Using Behavioral Economics to Improve Field Services

Imagine you're booked on an 11 a.m. flight for a business meeting the next day and the flight is cancelled. You call the airline to book a new flight.

Now imagine two different ways that the airline's representative can respond to your call:

Answer A: "Well, I can get you on another flight to your destination that leaves tomorrow morning at 9:30, but let me check if there's an earlier option. Ah! I can get you on a 7:30 flight tonight. Would you like me to book that for you?"

Answer B: "I can rebook you on the 7:30 flight tonight."

Even though each answer describes the same action by the airline, chances are that Answer A would leave you feeling a little better than Answer B. This is an example of how behavioral economics can be used in customer service.

The science behind the emotion and customer satisfaction

Why does Answer A sound better? Two reasons. The representative first established an unattractive option – the flight the next day – and then gave you one that sounded better by comparison. Behavioral economists call this "anchoring" – giving you a choice that other choices can be compared to.

The second has to do with what's called "framing." The rep "reframed" the issue to suggest a customer-focused way of addressing the issue.

To some, this approach may strike some people as manipulative. To others, just using marketing data to deliver a better customer experience. But the point is that there are unseen emotional aspects at play in customer communications, and behavioral economics potentially has some useful approaches that can enhance the perceptions your customers have of your company and service.

What’s the ROI on first-time fix for field services? Read the post to find out >

Applying behavioral economics to appointment setting and dispatch

One of the ideas behind behavioral economics is that customers should be given choices. Companies sometimes assume that customers all want the same thing and strive to provide it. But it's often not the case.

For example, suppose two representatives from a service company – Joe and Jim – will be available shortly to help Jane at Acme Manufacturing. With the help of the service company’s field service management system, the dispatcher can mash up field tech presence, location, job scheduling and traffic information. Let’s call this behavioral economic gold for the dispatcher. Joe can be on site in 20 minutes but has never worked with Jane before. Jim can't make it for 90 minutes, but has worked with Jane at Acme several times.

With this field service information at a dispatcher’s fingertips, imagine what the call center could say to Jane:

"I can get Jim to swing by – I know you've liked working with Jim in the past – he can be there in 90 mins. Or if you can’t wait, I can have Joe there in 20 minutes.”

This scenario presumes both knowledge of Jim's past service and how Jane evaluated it, as well as a phone call between Jane and a dispatcher. But it could be automated as well. A customer service portal on your website could provide background on each available technician, references to past work each did with the company, photos of the techs, expected times of arrival, etc.

Conversely, you could steer Jane clear of Jim if she wasn't happy with his past work. And if Jim's work was well-received, but he's not available until tomorrow and Jane's need is urgent, you allow the timeliness element to overrule availability in an automated scenario.

Questioning customer service assumptions

Behavioral economics' contribution to business is that it homes in on how people actually behave, rather than how we would assume they would behave. When it comes to how you're handling your own customers, it might be worth checking to see if you've made some assumptions that should be questioned. There might just be a better way to book that appointment.

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