It's hard to run your business efficiently when you have no idea how many jobs to expect the next day, week, or month. Scheduling is a nightmare when some days are packed with jobs and others are almost empty.
Not only that, but you need to balance your customers' needs with your need for an efficient schedule. What do you do, for example, if a customer wants an engineer to come out on Wednesday—but you already have engineers scheduled for that area on Tuesday? Sending an engineer on Wednesday would make the customer happy, but you'd spend your profit margin on travel.
Let's talk about the best ways to pre-plan so you'll have an idea of how many jobs you can expect to have—and the tools and tactics that will help make your workforce scheduling more efficient.
Bonus: If paper-based scheduling is your nemesis, but you aren't ready to make the leap into digital scheduling, try this: A free job status spreadsheet that can help you organise and track your jobs, created just for you. Download it here.
How can I create the most efficient schedule?
Here are strategies for more efficient workforce scheduling.
- Be proactive in your scheduling; if you anticipate a slow day, try to pull future jobs into that day.
- Offer service agreements so you'll have a handle on how many jobs you'll have each month.
- Remind service contract customers to schedule their maintenance.
- Send service reminders to help predict when you'll have jobs.
- Map out job locations using Bing Maps of Google Maps, and send each engineer to jobs in one region.
- Digitalise your scheduling to balance travel times, engineer skills, and customer needs.
Now we'll dive into the details.
Know What to Expect
Whether you run a plumbing and heating, gas, electrical, or fire and security business, knowing how many jobs you'll have each week is the first step to creating an efficient, effective schedule—and to keeping your staff sane. Here's how.
Be proactive in your scheduling.
When you're experiencing a slow day, you can look forward into the rest of the week to see if there are any maintenance jobs you can reschedule for today—but only if you have a handle on your daily peaks and troughs. After all, if you pull more jobs into today's schedule and then have a spate of customers calling for appointments, you're even worse off than before!
At One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, owner Matt Buckwalter "takes a pulse" on the business at 11:00 am, 2:00 pm, and 4:00 pm, and sends out a report of the daily revenue of the business based on the jobs that have been completed so far.
If it looks like they'll be short on jobs that day, they can make proactive changes to get more into the diary. For example, Buckwalter's call center might reach out to customers to get new maintenance visits on the board, or try to pull jobs forward from the following day.
Offer service agreements.
Consider introducing a service agreement plan, where customers pay monthly for a certain number of maintenance visits. This will give you a good idea of how many jobs you'll need to do each month to fulfill those contracts.
Many customers don't know what "service agreements" are, reports an article in Contracting Business Magazine, so come up with a unique name for yours: Try "protection plan", "maintenance agreement," or even branding your service agreement as an exclusive club.
One Hour Heating and Air Conditioning offers a Protection Plan for about $29 per month. The customer gets two visits annually—one in the spring for the cooling, and one in the fall for heating—plus $500 of repair coverage up to four times per year. Customers can't pass up this great deal, and Buckwalter's company benefits from more control over their call scheduling.
With the insurance component, it doesn't matter when the company does the maintenance for the customer—even better for scheduling purposes. 'They know that if something happens, it's covered anyway,' Buckwalter says.
Remind service contract customers to schedule their maintenance.
People tend to put off maintenance appointments—even when they have service agreements where they've already paid for the work! 'When your HVAC system is working, you're not thinking about it, right?' says Buckwalter. 'And it's never convenient to stay home to have someone come and service your air conditioner, as important as it is.'
The problem is, if you leave it up to your service agreement customers to decide when to call, they'll do it in the summer and winter. Then you have the same issue as always, with some days crammed with calls and some days where you hear nothing but crickets.
That's why, in the evening, Buckwalter's call center 'outbounds' to customers, meaning they call customers to remind them when they might need to schedule maintenance.
Send service reminders.
All customers should get reminders when their equipment or appliances are due for maintenance, even if they're not signed up for a service agreement.
Knowing how many service reminders you're sending week by week can give you a good idea of how busy you'll be at any given time. The trick is to analyse the data: How many customers respond to your service reminders? For example, if you have a 10% response rate, you know that when you send out 100 service reminders you'll soon have 10 maintenance appointments in your diary. Thie lets you spread out the jobs, reducing crunch times and leaving ample space for service calls.
Need more info about service reminders and how to use them? Check out our post Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Service Reminders. You'll also find a service reminder template at the bottom of the post that you can download for free.
Optimise Your Schedule
Now that you have a handle on how many jobs you can expect, it's time to optimise the schedule. You'll want to:
- Send the engineer with the right skills for the job.
- Send the closest engineer to decrease travel costs.
- Schedule according to your customers' needs to keep them happy.
So how do you make that happen when you've sent out two hundred service reminders and now have 20 jobs to schedule? Here are some ways.
Map it out.
Using field service management software with a map view, or even just Bing Maps or Google Maps, you can see where all your upcoming jobs are located and group them by region: One engineer goes to all the jobs in one area, a second engineer goes to all the jobs in another area, and so on.
While this workforce scheduling strategy will help reduce travel costs, it doesn't take into account the needs of the customer and the requirements of the job. If you have only a few engineers this may not be an issue: You can use your personal knowledge of their skills to manually fine-tune the schedule, balancing as best as you can.
Digitalise your scheduling.
Field service scheduling software offers tools and information that can help you "level out" your schedule to keep your engineers busy—but not too busy. For example, an intelligent scheduling feature takes scheduling out of the hands of your staff and uses an algorithm to strike just the right balance between travel times, engineer skills, and customer needs.
An intelligent scheduling feature might also offer "continuous optimisation," meaning it will readjust the schedule on the fly if you need to make a change.
Of course, the scheduling system you use will depend on your particular business size, needs, and budget. If you're not ready to invest in field service scheduling software, we created this free Excel job status sheet just for you. Just click the banner below and you'll be a few seconds away from a free, simple tool that works far better than a paper-based system.