer. Vehicle tracking may seem initially like a good idea, but as a technician takes turns moving them away from a customer site, trips through drive-throughs, and the occasional potty break, research showed that too much last-mile information actually had the effect of lowering customer satisfaction rates. Yikes!

This isn’t any less true than it was in 2017, but the good news is that the tools allowing for a much more informed customer communication strategy are here, and it goes way beyond location tracking.

Let’s start with location tracking, though. While the technology remains fairly static from two years ago, the ways that it’s presented to customers have changed, owing to the fact that more organizations are wielding the same tools, but doing so in different ways. So, when once a technician’s location lived within an avatar on a map, now an individual will get a notification that a technician is three stops away. Those with more sophisticated field service management utilities who can more accurately estimate job time are able to use that queue data to shrink the size of an arrival window as the technician makes their way through that queue.

It’s a simple change that while not explicitly providing location information, provides an arguably more valuable service to the customer. To get an accurate estimate, though, as we often discuss, you need to understand your people, parts, and processes thoroughly.

That estimate, however, is a distillation of several different potentially relevant pieces of information that could benefit a customer, and organizations looking to set themselves apart have used their data as a means of differentiation.

While there are a number of salient examples of this, my favorite is what Rudy Goedhart told Sarah back in May about how Spencer Technologies is making data dashboards available to customers. Because Spencer has a sophisticated infrastructure of devices, they can provide live updates on turnaround times, uptime, and technician performance. They even use these lobbies on screens in the actual physical lobbies of their office, a tantalizing window into the inner workings of their service systems.

In order to do this, you need to be pretty confident about the data that you’re collecting. There are a few important further considerations about that data, as well, that will be the subject of an upcoming article. Frankly, it’s easy to build data collection in a way that provides a favorable view of your service performance…that is totally inaccurate. This is a disservice to both you, and your customer, and requires a real, thoughtful understanding of your business process. You need to get your house in order before you open the curtains and show your customers what you’re up to But if you do, you can really set yourself apart.

But are people actually doing this? How many people are, realistically, putting location, performance, and parts information in front of customers? According to a recent study that IFS completed in partnership with Strategies for Growth, about 13% of organizations are funneling operational data into customer-facing utilities. That might not seem like a lot, but when I look at similar data that I’ve put together on these topics, that’s double where we were just three years ago.

Given that growth, but thinking about it relative to today’s comparatively meager percentage, it seems like customer-facing functionality could be a powerful—and unique—tool in your efforts towards differentiation. You just have to make sure not only that you have the data behind it to provide accurate—not just favorable—information, but also that you’re articulating that information in a way that is actually constructive for the customer.