By Brian Albright, Field Technologies magazine
This service provider cut work order resolution times in half after moving to a cloud-based field services application.
Scheduling and dispatching field service technicians can be challenging enough, even when the dispatchers and technicians are all operating within the same geography. Imagine, then, the complications that can arise when one company receives the service call, a second has to coordinate scheduling, and then hundreds of independent service providers with varying technological capabilities have to execute the repairs.
That’s the challenge that faced Kinetico Incorporated, a water treatment systems manufacturer. The company struggled to manage a third-party field service operation for one of its largest commercial customers using manual data entry and spreadsheets.
Kinetico designs and manufactures water treatment systems, including commercial systems used in restaurants, hotels, and other businesses. Kinetico has partnered with another business to provide water treatment to its many customers in the commercial industry. The company asked Kinetico to manage the field service repair/maintenance operation for its commercial customers that have competitors’ equipment installed at their locations. In essence, the company wanted to send service requests from its customers to Kinetico, and Kinetico would forward those requests to its network of authorized, independent dealers across the United States to provide the repairs.
Initially, Kinetico attempted to manage this three-tiered arrangement using large spreadsheets to track both the service tickets and location of its participating dealers. “We would get a call providing the details and location of the problem. Then we would key all of that info into a spreadsheet and contact a fulfillment partner to dispatch a technician,” says Ned Sherry, director of IT at Kinetico. “We would track the call and enter all the resolution information into the spreadsheet.”
In the beginning, Kinetico was able to use the spreadsheets effectively to schedule and track the work orders and provide updates to the supplier and customers. However, as the service operation grew, this process proved too unwieldy and made it difficult for Kinetico to meet its service-level agreement obligations. In addition, Kinetico was not able to effectively measure the performance of the service operation, because the data was scattered throughout the spreadsheets.
Kinetico receives 35 service calls per month on average from its commercial partner, primarily to repair previously installed competitive equipment. The company then has to coordinate those service tickets with hundreds of dealers. “As the volume picked up, the process got more complicated, and we found that the spreadsheets weren’t going to cut it anymore,” Sherry says.
Cloud-Based Solutions Save Months Of Deployment Time
Sherry says Kinetico wanted a flexible solution that could grow with the service business, but one that didn’t put a significant burden on the IT staff. “We wanted a system that was Web-based; we didn’t want to invest in any infrastructure,” he says. “We also needed a system that would allow me to develop metrics based on the key data that was being tracked. I wanted to be able to, on the fly, tailor how it was working and change the fields I was capturing — I didn’t want to have to hire a programmer to do that.”
The solution would also need to integrate with Salesforce.com, which Kinetico uses to manage its sales operation and which plays a peripheral role in tracking the service requests. After evaluating several vendors, the company selected the ServiceMax cloud-based service management solution.
ServiceMax is built on the Salesforce.com platform, which made integration simple. Sherry says the system also provides the scheduling, automation, report, metrics, and escalation capabilities he was looking for. And since the system is cloud-based, it could be quickly deployed at a relatively low cost.
ServiceMax’s professional services staff had the Kinetico system up and running in less than four weeks, and the system officially launched in the spring of 2011. Sherry estimates that if the company had to develop and deploy an on-premise system, it would have taken at least three months longer to go live.
Under the new system, the company’s commercial partner emails service requests to Kinetico, including all relevant information about the customer and the problem in the email. That data is entered into ServiceMax. Using ZIP code information, the solution automatically assigns the job to one of the 160 participating dealers in the system.
The solution then automatically generates an email to the dealer, including all instructions and customer information, and the dealer responds to accept the job. All of these interactions are dateand- time-stamped so Kinetico can track response times. Because each dealer has different levels of service dispatch capabilities, Kinetico may receive confirmation that the job is complete either from the company’s dispatch operation or from the field technician directly.
For the initial implementation, Kinetico opted to use email and phone communication rather than having others access the ServiceMax solution directly. “We wanted to make sure we had the process nailed down internally and that we had our data set up correctly for automatic assignment by ZIP code before we had anyone else directly access the solution,” Sherry says.
Automation Cuts Resolution Times In Half
The solution automated what had previously been highly manual data tracking processes. “We track key dates and times, and if we don’t get a response back from a dealer within a certain amount of time, I get an email notification,” Sherry says. “The system gave us workflow capabilities that are fully automated. We don’t have to go back and read the entire spreadsheet to see whether or not a call was completed.”
Because so many people are involved in the transactions, Kinetico can capture all of the email communication details among the various parties. “We are able to capture email addresses and send notifications, and I have the ability to generate reports that allow me to look at this data in a lot of different ways,” Sherry says. “Some tickets may involve multiple emails that go back and forth, so we can capture all of that in one spot and keep track of what is happening with that ticket. That’s something we couldn’t do with a spreadsheet.”
Since the end users may have filtration equipment from a number of different vendors, Kinetico is also able to track information such as the level of expertise a dealer has with competitive equipment. “Their experience level and contact information is easy to access,” Sherry says. “Trying to manage that data in a spreadsheet was nearly impossible.”
With the automated system in place, work order resolution times have been reduced dramatically. “We’ve been able to reduce the total time it takes from when we are notified of the issue to when our fulfillment partners are on-site by more than 50%,” Sherry says.
The company can now provide visibility to all work orders and field service partners. “We’re capturing more information about what’s going on,” Sherry says. “That improves things from a billing and reimbursement standpoint, because we know sooner when a job is complete. When we were using a spreadsheet, it was difficult to track all of these things, especially when you had 20 or 30 calls in process. We’ve been able to increase the amount of information we collect on the service, which gives us more info to share.”
Kinetico also captures information on customer satisfaction using phone surveys and marries that information to the service call records. “Our commercial partner prides itself on being able to service its customers as quickly as possible,” Sherry says. “So we want to be able to provide that level of service on their behalf and drill down into the data when something goes wrong so we can find out why that happened.”
Since the initial deployment, Kinetico has rolled out the ServiceMax customer portal, which allows Kinetico’s commercial partner to review service requests and access information and metrics which they can use to measure the success of the program. “They can log in, look at open service tickets or closed service tickets, run historical reports, and see what’s going on with their customers,” Sherry says.
Next up will be opening up the system so that Kinetico’s commercial partner can generate service tickets directly within ServiceMax, which will speed up the process even more. At the same time, Kinetico plans to allow dealers to automatically update service ticket information using URL links in the emails to access the solution. The company is also talking with other customers in its commercial business, offering them the same type of service management functionality.