Held Hostage by Service Calls

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The last time I needed an at-home service call, I thought, "Does this company think we're living in the 1950s? Who can be at home from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on a Tuesday just because they bought a new fridge?" Even for someone who works out of a home office, such service policies mean a half-day trapped at half-capacity: no field calls, no paying clients, no lengthy and involved phone conferences.

Such four- or five-hour windows are the norm in home services and have been for decades. Are service providers expecting that anyone who needs cable installed or a refrigerator repaired has a stay-at-home spouse? Or do they simply not consider the inconvenience? Either way, the idea rankled. Then I saw a survey by Harris Interactive for SoundBite Communications that made this claim: "One out of two consumers feel like prisoners in their own homes due to long service windows." That about sums it up.

[ For a look at where tech support is going, read Christina Tynan-Wood's "The (better) future of tech support." | Frustrated by tech support? Get answers in InfoWorld's Gripe Line newsletter. ]

Maybe times were different when service companies decided that customers would be willing not only to pay for new cable service, a new fridge, or in-home repairs, but also give up a vacation day or station someone at home to handle it. Now, when we're expected to get work done while commuting, be on call 24/7, and pull our weight in lean organizations, asking for the afternoon off to wait at home so that you can watch TV on the weekend doesn't contribute to a reputation as a dedicated, invaluable employee.

According to the survey, 81 percent of consumers had to take time off from work to meet a service technician, and 76 percent were inconvenienced by this. The experience left 51 percent feeling imprisoned in their own homes.

All this waiting around for trivial in-home services costs American businesses a fortune, too, according to the survey. "Eighty-one percent of consumers report having to take time off from work or adjust their schedule," says the release. "To ensure they are home during the service appointment window. This translates into more than $13.4 billion in lost productivity for U.S. businesses."

What's the solution? Texting, according to SoundBite Communications, a company that hopes to provide this solution.

"One thing that came out of this survey is that people are OK with taking the time out. They understand the necessity. The issue is the four- or five-hour window and the complete feeling of helplessness as you wait," explains Mark Friedman, chief marketing and business development officer of SoundBite Communications.

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