Magazine Article | April 27, 2012

5 Key Areas Of Optimization For Field Service

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

By John Ragsdale, VP of technology research, TSIA,

The average cost of a field service visit has surpassed $1,000. What does that mean? It’s time to optimize.

Over the last year, TSIA has sharpened its focus on field service operations, initiating additional benchmarking of key field service financial, quality, and operational metrics. The data is now becoming available, and it paints a worrisome picture of the current state of the industry: The average cost of an enterprise field service visit has now surpassed $1,000.

After a decade of slow spending, field service operations have started to move away from outdated platforms that were hard to use and expensive to customize, and spending on field service technology has been rising. The results of TSIA’s 2011 member technology survey show planned spending for field service mobility, scheduling and dispatch, and parts and logistics.

Currently, 38% of technology firms have adopted mobile field service tools and 36% say they have budgeted for new or additional tools in 2011–2012. More than half of members have adopted some automation for field service scheduling and parts and logistics. Nearly a quarter of members, 22%, have budgeted for automating scheduling and dispatch this year.

Whether you are planning a complete overhaul of your field service tools or just want to fine-tune some processes, the five key areas for field service optimization are:

Scheduling: Today’s customers aren’t willing to accept a five- or eight-hour window for a repair. Not only do they expect an exact arrival time, they want to be kept updated if that time changes. Improving scheduling means improving the optimization of your field service staff — a key operational metric — with automated scheduling taking into account employee skills and certifications and available spare parts.

Dispatch and routing: The days of giving field techs a route sheet at the beginning of the shift with the day’s appointments are gone. With a more flexible approach to scheduling, how do techs plan their routes? Leveraging GPS and current traffic information, field employees can be routed based on current location, traffic conditions, and other key operational metrics and given accurate directions to reduce response time and travel time.

On-site performance: With mobility connecting field employees to corporate at all times, accurately recording on-site performance is much easier than in the past. Having exact arrival and departure times and details of work performed and parts used improves accuracy and accountability. Additionally, having mobile access to all corporate knowledge and content will streamline on-site problem resolution, reducing on-site repair time, another key metric for optimization.

Revenue generation: TSIA data shows that while in a customer’s home or office, field technicians are highly successful in extending additional offers for products and services. A combination of skills training and tools is required to successfully extend offers and close a deal with signature capture or a credit card swipe.

Travel and expense recording: For companies that track expenses for rebilling, collecting timely and accurate travel and expense records shortens the billing cycle, reduces customer questions, and shrinks days sales outstanding (DSO) for billing.

Field service automation can dramatically improve the cost structure and productivity numbers for field operations, impacting key metrics such as response and resolution time, first-time fix, and overall fleet costs.

With an eye towards automation, TSIA has a few recommendations. First, get your processes in order. Having fully documented processes will enable a new technology project to jump-start without additional process mapping time.

Next, join the mobile revolution. Mobility is revolutionizing every aspect of field service, from how scheduling is handled — providing appointment routing, accessing corporate information, and tutorials while on-site — to accurate capture of work performed and expenses.

Think revenue. Instead of cutting costs to make up for budget shortfalls, how about generating incremental revenue? TSIA data shows that the intimacy of on-site service generates high accept rates for upsell and cross-sell offers, especially when coupled with a mobile solution for contextual offers and signature capture to close the deal.