Mark Forrest from Trimble looks at efficient planning for field service technicians.
With customer expectations at an all-time high in an increasingly competitive marketplace, the pressure for field service businesses to deliver best-in-class performance has never been higher. Providing excellent service delivery is a clear priority and for the mobile worker, their importance has shifted from one of operational necessity to strategic value.
With a number of obstacles to contend with out of the control of the technician, may it be traffic congestion or vehicle breakdown, there is never a ‘perfect’ mobile work day. But with work becoming increasingly mission-critical, companies need to ensure that their field service is not derailed by unpredictable dynamics of the working day. A technician is only as good as the tools he has to work with so the support of a solution to manage work efficiently and effectively is of the utmost importance to achieving service delivery excellence.
Trimble’s ‘Road Ahead’ report unveiled that customer satisfaction is ranked as the number one priority for field service businesses and 49 per cent of respondents agreed that the latest field-based technology would help them achieve their goals. Many operations directors see technology as an enabler with 41 per cent stating they will invest in workforce planning and investment and 44 per cent see planning and scheduling as the greatest opportunity for investment.
Investment in technology in the form of work management solutions provide far reaching benefits including:
- Increase productivity up to 30% with intelligent, in-day scheduling
- Improve dispatch efficiency by up to 60%
- Decrease drive time and mileage by up to20% per job
- Reduce overtime expenses by up to 70%
Take control of the unpredictable work day
Industries which run field service operations are often mission critical in what they do and require skilled staff to execute compliance focused work which is often variable and complex (location and task). The perfect mobile workday would start off with all employees reporting for work on time, there will be plenty of spare capacity for daily tasks, all vehicles will be operational, all recipients will be available and no drivers will come across any traffic delays or vehicle breakdowns. However this is rarely a reality and contending with these issues head on is the first step to maintaining a consistent and sustainable flow of productivity across field service operations.
The first step to managing productivity requires field service managers to get the right people with the right skills with the right assets to the right place within a set time. Performance management is vital and a modern work management solution can assist with this. It provides real-time job status of each mobile worker as well as alerts for proactively managing productivity. For example, if a job is in jeopardy of being missed due to such circumstances as a technician being caught in traffic, a vehicle breaks down or a customer emergency comes up, work management solutions automatically highlight this and can adjust schedules and reassign work to meet the new requirements.
Furthermore, managers must be able to look at the total number of jobs attended per day per technician as well as being able to view the utilisation of their technicians, ie: the amount of time spent on work as opposed to transit or idle time, to avoid falling into the trap of having more work than there are resources. Work management solutions provide the capabilities of comparing planned vs. actual work done per day/shift and communicate to mobile workers via a laptop or smart phone so they can view work details, provide current work status and receive work assignments without returning to the office.
Prioritise on-time performance and create a mission critical culture
The cost to businesses of missed or late appointments affect them more now than they used to, as customers increasingly expect more for less, happy to shop around for services and, with the growth of social media, are much more able and likely to share their experiences of poor customer service. This is largely down to global companies such as Amazon and Tesco having set new expectations for reliable, quick and cheap service delivery, such as providing one-hour delivery slots. This has lead many companies, especially those that need to carry out a more complex and skilled service, such as boiler installations or fixing electrical problems, struggling to seek new ways to keep up with demand whilst remaining profitable and competitive.
Achieving customer satisfaction in today’s marketplace is tough. On-time performance is the Holy Grail – problems must be solved the first time, and solved effectively. Research by Aberdeen group revealed 65% of incoming service requests require a field visit or a dispatch and nearly 26% of these dispatches fail to resolve the problem, requiring secondary or additional follow-up visits. AberdeenGroup also report that that 57 per cent of organisations say that their biggest customer complaint is that the technician does not resolve the issue first time. This may be due to not having the right part or tools, not having the right skills or not enough time to complete the job.
Issues like this can be avoided if companies focus on ‘processing productivity’ by taking a bird’s eye view of the end-to-end process. They need to know what the problem is, who is qualified to solve it, notify them of the task, know where they are, when they will arrive and when the job is done. Taking these necessary steps to avoid a return visit, by making sure a qualified technician with the right tools and parts for the job is sent, will maintain productivity and ensure customer satisfaction. Aberdeen’s research found that Best-in-Class (the top 20%) performers had mean success ratios of 92% for meeting response or project completion deadlines, 88% for first-time fixes, and 83% for workforce utilisation.
The power of work management
Work Management solutions can greatly improve first time fix rates. Not only do they allocate the right worker, with the right skills, for the right job but back-end logistics like drive-time, route-booking, expected time of visit, and allotted time for the job are all analysed for efficiency, leaving staff with the information and time they need to do their jobs.
Furthermore, businesses can address the challenge of making better in-day decisions by utilising a work management self-learning tool. To avoid large data set-up exercises of skill sets and work areas, a self-learning tool supports the assignment of work orders to the field technicians by remembering who has the right skills and their usual work areas. The user also has the ability to enquire what has been learnt by the system and correct it.
The information managers can take from the analysed data that the solution can provide is significant. For example, they can analyse the time it takes a certain technician to do a job compared to another. If the time difference varies significantly they can determine if one is cutting corners to complete a job or if he/she has found a better way to do it more efficiently. This analysis helps with the challenge all businesses face in how to balance service and cost.