Heating Horrors!

This customer account is a true story of a heating repair that happened earlier this month. It is a story I am very familiar with, as it repeats again and again across the country at this time of year. It is also entirely avoidable if organisations took the time to properly study and understood their own work.

The story of MegaCon is an amalgam of systems and behaviours that I have either seen or been told about during my time owning a similar heating company and in consultancy thereafter. I would be confident that most of it is accurate in explaining why the service that my friend received was so poor.


Charlie – Working Dad and customer of MegaCon

“The boiler conked out completely so no hot water and no heating. I rang the home emergency insurance helpline at about 10am. They said to expect a call within half an hour from an engineer. An hour later a woman rang to say an engineer would visit between 1pm and 6pm. After 3 phone calls, I found out the engineer was held up. He arrived at 8pm.

He looked at it and said “Do you want your hot water OR heating back on? I always offer customers the choice.” I thought that was a bit strange but I opted for hot water.  I asked him when he would be back to fix the heating. He said “I don’t know, it has to go back into the system. Someone will ring you.”

I heard nothing the next day so I phoned the home emergency helpline that evening. They said they couldn’t get through to the local engineering company and that it was no longer classed as an emergency, even after I explained we had a 21 month old and had no heating so the house was freezing. It took 3 days of me chasing (I probably rang 8 or 9 times in total) to finally get someone to come out to fix the heating. We got an appointment slot from 10am until 1pm and he came at 1.20pm, which was very inconvenient. I had to rearrange babysitters and my daughter couldn’t have her nap at the usual time meaning she was tired and grumpy. Very frustrating and stressful!”



megaton full logo

 The view from the Boardroom – Barry Big-Shot (51) speaks:

It’s early December and the phones are red hot at MegaCon Heating Co. We provide comprehensive maintenance for your heating and hot water systems and I am currently preparing a board paper for a second Contact Centre to cope with all the calls we are getting. I’m looking forward to our sales stats for this quarter; ker-ching!

I need to push our managers hard at this time of year, but that’s what they’re paid for. They get it easy in the summer, so they can feel a bit of pain in winter! I have a load of KPI’s that I monitor every week and these tell me all I need to know about our staff. The call answering stats look ok overall, but at certain times they don’t look great, so I’ve initiated a new policy to reduce the maximum call length by one minute. My FD tells me this will increase our call handling capacity by 18% and I’m disappointed that my Ops Manager hasn’t thought of this; it’s always me that has to come up with the solutions. Honestly, how long can it take to note the address and name of a customer?

This year has seen us introduce 3-hour appointment timeslots, which is fantastic service. Our stats say we meet these 94% of the time and complete 91% on the first visit – just above our target of 90%. It’s my job to keep the shareholders happy and those sort of stats guarantee me a good bonus again – happy days!

I have seen a few more complaints coming through to me recently, but that’s the culture of people these days and they are still below our annual target of 3% of all jobs carried out. Surely people must realise that we can’t get to everyone when the temperature drops to freezing? They are never so keen to let us in when we need to service their boiler in the summer, so it’s a bit rich that they want us there at the click of their fingers in mid-winter. That’s when all our customers suddenly find young kids or elderly relatives, if you know what I mean – can’t bloody delay those ones, can we? And they know it…


The view from the Contact Centre: Sam (19)

I work in the contact centre for MegaCon Heating Co. It’s my first job and I have grown to hate this time of year. I spend my entire day taking calls from irate customers.

“Why have I had to wait so long in the queue?”

“Why hasn’t your engineer turned up yet?”

“What’s happening with the parts you said we needed?”

“Why didn’t you ring back when you said you would?”

I feel sorry for most of them; they get angry but I can understand why. My supervisor keeps telling me it’s part of the job and I guess they’re right, but it still makes me feel quite sick somedays. Lots of the people we deal with are quite vulnerable and I especially worry about families with little babies or old folk at this time of year when they have no heating.

I think some of them quite like a chat on the phone, but I’m monitored on my call length so I have to cut them off sometimes. It’s tricky to hurry when we get customers who don’t speak great English, or who are a bit deaf or doddery; I’m constantly having to watch the clock and have to skimp on some of the details. We have to fill in every box, but if I’m honest we all have to make stuff up sometimes to meet the targets.

I shouldn’t really tell you this, but if the call stats are below target, we take turns to go outside and ring in! When it’s quiet we get straight through, so answering times look better and we can stay on the line for a minute or so to bring average call lengths down. That’s what teamwork is all about! I know it’s cheating a bit, but without that we won’t get our bonus and basic pay is too low for me to live on.

I don’t think my manager really understand what we have to do. He’s really busy with reports and papers he has to write for the Directors, so he doesn’t get any time to spend with us on the phones. I must be doing ok though because no one has put me on an improvement plan recently.


The view from a Heating Engineer: Steve (56)

I am an experienced engineer, trained by British Gas many years ago and now working for MegaCon.

The office do my head in at this time of year. I am bombarded with calls and messages asking where I am, how long it will be until I finish, and trying to get me to take more jobs before I stop for lunch, or go home in the evening.

The work planners only give us an hour per call, which they say is plenty of time. In practice though, a lot of the time is lost in travel, crisscrossing about the district to avert the next crisis. Sometimes the fault-finding is really tricky, so we have to cover all bases and order multiple parts just in case. Sometimes the client’s assessors refuse those and we have to go back, hoping the bit they authorised is the right one. The worst jobs are when someone else has done that and you’re given the parts to fit. We all know which engineers guess the problem and you know the part is wrong before you even get to the address. I‘m the one who gets the flak though – makes me bloody angry and it’s so embarrassing with the poor customer.

We are sub-contractors to the main insurance company and that’s a nightmare. We charge a standard fee for a callout and any extra work has to be authorised and charged separately to keep costs down. This is frustrating! I have a large van with a lot of stock on it. Please don’t print that though, as we’re limited in the value of stock we are given. Us more experienced engineers get around that by over-ordering on certain jobs to build up stock for emergency ones; I don’t want to let the customer down and you try telling someone they won’t have heating for a week while we get the parts authorized and ordered! No one ends up losing, but the job-costing system is probably a bit wrong.

Because of the way the system works, sometimes I have the part on the van but I can’t fit it due to the time pressures and the need to get to the next customer. This gets through today, but I know it causes another visit tomorrow or next week – crazy really. Other times I just haven’t got the parts. We were given some basic stock when I joined MegaCon, but if I’m honest we all think there are some useful things missing and some of the makes we use are cheap, but difficult to fit and just don’t last.

The biggest waste of my time comes from the new booking system. We only offer 3-hour timeslots and often miss those! Customers can’t wait in all the time and I reckon I get 2 jobs a day where no one is in when I call. No one seems too bothered by this though, despite the wasted travel and knowing we probably have to go back some time soon. However, on busy days our ‘no access’ jobs can be logged as complete, which boosts our figures. It’s also a real boost for the diary – we can take more work or I finish on time!

It would be useful for my supervisor to spend some time with me out at customers, so that she could see the problems for herself. She spends all her time in the office though, filling out those forms to authorise extra works and chase payment. I often wonder how she knows whether I’m any good at my job and probably explains how some others get away with so much. As long as my stats look ok she seems happy, but we all know how to fiddle those, it’s amazing she doesn’t notice! For example, I can close a job off as complete simply by ordering parts and raising a new order to fit them. This keeps the big bosses happy and meets our target in the contract, but it doesn’t do much good for the customer.

I’ll give you an example of a job I went to last week. Bloke was a working dad with a young kid. All it needed was a Honeywell valve – the usual V4073A. I use them all the time but the bosses won’t let me have more than 2 on my van. Sadly for this bloke, I had already used 2 on callout the night before and hadn’t received any back. As a result I had to bypass the valve and leave it open for hot water only – no heating. He wasn’t happy, but what could I do? By the time I got to them it was late and counted as an Out of Hours callout, so I could have bypassed the authorisation system and fitted it there and then if I had one. Crazy that it will now cost us for:

  • Applying for authorisation for the replacement valve
  • Processing a new works order
  • Answering several chase calls from the customer (no wonder we need that rumoured second call centre)
  • A second visit for another engineer (no wonder we can’t get to all our jobs)

Still, what do I know, I’m just a gas engineer.


The Antidote

  • Go and study your own work systems. Start with listening to customer calls and follow jobs through the flow.
  • Spend time with the front line and reflect on what you have seen and whether it is consistent with the performance measures you are presented with.
  • Never underestimate the importance of having the right stock on your vans, in the right quantities. See Stock Right Now for details of how this should be done.
  • Trust employees and sub-contractors to do the right thing and they will. Keep control of them by using robust, accurate performance measures designed to learn and improve, not reward or punish.
  • It is entirely possible to offer customers an accurate, exact appointment time and keep it. It requires learning, patience, trust and a new way of resource planning.
  • Doing the right thing for the customer is also better for staff morale and cheaper. All it takes is a change of thinking from the top of the organisation, but so few are brave enough.
This entry was posted in Customer Service, Logistics, Management, Repairs, Targets and tagged , , by Ian. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ian

Perfect Flow specialises in logistics, but good service is far too rare across all sectors in the UK. That is why I am driven by a strong desire to improve customer service levels. The Vanguard Method of Systems Thinking is my chosen methodology to achieve that aim. Why Vanguard Method? Because it works. I know it does, because I have used it myself. Perfect Flow have been named in the Smarta100 2012 - the 100 most innovative and disruptive small businesses in the UK

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *