Editor’s note: Donald B. Stephens is a senior customer service engineer with the Xerox Corporation. He has worked in field service for more than 30 years.
Dynamic dispatching is a common feature these days in field service management software. I don’t need to tell you how it can improve efficiency or productivity, but there are a few pitfalls that you might not be aware of. I’ve experienced these failings firsthand and have thoughts on how to avoid them.
Even if you don’t agree with my advice, it might help you understand your technicians’ perspective on moving from a territory-based dispatch model to a dynamic one.
Undermining a Sense of Ownership
Technicians who have territories learn quickly that customers — their customers — will praise them for being prompt and providing excellent service. But they also learn that customers will complain when they are late or fail to provide a lasting fix. Technicians will go the extra mile if they know it will earn them praise:
“We’re lucky to have you as our tech, Bob. I hope your company knows how much we value you.”
And they will be motivated to avoid complaints, such as:
“Um, Bob, what happened? I thought you said it was fixed?”
This changes when the company switches to dynamic dispatch.
A tech might not see the same customer twice in one year when the next-call/next-tech system goes live. Your techs will still want to give good service but, for the most part, they will no longer receive direct feedback from regular customers, which can stifle motivation. It’s also easier to walk out on a fix if a technician assumes someone else will handle the call-back. Field service managers will still have a competent workforce after switching to dynamic dispatching, but they might find it difficult to maintain an exceptional service team. Managers need to finds ways to fill the void.
Recognition programs can be a good substitute for customer praise. While any form of recognition is better than none, there are ways to design reward plans that encourage extra effort and help bolster the collective team spirit that dynamic dispatching requires. Territories give techs a sense of ownership, which inspires a healthy competitiveness among employees in the field. Individual rewards can enhance the friendly competition among service reps, but managers must balance those rewards with a “one-for-all” mentality to encourage techs to work together. Switching from individual targets to team targets is often the best course of action.
There’s a real danger of having service technicians who turn against each other when one individual is recognized for providing great service when multiple people on the team have put in sweat equity on the customer’s machine. Even if a customer singles out one tech for praise, managers should be careful to spread the recognition across the entire team.
Don’t Incentivize the Quick Fix
There are some territory benefits that are difficult to replicate. Techs who work a territory have the flexibility to work through lunch, or to skip breaks, to go home a little early knowing that they’ve cleared all calls in their territory. Dynamic dispatching often eliminates this incentive. In a large team, with a large pool of machines, this rarely. happens. No matter how hard techs work, there’s always another service call waiting. This can be disheartening for the territory tech. It also takes away the incentive to work quickly.
As a result, I’d avoid creating rewards for techs who clear the most calls per day. It’s easy to take quick calls, but a quality service call takes time. Instead, reward everyone when targets are met.
Maintaining Job Satisfaction
Job satisfaction is another factor that can take a hit with dynamic dispatching. When techs work hard solving a difficult problem, there’s an inherent pride in doing right by their customers. But with dynamic dispatching, it’s often difficult to give techs the same feelings of accomplishment. This is a scenario where individual recognition pays off.
It’s easy to take quick calls, but a quality service call takes time.
If a manager is aware of a team member who has gone above and beyond, call the individual to offer praise — but I wouldn’t recommend a formal, or monetary, reward. Managers are bound to miss individuals who went the extra mile, which can breed jealousy. Looking for ways to tell your techs that they’ve done a good job, especially during the first few months of the transition, will help make up for what they are missing by working on the same machines all the time.
Put Customers at Ease
Technicians aren’t the only ones who can struggle with the change to dynamic dispatching. Some customers will take the change even harder than your techs.
If managers rely on techs to assure the customer that their level of service will improve with dynamic dispatching, they probably haven’t spent much time around service techs. Coaching your team on what to say (and, as importantly, what not to say) when met with questions or resistance is essential. Better yet, send a letter or email to explain the change before unfamiliar field techs start showing up at the door.
When taking a team of territory techs and signing them up for dynamic dispatch, be aware that what you might see as only a procedural change is a much bigger deal to those who it affects the most. No matter what happens, your technicians and your customers will adapt and things will eventually smooth out. But there are several steps managers can take to avoid the pitfalls of dynamic dispatching systems. Motivation and satisfaction need not take a dip during the transition.