Service Techs Waste 2.3 Hours Per Day When No One Is Watching

Probably the number one complaint we get from readers about cable and phone service is how the guys never show up when they’re supposed to, or even they day they’re supposed to. As roving lone tech support cowboys, is it a case of the mice will play when the cat’s away? Look at how much more efficient field agent service techs got when managers did ridealongs in this McKinsey study. The company was able to recover 2.3 hours of lost productivity and increase jobs per day completed from 6.3 to 8.5. Inside, how the company recovered even more lost productivity by implementing a new dispatch system capable of on-they-fly scheduling…

Having identified the opportunities, senior managers needed a better understanding of the field technicians’ daily routines. This extra visibility–and a more flexible and dynamic dispatch system–were the cornerstones of the cable company’s transformational program to improve productivity in the field and address key quality issues, such as the punctuality of technicians, waiting times for customers, and getting jobs right the first time. Using improved routing software and making better use of mobile phones, the teams in a pilot study established command centers that provided real-time visibility into the schedules of the field workforce. They also implemented innovative staffing and routing techniques designed to meet customer demand more successfully. The command centers helped field force managers to learn where technicians were, when they began and finished assignments, and whether a test signal had been sent back through the cable network to confirm that an installation was successful or a problem had been fixed. In addition, managers learned (in real time rather than afterward) when employees were ignoring policies; as a result, the company could immediately take corrective action, such as telephoning customers.

The impact was dramatic: 18 months after the company launched the program, technicians were completing an average of 8 jobs a day, compared to 4.5 previously; the average waiting time for an appointment with a technician had dropped to 1.2 days, from 5; and labor costs had decreased by more than 30 percent, since less work had to be outsourced to external contractors.

Comcast should read this study.

Improving field service productivity [McKinsey] (Requires free registration or you can use bugmenot login:, password: 142) (Thanks to c-side!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. ColdNorth says:

    Wow. That’s awesome! It sounds like McKinsey is basically recommending putting a little bell around each field tech’s neck.

    No wonder we always get a 4 hour window anytime we have a service person scheduled to fix something…

  2. cmdr.sass says:

    Comcast would never do something so sensible.

  3. You mean the problem is that the low-level employees are lazy, and that management needs expensive solutions to prod them along? You don’t say…

  4. Saboth says:

    I can’t commment, well, I generally come in at least fifteen minutes late, ah, I use the side door – that way my boss can’t see me, heh heh – and, uh, after that I just sorta space out for about an hour, I just stare at my desk; but it looks like I’m working. I do that for probably another hour after lunch, too. I’d say in a given week I probably only do about fifteen minutes of real, actual, work.

  5. MDSasquatch says:

    Comcast would indeed do such a thing; then they would spin it in such a way, that our monthly rates would be increased accordingly

  6. scoosdad says:

    @MDSasquatch: Right, by telling us about the “new, improved four-hour service window”!

    I liked the part about how the techs thought that when they were given an hour for lunch, that they could take the hour only after they had arrived at their chosen eatery, so that it included the hour, plus travel time (charged against their work day) averaging 39 minutes. Brilliant.

  7. SaveMeJeebus says:

    Field tech locator service charge: $1.99

  8. stageright says:

    I know that Comcast techs have to waste a significant amount of time in the morning waiting in line at the warehouse to pick up the equipment they’ll need for that day’s jobs. If you’re a tech, are you going to wait in line for your gear when you aren’t on the clock?

  9. blue_duck says:

    @Saboth: That was a beautiful “Office Space” referrance. *golf clap*

  10. econobiker says:

    That Comcrap Cable already doesn’t have a tech tracking system is incredible.

  11. ProjectGSX says:

    Question is, how many of those techs would quit if they were forced to do this every day at work? I would be surprised if anyone could claim there was no way for them to be more efficient at work.

  12. elijah_dukes_mayonnaise says:

    If more people would simply reset their modems and cable boxes as
    directed to on the phone, there’d be no need for ‘service tech’ visits.

  13. B says:

    Somewhere a Comcast executive is weighing the alternatives. On one hand, making the techs more efficient will save money, and that’s good. But it might make customers happy, and that’s bad.

  14. A.W.E.S.O.M.-O says:

    Comcast doesn’t need more managers, they need some damn competition. Where’s the incentive to show up promptly (I’m waiting on my THIRD Comcast guy to not blow my appointment off) if there’s nobody else consumers can go to for cable? The government puts the smackdown on Microsoft for bundling Internet Explorer with Windows, but giving me only one cable option is okay? Horseshit.

  15. stevegoz says:

    Good to see McKinsey doing such valuable strategic work. Up next: can burger flippers flip more burgers more quickly?

  16. SteveZim1017 says:

    Why should this suprise anyone. I bet all of us are alot more effective if a manager spends the day with us. I’m pretty sure none of us would be on the consumerist site that day…

  17. selectman says:

    I like the military lingo – command centers, force managers. Surprised that we didn’t see ‘collateral damage’ in there.

  18. @SteveZim1017:

    That’s an interesting point, and it’s something I never get when consumers consider service times. We ALL procrastinate at work and at home, but for some reason only “big evil” service corporations and their respective technical service departments are allowed to be criticized. If I was late to service some guy’s cable and he bitched, I’d ask if he ever screws around at work. If he says no, he’s an arrogant liar. If he says yes, I’ll ask why I should be held to a different standard.

  19. FLConsumer says:

    @elijah_dukes_mayonnaise: If the equipment was properly designed, people wouldn’t need to reset it.

  20. nursetim says:

    If it was a study about Verizon FIOS installers, it would.

  21. MustyBuckets says:

    @ColdNorth: I’m not trying to be an ass or anything, but I understand that the average time of a call is 35 minutes, but some calls are very simple (something unplugged, mainly customer stupidity), and some are major issues that take an hour or more.

    What I’m trying to get at is would you be more upset with a 4 hour window, or an exact time that the tech could be two hours early or two hours late to getting to. What about traffic?

    What these companies need to do is set up a call ahead program giving 30 or 45 minutes of rough notice, so you can do whatever, and come back to the house right before the tech comes in. (That’s what the independent appliance business I work at does)

  22. AcidReign says:

        We have a dead end street behind our house that backs up to some very shady woods. And I can’t even count how many times an Alabama Power, or city worker, or Charter Cable, or Bellsouth truck would back in up under the trees, and sit there for hours. Alabama Power hired a private tree firm once to cut limbs in the neighborhood. Those guys specialized in the six-hour-break. I called Alabama Power on ’em, since we had two trees all tangled up in the main trunk line, on my property, alone!

  23. scoosdad says:

    @AcidReign: Yeah, here in MA I have a National Grid (electric and gas utility) pickup truck that spends most of its day sitting in front of a house just up the street from mine, that I see just about every day that I work from home. Shows up about 9:30 every morning and disappears around 4. Need to send an series of anonymous time-stamped pictures to them, I think. Boy those meters sure do take a long time to read electronically!

  24. ColdNorth says:

    @MustyBuckets: That would be wonderful. I only wish YOUR service personnel would call on MY home! It seems your solution is way too cutting-edge for any of the companies I am forced to deal with.

  25. ColdNorth says:

    @A.W.E.S.O.M.-O: Mediacom is no better. In fact, their service makes me wish I had Comcast… Well, almost.

  26. Carencey says:

    @ADismalScience: Many if not most of us goof off at work, and probably everyone would get in trouble if our bosses caught us. If my productivity falls off, someone is always watching me, not just when McKinsey decides to do a study. (Lunchtime now. :D) The reason this particular instance upsets so many of us, though, is that we often have to take time away from our jobs for these appointments. If I am having to use up some of my leave time or lose a shift to sit around and wait over a three hour window for someone to show up, and they don’t show up on time because they thought it was okay to take a 90 minute paid lunch break, then yeah, I’m going to be irritated.

  27. Dbone1025 says:

    Sorry, but how many of you readers/responders should be working right now?

  28. mindshadow says:

    Only 2.3 hours a day? Amateurs.

  29. nevergod says:

    try manual labor anything so much time gets wasted. getting coffee, deciding who wants what, someone leaves to get coffee, everyone pisses and moans why coffee isn’t back yet, and then takes a break when the coffee gets there. smoke breaks, then pre-lunch cleanup, go to lunch, or send someone to get lunch, more deciding, post lunch set-up, and you can see the hours slip away.. 2.3 hours is weak.

  30. Trick says:

    A GPS unit in each company owned vehicle and a Windows CE mobile device to keep track of the time at work would be just as good as a ride-a-long supervisor.

    What would the two cost?

    Seems to me companies just want to complain about the lazy slobs they hire rather than actually do something about it…

  31. CumaeanSibyl says:

    Damn, I’ve worked with guys who could waste 6 hours a day, and that’s working on a fixed site where the boss could walk by any time. This is rookie business.

  32. Orv says:

    What amazes me about Comcast is that they not only give me a four hour window, they consistently *miss* the window. From talking to a couple of their techs the problem seems to be that they don’t pay enough to retain good people. The ones who actually knew what they were doing were just biding their time until they could find a better job.

  33. smd31 says:


    Amen, I mean at the job I’m at now, I maybe do a good hours work at work…feel very much like the main actor in the movie Office Space.

    Although some days I’m working/running around all the time and can’t get 1 minute to surf the internet, but most days I’m just surfing the internet/playing games…until boss walks by/around the office.

    Last day is a few days away….hopefully will get a better/more “fun” job…

  34. calvinneal says:

    I am employed by a communications company which dwarfs Comcast. All technicians have GPSs in their trucks, are tracked constantly and their job starts and completions are entered into into a truck mounted computer. Its a small price to pay. We are unionized and make a hell of more money than your cable guy.

  35. humperdinck says:

    2.3 hours? Pfft, I can waste much more time than that, right at my desk. They really are inefficient.

  36. mikecolione says:


    AT&T Mobility does the same thing for the tower techs. They have to be at a specific tower each morning and night to “punch in and out”. They track how long it takes to drive from tower 1 to tower 2 and how much time you spend at each tower. If you spend more time than what the job calls for, your info pops up and you get a call on your cell asking why your job is going over the suggested time. Sucks, but now there is a record of where you are at any given time during the day.