Best Buy recently announced it had laid off 650 of its Geek Squad field service techs, only to hire 500 more a few days later. That’s not exactly the most cost-efficient business practice, and it’s precisely the scenario OnForce, which pairs contract technicians with companies looking for them, says it wants to help companies avoid.
Retailers like Best Buy make up a sizable chunk of OnForce’s customer base. And those kinds of companies experience spikes and drops in demand for service techs throughout the year — high in the winter, low in the summer — meaning fluctuations in the number of service staff they need, or at least a lot of downtime sometimes, and a tough workload other teams.
That brings up an interesting question for field service operations: Is it smarter to keep a technician staff in-house and accept the peaks and valleys in demand, or to sub-contract out work to a third party?
To Bill Lucchini, the COO for technician outsourcing company OnForce, it’s simply too too much trouble to keep an in-house staff in flux.
“The value proposition we offer businesses is geographic coverage, skill set diversity, and the ability to handle spikes in demand,” Lucchini says. “Companies like Best Buy have two times, or more, demand in January than they do in the summer. OnForce helps them deal with the workforce problems associated with that.”
Controlling for Quality
OnForce has a database of over 100,000 technicians in all sorts of fields, which companies can contract out on a one-off or ongoing basis. Its biggest customers are indeed big companies, including Comcast and AT&T, although most of its customer base is made up of mid-market companies. With so many technicians on call, maintaining a level of quality becomes a complicated process.
Before any tech is accepted into OnForce’s network, they go through an evaluation process that involves filling out a profile, providing any certifications they have, and validating those certifications and doing a phone screening. Imagine doing that for 100,000 techs.
“That’s all before they even become active on our platform,” Lucchini says. “It’s definitely high-volume work.”
OnForce says it tracks 28 metrics for every work order its techs perform — from things like time, budget performance, speed of returning deliverables, and satisfaction — which are compared against other techs, creating an ever-changing ranking structure within its workforce.
Requesting, and Accepting, Orders
Most techs receive work orders through OnForce’s mobile app, where they can either accept it at the asking time and price, make a counter-offer, or decline the order.
This point is important, as labor-outsourcing companies like OnForce have come under attack for undercutting local competition on pricing. Lucchini says OnForce doesn’t set the labor rates; rather the company requesting the work does. It’s up to the technician to decide whether or not to accept the job.
“We stress to the techs that these are work opportunities — don’t take the job if you don’t want to,” Lucchini says. “If the work order is too high, techs and buyers can negotiate. If a tech does take the job and does great work, then that’s the market saying, ‘This is what the job is worth.’ We have a system that tries to allow the market to find the right balance.”
That free-market sort of approach to pricing can, at times, ruffle feathers — after all, with so many technicians in the database and so many work orders, OnForce can often be in a position to drive the service contractor market in an area.
“We’re trying to enable this quality-to-cost ratio that you can’t achieve anywhere else and just totally change the way field service works,” Lucchini says. “I think it’s been too inefficient for far too long, and we’re trying to fix that.”