Many think that field service management is about flawless execution on the day of service. And to a large extent, it is. But in order for everything to come together harmoniously, there are a series of steps that need to be completed weeks, months, or even years in advance.
Thoughtful demand forecasting and resource capacity planning improve the predictability of service business cycles, and give organizations the confidence to prepare in advance for what’s to come. When this insight is gathered in tandem with the rest of the service chain, your organization has total visibility into the past, present, and future of service operations. This helps you create the most accurate and attainable schedule possible, equipped with everything you need to serve your customers.
In this post we’ll explain why forecasting and planning are key in successful service delivery. But first, let’s define demand forecasting and capacity planning. Though the terms are often used interchangeably, they each serve their own purpose in the service chain.
Demand forecasting is used to predict the volume and nature of future service requests. It’s calculated based on historical data and service trends, as well as information from across the organization—from sales and marketing plans to strategic organizational decisions.
With accurate insight into demand, service organizations can then prepare their workforce for both the scheduled and unscheduled work that’s bound to pop up. That’s where capacity planning comes in.
Capacity planning determines the field resources required to meet the projected demand. It starts with assessing available resources against the demand, and provides visibility into the gaps so that businesses can make decisions about how to best to meet the anticipated work. This often involves redistributing existing resources, relaxing overtime rules, hiring new employees, providing additional training, or outsourcing to contractors.
A planner’s primary responsibility is to maintain the delicate balance between resources and demand. Schedule too many resources, and you’re wasting money on unused resources. Schedule too few, and you have unhappy customers, missed SLAs, and no one to handle emergency work.
Whereas demand forecasting provides insight into future service requests, capacity planning provides actionable information for the dispatcher or planner to handle the predicted work and potential risks such as missed SLAs. Now let’s talk benefits.
Benefits of Forecasting and Planning
1. Minimizes the reactive nature of field service
According to the Service Council, 59% of service leaders say increasing the predictability of their business is a top business initiative. With constant in-day service disruptions and emergency jobs, it might feel like you’re always just reacting. And when you’re too busy responding to the unexpected, it takes away from your ability to balance tactical and strategic business priorities. Suddenly customer service begins to suffer, and SLAs and service appointments are compromised.
With accurate forecasting and planning, the amount of reactive stress is minimized, allowing organizations to prepare for the inherent dynamics of service delivery. It gets easier to identify at-risk areas and take corrective action before it becomes an issue. For instance, the northeast United States is bracing for its next nor’easter. High winds and heavy, wet snow are expected which means there will likely be downed trees and power outages. Based on historical storm and response data, a utilities company knows the impact previous nor’easters have had on the anticipated volume and nature of work. This means the company could call out to contractors during that time, or plan to leverage mutual aid from neighboring states.
2. Control costs with better talent planning
Have you ever had to cancel on a customer because an emergency popped up and you didn’t have enough resources on hand? If you answered yes, you’re not alone. According to The Service Council, the top internal challenge facing service leaders is a lack of resources to support demand.
Forecasting and planning gives you enough time and insight to make decisions about hiring, training, or using contractors. For example, a major retailer is planning to offer the latest home automation equipment to its customers. They expect there will be a spike in sales—and therefore installations—that will put a real strain on their field service professionals. To accommodate this peak in demand they can use historical data from the last major home automation product launch to layer over the current existing demand, and make a decision about staffing that works for the business a month or more in advance. They may decide to relax overtime for a short period of time, or they may determine that it makes sense to hire additional workers if the demand will be sustained for the foreseeable future.
Knowing the necessary field resources in advance helps control costs. With the foresight that you’ll need contractors, you’ll be able to do a proper bid for services to multiple partners and have the leverage to negotiate prices far in advance in order to get the best value. Or, knowing that you’ll need to hire and train more staff, you can set aside budget well ahead of onboarding. Likewise, with the optimal number of resources on hand, you won’t have to cut into overtime as much. And you’re not spending on resources you aren’t using because you’re only using what you need.
3. Manages fluctuating demands
Field service organizations often deal with fluctuating demands. During peak seasons, marketing promotions, or business expansions, demand is generally high. For instance, a cable company might see a spike in demand when they offer big promotional discounts: “50% off installations during the World Cup!”
However, during other periods demand can be especially low, especially when it comes to seasonal businesses. Consider an oil home provider, who will be extremely busy during winter months when customers need their homes heated, but will have few to no jobs during summer months.
With insights into these trends and the ability to model the demand and capacity data ahead of time, service organizations can add to or reduce their workforce accordingly—while maintaining balanced resource utilization. Alternatively, businesses can use this insight as an opportunity to drive revenue. For example, during reliably slow periods—like summer for a home oil provider—businesses can run marketing promotions to generate business and prevent resource underutilization.
One Solution for the Entire Service Chain
Forecasting and planning solutions work best when they’re connected with the scheduling solution. Otherwise, you’re planning in a vacuum, away from the real work in the schedule. Planners will work more effectively when they have visibility into the real-time availability of resources and jobs to flag potential at-risk areas.
With the entire service chain—forecasting, planning, scheduling, dispatch, mobile field execution and analysis—all on one platform, you have visibility into what’s happening now, what’s coming, and what already happened so you can create the most accurate schedule possible.