If you run a field service business—like plumbing, property management, HVAC, gas, electrical, or fire, and security company—the hardest part of your job may be juggling technicians’ schedules and routes as the jobs pour in. That is if you don’t have a schedule optimization software.
Which technician should you send, and when? How many work orders can you pack into the day without dropping any balls? Optimizing your job schedule and your technicians’ routes is a science, but luckily there are software solutions that can make it easy for you. Read on: We’ll be answering all your questions about schedule optimization software for plumbing businesses but that also applies to any field service industry.
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Schedule optimization software (also known as dynamic scheduling or intelligent scheduling software) helps plumbing business owners and operations managers send the right tech to the right job, by considering which technician has the shortest travel time and also has the best qualifications or certifications to perform the repair or installation. Some solutions also offer a “map view”, where you can see where all your jobs are in relation to the one you’re booking at the moment.
Before you commit to purchasing a solution, you need to make sure that it’s right for your business. Here are the benefits of schedule optimization software for plumbers.
You can fit in more work orders.
Schedule optimization software lets you fit more jobs into each day; thanks to the route optimization functionality, your technicians aren’t having to backtrack or drive long distances to get to a job. Of course, more service calls equals more profits for your business. This increased efficiency makes better use of resources, from fleet and fuel to number of technicians, and means you can do more job for a similar cost.
Your customers are happier.
When you use schedule optimization software, your customers enjoy smaller service windows and faster service. They also get a better field service customer experience, since you’re able to send the most qualified plumber for each work order. In case they need to change their appointment time, this tool will also come in handy since admins will be quicker and more confident when editing an existing schedule. The technicians also get automatically notified in time to keep them from making an unnecessary journey.
You save money.
When schedule optimization software groups together jobs that are close to one another and sends the closest qualified plumber, you save on fuel and maintenance costs for your service trucks. Users of software that includes a dynamic scheduling feature see a 15% reduction in total travel costs—and also a 10% improvement in their first-time fix rate, which means they also save money by not having to return to fix a failed job.
You save time.
You already know that schedule optimization software saves your technicians’ time by creating more efficient routes. Well, it also saves you time since you won’t have to do scheduling or route optimization manually or using ineffective, cumbersome software solutions. In fact, businesses that use the Intelligent Scheduling feature in Commusoft save 10 hours managing schedules each month—per technician!
You stress less.
No more freaking out when a customer cancels a service call or a technician goes home sick. Schedule optimization software can do more than create efficient work schedules and routes, but it can also adapt when changes happen. The software will reshuffle the schedule and then notify all the technicians of the changes.
The potential to automate further.
In the words of field service expert, Chris Forbus, automation means: “No more missed appointments because someone forgot to write it down or tell someone. No more losing track of past customers. Ability to keep in touch with past customers. Much better tracking of marketing results. Everything can be done faster and better.”
Routing is determining the path your technicians take to work order: The distance, number of stops and turns, and so on. It sounds easy, but the more jobs and service trucks you have, the more complicated it becomes. (In fact, calculating the shortest distance between multiple points, known as the Traveling Salesman Problem, has been studied intensely since the 1930s—that’s how difficult it is.)
Scheduling is determining which technicians to dispatch to which job, in order to make the best use of your man-hours. Efficient scheduling minimizes travel time and overtime, saving you money.
So that’s the difference between routing and scheduling. However, while you can treat each of these functions separately, schedule optimization software handles both at the same time: It creates an efficient schedule and takes care of route optimization.
A schedule optimization software isn’t the only solution you can use to streamline your scheduling and perform route optimization. Here are some other options, plus their pros and cons.
You may feel most comfortable using old-school paper calendars. This is great if you’re a sole trader or microbusiness not looking to grow. The main benefits are:
- It’s cheap.
- There’s no learning curve.
- You’re already used to it.
However, a paper calendar offers none of the benefits we talked about earlier: It doesn’t help you fit in more jobs, boosts customer satisfaction, saves time or money, or decreases stress.
The disadvantages are amplified as you plumbing company grows: If you’re overwhelmed now trying to schedule one or two techs, imagine multiplying that by five, ten, or even more engineers. Route optimization also becomes devilishly complicated the more service trucks you have.
The Service Council’s report 5 Major Transformations Impacting Service Businesses revealed that a majority of service organizations know they need to work on addressing their technology needs, and 31% named “outdated processes” as a challenge. If you’re using paper calendars (or whiteboards or sticky notes) as your main scheduling tool, take heart that you’re not alone—and then work to adopt the tech tools that will improve your scheduling and your business.
Schedule Optimisation in Excel
Some field service businesses use Excel for their engineer scheduling; they either create their own worksheet or use Excel’s Solver add-in and set it up to schedule their workforce.
The good news is that this is one step up the ladder to becoming a tech-savvy field service company. Also, Excel is easy to use, almost every office already has it, and it lets you create a customized solution.
Here’s the bad news:
- Schedule optimization in Excel is not automated, meaning you have to manually enter in all the data.
- The worksheet doesn’t take into consideration routing or engineer expertise.
- This system won’t grow with your business.
So while schedule optimization in Excel has some distinct advantages, it’s not the ideal solution for a plumbing and heating business—especially ones that are looking to improve and grow.
Some operations managers plug all their work addresses into Bing Maps and have the system reorder the route by traveling distance. For the more technically adept, Bing Maps even offers fleet management APIs.
Like paper calendars and schedule optimization in Excel, this system is free and easy. The main drawback is that it’s manual, so it doesn’t continually optimize when the situation changes. If a customer cancels, the tech can’t access the site, or the tech doesn’t have the right parts to complete the work order…you have to start the process all over again and then contact each technician to relay the new schedule.
Free Scheduling Software
The main benefits of free scheduling software over the paper calendars, Bing Maps, and Excel are:
- It’s easier to move and change events.
- You can “push” scheduled jobs out to your technicians instead of them having to come into the office to check.
- It makes your business look more pro to your customers than scribbled notes.
As they say, though, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Finding and setting up free scheduling software that isn’t perfectly optimized for your business wastes time, effort, and ultimately money.
Not to mention, free scheduling software won’t integrate with your plumbing service management system. (Even if you don’t use FSM software now, chances are you will as your business grows.)
Schedule optimization software, on the other hand, is often integrated right into your plumbing business software so that the data flows seamlessly into all the parts of your business that need it (and vice versa). Make schedule optimization software a key part of your operations, and you’ll skyrocket your plumbing company to profit and success.
Learn how to choose a job scheduling software here.