Our dealership constantly strives to capture new aftermarket customers for our parts and service departments. As a result, our force of service technicians is expanding rapidly and we are approaching the limitations of our current dispatching system. While our software system provides rudimentary dispatching features that help to track open calls, we still use manual dispatching boards to assign technicians to specific jobs. Are there other tested and proven dispatching systems that are available to dealers with 40 or more technicians? What types of automation are available that might help the process?
– Jeff Brauer, president, Brauer Material Handling Systems Inc. (Goodlettsville, TN)
Dave Griffith: There are literally hundreds of potential software solutions. Just go to the Internet and search for “dispatch systems” or the like. Consider your requirements. Do you need to hand out ROs electronically? Do you want to real time schedule your techs? Do you want to use technology to plan dispatch by knowing skills, locations and needs? Do you need to check credit and payment? Do you need history available real time? Also look to your Nextel or Verizon solutions provider and see what they have to offer. I really don’t want to recommend one vs. the other until you could discuss your requirements and objective for a dispatch system. Do you want to speed dispatch, get ROs in faster, match parts and skills to a given call, plan better, balance workloads, etc.? Remember, dispatch is still an art, not a science, so value the human portion of this skill area. Also think through the use of GPS and its potential impact on your business and people.
John Maybury: Currently, we are experiencing a growth in our service technicians and expect that it will continue to increase. By using a combination of computer software and technology, we have finally found a combination of solutions that have freed us from our manual dispatch board.
Our back office system is an eEnterprise SQL database software solution, which allows us to set up the rules for our technicians and customers. The technician piece includes variables such as geographical location, service technician product knowledge, availability and more. The customer piece includes service technician assignment by geographical location, by customer and/or by individual pieces of equipment. All of this information helps to provide the primary technician assigned to an account, based upon the data entered into the system.
Our service advisors verify the information distributed to them and enter a service call. If the service advisor agrees with the computer-generated recommendation, he/she will immediately page the info to the assigned technician. The service technician is required to text-message a reply to confirm that the service call will be covered within our agreed-upon response time to the customer. In the event the primary technician is unable to cover the service call, our service advisors use our Maybury-developed intranet information, which provides additional screens of current service calls assigned, ETA, team leader and back-up technicians. The process is repeated until a service technician is confirmed.
Additional Maybury-developed intranet information is used to track and reassign the status of the calls from “open-unassigned” to “completed” status. This information can be viewed on our intranet Web pages from any location based on user-defined levels. We also have the ability to sort the information in numerous ways: by customer, technician, location, type of call, status of call, date, time and more.
Greg Morrison: Our circumstances are a bit different from yours in that we employ approximately 200 service technicians, but have no more than 20 at each branch location. We utilize the same dispatching concept that has proven effective for our company for many years, a scheduling system that is simple to implement and takes care of our customers’ needs within our required response time. The core of our system is none other than what I would describe as a sacred bond between the dispatcher(s) and the service technician. In our case, the dispatching is done by either the service manager, assistant service manager or branch manager. Key questions and information must be gathered when the service call is received. Then other variables are factored in such as what technician(s) is assigned to that account, and what priority is the service call. Immediately a work order is opened up and we are capable of tracking that service call. To say the least, communication is critical.
Duncan Murphy: Are you sure your current dispatch system is not adequate? We constantly find people on our staff who are trained in dispatch and then resort to a manual system because they are not comfortable or do not have the discipline to use it correctly. That being said, there are some interesting new service support systems on the horizon. It all began with Web-based van tracking using GPS technology. There are several providers for this capability. Firms are building on this base and incorporating total wireless service systems that will dispatch, generate orders, post parts and time, and complete invoicing so the technician can hand the finished document to your customer when he leaves. Watch the ads in trade journals that include these computer capabilities and contact them. Manufacturers might also be on the leading edge with this technology because it will reduce communication costs with their dealers.