Today I want to concentrate on the subject of scheduling, which I find very interesting as there are a number of complex factors involved.
Imagine for a moment that you had 20 service vehicles, and your average service call lasted one hour. That is an incredible 3,520 one hour slots available in a month based on an 8 hour day. When you just factor into this equation travel time this 3,520 could be halved if travel time is thirty minutes each side of every call.
Add another level of complexity to this model where not all service technicians are qualified to work on all jobs, and where spare parts are not uniformly distributed to all vehicles and it is unlikely that all 20 vehicles will be on the road and staffed each and every day.
This is then the starting point for scheduling. As a business owner or manager, your primary role is to keep these technicians busy for as many hours as possible in the day, as well as maintaining a level of customer service that is within your service level agreements.
Managing leave, repairs to the vehicles, urgent issues requiring instant responses, on-boarding new staff, time overruns, unexpected technical difficulties on site, problems with site access and catering for rush hour traffic are some of the additional elements that can contribute to the complexity of scheduling. Couple all of this with the necessity to create invoices or take payments from customers which is commonplace in certain industries and you have quite a lot on your hands.
So how does this all work in practice?
It all starts with a case in Microsoft Dynamics CRM, where a record is created based on an incoming call, e-mail or other communication and where a decision is made to create a Work Order to send out a field service technician. The case will identify the “Who”, “What” and “Where”. Who are we dealing with? What is the problem? And where will someone have to go to undertake the necessary service?
Once the Work Order is created the system is able to schedule a field service technician and vehicle, based on the “who, what and where” associated with some rules and parameters. The rules engine needs to determine what skills, equipment and spare parts are required, which vehicles and technicians are available based on thier current or future location, urgency or status of job, the SLA agreed with the specific customer, distance from previous calls and how long the call is expected to take etc.
The customer service representative should then be presented with a range of this information with different date and time options which may be suitable for the customer. Once a date and time is agreed the CSR can schedule the call, which then becomes fixed data to be used in further scheduling.
It’s all very well having a system that automatically can create scheduled calls, however the call time still needs to be convenient for the customer. For example if you have booked Bob from 08h00 to 09h00 in the city centre he will probably be available from 09h30 if there is another call from the same area, this can be used in the dialogue with the customer at that time. “We have someone available from 09h30, would that be suitable?”
Emergencies and urgent calls are a fact of life for anyone in the service industry and “Things Happen” which just have to be dealt with. This means that flexibility is key in the world of scheduling. Often for example, when the technician arrives on site, the customer is not there, has had to go out and has not let you know. That call is dead time, especially if the technician is booked for a follow up call an hour or so later.
When a call is cancelled or there is a no-show, the system needs to allow you to reschedule that call and reschedule the whole day if necessary. If this can be done effectively, then there is the opportunity to win back the lost time.
These broken appointments can be mitigated once the booking is made by judicious use of automated messaging from the system, one message sent the day before “Our technician is due to see you at 08h00 tomorrow” and one on the day, confirming that the technician is on their way.
And then there is the whole subject of time recording, billing for time and materials, invoicing etc. These are often additional work items that the service technician is meant to undertake at the conclusion of the call. Good mobile systems are required to ensure that this does not become an onerous task.
There are still companies out there who undertake this form of scheduling using a large whiteboards in the office, Microsoft Excel workbooks and manual desk planning sheets.
The return on investment in a scheduling system is relatively easy to calculate: if the system can win back even a small percentage of the travel time by effective route planning this will be visible on the bottom line immediately.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM Field Service certainly goes a long way toward automating these processes and it is evident that having accurate and up to date data is a vital component for scheduling.
In my next post, I will go into some detail about how these rules actually work in Microsoft Dynamics CRM Field Service and discuss some of the practicalities of setting up the system to cater for different scenarios.