White Paper

First-Call Resolution And Improving Customer Service

Field Service Customer Service

First-call resolution or first-time fix rates have become a critical key performance indicator (KPI) for field service organizations interested in gaining a competitive advantage. While historically automation efforts in field service have focused on improving efficiency and productivity in an effort to reduce costs or complete more work orders each day, they have not necessarily had a direct impact on customer satisfaction.

That’s because customers don’t necessarily measure field service effectiveness in terms of efficiency. Yes, they want a technician to arrive as quickly as possible, but they also want their problem solved quickly and, preferably, in a single visit. If a repair can’t be made because of a missing part or lack of expertise on the part of the technician, customers experience costly downtime as well as frustration. That’s why first-time fix rates should be a top priority for companies interested in improved customer retention.

There is significant room for improvement in many organizations. According to data from The Service Council, the average first-time fix rate for service companies is just 74%, while failure to resolve an issue on the first visit was a top customer complaint according to 34% of respondents.

In an Aberdeen Group survey, first-time fix rate was cited as a critical service metric by 38% of respondents, just below service profitability (41%) and customer satisfaction (68%). (Source: “Evolution of the Field Service Business: Optimizing the Field Service Chain,” Aberdeen Group).

First-call resolution plays a critical role in improving customer service and profitability. However, improving first-call resolution rates is not a simple proposition. There are a number of different factors that play a role, including parts availability and logistics issues, technician training, vehicle management, optimized scheduling, diagnostic tools, and dynamic dispatching capabilities. Without the right systems in place and without proper process design, it can be difficult or even impossible to improve performance.

Tackling any one of these elements individually won’t solve the problem. Service organizations have to take a systemic and holistic approach that will enable them to get the right technician to the customer site, equipped with all of the necessary parts and technical know-how in a timely fashion. This is crucial to ensure successful customer interactions.

The High Cost of Return Visits

Failing to repair a problem during the first call requires one or more return visits, with each truck roll compounding the costs and degrading customer satisfaction.

In fact, those additional visits come at considerable cost. Aberdeen found that service calls that aren’t resolved in a single visit require an average of 1.5 additional visits to complete. Even for small organizations, that can result in thousands of dollars in additional costs per day. And that doesn’t even include the cost of lost business from those disappointed customers, who are more likely to look elsewhere for their service needs.

Consider a company that has 10 service technicians, with each technician performing an average of 3.8 tasks per day (38 jobs in total). The Service Council found that small organizations have a first-time fix rate of 72%, meaning our example company would have roughly 10 unresolved calls each day. For an average service visit cost of $276, that company would see $4,140 per day in additional costs.

In addition, the customer experiences sustained downtime. That means additional costs or possibly missed production deadlines. Depending on the terms of the service level agreement (SLA), the service organization may sustain penalties or charges for failing to resolve the issue within the SLA requirements.

A Fix for First-Time Fix Rates

As noted earlier, there are a number of interconnected service components that affect technician’s ability to resolve any given service problem. Improving first-call resolution will require an end-to-end approach that encompasses new monitoring and diagnostic approaches, call center processes, technician training, knowledge management, parts logistics, and mobile communications.

It is critical to follow a disciplined process to address first-time fix rates; altering just one or two elements in isolation won’t generate the desired benefits.

The first step is to measure current performance and benchmark your company against your peers. Once you know the scope of your first-time fix challenges, you can establish performance target based on your capabilities, customer expectations, and the competitive environment. Survey your customers and find out how satisfied or dissatisfied they are with your first-time fix performance.

Using that information, you can quantify your improvement opportunity based on current performance and best practices in your own industry. This will give you an idea of what a successful outcome will look like at the end of the project.

Define your workflows, and identify supporting technology and infrastructure that will help you improve outcomes. Also, define your training needs and talent needs. If your current workforce struggles to resolve customer issues, they may need better training, or you may need new technicians with a more advanced skillset to address the problems your customers experience with their assets/equipment.

Every service organization has its own unique processes and requirements, depending on the industry they work in. But in most cases, the service delivery process involves the call center, spare parts management, field service workforce management, mobile communications, and warranty/contract management. Managing customer and repair data throughout the service chain is critical for improving first-time fix rates.

Integrated Service Management

While there are a number of technology solutions that can help improve first-time fix rates, rapid communication of information is the foundation that links all of them together. That’s why it’s important to establish an integrated service management environment that will link the contact center, the back office, and the field technicians to the same data in real time. In some cases, this infrastructure may even involve communication with equipment/assets in the field.

Deploying a field service or workforce automation solution that encompasses scheduling, dispatch, and work order management capabilities can establish a seamless flow of information from the call center to the dispatcher and to the field technicians. A solution that can easily integrate with ERP, billing, CRM, and other solutions provides a two-way stream of customer and equipment data that will make it easier to diagnose problems, communicate issues accurately to the technicians, and provide access to maintenance histories and other customer data that will make it easier to complete the repair.

This integrated service management approach also requires access to knowledge management resources. Technicians should be able to access customer and equipment data from the field, as well as collaborate with other technicians using their mobile devices. Techs should also be able to easily contribute to the knowledge base from the field; that insight can help improve first-time fix rates for future visits involving other technicians and potentially, other customers. Increasingly, field service software solutions allow technicians to access social collaboration tools. These collaboration tools enable technicians to communicate with each, with customers, and with the back office via social media.

Automated field service solutions use customer and equipment data, as well as technician profiles, to match the right tech to the work order and ensure they arrive on time. Having accurate information about the issue prior to arrival also makes it easier for the technicians to order and obtain parts in advance. Inventory management tools can also give technicians visibility into spare parts stock on their trucks, at the depot, and in other technicians’ vehicles should they need to obtain a part quickly from the field. Given that lack of parts is the most common contributor to first-time fix failures, these improvements can significantly boost resolution rates.

According to Aberdeen Group, companies that extended contact center data to non-contact center staff saw a 3.2% improvement in first-time resolution rates, compared to just a 0.7% improvement in companies that did not do so. (“Integrated Service Management: Connecting the Contact Center with Field Service for Improved Resolution,” Aberdeen Group.)

Best in class companies also provided data captured in the contact center such as profiles, the nature of the issue, prior resolution efforts, historical issues, etc., to the field support team.

While a 3.2% annual improvement might appear small, consider an organization that delivers 100,000 service interactions through field technicians and contact center agents each year. Assuming that the business currently has a 50% first-time resolution rate, a 3.2% annual improvement means that the company solves 1,600 more cases each year. Assuming that one out of 10 customers whose issues are not resolved during the first contact stops doing business with the organization and that the average value of these clients is $10,000, the cost of customer churn avoided by a 3.2% increase in resolution rates could be as much as $1.6 million each year.

Companies that adopt a holistic service management strategy integrating contact center data with field service, back-office and other key service functions outperform their peers in annual performance improvements across several key performance measures.  As service organizations increase their ability to diagnose and find answers to customer issues, they are far more likely to improve their first-time resolution rates.

Preventive Measures

You’ve heard the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Many field service organizations have found that the fastest way to boost first-time fix rates is to avoid sending a technician to the customer site in the first place.

That’s because many service issues can be resolved over the phone or remotely. In the past, unfortunately, it was difficult to determine the best way to resolve the issue without sending a technician on site.

Now there are diagnostic and predictive technologies, as well as self-service solutions, that can eliminate expensive truck rolls. By establishing a customer self-service portal for initial diagnosis, service organizations can leverage the vast amounts of historical repair data in their systems to guide customers to a correct diagnosis and, in some cases, provide simple instructions to remedy the problem themselves. Even if the customer can’t complete the repair, the information gathered via the portal can be used to provide a more accurate diagnosis and escalate the customer contact through the proper channels.

In many industries, machine-to-machine (M2M) or Internet of Things (IoT) systems can connect equipment or assets in the field directly to technical staff at the depot. This type of remote monitoring can generate that data alerts the service organizations of an impending problem before an equipment failure. In some cases, repairs or updates can be delivered over the network in a fast and cost-effective manner. If a technician still needs to go on site, they will be armed with accurate diagnostic data that came directly from the equipment.

Remote monitoring helps eliminate unnecessary technician dispatches, provides predictive data that improves equipment uptime, and supports more intelligent repairs both by field technicians and customers. According to The Service Council, companies with remote monitoring/IoT technologies in place have seen up to an 11% improvement in first-time fix rates.

Continuous Improvement

Technology is only part of the solution to the first-time fix challenge. These systems are only effective if they are supporting qualified technicians and call center staff who are properly trained; a spare parts logistics infrastructure that allows technicians to easily obtain and return parts; and well-defined incident handling processes with clearly established roles, responsibilities, and escalation procedures.

Success is only possible by approaching all of these elements holistically. Establish continuous improvement practices, monitoring your progress and relying on knowledge management to improve your success rate. Implement root cause analysis as part of the service process so that you can help avoid failures at other customer sites in the future, and repair them more quickly when they do happen using the knowledge gained on previous service calls.

After each repair incident, your service team should be a little smarter than it was before. The right technology and processes can make that possible.

Conclusion

Failing to resolve repair issues during the first visit not only increases the cost of the service (by requiring costly return visits) but also leads to dissatisfied customers. With first-time fix rates averaging 75% in many service organizations, there is significant room for improvement.

Increasing first-call resolution rates requires an end-to-end approach that involves process changes, training, and the strategic deployment of technologies that will help automate and improve diagnosis, dispatch/scheduling, work order management, parts logistics, technician communication and collaboration, and knowledge management. An integrated service management infrastructure can create a seamless flow of data from the customer to the call center and to the service technician, improving first-time fix rates and your service organization’s competitive position in the process.