It goes without saying that operational leaders working within today’s competitive environment are challenged every day with an abundance of internal and external pressures. They strive to maintain a perfect balance between delivering superior customer service, hitting targets and keeping their field operators safe; all whilst reducing operational costs. This demands multiple levels of coordination and a deep understanding of various complex processes. Here are what we see as the top 4 challenges within field operations, with recommendations on how to tackle them:
1. The Rising Pressure of Hitting Targets
Operational leaders are challenged with the responsibility of achieving two different sets of targets - their own organisational efficiency targets and the targets enforced by the regulatory bodies that govern their activities. However, the combination of missing out on incentives and being penalised for failing compliance, puts pressure on operational leaders to prioritise appeasing these governing bodies over improving the efficiency of their own organisation. Such restricted vision can directly impact upon the process of planning jobs, as it disregards the most efficient approaches to job completion in favour of pursuing specific KPIs and targets.
To minimise this issue, operational leaders should make greater use of field service analytics during the planning process. This will allow them to manage their field performance more effectively and get to the root cause of issues at a faster pace, through gaining a higher level of field visibility. To put it simply, you cannot improve what you do not measure. Operational leaders must be focused on real-time and long term decision-making, to ensure they can achieve both sets of targets without prioritising one over the other.
2. Reducing Operational Costs
Keeping operational costs under control is one of the core headaches within field operations. In the wake of the privatisation of utilities, operational leaders are now facing demands for them to reduce their costs in order to remain competitive and productive. It can often feel as if there are only so many efficiency improvements that can be made before you have to cut back on service quality. The real challenge lies in deciding where best to pull resources from, as each component within the value chain (including the wider logistical network) are all inter-related.
Operational leaders must be able to specifically pinpoint the areas which they feel require less expenditure and ensure that the rest of their organisation can still operate effectively and efficiently without it. To be able to do this optimally, work must be done to understand how a cut in one area may impact another. This end-to-end view is essential if you are to avoid a situation where ‘cost-cutting’ builds in inefficiency and actually increases cost further downstream or upstream.
3. Achieving Employee Engagement amongst Field Service Operators
This is a key challenge for any leader, but even more so within field operations due to the geographically dispersed workforce, the nature of the work and the often challenging environment. However, increasing employee engagement can be a key tool for driving further efficiency gains in field operations - it is very much a means to an end, rather than an end itself. Firstly, removing the very same issues that slow down job completion, such as access to the correct tools and parts, can remove sources of frustration among team members that inhibit engagement. Secondly, the potential benefits of an engaged workforce, such as improved problem solving, increased quality, lower costs and higher productivity, are significant.
To solve this challenge, operational leaders must provide workers with the tools to concentrate on the job they were hired for and allow them to take ownership of these roles. This involves the provision of correct parts, more optimised routes, and the availability of offline support teams. Real-time communications should be taken advantage of so leaders can rapidly re-assign operators that are either running ahead of time, or send in additional help to those that have run into problems. This creates a more supportive environment that will increase the worker’s satisfaction.
4. Customer Satisfaction Demands
Unfortunately for operational leaders, heightened customer service expectations have become the norm. Customers demand instant response times to queries, to have any repairs and replacements booked immediately and all problems to be fixed first time around. For operational leaders, this means complex processes must be robust enough to run flawlessly every single day. To keep up with these demands some organisations believe increasing the size of their workforce will help them, yet that will also serve to significantly increase their operational costs.
To overcome this challenge, operational processes must be streamlined, and then automated where possible, to ensure field workers are always well-equipped to complete every job they are sent to do. Using field service software could help management organise individual workflows in one central place, to help field workers on the move, and to decrease the level of customer frustration.
Operational leaders must become more aware of their evolving working environment, and strategically plan to weather the growing demands from the regulator, their governing bodies and their customers. They must be able to apply new methods and processes to continually support and assist their field operators, and help them complete jobs at an efficient and effective pace. We recommend reading the ‘Field Operations Puzzle’, to help learn more about the challenges within field operations and ideas how to solve them.
The Field Operations Puzzle
This article explores the challenges within field operations, including the ever-increasing requirements of both the regulator and the customer, and how they could be met.