When Masami Sabetto needed to send a key replacement part to one of his service techs working in a city 300 miles away, he did what any service manager in Tokyo would do: Sabetto sent the part by bullet train.
“It takes the bullet train just under three hours to travel from Tokyo to Osaka,” says Sabetto, a 25-year veteran of Japan’s field service industry and now sales director at ServiceMax Japan. “We can send out a part on the bullet train after breakfast to be delivered to a waiting technician in Osaka after lunch.”
In Japan, things often get done a little differently — and field service work is no exception.
“In Tokyo it’s not unusual for field service technicians to travel to client sites by train,” Sabetto says. “It’s also not uncommon for technicians to take the bus or even hop on a moped.”
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Tokyo’s commuter rail network is vast: More than 500 train stations link the sprawling city, making nearly every corner easy to reach. Sabetto says public transit is quicker, cheaper and more reliable than driving.
“Tokyo is famous for its traffic jams, so arriving late when traveling by car is a risk,” Sabetto says. “On top of that, if you drive you have to pay for road tolls, gasoline and parking. Adding everything up, driving to a client costs as much as dispatching an additional technician for the day.”
While field service technicians will bring their tools with them on the train, replacement parts or larger pieces of equipment are often delivered to the customer site by courier.
“Technicians can also rely on Japan’s fast, efficient and dependable door-to-door logistics network,” Sabetto says. “Service managers can ship parts to the site to be waiting for the technicians when they get there, and never need to worry if the delivery will be late or simply won’t show up.”
Another factor that makes public transportation so attractive for field service technicians in Tokyo? It’s common for a number of buildings and facilities owned by the same customer to be clustered close together. Technicians can be sent by train to one neighborhood to accomplish a number of tasks for the same customer.
Sabetto notes that train or subway travel to customer sites is limited to a few large cities with sophisticated rail networks. In other parts of Japan, field service technicians still rely on ubiquitous white Toyota HiAce panel vans to travel to client sites.
“Another challenge is that most of the parts that field service technicians need are located in Tokyo,”he says, “so it’s a constant challenge to get these parts to more remote parts of the country.”
Sabetto says it’s common to fly components to more far-flung destinations such as the northern island of Hokkaido.
“While the ability to take the subway to a customer site may be unique,” says Sabetto, “field service technicians in Japan really benefit from a highly interconnected transportation and communication infrastructure that boosts efficiency.”