Any company in the business of providing services to consumers or to other businesses is familiar with the struggles of scheduling. In field service operations, schedulers are coordinating a constant juggling act that’s in constant peril. With the many possible wrenches that can be thrown in the mix, these managers are best prepared by always having a Plan B – and a Plan C.
Improving service through better scheduling is hinged in large part on the ability to prioritize. The following steps will help you develop your prioritization skills in order to make the most efficient use of the resources at your disposal.
Prioritization and Weighted Importance
It’s about making the best use of your human capital, or using every member of your team in the capacity that maximizes his potential. Whether you’re in the business of customer service operations, field sales, field service technicians, or virtually any business model that requires scheduling and resource allocation, this is a challenge you likely face.
Scheduling optimization is the process by which companies develop rules and procedures for handling various types of crisis situations and unexpected circumstances. That means being able to easily identify which tasks are more critical and have the biggest potential impacts on the company.
Often, this is done using some method for weighting different tasks with more importance than others – customer-facing appointments, for example, would be more heavily weighted than routine maintenance. And if it comes to choosing between skipping a maintenance call and satisfying a customer with a service outage or major issue, the choice is obvious.
Be Aware of Potential Challenges
There are a multitude of challenges that can arise at any point during the scheduling process, but most scheduling managers would probably agree that these issues tend to arise at the most inopportune times, often at the last minute. Prioritization is an essential skill for scheduling managers, along with the ability to make rapid decisions. Prioritization can be based on any number of influencing factors, and often there are multiple compounding variables that complicate decision-making:
- Time constraints
- Resource availability
- Financial constraints
- Logistics constraints
- Competing tasks (equal urgency)
- Unexpected delays
Depending on the operation, other factors come into play as well, such as the availability of certified or qualified staff to comprise the team makeup required for regulatory compliance. It’s your job to be constantly aware of potential obstacles that could arise at any moment.
Using Prioritization Tools and Frameworks
Time management and task prioritization has long been a component of both personal and professional development frameworks, and a number of theories and models have emerged to streamline the prioritization process. The Urgent/Important Matrix, for instance, uses a visualization to assign tasks to various categories based on relative urgency and importance – resulting in a clear picture of the tasks that should be placed at the highest priority level.
These frameworks are valuable, but not always practical in the broader scope of a complex field service management operation in which dozens of staff schedules, allocation of a vast supply of resources, impacts on other teams and departments, and customer satisfaction are all hinged on the effective prioritization of tasks.
Another example is the Pareto Analysis, based on the well-known Pareto Principle, sometimes called the 80/20 Rule. In this scenario, the Pareto Analysis is based on the concept that 20 percent of efforts produce 80 percent of results. For the time-crunched team, effective workforce schedulers are able to identify the 20 percent of tasks that will yield the biggest returns, and schedule accordingly.
Algorithms for Automated Optimization
Because today’s enterprises manage vast field service teams, thought leaders aim to develop more sophisticated algorithms that can take into account the many compounding variables that influence scheduling priorities. This senior project by Philip I. Thomas reveals an algorithm designed to optimize for employee satisfaction based on parameters including employee preferences, required employees per shift, and weekly hours to develop an automated scheduling tool.
There are multiple software applications that offer automated schedule optimization, providing an objective and easy method for visualizing the full schedule and identifying opportunities that might not be noticed based on cognitive analysis alone.
At the end of the day, however, human interpretation still rules. Workforce planners and field service schedulers must have the ability to juggle last-minute changes and be prepared for quick decision-making and reconfiguration on a dime.
A Look at a Potential Scheduling Scenario
There are a number of areas service providers may want to improve:
- Visibility and Control
- Increase Revenues
- Service Level Agreement and Appointment Compliance
- Customer Satisfaction
- Cost of Service
A customer satisfaction scenario, for instance, may involve a customer waiting for a field service technician to arrive, but the technician is late. Faced with this challenge, a manager has three options:
- Send the customer a notification with updated appointment times.
- Reshuffle the entire schedule in real-time.
- Offer the customer a service discount or bonus as an apology.
While the other two options are commonly used practices, the most optimal choice in this scenario is to reshuffle the schedule in real-time. This enables you to rapidly identify another team member who is qualified, in the immediate area, and available. The end result: You get a service tech to the customer’s location more quickly, and maintain customer satisfaction.
This example is just one of many service provider challenges posed in this interactive tool from ClickSoftware. Working through the many possible scenarios presented in this tool is a valuable skill-building activity for any workforce scheduler, fostering the development of prioritization and the smart decision-making skills that will turn your service operations from ordinary to extraordinary.