Imagine if every person within your team could effectively schedule a service call. You increase your organisation’s flexibility to take calls and, in real-time, schedule a visit that is convenient for the customer as well as your business. Your engineers would be more likely to arrive on time, whilst also taking with them the skills and parts to fix the problem on the first visit. This allows the department manager greater peace of mind that the most efficient routes and schedules are being planned, no matter who is manning the call centre.
This is the vision that most service managers and directors work towards every day, as they develop their processes and tools. Over the years the whiteboard and T-Cards of the past may have given way to IT based manual scheduling systems, but in truth, manual scheduling systems have brought little value apart from adding transparency to the scheduling process. It still relies on experienced service coordinators who have built up a deep knowledge of the types of jobs that need to be done, how long they take and understanding which engineers have the right skill set to complete the task successfully. This may be effective until your expert scheduler is on holiday, or even worse still, taken on long term illness. In addition, as your business expands, scheduling becomes less efficient as larger numbers of technicians are managed or the number of jobs per day increases to three or more.
To overcome these challenges, many larger service organisations have turned to intelligent or dynamic solutions, where sophisticated algorithms have replaced the service scheduler. Jobs are constantly shuffled and automatically released to technicians at the last possible moment, thus increasing the effectiveness of the operation. Those organisations that have invested time fine-tuning their decision making algorithms, find that these systems offer significant efficiencies. Those that do not are often disappointed with the results. The problem is that by its very nature, the duration of many field service activities are difficult to predict until the service technician is on site. So unless you are prepared to constantly maintain your system settings, this approach can, over time, lead to frustrated customers and technicians. Even though the increasing use of remote diagnostics can help with the predictability of a job, it still requires the intervention of a skilled employee.
For these reasons an alternative form of scheduling logic has been developed which bridges the gap by incorporating the intelligence of the dynamic systems, yet allowing the final scheduling decision to be made by the service agent. This new generation of ‘Assisted Scheduler’ uses over 25 pre-programmed parameters to determine the optimum engineer/job planning schedule whilst providing alternative options. When the service agent receives a call, email or chat, they will be presented with a recommended appointment as well as a list of alternative options along with their potential implications. This enables any person who receives a customer request to sensibly schedule a service visit. Customer concerns are allayed quickly, as the customer agent is able to deal efficiently and professionally from request to engineer dispatch. Scheduling expertise can then be concentrated on job quality rather than figuring out the best routings and technicians in order to create an optimum job schedule.
Further Points to consider should you need to conduct a review
A modern, state-of-the-art Field Service Management (FSM) system offers levels of stock visibility across a mobile workforce which would simply be impossible with either a manual system or a solution based on an older technology platform. Take just one example, managing replenishment levels and setting minimum/maximum stock levels. Not only should a modern FSM system provide complete visibility of the breakdown of stock each mobile engineer is carrying in real-time, it should also identify which are fast and slow moving items, thereby extending ‘Lean’ thinking into your mobile workforce and avoiding unnecessary costs tied up in inventory.
Time to Invoice
While it may have come as no surprise a decade ago to hear of 6-8 week time periods between an engineer visit and invoicing the customer, the painful reality is that a number of companies still reliant on manual systems aren’t doing much better. Even those reliant on earlier FSM systems may well be still restricted to weekly batching. Modern, fully integrated systems however offer the ability to invoice on a same day basis, often when the engineer is still on-site.
Keeping costs to a minimum is vital to all companies, but in the world of Field Service Management, it can be surprisingly difficult to determine exactly what those costs are. And it’s not just the exact costs of each engineer, it’s also visibility about whether a contract is financially viable, and if so, by how much. Workload does not always equate to profitability so unless you have a system which provides real-time visibility of costs as well as powerful job and business-wide reporting, you may never be able to keep on top of your costs.
Customer Relationship Management
The adage may well be that ‘the customer is always right’, but one thing is for certain, knowing and understanding your customers is the most effective way of doing business with them. A manual system or an older FSM system simply does not have the means to retain and provide the unique information relating to each customer, which is essential to maximising that relationship. A modern system combines all the widely accepted benefits of a CRM system with the unique information relating to each FSM interaction for every customer. Most importantly, this information is then available to each and every engineer or member of your mobile workforce, enabling the most consistent, well informed interactions with every customer. And, by having access to the entire historic record of each customer, future needs and opportunities can be developed and tailored to maximise and grow that relationship.
In Exel’s experience, many companies recognise an area of need in their FSM system capabilities but they then wait until these accumulate resulting in an often hurried investment decision. However, by looking at each of the above areas as potential opportunities to gain competitive advantage, a more informed and therefore a more beneficial decision making process can be undertaken, resulting in getting the Field Service Management solution that best suits your own individual business needs now, and into the future.