Field service scheduling will never be a perfect art. Given the semi-unpredictable nature of equipment, machines, and even people, it’s nigh impossible to get it right every time.

However, it is possible to fix certain scheduling inefficiencies. Nobody has a crystal ball that can predict all possible eventualities, but that’s not to say that field service businesses can sit back, relax, and hope that near-perfect schedules will fall into place, even with the help of field service management software and tools.

By and large, scheduling is one of the most important facets of field service management; not only does it ensure that your technicians are in the right place at the right time and with the right tools, but it can also have ramifications for the rest of the business.

Bad scheduling decisions weaken your business goals, such as achieving growth in revenue. For example, truck rolls can cost companies $100 to $200 per visit; just a few of these a year can add up to an inordinate amount of unnecessary expenditure for small businesses per year.

Research firm Gartner (full report available to clients) notes that “field service organizations often deploy field workforce schedule optimization software, only to later revert to manual processes.”

52 percent of field service companies are still using manual methods to manage their company as a whole. This type of action is not without consequences: Manual processes are unable to capture the nuances of your field service business, and businesses that aren’t capturing vital information are risking equipment downtime and missed service calls.

Organizations cannot ignore the importance of good scheduling practices—including using forecasting, automation, and data to inform their technicians’ schedules. Those that take these actions can achieve a 15 percent reduction in unproductive activities for both their technicians and technician dispatchers, according to the same Gartner report.

Forecasting, and then some—identify where field service scheduling optimization has the most impact

The nature of the field service industry makes predicting demand a difficult job—but that’s not to say it’s impossible. In fact, forecasting is integral to knowing in what areas field service scheduling can impact your business the most. This is especially true for smaller businesses whose resources are more limited.

According to The Service Council, 59 percent of service leaders say that “increasing the predictability of their business” is a priority initiative in 2018. It also reports that a top challenge is not having sufficient resources to support and respond to both demand and emergency demand. Every business is different, and scheduling techniques that work for one may not work for another.

Factors such as type of business and services provided, total number of field staff, and geographic service area will have an effect on how impactful schedule optimization efforts can be. This is why forecasting should be conducted according to business type and business objectives, to draw out the main opportunities for scheduling improvement.

First things first—where are your inefficiencies?

Maybe you’re already aware of what your main scheduling inefficiencies are and how they affect your bottom line. If not, here are some examples of poor scheduling decisions that could be impacting your business and that forecasting can help alleviate:

  • Scheduling available technicians for jobs they don’t have the expertise to solve, resulting in having to send a second technician to resolve the issue.
  • Allowing technicians to schedule service calls themselves, resulting in scheduling clashes, failure to input customer information and data into systems, and lost routing information.
  • Scheduling the least amount of staff possible to reduce costs, without taking into consideration the possibility of an increase in demand.
OUR RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Begin by tracking jobs data on a monthly basis, and note:
  1. How many first time fix rates are achieved
  2. How many emergency/unscheduled calls were responded to
  3. How many scheduled jobs were not attended to
  4. Days of the week where customer demand is higher
  5. How many times you needed to schedule extra technicians on short notice
  6. How much the above instances cost you
  • Lastly, check out the graphic below which can help you ask the right questions to begin reviewing technician schedules in an efficient way.

Optimize field service scheduling by asking yourself the questions in this chart

Set decision-making priorities for field service scheduling to improve overall productivity

Some business priorities could and should affect how field service businesses are making scheduling decisions. Rather than trying to aim for perfection in each scheduling optimization action, organizations need to assess how to prioritize each competing goal and align their scheduling techniques to these.

Furthermore, businesses should be aware of how breaking certain scheduling “rules” could impact their business, including the breaching of certain laws.

Take a look at the following table which details the consequences of scheduling “rule-breaking:”

The consequences of bad scheduling
The scheduling rules above should give you an overview of how to align the potential consequences of breaking these with your decision-making priorities. For example, technician safety and any potential breaches in the law should be at the top of the list when it comes to making scheduling decisions.

Businesses should also be aware of how both proactive and reactive scheduling factors can affect decision-making. The image below shows what current factors go into scheduling decisions.

Factors within field service scheduling
Factors within field service scheduling (Source)

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Break down decision-making further into “proactive” and “reactive” factors that affect a technician’s day, in order to assign priority to each scheduling decision.
  • Identify what the consequences are to your business of breaking scheduling rules.
  • Work backwards—look at what consequences your business is already suffering, and identify which scheduling rules you’re not currently prioritizing.
  • Assign weighting to your business goals and use this to influence your scheduling efforts.

Don’t embrace failure—offer preventive measures to customers

Offering preventive maintenance to customers can not only boost your customer satisfaction rates, but also ease any scheduling pressures. By proactively scheduling checkups, you can help avoid the need to schedule emergency or unplanned jobs. There are two ways that businesses can implement preventive measures:

1. Manual preventive measures

This method includes using your existing customer data to estimate how long before a piece of equipment experiences failures or malfunctions. You can use this to offer customers lower prices for preventive checkups, in place of expensive call-outs when equipment fails.

2. Leveraging the power of IoT and automation

By taking advantage of the benefits of IoT in field service and automation, businesses can move to using predictive maintenance processes. Use sensors on equipment that can send signals and collect data to advise when equipment is broken or in need of maintenance so that your business can plan with anticipation and therefore schedule more effectively.

These types of preventive processes have business benefits for both you and your customers; you get to reap more potential profit, have fewer scheduling challenges, and your customers experience less potential downtime.

OUR RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Make your customer service proactive; customer service agents and even technicians should be asking customers to opt-in to more routine maintenance checks.
  • Use a field service business intelligence tool to analyze your existing data; leverage this data to work out where it makes sense to invest efforts more heavily in offering preventive maintenance.
  • Also use this existing data to inform your scheduling decisions; work these preventive visits into schedules ahead of time.

Scheduling means nothing if you’re not doing it in a way that supports your business goals

Organizations can no longer rely on gut instinct to schedule their technicians. They must look inward and assess which scheduling practices aren’t working and are potentially hurting their bottom line.

By implementing actions such as enhanced forecasting, analyzing proactive and reactive scheduling decisions, and taking the initiative to schedule preventive service calls, field service organizations will be able to achieve gains in productivity across their business as a whole.