Slow The Rush With Zone Dispatching!


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A summer rush is the time when a service department’s day to day operations are put to the ultimate test. It’s a time when inefficiencies within your department appear, and they’re going to be magnified a 1000 times– your technicians will complain that they spend more time in the van traveling to their calls rather than on site, your customers will complain that they have to wait for what seems a month for service, and you’re surprised when your department’s margins just aren’t where they should be.  Don’t just “wing” the summer and try to survive until you can breathe again. It’s time to nip these inefficiencies in the bud with processes and procedures. The simplest place to start is within your designated service radius!  Maximize its potential by clearly establishing and evaluating your service zones, make sure your technicians spend less time on travel and more time on the job site, and use planned maintenances to your advantage.

Establish and Evaluate Your Service Radius

How far are you willing to go for your customers? Metaphorically speaking, the sky’s the limit! Physically speaking though, there are only so many area codes your technicians should travel through before the service call just isn’t profitable or worth performing. The first thing you need to do is evaluate whether a service zone is worth traveling to. Run a profitability report on the service calls within that zone. Compare it to your gross profit goal. Are these calls falling short? If so, it’s time to make a choice: consider increasing the dispatch fee for that service zone or nixing the zone all together.

If you choose to increase the dispatch fee to make up for a short-fall in profitability, take the following criteria into account: You should have a large enough customer base within the service zone in question. It’s not worth traveling to a distant service zone for a handful of customers that call in for service infrequently. Another point to consider is the amount of the dispatch fee increase to cover the travel time and make the call profitable. If it’s just a small jump, you won’t price yourself out of the market. If it’s a large jump that would place you way above your competition, it may be a tough pill for your customer to swallow.  If your customer base within the zone is large enough and a larger dispatch fee won’t scare these customers off, consider keeping the zone and keeping it profitable.

Sometimes choosing to eliminate the zone from your service radius is the better option. If this is the case, you’ll save your CSR’s a lot of energy on the phone if you give your unsuspecting customers prior notice through a letter that contains some key features.  First, let the customer know how much you have appreciated being their service provider. Then, inform the customer that their area is no longer in your service radius. Finally, let the customer know about another servicer they can use in their area. Do your homework before hand, though, and check the service provider’s standing with the BBB and whether they can handle manufacturer warranty claims for any equipment that you may have installed. Then conclude the letter by telling the customer to call you with any questions or concerns. Most customers appreciate the extra leg work that you’ve done to make sure they have someone to turn to for service.

Spend Less Time on Travel and More Time On-Site!Time spent on travel is time that could have been spent on-site with the customer. The less time wasted on travel, the more time your technician can spend with the customer, offering them repair options, increasing your profitability, and reducing call backs. To do so, zone your technicians and try to keep them within their respective zones when you are dispatching. If your team size permits, it’s optimal to have both repair technicians and maintenance technicians designated for a certain area. You can keep your technicians within their respective service zones by dispatching them from home, maintaining well stocked trucks, and using GPS on your service vehicles.

Time spent on travel is time that could have been spent on-site with the customer. The less time wasted on travel, the more time your technician can spend with the customer, offering them repair options, increasing your profitability, and reducing call backs. To do so, zone your technicians and try to keep them within their respective zones when you are dispatching. If your team size permits, it’s optimal to have both repair technicians and maintenance technicians designated for a certain area. You can keep your technicians within their respective service zones by dispatching them from home, maintaining well stocked trucks, and using GPS on your service vehicles.

Dispatching your technicians from home saves time driving all the way to your shop then to the service repair site. If your technicians service zones are close to home, think of how much gas and travel time you’ll save!  You’ll eliminate the need to travel to the shop by taking advantage of handheld devices such as tablets that automatically sync invoices and credit card payments to the office. That way, your office staff won’t be held up waiting for paperwork. It gets uploaded to the office in real time.

Another way to keep technicians within their service zones is to maintain well-stocked trucks and minimizing needless trips to supply houses.  It’s easy to set up and maintain a standardized truck stock for the cooling and heating seasons and set optimal quantities of each part you’d like to stock on the trucks. Twice a week, run a truck inventory report against optimal quantities to see which parts need to get replenished. Each technician has his own replenishment bin containing the parts he used throughout the week. Whenever he has to stop by the shop, he empties his bin and replenishes his truck back to optimal quantities. There are no more trips to supply houses that waste your precious gas and time!

GPS is a great way to keep your technicians within their service zones during the summer rush. Most GPS software allows CSRs and dispatchers to plug in an address and find the service technicians in closest proximity to the calls they are scheduling. Your CSRs can then schedule with intention rather than just inserting a call in a free time slot. You’ll find that you can accommodate more emergency calls and your technicians will have more time to spend with your customers.

Use Planned Maintenance to Your Advantage!

Our company’s most effective method of minimizing travel time involves our customers who receive planned maintenance as part of their service agreements. These are the easiest customers to schedule. Since they are already entitled to a tune-up, you can approach them during your quiet season and schedule their tune-ups at the cusp of your upcoming busy season.  We follow simple steps to execute this process each year: we print a list of service agreement customers, contact them by phone during the off season, and book our maintenance technicians for tune-ups within the same zip code using a “City List.”

I have heard of different ways customers receive reminders to schedule their tune-ups: some companies mail post cards and others print out contact lists alphabetically. We’ve found that the most effective method is printing a list of service agreement customers sorted by zip code. We take advantage of the quiet season to contact the customers so we have control over the way we are scheduling the tune-ups and zoning our maintenance technicians. When we call to schedule their tune-up, we are offering them appointments on days we are servicing their zone. It’s commonplace now to have a maintenance technician in the same condominium complex or zip code for the entire day. We waste no travel time.There are some occasions when the customer is not reachable by phone and you’ll have to leave a message. A “City List” can come in handy to let you know which days you are going to be in customers’ areas when they return your call. Create a list with a line for every city or zone you service. Write the dates that you have available for that particular zone. For example, you may be in Smithfield on 5/6, 5/15, and 5/27. When a customer from Smithfield returns your call to schedule his/her tune-up, offer those dates first. On the rare occasion that none of those days are convenient, offer a date that is wide open with no assigned zone. Add that date to the City List because it is now available to schedule for that zone.  Your “City List” needs to be maintained weekly, because available dates come and go as more of your customers get scheduled. “City Lists” are an excellent way to make predictable tune-ups your first weapon against travel time.

There are some occasions when the customer is not reachable by phone and you’ll have to leave a message. A “City List” can come in handy to let you know which days you are going to be in customers’ areas when they return your call. Create a list with a line for every city or zone you service. Write the dates that you have available for that particular zone. For example, you may be in Smithfield on 5/6, 5/15, and 5/27. When a customer from Smithfield returns your call to schedule his/her tune-up, offer those dates first. On the rare occasion that none of those days are convenient, offer a date that is wide open with no assigned zone. Add that date to the City List because it is now available to schedule for that zone.  Your “City List” needs to be maintained weekly, because available dates come and go as more of your customers get scheduled. “City Lists” are an excellent way to make predictable tune-ups your first weapon against travel time.

Bottom Line

Establishing a service radius, zoning your technicians, and efficiently scheduling your planned maintenances are just a few strategies you can implement to run smoothly during your busy season.  The more smoothly your department runs, the happier you can keep your technicians. When your technicians are happy, so are their customers. Satisfied customers result in many returns- not just to your bottom line, but in more referrals and well-recognized reputation in your industry!


Posted In: ACCA Now, Management, Technology

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