By Steve Mason, Vice President, EMEA, ClickSoftware.
If you've ever felt despondent about the way your mobile workforce operates, chances are so have your customers, your colleagues and the field team themselves. Here are five ways to improve the way your mobile operations work.
It won’t come as a tremendous surprise to anyone that the more engaged a business’s employees are, the happier they feel and – ultimately – the more productive they become. And nowhere is this more true than in the service industry, where creating a great customer experience is absolutely vital to securing a positive outcome. It’s one thing to express the desire to create a more fulfilling and engaging working environment but quite another to actually pull it off. Breaking things down into easy-to-understand, simple steps can make it a much more achievable goal.
Let’s not pretend it’s easy to find reporting interesting or rewarding; it simply isn’t that kind of task. When it comes to status reporting for field workers it’s certainly no different. Status reporting is to field workers as sand is to oysters. Irritating, but necessary. Accurate reporting is necessary for safety, productivity and efficiency. Real-time status reporting enables dispatchers to identify exceptions and deviations from the schedule and plan accordingly. By ensuring a constant flow of updates between engineers, dispatchers and managers, the process proceeds more smoothly, and the tracking system enables management to make decisions based on accurate information.
Much like reporting, filling in forms is rarely the highlight of anyone’s day. That's why timesheets and job forms are often left until the end of the day, rather than being dealt with at the time each job was completed. This can increase the risk of forms being filled in inaccurately, meaning information is lost or forgotten, and sometimes jobs stay open for days waiting for paperwork to be completed. Mobility can play a big part in overcoming the barriers to paperwork. Being able to access those forms via a mobile device, engineers can close a job within a few minutes, quickly and easily. Especially if many of the key fields can be prepopulated by information pulled from the company’s back-office systems.
Lunch – the most important meal of the day. Or is that breakfast? What time is lunch anyway? As flippant as remarks like that might sound, there is a point to them. Telling a field operative they can only break for lunch at a fixed point each day flies in the face of what their day is likely to entail. Timings and schedules come under constant pressure and the need to complete a job always out-ranks the notion of lunchtime.
Similarly, a daily schedule that doesn't factor in lunch means that when an engineer stops to eat, he or she will deviate from their schedule, in turn causing missed SLAs and overtime costs. A balance needs to be struck. Lunch breaks should be automatically scheduled at the beginning of the day and be viewed as a floating break that can be moved to fit in with the needs of their schedule, whilst ensuring they get the downtime needed to maintain performance and work safely.
A break from the routine
For the mobile workforce, every day is filled with routines, whether it's when a new task is started or when a task has finished. For example, typically between jobs, a field worker might check traffic, call a customer and fill in job forms.
Even when factored into the day’s overall schedule, these little routines have the potential to mount up and cause a cumulative delay. There is also the added complication that the field engineer might find they don’t have all the necessary information with which to carry out some of these inter-job routines, which will not only cause stress to build, but can induce further delays. Apps that enable these small but important tasks to be completed with a single click of a button (without having to go from screen to screen) save time, streamline processes and help keep the process error free. They can also help to take some of the grind out of the daily grind, too.
We all know that sitting in traffic can be stressful, especially when it impacts job performance and wastes time. From a psychological point of view, feelings of lack of control can give rise to tension and frustration. From a purely practical point of view, it can be a real waste of fuel as well as time. Intelligent scheduling, that takes into account the relative locations of jobs and allows for likely traffic bottlenecks, can reduce travel time by around 20%.
Summarising for success
There is no panacea that will cure all your mobile workforce problems overnight. But if you focus on what should be your constant and primary objective – ensuring your organisation delivers an excellent customer experience – you can make great progress by breaking the necessary steps down into manageable pieces. Technology has done a great deal to advance and improve the work of people in the services industry but it is equally important to remember they are people; your systems should work with them, not against them, and should help them become happier, more engaged and ultimately more productive.