ClickSoftware | 09.09.16
Summary >

In the wake of new field service technology, nearly all service-based organizations are looking for ways to improve their efficiency and profit margins. In theory, scheduling should be the easiest aspect of field service management to automate. But with a full 77% of field service employees using their personal devices for work, organizations face a monumental challenge ensuring their scheduling software works across a multitude of personal devices.

The internet is littered with articles on how software can revolutionize scheduling. But in this world dominated by hacks, shortcuts and fads, it can be hard for dispatch and field service managers to find sound advice on scheduling fundamentals. In fact, there are surprisingly few public resources online that provide field service scheduling tips. As management faces BYOD (bring-your-own-device) challenges, and years of software adoption, the best remedy for scheduling challenges is often a return to basics.

The following are 5 common scheduling fails, and simple fixes. No hacks here, just good old-fashioned advice.

Fail #1: Not Addressing Peaks & Valleys

Every service business has nuances and many face significant shifts in seasonal demand. But few field service organizations address their peaks and valleys with enough complexity to achieve top profits. Whether you’re running an HVAC, telecommunications, or construction operation, failing to address your highs and lows can cost you money and threaten the stability of your workforce.

Fix #1: Forecast

The need for resource capacity planning is integral to your business, no matter its size. Even the most basic tracking can get you closer to being able to staff consistently and alleviate the need for desperate last minute staffing shuffles. And if this is sounding like rocket science, it’s not. Here are a few ways to implement some basic forecasting:

  • Track month-over-month jobs data
    • Even 6 months of data will help you understand better what the future will hold. Track things like jobs fulfilled, jobs lost, and first-visit job completions
  • Track service tech performance month-over-month
    • Keep an eye on job completions, average jobs per day, comparing this data month-over-month
  • Software
    • If your scheduling, performance data and overall program management is getting too complicated or cumbersome, consider looking into software to automate the forecasting.

Fail #2: Sending the Wrong Field Tech

With software and increased optimization, you might be tempted to always send the field tech who is within the closest proximity to the job site. This won’t always work. In fact at times, it will even backfire. Sending your closest techs in to fix customer problems will satisfy customers in the short term, and it will even make your response times go down. But, over the course of weeks and months, the bigger trend will be lost revenue. This is a common struggle for even the most sophisticated field service organizations.

 Fix #2: Send Skilled Techs to Tough Jobs

Sometimes your best tech needs to get to the toughest job site, no matter the distance. Overall, this will reduce the likelihood of return visits, and improve first-visit job closures. A result will be improved customer satisfaction.

But the key to scheduling efficiency is knowing your various tech’s strengths and weaknesses. Here are a few ideas for taking stock of your field force:

  • Develop a scoring system
    • Build a model that ranks techs based on experience on a 1-5 scale. Depending on your business, a 5 might represent your tech who has the highest completion rate, or customer satisfaction. Or, this could be your tech who has been in the business the longest.
  • Rule-based routes
    • Keep your technicians’ service regions and skill levels on a map, representing tech experience in various colors. When a job comes in, map the tech with the highest experience, who is also nearest.
  • Software
    • Various software can offer automated routing and rule-based employee assignment. Consider this option if you’re struggling with job completion, your business is scaling quickly, or your customer satisfaction scores are tanking.

Fail #3: Doing it All Manually

Many small and mid-size service organizations handle scheduling tasks manually. For some, this works. But the vast majority of businesses need to automate various aspects of their scheduling, reporting, or route-mapping at some point. Phone centers that are fielding too many jobs have significantly tougher time keeping up while logging job details manually. Seasonal field service operations often suffer as details fall through the cracks.

Fix #3: Scheduling Automation

Don’t feel pressure to overhaul your entire system right away. Instead focus on automating key areas of your business. For most, implementing a solution to streamline scheduling is the first step toward reducing manual labor hours. Whichever software you choose, be sure it provides two-way communication between dispatch and field techs. Facilitating information requests from the field is just as crucial to productivity as top-down scheduling. Here are two key areas to explore first:

  • Mobile-friendly scheduling
    • Find a solution or software that can deliver mobile-friendly updates to field techs in real-time. Being able to make changes from a unified system that also sends messages will significantly reduce manual labor and hours.
  • Routing
    • If you’re having trouble with scheduling, the culprit is often routing inefficiency. Search for a software that can give you some smarter options for your field tech routes. There are several try-before-you-buy solutions out there. Take one for a spin!

Fail #4: Not Leaving Wiggle Room

Efficiency in the field is important, but failing to accurately forecast drive times, job completion rates and customer activity means you also won’t be able to forecast overall efficiency. It’s important to first log all of these items, and to leave some wiggle room for techs, your software and your scheduling. All too often, efficient workforces get so focused on serving more customers that projected service times get missed, jobs get dropped and everyone feels frazzled all day long. That’s a surefire way to increase churn.

Fix #4: Provide Options & Overlap

You can plan for complexity without over-complicating your field service. Here are a few ways to simplify scheduling by giving everyone ample breathing room:

  • Stagger your working hours so that field tech shifts overlap
    • Providing morning, mid-day and evening shifts will provide customers and your employees with options, thereby making everyone happier
  • Dispatch technicians from their homes
    • This will ultimately reduce overall drive times and lead to higher job completion rates
  • Offer techs different shifts throughout the year
    • Technicians may resent being stuck with one shift. Offer to switch up working hours or pair up field techs who can swap shifts on a regular basis.

Fail #5: Not Prioritizing Preventative Maintenance

At times, you can’t avoid putting out field service fires. And let’s face it, the majority of field service businesses operate in a reactive fashion. Customers call with problems, and you come running.

In today’s service landscape, many organizations are leaving huge returns on the table when it comes to preventative maintenance. Failing to prioritize preventative maintenance is also a direct threat to scheduling efficiency and overall consistency for service businesses.

Fix #5: Add Value with Preventative Offers

Preventative maintenance can serve as a solid foundation, providing new touchpoints and added value for customers. There are two ways to approach preventative maintenance – one manual, one automated. Both will provide consistency and increased value for your field service operations.

  • Offer preventative scheduling
    • Calculate the average lifecycle of a product or customer problem, and offer to send a field tech back for a reduced price before this timeframe is up. Make a case for the long-term customer cost-savings of preventative measures.
  • Implement predictive maintenance
    • Leaning on the Internet of Things, many advanced service organizations are moving to predictive models. By embedding sensors on equipment to automatically send signals when something is broken, organizations can now service equipment much faster.

In an age where customers demand immediate attention, optimizing your field service scheduling in a no-brainer. No matter the size of your organizations, there are small moves you can make towards increased efficiency.

To get more tips on how to improve your field service organization and increase efficiency, check out the ClickSoftware blog.