Held hostage by service calls

Waiting at home for installation or repairs can feel like a prison sentence -- and costs U.S. businesses $13 billion per year

The last time I needed an at-home service call, I thought, "Does this company think we're living in the 1950s? Who can be at home from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on a Tuesday just because they bought a new fridge?" Even for someone who works out of a home office, such service policies mean a half-day trapped at half-capacity: no field calls, no paying clients, no lengthy and involved phone conferences.

Such four- or five-hour windows are the norm in home services and have been for decades. Are service providers expecting that anyone who needs cable installed or a refrigerator repaired has a stay-at-home spouse? Or do they simply not consider the inconvenience? Either way, the idea rankled. Then I saw a survey by Harris Interactive for SoundBite Communications that made this claim: "One out of two consumers feel like prisoners in their own homes due to long service windows." That about sums it up.

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Maybe times were different when service companies decided that customers would be willing not only to pay for new cable service, a new fridge, or in-home repairs, but also give up a vacation day or station someone at home to handle it. Now, when we're expected to get work done while commuting, be on call 24/7, and pull our weight in lean organizations, asking for the afternoon off to wait at home so that you can watch TV on the weekend doesn't contribute to a reputation as a dedicated, invaluable employee.

According to the survey, 81 percent of consumers had to take time off from work to meet a service technician, and 76 percent were inconvenienced by this. The experience left 51 percent feeling imprisoned in their own homes.

All this waiting around for trivial in-home services costs American businesses a fortune, too, according to the survey. "Eighty-one percent of consumers report having to take time off from work or adjust their schedule," says the release. "To ensure they are home during the service appointment window. This translates into more than $13.4 billion in lost productivity for U.S. businesses."

What's the solution? Texting, according to SoundBite Communications, a company that hopes to provide this solution.

"One thing that came out of this survey is that people are OK with taking the time out. They understand the necessity. The issue is the four- or five-hour window and the complete feeling of helplessness as you wait," explains Mark Friedman, chief marketing and business development officer of SoundBite Communications.

The survey asked consumers if they would be interested in receiving a text alert one hour before the technician was due to arrive, allowing them to go home from work to meet the tech rather than waiting around for half the day at home. Fifty-four percent said a service like this would improve their overall satisfaction with the service and their opinion of the company providing the service.

I have found that simply asking -- when I set up the delivery or service -- will usually get me a phone call from the technician within a reasonable time frame before the appointment. But I concur that rather than hoping the technicians are agreeable, the system could stand a technology update to tighter scheduling and more information sharing with customers.

I know that when I make an appointment with someone, I show up on time and keep the meeting to an agreed-upon length. If my intentions are thwarted, I call to say I'll be late. If service technicians can't manage that for some reason, I'd prefer GPS tracking on my technician. That way, I could log on and see where he is -- perhaps with a time estimate of how long he will be there -- and decide if I can answer a call as it comes in, join a phone conference, or take the dog for a walk. Then again, I suppose a text message saying the tech is an hour away would be an improvement over waiting around all day.

Got gripes or questions? Send them to christina_tynan-wood@infoworld.com.

This story, "Held hostage by service calls," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Christina Tynan-Wood's Gripe Line blog at InfoWorld.com.

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