It’s summer, and sales are sluggish. Or management has mandated that the field-service division slash costs. How do you scale back on costs without sacrificing quality?

We went back to the SmartVan archives to dig up the five best paths to efficiency:

Embrace Virtualization

A number of operations within field service don’t necessarily require a live, in-the-flesh person. Automate those tasks. Whether it’s auto-dispatching and scheduling, computerized route-planning, or remotely training new technicians through streaming video, companies can save a ton of man-hours and travel costs by getting a little more digital.

Beyond that, encouraging forms of self-service — like uploading how-to videos to your website that walk customers through simple installations or common repairs— reduces the need to roll a truck, and reduces big costs.

Minimize Vehicle Costs

You can look at your vehicle fleet in one of two ways: Either as a huge cost, or as a huge untapped gold mine of cost-savings. Short of a major overhaul, or a move to alt-fuels like CNG, there are a number of small steps managers can take to squeeze a few dollars out of the company vans without sacrificing quality.

For instance: preaching safe driving habitsnegotiating better leasing options, revisiting insurance policies with an eye toward savings — even keeping tires fully inflated — all compound small bits of savings into big money. Remember that minor touch-ups can prevent a big, costly breakdown down the road.

Rethink Marketing Costs

This one may not be for everyone, but we’ve seen a number of companies rethink how and where marketing fits into their operation — with some deciding it simply didn’t. Excelling at customer service, whether in the field or online, is hard to do — but it can have the power to drive growth organically, reducing the need for investment in sales.

Encourage field service techs to shoot for word-of-mouth business referrals. They don’t cost a penny in marketing costs, and often bring in loyal customers.

Reduce Worker Turnover

Replacing field service techs costs a ton — some estimates put it at over 50 percent of a technician’s annual salary in terms of  training and getting him up to speed (some studies say indirect costs put that number much higher).

So make sure you’re not hiring too often. Simple management best practices can make your business a great place to work, and can have a huge impact on employee retention. Also make sure you’re hiring the right people in the first place: employees who are going to succeed, and who will stay.

Go Mobile!

We saved the biggie for last. Outfitting service techs with mobile computers — whether they’re ultrabooks, tablets, or a smartphone — is the fastest way to get efficient.

By having a remote, mobile, and fully connected workforce, technicians can get orders and driving routes, look up contract and repair instructions, and fill out work orders, all from the field — without ever needing to come back to the office. Organizations can improve productivity, squeeze more calls in a day, and drive sales.

Developing customized apps that streamline your techs’ work pushes productivity even further. But just having an Internet connection in the field is a huge step toward efficiency — and the best place to start.

More: For Mortgage Field Service Firm, Time Equals Money — and Apps Save Both.

Click here to download a free whitepaper, “Five Steps to Make Field Service Profitable.”

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.