Benjamin Franklin famously said that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” But any amount of time spent in the trenches managing a business or team makes it apparent that unplanned needs are going to arise. It’s easy to say you can’t plan for everything, but Franklin’s statement still stands. Businesses that prepare for the unplanned can protect against resourcing issues, customer dissatisfaction, and employee burnout.
WHY SHOULD YOU PLAN FOR UNPLANNED TASKS?
You should prepare for the unplanned because you know it’s going to come up. No business or industry is without change and surprise. No matter how strong your resource management and scheduling tools are, they can’t change the nature of life. Things will come up that aren’t on the schedule.
Planning ahead so you can easily rally and handle those tasks provides numerous benefits for your business. For field service companies — which regularly maintain a schedule for installations, service and maintenance — planning ahead for sudden technical intervention needs is essential to ongoing success.
Some benefits you may experience when you prepare for the unplanned include:
Reduced costs of running service or maintenance processes because you’re not relying on costly measures such as unplanned overtime or contract workers to handle overflow.
Lower average costs of equipment and supplies as you’re less likely to need unplanned-for items, which can force you to pay full price or expedited shipping fees.
Increased customer satisfaction, because clients won’t be left with products that aren’t functioning while you scramble to adjust the schedule to cover needs.
Better employee morale because teams don’t see their days extend to handle emergency calls on a regular basis, and workers are less likely to encounter customers who have been waiting too long for technical intervention.
Improved quality and better morale reduce turnover, and teams are less likely to rush jobs to handle unplanned work.
USE DATA TO PLAN AHEAD FOR UNPLANNED TECHNICAL INTERVENTIONS
You can see that planning ahead can bring big benefits, but preparing for the unplanned in the wrong way can cause its own set of problems.
For example, you might decide to reserve space in your schedule every week for unplanned technical intervention or maintenance needs. You may know it’s likely that customers will call with unplanned problems, but if you don’t have data for prediction purposes, you don’t know what type of calls to expect or how much time they’re likely to take.
Given this blind-planning scenario, you may reserve an hour a week of billable time for each team member. You assume you’ll slot in unplanned calls as they come. Here’s the problem: You have no idea if it’s even likely that you’ll get that many unplanned calls. Meanwhile, you could be paying staff to do nothing because there isn’t work on the schedule.
According to one study, 89 percent of employees already waste some time at work. You don’t need to exacerbate that issue by building wasted time into your own schedule.
The results of this scenario are potentially unnecessary labor expenses and staff frustration as they sit around with nothing to do. Some weeks, you may have enough unplanned calls that you have more than enough to fill those reserved hours, which leaves you at square one: scrambling to cover all the customer needs.
You can reduce these types of scenarios by relying on data and field service scheduling software.
START WITH WHAT YOU KNOW
Gather as much data as you can about your past schedules, what types of jobs were planned and which unplanned maintenance tasks popped up. Turn to fleet, field service, CRM or resource scheduling software to find this information.
The more comprehensive your data, the better it can drive decision-making for the future. Consider an HVAC company, for example. Its data may show that for the past five years, unplanned technical interventions spiked during seasonal changes (from warm months to cool and vice versa). As customers turned heating or cooling systems on for the first time in a season, they may have experienced unplanned failures and repair needs.
This is the type of information that can be used to appropriately plan how to cover future unplanned repair and maintenance tasks.
USE DATA TO CREATE TRENDS
Map out trends in as much detail as possible. Do you get more unplanned requests on Mondays? Is the beginning of the month more likely to spark unplanned needs than the end? Establishing trends in past data helps you see when you need to staff up or down and stock more supplies.
Don’t forget to scale trends to account for company growth. If you had 100 clients last year and 200 this year, you should expect your unplanned interventions to be roughly double with the new customer count.
However, if you implemented new procedures that have reduced unplanned technical interventions, make sure to account for those. For example, better training or installation processes, new equipment or more reliable models may be driving down unplanned maintenance calls.
INCORPORATE THIS DATA INTO YOUR PLANNING SOFTWARE
Finally, incorporate trends about unplanned calls or service into your scheduling software. You’re not just reserving a random amount of time a day, but planning for a specific and expected amount of service each day or week.
In short: the way you plan ahead for unplanned technical interventions is by using data to turn them into planned technical interventions.
KEEP LEVERAGING DATA TO MAKE BETTER PLANS
While data-driven decision-making can do wonders for your bottom line, customer satisfaction, and employee morale, it’s not a magical crystal ball. You’ll still have some days or weeks when you must scramble to realign resources and cover unexpected needs.
But every time that happens, you add new data to the mix and improve your ability to forecast future needs. Consider investing in management and scheduling solutions to reduce the stress of the scramble and help you plan better for the future.