5 Keys to Aligning Conflicting Service Stakeholder Interests

A conflict of interest doesn’t just afflict shady politicians. It’s a daily fact of business operations— even among teams aligned to the same goals. Whether your company delivers field service or custom-made golf clubs, you will find someone is fighting this age-old battle: increasing investment versus reducing costs. Every area of your organization can have the best intentions for the business and customers, and can still find themselves at odds.

To Save or To Spend?

Productivity and efficiency methodologies compete for gospel status among various schools of thought, because every penny wasted is subtracted from your bottom line. You have an obligation to all stakeholders to keep operational or production costs low. Your investors deserve a maximum return on their funds. Your business should be cash positive enough to compensate employees fairly and consistently. And costs that are reasonable keep customers from paying high prices. But cost reduction can become an obsessive pursuit that, taken to extremes, could hurt business growth and customer satisfaction.

Cost-reduction agendas inevitably clash with substantial investment. Growing your business— be it through scaling up your workforce or extending your product line— requires investment. Customer satisfaction is not only non-negotiable in competitive markets. It’s also an accurate predictor of share price. Meeting changing customer expectations and adhering to service level agreements (SLAs) means you can’t get by with the bare minimum workforce with the bare minimum qualifications. You get what you pay for.

Quality customer experiences and exceptional service require the right people, processes, and technology to support their delivery. They’re essential for a thriving service business, and provide tremendous returns on a smart investment.

5 Ways to Balance Conflicting Interests

When competing interests bring your business to an impasse, everyone loses. Use these five tips to guide your teams towards the right balance between supporting efficiency and growth.

  1. To develop policies and process that satisfy the most critical business and operational needs, your stakeholders need insight into both the long-term, big-picture aspects of field service, as well as the short-term concerns, balancing strategic and tactical requirements.
  1. Identify the non-negotiable constraints (defined by rules or SLAs) as well as areas with more flexibility. Avoid being reactive by anticipating scenarios where those non-negotiables must be more flexible, and define the criteria and process for bending the rules.
  1. Create multiple policies where more granularity is required, and flexible policies that accommodate more scenarios.
  1. Never stop measuring. Your service policies are living, evolving entities that must adjust to reflect the changing business constraints and goals.
  1. The right technology is critical to solving field service problems. But define your needs and processes clearly before seeking specific technology solutions.

Cost-reduction agendas must be balanced with intended customer service levels, growth desires, and ultimately, the intended corporate brand. Balancing the objectives and key performance indicators (KPIs) of various stakeholders is challenging, but a necessary process for maximizing the value of each decision around field service management.

4 Ways to Integrate Parts Management into Field Service Delivery

To deliver top-quality service to customers, technicians must be fully equipped for a first-time fix. According to a recent Aberdeen report, the top reason for customer dissatisfaction in field service is that the technician did not resolve the issue the first time. Imagine how upset your customers will be when they learn their tech can’t fix their issue because a part is missing (the top reason for a failed service visit). The customer already scheduled around their life to fit in this service appointment, and probably won't be happy about scheduling another one.

At some jobs, there's no such thing as a repeat visit because the service operation doesn't have the option to wait. Capital equipment manufacturers, for instance, produce products that are fundamental to their customers' business, such as medical equipment or ATMs. If a spare part is missing, it will have to be "hotshot," or delivered by a special courier to the site as soon as possible. This type of delivery can be costly, especially if the location is remote and needs to be transported via plane, helicopter, or boat. 

The careful planning of spare parts and usage is critical to the success of a service visit, as it directly impacts service costs and customer satisfaction. It’s another addition to your long list of things to keep track of daily (i.e. techs, fleets, and schedules), but there’s technology and processes to make it manageable.

Here are four best practices to help manage your supply chain:

1. Track parts as well as you track your techs and fleets

Field service organizations should consider both the service professional and parts when committing, scheduling, and managing work. Because without a fully equipped technician, it’s impossible to complete a job, or sometimes even start it.

According to a study by Aberdeen, capital equipment manufacturers maintain a higher than average first time-fix rate. And part of this is because they are 41% more likely than other verticals to monitor the condition of their parts, and 25% more likely track assets in the field.

Utilize systems with smarter technology such has artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) to capture and process all parts related data. These technologies can analyze data such as usage, and determine when a specific part is needed for a job.

Likewise, use mobile technology to enable real-time tracking of parts and full visibility into the inventory. Techs can scan all details about an asset (e.g. age, model, specifications) from the field via a barcode, or by taking a picture and using image recognition. This information can be sent back to the office immediately, so someone can determine whether to replenish the inventory or reschedule an appointment.

For instance, when a cable box is installed, the tech can scan the device after installation and update the inventory in real-time. Those back at the office can keep track of the number of cable boxes and replenish the supply before the tech runs out. Likewise, the dispatch team can reschedule an appointment if the supply is running low.

2. Manage parts tracking in your existing FSM system

If you're already managing scheduling and dispatch in your field service management system (FSM), it might be smart to build parts management into the same system. This way, you can manage tasks, schedules, and parts all in a single accessible source.

If you use AI-driven technology, you can automate your supply chain just as you can automate scheduling. The AI can process parts usage data and predict the necessary parts for a job. It can also assign parts to a technician as they are scheduled. And it can make sure the parts aren't already assigned to someone else. 

If you can ensure that service tasks aren't scheduled prior to collecting the necessary parts, it will minimize the need for cancellations or ad-hoc trips later. 

3. Set convenient drop-off points for spare parts

Even with intelligent technology on your side, there will be times when a technician will need a part. To minimize travel when additional parts are needed, use warehouses or drop-off points for easy pickup.

Amazon uses this method to ensure their two-day Prime delivery. Instead of shipping from a single location, they have networks of distribution warehouses. That way they can ensure a quick delivery from any location. They even have locker drop-offs scattered so customers can pick up packages more locally.

Your drop off spots can be gas stations, roadside mini-marts, or storage facilities in the customer's neighborhoods. Scatter them in the proximity of the customer site so a tech can pick up equipment easily. Instead of delaying service, they can pick up spare parts before visiting the customer site.

4. Enable easy communication among techs

Imagine one of your customers has already been without a refrigerator for two days. A tech finally arrives to fix the problem, but the spare part he had was faulty. The customer's not going to be happy to reschedule again, especially since they they'll need to figure out a way to keep their food fresh and stocked. 

But with some communication, this problem could be fixed without another visit. Perhaps there's a nearby tech with the part on hand. That would save a lot of hassle.

Mobile technology makes it easier for techs to communicate with each other. They can interact in the field with up-to-the-minute data feeds showing their colleagues' parts stock levels. If someone needs a part, they can broadcast it to their peers instantly. That way if a tech nearby has the part needed, they can meet up for an exchange with minimal disruption.

A technician without the right parts is not very useful to your customers. If you can manage your resources more effectively, you can get more jobs done the first time. This will keep your customers happy without costing your organization more money and resources.

For more advice on field service management, visit the Field Service Matters homepage.