Let's Talk About Time & Managing Customer's Expectations

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By Jim Knapp

 1I really started thinking about time expectations recently while watching a re-run of Seinfeld entitled “The Cadillac”. What got me going was a small story line in the episode that involved Kramer and the Plaza Cable repairman named, Nick Stevens.  It seems that 10 years previously Kramer had made an appointment for repairs between 9:00am and 1:00pm which got stretched out to 12:00pm to 6:00pm, and eventually got canceled.  “And they never even called me!” Kramer yelps while he’s telling his story.  The funny comes in when Kramer goes through all sorts of goofy antics to get even with the cable guy for this long ago injustice.

What got me thinking about this story line is that it’s very familiar.  We’ve all been on one side or the other of similar situations….and hated it.

For the office staff of a service industry business it’s frustrating to try to make appointments without being able to control the customer’s needs or the technician’s pace. For the technician, it’s frustrating to be held to a time schedule that was made by someone else for work that isn’t predictable.  And for the customer, it’s hard to accept a vague appointment time that causes a lot of inconvenience and waiting combined with the anxiety of not knowing what’s wrong or how much it will cost.

Happily, we can make life a little happier for ourselves and our customers. By managing customer’s expectations better, we can put them at ease. With the modern tools we have at hand and with carefully chosen words we can make life less stressful for everyone involved:

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a) Make good use of the one time each day that we can arrive on time…..the first call.  For those customers that have tight schedules and busy lives this is a great way to keep an appointment.  Don’t give those first time slots away too casually!

b) If you’re not already doing it, have the tech call on the way to each job, introduce himself and say “I’m on the way to you now and I’ll arrive in about XX minutes”.  For the customer it’s like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Busy customers are par for the course these days.  We can make their day less stressful by telling them while setting up the appointment that they don’t have to wait around for us; we will call or text them when we’re on the way.  That way the customer can go about their day without being tied down at home.  The tech might have to wait in the driveway for a few minutes for the customer to arrive, but the goodwill it creates is priceless.

c) Make sure to share information.  If you average out service calls for an experienced tech it comes to about 1 to 2 hours each.  So make sure they text the office if a call is going to be longer than an hour.  It only takes a second.  But that means the office can better anticipate the work day and make adjustments.  That gives the office time to call customers and modify the schedule.

d) When you see the day falling apart call the customer and warn them that things aren’t going so well.  Commiserate a little about the inconvenience and then see if they want to wait or reschedule.  At least they’re not in limbo, waiting.

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e) When booking the appointment make sure that the customer knows the window of time.  So often when we say “between 10 and 12” the person at the other end hears what suits their needs best.  For instance, you tell me “10 to 12”, but I only hear the “10” because I’m anxious to get on with my day.  At 10:10 I’m on the phone to the office wondering where the tech is.

Make sure to say something like, “you’re scheduled for 10 to 12 so we’re going to try for 10, but it may be as late as noon before our tech arrives.  For the really needy customer take a minute to explain that there is a reason that we have to have such broad appointment times: the tech can’t tell ahead of time whether a call will take 10 minutes or 3 hours.  Oftentimes if we can give the customer a little window into our world they’ll be a little more understanding about why we have to be so vague about timing.

f) Keep the techs in the loop.  Why not share by group text how the schedule is doing once or twice a day.  They worry about time, too.  Will they make the family dinner?  Is there time to mow the lawn before dark?  If we tell them that it looks like another late work day sooner rather than later it gives them time to adjust their own plans.

So I guess my take away from that Seinfeld episode is that if I don’t want a doofus making my life miserable, I better manage his expectations about time.  And as Paul Baccaro covered in an earlier blog, I should manage the cost expectations, too. Our service industry software is designed to help keep schedules under control. Start a free trial of our HVAC app today.

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