By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service
While field service remains an in-person business in many ways, digital experiences make up a huge part of the overall service lifecycle – from appointment scheduling and online help desks to chatbots and full-blown remote service, as well delivery of service or consumption-related data and post-service surveys. The flow of digital and physical touchpoints must be seamless, the experiences smooth, and the information exchange easy, accurate, and always available.
Easy-peasy, right? We know it isn’t, but it is the tall order of customer expectations. I recently posed some questions to author and consultant Alfonso de la Nuez about how to avoid missteps that can lead to customer defections before you even get a chance to impress them with your excellent in-person service. Alfonso is the Chief Visionary Officer at UserTesting, advising on improving customer experiences. He also wrote the book The Digital Experience Company: Winning In The Digital Economy With Experience Insights. Let’s hear how his digital experience expertise translates to the field service environment.
What are some of the key factors that drive a successful digital experience, from a customer perspective?
The first thing sounds simple or maybe trivial, but it's understanding your customers and what situations they are going to be in when they are interacting with the brand. I know in your industry, these companies are actually going to have to interact with a service manager or someone face-to-face, but if you can understand what the customer is going to need or would like to do independent of the moment when the product is getting fixed, that is key.
For a customer to have a great experience, it is all about expectations. Understand what the customer needs and what is convenient to them, and what they may do with your products. That is what we are looking for here, convenience vs. a revolutionary technology that is going to change everything. Can you relate and engage with customers throughout the customer journey? Do you understand what the customer journey is like? Are they going to contact you through a website? Are you optimized for Google searches, and is the website going to tell the story of what the customer needs?
Your website should be designed in such a way that will anticipate the needs of those users and those customers. I would also argue you have to design the site with a professional look and feel as well. The first thing we are looking for is convenience, content, ease of use, making sure the information is there for people to easily make decisions. But the next thing is to make it look professional, because that does make a difference projecting trustworthiness and affects the customer decision. A great website also needs to be mobile friendly, since a lot of customers are using their phones to browse.
In field service, the digital experience includes a number of facets -- customer self-service, online scheduling, diagnostics chats, and much more -- that often lead into an in-person experience (having a technician arrive at your location to fix something). What are some ways that organizations can ensure their digital and in-person exchanges are both mutually satisfying for the customer and also consistent?
We always talk about online experiences, but the customer experience is a combination of online and offline interactions. The real art and science here is in combining the two and making sure they are not isolated. Maybe on the website you have an account where you can login and or provide feedback on the experience. Their data may be there along with the phone number for your representative. That should be present in a customer portal. You should be able to sign documents and pay bills and be invoiced automatically.
In person, knowing that customer is also important. I like how the cable company Xfinity does it. They have an iPad and they can see the customer account, greet them and have access to that online information about them.
Going back to that customer journey, you have to understand that many times things start with a search. They find you online. Can you use technology to schedule and confirm the appointment, and create convenience for the customer by providing them with another confirmation the day before? You can mix online and offline and offer a lot of convenience to customers that way.
What are some of the biggest mistakes companies make when designing their digital interface and experiences?
I think the biggest mistake by far is when companies design interfaces for themselves instead of their customers. It is very typical to look at the design and content from the perspective of the owners of the website. What you have to do is dumb it down completely and make it so a grandma can understand it.
I often see two issues. One is there is so much technical information it is hard to understand unless you are actually a technician. The other is just finding information on the site. A lot of times, the content is not well laid out. Content needs to be organized, and there should be a search function on the site. You need to keep the menu options limited and focus on the customer journey, prioritizing the content we know they will need.
Another mistake is not prioritizing the digital channel, or not worrying enough about the website. If you just throw a website out there, customers can tell and it will come back to bite you. You should invest in a professional looking and easy-to-use website.
How can companies make sure their digital experiences are NOT creating friction or frustration for customers, and how can they ensure there is a process in place so that there is a timely intervention when a customer needs to interact directly with someone who can help them?
This goes back to my point about the digital channel not being a priority. If you hire on the cheap, or just offer a chatbot for customer support, if it is not really working that is counterproductive. It produces a bad brand experience.
I would highly recommend if you don't have a real proper bot that is working well with a team of people behind it that can provide support, just take it out. Make people send an email or contact you by phone. If you try the bot just to try to avoid costs and it doesn't work, it will be worse. People are sick and tired of talking to robots.
The good news is that with artificial intelligence (AI). This is about to change big time, because new AI technology is going to take bots to another level. To me it is really one of the things that many of these brands can do to support people in a proper way without turning them off by making it obvious that this is a chatbot. AI will provide much better bots.
Having said that, there is an art and science to building chatbots. Usually, you want to set it up to support the main three to five things people want to do on your website. If what they need is not on that list, there should be a button for them to click that says Other. You don't want them to feel left out of the support picture. You want to channel them through those options to see if they need to talk to an agent. Well, the agent will need to see what information they provided before they speak to them.
Brands must acknowledge that delivering great experiences is not easy. It is hard. Even completely digital companies have a hard time with this and invest millions to do it properly. It takes time and expertise. Maybe you need to outsource it, but you have to start by understanding that is not easy to do. It is a big cultural challenge for many of these companies.