Pros And Cons Of Field Service Scheduling With Excel

It may be surprising for leading service organizations to learn that a majority of companies in their industry had still not taken advantage of the many benefits of field service management (FSM) software by 2016. Although a Field Service Matters article predicted more field service organizations would be joining the ranks of automation in 2017, 52% in 2016 were still relying on some form of manual methods of FSM.

With Trimble’s “Steps to Automated Scheduling” guide citing a 60% improvement in dispatch efficiency, 33% increase in productivity, and 70% reduction in overtime expenses (Aberdeen Group), it’s hard to understand why any company would fail to invest in modern scheduling technology.

While some may feel justified in sticking with a manual Excel scheduling method – such as smaller companies with a handful of field techs to manage – the cons far outweigh any pros they may falsely cling to in order to avoid the natural and necessary progression from manual to automated processes.

Let’s examine the pros and cons of using Excel, or other manual database method, to handle field service scheduling.

Pro #1: It’s Already There

This is one of the most common excuses companies use to put off modernizing their scheduling operations. This “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality towards present methods may make sense to a company if they are operating on some level with it, even if they know it’s less than perfect.

The Service Council’s research summary “2016: 5 Major Transformations Impacting Service Businesses” found that a majority of service organizations they surveyed were aware that addressing technology needs was an area that needed to be worked on. Yet being able to “survive” without automated scheduling may be making the switch to automation not seem as urgent or necessary to some business owners. Perhaps in their minds, work is getting done, despite any technological deficiencies.

Pro #2: It’s A Blank Slate (We Can Make Anything)

Having the ability to create an internal solution completely from scratch may seem like a benefit. This is especially true if the company is operating in a reactive mode – putting out fires constantly as they struggle to get things done.

Or, some may believe their business is so unique that only a customized scheduling mechanism could work effectively for their one organization. Without having knowledge of sophisticated software capabilities, they may be hesitant to adopt software, thinking that it would have to be retrofitted to fit their specific business.

Pro #3: Everyone Knows How To Use It

The trade off of integrating and training their staff on an efficient long-term solution may fall short in the eyes of a business owner when they have the capability to bang out a more and seemingly easy short-term fix internally, and everyone is up to speed on it.

They may also be taking their older field techs into consideration. While one-fifth of the field technician workforce was reportedly under 30 in 2015, there are still older technicians on staff who come with a wealth of knowledge and experience. Companies may be concerned about how well these ageing techs will take to learning new scheduling software, knowing that they can sometimes balk at technology and having to learn new things.

Examining The Cons Of Using Excel For Field Service Scheduling

Now that we’ve identified 3 “pros” some companies in the service industry cite as reasons to resist moving to FSM software, let’s look at the cons that can be attributed with manual scheduling methods.

Con #1: It’s Not A Good Long-Term Solution

Manual scheduling, while it may be a quick fix, is not a viable long-term solution to the management, success, or growth of any enterprise.
  • Management:

    Scheduling with spreadsheets can only accommodate a small amount of field technicians, and it can be cumbersome and inefficient. Automated scheduling allows companies to create schedules and respond to emergencies and changes in scheduling instantaneously. While it might take a dispatcher using a spreadsheet half of a day to re-arrange schedules manually, that same dispatcher could do the same task with drag-and-drop capabilities a matter of minutes.

    Other time-intensive tasks for the dispatcher are streamlined as well. Tracking tech skills and location, making sure the tech that shows up has the right tools to fix the job the first time, time-stamping, notifying techs and customers of changes and more are simplified with the click of a key, and in some cases, completely automated.

    Some tasks, such as having to key in hand-written notes and tech hours from a service call, can be completely omitted, since that data is entered digitally into the system by the field tech on site.
  • Success:

    With the Technology Services Industry Association’s report on “The State of Field Services: 2017” citing automation as being “critical to boosting productivity and increasing revenue,” manual scheduling is a hard sell.

    Dispatchers having to split their time between juggling manual spreadsheets and field operations via email and phone calls, have less time to take new customer calls and invoicing which translates into revenue. With FSM software, everyone’s time is freed up to spend more time making money. Companies get paid faster with instant billing, and cost tracking is built into the system to reduce lost billable tasks or inaccurate hours.
  • Growth:

    One manual spreadsheet cannot grow with a business. As new employees, branches, services, even locations are added, the manual task of keeping up becomes exponentially difficult and inefficient.

Con #2: Spreadsheets Are Not Autonomous

Whereas with a software system there is tech support, backups and training, if an organization schedules on a manually created database, the person who created it is the developer, trainer, and tech support. This not only takes up too much of their time, it can leave you in a troublesome spot if that person were to leave, or is unavailable. Where will this spreadsheet be stored? On the dispatcher’s PC? What if they are sick, or have an emergency and you can’t gain access to it?

Sharing it across an enterprise is difficult and introduces even more challenges. How will it be made visible to others in the organization that would benefit from knowing schedule information such as techs, salespeople, and other dispatchers?

If it’s shared over a network or through a cloud-based sharing system, security is an issue. It can get hacked, someone can inadvertently change it, or the file can become corrupt or get completely wiped out. Additionally, multiple versions floating around can wreak havoc on your business. All of these scenarios can grind productivity down to a halt and ruin customer service.

Con #3: It Is Not A “Future Proof” Solution

Field service technology is always changing and evolving to meet the growing needs of all stakeholders. Millions of dollars a year are spent in research and development to keep all FSM software at the forefront of technology and responsive to changing trends and objectives looking well into the future.

Just think of it. Twenty years ago the cordless phone was considered innovative. Just seven years ago, the first iPad was released which totally revolutionized mobile device technology. What will the future of field service technology hold? Software developers are working tirelessly on many innovations, including creating data streams from connected field equipment via IoT that, among other things, will ultimately “make service programs proactive rather than reactive.”

Can a little old Excel spreadsheet do that? Many service companies would surely benefit by implementing future technologies available through field service scheduling software but simply cannot via their simple spreadsheet solution.

Con #4: Spreadsheets Are Not Customer-Centric

92% of Executives believe service models in their organizations need to adapted to fulfill customer demands. That means having technology that proactively emails customers about updates or service needed to avoid equipment downtime, being able to professionally communicate with customers, getting qualified techs to job sites faster, automatically and immediately emailing receipts after customers electronically sign off on work completed, and more.

Field service software systems are just that – systems. They connect all facets of a service department in real time in order to serve the customer properly and work most efficiently. Excel spreadsheets or other manual databases are just documents. They cannot act in “smart” or proactive ways to improve the overall customer experience or boost productivity.

Con #5: Spreadsheets Don’t Provide BI

Manual methods of scheduling and tracking do not provide Business Intelligence that is critical to gaining information about what is going on in a business, and how its operating. Everything from knowing exactly where each field tech is at a particular moment, to gathering information about efficiency, trends, first-time fix rates and more, field service scheduling software gives executives and business owners the information they need to succeed.

Case in point, the Aberdeen Group reports that leaders in the service industry have gained valuable BI that has helped them gain a distinct advantage over their peers. For instance, by using field service software to track vehicles and techs accurately, these leaders were able to decrease the amount of time it takes to complete jobs by 25%, boosting both customer service and profitability.

You Have To Spend (Some) Money To Make Money

While some companies have procrastinated making the jump to automated scheduling because they believe they can’t afford to do it, they need to ask themselves how can they NOT afford to do it? Take the case of Matrix HG, Inc., a service company for commercial and industrial HVAC clients in California. They were losing money due to inefficient billing and administrative methods, and their dispatchers were inundated, especially during busy times, usually having put in long hours just to get caught up.

By updating their operations to include field service software, Matrix HG was able to increase business on their service side by 15%. In the meantime, their dispatchers’ desks are now clean of copious amounts of paperwork, and they’re back to 40-hour workweeks.

It can take a company a while to realize that outdated scheduling methods can have a damaging ripple effect throughout their enterprise. Streamlining the entire process from receiving a service call, through creating orders, to dispatching, to servicing the customer, to billing and reporting, makes it clear that field service software is well worth the investment.


Ready to learn more about the next step in scheduling?

Switching to Cloud scheduling is a big step, but the guide, 7 Best Practices for Choosing a New Field Service App, will help you choose and transition to a scheduling software solution for your business needs.

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