By Mike Karlskind
January 4, 2017Follow
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Mike Karlskind has over 15 years of experience streamlining processes and optimizing decisions for service organizations in a wide variety of industries including computer services, utilities, telecommunications, capital equipment, home services, retail services, insurance, and medical equipment. This includes recommending and implementing streamlined processes, service policies, user roles, programs for change implementation, training courses, and defining user roles for greater productivity. He also wrote "Service is Hard" with Steve Smith and Alec Berry.
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