Field service management

Routing and schedule optimization methods are specific to each business area

Companies that deploy a scheduling application to manage mobile teams do so for one or a combination of four key business areas described below. The specific constraints and priorities that go hand in hand with each activity require scheduling and routing solutions to match, providing the full range of parameters needed, as well as an interface that is up to the mark in terms of accessibility, responsiveness, and scope for integration with third party tools.

1 – Equipment delivery and installation

For this type of business, the pivotal part of the scheduling activity is the taking of appointments with customer. Customers must be able to choose a delivery and/orinstallation timeslot that suits them, either onsite at their store or business premises, or by telephone. The scheduling solution therefore has to offer an appointment making interface that is accessible and easy to use, not just for staff at the point of sale, but also for call centre operators. The mode for making appointments is incremental, so must allow for integration of new requests in sequence as and when they arrive in the overall schedule. Notions of competency and intervention duration must also be handled for intelligent assignment of missions and the overall workability of schedules.

Example: fulfilling orders placed online

An interface dedicated to taking appointments is key to this type of scheduling. For the most part, it is the customer that chooses the appointment directly in his/her personal internet account among a list, or the call centre that will contact customers to arrange an appointment. Operators suggest various possible timeslots, confident – so long as the solution is well-designed – that the solution will only indicate the most suitable timeslots as a function of the customer’s geographic location and schedules that have already been programmed. The solution also has to check the customer’s contact details, and asks them to describe any conditions or restrictions to accessing the premises, registering at the same time the nature of the products concerned by the order so any details necessary to the success of the delivery can be anticipated. Once every eventuality has been considered, the time of the visit is then calculated automatically.

Appointments are inserted one by one within the existing schedule, along with the detailed instructions recorded at the time of the appointment making with the customer. For maximum efficiency, the solution should interface with the company’s logistics information system (ERP, stock management system, etc) and should have a facility for sending notifications about appointments, via the scheduling interface, to drivers on their mobile devices/terminals. The latter, on their side, must be able to upload information about fulfilment – finished deliveries, delays or late arrival at the point of delivery – in real time via their mobile devices.

2 – Repairs and maintenance

A service delivering on-site repairs and maintenance has the notion of competencies at its core. Each individual mission can only be assigned to a technician with the precise set of skills, expertise and/or certifications needed for the equipment concerned. The length of time needed for each visit is also key when drawing up a schedule, since this has a degree of variability that cannot always be anticipated. Each mission type will have a defined duration as a rule, however the handling of late arrivals or changes to plan as and when the progress of the work in the field requires it, will be crucial to success.

Example: scheduling for heating installation maintenance

The list of customers under contract is known. As regular annual maintenance visits are part and parcel of each contract, visits can usually be planned will in advance. Visits for the purpose of carrying out repairs, on the other hand, can only be planned a few days in advance, or even at the last minute, but it must nevertheless be possible to insert them in established schedules. Clearly, this has to be achievable without disrupting any established programme. The personal online space or call centre will offer the customer a timeslot, and the new mission is incorporated in the existing planning in real time. If a repair lasts longer than anticipated, the technician can notify it via their mobile terminal. The customers next on the list can then be warned by automatic notification or text message, while the planning is adjusted in real time.

3 – Expertise, testing and controls

Routing for the transport of medical analyses or samples, and rounds to conduct inspections or checks on equipment pose different challenges. It goes without saying that competencies and credentials for resources or visiting personnel will be key to delivering a professional service, but as the duration of interventions will be specific to each mission type, all aspects of these missions will be time-critical when it comes to scheduling.

Scheduling will also have to pay attention to criteria such as the staged contractual obligations to customers. So handling of both periodicity of visits, and integration of one-off controls will be essential. Communication in real time with technicians or staff trained to take samples will be relevant to this type of administration.

4 – Sales rounds

For this type of routing operation, the list of customers to visit does not change very much. So routes can be planned well in advance. That said, sales routes do not necessarily start and end in the same place. A salesperson can, for example, find it useful to leave from their home and finish their day at the agency or head office, or vice versa. In addition, these types of routes involve building in a certain amount of flexibility, as the time spent at the customer’s cannot always be known in advance. This is a parameter that will be useful to include when calculating routes so plenty of room for manoeuvre is provided, thereby keeping stress levels among staff to a minimum.

For optimum conditions when tracking and project managing to a level that boosts customer confidence, ensuring in this way the success of the business relationship, a scheduling tool should interface with the enterprise’s CRM solution, or ideally – to limit the number of tools being used – be completely integrated within it.

Finally, introducing a pre-scheduling sectorization step to balance territories can make a huge difference to any programmed fulfilment operation, and for this you need a geomarketing and spatial analysis tool. This will allow you to distribute prospects among members of the sales team equitably or logically, depending on a variety of criteria, before optimizing each route in an independent manner.