Part 1: Tales From The Yore
During the 90s, the hardline telephone was considered an essential tool for any business striving to succeed. With this device, businesses could efficiently perform crucial tasks, such as receiving orders, communicating with warehouses, and troubleshooting, over the phone. In addition to the telephone, fax machines, and pagers were also widely used to simplify communication. Fast forward a couple of years, the widespread adoption of personal computers further facilitated operations by allowing businesses to schedule, invoice, and maintain customer records with the help of spreadsheets and word processing softwares.
Despite the benefits of these technological advancements, businesses still relied heavily on manual work for day-to-day operations. Using pen and paper, hardwired phones, and other outdated methods created several pain points in running operations. These included time-consuming processes, limited accessibility, poor data management, difficulties in collaboration, costly communication, and manual accounting, all of which resulted in stress and inefficiencies for businesses.
Challenges of Paperwork
Before the advent of modern technology, it was a widespread practice to record, manage and store multiple physical documents for future-proofing. These documents encompassed a range of forms, inspection sheets, proof of service, contracts, bill of ladings, and other documents. Managing such a large volume of paperwork made it a significant challenge. Any worker in service operations can attest to the frustration, confusion, and potential business losses that can arise from the cumbersome process of handling numerous forms. In the 90s, document management posed several challenges, as illustrated below.
For service industry professionals, sifting through numerous documents, including bills of lading, contracts, proof of service, delivery records, damage claims, and other essential paperwork, was often their least favorite task of the day. Despite completing crucial tasks like fixing drains or installing new locks, organizing and submitting documents was riddled with human error, leading to missing documents, coffee spills, and forgotten signatures. Unfortunately, this predicament remains prevalent in the service and logistics industry, where paper dominates the supply chain.
Storage and Maintenance
Over time, accumulating these documents posed several challenges, including storage, sorting, and maintenance difficulties. Cabinets were designated for customers with multiple jobs, and entire rooms were allocated to manage the ever-growing pile of paperwork. Those involved in the day-to-day operations struggled with limited physical storage space, often leaving files around. This approach to document management was far from efficient and made it challenging to retrieve crucial documents when needed.
Data Validity, Redundancy, and Searching
Have you ever heard of finding a needle in a haystack? That was true at the time when looking up information on past service. The lack of a unified data system meant customer data needed to be filled in separately for each new job, leading to a repetitive and error-prone process. Your crew could tell you stories about a customer’s address or job details being noted incorrectly, which created a hassle for them, the customer, and the company. Similarly, when searching for information on a specific job, one had to dig into a mountain of files and folders to get the desired information. It often resulted in the team showing up at the wrong address with the equipment they now needed to haul to the correct location while getting blamed for noting the address wrong.
With few resources on hand, manual scheduling was a norm in the 90s. Scheduling was carefully orchestrated using sticky notes, large boards, and pen and paper; each becoming a puzzle. An incorrect or missing piece resulted in a class-A catastrophe, and all the hard work and labor went to rack and ruin.
Although software like spreadsheets offered a less tedious alternative, it resulted in a disjointed process. Manually inputting data for service calls, sifting through the information, selecting the crew for new jobs, and making numerous phone calls consumed most of the scheduler’s day.
Pen, Paper, Map, and Telephone
Schedulers faced a demanding day-to-day workload, juggling phone calls, inputting data into spreadsheets, scheduling customers based on their unique needs, and planning crew routes. Due to limited resources, schedulers relied on pen, paper, maps, and telephones to manage to schedule while also drawing on the knowledge and experience of crew members to plan delivery routes. In some cases, multiple teams were dispatched to the same customer, and information had to be reiterated for each team, leading to the potential for errors and omissions. These mistakes resulted in incorrect service delivery, such as noting the wrong address or sending an inspection team where one had already been dispatched. These errors led to dissatisfied customers, who would contact the company to express their frustration and, in some cases, take their business elsewhere, resulting in lost revenue. In short, a single error in the manual scheduling process led to a loss of customers, wasted time for the crew, and financial losses for the company.
Scheduling and preparing routes were traditionally considered essential knowledge in many businesses. In the past, this knowledge was often held by senior employees who developed their approach based on their insights and experiences. However, when these employees left, their expertise and experiences often left with them, and businesses often took a big hit.
It wasn’t a Breeze for the Crew Either
The crew members performed one of the essential jobs of service-related businesses. Along with the laborious work of transportation, they were responsible for managing tons of paperwork they had to bring back to the office and load balance daily, and most importantly, being the face of the company for the customer. Dealing with different types of customers cordially and professionally was another challenging part of their job. It took years for crew members to be proficient and productive in their daily tasks.
Time Management, Record Keeping, and Morale
Time management was an essential part of each crew member’s day-to-day life. They were held responsible for a set of tasks that they needed to complete in a given timeframe. Any delays or issues significantly impacted crew’s productivity and morale.
Along with managing their time effectively, they were also responsible for handling unexpected circumstances, such as equipment malfunctions or weather-related conditions that may arise on the job.
Furthermore, maintaining accurate records and handling data properly was also essential for crew members. Any errors or mishaps in record keeping resulted in misunderstanding and decreased morale among the crew members.
Damage claims can be a high cost for any business, particularly those involved in moving, installing, or repairing jobs. No effective system was in place to record the damage so it was challenging to determine who was responsible for the damage. Although customers have a legal right to file claims for damages, if the condition went unnoticed by the crew or customer, it resulted in a situation where there was no clear ownership of the damage.
This lack of accountability resulted in a he-said-she-said situation where crew members and customers claimed that the other party caused the damage. This led to losing trust and confidence in the company, ultimately impacting revenues.
We all have heard the tales of swapped orders, delivery at the wrong address, or fixing the wrong issue at the correct location. All operation leaders have some taxing tales to tell!
A typical day in the life of a crew member began with a bundle of papers handed to them by the management, along with all the stops they had to make. Their everyday job was often interrupted by logistical challenges that impacted their productivity and morale. One of the most common challenges was address mixup or incorrect addresses if it wasn’t clearly laid out. Moreover, factors like miscommunicated timelines and availability thereafter resulted in customers canceling the services. Furthermore, construction and repair service businesses often faced the issue of faulty parts, which costs time, fuel, and crew morale. In the process, paperwork and documentation was challenging for crew members working in fast-paced and dynamic environments. Misplaced or damaged forms resulted in delays, errors, and increased stress for crew members.
In the past, one aspect of the service and operations industry that has significantly impacted customer satisfaction is the visibility of the customer. Customers were given no service delivery windows, so they had to wait for days or even weeks for the service crew to arrive. This lack of communication and visibility has been a source of frustration for crew members, who had to deal with angry or impatient customers unaware of the crew’s arrival time or schedule.
Lack of Communication
Due to the limited communication channels and long service delivery windows, customers had to take time out of their busy schedules to get services delivered to them on-premises. It was challenging if the service delivery window was missed due to delays and other issues. This led to frustration and eventually churn for the business, as customers who had negative experiences are less likely to use that company’s services in the future and may even share their negative experiences with others.
Inconsistent Service Experience
Another prevalent factor was the inconsistency of service delivery. Due to the lack of transparency and communication, customers were unaware which service crew would be arriving or when they would arrive. This resulted in a wide variation in the quality of service delivery from one interaction to the next, even with the same company.
It is uncanny that many organizations still rely on outdated methods such as spreadsheets, calls, and physical record-keeping, despite their limitations and potential to hinder productivity. This may be due to fear of change, as relying on technology can be unfamiliar and daunting. However, the consequences of relying on these outdated methods include poor communication, productivity, and visibility, ultimately impacting customer satisfaction and overall business success. Companies need to realize that to stay relevant and competitive; they must adapt to the changing times.
Business operations, crew experiences, and customer expectations have evolved with the digital revolution. Companies that quickly embrace these changes see a future where these experiences and expectations are crucial to success.
In the future iteration of this article, we will delve into how these changes have evolved and what they mean for the operations industry moving forward.
Collaborative piece by Jibran and Amina.