Focus On Customer Care recently spoke with TOA Technologies CEO Yuval Brisker about the company, the concept of field service management and ways of improving communications between companies and their customers. An edited transcript follows:
Q: What is field service management and why do companies need it?
A: The main focus of field service management especially in the cable industry is to deliver new service — have the people out in the field delivering new service — and at the same time deliver repairs to existing customers. Field service management or workforce management what they call mobile workforce management, is really a process of automating the communications between the cable company operations and customer service so they can more easily manage them so it can be done more much efficiently and much more quickly.
Q: What does TOA offer operators in that vein?
A: We can start with the story. The genesis behind TOA — or the idea for TOA — was the desire of [TOA chief financial officer] Irad Carmi, my partner and co-founder, and I had to try to solve the perennial problem of ‘The Cable Guy’ — you know, the thing that’s become the brunt for jokes and popular lore. This idea that cable companies give their customers four, six and sometimes full-day windows to wait for the cable technician without really knowing when that technician is really going to arrive. If you have customers with annoyances with any company that delivers goods and services to the home, they’ll probably tell you it’s having to wait at home waiting for that person to arrive. The best many have been able to do is tell them they’ll get a call when the technician is on his way. None of those things take advantage of the information glut we have to be active and mobile as customers.
When Ron and I set out on this venture, we asked ourselves ‘How do companies like FedEx and UPS give customers the ability to actually track their packages? Why can’t the telephone company or the cable company do the same capability?’ We wanted to take it one better. We wanted to say that if you consistently track service in the field and create a historical profile of the people delivering the service and you can actually estimate when that technician will arrive in a customer’s home. Statistically, it’s possible. It’s also possible to effectively deliver that information to the customer. Our whole premise is that we need to close the gap between customer care and the operations in the field.
Q: How do you do that?
A: TOA does that two ways. One, it allows the mobile workforce to have a time-based reporting tool that doesn’t only focus on delivering work order to the field. But it also constantly tracks the activity of the tech, or anybody doing work in the field, in a time-based environment.
Q: Do the field techs input all this information?
A: The field person needs to input information but it’s normally information they input when they use any workforce management tool. Workforce management is a category, or an industry, that has been around for 10-15 years. The idea of giving devices to field personnel has been around for around 14 years. Cable is really one of the last frontiers where it’s taking hold. There are previous generations of tools and applications out there that were clunky and more old-fashioned. But essentially, the idea of workforce management is that companies can send our work orders through an automated process via a computer to hand-helds in the field or their laptops or, as we use, the mobile phone. It’s really about creating a paperless environment.
Getting an appointment is the first thing. The onus is on the customer. When a customer calls in, we actually ask the customer what their preference is for getting the information. A customer can say, for example, they want to get an alert from the company on their cell phone one hour before the technician is to arrive at their home. For the cable operator, the bigger the window, the more efficient it is. But it’s just the opposite for the customer.
The missing link is that existing workforce management systems don’t predict or measure the activity of the techs in the field with a time-focused and customer care focus. And we do. Our focus: Last-mile customer care. The reason we’ve had so much success in the cable industry in the U.S. so quickly is that we’re bringing a new concept to the table. It’s not the operations of getting service to customers. It’s an extension of customer care. And if you do it well and you provide the customer information in an automated, structured way by asking customers how much in advance they want to be notified and which communications device they’d like be notified. Everything is automated and computerized. Part of our mission is to save some trees and create a paperless environment. And we also want to reduce capital expenses on the part of our customers. So everything is Web-based and cell-phone-based. The goal is to get the software into the hands of the technicians. But all they have to do is their jobs. They don’t have to worry about making those calls. It’s all automated. It’s the same idea as the airlines’ e-mail messages to customers when their plane is going to be late or has changed.
Q: How does the cable industry stack up with other industries and how will it affect this already competitive world?
A: There is a lot of pressure to try to resolve. It’s a big issue. It’s not just about customer preference and convenience. It’s about efficiencies. All these companies have a very high ratio of ‘not-at-homes.’ They either don’t remember or they’re sick and tired of sitting around waiting for the technician. Those are the issues cable companies are grappling with because it coasts them money and it keeps them from being competitive. They have an enormously good opportunity to lead on this issue because they are in the best generation of workforce management system. Many don’t have systems they have to retrofit. The challenge for them is that because they deliver very similar product as satellite and, in the next 12 to 18 months, the phone companies, which are going to be brutal competition for the cable industry, they need to differentiate themselves on customer care, and I think have taken the initiative here. By the way, companies are taking up our product and moving forward. We’ve taken something that everyone said couldn’t be done. But we’ve been doing it with an incredible amount of accuracy. And it’s a differentiator.
It’s a shift in the way customer care is handled but it also creates efficiencies for the cable company as well the customer. It will entice customers to be at home when the tech arrives, and it will reduce phone calls to the call center. One of the largest non-value expenses for the cable company is customers call to ask when the tech arrives. And do you know how many do that? Anywhere between 20% and 30% of customers call in just to find out when their tech is arriving. And it can be one customer calling eight times. We’ve seen that, too. Our system doesn’t affect workforce management and customer care — it will affect all aspects of the business. The idea of turning the tables and saying, ‘Let’s not wait and have them call us. Let’s try to reach out to our customers.’ That’s huge.
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