Dispatch volume is up this year for field service companies. Hiring is flat. Clearly, firms need to find ways to handle more work with the same number of workers.

That was the theme behind last Thursday’s ServiceMax-sponsored web seminar, “Field Workforce Optimization: Finding the Three Rights,” presented by Sumair Dutta of the Aberdeen Research Group. (Disclosure: ServiceMax sponsors The SmartVan.) Slides from the presentation are available at the bottom of this post.

The take-away from Thursday’s presentation was that the ways that best-in-class field service firms are able to differentiate themselves from the pack are by focusing on efficiency in three core areas — workforce utilization and scheduling, parts management, and human capital performance — that add up to having technicians in the “right place at the right time, with the right parts,” Dutta said.

Aberdeen’s survey polled 200 industry firms to ask about the greatest pressures they face, the ways they managed their workforce, handled scheduling, parts routing, and route optimization, and a host of other questions.

Unsurprisingly, the most common business pressure firms cited (67 percent) was a need to drive workforce productivity and utilization internally. Aberdeen’s research suggested that firms’ employee “utilization rate” — the percentage of time that field techs are actually in the van or turning a wrench — is 63 percent, meaning that over 33 percent of the time, workers are actually idle.

Further, a plurality of respondents (47 percent) claimed that the most common reason that a service request wasn’t finished in one visit was that the necessary part wasn’t available. By embracing centralized, real-time and mobile-enabled scheduling technologies, firms can take a dent out of both problems, by automating the process of matching the right workers with the rights parts. Companies in the survey considered the best in their class were 10 percent more likely than the rest to use a flexible schedule in which workers received tasks one after another, instead of handing out schedules once a day.

The third core focus of the presentation was a little more ethereal. “Human-capital performance” — things like employee retention and employee job satisfaction — appear to be a pretty clear differentiator between the best in the class and the dregs. Best-in-class companies were found to more frequently measure employee productivity, turnover, engagement, and satisfaction than other field service firms. Also, best-in-class companies were more likely to offer their workers several monetary and promotional incentives.

“Things like retention, training, on-boarding — all the elements where it’s not skills-based assessment,” Dutta said, ” — providing (workers) with the right information, with incentives to drive field-service goals, that’s really the third piece of the pie.”

By focusing on scheduling and planning, investing in mobility to provide workers with better and more up-to-date information, and developing programs that can retain workers (and their internalized knowledge), companies emerged as a cut above the rest of what is essentially a bloated field.

Ultimately, though, the onus falls on management. “It needs to be service leadership driving all of these,” Dutta said. “(Management) makes sure planning is on pace. All that is wrapped up by performance and personnel management and analytics.”

Slides provided courtesy of ServiceMax.

ABOUT Ian Stewart

Avatar photoIan is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.