Proven Strategies to Increase Productivity in the Field
> Next Technik Solution Consultants, Ben Castles and Wendy Broome, share insights on improving productivity in the field.
Increasing Productivity in the Field Improves Profitability
In the field-service industry, success depends on one measure: productivity in the field.
The amount of work technicians do (or do not) perform onsite links directly to the amount of profit a company generates (or loses). Field service operations that track and manage productivity are well-positioned to maximize revenue, lower costs, and push customer satisfaction to new heights.
The opposite is also true: whenever field productivity suffers, for any reason, the profit margin suffers too. Given today’s ultra-competitive climate, that is not acceptable. Field service providers need to be obsessive about productivity. Unfortunately, it is a constant challenge.
In this blog post, we will explore what productivity in the field means, how it is measured, and what obstacles stand in the way. Then, we will outline some proven strategies to increase productivity.
Defining Productivity in the Field
We often think of productivity as “doing as much as possible,” but that definition is not quite accurate, especially in the context of field service.
When technicians venture into the field, they have several objectives. They want to finish the job quickly the first time, without a required return visit. Just as important, however, is performing the job correctly, following all compliance requirements, and cost-effectively using parts or equipment. Plus, they need to keep the customer happy by whatever means necessary. Whether a job is “productive” does not seem so simple.
As the saying goes, “what gets measured, gets managed.” The same holds true for productivity in the field. Understanding this issue, followed by a real effort toward improvement, requires the right metrics. Productivity expressed in quantitative terms lets one measure it, track it, and make realistic plans to push the numbers upward. Our in-depth guide to field-service metrics explores this very topic, but here is a quick rundown of metrics related to field productivity:
- Total jobs assigned per technician
- Jobs completed per technician
- Mean time to repair (MTTR)
- First-time fix rate (FTFR)
- Average extra hours per job
- Total hours “on the clock”
- Total hours spent working on jobs
- Labor costs per job
- Labor invoiced per job
Knowing what to track is the easy part. Collecting data about what technicians are doing in the field poses a much bigger challenge – and that is just the start. Every company that employs technicians wants them to be 100% productive, meaning technicians spend all day on revenue-generating work. However, few technicians get anywhere close to that target, despite repeated efforts to improve productivity. Fixing this problem starts by knowing the source.
The Problem with Field Service Productivity
Increasing productivity in the field can seem like taking two steps backward for every single step forward. Over time, new policies or procedures will be implemented, leading to small improvements to the metrics outlined above (when they are being tracked). However, newfangled issues will then arise that clawback those productivity gains, either slowly or suddenly, and sometimes make things even worse than before.
Countless companies – large or small, industry-agnostic – struggle to increase productivity in the field because of the field itself. Correctly loading a truck requires careful foresight into what a job requires. Traveling to a distant job site confronts technicians with countless unknowns. Performing the right fix the first time is subject to dozens of contingencies. Moreover, when all of this is happening away from the oversight of the home office, any number of things can go awry. Think of all the reasons that even routine jobs turn out less than perfectly productive.
All those reasons have one common cause: visibility. When field service providers cannot see exactly what a job entails, they must make assumptions, which always raises the risk of sending the wrong resources (staff, parts, skills, etc.) to a job site, making it less productive than it otherwise could be.
The field compromises productivity precisely because it obscures visibility into the job ahead or in progress. That is a big hurdle to overcome – along with an important insight for increasing productivity in the field.
See Everything – Adapt to Anything
The more you can see, the better you can prepare. Inevitably, when plans take a left turn, visibility determines how fast a job gets back on track. As we established, poor visibility leads to jobs that cost more, take longer, or invoice for less than they otherwise would. However, with enhanced visibility, techs work productively, customers stay happy, and the bottom line remains healthy.
While that seems self-evident on the surface, visibility has several levels that are important to understand:
- Preparation – Knowing exactly “who” and “what” to send “where” in the field. Planning for a job in an effective but efficient manner takes a clear understanding of the job requirements and the resources available to fulfill those requirements. Preparation should also include details about the client and service history so techs are well informed about what and who they might encounter.
- Execution – Technicians in the middle of a job require an abundance of information. They need to know exactly what to do, not just to complete the work but to keep the customer and other stakeholders satisfied. They also require immediate, in-depth support when issues arise. Visibility into equipment manuals, parts lists, and service records can help techs work through problems. Moreover, when the home office has visibility into what techs are doing in the field, they can support those techs even better.
- Analysis – Increasing productivity in the field depends on analyzing present and future performance. Visibility includes the means to measure job productivity after the fact and analyze the data for trends, insights, and anomalies that suggest where and how to improve. It should also compare field service data against business performance data to understand how productivity in the field translates into positive or negative changes on the balance sheet. Visibility is not complete without a bridge between the front office (service delivery) and the back office (business management).
Consider a hypothetical field service provider that has 360-degree visibility. They know exactly which tech to send on a job and what equipment to load on the truck. The tech performs all the required steps as efficiently as possible with adequate backup when needed. Customers get what they most want – a fast fix on the first visit – along with exemplary service throughout. When the job concludes, there is a comprehensive digital record of everything that happened for supervisors to scrutinize and business managers to analyze.
With enough visibility, productivity is a given, which raises an important question: How does one see into a fast-moving, always-changing endeavor like field service? The answer is the key to increasing productivity in the field.
Technology and Productivity
Any workflow, from scheduling a service appointment to obtaining a client signature, which involves manual entries, paper documents, or unrecorded details, can jeopardize productivity. Along with possible human errors, the slow speed of analog information means that inefficiencies (and productivity losses) are unavoidable. Worst of all is that any part of field service that is neither digitized nor integrated lacks visibility. When any of this happens in isolation, productivity suffers as a result.
It comes as no surprise, then, that field service management (FSM) software can improve visibility along with productivity. When more aspects of field service happen on an integrated platform, it is possible to see all the moving parts – before, during, and after – and align them accordingly to make jobs as productive and profitable as possible.
Field service management (FSM) software may be essential, but it is far from equal. Not all, or even most offerings, will deliver the complete visibility you need, nor the significant productivity boost you want. Any viable option should have at least these key qualities:
- Mobility – Getting data to and from the field requires a mobile device to serve as the portal. Software should run on most devices, combining robust features and deep data accessibility along with easy-to-follow interfaces. FSM software without a mobile component, or even an underwhelming mobile component, cannot extend visibility into the field.
- Scalability – Productivity leads to growth. Therefore, FSM software must be able to seamlessly grow as a company takes on more techs, more territory, and/or more services. When a piece of software cannot scale quickly or has upper limits, it will eventually become an obstacle to increased productivity and require replacement.
- Functionality – Software that manages just one or merely some aspects of field service will moderately improve output at best. Since productivity is about doing everything right, from beginning to end, it requires software with an all-encompassing toolkit. Ideally, everything happens on the same platform where it is visible, accessible, and interoperable.
- Unity – Productivity is meaningless if field service does not lead to a successful billing cycle. Turning service into revenue requires the front and back end of the business to work as one. The best FSM software runs on the same platform as the accounting software for business management. When that unity does not exist, more unproductive work moving data from one system to the other is then required.
FSM software that improves productivity can have a massive ROI (Return on Investment). For example, improving productivity by just 10% could result in each tech on a team performing one extra job per week. Multiply the average job value times the number of techs times 52 weeks and you arrive at a substantial figure – often much more than the cost of the software making that extra productivity possible.
NextService – Your Partner in Productivity
Productivity will be a moving target for providers as the field service industry expands and evolves at rapid speed in the coming years. NextService is the leading FSM solution, designed to make a deep and lasting impact on productivity.
NextService software runs on-platform with NetSuite. Anyone who has NetSuite – or plans to – has a complete FSM tool, backed by a robust mobile experience, running inside the same ecosystem as the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning). When all corners of a company, from tech to accountants, work in sync, the result is unparalleled productivity.
How could NextService increase productivity at your business? Book a demo to see for yourself.