Did you ever count the time it takes to bill customers once your field employees have delivered the service? How many people are involved in the back office before you issue customer bills? How much money do you leave on the table because of inaccuracies along the billing process? How much time do your field employees spend delivering service to customers as opposed to on paperwork related to their field activities? All of these inefficiencies reduce your revenue and increase your operational cost.
Imagine a service operation in which the field employees trigger the billing process immediately – as soon as they complete the service. Since all the information is available without the need for back-office employees along the process, billing happens in virtually no time, automatically. Imagine a service operation in which the field employees spend 100 per cent of their time delivering customer-facing service and they never arrive at the office or depot.
By now you are probably excited (and at the same time skeptical) about the feasibility of such a short billing cycle and the ability to keep field employees in the field as opposed to the office. In the era of modern mobile technology, being a paperless service operation is not luxury or science fiction. It’s a matured technology available for every service operation. As a matter of fact, if you look right or left you’ll notice that some of your competitors have already become paperless operations. Throughout this blog, I’ll describe the relevant processes for paperless service operation, how you may operate as a paperless service operation, and what you will gain from the change. Hopefully, this will provide ideas about areas to improve in your operation, as well as what to expect from every new mobile technology in the market.
Shorten the billing cycle
Some of field service jobs are billable service; it’s in your best interest to invoice customers just after you deliver the service. Sounds simple and straightforward, however; reality shows that many organizations struggle with that. The following example demonstrates some of the challenges: field employees (technicians, surveyors, sales representatives, appraisers) using paper-based forms. These forms are unique to the type of service they provide, such that field employees carry several types of forms based on the jobs they intend to deliver. It takes time to fill in the forms and as a result the field employees tend to do the paperwork at the end of the working day, after they complete the customer- facing service activities. Filling in the forms is a manual, tedious, lengthy, and error-prone activity. The inconsistencies (not to mention errors) accrue with hiring additional back-office personnel dedicated to reviewing and correcting the forms once the field employees return them. Think about it for a minute: the process is lengthy, prone to a relatively high degree of error, and expensive as more and more people get involved. I’ll tell you a secret: even with the back-office support, the quality of the process is still not high enough and organizations leave significant money on the table.
As a service organization, your motivation is to speed up the time it takes the field employees to fill in the forms, increase the quality of the information the field employees collect and report, and reduce the cost related to back-office personnel. If you improve these three aspects your billing cycle will be much faster and your billing rate will increase. In addition, with an effective way to fill in the forms, the field employees will have a higher availability to attend more customer-facing services.
Field employees should spend more time in the field rather than in the office
Your goal is to increase your field employees’ utilization through enabling them to attend to more customer-facing services. Unfortunately, some of the field services activities require administrative paperwork that the field employees tend to do before or after their field service work. For example:
- In order to calculate the time for salaries and sometimes in order to bill customers, field employees report their timesheets. Some are doing it by traveling to the office or depot and some submit paper-based forms.
- Prior to beginning the daily work, organizations distribute the work plan to each field employee. Employees who arrive the office can get their plan on paper and report back what they did the next time they arrive the office (at the end of the day or the following morning).
- For some of the field activities, the field employees need specific parts that they don’t carry on a regular basis. For example, a motor of a washing machine. Following the assigning of the job to the field employee and prior to dispatching the employee to meet the customer, the employee picks up the part by arriving at the depot.
- During the work on site, field employees consume parts and the organizations expect them to report the parts they used. The parts report can be on a paper-based form filled out at the end of the working day and then delivered in person to the depot (e.g., at the beginning or end of the working day).
As you can see, the time the field employees spend not in the field is significant and probably equivalent to one or two extra field jobs per day!
How things may look different when you become a paperless service operation
As a service organization, you probably ask yourself if you can do things in a better way. Can you shorten the billing cycle and have your employees spend more time in the field? Fortunately, the answer is YES. Mobile technology has matured and offers a solution to all of these issues. I’ll list few examples and hopefully convince you the solution is tangible and reachable:
- All the information the field employees collect on paper-based forms can be converted into electronic forms, such that the field employees will use a dedicated app to fill in all the required information at the end of the meeting with the customer. The forms will have a unique flavour for every job type. In addition, the app will guide the field employee how to fill in each property of the form and make sure the forms are successfully completed with no errors, prior to closing the job. The apps are so mature that creating a new form shouldn’t require any development and can be done through the existing configuration tools.
- Customers’ signatures or images from the site can be captured alongside the work and included in the report when closing the job.
- The field employee can fill in the forms, capture images and take the customer’s signature when the app is in or out of mobile coverage. All the information from the mobile app will transfer automatically to the back office as soon as the field employee enters an area with mobile coverage. From the back office, the information will transfer automatically through integration between different applications including the ERP, CRM, billing and every other relevant system. The new information that the field employees send will automatically invoke the billing process. Field employees will probably spend a little bit more time on site to complete the forms and report them before they move on to their next job. As early as they finish the job and synchronize the information, their job is done. It happens in a consistent way, fast, and with no requirement of additional back- office employees – which means it’s even cheaper. It’s fantastic: you shorten the billing cycle, increase the billing rate, and even reduce the operational cost.
- Timesheets are now a mobile app. Field employees can clock in, clock out, and report their activities throughout the day by using the app. They do it during the day in between and during customer-facing jobs. As a field employee, you should not need to arrive at the office or depot in order to report your timesheet, as all of this can now be done remotely during the working day. When synchronizing the mobile app, the information in the timesheet reports will be available to the relevant back-office systems such as human resources (HR) and billing. When working in this way, the availability of the field employees is higher and they can attend to more customer-facing jobs rather than spend time in the office.
- When the field employees open the mobile application at the beginning of the day, the scheduling function will show them their work plan for the day. They will see all the relevant details about each job and report their progress in near real time. Gone are the days that field employees arrive at the office and receive a printout of their daily work.
- When opening the app related to the job specific information, the field employees can see the parts they are supposed to use for the job. They will be able to report the parts they used and even order additional parts. When closing the job and synchronizing the mobile app, all the information will transfer to the ERP in order to update the stock and order new parts. When relevant, the information can transfer to the billing system and update the invoicing of the customer. Parts can be ordered for additional field activities and even delivered directly to the customer’s site, to the home of the field employee or to specific pick-up locations closer to the customers’ sites, effectively eliminating the need for field employees to arrive at the office or depot to replenish their van stock.
Paperless service operation is an opportunity for every service operation to excel. It enables you to provide better service to your customers, reduce your operational cost, and increase your revenues.