Katelyn Burrill | 12.19.17
Summary >

Service chain optimization begins with careful planning and forecasting, but doesn’t stop there. Dispatchers and technicians will face inevitable disruptions on the day of service that threaten productivity. Handling these disruptions requires a degree of flexibility in the schedule, real-time management, and rapid decision making. And it helps to have intelligent technology on your side to make quick, automated decisions and accurate predictions.

In the last Decoding the Service Chain article we discussed some of the tasks involved in service chain optimization. This week we’ll introduce five methods to help you get there, while meeting your business goals, keeping customers happy, and maximizing your resources.

1.    Let business goals lead the way

Service organizations have obligations to their customers as well as their business. While these sometimes overlap, they often conflict with each other. For example, improving customer experience might mean a need for greater investment and thus a higher cost of service.

Likewise, what’s important to your organization may vary by geography, lines of business, or work type. It could also change at any event—by season, during extreme weather, or changing regulations. Because priorities can change at any moment, it’s important for service businesses to remain agile and schedule or reschedule based on what’s best for the business.

So how do you determine what to prioritize? Start by determining what key performance indicators (KPIs) are most important in your current situation. If there are conflicts, try running different simulations and determine which scenario makes the most sense in terms of your business goals and service level agreements (SLAs). Are there KPIs you can sacrifice? Does one simulation work better than another?

2.    Book appointments based on real-time metrics

Appointment booking might seem simple in theory, but it’s more complex than giving customers the time slot they ask for. There’s a lot to consider. To keep your customers satisfied you’ll have to ensure you only make commitments you can keep, in a time that’s convenient for both parties and doesn’t require customers to wait too long for service. You’ll also want to do what’s best for the business, which means maximizing the productivity and efficiency of your field resources, and reducing travel costs.

It might seem logical to just give customers the time slot they ask for and fill up schedules on a first-come first-served basis. But this method doesn’t consider technician location, travel time, disruptions, delays, or customer cancellations.

You might also consider an approach that fills the schedule based on predicted job duration and travel times. While some field service management solutions take into account average job durations and travel times, the best ones use predictions and real-time data for even greater accuracy. For instance, average travel time might be a half hour but the actual travel time with traffic might be closer to an hour, delaying the schedule. Likewise, job duration for a meter repair might take an hour on average, but an experienced professional might be able to do the same job in a half hour. Truth-based appointment booking  considers travel times, real-time traffic data, and predicted job duration, based on a tech’s individual performance.

3.    Keep the schedule updated and flexible

Although you may create a schedule days, weeks, or months in advance, it typically never stays that way due to factors like unexpected non-availabilities or on-the-job problems. Being said, it’s important the schedule is continuously updated—noting everything from longer job durations to customer cancellations.

Dispatchers need to be able to change the schedule at a moment’s notice to avoid any delays or idle time. For instance, if a tech finishes a job early, he could potentially fit in another job and get more done that day. But if it’s not reflected in the schedule, that extra time becomes wasteful. It’s important to react quickly because even the slightest delay in reaction means a loss of productivity and valuable time, or could lead to another service visit and an unhappy customer.

Ideally, the schedule should also be flexible enough to make these changes on the fly. It helps to schedule a mix of high and low priority work so you can move things around, and let your business goals guide you. You should also provide customers a commitment time that’s wide enough to maximize efficiency while minimizing the amount of time they have to wait.

4.    Maintain regular and timely communication with customers

Last-minute customer cancellations and no shows are both costly to the business and disruptive to the schedule. For instance, they can be a waste of fuel, especially if the tech arrives and the customer isn’t there to answer the door, or cancels when a tech is on route. It’s also a general waste of time that could have been spent on another job.

But more often than not, customer no shows and cancellations are an understandable response to a lack of communication and visibility from the service supplier side. No one wants to waste their day waiting around for a technician to come and fix their problems. They have better things to do—work, run errands, or go out with friends and family. And sometimes they have so much going on that they forget about the appointment completely and aren’t there to answer the door.

To avoid no shows or cancellations, it helps to keep in contact with your customers. For instance, you could send them a reminder message the night before and give them the option to either cancel, reschedule or commit. On the day of service, you could also provide them with updates and expected arrival times. That way they aren’t stuck at home waiting hours for your arrival, and they have the flexibility to do other things. Not only does it help you avoid no shows, but it shows the customer that you value their time.

5.    Measure performance in real time

No schedule will ever be perfect because no matter how well you plan, there are bound to be disruptions or mistakes. And that’s okay as long as you can learn from them. As the day goes on measure real-time metrics like mobile worker utilization, number of jobs completed, first-time fix rate, and response times. This can help you make decisions quickly in day, and help you prepare for the next day.

For instance, if you find that your response times are suffering in one area because there’s too much work, you can make the decision to relocate other mobile workers to alleviate the pain. If SLAs are at stake you can reschedule a lower priority job and reallocate those workers to do the higher priority job. Or if you have to delay a job to the next day you can ensure that you have enough employees in the area to meet demand.

Artificial intelligence to the rescue

With all that’s involved in optimizing the service chain—analyzing data, making split second decisions and accurate predictions—it’s nearly impossible to achieve without the help of artificial intelligence (AI).

To find the absolute best plan of action that maximizes workforce efficiency without exhausting resources or upsetting customers, you would need to consider and analyze several scenarios to make your decision. That could be anywhere from hundreds to thousands of different scenarios to consider. When any delay in action could mean productivity loss and wasted resources, it’s important to make the right decisions as soon as possible. A human simply can’t compute these scenarios fast enough.

On the other hand, artificial intelligence can analyze millions of scenarios in seconds and automate the best decisions for your business. And it can make predictions based on large amounts of data, faster and more accurately than a human could.

Though it requires tremendous effort, it’s possible to maximize your workforce efficiency, without over- or under-utilizing resources. With careful planning, execution, and analysis you can cut costs and achieve business goals, without sacrificing customer satisfaction. And to help you make the optimal business decisions, you can take advantage of the speed, accuracy, and automation of technology.

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