Trends | 5 MIN READ

Precision timing: engaging the customer to find the ideal ETA

 Jun 11, 2020

Photo credits: pch.vector - Freepik

Whether you are planning deliveries, installations or technical interventions, it is becoming more challenging for service providers to offer appointments several weeks in advance, and, on the scheduled date, half-day timeslots the customer must reserve entirely to be sure they can be on hand at the right time.

As within-the-hour delivery is tending to become the norm in the consumer’s mind, asking them to respect a period of more than two hours during which they must wait for the arrival of a technician, and even more so, a delivery, simply doesn’t seems acceptable any longer, even when objectively there is no real urgency whatsoever.

And when urgency is an issue, it’s an even greater problem. Any demand for a speedy response – for contractual or risk reasons – goes hand in hand with disruption of planned activity, and the obligation to warn other customers as quickly as possible of any impact on other appointments that will most likely have to be rescheduled, delayed, or put on hold. As when the appointment was taken on initially, this delicate task will usually fall to agents in the contact centre, who must reconfigure schedules as best they can to ensure best outcomes for the organisation and for each customer. To do this, they have to be able to view and interact with: 

  • All current plannings for the resources or staff concerned (deliverers, installers, maintenance technicians, experts…);  
  • Specific constraints for the site and type of intervention (access conditions, parking, duration…);  
  • Customer status and history;
  • Operations in the course of fulfilment and the estimated time of arrival (ETA) for each appointment/intervention, so they can inform affected customers.   

In other words, integrated systems are essential, so that appointment making, scheduling for the activity, handling for calls and emails plus customer relations (CRM), real time vehicle tracking… are all managed seamlessly so the agent can juggle operational efficiency, flexibility, punctuality, and customer satisfaction effectively.

Automated support to qualify and prioritise demand

Linking telephony with IT is, of course, nothing new, but as today’s computer systems open up (thanks to APIs) to permit higher levels of integration, we can reap more added value in this area than ever before, by automating certain processes to maximise utilisation of data. The system deployed by our customer ENGIE Solutions to handle demand on the part of customers outside working hours is a good example of how this can work in practice. When contacting ENGIE Solutions, each customer has a unique number (a 0800 telephone number) corresponding both to the agency responsible for their installation, and to their customer category (Premium, Standard, Automatic). Each agency can therefore be contacted via three telephone numbers, for each of which a pre-defined intervention timescale will apply – typically, less than one hour for Premium customers (critical industrial installations).   

During working hours, the agency answers and handles all incoming requests on its three numbers. Outside working hours, all calls from all agencies are redirected to an external answering service, and are handled in different ways depending on which number is called

  • Premium and Standard calls are directed to specific agents. The display of the number called allows the agent taking the call to immediately identify the agency concerned. Once the problem and the degree of urgency have been assessed, the agent creates a request for an intervention on the system. Intervention timeslots offered automatically take into account any contractual clauses (service level agreement, intervention timescales), the degree of urgency, and at agency level, the workload of the team involved. It’s the agent’s job to inform the latter, and, thanks to GSM linking with the technician’s mobility tool, they can then ensure the intervention is fulfilled in time and on time and keep the customer informed.  
  • Customers in the ‘Automatic’ category are directed to an interactive vocal server (IVS). Having first entered the identification number for their installation, they can then qualify and submit their intervention request without any human intermediary.

"Whether calls come in during working hours or outside them, the mechanics of handling the call are invisible as far as the customer is concerned" explains Patrick Hourqueig, Tools & Methods manager responsible for scheduling solutions at ENGIE Solutions. “For the customer it is very simple: they have just one number to call, and an installation reference number. Operationally, the single most important and vital key to this system is the installation number, because that is what provides access to all the information needed: installation characteristics, type of contract, intervention history, next visits scheduled, etc.” The fact that all these parameters are automatically taken into account by GEOCONCEPT’s Opti-Time scheduling solution allows ENGIE Solutions to optimize the handling of urgent interventions while keeping close tabs on obligations with regard to intervention timescales and sevice level.  

>> To find out more about the scheduling organisation at ENGIE Solutions, read  our interview with Patrick Hourqueig

Involving the customer in timeslot planning  

Fortunately for companies delivering goods and services not all on-site interventions and pickup and delivery missions are urgent! However, even non-urgent interventions will require calculated efforts to find a timeslot that suits both the customer AND the teams on the ground. The most reliable way to achieve this is to involve the customer in the choice at the outset, offering them via website or call centre, only those dates and times that have been pre-optimized as a function of schedules that have already been set up. As the timeslots offered automatically take the customer’s geographic location into account and, where possible, the intervention duration, these appointments can be considered to be achievable operationally by the various teams.  

Instead of imposing a date/timeslot on the customer that is ideal from your point of view, but which in all probability will not best suit them, giving them some choice in the matter will be psychologically better due to the simple fact that they are making a choice and are committing freely to an arrangement - this will yield dividends for the relationship: in addition, the customer is much more likely to stick to the date and time agreed if they receive:

  • Immediate confirmation of the appointment, sent automatically via email or text message; a link in the body of the message can be clicked on to insert the appointment in a personal agenda;
  • Automated messages reminding them about the appointment date/time (at a defined frequency depending on how far in advance of the appointment the fixture is made) mentioning or not the possibility of postponing the appointment and under what conditions.

Offering this choice to the customer may seem paradoxical, however moving an appointment that the customer cannot honour will cost the company a lot less than sending a technician or a deliverer only to find the door closed and no-one there.  

On day D, the customer receives a final notification indicating the estimated time of arrival (ETA) for the appointment with an added extra in the shape of real time tracking of the physical arrival to the door. This can reduce the number of calls made by the customer to the call centre should as they will have all the information they need at their disposal… Finally, once the intervention has taken place, a feedback questionnaire automatically sent completes the operation so any issues can be dealt with if the customer was not entirely happy with the way it went.

The solutions

Geoconcept’s optimization and scheduling solutions allow each company to deploy the scenario best suited to individual operating constraints, business model, and the needs of customers. For example:  

  • C Chez Vous (that handles home deliveries for parcels weighing more than 30Kg) offers - at the time the order is placed - a preliminary delivery timescale. Every evening, orders taken during the day are taken into account by the optimization engine to establish routes and offer each customer, by email, a more precise timeslot that they can, in turn, revise.
  • For the property diagnostics specialists Allodiagnostic, the price of missions accomplished in people’s homes varies according to how far in the future they are, and the date and precision of the timeslot chosen by the customer. This is an effective and handy means of smoothing workload while offering a tangible benefit to the least impatient and least demanding customers: those who choose a timeslot that is one week after the day they place an order and who make themselves available the whole day to receive the specialist can benefit from a discount of up to 35%!

Let’s research the solutions for your scenario together, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

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