Appointment booking for your last mile service delivery - the good, the bad and the ugly of scheduling systems

Oct 21, 2019 • FLSFLS MobileFLSVISITOURWorkforce Schedulingdynamic schedulingdynamic scheduling softwarefast lean smartLast MileManaging the Mobile Workforce

FLS - FAST LEAN SMART, UK Managing Director, Jeremy Squire shares his experience on the tools needed to overcome increasing last mile challenges...

Key to the success of your last mile service delivery is planning appointments (when applicable) and Engineer routes that are both achievable and efficient. Not all methods for this are equal and in this article we explore the alternative methods used by scheduling technologies and why you need a real-time appointment optimiser, even if you prefer to fix the jobs to Engineers on the day of service delivery.

With the right systems to support you, the appointment booking is opportunity to guide your customer to the most cost effective time slot for an Engineer with the right skills and parts.

Every Field Service software solution includes appointment booking and often describe this as ‘optimised’.  Look closely at how this is achieved, the majority are far from optimal and result in unachievable appointments, heavy involvement by Planners and Managers, and cause some Engineers to work excessive hours whilst others are under utilised. 

Which of these are familiar to your way of working? The good, the bad, the ugly…or the best!


The Ugly – ‘patch’ method

Engineers are assigned exclusive postcode patches and new appointments can be offered until the maximum daily limit is reached. There is often a long wait for an appointment, even though neighbouring Engineers have availability, and you can typically only offer full day timeslots. Before the day of service begins, the scheduling system or a Planner will put each diary in a good order for travel according to maps, or the Engineers do it themselves.



The Bad – ‘basic’ white space scheduler 

With this method engineers work within a maximum travel radius from a start point and there is overlap between coverage areas. Each engineer has a route optimised utilising a driving time calculation with speeds according to road type. Timeslot options for a new appointment are calculated by the system finding ‘white space’ in the existing diary of suitable engineers and presenting best (lowest cost) choices based on deviation from current route – the job is then inserted into the chosen place in the diary.

Periodically, every few hours or overnight, you run the scheduler which will move jobs between the engineers for better routes and efficiency.

The comparison appointment costs given by this method are inaccurate because they do not consider the overall schedule so you end up ignoring them and just offer up any of the available slots, even if this was 2 hours driving one day or 10 minutes the next. Diaries may appear full which causes a long lead time to attend appointments, but running the scheduler later reveals availability was there all along – too late!


The Good – ‘enhanced’ white space scheduler

The ‘enhanced’ is based on the same principles as the ‘basic’ but smarter. Routes are more accurate using travel times with actual average speeds for each road segment according to the time of day. It is still just looking for white space in the diary but, after the appointment is booked, it will re-optimise this and nearby routes, moving jobs between engineers, ready for the next appointment request. 

Whilst this is more accurate than the ‘basic’ method, the comparison of appointment costs is still incorrect for the same reason. Also, an appointment that is calculated unavailable might actually be available if the ‘real-time’ method was used.


The Best – ‘real-time’ appointment optimiser

This method is truly best-of-breed. The schedule is always optimised with time of day traffic based travel speeds. For an appointment request, the system performs a real-time optimisation for each time slot requested, incorporating all relevant Engineers and jobs. It advises the difference in cost for adding this job into the fully optimised schedule for each available time slot.

To be practical in a customer service environment this must be achieved in seconds, even for high volumes, which is why there are few vendors able to offer this.

This is the only method that enables your customer service team (or self-service portal) to correctly offer and guide customers to pick the most cost effective time slot choices – resulting in mileage reduction and time for more jobs.

The real-time optimisation will also reveal time slots are available when all other methods would say the diary is full - reducing the average time to attend an appointment.

With this approach, you always know the planned schedule is accurate ready for last mile delivery - your Engineers will be happy with the plan and you are less likely to have challenges during the day of service or let customers down. Planners can be reassigned to customer service roles and  Managers can instead focus on quality of service.

The benefits of a ‘real-time’ appointment optimiser for your last mile service delivery are clear and we at FLS are so confident that we offer to facilitate you to prove this in live operation before commitment.


Customer proof

As Richard Wilson, IT Director HomeServe Boiler Installations comments, “We wanted a more dynamic tool, one that could continuously optimise, looking at every appointment and every field worker collectively and scheduling everything in the most optimal way.”

And the results - “FLS has enabled us to get to our appointments 25% quicker than we were. It’s really highlighted how efficient your scheduling can be when intelligent software does it for you. We see FLS as a growth facilitator. The efficiency gains are such that we’re now in a position to scale up”