Customers can't get no satisfaction?

by Dr. Moshe BenBassat
Chairman and CEO of ClickSoftware

Who do customers think they are? 'I deserve faster and better service, without paying more,' they profess. They act as though there are lots of other choices out there - just waiting for their business. Welcome to the real world. Competitors are lurking in the alleys for an opportunity to steal your customer. Miss an appointment or a Service Level Agreement (SLA), and customers need only to look in a directory to find your successor. Advancements in technology, a faster pace of life, government regulation, and competition have conspired to create a picky customer.

So what's the big deal? Why not hire a few more people, provide better service, and win more customers? Because anyone who has ever asked management to hire more technicians, dispatchers, or call center agents knows that the response is typically to 'do more with less'. More employees imply greater overheads, higher risk, and maybe more vehicles to purchase.

Here we are at the fundamental challenge. Two conflicting forces pulling at the service operation: increasingly demanding customers and profit-driven management. Ignoring either party ends in disaster.

Where should we look for improvements?

Many service organizations take a slow, stepwise approach to 'doing more with less.' They first look for inefficiencies in their processes, but manual processes can only be streamlined so much. Automating order and workforce management activities provides further labor reduction. However, if we really want to improve service levels without increasing the operational costs, we must increase the productivity of the largest component of those costs - the field workforce.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Service Management System (SMS) or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solutions provide automation and sharing of information between departments. Important benefits, but are they enough? Consider that:

  1. Most of your competition either has, or will soon have, a CRM, ERP, or SMS system.
  2. Only those activities (e.g. escalation) that have little complexity can be automated with CRM. The ability to emulate complex human decision-making (e.g. balancing customer service vs. service costs during scheduling) is beyond these systems.
  3. The benefits of these solutions have very little effect on field workforce productivity. Would you rather increase the productivity of the dispatch center personnel at 10% of the workforce, or the field technicians at 90% of the workforce?

The third point is key, and leads us to how you can dramatically elevate your service organization. For nearly all service organizations, the field workforce is the single largest operational expense. Followed by call center agents and dispatchers. If you're after a dramatic change to the bottom-line, this is the place to look.

Service optimization increases productivity

Remember the fundamental challenge of service - the conflicting demands of customers and management? Service optimization enables better decisions that strike the 'just right' balance between customer service and cost of service. Consider an example without, and then with, optimized scheduling for customer service requests.

Without optimized scheduling:

  1. A customer calls and is given an arrival commitment based on average availability and job duration. The commitment lacks awareness of the actual schedule, recent delays, or other jobs in nearby areas.
  2. A scheduler or dispatcher receives the call and assigns it to a technician. The process is usually manual, based on the knowledge and experience of the scheduler. As call volumes grow, scheduling decision quality suffers.
  3. If the technician is stuck in traffic, or late completing a previous job, fire fighting in the dispatch center begins. Manual and rushed scheduling changes create a destructive 'ripple-effect' throughout the remaining day's schedule.

With optimized scheduling:

  1. A customer calls and is given an arrival commitment that is optimized according to the actual schedule, providing a reliable appointment with the lowest cost technician.
  2. As the day progresses, automatic optimization continually reshuffles parts of the schedule - seeking ways to further improve workforce productivity within the constraint of the customer commitment. Schedulers become exception handlers.
  3. As technicians report delays or early completions, optimized scheduling automatically finds other technicians that can still meet the customer commitment, and still at the lower cost.

A few moments of introspection can reveal numerous examples of where moving from automation to optimized automation will reap substantial improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of the service workforce. And this translates directly into reduced costs. Furthermore, although the previous example focused on scheduling, service optimization can enable faster, better decisions at other levels of the service operation.

Holistic view of the service lifecycle

Just as schedulers and technicians can be made more effective, so can service management. Improving the speed and quality of strategic forecasting and planning can also deliver a major improvement to the bottom line. Note that although we want to streamline everyone's work, the focus here is on improving the quality and communication of strategic decision-making.

Although these decisions are not made in the high-pace environment of the dispatch center, they are equally or more critical. A single wrong decision to create or eliminate jobs can crush any chances to achieve company goals - long before the day of service.

Is that it? Taking the example of optimized scheduling, are we doing all we can by improving the speed and quality with which we make service decisions?

No. If we slightly modify 'service optimization' to 'service chain optimization', we can see more opportunity for improvement. When the call center agent makes an arrival commitment, when the scheduler assigns a technician, are they aware of the strategic goals defined by executive management? Do service managers know when the next marketing campaign will be released? Are they prepared to handle the increase in customer calls? Viewing and operating the entire service organization as a 'service chain' enables a more collaborative and effective operation.

Practical steps for service chain optimization

It is rare, if not impossible, to find an organization that is always making the best decisions at every level of the operation, and sharing expectations and goals sufficiently between levels.

Consider planning decisions at senior and middle management, as well as execution at the operational level - both in and out of the field. If more information or time was available, could we complete one more call per day? Can the field workforce be deployed to better cover expected demand? Are all technicians as productive as the best technician is? Areas for improvement in service chain optimization will abound if you look for them.

Furthermore, consider advanced solutions for service chain optimization. Solutions that automate and optimize strategic, tactical, and operational decisions can provide the infrastructure upon which you can build a fully optimized service operation.

The challenge is obvious. How do we satisfy increasingly demanding customers, and do it at the lowest possible price? First, we have to find our best opportunity for improvement - often the biggest expense - the workforce. Then we have to evaluate and identify inefficiencies for every decision-maker that affects the productivity of the workforce. And last, we must enable optimized decisions that are in line with the goals of the entire service organization.

The result is a service workforce that delivers continually higher levels of service, while minimizing the cost of service. Lower costs, higher profits, satisfied customers and competitive advantage will follow.

Dr. Moshe BenBassat is Chairman and CEO of ClickSoftware ( Dr. BenBassat, a scientist and technologist, founded ClickSoftware (formerly known as IET-Intelligent Electronics) after a distinguished academic career at USC, UCLA, and Tel Aviv University. Throughout his academic career, BenBassat's R&D work was funded by leading agencies such as: the National Institute of Health, NASA, DARPA, and the US National Science Foundation. Dr. BenBassat also has extensive international business experience, having managed ClickSoftware as CEO and Chairman since its inception, and having served on the Board of Directors of KUR and TADIRAN, two of Israel's largest companies.

ClickSoftware, Inc., headquartered in Campbell, CA, is a leading provider of end-to-end Service Chain Optimization solutions. Its products optimize service operations by simultaneously increasing revenue, reducing operating costs, and increasing customer loyalty. Used by customers in a wide array of industries, including telecommunications, utility, retail, high-tech, IT service, automotive, healthcare, and financial services, ClickSoftware?s solutions cover daily scheduling, real time wireless monitoring and rescheduling, problem resolution, short term resource planning, strategic capacity planning, and continuous on-going business performance analysis.

Alison Merifield, ClickSoftware Account Executive, LEWIS Marketing and Media Relations, Paragon Towers, 233 Needham Street, Newton, MA 02464-1502, gave permission to use this article at DSSResources.COM on August 21, 2002. For more information check This article was posted at DSSResources.COM on Saturday, September 14, 2002.