The advent of the mobile internet coupled with increasingly powerful handheld smart devices is transforming the world of work and workplace organisation in ways that would have been barely imaginable just 20 years ago. And the potential benefits are enormous.
Companies are able to cut costs by reducing office space rental and other overheads through increased home and field working by staff. Reduced commuting times and increased flexibility around working hours make for more content and productive staff while improved communications technology facilitates the optimisation of the mobile workforce.
That’s the theory at least. The reality can often be very different.
Field sales and service teams have been around for a very long time and old habits tend to die hard – with both the individuals concerned and their employers. It tends to be a case of things being done one way because they’ve always been done that way.
The travelling sales agent who finishes the day early so that they can complete paper order forms during working hours for submission at the end of the week; the service agent who regularly arrives at customers’ premises without the correct parts to complete the job; the online forms which have to be printed off and rekeyed back at base. These sound unconscionably inefficient but all are regular occurrences.
And the inefficiencies are very costly indeed. Labour accounts for 80 percent of the costs in an average service organisation. Failure to optimise the workforce, therefore, has a very significant impact on the bottom line.
The problems go beyond inefficient work practices. Many firms have payment on delivery arrangements with customers but this doesn’t necessarily involve the field agent collecting cash or cheques. More usually an electronic payment from the customer is triggered once the service or product is delivered. However, if the vendor doesn’t actually know that delivery has taken place until days or even weeks later, payment will also be delayed.
Mobile workers in regulated industries face quite particular problems. Compliance is key and manual entries on checklists and other forms are costly, time-consuming and error-prone.
Poor route planning is another issue for service agents. On-call service personnel work in a dynamic environment. Service calls come in and they tend to schedule them on the basis of either personal convenience or apparent urgency – neither of which is optimal. Schedules which are updated in real-time from a central HQ would be far more efficient.
The same applies to home-based call agents. In many cases they simply work through sales leads lists which are sent out weekly. Performance naturally dips towards the end of the week as the quality of the remaining leads diminishes.
The amount of money these issues are costing companies is very significant but solutions to all of them are readily available on the market.
TRC Solutions’ Field Service Management Add-On for SAP Business One, for example, connects all aspects of the field service value chain back to the company ERP system. It enables the automation of many of the time-consuming, manual processes associated with customer service. In addition, operations managers are able to oversee multiple jobs in real time and equip field personnel with up-to-date information to complete repairs quickly. This boosts first-time repair rates and, very importantly, customer satisfaction ratings.
Field service agents are empowered by the system. It offers the ability to enter data directly into the SAP Business One system using mobile devices such as tablets and smartphones to update current assignments.
The system also facilitates accurate employee performance tracking. Field engineers who excel at their jobs can be given due recognition while those who need extra training or support are quickly identified.
Analytical data also gives full visibility of product sales performance pointing quickly to emerging industry trends. This gives companies all the data they require to maximise profitability and reduce expenses on a daily basis.
Companies using the system realise immediate benefits. Activity in the field is recorded as it happens and filed immediately with the central office. Re-keying of data is eliminated, errors are reduced dramatically, and genuine synergies are achieved between field and head office staff activity.
Compliance checklists are fully automated. Diaries and schedules can be altered and update in real time in accordance not only with the most efficient route for the agent but also on the basis of the inventory carried in their vans.
Operations managers have a geographic view of the location of all field service agents at all times thereby optimising schedule changes.
Inventory is a particular problem for many organisations. In order to ensure that service technicians have sufficient parts to perform most jobs, they tend to fill their vans with literally hundreds of different parts at great cost to the company. Multiply this by several vans and the cost can be very high indeed.
A centralised control system can cut inventory levels in the vehicles very significantly. Service calls are only directed to agents with the necessary parts on the one hand while data analytics assists in predicting what parts will be needed most often and by which customers. Furthermore, parts are only replenished on an as-needed basis.
The overall result is significantly reduced costs, improved sales and service performance, happier staff, and more satisfied customers.
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