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Field service: How to achieve more with less

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Meeting customer demands and achieving cost goals; it’s a difficult balance. 

Businesses are struggling to fully deliver on their vision for field service excellence, discovered Trimble in a recent study, The Road Ahead: The Future of Field Service Delivery amongst directors and senior managers operating large field-based work forces in the UK. This is due to economic restraints putting pressure on internal resources: only some 48 per cent of respondents were on target to achieving their annual business goals.

Field service management systems have come to the fore as enablers to help streamline business processes to improve workforce productivity and customer satisfaction, without the need to increase the size of a field-based workforce. However, there is often a lack of understanding of the capabilities and huge cost savings these technologies can deliver.

Tackling the budget black cloud

Budget availability emerged as being a major barrier to achieving field service excellence for around one quarter of the Road Ahead report respondents: 27 per cent said the board is fully committed, but lack of budget meant they could not follow through on their planned vision. Indeed, only 18 per cent of those surveyed currently possess fully automated scheduling, dispatch and mobility tools. The majority are operating partly-manual, partly-automated systems, integrating a diverse mix of often incompatible legacy systems.

However, investing more can significantly reduce costs in the long run. Field Service Management solutions have emerged as powerful tools. Interestingly, those field service organisations that operate fleet management say they recoup the benefits, with a more efficient workforce, reduced insurance costs and improved working practices, all factors which can lead to a rapid ROI (Return on Investment). 

The capabilities of modern field service management solutions can improve a company’s productivity and level of service by enabling every aspect of a mobile operation to be identified, measured, and analysed. Efficiency is increased by completing more tasks per day with the same workforce. A boost in customer satisfaction and retention can be achieved through greater appointment flexibility. The technology also helps boost customer satisfaction by enabling better communication, answering more customer service calls per day and mitigating return visits by getting the right worker to the right job at the right time.

As a result of the insight delivered, businesses can start to reduce direct expenses such as fuel costs by optimising route planning, improving operational efficiencies and driving revenue generation through top quality customer service and maximum flexibility.

Minimise the impact of fuel price hikes

The Road Ahead report revealed that rising fuel prices have become the number one concern in meeting field service priorities and is a major contributor to budgetary concerns.

However, although fuel costs may be beyond the control of fleet managers, consumption is not. Once deployed, fleet management technology can decrease a business’ fuel costs by reducing unauthorised vehicle use, curbing excessive speeding and lowering vehicle idling times by 50 to 90 per cent. By improving vehicle maintenance scheduling and monitoring a vehicle’s performance fleet management solutions can also help businesses reduce the amount of fuel used by their fleet, and increase the amount of time vehicles are in productive use.

It is worth noting that fuel utilisation can vary significantly between drivers due to driving style and also the health of the vehicle; you cannot manage what you cannot measure. For this reason, fuel data use per individual vehicle can be of significant value to managers, rather than the overall fuel use of a fleet.

Address customer service priorities whilst boosting productivity

Trimble’s Road Ahead report revealed that, above all, achieving customer satisfaction is the number one priority for field services and 60 per cent felt that this will need to be achieved with fewer resources. The vast majority of respondents (80 per cent) find that customers are more demanding than five years ago, and in terms of deliverables, meeting those challenging consumer expectations is an area businesses must concentrate on to truly excel.

Effective delivery is critical to a positive service experience. A staggering 81 per cent of respondents placed a high priority on offering acceptable appointment slots, as they recognise the busy consumers of today want more certainty from their suppliers.

Building a relationship with a customer, making a promise and delivering on it will allow for a happier customer base but achieving this can exponentially affect costs in terms of resource allocation, something many businesses are struggling to control. Managers can tackle this by optimising scheduling to ensure customers are offered acceptable appointment slots, which are met and attended to by qualified and prepared staff.

Mark Forrest is general manager at Trimble Field Service Management.

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