Tom Gorman is former vice president of Field Operations for Charter Communications and a long-time board member of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE). In 2011, he won the prestigious SCTE “Person of the Year” award. Now president of OPXL, a management consulting firm based in Colorado, Tom talks to Trimble’s Joyce Tam about how he helped Charter achieve field service excellence in a mission-critical environment and what other field service businesses can do to achieve the same result.
What, in your opinion, constitutes field service excellence?
Providing best-in-class products and services for customers that also simplify and optimize the business experience. The goal is to respond quickly to customer needs, whatever they may be. It takes four criteria to meet this goal: Be on-time; allow enough time to do the job; have the right skills; and bring the right equipment.
What was the challenge at Charter and how did you address it?
We needed to improve productivity and control mounting fuel expenditures. We implemented a fleet management solution (Trimble Fleet Management), which enabled us to track, manage and optimize scheduling, driver performance and vehicle idling. This helped us to optimize productivity and profits. The fleet management solution allowed us to find the closest vehicle to a job and then make assignments based on real-time schedule status. We could view and print detailed reports about daily activities for the entire fleet, which helped us with planning and forecasting.
How did you plan for success?
We ensured that all managers were working towards the same goal. The managers were the ones who needed to take ownership of educating field workers about the importance of fleet management tools. It’s important to establish a baseline for performance so you know where you are and where you are going and then communicate that to the workers. We wanted to create a “productivity” environment so we implemented automated routing, which electronically delivers a work order to the technician, who is routed by location and time of day. I knew what a typical work schedule should involve and I wanted tighter routes and reduced fuel costs. That’s why a fleet management solution was so important.
Did you discover any other areas for improvement?
Since one of our goals was cutting fuel costs, we coached supervisors on how to reduce idling. Typically when a technician finishes a job, he gets in the truck and turns on the engine for 15 minutes while filling out reports. At lunch, he might order drive-thru fast food and eat in the truck while the motor is running rather than eating inside. He could be idling his truck 2 to 2 ½ hours a day. That’s 2 hours a day per 8-hour technician. These are habits that needed to change. It was just a matter of raising awareness.
And what was the result?
Technicians became aware of the costs of idling and we had a large ROI in fuel reduction. We saved 2 miles per gallon, and the idling went from 2 hours to 30 minutes a day. That’s $1 million saved for the fleet of 1,100 vehicles.
From this initial success, were you able to use the technology in other areas?
We also deployed Trimble Fleet Management in 1,200 bucket trucks, which can idle 4 to 6 hours a day. Our goal was to get them down to an hour a day. The fleet management solution let managers know the bucket had been engaged. It didn’t need to be engaged for 4 hours so we instructed the technicians to turn on the truck for half an hour at a time rather than an hour. The combination of better management and the reduction in idling saved us $1 million in fuel costs here, also.
How did you engage workers?
Communication was key. You need to create trust. At Charter, we gave one-hour classes three times a day for five days a week so the supervisors would know how to communicate the changes to their employees. We explained the principles of fleet management technology. Then we showed examples of the information and reports we would be looking at and how it works. You need to be very transparent about your motives as well. Our primary goal was to save money. We might save fuel and carbon emissions, but our priority was to save money.
Was there an impact on customer service?
We assigned one job at a time so the drivers had no idea where they would be sent next. The only customer you want them to worry about is the one standing in front of them. They shouldn’t leave until that customer’s problem is solved. When the technician completes that job, he or she should enter the estimated time of arrival for the next job. The customer gets an automated call that the technician is en route and that they’re next on the list. They also get a call when the job is complete so management can find out how the technician did.
What were the key benefits you achieved by using fleet and field service solutions?
By using a good fleet or workforce management program, you have access to key data which helps to enhance performance. With fleet management, Charter’s on-time appointments increased to 98 percent. Technicians were there when they said they’d be there. This helps keep customers happy. We had the biggest year-over-year improvement in customer service, but we were also engaging our technicians. They knew they were part of the team, and they knew we needed their help. You’re paying the same amount for their time no matter, but by installing the right fleet management solution, you have better use of a supervisor’s time because they know where their technicians are, which allows them to be in the field helping them. Workforce and fleet management solutions are about scheduling time better and spending money more effectively.
Any final words of advice?
Be committed to your customers. Continually strive to improve their experience. Equip your technicians with the tools and resources they need (like fleet management) so you can provide an on-time arrival guarantee. Be ready to assist your customers quickly and efficiently, no matter where they live.
For more information on Trimble Field Service Management solutions, visit www.trimble.com/fsm.