Try Googling “how to be on time,” and you’ll see a myriad of instructional videos, blog posts, and infographics. Clearly, tardiness is a common problem.
Timeliness matters in your field service business because your customers are counting on you. Not only that, you need to make the most of your field workers’ valuable time. When you consider that every one of your field workers is trying to follow a schedule, often while a manager tries to manually coordinate the business, it’s no wonder scheduling is such a daunting problem.
Given how complicated scheduling is, automating your scheduling with artificial intelligence (AI) is the natural next step. In addition to improving customer experience, this level of automation will save your business considerable time and money. If you don’t automate your scheduling, you risk handing your customers over to the competition.
What can AI do for scheduling optimization?
AI—the kind that conjures images of robots—sounds like it’s part of our future rather than our present. But it already has some fairly routine applications: your phone predicting the end of your sentence before you type it and automated banking alerts (overdraft, bill pay) are just a few examples.
To contextualize these applications, Gartner (available to clients) defines AI as follows:
AI is technology that appears to emulate human performance typically by learning, coming to its own conclusions, appearing to understand complex content, engaging in natural dialogs with people, enhancing human cognitive performance (also known as cognitive computing) or replacing people on execution of nonroutine tasks.
Applying this definition to scheduling, we can say that AI is really good at processing information, identifying patterns, and coming to conclusions—fast. To make a schedule, AI sifts through a variety of information, such as:
- Service-level agreements
- Job urgency
- Problem type
- Employee skill set
- Parts or equipment needed
- Travel constraints, such as traffic, road closures, weather
- Customer and employee schedules
These are a lot of variables to consider when scheduling, so it’s no surprise that things don’t always go as planned when a manual method is used.
AI considers all the variables above (and many more) and optimizes your business’s resources accordingly. The result? Fewer errors, return visits, and late arrivals, as well as faster schedule creation, distribution, and analysis. Specifically, the scheduling steps AI can automate are:
- Capacity planning: Verifying number of tasks, availability, and number of service calls to be made.
- Schedule fulfillment: Assigning technicians to tasks.
- Worker schedule distribution: Contacting via a call, email, text, or other form of notification.
- Intraday management: Making changes to a schedule as needed, for issues such as weather, cancellations, and unexpected absences.
- Post-schedule efficiency analysis: Learning from past scheduling mistakes and using them to inform future capacity planning.
Automation makes for a more seamless experience, both for the customer and your remote workforce. This level of convenience bolsters customer retention: 60% of people surveyed stated that a long wait time between scheduling an appointment and the actual visit hurts customer experience.
How does automated scheduling work?
AI-enabled automation does not have to mean that all human input is removed from the scheduling process. Rather, automation improves the efficiency of schedules, reduces errors, and saves managers valuable time.
In fact, according to a survey (available to clients), 84% of workers stated that they prefer AI act as a personal assistant rather than a manager or co-worker.
So how does this human-machine collaboration work? Essentially, AI does all the heavy-lifting, while managers approve, edit, or cancel scheduling decisions.
A manager will run the scheduling program, which will take into account the number of technicians, service requests, and other parameters to draft a schedule. Once the manager approves this schedule, the program will send the schedule to technicians.
As unforeseen changes occur, the tool will modify schedules accordingly and resend them to the manager for approval. Lastly, the tool uses all the information and experience it’s gathered to improve future scheduling decisions.
What’s the ROI?
Return on investment can’t be ignored when considering a software purchase. After all, that’s one of the main reasons (available to clients) businesses modernize their operations.
All field service management software offers scheduling capabilities, but the degree of automation varies from product to product. Since this type of software often involves a more comprehensive solution than just scheduling, it’s difficult to estimate the cost of this portion of the software.
What we can do, however, is estimate the time and money savings. The calculator below shows some of the savings possible with automated scheduling. We calculated ROI in three steps:
1. We calculate time savings per schedule, which involves several related tasks including scheduling related activities and automated process scheduling.
2. We convert this time savings to manager ROI. Since your manager’s salary won’t decrease as a result of the scheduling-related time efficiencies, we can’t assume direct savings. However, the time the manager will have available to spend on other tasks can lead to efficiencies elsewhere in your business.
3. We calculate monetary savings from a reduction in truck rolls. Each return service call your technician has to make cuts into other services they could be providing and leads to direct losses.