Field service is inherently an expensive proposition. It includes not just the usual labor costs but additional expenses such as gas and truck maintenance, too. It’s therefore no wonder that field service has long been a cost center. The number one way to transform your field services business from a cost center into a profit center is to improve operational efficiencies and management in the field.
The technology required for making that critical transition wasn’t always available. But field service management (FSM) has evolved considerably over that past few years and now offers a clear path for field service to improve operations and become a profit center.
First-Time Fix FSM
The “field” in field service could be virtually anywhere, from a storefront around the corner to a downed power line in a remote corner of Alaska. A service call could require stocking something as small as a new hard drive for your customer’s desktop computer or as cumbersome as several miles worth of cable. Whatever the case might be, the key is to know what items need to be on that truck before it is dispatched so that the solution can be accomplished on the first visit, thereby increasing your “first-time fix” rate.
Inventory and Supply Chain Management
Managing, updating, and maintaining the accuracy of inventory levels across warehouses, depots, and trucks is obviously another critical element in the ability to increase first-time fix rates. Supply chain management (SCM) is also a piece of that equation. If, for example, the parts for a given customer need to be imported from abroad, then inventory replenishment schedules must reflect the additional time required to maintain optimal levels. This, in turn, demands a 360-degree view of installed products across customers and locations. Most ERP systems today are designed to handle not just basic inventory replenishment schedules, but the outliers as well.
Inventory can and should be proactively managed by taking the order and case history of every customer into account.
Since field service technicians spend a great deal of time driving to, from, and between jobs, the cost of gas represents a significant chunk of many field service businesses’ budgets. If routes and truck inventories are optimized, technicians can go directly from Customer A to Customer B without having to return to a home office or central warehouse. Gas prices have been known to fluctuate wildly, so planning ahead for potential increases makes for a good field service management policy. Regional differences should be taken into account as well. For example, the average cost of a gallon of gas today, according to AAA, stands at $2.38, but is significantly higher on the West Coast and significantly lower in the Gulf States.
Improving operational efficiencies from the plant to the field is not contingent on any one of the factors explored above, but is instead the result of a holistic approach that requires all of the above for starters. Other factors, some that are unique to certain types of field services companies, may also come into play.