Editor’s note: Zachary Farrar has worked in field service for nearly a decade and is currently national service supervisor for an industrial equipment manufacturer. Here, Farrar explains why field service leaders shouldn’t become discouraged when investing in new technology, even if the tool isn’t perfect. A small step toward the best technology is better than no change at all, he says.
I’ve heard one of my bosses say we “shouldn’t avoid better for best” so many times that I can’t let it go. But I have my own interpretation of that mantra’s meaning in field service.
We often want the biggest, baddest resource out there — or none at all. For me, it’s a service management system. Some service organizations have them, some don’t. Others are in the middle with a basic system that works but that doesn’t do everything that’s needed.
As our service department grows, it becomes more and more evident that we need stronger tools to keep it running smoothly and to avoid falling back into the dreaded reactive service.
Unenviable Service Management
Smaller departments may still operate with an outdated process that I call the “Mentalist.” Why? One person knows every detail about the service organization, including where (and when) parts and technicians are going, all off the top of their head.
But there are dangers with the “Mentalist” approach:
- Forgetting about a customer
- Missing appointments
- Not properly capturing true costs of operation
- A complete lack of service records.
This approach doesn’t work with your checking account, and it doesn’t work with your services division. It’s just too risky to remain profitable, and it’s hard to please customers if you don’t know who they are.
What Does Better Look Like?
Most people start with spreadsheets, which makes sense. However, as the service operation grows, there’s a greater need to create reports or keep an active file or issue tracker going that multiple people can access and edit. This is simply impossible when organizations use Excel.
We can’t find best if we don’t do better in the first place.
A more robust and user-friendly system that’s tailored to your service operation can make a big impact. For example, I have a service call log that contains information on all of our inbound calls so we can track the flow of issues and track our response and close time tome. This is used for break-fix inquiries, phone support for techs and even quote requests. When a customer calls, we can log who, where, what and when — and assign or escalate the issue accordingly. That alone can tame the email deluge that so many things get lost or missed in.
It creates a simple report that holds the assigned accountable, and service leaders can build it up or down to suit their needs. Importantly, the system allows us to create the data that we’ll eventually crunch to really raise profitability.
Why We Aim for Best
Sure, some service managers have the capitol and clout to simply get what they want and need, but most of us don’t have that kind of pull. To me, “best” looks something like one of the following:
- A bolt-on service system for an ERP
- A freestanding service system that integrates with the ERP.
My idea of “best” is a robust, powerful tool designed to manage a service department and its fast-moving assets. It provides:
- Metrics, scheduling and reports that service managers can truly utilize.
- An easy-to-read dashboard that can be customized based on the user’s needs.
- A one-stop shop instead of 10 spreadsheets that might remain updated and useful.
The benefits — increasing service revenue, decreasing response times, providing solid customer support — are things the “Mentalist” program could never handle.
Is this within every organization’s reach? No, but taking the step toward best means starting with better.
It may not look the same to everyone, and the first system may not work the way you expect, but finding out can make the needle move enough to show those who do control the purse strings that a true service system is worth the investment. We can’t find best if we don’t do better in the first place.