How to Dispatch Field Service Technicians: 6 Tips
Customer service is the art of providing helpful support for each customer—quickly and correctly—before, during and after a purchase. For field service companies, a big chunk of customer service is in the hands of dispatchers.
The person or group of people who are field service dispatchers typically work in a team environment to perform a gamut of tasks. The roles of a dispatching center can encompass:
- communicating with customers, customer service reps, technicians and other dispatchers,
- prioritizing and scheduling service calls,
- selecting technicians with the right skills for the job and planning their routes,
- following up on completed jobs,
- maintaining customer files, and
- reporting actual time vs. budgeted time.
Obviously, dispatchers have a lot on their plates. How can you help them deliver stellar service to customers—and keep the day’s workload flowing smoothly? Here are six tips that will help you build a better, more responsive, and more efficient dispatching center.
- Set high expectations
- Get buy-in on making improvements.
- Analyze how jobs are being assigned, scheduled and re-scheduled.
- Examine how routes are being determined.
- Look for related manual processes to streamline.
- Visualize the improvements.
1. Set high expectations.
At every opportunity, make it clear to your dispatchers that their role is crucial to the success of the business. You are relying on them to embrace strong work ethics and do whatever it takes to ensure that technicians are “on board,” too.
It helps to crystallize your goals and expectations in writing. In everyday language, define the standards that must be met—and hopefully exceeded. Keep refining and communicating them to your dispatchers through any appropriate means. Ask for feedback. Eventually, you’ll have a set of goals and best practices, in writing, that are specific to the dispatching function in your business.
2. Get buy-in on making improvements.
Let dispatchers know that you feel that the dispatching process can be improved to make everyone more efficient and to give customers better service. Tell them you’re looking for their help in answering key questions, such as:
- Do we have the right dispatching processes to excel?
- How do we set up a technician’s workday, and how do we modify schedules based on new jobs arising during the day?
- Are we making decisions based on easily accessible, accurate, real-time information?
- What information are we capturing for each service call, and how do we use that information?
- How are we measuring how well we served the customer?
- Are we measuring how well the technician performed?
- How do we communicate with a customer after a job is completed?
- Where can we improve?
- How can better tools help us?
Enthusiasm is contagious. To a large extent, dispatchers’ can-do attitudes will directly impact the quality of work technicians deliver at customer locations. That’s why the best dispatchers are those who have the leadership skills for motivating people as well as directing them.
Encourage dispatchers to seek buy-in for improvement efforts from field service technicians. As the people working directly with customers, getting technicians’ feedback is vital for finding out what’s working and what isn’t. They may have worthwhile ideas for improving service and reducing on-site time. You may also find that technicians want to share their insights on completed jobs, but aren’t being asked.
3. Analyze how jobs are being assigned, scheduled and re-scheduled.
The insights gained here will be valuable in setting up clear, predetermined policies for dealing with almost every situation. These policies will address your ultimate goals: delighting customers, and helping technicians accomplish more every day.
First, look at how a new day’s workloads are being scheduled. Ideally, the dispatching team collectively is assigning the day’s jobs to the right service technicians based on technician skills, job locations, and estimated service time.
Next, examine how jobs are prioritized when dispatchers are hit with multiple situations at once. You and the dispatching center will need to make some tough decisions. For example, when should a first-time caller with an emergency have priority over premium customers who pay extra for defined service levels? What if you rescheduled Customer A’s maintenance job from last week to 4:00 today, and now you need that time slot to handle a pressing problem for Customer B?
Job assignments also need to take into account technicians’ credentials and experience. Let’s say a job comes up that should be assigned to a highly experienced technician. But your most qualified techs are booked up for at least three hours, and a less experienced tech is available nearby. Who gets the job?
Scheduling features of dispatching software can help dispatchers navigate through these situations quickly and easily. In place of spreadsheets, notepads, and arcane routing techniques, dispatchers could be using dashboards, visual mapping of tech locations, and drag-and-drop scheduling. These and other key features give dispatchers all the real-time information they need to balance workloads and get the right technicians to the right jobs at the right times.
Backed with these powerful features, dispatchers are equipped to adeptly manage your field technicians’ productivity. Remember, billable time is your key asset—but the value diminishes when billable hours aren’t converted into real revenue.
4. Examine how routes are being determined.
In many service businesses, dispatchers don’t work collaboratively. A dispatcher may be using maps and GPS programs to set up routes for a group of technicians, but lacks visibility into what other dispatchers have scheduled for other technicians.
Without robust routing tools, dispatchers must make judgements on how long each technician will need to complete each of his or her scheduled jobs and how much driving time to allow between locations. As the day progresses, technicians try to make on-the-fly adjustments to deal with inevitable disruptions to the original schedules. Such as:
- A job takes longer than expected.
- A job requires a technician with more skills than anticipated.
- Urgent requests for immediate service occur.
- Dispatcher A, dealing with a high volume of new jobs, doesn’t realize other dispatchers have technicians with unexpected slack in their schedules.
- Dispatchers are routing jobs based on distance only, without adjusting for current traffic conditions.
- There’s a surge of service requests in areas far from field techs who have unscheduled time available.
Disruptions like these can rip up any schedule, but route optimization software tools can dramatically minimize their impact on customer satisfaction, technician productivity, and your company’s profits. Even on “normal” days with few disruptions, route optimization pays off by opening up technicians’ availability to take on additional jobs.
5. Look for related manual processes to streamline.
Your examination of the company’s scheduling and routing capabilities (discussed above in Tip 3 and Tip 4) may uncover signification deficiencies that need to be fixed. Better scheduling and routing are two major reasons why many service companies have implemented field service dispatch software systems.
Streamlining these functions, however, is just the beginning of the advantages you’ll reap with dispatching software. For example, dispatching systems will give your business accurate, real-time information with improved consistency. Software can also give technicians fast access to service histories of equipment at each job location. In addition, software can help validate what technicians enter and discourage data entry shortcuts and omissions.
You can also expect better internal communications. The right software can help dispatchers get the freshest information quicker—bypassing the need for time-wasting, back-and-forth phone calls, text messages and emails.
In addition, dispatching software tools can help you improve management reporting. You’ll be able to track the KPIs most important to you—such as first-time fix rate, revenue per job, on-site time vs. travel time, and more.
6. Visualize the improvements.
To do justice to what we’ve suggested in Tips 1 through 5, you’ll be investing some time. So, in Tip 6, we want you to start getting a quick payback.
- First, review what you’ve learned from your deep dive into how the dispatching process works now at your company.
- Make a list of all the improvements you identified and would like to make.
- Then, write down how a dispatcher’s day will be different after you’ve implemented all of them.
- Add more: How a field service technician’s day will be different. How customer service will improve. How management’s view of the business will improve.
- Make rough estimates of benefits—anything you can potentially quantify, such as savings in transit time, more service calls per day, more first-time fixes, fewer customer complaints, faster responses to repair calls, more accurate billing, etc.
- Pick the low-hanging fruit. Some of the improvements you’ve highlighted can be implemented immediately.
- Where automation will be needed, don’t put it off. Find out what dispatching solutions are available from software vendors to meet your needs. The sooner you get technology working for you, the sooner the benefits will snowball.
Improve your customer service with excellent dispatching
Dispatching field service technicians and managing customers is something that dispatchers do every day. But what will help them provide quality service? Investing time and resources to enhance your dispatching department will reflect in customer engagement. By using some of the tips above, your team’s confidence and efficiency will grow and your clients will get the benefits.
Talk to us today and see how NextService can help your business streamline dispatching processes and boost customer service.