Decision Training: The Secret Weapon for Dispatch

“It is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.”

—Tony Robbins, Bestselling Author & Speaker

Let’s say you’re shopping for granite countertops. You find a stone slab you love, you schedule an appointment to have your home measured, and finalize your installation date. You wait with bated breath, imagining how beautiful your brand new countertops will look.

The day before your installation, you get an email that says you’ve been rescheduled. The problem is, you took the day off work. You planned to have your plumber come out right after the counters were in. Now your tile backsplash can’t go up next week. Your entire kitchen remodel is a few weeks behind. How are you feeling about your stone provider? Not great.

A dozen dispatch decisions could have led to this single poor customer experience. Maybe the scheduling and dispatch manager forgot to log the date electronically, or decided another (larger) customer was more important on that day. The point of the story is the decision-making power of a single dispatch professional has the power to jeopardize relationships with customers.

That’s why a solid dispatch team with advanced field service scheduling skills is an integral component to the success or failure of any field operation. But what sets the good and the bad professionals apart? What qualities must dispatch managers have to succeed in an era of sky-high customer expectations?

Quick thinking, a positive attitude, shift management skills, a keen understanding of service techs, and coffee are all important components of dispatch manager’s lives. But just as our story above illustrates, there’s one thing that matters more than any of these skills: decision-making.

The secret weapon to becoming an insanely good dispatch manager lies in your ability to make solid decisions in real-time.

Dispatch decisions are the bedrock of efficient service and high customer satisfaction. Making the right decision at the right moment can make or break a technician’s day (or week), and result in customers gained or customers lost. After all, there are hundreds of granite companies to choose from.

The following decision training exercises will get your dispatch team prepared to make the right decisions while under pressure. Shall we begin?

1. Use the WRAP Framework

In their 2013 book, “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work,” Dan and Chip Heath laid a foundation for decision-making using the WRAP methodology, with each letter representing a step in the process. Here’s how it works:

Widen your options

First and foremost, dispatch managers should always seek to come up with as many options as possible. When an angry customer calls, or a technician gets overworked, start by developing alternative scenarios. Widening your options is the first step towards a fast resolution.

Reality-test your assumptions

Your dispatch experience has likely uncovered patterns in technician behavior, time to customer resolution, and more. Abandon your past experience by taking a deeper dive into the data. What do your top tech’s numbers really look like? What is your software telling you? No matter your service situation, try to build a comprehensive picture of reality instead of taking your assumptions at face value.

Attain distance before deciding

Once you have your options laid out and data to back decisions up—it’s time to step away for five minutes. Get a cup of coffee. Walk around the block. If a big decision is hanging over your head, you need distance from it.

Prepare to be wrong

Once you have decided the best path toward resolution, assume you have missed something. Even with all your blood, sweat, and tears poured into resolving customer and technician problems, someone is going to be upset. And that’s okay. Preparing to be wrong is about accepting that perfect is impossible. You simply won’t survive (mentally) in dispatch management without accepting that some things will go askew from time to time.

2. Practice Deciding Which Script to Follow

It’s easy to get flustered in dispatch management while interacting with customers. But the words you choose in every scenario can make or break the customer relationship. For example, with just a single word discrepancy, “how can I help you?” and “can I help you?” could come across drastically different from the customer perspective.

Try developing a bank of situation-based scripts or phrases. Then, train your dispatch team to use these phrases by putting them through mock service calls, in which customers express various frustrations.

Here are a few challenging scenarios and positive phrases to try in each:

Scenario 1: When you don’t have an answer

Statement 1: That’s a great question. I’ll need to connect with my supervisor to get an answer. Can we talk tomorrow morning when I have more information for you?”

Not having an immediate answer or resolution for a customer is tricky. Bottom line, it’s going to happen. It’s important that you verbalize you don’t have an immediate answer, but equally important that you do not waver. Saying “maybe,” or “I am not sure,” or “that’s a tough question” signals a lack of confidence to the customer. Keep it simple. Let them know you’ll get them a resolution.

Scenario 2: When a customer asks for something you can’t provide

Statement 2: “As much as we would love to be able to help with that, we simply can’t. Have you considered trying [or contacting] the following?”

Sometimes customers demand services that you’re not capable of fulfilling. It’s essential at those time to provide options, but signal clearly that you are unable to fulfill the request. Never promise to do something you can’t. This will end in frustrated customers.

Scenario 3: Ending a conversation

Statement 3: “Is there anything else I can do? I am happy to help.”

Some customers don’t like to express negative feelings. This means you’ll simply never know if a customer is walking away when you end a service call. To combat this, ensure you wrap up each conversation up in a positive manner. Keep the door open for another call, or another service you can provide.

In the end, honing your decision-making skills will take time. Stick with it, stay positive, and be confident that your improved decision making is going to positively impact both your customers’ and your field technicians’ daily lives.

For more advice on scheduling, dispatch, and the future of field service, head to the Field Service Matters homepage.

How to Make 3 Simple Route Optimization Theories a Reality

According to Aberdeen, average technician idle time was as high as 40% just a few short years ago. That means 3.2 hours of every technician’s day was wasted. The path to lowering these appalling technician idle times lies in route optimization.

Fleet and dispatch management are likely the largest driver of overall service costs. That’s why reducing idle time, improving productivity, and optimizing routes are all essential components in a thriving and profitable field service organization.

There are dozens of fleet management theories, and plenty of service scheduling hacks to try. Advanced territory management, fleet pooling, always-on, and predictive methodologies all offer fruitful results for highly specific service scenarios. But no matter how fancy your route optimization solution is, it must work in theory and reality. Here are three ways to make your route optimization tactics come to life.

1. Achieve Efficiency by Sending the Tech Most Suited to the Task

Our first route optimization tip is the most obvious. By sending the right tech to the right job, you’ll immediately improve your job completion ratio. While route optimization software can help you greatly improve driver and job efficiency, it won’t evaluate your field tech’s skills and match them up with the right job. At least, not yet. Here’s how you can make this happen:

Categorize Customer Visit Types

Depending on your area of service expertise, you likely perform a handful of job types. Develop layers of specificity within your customer visit types, and ensure techs are logging these job types electronically and accurately with each visit.

Log Success Metrics

As your techs begin logging job types (e.g. furnace repair, surveying property for HVAC install) develop success metrics that can be tied to each of these visit types. This layer of complexity will help you determine which tech should go where.

Map Technician Skills

Look at your customer visit types and the success metrics tied to each. Then, map your technicians to the job types they are most successful at.

As you develop a route optimization strategy, use the data above to send the right tech, to the right task. Whether you’re implementing optimization software, or doing it manually – sending your techs most suited to the task will make your efficiency dreams a reality.

2. Simplify Routes by Leveraging Radius Maps

The best route optimization strategies are rooted in one simple fact: there’s a limit to the ground any one technician can cover. That’s why getting a handle on your various tech’s optimal territory size is so essential. In addition, understanding your customer base geographically – and mapping that back to your ideal technician territory map – will ensure long-term route simplification.

So wait, what’s a radius map?

Radius Map Defined

Radius maps provide a simple visual representation of customer density and optimal field technician travel capabilities. Radius maps combine technician location data and customer location data to create a circular visualization (and circular territory) for any given technician (or technicians).

How to create a radius map and territory assignments:

Manual Radius Map

For small to mid-size field service organizations, using manual radius maps can be a good way to get a handle on your technician’s optimal routes. Start by logging all of your known customer locations. Then, compare this to your technician’s home (or start) locations. Compare the average number of service visits your techs can achieve in a day to the average distance they travel between service visits. Finally, seek to significantly reduce the distance between service visits by limiting their territory size.

Software-driven Radius Map

Route optimization and field service management software can offer real-time insights to help you improve your tech’s overall utilization. Seek a software that allows you to field real-time technician location data and adjust assignments accordingly.

3. Streamline Routes by Utilizing Reports & Alerts

Field service mobility and consistent technician data are essential precursors to making the most of reports and alerts. You simply can’t report on technician activity if there’s no data from the field.

This means achieving a weekly reporting cadence requires ensuring driver adoption of your automation tools. Not using automation tools? That’s okay. There are still ways to collect data from the field, even if you’re not utilizing software.

Reports without Software

To gain consistency in reporting, you’ll need to ensure your techs are logging all the essential information while in the field. Whether hard copy, excel, or mobile-based – set up specific processes for techs to follow when it comes to reporting their numbers. Compile and run field-based reports on a weekly basis. Consider tracking job completion ratios, total job completions per technician, average idle time per technician, and average service visits necessary for job completion.

Reports with Software

Many route optimization software options will automatically track the metrics listed above. But it’s what you do with the data that counts. Consider using real-time alerts to keep your dispatch team abreast of changes in the field. Seek to use this data to improve route efficiency, and keep techs on the job, instead of in transit.

Streamlining your field service routes will take time and dedication. Whether you are running advanced route optimization software, or simply relying on technicians to develop their own route strategies, equipping your field force with knowledge is what will bring route optimization to life.

For more advice on route optimization and gaining field force efficiency, check out our post on service scheduling hacks.

Why Predictive Travel Brings More Value to Field Service

Humans can’t predict the future. That’s why even the most fleshed-out dispatch schedule doesn’t always work out. It’s often the expected but unpredictable issues, such as traffic and severe weather conditions, that slow down field service.

Fortunately, there’s technology that can make predictions for us. Predictive-travel uses historical time-of-day and day-of week traffic data to estimate future travel times. With more accurate predictions, you can schedule your technicians for the maximum ‘realistic’ jobs per day. And it’s done well in advance of the service day. This makes business more efficient and leaves customers satisfied. Real-time traffic is valuable, but only relevant on the day of service. It’s not relevant when planning several days or weeks ahead.

Perhaps it’s time to trust in artificial intelligence (AI) to do what humans can’t. Use predictive travel to bring more value to field service.

Here’s just three reasons why you should:

1. Reduction in Travel Time & Increase in Fuel Economy

Predictive travel creates the best routes for field technicians, based on the likely traffic patterns. More critically, it determines the best time to schedule jobs based on travel predictions.

This reduces both travel time and miles traveled. And less mileage means less fuel used. Just think of the money you’ll save on fuel alone with an optimized route.

Travel Time Reduction & Fuel Economy Increase in Los Angeles Study, With and Without Traffic Information

(Source: Fastest Route Guidance Systems, NISSAN Motor Systems  2011, http://www.nissan-global.com/EN/TECHNOLOGY/OVERVIEW/drgs.html)

Studies show that predictive travel improves these factors better than other methods. For instance, Nissan Motor Systems studied data from driving in Los Angeles, California. It compared drivers with no updated traffic information to drivers who had the historical and real-time information available. Travel time was reduced by over 16 percent, while fuel economy increased about eight percent.

So why spend time and money that you don’t have to?

2. Greater Workforce Efficiency

Now think of the affect that a reduction in travel time has on other aspects of field service. Time saved from travel to one location means more travel time to another. Now you can reduce time spent not working by putting your technicians on more jobs per day.

Likewise, artificial intelligence (AI) can prioritize jobs based on predictions and boost scheduling optimization. Let’s say your AI predicts heavy traffic one morning on the way to a job. Meanwhile you have other tasks to complete closer by. Instead of waiting in heavy traffic to get to a site, your AI can prioritize one of your other tasks. It can then schedule the other job to another field service professional later in the day when traffic eases up.

Now the workforce runs more efficiently. Field technicians arrive at the job site faster, leaving more time to get to the next one. Likewise, businesses avoid downtime by scheduling jobs in time that would be spent traveling. This may eventually lead to real budget impacts, scaling the business without having to hire more field employees.

3. More Accurate Than Other Methods

Right now, predictive travel provides greater overall accuracy than other methods, including historical and real-time.

Last year the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) conducted a study based on Singapore’s city areas and highway networks. In comparing travel time calculation, the study found predictive travel offered the lowest percent of error for travel times over historical and real-time methods.

Predictive Travel Method Has Smallest Error % vs. Historical & Real-Time in Singapore:
Error % by Method


(Source: Travel Time Estimation Using Speed Predictions, MIT 2015, Narayanan, Mitrovic, Tayyab Asif, Dauwels, Jaillet, http://web.mit.edu/jaillet/www/general/ITSC2015-travel-time.pdf )

Luckily, this is not a zero-sum game. You don’t need to choose one method for travel time and route calculation. Predictive travel offers the best forward-looking view of what is most likely to occur. That said, when scheduling work in advance, predictive travel is the most relevant. And it will enable the most optimized schedule. But there’s no substitute for real-time traffic on the day of service.

5 Ways Mobility Empowers Field Supervisors

Field supervisors do not have easy jobs. They’re trainers, mentors, time keepers, and paperwork shufflers. They must have stellar communication, interpersonal and computer skills—all on top of being the first class technical experts in their field. Of all the demands made on them, the trickiest obstacle they face in performing their jobs well is balancing in-office tasks and field work. How do they manage?

Mobile technology seems to be the answer. However, and ironically enough, mobile technology hasn’t reduced those obstacles in the least bit. Instead, the opposite has occurred—mobile devices have increased everyone’s expectations and standards of what constitutes quality customer service and how much technology adds to the bottom line. Clients are more demanding and internal stakeholders require more aggressive cost management of field tech labor.

While mobility offers the potential for field supervisors to manage their teams more efficiently and cost-effectively, it will stay just that unless companies take the right approach when implementing mobile tools and work processes. If you don’t, you’ve just made things more complicated and frustrating. Your field supervisors work too hard to deserve that. Keeping that in mind, here are 5 ways that mobility empowers field supervisors.

Figuring out who does what

Figuring out who is qualified to do what is a huge part of scheduling and getting it right can make or break a company. If you send a field tech without the technical qualifications handle a given service appointment for a customer, the result is disappointment across the board. The field tech can’t work and the customer doesn’t have their problem resolved. This is a bottleneck that needs to be prevents at all costs.

Field supervisors also are a sort of bottleneck due to the sheer volume of office and field tasks he needs to get done. In addition, the field supervisor has to split his attention between the bigger picture and immediate tasks at hand. Mobility can solve this by having the scheduling system easily and accurately serve up the information he needs—no matter where he is—to make the right decisions in prioritizing his attention. This is where the real-time, mobile updates are so critical.

With mobile technology, a supervisor can find another tech to handle an appointment for another technician who is delayed, find out what the issue is and even decide whether to give a third technician his requested vacation—all from one device and while in the field!

Having the right tools for the job

When doing a job properly, it’s all about the tools. You can have the best oven technician in the world, but if you give him a poorly-made set of screwdrivers, he’s not getting any work done.

With regard to mobility, not all systems are equal. A scheduling system that can send out an alert to a field supervisor that a field tech has been double-booked isn’t much help if it also doesn’t provide the field supervisor with the ability to handle the issue. According to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis on mobile deployments, implementing the right mobile tools and approach to field operations improved productivity 20 to 30 percent. It also was found to decrease the time needed for field between five and seven percent, which translated into saving millions of dollars each year. To do that, the right mobile tool has to meet two more criteria:

  • The speed and robustness to provide real time data. Field supervisors can only complete managerial and paperwork tasks remotely with reliable, up-to-the-second data. The opposite is also true: He can only control field operations from the office if he can see what’s happening in the field. Accurate, real time information gives the field supervisor visibility into what’s happening on the ground. He can see that a field tech isn’t where the schedule says he should be and can contact that field tech immediately.
  • It has to be easy to learn and easy to use. One of the main reasons new software rollouts fail is lack of adoption by the end client. Both field supervisors and technicians need their mobile apps to work or they won’t use them. Or won’t use them well enough for the company to gain any of the supposed benefits of a mobile system.

Accessibility everywhere and anywhere

This is the “golden egg” of mobility—the ability to access information so decisions can be made at any given moment. A speedy, full-function mobile app empowers the field supervisor in two major ways:

  1. The distinction between “field” and “office” tasks disappears; location no longer restricts what the field supervisor can do.
  2. Because location no longer constricts the field supervisor, the field supervisor is no longer the bottleneck preventing other people from completing their tasks efficiently.

That vacation request? Approved by the field supervisor on his mobile device, which updates the system in real time so the schedulers back at the office are aware of the change in capacity for that day. If an emergency service request comes into the office, the mobile field supervisor sees it, and can assign it to a tech already nearby. Now the customer gets same day service, and your company gets maximum utilization out of a field tech who isn’t left idle during his day.

Who gains the most from field supervisors being mobile?

There are numerous stakeholders relying on field supervisors being able to the demands on their time. However, the most important beneficiary is always the customer. And who is the lynchpin between the field supervisor and the customer—the field tech.

By erasing the boundary between office and field tasks, the field supervisor can do his most important task – training and mentoring the field techs. Whether it’s more time side by side with a field tech on a call, or being available to answer questions via text or chat, your field supervisor can better serve his techs once freed from his desk. Field techs can use the camera on their mobile devices to show the field supervisor what they see.

When the field supervisor has more time to train and mentor the field techs, you get happier, more qualified field techs. As their skills grow, they are able to complete more tasks and this increases the field utilization potential without increasing labor. Best of all, your field supervisors can spend more time mentoring field techs without falling behind on the operational and managerial tasks the back-end stakeholders rely on.

Fast Pace and High Pressure Make Mobility the Release Valve

Empowering field supervisors via mobility so they can carry out their responsibilities regardless of location means they need the ability to monitor and act in real time. When field supervisors don’t have to choose between sitting at a desk or being in the field, they can more efficiently complete all their responsibilities, as well as allocate their time and energy where it provides the highest return: mentoring and assisting field technicians to deliver quality customer service.

Writing the Book on Field Service Management

Once you’ve reached the management level or higher in your career, it doesn’t matter what business you’re in: you realize that your business education is never really over. In order to get better, and to stay competitive in your field, you have to develop your own experience, learn from your peers, and follow the research, thought leadership, and new ideas that crop up each year. As long as you have the time, it’s not hard to find a book on any business topic to either expand or augment your knowledge. Or so one would assume.

When trying to compile a resource library for managers of field service operations and professionals, you won’t find as many titles as you might in accounting, programming, or even project management. This is certainly not due to a lack of interest, or available knowledge. Writing THE field service book is an ambitious undertaking—and no doubt a time consuming project. While discussing this with my colleagues at ClickSoftware, we thought about how to provide something that could bring immediate value to people in field service operations, and how quickly it could be done.

The idea became Service Is Hard, the new book I co-authored with fellow ClickSoftware colleagues Alec Berry and Stephen Smith, which is now available to the general public.

Without taking on all of the knowledge that has amassed around field service operations over the years, we instead chose to focus on the most pressing, timely, and addressable challenges in field service management. Service Is Hard is a handbook for dealing with those challenges by examining their underlying causes, their inherent risks, and approaches for resolving them. From addressing “right now” customer expectations to finding value in the Internet of Things, each chapter stands alone with expert and experience-driven insights you can apply in your work today.

To learn more, start with this 4-part series on field service challenges, featured on the ClickSoftware blog, or order your copy of the book today.