Repairing Jobs That Fail to Satisfy
Companies often divide up work as a way to improve efficiency, but specialization can lead to negative consequences. DrainFlow is a company that has effectively used specialization to reduce costs relative to its competitors’ costs for years, but rising customer complaints suggest the firm’s strong position may be slipping. After reading the case, you will suggest some ways it can create more interesting work for employees. You’ll also tackle the problem of finding people qualified and ready to perform the multiple responsibilities required in these jobs.
DrainFlow is a large residential and commercial plumbing maintenance firm that operates around the United States. It has been a major player in residential plumbing for decades, and its familiar rhyming motto, “When Your Drain Won’t Go, Call DrainFlow,” has been plastered on billboards since the 1960s.
Lee Reynaldo has been a regional manager at DrainFlow for about 2 years. She used to work for a newer competing chain, Lightning Plumber, that has been drawing more and more customers from DrainFlow. Although her job at DrainFlow pays more, Lee isn’t happy with the way things are going. She’s noticed the work environment +63
just isn’t as vital or energetic as the environment she saw at Lightning.
Lee thinks the problem is that employees aren’t motivated to provide the type of customer service Lightning Plumber employees offer. She recently sent surveys to customers to collect information about performance, and the data confirmed her fears. Although 60 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with their experience and would use DrainFlow again, 40 percent felt their experience was not good, and 30 percent said they would use a competitor the next time they had a plumbing problem.
Lee is wondering whether DrainFlow’s job design might be contributing to its problems in retaining customers. DrainFlow has about 2,000 employees in four basic job categories: plumbers, plumber’s assistants, order processors, and billing representatives. This structure is designed to keep costs as low as possible. Plumbers make very high wages, whereas plumber’s assistants make about one-quarter of what a licensed plumber makes. Using plumber’s assistants is therefore a very cost-effective strategy that has enabled DrainFlow to easily undercut the competition when it comes to price. Order processors make even less than assistants but about the same as billing processors. All work is very specialized, but employees are often dependent on another job category to perform at their most efficient level.
Like most plumbing companies, DrainFlow gets business mostly from the Yellow Pages and the Internet. Customers either call in to describe a plumbing problem or submit an online request for plumbing services, receiving a return call with information within 24 hours. In either case, DrainFlow’s order processors listen to the customer’s description of the problem to determine whether a plumber or a plumber’s assistant should make the service call. The job is then assigned accordingly, and a service provider goes to the location. When the job has been completed, via cell phone a billing representative relays the fee to the service rep, who presents a bill to the customer for payment. Billing representatives can take customers’ credit card payments by phone or e-mail an invoice for online payment.
Although specialization does cut costs significantly, Lee is worried about customer dissatisfaction. According to her survey, about 25 percent of customer contacts ended in no service call because customers were confused by the diagnostic questions the order processors asked and because the order processors did not have sufficient knowledge or skill to explain the situation. That means fully one in four people who call DrainFlow to hire a plumber are worse than...