How to Improve Operational Efficiency to Drive Productivity and Employee Satisfaction
Operational efficiency is about much more than trimming back-office expenses or hiring more employees to meet customer demand. To become operationally efficient, businesses must optimize processes, empower their workers to become more productive, and use real-time workforce data to make meaningful improvements—for customers and employees alike.
But for organizations with a mobile workforce component, attaining (and maintaining) operational efficiency can be a perplexing feat. These companies face unique challenges, such as dispersed teams, fluctuating customer demand, time-consuming processes, disparate data, and communication barriers; all of which threaten their ability to optimize operations.
In a 2019 survey, 77% of companies executing digital transformation strategies named increased operational efficiency as their primary goal. While for some, prioritizing a more streamlined operation is strictly a financial goal, businesses with a mobile workforce should look to the myriad other benefits to be gained from boosting efficiency: increased productivity, satisfied employees, happier customers, and, of course, a better bottom line.
What is Operational Efficiency?
Operational efficiency is a business’s ability to reduce input (i.e. the cost of producing their products and services) while maximizing their output (i.e. the revenue those products and services yield). As an organization boosts its operational efficiency, they’re able to spend less while generating the same amount of revenue (or more).
Measuring and improving your company’s operational efficiency is a critical part of managing a healthy, profitable business. By identifying and ameliorating any costly, time-consuming processes within your larger operation, your organization can:
- Boost productivity – Mobile and blended workforces rely heavily on proper communication, collaboration, and real-time access to key resources (like customer information) to remain as productive as possible. But workflow bottlenecks—which often result from outdated, disparate tools—hinder that productivity. Consistent efforts to eliminate those bottlenecks and streamline workflows mean less time wasted and more time spent on higher-value tasks; like serving your customers.
- Improve employee satisfaction – Satisfied employees have a healthy work-life balance, feel supported by their employer, and are ready to delight their customers at every interaction. But the complexities of mobile work (e.g. inflexible schedules, burdensome administrative tasks, clunky tools, limited access to key resources, etc.) often leave deskless workers feeling underappreciated, burnt out, or unable to perform their best work. Prioritizing operational efficiency (and implementing the right processes and tools for success) reduces the daily frustrations mobile workers face, and makes it easier for managers to balance employee needs with customer demand.
- Enhance the customer experience – Customer expectations are rising, and organizations with a mobile or blended workforce must adapt their processes to meet (or exceed) those expectations. Those who continue to rely on manual tools and processes—which are unreliable and difficult to scale—will likely struggle to remain competitive moving forward. By leveraging modern tools that streamline operations, though, businesses can provide consistently excellent service, which drives customer retention and bolsters their brand.
- Drive revenue – In order to remain in business, your revenue streams must maintain pace with the ever-rising costs of operating a mobile workforce organization. One clear-cut way to increase profits is to fix your broken processes, which otherwise slow down operations and lead to unnecessary spend.
- Uncover new opportunities – Achieving true operational efficiency requires a deep understanding of performance, which boils down to your ability to collect, access, and analyze key data. This is often a challenge for organizations with a deskless workforce, particularly those that still use manual collection methods—which are inefficient, time-consuming, and error-prone. But by investing in technologies (e.g. mobile data collection tools) that streamline the process, connect data, and boost accuracy, your team can make evidence-based decisions around competitive opportunities.
1. Review and Modify Processes
If you’re a small startup operating in a niche industry, manual processes might be enough to get you by—at least for the time being. But enterprise-level organizations or businesses looking to scale can’t operate smoothly with outdated processes. For companies with a blended workforce, specifically, inconvenient or tedious processes can render even the most motivated of teams operationally insufficient.
For example, if your company’s scheduling process requires too many steps to match a properly qualified worker to a job or reschedule an appointment due to a last-minute cancellation, you’re likely risking unhappy employees, frustrated customers, and lost opportunities. Managing a mobile or blended workforce is complex, and inadequate processes that don’t take into account those nuances just aren’t efficient enough to ensure operational success.
Exceptional product or service delivery requires an operation that runs like a well-oiled machine; one that ensures consistent, quality execution. Empowering workers with the right resources, streamlining day-to-day workflows, and providing the right tools for support are all critical to improving your processes and boosting operational efficiency.
Keep in mind: Your processes should be revisited every so often to ensure they’re still performing up to their potential and that they still match the day-to-day realities of your workforce. (More on this below!)
2. Automate Repetitive Administrative Duties
Administrative tasks are a necessary evil for any business, and those with a deskless workforce are no exception. But carrying out administrative duties through manual methods is time-consuming, burdensome, tedious, and frustrating—for back-office employees and deskless workers alike.
Take invoicing, for example, which is a crucial part of any mobile workforce operation. If your team is still using manual methods, invoicing is likely a time-intensive, laborious process that gunks up workflow operations and is susceptible to mistakes. A manual invoicing process usually includes some common steps:
- The deskless worker collects customer signatures and other pertinent job information via physical paperwork upon job completion.
- Once the mobile worker returns to HQ, they must manually enter timesheets, customer signatures, and other key details into their main system.
- A back-office employee then scans, emails, or syncs this information to the necessary departments, tools, or individuals for further processing. In some cases, they must send physical paperwork from one office to another, which requires an additional postage fee.
- Finance and HR must then use this data for invoicing and payroll, but since they operate from separate, disconnected systems, any corrections or changes made to the information may not be properly communicated.
- After multiple days (or even weeks), an invoice is sent to the customer. Because of the organization’s manual invoicing process and lack of connected systems, the invoice is potentially inaccurate, which causes issues in customer service and the visibility of historical data.
Invoicing is just one of many processes that can benefit from automation. With the right tool, businesses can easily scale their operational efforts by automating:
- Scheduling and dispatching – Modern software takes much more than worker availability into account. It uses automation to instantly match the right worker to the right job (based on preferences, location, qualifications, etc.), creates real-time recommendations for staff schedules, and is flexible enough to reflect your real-time business needs.
- Updates/notifications – Checking schedules, sending out updated arrival time alerts to customers, and communicating appointment changes takes precious time away from already-busy deskless workers. Powerful automation tools can alleviate this burden by sending these notifications (to employees and customers) instantly, so everyone always knows what’s happening next, even in the field.
- Routing – Efficient routing shouldn’t require staff schedulers to sacrifice valuable time finding the best way from one job to the next—nor should it require deskless workers to sacrifice their safety on the road by toggling between navigation apps. Automated software takes the guesswork out of routing by providing real-time route updates in a single, centralized app.
3. Train Team Members Effectively
Your deskless workers are your most valuable asset. They are the face of your brand, and their ability to provide positive, knowledgeable interactions and execute quality work affects your bottom line. But a dispersed workforce can make it difficult to ensure each team member is properly trained and fully prepared to satisfy customers. And as remote work continues to rise, inconsistencies in training will likely increase. Poor communication, subpar collaboration tools, and limited access to key training resources make it challenging—if not impossible—to ensure everyone is trained on the most up-to-date best practices.
To empower your deskless workers and set them up for success in the field, you need tools that make it easy to access documents, policies, best practices, company resources, and more in one, centralized location. When employees can view this information from anywhere on their mobile devices, they can maintain productivity, avoid confusion, and represent your company in the best light possible; all while operating at full speed ahead.
4. Set the Right KPIs
In an effort to operate as efficiently as possible (and prove that efficiency), it can be tempting to chase after every objective. But this often waters down your ability to attain your most valuable goals, or sends your team on a wild goose chase of prioritizing the wrong things. The result is a still-inefficient operation with a confused understanding of progress, performance, and inhibitors.
It’s much more advantageous to instead set the right KPIs for each employee or department, as success varies greatly depending on their unique roles and responsibilities within the larger business operation. When you identify these specific metrics for each type of employee, you can more accurately determine how their efforts measure up to your expectations of their performance. Plus, your workers feel an improved sense of value, professional development, and loyalty when they know their efforts are being recognized and supported.
For example, you might define time-to-schedule and time-to-first-contact as primary KPIs for your dispatchers and schedulers, while customer satisfaction and number of repeat visits might be more appropriate for your deskless workers. Setting these goals on an individual basis will help you better understand each team member’s daily workflow and operational challenges.
It’s important to note that setting the right KPIs is only half the battle: You must also consistently measure actual performance against them to gain an accurate understanding of what’s working and what isn’t. From there, you can tweak workflows, modify processes, or reevaluate employees’ needs to better support your workforce. Organizational leaders should use this information to ensure there’s continuous improvement, which will not only help to optimize operational efficiency, but also increase employee retention and focus your broader business strategies.
5. Hire at the Right Time
It’s essential that the size of your mobile workforce can meet customer demand. But this is a complicated factor for many organizations, as labor hiring costs increase and customer demand continuously fluctuates. If you overhire in an attempt to support a growing client-base, you might face expensive, time-consuming issues in training and monitoring. On the other hand, under-hiring can lead to premature burnout and inadequate customer service.
The key to getting it right is accurate, real-time data, which can help you predict periods of increased and decreased demand. For example, your historical data might help you identify Spring as your busiest season for serving customers, which might necessitate hiring temporary contract workers to fill in the gap for the short-term. This can help you avoid the unnecessary long-term costs in budget, time, and resources that are otherwise required for steadily increasing full-time hires to get ahead of that rising tide.
6. Break Down Silos
Data and communication silos threaten your team’s ability to operate efficiently, as they lead to significant disconnects between departments, team members, and—ultimately—customers. Deskless workers often don’t have the right tools or knowledge base to perform less-familiar aspects of their jobs or accurately communicate company information to customers. When information is stuck in silos (which are caused by multiple, disparate tools), mobile workers can’t make informed decisions in the field or effectively communicate with clients.
For example, if a deskless worker doesn’t have real-time access to updated policy documents, they may accidentally promise a customer something that they can’t actually fulfill. Worse yet, they might use language that doesn’t align with company and/or specialized vocabulary standards, which can lead to miscommunications, confusion, or poor service.
What’s more, it can also lead to missing larger business opportunities or misinformed choices that impact the entire organization. Simply put, if you’re not connecting your key data and measuring it against broader business strategies (like resource utilization and hiring decisions), you aren’t prepared to modify and improve those strategies for a more efficient operation.
By breaking down these barriers, you can increase cross-functional awareness to help both back-office and deskless workers better understand the entire business. They’re empowered to knowledgeably interact with vendors and customers for a better employee and client experience. Plus, knowing the business (and how different parts of the business fit together) allows for greater collaboration and faster problem-solving, both of which enhance operational efficiency.
Eliminating silos requires richer data sharing among departments for faster, more accurate decision making and easier identification of potential areas for improvement. For example, if the accounting department and deskless workers don’t have the right tools for data sharing and communication, they may not know that invoices aren’t generated for up to 7 days after the job is completed (and that sometimes they aren’t fully accurate based on actual work performed). But if they did have the right tools for collaboration, they could (1) generate automatic quotes for the accounting team to review based on the work performed and (2) cut down the time-to-invoice significantly.
7. Streamline Communication
In any industry, communication is vital for operational success. For the mobile workforce, this is especially true, but it’s also a common obstacle. Since workers are often dispersed between the office and the field, staying up-to-date is much more difficult than in a traditional work environment. If your teams are still using a variety of disparate communication tools (e.g. text messages, emails, phone calls, Slack, etc.) or if they don’t have real-time access to crucial information, their productivity and preparedness suffer. And since 80% of remote workers report that they’re more likely to feel excluded than their in-office colleagues, failing to ensure proper communication can impact employee satisfaction, too.
Organizations that prioritize operational efficiency understand the importance of arming their employees with tools for streamlined communication. With the right technology, back-office and deskless workers always have real-time access to updated schedules, company information, optimized routes, and more. They’re always well-informed and have instant access to colleagues’ support, when needed, so they’re confident they can deliver seamless service.
8. Review Your Work Consistently
Operational efficiency isn’t a one-and-done effort: It’s a continuous process that requires regular analysis and improvements for success. As you look to boost your operational efficiency, make sure you have the right tools in place to measure your progress.
Robust deskless productivity software, for example, can help you manage all of the moving parts of your mobile workforce—from scheduling and dispatching, to routing, to communication and collaboration, to field data collection—and then analyze your teams’ performance against your goals. A strong platform can even seamlessly integrate with your existing systems, helping you eliminate workflow bottlenecks and data silos for a more streamlined, collaborative operation.
As your business grows, an intelligent, dynamic tool can help you glean even more insights about how to tighten operations for improved ROI, greater predictability, and a more competitive edge.
Deskless Productivity Cloud for Enhanced Operational Efficiency
For mobile workforce operations, operational efficiency is beneficial to more than just their financial metrics. Streamlining workflows with the proper tools and processes can increase both employee and customer satisfaction, and boost your competitive advantage. Those that fail to overcome the operational challenges associated with mobile and blended work will likely risk falling behind more forward-thinking organizations.
Skedulo’s deskless productivity cloud is a single solution that intelligently manages your deskless workforce and integrates with your existing systems. With centralized tools for automated scheduling and dispatching, optimized routing, communication, data collection, and analysis, organizations can boost their operational efficiency and gain a leg up against their competition.
Learn more about how providing your deskless workers with the proper tools is critical for boosting their productivity, or book a demo today.