With the acquisition of Astea by IFS, Steve Scott now has the opportunity to establish a private consulting practice, focussing on assisting field service enterprises in the APAC region to gain process and efficiency improvements through the use of technology. Steve can bring to the table more than 30 years of practical experience working with field service management applications.
Steve has 36 years of experience in the Field Service industry, including 2 years as Field Service Technician, 16 years in Service Management, and 18 years with Astea International as Professional Services Manager and Managing Director (APAC). In the nearly two decades with Astea, Steve was either lead Business Consultant, Project Manager or Executive Sponsor of countless implementations of the Astea Alliance FSM application for tier-one global service companies across the Asia Pacific region.
Industry Papers by Steve:
Why do some managers still cling to the timesheet?
Since the start of the industrial revolution there have been three main trends in the method by which technology workers have been paid. The nineteenth century was the era of ‘piece work’ and the advent of the ‘sweatshop’. The twentieth century was the era of the Bundy Clock, Time Card and Timesheet. In the twenty first century, and the move from the industrial revolution to the information revolution, we have seen a shift to flexible work arrangements. Why then do so many managers still cling to the twentieth century concept of a timesheet?
The industrial revolution of the nineteenth century is defined primarily by the advent of machines, and the factories that produced the components of those machines. The profitability of those factories was determined largely by the rate at which they could output the components they manufactured. The owners of those companies wanted to tie their labour costs to the rate of productivity in order to maintain profit margins. Hence the advent of ‘sweatshops’ where labourers were required to work in horrendous conditions and were paid based on ‘piece work’ pay schemes. In other words, they were paid per component produced.
It’s likely that the managers of the nineteenth century realised that, while ‘piece work’ may be appropriate when picking fruit, it is intrinsically unfair in a factory where the rate of production is rarely determined by the skill or productivity of the individual worker in isolation. In spite of the unfairness of the system, change did not come about for nearly a century when business eventually came to understand that piece work results in poor quality. Factory workers are motivated to focus exclusively on the quantity of units produced rather than the quality of the product.
By the late nineteenth century there was a shift to hourly pay, and therefore a need to record the hours of work per employee. To this end, William le Grand Bundy invented the Bundy Clock, ushering in the era of the ‘time card’ or timesheet.
While a Bundy Clock and time card may work in a factory, when it comes to the field service technicians repairing machines in the field, it is entirely impractical. To overcome this, field service technicians, in order to have some consistency with the factory workers, were required to keep ‘time sheets’ in which they recorded their start and end work times. The obvious additional benefit of the timesheet is that the field technician can include a breakdown of hours worked per customer or per job, and this could also be used for billing and/or calculating contract profitability.
Traditionally the timesheet was also used to manage overtime. Any time beyond the standard eight hours was considered overtime and paid at a higher rate per hour.
In the twenty first century we are in the era of work-life balance, flexible work arrangements, and field service technicians are paid annual salaries rather than an hourly rate. On any one day a field technician may start early in order to drive to a distant customer, then finish early. He/she may work late one day and start late another day so as to attend a school function for his/her child. He/she may have a dentist appointment during the day and work back that day to make up time. None of this would have any impact on how much the technician is paid.
Regrettably, on some days there may be no be no customer jobs for a period of time, and the technician may use that time to complete a stocktake or tidy the service vehicle. Again, this will have no impact on what the individual can be paid.
A timesheet is not a useful tool for determining pay.
Worse still is when a company uses timesheets to determine billing or calculating job costs. As any good field service manager knows, a good yardstick for productivity of a field technician is whether they are achieving in excess of 80% productive time, including travel and on site time. Why then is it that some companies expect the total hours recorded on a timesheet to be equal to the number of hours worked? It’s amazing how often in these cases that seems to be true. But how is it possible for that information to be accurate. Is it helpful to be evaluating contract or project profitability based on inaccurately recorded time data? Is it appropriate (or even ethical) to bill customers based on time data that is known to be inaccurate?
A timesheet is not a useful tool for measuring productivity, profitability or for billing customers.
A far more useful tool in the era of flexible work arrangements, annual salaries and smart phones is the Utilisation Report.
Modern Field Service Management (FSM) software applications have apps that run on smart phones, allowing field technicians to capture their activities in real time, from the start of travel to their first job, to clock off from the last job or the arrival back home or at the depot at the end of their work day. In the process they will capture actual travel times, actual on site times, and actual time spent on ‘unproductive’ work or private activities. This data can all be pulled together to calculate productive time, travel versus on site time, as well as accurate job cost data.
But what of paying the employee and charging the customer for overtime?
The simple fact that a technician worked longer than their official shift on any one day does not mean it’s appropriate for them to be paid overtime. In fact, in the era of flexible work practices, it is unlikely to be the case. Overtime pay to the employee can only be managed by way of a request by the employee and approval by an authorised supervisor.
As for billing the customer, there may be many reasons why work is done outside normal shift hours by choice of the service company or technician, rather than by the customer’s choice. Again, there must be a manual decision made as to whether an overtime charge rate is applicable or not, rather than relying on timesheet data. \
FSM software, smart phones and the UTILISATION REPORT are tools of the information age. The Bundy Clock and timesheets are tools of the industrial revolution, and belong in history books along with the telex and FAX machines.
The following articles were written by Steve for the Astea Blog:
To Centralise or not to Centralise
In recent decades companies have effectively utilised new technologies in order to centralise business support processes such as Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, Payroll, Human Resources, IT Management and others. With the advent of new technologies for automating Field Service Management such as mobile work order applications and GPS tracking, the question gets asked by most large service organisations whether or not to centralise Field Service Management.
There is no doubt that with sophisticated scheduling and dispatch tools like the Astea Dispatch Console and Dynamic Scheduling Engine, used in conjunction with mobile work order management tools such Astea Mobile Edge, service organisations have everything they need to allow centralisation of the dispatch process. Doing so can yield significant benefits:
Modern software applications allow automated scheduling, drag-and-drop manual scheduling, skills matching, route optimisation, on-time parts supply etc. These capabilities make it possible to efficiently schedule and dispatch more field staff using fewer dispatchers.
Centralised dispatchers are able to achieve more optimal utilisation of field service staff. By having global visibility and centralised control, they are able to shift resources quickly from areas of light workload to supplement areas where work volumes are high.
Through greater visibility, improved SLA compliance can be achieved without the need to increase field staff.
But are these benefits enough to warrant centralising Service Management? The answer to that can only come after a careful analysis of potential costs.
In recent years some large service companies have taken the opportunities provided by modern FSM applications to centralise their service management, often to the detriment of their relationships with customers and field service staff. In some cases, after losing customers and staff, the decision has been reversed at great cost and after the damage has already been done.
The answer to this conundrum is to centralise the dispatch process without centralising the whole field service management structure. Service dispatchers take the day to day responsibility of ensuring that the field staff is well utilised and operating efficiently, SLA are being met and jobs are getting closed off and pushed into the billing process in a timely manner. Regional managers and supervisors can stay in place where their local knowledge and relationships with customers and staff are maintained, or even improved on as their days are no longer filled with scheduling challenges.
Another issue that needs to be addressed is that of management compensation plans. Often service managers are paid bonuses based on how well their teams meet SLA or how effectively utilised they are. With centralised dispatch, the local managers do not have direct control over these factors anymore, so continuing to pay bonuses on that basis is a recipe for constant staff disputes.
This is not a reason to not centralise the dispatch function. Employee comp plans are meant to provide an incentive for employees to work towards implementing the company’s strategies and achieving its goals. They should not be an impediment to the implementation of those strategies. The compensation plans need to be changed to be in line with the new strategy. Local managers and supervisors should be compensated based on factors they can control, such as customer retention, the effectiveness of staff training, the discipline of the staff under their management etc.
It’s also critical that under a centralised dispatch model, quality and timely information is provided to the local managers and supervisors to allow them to do their jobs effectively. The communication channels between the dispatchers and the local managers must be kept open so the managers can be advised of any discipline or training issues affecting their staff. They need to be provided with reports on KPI and analysis of staff utilisation, SLA compliance, first time fix rates and other important metrics that will help them identify issues in their service territory.
Centralised scheduling and dispatch, along with the software tools that enable it, are extremely effective at achieving efficiency gains and improving customer service, but it’s critical that it be implemented in such a way that it does not open a rift between your service team and your customer, and does not leave your field staff feeling isolated and unsupported. If properly managed, the exact opposite can be achieved. Customer facing managers will have more time available to attend to these critical relationships.
It probably should go without saying. Certainly it is a statement that should not need to be defended or justified. Happy customers are of critical importance to any business. A happy customer is good for top line revenue and for margin. They are more likely to buy from you. They are more likely to be willing to pay a premium price because a relationship built on trust has an intrinsic value to them. Furthermore, a happy customer will help grow your market share and penetration. Word of mouth is the most effective force behind market growth for many companies. And don’t forget that with employee mobility on the increase, people will take their attitudes and opinions with them to their new employers.
How to measure customer satisfaction
In a recent Aberdeen study, service organizations ranked customer experience as their biggest opportunity for competitive differentiation. But as important as it is to a business, customer satisfaction is notoriously difficult and expensive to measure accurately. In fact, does it even make sense to think in terms of accuracy when referring to human emotions such as ‘satisfaction’? Emotions are qualitative and can’t really be measured in a quantitative way. Also, customer satisfaction surveys often lack statistical validity due to the small sample sizes. In most situations only a minority of customers respond, and often responses are limited to the statistical ‘outliers’. Those that are either particularly happy or particularly unhappy are the most likely to respond.
However, the biggest problem with treating customer satisfaction as a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) is that it is a trailing indicator. By the time any measure of customer satisfaction has been calculated and used as a catalyst for change, it’s probably already too late. If your customers are unhappy with your service, making them happy again is a difficult, expensive and time consuming process.
For a KPI to be most useful, it should be easy and quick to measure accurately from a statistically valid sample size. More importantly, it needs to be a leading indicator. Your KPIs need to alert you to issues before they start to have a negative impact on customer satisfaction.
So, rather than asking your customers if they are happy, start by determining what it takes to make them happy. If you find that being kept well informed is important to them, ensure you have a KPI to measure response times. If they tell you that multiple visits to fix a problem makes them unhappy, make sure that you are measuring first time fix rates, and the reasons for failing to fix on the first visit. If your customers indicate that meeting your SLA is important to them, have KPIs that measure SLA failure rates and analyse the reasons for failure.
Is customer satisfaction worth measuring?
A recent Aberdeen report entitled “Self-Service: Create Happy Customers & Reduce Costs” found that virtually all best-in-class service organizations currently have a process through which they analyse customer interactions to identify common issues. As shown in the figure below, the leading companies then update their processes accordingly. One example may be to migrate some lower value interactions to a self-service model. This allows their support team to focus on interactions deemed to be of higher value by their customers, and ultimately offer the best customer value with every interaction. Rather than assuming, for example, that customers prefer digital forms of communication in all circumstances, these companies take the time to observe, analyse and make data-driven decisions about how to improve customer satisfaction. More importantly, they take time to talk to their customers and actually ask them what is important to them.
There may not be a simple or accurate way to measure satisfaction, but there are certainly ways to measure its determining factors, and those are always worth measuring. But don’t forget, “information gathered but not used has a cost but no value”. You must adapt in response to what you learn in order to have a positive impact on your customer satisfaction levels.
The old saying is that necessity is the mother of invention, but that is founded in the industrial revolution. In the information revolution, innovation creates demand.
My first job out of university back in 1983 was as a technician for a small electronic repair company in Toowoomba. Upon arrival on my first day my boss pointed to a large format printer and said ‘fix that’. Of course at the time I didn’t know it was a large format printer. I had never heard of such a device. I learned what it was when I walked to the device and found a shiny new Operation and Service Manual. I spent the first half of my first day on the tools reading the manual, and the second half of the day fixing the printer. I can’t take too much credit for genius. The print head carriage was just jammed with gunk. I spent the last hour of the day testing it, having no confidence at all in my own abilities on the first day of my career.
At knock-off time I went to the office to fill in the job card and advise the boss that I had fixed the printer, apologising for taking so long. He told me the customer would be thrilled, because the printer had been in the shop for two months while the boss had been hunting down the manual from the manufacturer in the USA.
It was a very stressful, but ultimately successful first day of a 35 year career in the service industry. A happy customer. A critical device fixed with only eight hours of labour after only two months in the shop. Can you imagine any customer accepting that today?
Twelve months later I had moved to Sydney and was working for a national supplier of automotive service equipment. I was the first electronics technician they had ever hired, having previously exclusively used external service agents.
Everything I fixed in my first month, whether in the shop or in the field, was something I had never seen before. Typically my first task was to hand write a letter to the manufacture in the US and have one of the ladies in the typing pool key it into the telex machine. (Yes, we had a typing pool and they were all ladies. It was the 1980’s.) Usually the next morning I would be delivered a telex from the manufacturer stating that the service manuals and schematic diagrams I needed were being sent by air mail.
A one month turn around through our workshop was considered by most customers to be a significant improvement over what was being achieved by the local service agents operating across the country.
Not long after moving to Sydney, after having to make a sound business case, I was able to convince my boss to invest in a fax machine. With manuals, schematics or advice from the manufacturers arriving via fax overnight, we were able to reduce turn around through our service process from weeks down to days. Of course, customers quickly grew to expect that level of service every time.
By the late 1990’s all correspondence with our suppliers in the US was being conducted by email. Technical data was available via the Internet. Customers would no longer consider accepting the lack of technical data as an excuse for slow service. The very pace of business had accelerated manifold and continues to do so to this day off the back of these new technologies.
This can be seen in the Service Level Agreements (SLA) included in most service contracts today. Historically SLA have been based around ‘arrival’ times, often measured in days, but increasingly often measured in hours. However, and in spite of push back by service providers, customers are increasingly expecting SLA based on resolution of the issue, and once again, often measured in hours. They expect this because they know it is possible.
Customers know that service providers can schedule and track their field staff in real time using Mobile Field Service Management (FSM) software and GPS tracking. They know that the field service technician has ready access to technical information via mobile devices connected to the internet. They know that professional service organisations have FSM software that ensures their field staff have quick access to the right parts. Put simply, there are no longer any excuses for slow service.
One thing that has not changed throughout the past 35 years is the paramount importance of communication. Perhaps surprisingly to people new to the service industry, it is often more important to a customer that they know when their issue is going to be fixed than it is that it be fixed quickly. This is because they are often able to somewhat mitigate the impact of the problem if they are able to plan around when it will be resolved. Of course, this level of trust can only be achieved when there is an open and honest dialog, and the customer has confidence that the service company is taking every possible action to resolve the issue as quickly as possible.
In the 21st century there are no excuses for poor communication with customers. We have always been able to pick up a phone and call a customer, and sometimes that is still the best approach. However I don’t believe I need to elaborate here on the vast array of other options available today for keeping customers well informed.
The key point to be made is that customers now expect to be proactively advised of status updates at every step of the service process. Customers expect this now because they know it’s possible. They know that any service organisation should have the ability to automatically send regular status updates to the customer via email or SMS, as well as allow the customer to view the status online.
Again, this is customer expectation being driven by what technology has made possible. Innovations quickly become the norm. So, where to from here? What will customers expect of us in coming years, driven by new technological advancements?
I won’t pretend to have a greater read on the future than anyone else. I do not own a crystal ball or a time machine. But there are a couple of things of which we can all be fairly sure.
Firstly, business will increasingly be conducted using mobile devices. Just walk down any busy city street today and try to find someone that doesn’t have their face buried in their device. Today we all do many things on our phone that were not possible just a few years ago. We do our banking, order food, pay our bills, book medical appointments, book flights, accommodation and hire cars… even make or break dates via SMS or IM.
Increasingly service calls are being booked and tracked online using mobile devices. Very soon this will cease being seen as an innovation and will instead be the customer’s minimum expectation.
Secondly, the Internet of Things (IoT), allows machine to machine communication, with service tickets raised with no human intervention. Today IoT is a buzz word. Soon most customers will expect their service providers to know when a device needs maintenance and advise the customer rather than relying on the customer to advise them.
More than that, with the increasing awareness of Artificial Intelligence and Predictive Analytics, before long customers will expect their service providers to know when a device is about to fail and fix it before it does. If you are in HVAC, be prepared for the first time an unhappy customer asks why you didn’t know their air conditioner was about to fail. It may have happened to you already.
What impact will this have on contractual SLA? What you will probably see is customers no longer expecting Arrival or even Resolution SLA. Instead they will be asking for SLA based on outcomes such as device uptime, or minimising failures. In HVAC they may be asking for SLA based on average room temperatures. In the fire and security industry they may be asking for SLA based on legislative compliance. It may well go beyond SLA. In many cases customers may expect penalty clauses for failure to achieve outcomes, or even have the revenue from service contract directly determined by these outcomes.
This is actually not that new. For decades the copy/print industry’s revenue has been driven based on outcomes; the number of prints or copies made by the customer. However this will almost certainly expand to include many other service industries and many and varied measurable outcomes.
What should service organisations be doing today to prepare for this future? Most importantly you should not wait for it to become a reality, else surely a savvy competitor will get there ahead of you. It’s important to be laying a platform now that allows these new technologies to be quickly adopted and integrated into your business model. This is where a modern, connected Field Service Management application with open and flexible integration capabilities, developed by an innovative, forward thinking company will allow you to respond quickly to these emerging technology driven trends.
Since the industrial revolution technological advances have completely changed all aspects of modern society. In the 21st century the information revolution will continue this process, and in particular in the service industries it will continue to drive customer expectations in directions not always easy to predict.
Services on offer include:
Development of management reports using Microsoft Reporting Services or Astea Alliance Report Customiser.
Configuration of Workflows and Approval Processes.
Assistance with internal coordination of support from IFS.
Assisting with the design and documentation of functional requirements for customisations and interfaces.
UAT of service releases from software vendors.
Assistance with long term strategic systems planning.