Proper scheduling is the backbone of a field service company. While time management might be a moderate issue in most businesses, field service doesn’t have that luxury as it’s a critical issue. Since the entire business model revolves around sending field workers to multiple locations to perform multiple different operations, proper scheduling impacts everything.
Bad scheduling leads to poor resource allocation, increased operating costs, reduced customer satisfaction, and other nasty results. In the worst-case scenario, resource scheduling can lead to a failure to perform necessary maintenance on time. Therefore, constantly keeping an eye on scheduling practices and trends is a necessity in any business that employs a mobile workforce.
Getting started with scheduling
Good scheduling may seem simple at first. After all, it’s all about getting the right people to a place at the right time. However, those with some experience in field service management know how often things can go awry and not turn out as expected.
Therefore, planning ahead and with some leeway is a good idea. Outside of always making way for unexpected occurrences, proper resource allocation usually follows several steps:
- The proper definition of success. Employees should always know what a successful job should look like. Writing out proper guidelines of what is considered “done” removes any possible sources of confusion for field technicians.
- Travel and route time. Most companies think of routes and travel as a set amount of length, usually the shortest accessible distance between two points. However, good route planning takes into account how difficult the roads may be and how familiar a field technician might be with them. In short, GPS tracking and measuring is not the end-all-be-all of route scheduling.
- Keep close track of skills. Field service scheduling isn’t about doing the job or jobs in the shortest amount of time. It’s about getting the best technician to the right job for the right customer. Sometimes that may mean sending someone from further away and losing out on time. If field service scheduling software isn’t being used, a simple Excel sheet or a relational database will have to be employed.
- Consider soft skills. One of the three key determinants of success in field service is customer satisfaction. While one engineer might be brilliant in his or her technical skills, that will not always deliver an exceptional customer experience. Some customers might need more communication or small talk for full satisfaction. Sometimes the best engineer will be the one who is liked by the customer, not the one who will do the job best. Keeping track of customer work history and taking in-depth notes of service details might provide insight into such information. Usually, field service management software can help with recording auxiliary information for these cases.
- Define job requirements. In software development, the technical workers expect bug reports to arrive according to a certain structure that states the most important facts and expectations. In field service, it should be no different. To schedule jobs properly, the requirements and details (e.g. location, age of equipment and appliance to be repaired, certifications required, priority, etc.) should be outlined in a very clear manner. That way, field service workers will be significantly more likely to bring the proper tools, take the required field notes, and perform the required maintenance.
- Train technicians and engineers in tandem. Good scheduling is made easier if you need to track less data. If all of your technicians have wildly different skill sets and education, that will add an additional thing to keep in mind. Each data point either reduces the efficiency of scheduling or increases the time spent creating schedules. Either way, if you keep all engineers and technicians are around the same skill level, that will save a lot of manual effort.
- Have dispatch guidelines in place. It’s simple – dispatch employees are still human. Without guidelines, they might start preferring certain field technicians over others. While for a short time, improper long-term job management won’t cause immense issues for the business, eventually, it will cause problems. These issues will happen because many employees in the field service business earn skills while on-premise. Thus, sending the same people for recurring jobs limits their growth and may reduce the overall efficiency of the mobile workforce.
- Implement software. Some may be resistant to the implementation of new and unseen software. However, in the current environment, businesses have to do everything above to stay on track with their competitors. Scheduling software is one of those cutting-edge solutions. It simply allows a company to manage schedules significantly easier.
These are all guidelines to keep in mind when thinking about field service scheduling. While it may seem like a lot, all of these are a necessity. Scheduling for such a complex business model simply cannot be easy.
Luckily, field service scheduling can be improved through reporting and analytics. Gathering information through mobile apps, extensive logging, and field service management software can bring immense benefits. After all, without such information, improving job schedule is nearly impossible as the only thing to go by is customer feedback and technician notes – both of which are not truly objective.
Usually, field service businesses employ scheduling software that helps them manage all the necessary components. While some still manage to retain effective schedules without software, not implementing dedicated solutions means losing access to crucial information and longer workflows than necessary. Often there’s simply no good reason to avoid scheduling software.
Using data to improve job scheduling
The world at large has been going crazy about data recently and with good reason. There’s only so far you can improve business processes without objective information. Data such as travel times, equipment logs, field service notes, and other important information can ensure that any changes are done in the correct direction. Additionally, having real-time information (such as the GPS position of a service team) allows businesses to track and manage resources more effectively.
However, in order to use data for scheduling and field service properly, it has to be interconnected with several production points. First, the back office should always be connected to technicians and customers. Information should always eventually flow to the back office. Ideally, it would arrive as quickly as possible as it would provide the ability to react in real-time.
Information for the back office is necessary to provide opportunities for higher-level planning such as creating a job scheduling strategy and optimizing business operations. In order to derive business insights from the information collected, analytics will be required. However, proper implementations of data-driven strategies will free time, help manage tasks, and increase the efficiency of technicians.
Secondly, field service technicians should not only be always connected with the back office but should also always produce high-quality information. As it will be used for analytics, field notes, logs, and other documentation of on-premise work has to be highly detailed. Creating guidelines and standardized procedures for data production would greatly improve the efficiency of both field service operations (by freeing up schedules from having to backtrack in case of a mistake) and the work of other employees.
Third, collecting in-depth information from every customer and tracking feedback about job details also aids in creating optimal technicians schedules. Outside of having a better grasp of what technical skills may be required, collecting feedback might produce business opportunities. A simple complaint or off-hand comment during service about upcoming appointments or new business requirements might provide insight into upselling (e.g. new equipment or software) opportunities. Such a case would allow a business to send an engineer with honed soft skills to the location.
While some people may feel uneasy about having information collected through a mobile app or other tools, all of it is a business necessity nowadays. Fortunately, most fears can be greatly reduced if no personal information is ever collected as people are usually uneasy about such data. In fact, having a clear data strategy and informing employees about it might increase overall satisfaction if it will be used to improve their well-being.
However, in order to create a data-driven field service company, some digitalization will be required. Usually, that means integrating software across the entire company. While there are many options, that company will have to implement a field scheduling tool. Usually, these come within dedicated field service management software. As they are all-in-one solutions, field service management software comes with a whole host of tools like a dedicated mobile app, improved information collection, location tracking, etc.
Making it easier with field service management software
For those looking to improve job scheduling, optimize calendar management, and reduce operating costs, field service management and scheduling software become irreplaceable. In many industries, companies have to rely on various tools and different software to acquire the necessary information. In fact, usually, a technology stack (e.g. dozens of different software) is created. Companies then have to go through the trouble of somehow stitching all of that stack together and manage it all the time.
In field service management, such complex technological solutions are not necessary. Feature sets included in such software usually include everything that is necessary for operational efficiency. FSM software brings with it field service scheduling software, tracking tools, and other important assets.
Field service scheduling software features to look out for
Those who are just getting their feet wet in the field service business don’t need to look for some mind-blowing, AI-based features. There are three primary aspects to be covered when there’s a small number of employees and new jobs coming in daily:
- Scheduling and dispatch. Scheduling software has to be implemented, regardless of company size. Building schedules for technicians is going to become the backbone of the company further down the line. Having a strong handle on dispatch guidelines and schedules right off the bat is going to positively impact the business.
- Contact management. Labeling and noting information about your contacts and clients greatly impacts job scheduling. Additionally, proper labeling gives a better business health overview.
- Work order management. Having work order management implemented into field service scheduling software benefits all three key players – the customer, the technician, the back office. Always having job status updates, real-time information, and the latest news on tasks available allows everyone to have a proper overview and provides the opportunity to schedule tasks better.
Small businesses only have to take care of the bare necessities (well-managed dispatch, great customer service, optimized schedules). Out of these, implementing scheduling software as soon as possible is the most important.
Further advancements such as reporting and analytics might be detrimental and lose instead of saving time. Optimizations are not necessary at this point. In addition, there’s likely to be large gaps in information that can lead to bad conclusions.
Once the customer base has grown and there are numerous employees in both the back office and on-premise, operations management gets significantly more complex. Having just the field service management software that carries only the three features listed above is simply no longer enough. Otherwise, access to growth will be severely restricted.
- Billing and invoicing. Once the customer base grows, so does the number of documents produced per day. Each job and equipment service will produce invoices. At the same time, as the amount of employees grows, so do the company’s variable costs. Having access to automation for billing and invoicing becomes a necessity.
- Mobile capabilities. Mobile devices provide two distinct advantages – a communication line between employees, technicians, and customers. Customers are less likely to miss important information (such as a late technician) if they get a message over email notifications. In addition, mobile apps and devices provide some tracking features which can be used to optimize scheduling and traveling.
- Reporting and analytics. Data will be the backbone of further growth. It already is for most businesses across the world. Getting access to granular and detailed information can grant the opportunity to measure the job, scheduling, service efficiency, and much more. For medium-sized businesses, growth will often be directly tied to the ability to work with information.
Having to manage a medium-sized business means going beyond the necessities. While delivering excellent customer service, staying on top of dispatch, and getting to locations and appointments on time remain the building blocks, expansion is needed.
Primarily, the features outlined should cover basic automation of travel and service. Of course, fully automating billing, tracking, and invoicing might be tricky (and, sometimes, unnecessary), yet building the foundation for further enhancements is necessary. In addition, as the company expands, there will be an increasing amount of parts to manage. Having to work them without the proper software support is likely to stunt growth.
Once businesses get to enterprise-level, there’s less concern about things such as the availability of new jobs. It’s more about optimizing dispatch, scheduling, and current job efficiency. When there are hundreds of employees scattered across every location imaginable and service technicians working with impossibly many customers, the likelihood of bleeding money, time, or resources somewhere rises considerably. Therefore, the software features most important to enterprise-level companies deal most with process optimization:
- Inventory management. Once the business covers dozens of customers, the location, quality, and availability of equipment become paramount. The software will have to be dedicated to delivering pinpoint accuracy and high-quality information about the status of each van or fleet. Failing to account for equipment (e.g., a ladder) might cause the dispatch to make a mistake when picking the right job. Then, another host of issues would appear – failure to adhere to schedule, an unhappy customer, and an annoyed team.
- GPS tracking. If GPS tracking hadn’t been solved at a previous step, now it becomes mandatory. Keeping track of entire fleets of vans and technicians is a complex task. As the number of appointments and tasks per day increases, so has the number of people involved in all stages of the service. Thus, dispatch is likely to make significantly more mistakes without real-time tracking. Additionally, providing teams with a real-time feed of technician availability allows the company to optimize punctuality, which customers often highly valued.
- Mobile payments. Even with the best invoice software, payments are slow. Usually, it can take anywhere from 4 days up to 22 days for the payment to arrive when there are hundreds or thousands of jobs, the risk of failed payments rises. Additionally, the money is frozen for some time even if customers are always punctual on their payments. Getting a solution that provides digital signatures and mobile payments in real-time will greatly ease the stress placed on the business and save time.
After enterprise-level software, there’s not much left as all of the essential software features are covered. Further enhancements could include the usage of web-based APIs, the introduction of data governance (to ensure the proper use of information), real-time schedule adjustment algorithms, and other optimization routes. However, even enterprise-level businesses will have enough to complete all the jobs optimally.
Having to manage and optimize every schedule on every calendar day is something that every field service company has to deal with. In essence, optimizing job efficiency is mainly done through an adequately allocated schedule and highly experienced dispatch.
To improve the work of dispatch and job scheduling, advanced field service companies employ management software. Using such software allows these companies to deliver the best possible service on all jobs on a perfect schedule.
Looking for ways to make the most of all jobs and appointments? Frontu field service management software can provide you with all the necessary tools to deliver the best possible service right on schedule. Our dedicated team will walk you through all of the ways how our software can benefit your business.