How a company manages its mobile workforce and resources is critical to its performance and ultimately its profitability, experts suggest.
However, firms managing a large mobile workforce face an increasing number of challenges.
Jason Chipchase, head of mobile workforce optimisation at Deloitte UK, said the biggest and most repetitive challenge is cost, but there are three secondary challenges which are related to this.
First, is the role of the mobile worker or, as Chipchase describes them, the technician. He said: “Ultimately, the technician is the face-to-face contact of the business.
"The challenge facing companies is what are the expectations of that technician? There is a whole challenge around the role and responsibility in the activity and the brand and experience in the field.”
Measurement is a second challenge, said Chipchase. “How do we measure what is happening in a hugely diverse workforce and what are the key metrics to do that?” he asked.
“Ultimately you need to understand what has happened and you want to know that ‘now’ to enable real-time decision-making and ask ‘how do we change that?’.”
Third, he says, is managing change and embedding best practice.
Chipchase said: “We sometimes talk about wrestling with change from all sorts of different directions, whether that is new technology, new people, new policy, new vans and equipment or new PDAs. People are bombarded with change every day.
“In a remote workforce, how do make sure that that change sticks? It’s difficult. So embedding that change and making sure best practice is shared across an often disparate workforce is hugely important.”
Transforming Service Delivery, an industry report from Trimble, agrees that for any business running a mobile workforce with a fleet operation, the challenges can be multiple and complex.
It says there are many elements that need to come together, barriers that need to be overcome and steps that need to be taken in order to execute a perfect workday.
Jobs may run into overtime if they are more complicated than first thought, emergency work may come in which changes the day’s schedule, or congestion and breakdowns can cause delays or failure to meet an appointment.
Additionally, with workers potentially calling in sick, starting late or getting delayed, all these factors can impact adversely on the productivity of the workforce.
However, get it right and the payback can be substantial. The fleet will benefit from better vehicle utilisation and fuel management, while research suggests organisations with customer satisfaction rates of 90% or more see service revenue increases of 6.1% and overall revenue growth of 3.7%.
Mark Forrest, general manager, Trimble Field Service Management, said: “Companies that track whether service commitments are met, tasks are completed on time and scheduling is efficient are better positioned to deliver excellent service.”
Trimble argues that technology is an enabler of change. Through the information collected and analysis provided, companies can use it in their day-to-day operations.
High level trends and benchmarking can be used in performance management, while real-time data means managers can make instant decisions based on robust and reliable intelligence.
Recent research on field service challenges from the Service Council highlights how organisations are focused on workforce management initiatives to improve KPIs tied to customer satisfaction, productivity and profitability.
Two in five (41%) of the 226 respondents to the field service survey highlighted that workforce management activities were a top priority.
Forrest said: “An under-trained, under-qualified workforce can hurt a company. How field workers perform is critical to customer relationships, which in turn is a key factor to profitability.
“Just one underperforming worker can affect a brand’s perception and potentially costs thousands a month by failing to complete work.”
Forrest believes workers need to resolve customer issues the first time, every time.
He added: “To ensure that happens, companies should leverage workforce management and analytics tools to identify which workers are underperforming and which need training.
“They should then implement effective training programmes to get workers up to speed and deliver service excellence.”