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Publication Date: 05/1/2008
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Managing Field Service Effectively
Bluetooth-equipped 3-in. battery operated thermal printer.

Few companies in any industry would disagree that quality customer service is an essential element of commercial success. Yet on the other side, the expense of providing that service can be extremely cost-prohibitive — so much so that the cost may actually counter the profit gained by offering the service in the first place.

This was the dilemma faced by a service and repair organization overseeing a wide range of appliances manufactured and sold by one of the world's largest consumer and industrial electrical suppliers. Like many of its competitors, the service and repair company was trying to determine if staying in the service business was profitable or whether it represented a financial "dead end". After much corporate deliberation, the outfit decided that field service would remain a critical part of its business, but also determined that the delivery of that service would have to be streamlined to increase productivity and reduce costs while improving customer satisfaction.

The obstacles to carrying out this process, however, would be formidable. With aging service equipment in the field and a large, dispersed service team requiring time-intensive management, its service costs were continuing to rise. The sheer size of the company's workforce was an issue as well: with over 1,200 technicians covering 110 zones in two regions, the service giant used six call centers and 40 dispatch centers to coordinate technicians and repair locations.

To address the situation, they formulated a comprehensive list of customer-service objectives. To improve field service, the following customer assistance points needed to be offered:
  • Faster, more responsive scheduling of service appointments.
  • Better on-time delivery of services.
  • Improved communication between field service technicians and dispatchers to reduce the need for more than one visit to repair appliances or units.
    Of course, tackling these objectives without attending to its own profitability would have been a futile exercise. Consequently, to improve profitability, the service and repair outfit needed to:
  • Increase field productivity.
  • Consolidate dispatch and call center operations.
  • Improve management control and visibility.
  • Reduce costs and overhead on multiple calls and repairs.

To meet its goals, the industrial and consumer service force sought cutting-edge technology that was cost-effective, easy to install, and could be deployed across the entire fleet. Although they originally thought an off-the-shelf solution might be an option, it eventually turned to ServicePower, a global developer and supplier of workforce optimization software for the customer relationship management (CRM) market based in Annapolis, Maryland. The ServiceMobility solution from ServicePower provides an integrated system for efficiently managing and communicating with field service operatives to boost the efficiency and flexibility of field service. The solution includes:

  • Dispatch center management.
  • Service team management.
  • Dispatch and routing software.
  • Fleet management tools.
  • Vehicle location GPS software.
  • Navigation and mapping components.

At the field level, each technician has a laptop with embedded mobile broadband (EV-DO). The rugged laptops form the heart of the system and are ideal for running multiple applications

simultaneously; this allows the scheduling components to operate reliably in the background and keeps call center and field personnel in constant contact, even as other computing functions are being performed. EV-DO allows M2M and telemetry applications like fleet management, asset tracking, security and exception reporting as well as wireless point-of-sale. A Bluetooth-enabled printer with built-in credit card reader handles receipts for payments.

Complete Mobility Solution
The global consumer and industrial electrical manufacturer established a Complete Mobility Solution, which was deployed in 2005 across a nationwide fleet of more than 1,200 service vehicles that respond to more than 10,000 calls daily. The results realized by the system can only be described as dramatic. To begin with, technician productivity jumped by 16 percent as measured by calls per day. With its sophisticated mobile system in place, the company was also able to reduce its dispatch centers by 88 percent — consolidating into just two locations — while lowering the number of dispatchers by 47 percent and cutting the number of exception handlers by 30 percent. First-time repair rates rose to 90 percent, and already high customer-service ratings grew by 3 percent. So impressive was the solution that it was the winner of Qualcomm's 3G A-List Award in the Embedded Deployment category. The 3G A-List Awards acknowledge enterprises, public agencies and nonprofit organizations for their best-of-class mobility implementations. If the rugged laptops are the heart of the Complete Mobility Solution, the printers are the hands. Obviously, the service department was seeking high-quality printers that would offer excellent resolution, a high degree of portability, low maintenance, and a design sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of mobile computing applications. With the S3750THS, a three-inch battery operated thermal printer from Extech Data Systems, these criteria were met — and exceeded.

Extech provided the field service team with 1,300 of the printers equipped with Bluetooth and magnetic card readers. In the application, the printers are used primarily to produce customer receipts from the wireless POS system. This model is the third Extech printer used by the company. It began using Extech printers in 1996; upgraded first in 2001 to thermal printers using IrDA and then in 2006 to this new model allowing RF communication.

Convenient Size
Initially, Extech was chosen because of the convenient size of the printer and the ability to integrate the magnetic card reader. But the performance of the printers, as well as the superior service Extech provided, gave the customer assistance organization every reason to continue.

While it is certainly the synergy between all of the system's elements that have made the Complete Mobility Solution so effective, the role of the Extech printers should not be underestimated. "Our printers contribute significantly to overall payment accuracy and improved cash flow," said Tony Revis, general manager of Extech's Portable Printer Division. "These are crucial areas that factor into the overall success of this mobile field service application. What's more, the appearance of the receipts being issued in the field is outstanding, which is great for corporate branding."

Clearly, the Complete Mobility Solution, with the Extech printers playing an integral role, has sharpened customer service capabilities to a fine point.

Contact: Extech Data Systems, 285 Bear Hill Rd., Waltham, MA 02451-1064 781-890-7440 fax: 781-890-7864 E-mail: Web:

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