Steve Smith | 03.02.17
Summary >

Delivering consistent service day after day begins with a plan. Field service organizations need to track their field employees, vehicles, equipment and parts, and a myriad of other factors to keep getting work done as expected. Of course, when a plan meets reality, they don’t always align. Factors beyond the technician’s or dispatcher’s control will inevitably crop up and disrupt the best of plans. The difference between great and not-so-great service operations is the ability to manage the unexpected and adjust around same-day disruptions.

Service suppliers are still struggling to understand customer expectations, found a recent field service report by ClickSoftware. Without that insight, it’s impossible to meet these expectations. With customer satisfaction being closely tied to revenue, delivering on the expected service plan is essential.   

The good news is that anyone can master optimized scheduling and minimize the impact of unplanned changes. These four steps, mixing technology and process, will help keep service jobs on track—and your customers happy.

When in Doubt, Over-communicate

The most effective dispatchers, whether aided by technology or their experience, have access to critical information about every job planned for the day. They can combine intelligent automation with their own insights to adjust on the fly.

It’s also expected that the dispatcher and field service technician will be in regular communication, with the most important information for each party being provided as needed. But that visibility isn’t always extended to the customer.

While customer communication preferences vary by country and region, lack of visibility is a common frustration. Being able to share an accurate arrival times, information about the technician, and their progress towards their destination in real time will reduce customer no-shows and last-minute cancellations. In the absence of these Uber-like capabilities, the customer should still receive phone or SMS notifications and see what’s happening.

In addition, showing up for a job unprepared due to insufficient information and requiring a follow up visit will also frustrate a customer who already took time off for the service. Enabling the customer to proactively share information like photos of broken equipment, environmental notes (e.g. don’t knock, the baby is sleeping), and other insights ensures the technician can be successful the first time around.

Get Real Results from Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Having the capacity to automate scheduling decisions is a game changer for field service teams. Artificial intelligence-driven technology can use predictive data to reduce idle time, better anticipate travel time, and allow for back up resources to step in quickly when necessary.

For instance, instead of leaving white space in the schedule when a customer cancels, the idle time can be used for other jobs. The system can take the tech's location into account and send them to another nearby job, without delaying other scheduled work. This makes for a more productive day and satisfied customers.

These smart systems can also record disruption data over time to help with future planning. It can track trends, such as weather conditions throughout the year. In the months when there’s a higher probability for snow, the system can schedule more low-priority jobs in case there’s a storm and the tech needs to cancel. It could also look at typical traffic conditions during this weather and account for potential delays.

Finally, schedule elasticity leaves room for high priority and emergency work, without affecting the overall flow of job assignments. The system can fill a technician’s day with a mix of high and low priority work, so there’s room to be flexible. If an emergency comes up, low priority jobs can be rescheduled without upsetting the customer.

Hope for the Best, but Plan for the Worst

Regardless of how experienced your dispatchers and technicians, or how sophisticated your workforce management software, both human and technology decisions should stem from a clearly defined process.

Accept that factors like surprise cancellations, changing weather conditions, and traffic patterns will always remain out of your control, and will inevitably impact field service operations. But having predictive, flexible policies in place will help prepare your team to manage any disruption. For instance, using predictive travel times, especially for the first job of the day, can eliminate repeated delays throughout the day due to traffic. And scheduling technicians with a mix of high and low priority jobs allows for schedule reshuffling.

Remember that the success of both policies and systems hinges on how well you connect your field technicians to the dispatch team. Mobile devices allow techs to check in with the team back in the office. That way if the tech’s vehicle breaks down and must end the day early, the dispatch team can make other arrangements.

Surprises will always be part of field service delivery. Smart technology solutions and even smarter policies can help you mitigate their impact on each technician, job, and customer–and your bottom line.