Mobile & Tech

Does Your Field Service Operation Need a Tuneup?

Editor’s note: Donald Stephens, a veteran field service engineer at Xerox, warns service leaders about the perils of complacency in the face of new technology.

So, you’ve finally handed off dispatching to a company with the killer apps and algorithms that have made your service team a lean, mean, call-taking machine. Your team now consistently meets or exceeds ETAs without managers assuming the role of traffic cops or babysitters, customer complaints are down, and productivity is at an all-time high. Your service business is finally hitting on all cylinders, so what could go wrong?

As someone who has worked with machinery and technology for more than three decades, I have one word of warning: neglect.

A million-dollar printer will become a million-dollar paperweight if managers neglect ongoing maintenance — just as dynamic dispatch will sink into chaos if they don’t adapt to the changing nature of any service operation.

One frequently overlooked reason fora lag in field service software efficiency are personnel changes. Here are four factors that, if left unchecked, will put even the most tech-savvy service operation on the fritz.

Your Star Tech Moved Across Town

According to The Atlantic, 25 percent of Americans have moved during the past five years, and the average American will move 11 times in their lifetime. For a dispatching system to work properly (e.g. matching technicians to the nearest calls to begin each workday), the software must know where each tech lives. If a manager doesn’t update the system when a tech moves, the system can’t function efficiently and your techs must commute further.

The Newest Hire Isn’t So Green Anymore

When making the switch to field service dispatching software, among the first steps is ensuring the right tech, with the right training, gets sent to the right service call. The problem is that techs constantly acquire new skills, formally (though training) or informally (through hands-on experience), but the software isn’t automatically privy to these updates. Managers need to keep tabs on the training techs receives and the expertise they gain, and make the appropriate adjustments so the software can send the right person every the job.

On the Mend, But Not 100 Percent

An injury or health condition will occasionally put a field service technician on “light duty,” limiting their ability to perform certain physical aspects of the job.

Some companies will place the injured tech on temporary disability, while other, usually smaller, operations will try to work around the limitations because they don’t have the manpower to cover for the injured tech. If a manager allows techs with restrictions to return to work, they must prevent the system from dispatching the tech to a job that pushes the limits.

The Backup Strategy Backfires

The previous three factors contribute to one frequently overlooked area of neglect: improper staffing. “The tech will only be out for a day or two” is a telltale excuse of a manager who hasn’t updated the dispatching software when the usual backup tech is out of the office. Would you rather take a few minutes to update the system, or spend more time calming a customer who didn’t get prompt service because the backup plan is broken? I’ve known managers who take months to update the system after a tech leaves the company. There’s no magic software that can dispatch a tech who no longer works at the company.

For the most part, field service software solutions work effectively and efficiently without having to constantly tinker with data. As long managers make an effort to correctly setup the software, they are great productivity enhancers. But, like the machines your techs maintain, these systems require a little attention to work properly.

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