Boosting the productivity of field service teams
By Graham Hill, Channel Director
Tuesday, 24 January, 2017
Improving productivity is a key goal for every organisation, and one that’s particularly relevant for those in the service sector. Whether it’s maintaining power lines, repairing machinery or building a new treatment plant, completing tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible is vital.
Unfortunately, there are many ways in which time can be wasted and productivity lost by field service teams. They include having to fill in complex paperwork, being unable to quickly find their next location, needing to backtrack to collect extra spare parts and not having the knowledge required to complete a job.
The problem becomes more obvious when you consider the costs associated with it. If a service engineer who costs $50 an hour loses just 30 minutes a day, it will cost an organisation $6000 each year in lost productivity. If this occurs across a team of 10 service engineers, the loss balloons to close to $60,000 a year.
To better understand how software tools can support field workers and help to improve their productivity, Greentree has interviewed more than 100 customers multiple times during the past five years. By analysing the gathered data, key features needed in software to support field teams were identified. These features include:
1. Intuitive functionality
Unsurprisingly, field team members want the software they use to be intuitive as they don’t have the time or inclination to scour instruction manuals. They want functions such as search to operate in the same way as the search engines they use in their personal lives.
Data entry should be simple and not require complex navigation around crowded screens. Forms should be designed with the tasks in mind and require a minimal amount of time to complete.
2. Information access
Topping the list of requirements for all interviewees is having the ability to readily find information in systems that span the entire business, such as an ERP application. For example, to find a customer record, they want to be able to search using any associated piece of information quickly and efficiently.
Also, they don’t want to waste time having to regularly query multiple systems, but instead know that all the information they require is stored centrally in a single application.
3. Real-time data
There’s little point in querying a database to locate a spare part only to later find that there are none in the warehouse. The central data repository needs to be updated in real time so queries are based on up-to-date information. This will ensure time is not wasted when staff need to look elsewhere for things they thought would be ready and waiting for them.
Also, they want to be confident that everyone is seeing the same information. Delays will occur if one person thinks a part is one thing, while someone else has a different perspective.
4. Be prepared for the job
Before hitting the road, service teams want to have an understanding of the customer and job history. If someone had visited the site recently, this needs to be known before the next visit so it can be taken into account.
Service staff also want to be able to generate parts lists for their jobs so they can be sure they take with them everything they will need. This reduces the likelihood of return visits which waste time.
5. Prioritising work
Wasting time between jobs can also be a big issue. Interviewees wanted to be able to understand their priorities based on both urgency and location. It is inefficient to drive across town for a scheduled service if an emergency call-out has just come up near a previous job.
Having software in place that allows staff to view unallocated jobs and pick them up as they become available in a logical order of priority is seen as a much more effective way of working.
6. Efficient time sheets
One of the biggest areas of concern for many service staff is being able to efficiently account for time spent on jobs. Having a timesheet system that can let each staff member record details in a way that suits them is seen as being particularly important.
Some favoured inputting a summary and then completing the details later while others wanted to be alerted if the time entered was above or below what was expected. Systems that can offer multiple capture methods can aid productivity.
The easier an organisation can make it for field service workers to complete jobs, the more billable time they will have. Key to achieving this is making the software that supports them as intuitive to use as possible — and it has to be intuitive for everyone from tech-savvy users to those who only use computers infrequently.
The software needs to work just as well for those staff with big fingers and thumbs as it does for those who can enter data at high speed, and it should require minimal, if any, training for someone to become proficient.
By choosing software wisely, organisations can ensure their service teams are as productive as they can possibly be, making them an even more valuable resource.
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