Running a field service business successfully is all about logistics. No matter how skilled your teams are or even how satisfied each serviced customer is, it takes a team effort to get your technicians to the right places at the right times with all the necessary equipment. Proper logistics is something you get the hang of within your first year of business but that doesn't mean that there is no room for improvement. Ideally, you will be able to find at least some small way to streamline your service scheduling, job dispatching, and work performance every year. Maybe it will be a new policy for managing schedules, a better way to plan routes, or new management software that helps to unify these tasks smoothly.
Service-Scheduling Convenience for the Customer
Scheduling is the first step of any well-executed service provided to your customers and this process needs to take several factors into consideration. First, you need to work out a time that is convenient for your customers. Many field services require customers to be present during the work in order to get into the house, ask for permission if the plan needs to change, and for your own liability reasons. Even in cases where you do not necessarily need the customer present, they will be more comfortable being at home while strangers work in, on, or around their house.
This means that most of your work will be done on weekends, during time before and after standard work hours, and during the day for clients who have weekdays off or get a little time off to monitor the work.
Avoiding Schedule Conflicts
Most customers make it fairly easy to schedule a repair, meaning the most challenging aspect of service scheduling is actually making sure that you are not over-booked for customer's convenient times. This is why many service businesses have several teams and vehicles that can go out and handle simultaneous work orders. The key is to schedule each of your teams separately. Ideally with software that makes this easy, straight-forward, and easy to read at a glance.
Another aspect of avoiding schedule conflicts is allowing enough time for travel. You can either establish a generous default amount of time for all travel or use a navigation program to calculate the distance and travel time between specific work sites. If you do use navigation, consider allowing half-again as much time in case of traffic or other slow-downs. You may also want to consider allowing for extra time in case a scheduled appointment runs over.
Allow Time for Emergency Calls
Almost all field service specialties, from appliance repair to home cleaning, gets the occasional emergency call. These are customers who don't have time to wait for a reasonable appointment some time in the next week. When their homes are flooding, freezing, or some other problem that puts their immediate health and safety at risk, you want to have at least one work order slot open each day. This way, you can always take emergency calls, building a reputation for coming to the rescue no matter how last-minute a call comes in.
Job Dispatching - Stocking the Vehicles
Depending on the kind of service you offer, each work order may require identical supplies or you may need a unique kit of parts and reference material to supply the service requested. Either way, every morning you send the fleet out should start with a complete check and re-pack of the vehicles. At the very least, you want to make sure there is a set of water bottles to keep everyone hydrated and possibly a few packaged snacks to keep your teams efficient if inconvenient hunger strikes. Even if every work order requires the same supplies, double-check to make sure that nothing is running low like cleaning solution, plumber's tape, disposable work site coverings, and so on. The last thing you want is for your team to run out and have to come back to HQ between appointments, setting the whole day behind.
Planning the Routes
Route planning is a vital part of efficiency for a field service business. The scheduling phase ensures that every work order can be met on the days requested by clients but the route planning ensures that your teams spend the least possible amount of time in transit between customers. The trick, of course, is that you can't build an efficient route until you have already at least partially scheduled all the work orders for the day. The best way to handle this, if you don't have a software-based scheduling system, is to have your customers approve a broad time window to start with and a note as to the best refined time window for each customer. This gives you some room to work with for more precise planning.
Once you have all your work orders and the general time of day they need to occur in, you can begin optimizing your routes. Software like ServicePower's Schedule Optimization can manage this for you, or you can do it yourself. If you are on your own, pick a cluster of customers that live as close together as possible, then plan their routes for the minimum amount of doubling-back and excessive road time. You might have one team go North, another East, and so on so that no one winds up driving unnecessarily across the city. This also optimizes the time your teams have for ...
[Continued in Second Half - Stay tuned!]