No one likes waiting around the house for the cable guy or a furniture delivery or the repairman. There is inevitably the sense of being held hostage, unable to run out for a coffee or to jump in the shower. Add in the psychic (if not explicit monetary) cost of skipping work, and the stress just goes up.
On the one hand, this is not directly the firm’s problem. After all, if you want that couch in your house, you gotta wait for the delivery. However, the Wall Street Journal reports that many firms are nonetheless trying to shorten the windows they quote customer with many moving from four hours down to two (The Wait-Time Misery Index, Feb 29). For those without access to the Journal’s site, here is the reporter discussing his findings.
With the far and fervent reach of social media, a very good or very bad delivery experience can go viral. Increasingly shoppers are broadcasting their anger—and naming company names—on customer review sites like Yelp, and on Facebook and Twitter. In the TOA Technologies survey, 16% of respondents said they post complaints online.
To make deliveries within a two-hour time slot, more companies are investing in software that helps determine the most efficient route The technology can shave time off trips by taking into account speed limits, for example, and estimating how long a stop will take based on service type.
“In the not too distant future, companies will be able to tighten that window to one hour,” says Satish Jindel, president of SJ Consulting Group, a Sewickley, Pa., transportation and logistics consulting firm.
“I see companies using the two-hour window as a significant marketing thing,” says Bruce Champeau, Room & Board chief operating officer. The furniture retailer has had a two-hour window in effect since the mid-1990s. “It’s a matter of respecting the customer’s time,” says Mr. Champeau.
Room & Board uses scheduling software that factors in variables from traffic routes, including roadwork detours, to how long furniture assembly might take. Employees make additional updates and adjustments accordingly.
I can see this approach working for Room & Board because their stops are pretty straightforward. The bookshelf just needs to go up the stairs. Complications (the couch won’t fit through the door) will be relatively rare in comparison to appliance repairs or a cable service call. Note that the examples of firms doing two-hour windows in the graphic above all have relatively simple, predictable service once on site.
I am not sure that better routing and such will make that much of a difference for, say, appliance repair. Here each call requires diagnosis and then treatment. There has to be some buffer time to allow for especially complicated problems. There is an analog here with a doctor’s office — pack in appointments tightly and one unforeseen complication can make the whole schedule go out the window. A doctor’s office at least has some flexibility in scheduling cases that they know will be complicated (e.g., cancer diagnoses). Those can be slotted at the end of the day to minimize their impact on later appointments. I doubt that GE Appliances has that much insight into a particular service call.
There is also the question of how service providers are exploiting the long blocks they currently quote. Back to the doctor’s office analogy. Many clinics use some form of block scheduling. If a typical exam takes ten minutes, two patients will be scheduled for 9:00 and another two at 9:20 twenty as opposed to one each at 9:00, 9:10 and so on. This assures that doctors are kept busy. Even if one patient is a few minutes late, the MD has someone to work on. Of course, if both patients are on time, one of them has to wait. It wouldn’t surprise me if these firms did something similar with their field reps. A 9:00 to 11:00 window can be quoted to multiple customers and the service rep has somewhere to go if the first appointment goes quickly. If everything is quoted as a one-hour window, the rep has time to kill if the first call wraps up quickly. That is, short windows without tight control of service times will drive up costs.
A final point, the article notes that many firms are trying to provide updates to waiting customers so that they have some idea of just where within a window a rep will show up.
Some send texts with arrival updates while others reveal online where people rank in the day’s delivery queue. The thinking: people, trapped in the house waiting for something to be delivered or installed or repaired, will feel less powerless if they know what to expect.
One firm, of course, even has an app. This obviously does something to relieve some stress and I suspect that it really helps when a customer is early in their quoted window. I am less certain that it is helpful when you are telling someone at 2:05 that the rep will be there at 3:50.