The Impact of Mobile Solutions on Field Service Operations
There’s no doubt about it: The field service industry is transforming. Rising customer expectations, labor shortages, ever-evolving technology, and increasingly complex work have changed the way field service organizations must manage their operations.
The field service market itself is expanding to include a wider array of businesses—from manufacturing, to healthcare, to education, to hospitality, and beyond—and companies that deliver their services in the field must adapt to remain competitive. Many have adopted promising technologies in an effort to keep up, but they still struggle to achieve the operational efficiency required for success. They’re hindered by issues in scheduling and dispatching, communication, routing, field data collection, and more; and they just can’t seem to optimize their processes for sustainable growth.
So how can field service organizations overcome these obstacles that threaten their ability to improve both efficiency and revenue? Modern businesses have started leveraging sophisticated, mobile-first technology solutions that boost worker productivity, eliminate operational barriers, and empower workers to consistently deliver exceptional customer experiences.
Why Field Service Organizations Need Mobile Solutions
Despite the various innovations designed to make day-to-day operations easier for managers, field workers, and even customers, many organizations still contend with several pain points. This is especially true for field service businesses that attempted rapid digital transformation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve adopted various shiny new technologies intended to better support their field service operations, but many of those tools have fallen short of expectations—particularly if they were implemented without a well-planned strategy.
Now, field service organizations across every industry are held back by inflexible solutions that don’t meet the needs of their deskless workforce or the expectations of their customers. They’re faced with several common challenges that inhibit their field service operations, including:
Outdated operational technology
Field work is inherently different from the work that’s performed in a traditional, office-based setting. Sure, there are technology solutions that can close some of the operational gaps between back-office employees, field workers, and customers, but they’re simply not built with the specific needs of the deskless workforce in mind. In fact, 72% of executives claim that worker productivity is negatively impacted by their technology.
To overcome this challenge, some businesses have cobbled together several single-point solutions: One for communication (like Slack), one for scheduling (like spreadsheets or Google Calendars), one for managing internal resources (like an ERP system), one for managing external relationships (like a CRM tool), and myriad others. More often than not, these tools don’t offer the seamless, holistic integration that’s needed to break down silos or generate interoperable data for intelligent business decisions.
For a field worker, this usually means toggling between several apps throughout the day to send and receive updates, check and adjust their schedule, capture customer and job details, and find the best route to their next appointment. They collect data in the field, and must then return to the office to re-enter that data into a central system of record. It’s time-consuming, inefficient, frustrating, and error-prone, as valuable data is often lost or duplicated.
Traditional, outdated tools create different sources of truth, which result in conflicting or confusing information. And if any single tool fails, it can throw both customer and employee satisfaction off kilter. Plus, the organization can’t understand or improve its field service operations if its systems don’t offer a unified view into what’s working and what’s not.
Complicated, manual scheduling
At the heart of any successful field service operation is a strong scheduling process, but many teams still don’t have the right tools for support. They rely on manual tools (like spreadsheets, online calendars, or even whiteboards) to book customer appointments—but this approach is complex and burdensome for already-busy staff schedulers.
Field workers each have different roles, responsibilities, certifications, and skill sets, and manual scheduling just can’t handle the multi-faceted nature of matching the right person to the right job or understanding availability versus demand. Job requirements and histories, travel times, customer and worker preferences, and other key scheduling considerations are neglected if staff schedulers can’t easily track and manage them.
Manual scheduling also doesn’t enable deskless workers to access up-to-date scheduling details or adjust appointments while in the field, so any last-minute changes impact productivity or customer satisfaction. If a customer reschedules while the field worker is already on their way, for example, they’re likely to show up to an appointment that no longer exists. This means wasted time that could have otherwise been spent booking and traveling to another available appointment. It’s a frequent issue for teams that lack sophisticated, real-time scheduling tools, and the inefficiencies ultimately negatively impact the company’s bottom line.
Lack of real-time updates
Deskless workers don’t have the luxury of peering over a cubicle wall or meeting their colleagues at the watercooler to share and receive essential updates. If your organization doesn’t enable them with tools that give them real-time, instant access to job details, customer history, updated schedules, required forms, and other key information (regardless of where they are), then you can’t expect them to be fully prepared to delight your customers.
Without seamless access to real-time updates in the field, mobile workers spend copious amounts of time shuffling between fragmented tools to find relevant information, and less time focusing on what really matters: The customer. And if the tools they use don’t offer offline access in locations with limited or no cell reception, they may not have what they need to complete the job correctly the first time around.
Real-time data capture abilities are equally important, but many teams still don’t have the proper tools for seamless collection. This can lead to issues in proof of service and risk mitigation, as well as employee safety (e.g. access to safety checklists and safety alerts to management), which are all crucial to compliance, company brand and reputation, and efficiency.
Increased volume and complexity of work
Many field service organizations—particularly those in healthcare—are dealing with high volume scheduling and increasingly dynamic and complex work environments. But those that are ill-equipped to manage complex scheduling scenarios can’t keep up with operational factors that accompany the associated challenges in real time.
The needs of a field service workforce extend far beyond the capabilities of manual or outdated tools, particularly as customer demand rises and the business scales. 92% of organizations say their work is regularly canceled or rescheduled, distributed across various locations, and composed of many different types of work (each requiring a specific set of worker skills, formal certifications, and attributes). Blended workforces result in a vast array of scheduling factors and nuances, and inadequate tools only increase the margin for error.
From the field workers’ perspective, insufficient processes and tools generally mean manually logging hours, a lack of autonomy, and unstable or unreliable schedules; all of which negatively impact productivity and satisfaction. For the organization (especially staff schedulers), it’s extremely difficult to keep tabs on fluctuating customer demand and worker availability, skill set, location, and job progress. Thus, scheduling is an inefficient, laborious process that becomes even more of a headache as the company grows.
80% of the global workforce is now deskless, and within that giant category of workers are countless ever-evolving factors that complicate operations. Flexible work schedules, blended workforces, an increase of millennials in the workplace, and rising labor costs make it difficult for field service organizations to maintain productivity and efficiency.
What’s more, businesses must also deal with an aging workforce: As highly-skilled individuals age out and retire, they must find qualified replacements. Those who retire take with them institutional knowledge and a deep understanding about organizational processes, customers, business initiatives, and more. To offset these departures and ensure that when veterans leave, all the knowledge doesn’t go with them, companies must standardize and simplify their processes and tools.
User-friendly tools and streamlined processes are also crucial for attracting those new, qualified field service technicians. By 2030, 75% of the U.S. workforce will be millennials, who are the first generation to have grown up with technology. They expect the tools they use at work to make their jobs easier, and will jump ship if their expectations aren’t met. Labor shortages mean highly-skilled field workers have the upper hand when it comes to choosing an employer, so organizations need competitive ways to find and retain that top talent—or risk losing out on a highly experienced workforce.
The Competitive Advantage of Integrated Mobile Field Service Apps
Because the challenges of managing and optimizing field service operations are unique, solving them requires technology that’s purposefully built to address both the needs of deskless workers and customers alike. A robust, mobile-first field service management solution can eliminate the operational efficiencies that inhibit an organization’s success.
Intelligent, automated scheduling and dispatching
Automated scheduling and dispatching technology optimizes the process using AI, so workers are instantly matched to the right job every time. These tools can handle complex, high volume appointment bookings and quickly generate a schedule that reflects the business’s priorities. They eliminate the guesswork and heavy lifting that plague manual scheduling processes, which means fewer missed appointments, more optimal allocation, and happier employees and customers.
Instead of scrambling to accommodate last-minute changes or reach workers in the field to update them on their schedules, staff schedulers can simply input relevant information (e.g. time, location, skill set, and other inclusion/exclusion criteria) into the system and receive real-time recommendations. Deskless workers can access and modify their schedules in real-time in the field—even offline—so they never miss a beat.
Mobile-first automated scheduling also means your team has the data they need to make intelligent decisions moving forward. Getting the right worker to the right job is vital for daily operations, but informed scheduling also means boosting operational efficiency and customer satisfaction. Automation allows teams to make decisions that decrease operating costs, optimize productivity, reduce errors, and increase their bottom line.
Real-time mobile notifications
Instead of constantly having to check their email, text messages, voicemails, and other communication apps for updates, field workers need tools that enable real-time notifications. A mobile field service app gives deskless employees the information they need when and how they need it in a single, centralized location.
Some platforms even enable field workers to choose their notification delivery method (e.g. SMS, push notification, etc.) based on their individual preferences, so they can easily receive updates without disruption. Workers can share schedules, detailed instructions, and status updates, as well as location data for seamless visibility and routing.
Customers benefit from these real-time communications, too. For instance, an internet service installation provider that uses a mobile field service management solution can provide clients with a specific appointment time, rather than an estimated service window. They can send customers up-to-date, accurate arrival times to prevent frustration and build brand loyalty.
Platforms that enable real-time mobile updates also increase an organization’s workforce visibility. When a field service technician finishes a job and marks it as complete in the system, the platform can instantly flag other customers in the area that want to book an appointment. This, in turn, improves productivity, reduces worker travel time, and increases the number of customers each employee can serve in a given day.
Travel is a huge part of field service work, so deskless workers need tools that support them as they move from one job to the next. Powerful mobile tools instantly optimize travel routes within the platform, so field workers don’t have to toggle between navigation and work apps while on the road. They account for outside factors, too, like traffic, road construction, and detours, so employees spend less time traveling and more time focusing on the task at hand.
Mobile data collection
Data is king when it comes to understanding and improving your field service operation, so the ability to seamlessly capture it in the field is a must. Your entire business hinges upon your field workers capturing customer information—including signatures, approvals, surveys, customer feedback, and other key details.
With a tool that offers mobile data collection (even in areas without cell service), organizations can reduce paper waste, ensure everyone on the team has the most up-to-date, accurate information, and increase safety and security. Rather than having to gather field data while on a job, then spend time re-entering that data into a separate system of record, deskless workers can instantly sync information back to home base. This also eliminates potential manual mistakes in the field, which can negatively impact the customer experience and cause issues in productivity.
Operations teams gain holistic insights into their workforce, which helps them drive strategic decisions. Instead of spending time trying to connect data from disparate sources, the platform does the heavy lifting. It unifies field data with information from other critical existing systems, so teams can easily monitor deskless work and create robust reports. This enables them to uncover inefficiencies and make meaningful improvements that increase both worker compliance and profitability.
On-boarding and training support
Mobile field service management solutions reduce manual operational and administrative tasks, which can support more efficient workforce training. As organizations seek to replace their retired workforce and attract new talent, they need simplified tools and processes that make knowledge transfer as seamless as possible.
Some mobile tools are built to empower field workers with real-time communication and instant access to relevant information. Technicians can easily share ideas and updates, ask questions, and find specific documentation for each job in a single, centralized place. New employees can quickly access step-by-step job instructions and checklists, so they’re always prepared to finish the job correctly the first time.
If a field service tech encounters a job they’ve never completed before, for instance, they can instantly communicate with a supervisor or mentor via their mobile device. They can also find training documentation, customer and job history, and other relevant details on the spot, so they’re never left wondering what to do next. The result is a better prepared, more confident workforce that’s ready to meet customer expectations, even if they’re new to the organization.
Powerful Mobile Technology for an Efficient Field Service Operation
Operational efficiency is crucial for field service organizations looking to remain productive and competitive. In order to scale in a sustainable way, field service teams need tools and processes that eliminate the challenges unique to deskless work—and that requires mobile-first technology.
Skedulo’s field service management software is built with the mobile workforce in mind. With mobile-first tools for automated scheduling and dispatching, optimized routing, seamless communication, easy field data collection, and more, Skedulo helps businesses optimize their operations to boost efficiency, customer and employee satisfaction, and revenue.