Augmenting the First-Hand Knowledge of the Territories Your Field Technicians Support through Advanced Route Management Technologies
Bill Pollock, President Strategies for GrowthSM outlines the importance of advanced route management for field service engineers and sks is this the responsibility of the engineer, the company or both?
Every day, your field technicians travel the highways and the side streets, they fight the rush-hour and lunchtime traffic, and they avoid both the posted and non-posted detours to get to their customers’ sites. They have made customer calls to offices once located in the middle of nowhere, that are now located in the middle of busy shopping districts; and they have driven miles to get to locations for which there are now easy-on/easy-off highway interchanges that put them instantly right where they want to be.
Your field techs probably already know as much about the geographic areas they cover as any taxi or Uber driver in the city. This is an extremely valuable resource that does not replace, but certainly augments, any GPS-mapping functionality that may be incorporated into your company’s field services operations. The key question is, "How can you best leverage this first-hand knowledge of the territories they support into an effective means for improving your overall ability to support the organisation’s customers?” And what new technologies, or tools, are available to augment this knowledge?
Every field technician has his or her own "tricks of the trade" for dealing with “getting from point A to point B". Sometimes, it is nothing more than knowing the right shortcuts and through routes for getting from one customer site to another; and other times it is simply a matter of knowing which restaurants along the way can provide them with a quick – but wholesome – meal when they're starting to run slightly behind.
"What is important, however, is that they [field service engineers] are able to leverage all of the resources at their disposal to empower themselves to make intelligent decision..."
Knowing their territories does not only mean knowing the highways; it also means knowing what is located alongside the highways, including everything from rest stops, office supply stores, fax and copy centers, drug stores, supermarkets, and any other types of facilities that provide the products and services they may require as they're making their daily calls.
The proliferation of cell phones and tablets has made all of our lives quite a bit easier; but especially for those of us who are regularly on the road. However, cell phones have little value if they are not used every time the situation warrants. For example, if the field tech has a service call scheduled for 2:00 pm; it’s 1:45, and they believe they’re about half-an-hour away, this would represent a perfect time to make a quick call to the customer to let them know that they’re running a bit late, and that they will be there shortly.
Whether they know the territory so well that they can judge how long it will take to get through traffic, detours, or bad weather; or whether they know which local radio stations to listen to for the most up-to-date and accurate traffic reports, is irrelevant. What is important, however, is that they are able to leverage all of the resources at their disposal to empower themselves to make intelligent decisions, and that they pass on that "intelligence" to their customers in the form of pre-arrival alerts, notifications, warnings, or other types of "heads-up" calls. But, sometimes, they may need extra help!
"It may be arguable as to whether route management is the field technician’s responsibility, the responsibility of the company in supporting them in the field, or both..."
In some cases, it may be arguable as to whether route management is the field technician’s responsibility, the responsibility of the company in supporting them in the field, or both. What is inarguable, however, is that route management is also a critical component of any service organisation’s call handling and management function – and that all parties – including the field technicians – have something to contribute directly to the process.
Your organisation probably utilises route management applications primarily for the purpose of achieving improved scheduling of service calls. However, the total package of benefits is quite wide ranging, and typically results in the following outcomes:
- Increased number of service calls per route/per day
- Improved field technician utilisation and productivity
- Quicker and more responsive service delivery
- Increased profitability per route/per field technician
- More satisfied customers
Through the effective use of route management, the organisation can ultimately save a great deal of time and money by routing and scheduling its field technicians more efficiently. But merely analysing and assessing route management from an internal operations or IT center, in and of itself, will not totally do the job. From time to time, the field technicians may also need to be called on to contribute some of their first-hand territory information to the organisation's general model or, if they are not, they should be prepared to proactively contribute any information that they think may ultimately be of value with respect to their territory.
Most route management models are extremely sophisticated, relying on GPS mapping functionality and a variety of mathematical algorithms to select the most efficient routes between two or more points. They may also provide field techs with real-time maps and recommended travel route printouts, or they may be displayable on screens embedded either in their vehicle’s dashboard and/or their handhelds; but they may end up being totally worthless in any given situation if they do not take into account the most current and accurate traffic-related data. This is where advanced tools come into play, for, otherwise, it will rest primarily on the shoulders of the field technicians’ particular expertise in their own territories that can serve to elevate a good route management system to a great one.
In addition to travel optimisation, route management models are also relied upon to improve a service technician’s efficiency in the field by allowing them to electronically:
- Log in service call activity reports
- Place orders for parts
- Collect an electronic signature and close out the call
- Generate customer invoices
- Print customer receipts
- Enter updated customer information
The benefits of route management are also multi-fold, typically including:
- More effective scheduling of service calls and appointments
- The elimination of manual data entry and paperwork
- Reduced data entry errors (i.e., through the use of barcode scanning, etc.)
- Improved cash flow resulting from real-time, point-of-service billing
- Shortened time windows for customers
- Reduced mileage and fuel costs
- Reduced overtime hour requirements
- Improved time efficiency in the field
An efficient route management system can make a good services organisation even better. And, the organisation’s field technicians should learn to rely on it when they can, suggest improvements to it when they are able, and use it as a tool for making both themselves and their customers happy.
Knowing their territories is important; however the ability to apply that knowledge is what will ultimately differentiate your field technicians from those who cannot. It is a safe bet that by applying this knowledge effectively, augmented by the new technologies and tools that are currently available, they can avoid many cases of unnecessarily keeping their customers “hanging”, while increasing their ability to complete their calls more productively.
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