Magazine Article | March 26, 2009

Scheduling & Routing's Customer Loyalty Advantages

Source: Field Technologies Magazine

Today’s scheduling and routing technologies not only deliver substantial cost saving benefits, they can also have a profound impact on the customer experience.

Integrated Solutions, April 2009
It seems like most of what has been written about automated scheduling and route optimization technologies recently has revolved around how these solutions can help service organizations reduce their fuel consumption and other operational costs. With the high cost of energy coupled with the current economic recession, there's good reason for emphasizing these cost-saving benefits. In fact, a recent report by the analyst firm Aberdeen Group indicates that field service technologies (including scheduling and routing solutions) reduce the overall service costs of an organization by an average of $471,639.

However, when times are tough, it's all too easy to focus only on how these solutions can help you cut expenses — particularly when the savings are as sizable as Aberdeen suggests. What about the customer? They're the reason you're in business to begin with, right? How will an investment in automated scheduling and route optimization software help you improve the customer experience and increase overall customer satisfaction and loyalty? The good news is there are plenty of ways scheduling and routing solutions can optimize customer care. Furthermore, it's these customer-centric features that can provide you with the most powerful ROI in the long term.

Most of us are familiar with 'cable guy syndrome.' This is where the cable company tells you a technician will arrive at your home within a broad range of time on a certain day (e.g. between 8 a.m. and noon or between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.) to perform a service. You become a prisoner in your own home, waiting for hours for the technician to arrive. Plus, if the technician misses the designated appointment window (and they often do), you are forced to call the cable company and fight for answers as to when you might expect said technician. Ultimately, you wind up wasting an entire day waiting around for the cable guy. If you've been lucky enough to avoid this experience in your lifetime, view 'The Cadillac' episode of Seinfeld for a pretty hilarious portrayal.

"Waiting for a service call or appointment is frustrating and the most memorable event customers recall when asked to rate quality of service received," says Yuval Brisker, president and CEO of TOA Technologies. "No service organization wants to be perceived as the stereotypical cable company, even if they are a cable company. Luckily, scheduling and routing software can help improve the customer experience by helping service companies hit their appointment windows with greater accuracy."

One of the recent advancements in scheduling and routing software that's allowing companies to set and keep tighter appointment windows is predictive scheduling. "Predictive scheduling allows service organizations to collect and review historical data to recognize trends that will allow them to schedule more effectively," says Tom Bowe, VP of engineering and product marketing for Metrix.

For example, if historical analysis shows that emergency calls typically come in between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., a service company can schedule fewer preventative maintenance calls during these times to ensure it has the technician capacity to meet these emergency requests. Likewise, if analysis shows that a greater concentration of these emergency calls originate from the west side of town, a service organization can route technicians throughout the day toward the west side of town so they will be in close proximity to address these requests. These capabilities, combined with real-time traffic data that can now be embedded into some of today's route optimization packages, allow service companies to allocate their resources more effectively and get their technicians to the customer site quickly.

While predictive scheduling will reduce occurrences of missed appointments, unavoidable delays may still occur that can keep your technicians from reaching the customer within an expected time frame. To counter this inevitability, some scheduling and software vendors are designing their products so the scheduling process is an interactive experience for the customer. In other words, real-time data as to where their technician is and how quickly they are expected to arrive at the predetermined destination is shared with the customer via a variety of communication methods, including telephone and Web browser. No longer does a customer need to be in the dark as to the status of their service call. The appointment information they desire can now be at their fingertips, much like FedEx and UPS has made it easy for you to track your shipments in real time. Furthermore, software with these interactive capabilities also allows customers to make their own schedule changes directly within the system, as opposed to requesting these changes through a dispatch center or help desk.

In addition to getting technicians to their customer destinations on time, today's scheduling and routing software can also help ensure they are prepared to complete the service call quickly and in a single visit. "When a customer requires a field service technician, their primary concern is total downtime," says Bowe. "In other words, it doesn't matter if a technician shows up in a timely manner if they can't solve the problem due to improper skill set, insufficient inventory, or some other oversight. Scheduling software that can deliver the right technician with the right tools to quickly return an unproductive asset to working order will create customer loyalty, and by extension, repeat business."

To this end, scheduling and routing optimization software has been proven to help service organizations increase their first-time fix rates. This software can designate which technicians have specific skill sets and where these technicians are at any given time. Furthermore, these software programs can provide real-time inventory alerts so that only technicians with the necessary parts are dispatched to a call. These capabilities allow service organizations to create rules for work order assignment that evaluate technician skill level, part availability, geography, SLA (service level agreement) requirements, and other criteria, minimizing the need for hands-on dispatch or repeat visits. This capability not only improves customer satisfaction, it also saves you money. Aberdeen Group estimates that the cost per dispatch is $241. The research firm also indicates that mobile technologies (including scheduling and routing software) improve first-time fix rates by an average of 11%.

While the previously mentioned attributes of scheduling and routing software are indeed attractive, it's important to note that these solutions aren't meant to operate in a silo. "Scheduling and routing software can only deliver optimal results when successfully integrated with proper planning, forecasting, dispatching, and mobility applications," says Brisker. "If too many or too few appointments are booked or overbooking occurs for specific regions, then even the best scheduling and routing software won't be able to streamline these occurrences."