Field service management

Boiler maintenance and repairs: the importance of planning and organizing your visits

Service quality standards are evolving in all sectors, driving up customer expectations. Heating engineers are no exception to the rule, and must align themselves with these standards, at the risk of customers not renewing their maintenance contracts and leaving negative comments on public review sites. Through a real-life case study you can discover how to satisfy your customers, while protecting the profitability of your operations and the reputation of your company.

Of course, it’s always winter when customers’ boilers break down and emergencies multiply. Everything can go smoothly: the customer is satisfied, having been repaired within the conditions and timescale specified in his maintenance contract. But everything can also go wrong… as in the real-life case presented in this post. In this story, the boiler was eventually repaired. However, following this experience, the customer decided not to renew his maintenance contract and put an end to a relationship that had given him complete satisfaction since the installation of his previous boiler in 1996!

This conclusion, which is unfortunate for the company, is the first and perhaps most important lesson to be learned by any company wishing to build up its customer capital: for your customers, one bad experience can be enough to wipe out years of satisfaction and loyalty.

In this case, could the breach of contract have been avoided? To answer this question, we need to start from what the customer expected based on the terms of his maintenance contract: ”repair within 48 hours in case of breakdown” and compare this contractual commitment with what the customer experienced: 33 days of difficulties before the problem was solved.

Plan your work optimally

On February 24, 2023, this customer contacted the company’s customer service department: his boiler had started making a lot of noise and the pressure was dropping constantly. He asked for a technician to be sent out as soon as possible, while maintaining the annual maintenance visit long scheduled for the afternoon of March 1 (without further details). The first possible appointment was the morning of February 28. It was not honored due to the delays accumulated by the technician during his round.

>> With an intelligent appointment scheduling solution, the customer service agent would not have added this extra appointment to the technician’s round. A solution such as Nomadia’s would have presented a selection of dates and time slots compatible with existing schedules, taking into account both travel time and the likely duration of interventions. An e-mail confirmation would have been sent immediately to the customer, with a more precise schedule, and automatic SMS notifications in the event of technician delays.

>> The automation of notifications as soon as a change is made to an appointment, by customer service agents, the technician or any other authorized person, would have eliminated another inconvenience for the customer: that of discovering, after waiting half a day, that their service visit had been canceled (even though they had taken the trouble to confirm it). In this SMS, a link to an appointment-setting interface would have saved him having to call customer service again to reschedule an intervention.

While this type of mechanism was complicated and costly to set up just a few years ago, it is now accessible to any company and, above all, has become the norm for customers, who expect to be kept informed minute by minute, and even, in the case of deliveries, to be able to follow the delivery driver’s route on a map, so as to know exactly what time he will arrive.

Decompartmentalize your organization and information systems

On the afternoon of March 3, a technician was finally able to make a diagnosis: two parts needed to be replaced, but the boiler was safe to use in the meantime. The technician also recommended the installation of a room thermostat, which the customer accepted. He needed to receive a quote as soon as possible and make an appointment with customer service to schedule the repair.

The customer received the quote 4 days later, accepted it in his customer space, and paid the corresponding deposit. He then contacted customer service to make an appointment. But the agent told him that he must first validate the quote and pay the deposit, and that no appointment can be made until the parts ordered have been received. However, he had no visibility of delivery dates, nor, for that matter, of the quote management system, since he asked the customer to e-mail him back the quote accepted in the customer space. He promised to call the customer back as soon as the parts were available, “within a few days”.

>> Any customer can understand that there are delays in obtaining spare parts. But why impose additional stages? Quotes have been established, deposits paid, the company knows its suppliers and their lead times. Why not make this information available to all stakeholders? And why deprive customer service of visibility?

In addition, by integrating parts availability criteria into its scheduling system and making this information accessible in the technician’s mobile application, the technician could have proposed a date directly to his customer, even if he had to modify it if the parts were not delivered on time.

In the meantime, the situation has taken a turn for the worse: the customer’s boiler has started leaking all over the place. All customer service can offer is an appointment on March 13. For the customer, this means:

  • 5 additional days without heating or hot water, provided that the necessary parts have arrived by then and that they actually enable the boiler to be repaired;
  • a new blocked half-day, since customer service is unable to communicate a slot of less than half a day.

Make your visits efficient

On March 13, the technician who showed up was not the same as the previous time. In itself, it’s not a problem, except that he was there to install a thermostat. His job sheet made no mention of emergencies or repairs, and the preparers didn’t give him the parts to change. At the customer’s insistence, he examined the boiler and diagnosed a more serious fault: two other parts have failed and need to be replaced. They needed to be ordered. So the technician couldn’t do anything the same day, not even take advantage of the visit to install the thermostat, which turned out to be incompatible with the boiler..

This situation would recur 10 days later. With only half the parts needed, the technician who came to carry out the theoretically final repair apologized on behalf of the company, but could not hide from the customer his exasperation at the accumulation of “failures”.

>> Precise qualification of interventions is a key factor in successful execution. In our on-site operations management solutions, everyone involved has access to the same information, which translates into:

  • accurate and complete job sheets, enabling the technician to make sure he has all the parts he needs for a successful job before starting his rounds;
  • the elimination of unnecessary visits, where the technician is not only physically unable to do his job, but also has to bear the brunt of the customer’s anger, for which he is not responsible.

On March 29, a final appointment, carried out by the same technician at the customer’s express request, finalized the repair.  The boiler worked perfectly, but despite all the energy mobilized, the company has lost a customer.

Improve internal organization to deliver efficient customer service and support skilled technicians

Each episode in this story reveals organizational problems and internal malfunctions that not only affect the customer, but also the customer service agents and technicians. On the front line and in the face of an increasingly exasperated customer, these two groups did not disappoint:

  • the customer service agents were always friendly and understanding, but were unable to conceal from the customer their inability to take into consideration the customer’s constraints and influence the course of events internally to minimize the damage;
  • the technicians – competent, but visibly overworked and stressed – were purely and simply prevented from working effectively, notably due to unrealistic schedules (too many interventions, accumulated delays) and an erratic preparation process (missing parts, erroneous intervention sheets) over which they had no control.

Despite everyone’s good will and unquestionable loyalty to their company, the customer was made aware of malfunctions and internal tensions that shook his confidence and convinced him not to renew his maintenance contract. Only one thing could have made him reconsider his decision: to be called by a manager, as requested in this review left on a public review platform (at the company’s request and before the matter had reached its conclusion).

The real cost to the company

Compared to the annual cost of the maintenance contract (€180.00 incl. VAT), managing this customer’s problem had a very high cost for the company if we take into account:

  • the time spent by customer service agents (more than 30 calls from the customer);
  • the 5 planned interventions, 1 of which was canceled due to excessive delay on the part of the technician, and 2 of which could have been avoided if the preparers had done their job properly;
  • the discount on replacement parts, raised from 10% to 20%, although this gesture was not particularly appreciated by customer who felt short-changed;
  • the unsuccessful sale of the room thermostat (300 euros). This project, opportunely proposed by the technician during the first visit, got lost in the sands and was not followed up by the company;
  • and, ultimately, the non-renewal of the maintenance contract.

In addition:

  • the negative review on the public review site, which will remain visible for a long time and which, not being the only one of this type, may dissuade potential future customers;
  • and, what the company couldn’t have known, the loss of a boiler replacement opportunity. The customer was planning to change his boiler in 2024, in favor of equipment that would consume less energy and emit less CO2.

This customer may simply have had bad luck. In this case, the company has only lost one customer. On the other hand, if situations of this type are frequent and multiply, the company must urgently rectify the situation.

Don’t jeopardize your business

The obligation for private individuals to take out a maintenance contract for their boiler is a valuable source of recurring revenue for heating engineers. It is all the more valuable as it puts them in an ultra-privileged position to detect sale opportunities and complementary sales opportunities with their contract customers. If you are a heating engineer, the profitability of this part of your business depends fundamentally on your ability to master:

  • the costs of operations — both planned (annual visits) and unplanned (emergency repairs and adjustments) — by optimizing rounds, intervention schedules and the working time of your technicians;
  • contractual commitments, in particular response times, including in the event of an emergency, which presupposes a responsive organization and a sufficient number of technicians;
  • the quality of customer relations, in the knowledge that customer satisfaction (and therefore contract renewal) depends not only on the excellence of technical services, but also on criteria such as effective recognition of customer loyalty, the politeness of the people spoken to, the accuracy of the information provided and, of course, the punctuality of technicians.

>> Nomadia can help you with all these points.
By drawing on our expertise, our solutions for planning, optimizing and managing field operations, and our mobile business applications, you can give your company and your technicians the means to live up to your customers’ expectations, whatever the circumstances.

Let’s talk!