There are a few things that we all put up with, which puzzle me. Why do we tolerate computer crashes from our mobile phones? Why do we put up with rude government workers? And finally, why do we accept as normal that service providers of all kinds would not show up on time?
Consider my experiences connected to the recent move.
I call up and order new cable & Internet for my new house in Houston. Comcast is decent with things like this, but even then, they give me a window of four hours for when the installer would arrive. And the installer, as usual, doesn’t arrive until the very last minute. In the past, I’ve had the installer completely blow the window and show up three hours late, or not at all, forcing me to call Customer Service numerous times to check on where the hell the installer is.
I order carpet installed in my New Jersey home. The appointment is made for Friday, and I’m given a time slot of “between noon and 1pm” — which shocked me with how precise it is. Well, with 10 minutes to go to noon, I call the installer to see where he is, and he tells me, “I won’t make it on time, but I can get there by 5pm.” WTF? Why give me a time slot of between noon and 1pm, and then not bother to tell me you’re going to blow it bigtime? Did you not know that you weren’t finished with the prior job at say 11am?
I order U-Haul storage pods for moving. Dropoff is scheduled for Monday. Monday comes and goes, and in the afternoon, I call U-Haul to find out where the hell my pods are, since I need them to actually move things into them. “Oh, sorry, we had a glitch in the system and won’t be able to deliver them until tomorrow.” Tomorrow comes… and starts to go…. It takes three phone calls before I finally get a hold of someone who finally decides to drop off the damn pods. Once finished, I call and schedule a pickup for Tuesday. Tuesday comes and goes. Wednesday comes and goes. I call, I call, I call. Finally, I’m told that they’ll pick up on Friday.
Why do we put up with this? Are we not paying these people?
I have a few suggestions for the service provider industry, including one for real estate.
Post Your On-Time Performance Stats
Airlines post their on-time statistics, maybe because they’re forced to by regulation, but often as a way to compete against other airlines. Well, it’s high time that service providers start posting their on-time performance stats. If they won’t voluntarily, I would heartily support regulation that would force them to provide consumers with their on-time performance stats.
If I have to choose between two plumbers, and one has an on-time stat of 90% and the other has a 70% on-time stat, I know which one I would choose. I would likely pay more for the plumber who gets there when he says he’ll get there than the guy who would leave me twiddling my thumbs for hours on end. My time is valuable too, you see.
Every cable company, telephone company, utility, whatever should have to publicly display both (a) the range each provides to the customer, and (b) on-time performance. Don’t want to rely on pissed off customers to tell the world when you actually arrived? You don’t need to; you can use technology to report the facts.
Considering that one of the heaviest users of GPS technology and of RFID tags is the transportation industry, it’s high time that service providers leverage these technologies to provider better service, and to crush competitors who are lazy.
GPS devices in trucks can accurately report up to HQ where a particular installer is at any given time. Time-stamp the automated check-in’s from these devices, and you can know exactly when the installer arrived at the customer’s location. You can also notify the customer if the GPS readings suggests that the installer simply isn’t going to make it, and help lower our blood pressure. And of course, you can use the GPS performance data to (a) tell the technician to get his ass in gear, and (b) reward those who have good on-time performance while punishing those who do not.
If FedEx and UPS can offer online tracking of tiny little shipments, via RFID and automated check-in points, then service providers can also offer online tracking of where the technician assigned to me is. Rather than having me call in six times to customer service to find out where the hell my installer is, just give me a web-page where I can go and see exactly where the guy is.
Power of the Realtor
One component of this, I think, is the real estate agent. I noticed that the servicepeople that my realtor recommended were awesome. The painter got there exactly when he promised, and didn’t make me wait around. The stager got there on-time, communicated with me throughout, and didn’t waste my time. The cleaning people got there on-time.
I suspect part of the reason is that a consumer simply doesn’t use a service provider often enough that a plumber or an electrician worries that much about losing the business. But a realtor, who recommends to dozens of clients whom they should use, is not someone you want to get blacklisted by.
So, one concrete service that a real estate agent or brokerage can offer to consumers is tracking the on-time performance of various service providers and recommending those who have a good track record. And letting them know that you’re tracking their on-time performance, and would start to recommend someone else if they start blowing off appointments.
If a large brokerage firm started doing this — just keeping track of when servicepeople get there — and started letting them know that on-time performance is a major factor in whether their 300 agents recommend a particular inspector, or painter, or plumber… I suspect that the local service people would get the message pretty quickly.
As For Me…
I will start to ask every service provider I call from now on what their on-time performance is. I will start tracking when people actually arrive. And I will absolutely use those who waste the least amount of my time.
Oh, and U-Haul? You’ve lost a customer for good. The awful performance of U-Haul’s people in terms of time is absolutely unacceptable.