In the early days of my field service career, I took over a territory from a tech who was… let’s just say, less than the ideal service rep.

My very first service call in his territory told me what I was in for. I called the customer to give an ETA and her response was, “Two hours? Yeah, right. I’ll see you tomorrow, if I’m lucky.”

I was shocked, so I had to ask, “Excuse me, but why do you say that?”

The customer told me that her former tech would give her the same ETA and then show up for the job a few days later. So I made sure that I got to this job a half hour early, and when I walked through the door with my tool case in hand, she looked like she was seeing a ghost.

After a few calls of arriving earlier than my ETA, the woman practically worshipped me. I had a cup of coffee with a doughnut waiting for me if it was a morning call, and a soda with chips if it was past noon.

I was fortunate that I experienced this while we were pretty much the only game in town. No-one these days would put up with such disregard for customers’ needs and our competition would be the ones worshipped, not me.

I learned a valuable lesson that day: it’s good to meet your estimated time of arrival, but it’s often best to beat it.

The same principle retailers have used for years

Everyone loves a bargain. When you walk into a department store and find out your favorite shoe is now on sale for 50% off, you get excited; it was unexpected and you’re happy that you don’t have to put off buying shoes for another week.

It’s the same principle when your techs are early to a repair. The customer is thrilled that they’re getting their equipment repaired sooner than they expected.

If it’s an office full of hot and sweaty workers due to a broken A/C, you’re going to make a lot of people overjoyed when your tech arrives an hour earlier than expected to repair it.

Adding flexibility to ETAs

Okay, so I have you on board with inflating arrival times, and you’ve taught your techs to follow this creed, but what happens when the customer demands a better arrival time than the (inflated) one that’s been given?

Well, your techs can start with the very effective response: “Let me see what I can do and I’ll call you back.” A few minutes later, the tech can call the customer back and give the real ETA.

There’s a good chance the customer will be satisfied.

An added benefit is that extra bit of leeway your techs are granted if a customer accepts the longer ETA, in case they’re stuck on something unexpected.

Exceptions and grey areas

This is not to say that arriving earlier than your ETA is best in every situation. For example, plumbers, electricians and HVAC workers who work primarily in the residential arena wouldn’t benefit at all if they showed up at a site before the customer had arrived home from work to let them in.

Retrofits, software upgrades, and maintenance should also be done at the arrival time specified. Most often these activities are pre-planned downtimes and, if your tech is early, the customer will most likely make them sit around until the appointed time.

If your team is already struggling to respond quickly to service calls and the main complaint you hear from your customers is slow response times, I’m not sure this is for you.

On one hand, the psychology behind arriving early might make your customers feel as though they are finally getting the attention they deserve, but on the other hand, if your techs give them too long of an estimate, they might become dissatisfied.

No one would argue with me that response times are a huge part of customer satisfaction for all field service teams. In my experience, arriving early has been a great way to leverage ETAs to make for a more satisfied customer.

It’s certainly better than arriving late.