Mark Forrest

Member Article

Maximising the new mobile workforce

Field-based employees, whose potential as brand ambassadors had gone largely unnoticed are now being rightly recognised as the new frontline in customer service. Mark Forrest, general manager of Trimble’s Field Service Management Division discusses how finding the right staff, then engaging and enabling them to deliver service excellence is integral to the success of the business and suggests how to maximise their position with the use of technology.

Unlike their desk-based peers, mobile workers rarely spend time in company offices or with colleagues, meaning that it can be difficult to ensure that these staff are familiar with the company ethos so they can represent the brand. But with the field-based workforce such as service engineers, delivery workers and van drivers now recognised as intrinsic to the success of delivering quality customer service, improving workforce productivity and their awareness of company campaigns is a key strategic objective for the vast majority of UK businesses.

Trimble recently carried out an independent study amongst directors and senior managers operating large field-based workforces in the UK which confirmed the extent to which these organisations value staff and recognise their importance in delivering customer service excellence.

In the report, named ‘The Road Ahead – The Future of Field Service Delivery’, nearly all (93%) of respondents agreed that mobile workers are the ‘company face’ and an additional 89% consider field staff to be important for the image of the business. So it is not surprising that one of the biggest concerns of managers and directors with a field-based operation is finding the right staff with the right skills and keeping them engaged.

The culture of good service

Managing a mobile workforce is not an easy task but in order to achieve a positive status quo, fleet, service and operations managers must be able to maintain contact with their employees and keep them engaged in the business. Trimble’s research revealed that over two thirds of those interviewed agreed mobile workforces must be made aware of company campaigns and values if they are to reflect a positive corporate brand out in the field. Nearly half of those surveyed hold regular customer service training sessions and a further 31% meet frequently to discuss how to interact with clients. Simple things like sharing behavioural codes of conduct (33%) and providing a uniform/dress code (23%) also proved important.

However, ensuring an employee has a good understanding of company values and how to portray a positive image out in the field is only half of the battle to achieving frontline success. Company culture goes hand in hand with this and can only be achieved if the employee maintains a positive working attitude. In a time when products are so evenly matched in terms of quality and price, the key to a customer renewing or switching contracts often comes down to the positive experience they receive in service.

At a recent roundtable Trimble held with service managers to discuss ‘the culture of good service’ some interesting points were raised on how a company’s approach can crush or support a good culture. As organisations, and especially their service teams, increase in size it is easy for messaging and communications to get lost and for poor cultural practices to creep in. Creating and maintaining a positive culture for service workers and engineers is of the upmost importance considering they are the company face, in daily contact with customers. Keeping staff engaged through rewarding best practice and feeding it back in to the wider organisation can prove successful. Benchmarking also provides a positive incentive for people to match up to.

Providing an employee with the training and tools necessary to do their job and providing easy communication between field workers is a further key element to instilling the right culture, as it provides a sense of community and sharing. Messenger services and social media are emerging instruments that businesses are starting to use to address the need of giving mobile workers a sense of belonging by providing an instant, informal way of reaching a group or individual with updates, information or advice.

The technology challenge

An ever-advancing technology landscape means that there are more and more tools aimed at not only communication with the mobile worker but making their job easier, and them more efficient. While previously it was difficult to manage a field operation, solutions in fleet and work management have given businesses real insight in to their field operations.

Managing work effectively is integral if you are to maintain and increase productivity and the integration of a work management solution will result in an efficient circle of service. For example, it provides dispatchers with a bird’s eye view of their complete mobile worker operation, allowing them to monitor their progress against the plan for the day and able to compare planned vs. actual work done per day/shift for each worker. They can also assign tasks in real- time while showing the effects of the changes on the rest of the day’s jobs and customers. Any dispatch problems, such as unexpected worker sickness, changes to appointment times, emergency trips and route overruns can be easily resolved through the use of intelligent tools, and schedules can be adjusted and work in jeopardy, reassigned.

A work management solution also proves useful for the mobile worker. It permits them to communicate to a laptop or smart phone to view work details, provide current work status and receive work assignments without returning to the office. These capabilities evidently lead directly to increased customer satisfaction due to such outcomes as increased on-time service delivery performance and reduced customer complaints for late technicians or missed appointments – a major requirement considering 81% of respondents in ‘The Road Ahead’; report stated ‘providing an acceptable appointment window’ as being a major priority for achieving customer service excellence.

Results from the report, found that the mobile workforce itself to be very ‘pro’ technology, so the introduction
of these types of solutions are welcomed. In fact only 22% of managers stated that resistance from staff was the biggest barrier to rolling out new technology. The reason for this positive adoption could again be down to employee engagement with those companies achieving success actively consulting staff, explaining the benefits of any new system (34%) and ensuring that appropriate training is in place for all employees (34%).

Moving forward, Trimble’s report suggests that the field-based workforce is set to grow, with 61% of respondents agreeing that they have plans to recruit additional staff within the next five years. Organisations should be embracing the capabilities of work and fleet management technology if they are to maintain this growth. You cannot manage what you cannot measure and taking steps to achieve optimum productivity and efficiency whilst keeping customers loyal along the way can pay dividends when it comes to keeping your brand reputation intact and your mobile employees happy.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by John Cameron .

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