Recall Management: How to Reduce Service Recalls

Marine Klein
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What is a service recall?

A service recall is when an engineer has to return to a job to fix something that's either gone wrong with the repair or installation, or wasn’t fixed properly in the first place.

Of course, if the engineer or the service company was at fault, this recall service has to be carried out at the company’s own expense—using up time that could have been used for other jobs.

The bad news

The damage doesn't stop there: Recalls are bad for your reputation: You can lose repeat business, plus business that you might have won.

In the worst case, faulty or incorrect work that causes a health and safety risk will seriously damage your reputation, and can result in legal action.

Bad news—that is, bad reviews—travel a lot faster than good news, especially in these days of social media. The old slogan, "If you are pleased with our service, tell others; if you are not pleased, tell us" is now just wishful thinking!

Tech to the rescue

Modern technology can save you from all this hassle, if you have the right software and use it effectively to minimise recalls. The first thing you to do is track the number of recalls, the reasons for them, and who's responsible. If yours is a one- or two-man company, you can probably get away without using technology to gather this data.

But once you have several engineers or are handling a heavy workload, having the right technology, and a structured approach to mobile workforce management, is essential to maximising your first-time fix rate.

Best practices to reduce service recalls

Effective mobile workforce management depends on having the right tools and processes in place. A 2013 study by the Aberdeen Group found that:

"Best-in-class field service professionals (mainly in the product servicing, IT services and electronics sectors) had a first-time fix rate of 89%, compared to a 71% average."

They identified the actions that field services companies must undertake to become best of class:

  • Integrate parts into scheduling criteria.
  • Schedule service tasks more frequently and in a centralised manner.
  • Empower field agents with mobile tools and devices, and real-time access to information.
  • Develop dynamic service resource plans.
  • Use performance management tools to tweak resource plans, schedule parameters, and workforce management processes.

You can only accomplish all this with a software solution that connects your central office and the mobile workforce, allows engineers to fill in job reports—including the taking and uploading pictures to the service—and lets you generate performance reports, which can help you to identify problems that are related to recalls.

Establishing a recall rate

Once you have a system in place to track recalls, the next step is to establish a recall rate, which is the opposite of a first-time fix rate. Typically, a service company might define a recall rate as the percentage of times a service engineer has to return to a customer’s home or business within 30 days.

As you build up your service histories in your customer database, you'll be able to establish the average recall rate for the company as a whole. You'll then be able to compare the recall rates for individual engineers against the company norm.

However, don’t take this figure in isolation: You should also consider the volume of jobs your engineers do over the course of the 30 days.

In my previous blog on measuring engineers’ performance, I discussed the appropriate ways to incentivise high performance and correct poor performance. Essentially, this consists of a simple matrix, which I've adapted for the specific case of recall management:

Your remuneration package should reward those employees who achieve a low recall rate and high volume of completed jobs (top left box). If you're tracking systematically and are in a position to generate monthly reports, you can pay the appropriate bonuses a month later.

Most of your engineers should fall into this category, and your task as a manager is to move the others into this box. But in each of the other three categories, you need to make a different kind of intervention, because the reasons for under-performance are different in each case.

Those who are enthusiastic and hardworking engineers and get through a lot of jobs, but with a high recall rate, probably require some additional training. Those who are technically skilled but get through a relatively low volume may need to improve their time-management skills.

Those who are underperforming on both of these key performance indicators, you may need to shadow—that is, track their day-to-day work—because they clearly need to be both motivated and mentored.

Identifying the reasons for recalls

A recall isn't necessarily the fault of the individual engineer. You need to establish some basic standards for recording the reasons for recalls, such as part or appliance malfunction by type, customer misuse and accidents, and engineer error.

You might find it useful to take a look at the ISO 9001 Quality Management Standards for guidance on this, and read some of the literature on quality management by gurus such as W. Edwards Deming.

One thing that you'll learn quickly is that Murphy’s Law does not apply. According to Deming, in any organisation:

"80-90% of quality problems were under management’s control, emphasising organisation-wide cultural change and worker/management cooperation as the path to achieving high quality."

Take care to distinguish between cause and effect when identifying the reasons for recalls. The Japanese were pioneers in modern quality management, so look up the Ishikawa diagram, which links causes and effects on a graphic rather like a fishbone.

Once you've identified the causes of recalls, tackle the most common cause first. It may be something simple and process-related, such as the engineer turning up without the required part—in which case you should integrate parts into your scheduling procedure more effectively, or provide better information to the engineer before they set out on the initial call.

Or it may be that most problems are associated with a common fault in a particular appliance, which can manifest itself in a number of ways (like leakages, complete breakdown, or energy inefficiency).

Typically, some of the less frequently occurring causes of failure are then eliminated; for example, if a particular appliance gives a lot of trouble, this may mean the customer tampers with it, making the problem worse.

The next step is to implement the “PDSA” cycle:

Plan what must be done.

Do it.

Study the results.

Act to correct problems and improve performance.

By the way, if you're tracking recalls systematically, you will have already taken a huge step towards ISO 9001 certification, which is a huge plus for any service company.

If you follow these simple principles you'll increase your first-time fix rate and as a result, you'll see an immediate impact on your bottom line as you reduce your costs and increase the profitability of your engineers.

Longer term, you'll see your reputation for professionalism and quality improve, which will lead to more repeat business and customer referrals.

To streamline the whole process, look for field service management software that provides a recall management feature. You'll be able to easily manage return visits, track your engineers' performance, and boost your first-time fix rate.

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