How to Optimize Field Service Scheduling and Improve Productivity
Field service management (FSM) has changed in the last two decades. Gone are the days when dispatchers used legacy systems and spreadsheets to track the field service agent’s activities, and field service agents, on the other hand, used pencil and paper to complete their orders. Though these were ‘established’ processes, organizations found it difficult to keep up with increasing customer demands while staying competitive.
Advances in technology have changed all of this to streamline many of these time-consuming manual and repetitive processes. Powered by innovative technology, FSM systems can now enable organizations to automate business processes, control field service teams remotely, and leverage customer information to deliver faster service.
Today, in-person field service has become a competitive differentiator, particularly in industries such as health care, emergency services, logistics, delivery services, etc. where field service is seeing increased adoption. Therefore, field service agent productivity has become the central focus of field service leaders.
How to Improve Field Service Agent’s Productivity?
Field service agents are highly trained and skilled at what they do, making them a valuable and expensive resource. This means there can be no room for miscommunication, delays, or incomplete information.
Enter field service scheduling.
With optimized scheduling, field service leaders can improve their team’s productivity, thereby reducing service costs, optimizing growth, and delivering exceptional customer experience. Here’s how.
Forecast Field Service Demand
Forecasting is important to know which areas of field service scheduling can have the most impact on your business. This is all the more true for smaller businesses with limited resources. However, the nature of the field service industry is such that it makes predicting demand difficult (but not impossible).
Field service demand is typically calculated based on various factors such as seasonality, number of customers, the nature of the product, to name a few. On the other hand, field service capacity to meet the demand is driven by the availability of skilled field service agents and the ability to scale capacity on demand using contract field service agents.
However, there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to field service scheduling — techniques that work for one field service business may not work for another. Hence forecasting should be done based on the business type and goals, to draw out opportunities for scheduling enhancements.
But first, Spot Inefficiencies in Field Service Scheduling
There’s a good chance that you are already familiar with the key scheduling inefficiencies within your organization and how they impact your FSM. Common scheduling inefficiencies include
- Scheduling available field service agents for tasks that they do not have the expertise to solve. This results in additional resources being assigned to solve the issue.
- Allowing field service agents to take over service scheduling tasks. This results in schedule clashes, miscommunication, and failure to input customer information into the system.
- Scheduling less number of agents to reduce costs without considering the possibility of a demand increase.
To tackle the problem, consider the following best practices—
1. Track service tasks data on a monthly (or weekly) basis. This data includes—
- The first-time fix rates achieved
- The number of emergency or unscheduled service calls that were attended to
- The number of missed appointments. A good metric to consider for this data is the reschedule ratio.
- The days of the week with higher service demand
- The number of times additional technicians were scheduled for a service task on short notice because the scope of the request could not be properly determined in advance
- The cost incurred due to the above-mentioned instances
2. Explore how FSM analytics features can help in forecasting service demand. For example, Freshdesk’s FSM reports provide the required insights and data. It lets you analyze field service ticket volume trends and the team’s performance to help predict service demand better
3. Set up FSM automation that can help shave off valuable time for field service agents.
4. Investigate whether outsourcing field service can help fill gaps in skill and efficiency.
5. Ask yourself the following questions when reviewing schedule
- On average, how much time does a field service agent spend shuttling between sites each day?
- How can you effectively use junior service agents, sparing senior service agents for complex issues?
- How many times does dispatching a technician usually prove unnecessary after an inspection?
- Are there gaps in field service schedules that can be filled in with quicker and lower priority tasks?
- Are you scheduling field service tasks too early without considering emergency planning?
6. On average, how much time does a field service agent spend shuttling between sites each day?
Set Business Priorities & Adopt Scheduling Rules
A few business priorities directly affect the way field service businesses make decisions. While it is a good thing to aim for perfection in each scheduling optimization action, organizations need to assess how each goal can be prioritized and how scheduling rules can be aligned to each of these goals.
The scheduling rules you adopt must be aimed at improving productivity and efficiency. While you are at it, you should also be aware of how breaking certain scheduling techniques can affect your business.
Here’s a quick overview of some of the common scheduling rules and how they can impact your business when broken.
Best Practices to Align Scheduling Rules with Business Priorities—
- Break-down your decision making further. Assign priority to each scheduling decision by considering proactive factors (such as scheduling rules, historical data, goals and objectives) and reactive factors (such as field agent’s personal issues, weather-related issues, customer issues, the scope of the task at hand).
- Identify the impact on the business when a scheduling rule is broken.
- Identify the scheduling rules that are already impacting your business due to a lack of prioritization.
- Assign weighting to your business goals and let it influence your scheduling efforts.
Pro tip: Factor in your organization’s leave policy and the holidays your team is most likely to take so that you can have a standby ready just in case of any last-minute scheduling changes.
Tactical Scheduling For Optimized Operations
The goal of tactical scheduling is to create a schedule that complies with all legal requirements, company and individual agreements, while optimally fulfilling company, employee, and customer interests.
Tactical scheduling takes into account the forecasted working time demand, field service agent capacity, and employee shift or time preference. The schedule is well-balanced between objectives, some of which include—
- Field service agent costs
- Service level agreements
- Customer satisfaction
- Employee satisfaction
This can be an overwhelming process. However, with a good FSM dashboard, you get a holistic view of all the information you need to plan a tactical schedule. For example, Freshdesk’s FSM tool categorizes all field service requests into various categories such as unassigned service tasks, overdue service tasks, service tasks due for the day, service tasks scheduled for the day, unresolved service tasks, etc. These categories help optimize daily schedules by assigning or resolving field service tickets based on your company’s goals and your customers’ interests.
The purpose of scheduling is to effectively support your business goal — maximizing field service agent productivity. To optimize scheduling, you need to assess the existing scheduling processes and fix the ones that are affecting your agents’ productivity. By implementing strategies such as predicting demand, analyzing scheduling decisions, and taking a tactical approach to scheduling, you can achieve enhanced productivity, happier customers, and an overall reduction in operational costs.