Customer Preferences for Residential Services Software

There are a plethora of available options for home service providers to weigh when it comes to choosing a software solution for their business.

While many of these solutions allow customers to do things such as track technician arrival times and pay bills online, customer preferences for residential services software are rarely considered a part of the selection process.

To learn more, Software Advice conducted a survey on the effect of this software on the customer experience.

This report will help residential services companies understand which software capabilities can not only improve the customer experience, but even encourage customers to choose one provider over another.

Key Findings

  1. Fifty-eight percent of respondents say the use of technician tracking technology would have a positive impact on their likeliness to hire a residential services company.
  2. A majority of respondents (55 percent) say they would use online bill pay more than any other customer portal function.
  3. Thirty-nine percent of respondents say the residential service companies they’ve used leverage technology “somewhat” or “very well” to improve customer experiences.

Why Consider Customer Preferences for Residential Services?

Field service companies—especially small to midsize residential service providers, such as cleaning services, pest control and plumbers—lag behind other businesses when it comes to technology adoption.

According to Forbes, however, field services are catching up; soon, software will disrupt the residential services industry as we know it. And there’s plenty of room for software adoption to increase in this space: a 2014 Software Advice field service BuyerView report indicates that 54 percent of these software buyers are using manual methods for managing their business.

As decision makers at residential services companies integrate software into their daily operations, they should consider not only their business needs, but also how they can improve customer experiences. The software they select can affect current and potential customers’ decisions when choosing between service providers.

As such, matching common software preferences can help providers increase customer retention while simultaneously streamlining internal processes.

Majority More Likely to Hire a Provider Using Technician Tracking Technology

First, we asked how the use of various residential services software offerings would impact respondents’ likelihood to hire a residential services company. A majority (58 percent) say the use of technician tracking technology would “somewhat increase likelihood” (30 percent) or “greatly increase likelihood” (28 percent) to hire that company.

This technology enables consumers to track the arrival time of technicians online, rather than having to rely on traditional “we’ll be there between noon and 6 p.m.” windows.

Effect of Software Features on Likelihood to Hire Service Provider

Effect of Software Features on Likelihood to Hire Service Provider

According to Sam Pillar, CEO and co-founder at Jobber (which provides business management software for mobile service companies), the software typically used by larger field service companies can be detrimental to the refinement of their scheduling, not to mention customer satisfaction.

For example, he says, the traditional window of arrival is an “old-school method of scheduling” that bigger businesses, such as utilities or communications providers, tend to rely on. For smaller businesses, however, scheduling can be more precise—given proper management and the right software.

“So long as you have a good handle, as a business owner, on how long the services you provide take to do, then you can schedule your field resources effectively—and pretty much guarantee that they’re going to be where you say they’re going to be, on time,” Pillar says.

One beneficial technician-tracking capability field service software may offer, says Pillar, is geofencing: the same technology utilized by popular rideshare and taxi service Uber. This technology acts quite literally like a digital “fence,” enabling businesses to set boundaries for service, create alerts upon entry and exit to and from these boundaries and automatically notify customers when their technician is nearby.

As Pillar explains, “If you’re scheduled to do a job at 2 p.m., but at five minutes to 2 p.m., you’re still 10 miles away, you’d be able to automatically send a text message to a customer saying you’re going to be a little late.”

In addition to improving customer experience and satisfaction, there are organizational benefits of integrating this tracking technology. “If [the technician says] that they were at a job and the customer says they weren’t, you can verify this; or, if they get in an accident, you can see exactly where they were,” Pillar explains.

Further analyzing the above data, we see access to an online portal for self-service tasks such as scheduling and bill paying has the second-strongest positive impact on respondents’ likelihood to hire a residential services company.

Interestingly, however, the data indicates an online portal is also the most negatively impactful software capability, with a combined 17 percent of respondents indicating the function would “somewhat decrease” the likelihood (5 percent) or “greatly decrease” the likelihood (12 percent) of hiring that company.

This implies that, when implemented properly, online portals add to the customer experience—but when implemented poorly, they can detract from it.

Online Bill Pay, Scheduling Are Most Popular Customer Portal Functions

Since customer portals produced the most polarizing results as far as what would impact respondents’ decision to hire a home services company, we decided to examine this data further. We next asked respondents what specific functionality they would use most if their residential services provider gave them access to a customer portal.

Most Preferred Customer Portal Functionality

Most Preferred Customer Portal Functionality

Of those respondents who indicated a preference, 55 percent say they would use “online bill pay” more than any of the other functions we listed. And exactly half of respondents indicate that they’d use “online scheduling” abilities the most.

These two most popular functions are key pillars of startups Handy and Homejoy, which provide mobile platforms that connect customers to individual home services providers.

For example, Handy allows customers to find independent contractors and technicians for services such as plumbing, cleaning and electrical work, providing them with fast, secure booking and payment processes. Homejoy has a similar offering, but focuses solely on cleaning services. Contractors are pre-qualified and paid by their respective platforms.

These platforms essentially do for home services customers what Uber does for taxi customers. If the platforms can generate a market disruption anything near Uber’s, there will be serious ramifications—especially for those businesses without online paying and scheduling options.

Interestingly, only 29 percent of respondents say that “GPS tracking” is the software capability they would use most with a customer portal. This seems at odds with our earlier findings that the use of technician tracking technology would have the most positive impact on respondents’ likeliness to hire a residential services company.

However, this could be because customers prefer a stand-alone technician tracking function rather than one that’s part of a customer portal, as the previous question was asking. Customer portals can be complex interfaces that users must log into and navigate through; it follows that they might prefer to access technician tracking without these hurdles.

Software Benefits Extend Beyond Consumer-Facing Functionality

To get a feel for general customer perceptions on how this type of software is used, we next asked respondents how well residential service companies leverage technology to improve customer experiences.

Perception of How Well Providers Leverage Software

Perception of How Well Providers Leverage Software

The highest percentage of respondents (41 percent) indicate that these services do an “average” job using technology to improve their experience. However, a combined 39 percent say their provider does the job “somewhat” or “very well”—beating out the less than 20 percent who say their provider leverages technology “poorly” to some degree.

It’s clear that more customers have a positive experience with their residential service provider’s software than a negative one. Pillar elaborates on what a positive experience with residential services software should look like.

“If we [software developers] are doing our job well in building great technology for these businesses [to use] in serving their customers, then we’re doing it in such a way that it stays out of the way,” he says.

“The end consumer shouldn’t really notice. There shouldn’t be a situation where a field tech is fumbling with an iPad or an iPhone to try and get a bit of information recorded, or to pluck information about a job. It should be very quick and easy.”

If the proper use of software is invisible, it’s probably very apparent when a provider is not using software properly: Processes tend to be slower and more inconvenient for customers.

As Pillar says, the right software offers real, operational improvements that benefit the business owner. And the end result of these improvements is better customer service.

“The end consumer sees the benefits in more efficient work; an industry that is, overall, faster and more competitive; and, ultimately, they should start seeing greater price competitiveness as a result, because [providers] are able to do more with less,” he adds.

Millennials Split on Service Providers’ Use of Technology

We decided to dig a little deeper into the above findings, and broke them down by age. We found that while baby boomers and younger millennials were more satisfied with providers’ use of technology, older millennials were less enthused.

Perception of How Well Providers Leverage Software, by Age

Perception of How Well Providers Leverage Software, by Age

Exactly half of respondents 18-24 years of age indicate that the residential service companies they’ve used in the past leverage technology “very well” (15 percent) or “somewhat well” (35 percent) to improve customer experiences. This segment has the longest potential customer life cycle, so this finding is promising for residential service companies that are currently using software.

Further debunking the myth that older people lack knowledge about how to use technology, 46 percent of respondents 65 years and above say their service providers have used technology “somewhat” (23 percent) or “very well” (23 percent).

It was surprising at first to see the older millennial age group (25-34) indicate such poor experiences with technology use by residential service providers (a combined 26 percent responding “somewhat” or “very poorly”). However, Pillar sheds some light on why this might be.

“You’ve got this millennial generation who should be most receptive, but I think the reality is that a lot of the companies have implemented [customer-facing functionality] in a … really poor way,” he says.

Pillar adds that exposure to this poorly functioning software leads to poor perceptions from this usually tech-friendly age group—which can translate into customers thinking the provider itself is inept, and taking their business elsewhere. In other words, simply using technology isn’t enough when interacting with millennials; it has to be used well.

Conclusion

It’s worth noting that many of the “average” responses in the above data could be a result of the residential services industry’s slow adoption of software. It may not be immediately obvious to consumers whether or not providers are using technology in the first place, let alone how well they are using it.

As Pillar states, “The vast majority of these mobile service companies are not using any kind of technology in their business. Maybe they’ve got QuickBooks set up in the office or something, but in the field, they’ve got nothing. They’ve got pen and paper, or they’ve got one of those aluminum metal cases full of carbon-copy invoices.”

As more residential services businesses switch over to software, customers’ perceptions may change. To encourage a positive change, businesses must ensure they’re offering some sort of technician tracking capabilities, as well as an online customer portal that features efficient, easy-to-use online bill pay and scheduling.

Failure to do so could soon result in a loss of market share to such tech-savvy up-and-comers as Handy and Homejoy. However, doing this correctly could have bountiful results. With so many mid-level responses amongst our survey-takers, the residential services market is ripe for businesses to adopt technology that pushes average experiences into positive ones.

Methodology
To find the data in this report, we conducted a three-day online survey of seven questions, and gathered 8,169 responses from random adults who have used residential services within the United States. All survey questionnaires undergo an internal peer review process to ensure clarity in wording.

Sources attributed and products referenced in this article may or may not represent partner vendors of Software Advice, but vendor status is never used as a basis for selection. Interview sources are chosen for their expertise on the subject matter, and software choices are selected based on popularity and relevance.

Expert commentary solely represents the views of the individual. Chart values are rounded to the nearest whole number.

If you have comments or would like to obtain access to any of the charts above, please contact justinguinn@softwareadvice.com.

 

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