Understanding the daily challenges your teams face is vital if solutions are to be found…
Are you considering implementing systems to optimize routing and operational management of your mobile forces in your company? Good news if the answer is ‘Yes’ ! But if so, setting out on such a project requires you to fully comprehend the current situation to ensure optimum conditions are in place for finding the right solution.
Through analysing the way things are done today, you can accurately gauge the precise needs of your teams, and also the margin for manoeuvre you have to:
- optimize route administration and fulfilment,
- improve levels of satisfaction for both staff and customers,
- reduce costs and keep them under control,
- gain visibility over your activity.
Your teams are your best information source
The first step is to ‘take the temperature’ and analyse difficulties being experienced by your teams involved in scheduling. Making space so those who travel on a daily basis can speak to the problem is vital – technical staff, deliverers, installers, sales personnel, experts, auditors… not forgetting their managers and planning personnel.
The time devoted to this dialogue will reap untold benefits in helping you to identify the problems, better understand the need, and pinpoint priorities. In consulting the teams concerned in this first phase of the project, you kill two birds with one stone: obtaining the information you need on the one hand, and oiling the wheels for acceptance on the part of the workforce on the other so they can embrace the new tools and procedures that will form the backbone of the project.
Problems undermining work on the ground…
There is a good chance your staff are currently shouldering the load of many different annoyances and difficulties in their work. These may appear more or less serious individually, but if they are constantly recurring or cumulative in negative impact they can adversely affect working conditions to the point of tangibly affecting productivity. Here are a few examples, unfortunately reported all too often:
- Schedules issued to staff are unrealistic and include constraints that are impossible to respect.
- When setting out at the start of the day, the list of customers and the visit order are not always available, or are incomplete. Obliged to prepare itineraries themselves, mobile resources are building in late arrival even before they start.
- The vehicle needed is not available, has not been pre-loaded, or prepared in time for a prompt departure. The late departure puts out the appointments for the rest of the day.
- Route plans are so densely packed that even the slightest alteration to schedule due to traffic or parking issues makes them unworkable. The result? Staff may take risks, possibly committing traffic offences in the process, picking up fines and losing points on driving licences….
- Addresses or codes to access customer premises are incorrect and telephone numbers needed to warn customers of an arrival time or find out a precise address detail turn out to be the wrong ones or contain errors.
- For one or several of the reasons cited so far, teams may arrive late at the customer, who then complains or refuses to receive them because they are no longer available.
- Another scenario is that an intervention to fulfil is not the one recorded in the schedule: the technician hasn’t the equipment required, nor the skills or expertise to deliver the required result. The appointment then has to be re-programmed.
… also affect morale…
These ongoing scenarios lead to inefficiency, stress, and interpersonal tensions, especially if they are accompanied by ongoing organisational hiccoughs and fragile workplace economics generally:
- schedules communicated too late in the day, or schedules that are subject to major changes;
- working days that are too long or unevenly filled, with unfortunate timing and duration of lunchtime pauses, routes that don’t fit in with a standard working day involving costly overtime hours;
- a lack of logic in the way routes are organised for example, the last visit of the day a long way away from base and the first visit the next day in the same district, requiring a night away for the resource, while it should have been possible to complete the whole route in the same day and return home in the evening, etc.
All of these inconvenient practicalities are a daily burden on mobile teams and affect motivation. The fact of having consulted and listened to your teams will allow you to identify all possible points for improvement, and the ones that need to be addressed as a priority.
Challenges faced by scheduling staff
The personnel putting schedules together often find it hard to balance routes over several teams and also to share the load equitably between members of the same team, so feelings about ‘unfair’ treatment or overload may run high at some unseen level. Reconciling operational demands and individual constraints is the daily lot of the planners. Time is often spent trying to replan routes to take variables into account such as absence of personnel due to sickness, delays, unplanned absences. Changes linked to customer needs are also constantly needing to be handled: unexpected absence, putting off a visit or last minute cancellations, not to speak of emergencies… These all have an impact on routes in progress, and engender extra communication with mobile resources. Preoccupied with these tasks, they have little time to consecrate to customers themselves and service quality.
The difficulties facing planners should not be taken lightly. As their role is crucial to the health of the organisation, and efficient routing, absence or departure of a member of the scheduling team will always be a problem, because replacements cannot be readily found: this role requires knowledge of the business, and of the customer’s business too. Knowledge about the people and the geography cannot be learnt in a day. If you want to keep your experienced planning personnel, it will be wise to spend time listening to them!
Don’t forget to consult customers!
A satisfaction survey with customers will be useful to complete your researches and analysis as it will bring to light any reasons for dissatisfaction in relation to scheduling and visiting protocol: lack of flexibility in appointments offered, time windows for deliveries that are too long, lack of punctuality, or technical staff being sent who are not qualified for the intervention requested… This survey will allow you to create a hierarchy of the problems to be addressed, the prevalence of a problem, or frequency, so you can identify those needing urgent remedy because they are undermining customer loyalty, and the customer’s experience will certainly be communicated to anyone asking for a recommendation.
Once you have identified the weak points within your current organisation, you will be able to list all the points you need to improve on and identify expense accounts that could see real savings if the solution was implemented. Make sure your research and the customer survey include questions that will provide the detail you need to estimate economies the company realistically stands to make!
To give you an idea as starting point, you can work on the assumption that an optimization solution could reduce your costs by 10-30%. Do the sums! Even at the lower end of this range, the saving you stand to make speaks volumes!