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How field service providers can improve relationships with subcontractors

Kieran Le Peron
September 9, 2021
5 min. read

At some point, every growing service company has to consider outsourcing part of its field operations. They’re facing many challenges: reducing costs, increasing agility in the marketplace, growing their field workforce and coping with the exponential growth in the volume of service requests, among others.
This is the stage at which questions arise. They need to figure out how they are going to effectively manage service calls that are completed by external maintenance technicians. How to control service quality, customer relationships and delegate core business activities with confidence?
To grow in an increasingly competitive business environment, working with partners is essential. But, entrusting part of your business to external field service providers comes with risks.
Here are 4 tips to maximise the benefits and minimise the risks associated with using subcontractors.

1. Define processes and share common tools

In the service industry, relationships with subcontractors are all about balance. To find the right balance, it’s essential to clearly establish the processes that will govern the relationships among the different parties. It’s also important to identify the tools that will be used for troubleshooting and maintenance tasks in the field and for interactions between the field service company and the subcontractor. These processes and tools must be tailored for the types of tasks that will be outsourced.

2. Support different ways of working

Most of the time, field service companies collaborate with non-exclusive service providers. For example, in the telecom industry, some fiber installation subcontractors work for several telecom operators at the same time.
When a field service company starts working with a subcontractor who already works with other companies, the question of which tools and processes to use quickly arises. The reality is that subcontractors don’t want to be constrained and prefer to use flexible processes and tools that allow them to adapt to different ways of collaborating.
In some cases, subcontractors can use the field service company’s tools and processes. In other cases, they use their own tools and simply connect them to the field service company’s system. A third option is for subcontractors to use their own tools and processes but have their service calls scheduled for them completely separately. The final collaboration model allows subcontractors to use their own tools and processes and to have service calls assigned to them in a completely transparent way with full visibility of who is doing what.
When field service companies have the flexibility to support different ways of working with subcontractors, it’s easier for them to strengthen their workforce by bringing more people into their ecosystem so they can deliver great service to more customers.

3. Maintain control over the customer experience

For field service companies, the big question is how to delegate service calls to external providers while maintaining control of the customer experience and the service that’s being delivered on their behalf.
It’s a question of the company’s reputation and brand image with its customers. If things go wrong, it’s a safe bet the end customer will have a bad experience with the company and will quickly drop them as a service provider. The risk of “bad buzz” is significant and constant for field service companies, so they must put tools in place to ensure they maintain control over subcontractor activities.
The key here is to set up a service level agreement (SLA) between the company and its subcontractors. The SLA specifies service and repair time guarantees so there are clearly established key performance indicators (KPIs) that both parties agree to.
With this approach, field service companies can align their objectives with those of their subcontractors. Everyone follows the same rules and pursues the same goals. And everyone, including the end customer, wins.

4. Use KPIs to track subcontractor activities

Field service providers must have the ability to manage the activities of in-house technicians and subcontracted technicians in the same way. If they don’t take this approach, there’s a risk the subcontracted technicians won’t provide the same quality of service as in-house technicians.
But, setting up too many KPIs will kill the relationship with subcontractors. The best approach is to focus on a few KPIs that have the greatest impact on customer satisfaction:

  • First-time fix rate: This metric is at the heart of customer satisfaction. The customer’s equipment is down and the technician comes in and repairs it on the first visit. Set a percentage of all service calls completed that must be successfully resolved on the first visit.

  • Average service time: This is the average time that must be met between the time the customer makes the service request and the time the technician is back home. In industries such as refrigeration, these deadlines are very short. If a walk-in cooler breaks down and the technician does not fix it on time, the consequences can be catastrophic for customers who are forced to throw out the contents.

  • Average repair time: This metric ensures the repair is completed within a timeframe that is adequate to ensure the technicians’ activities are profitable for the company.

Tools, processes and KPIs must be well thought out, known and shared between field service companies and their subcontractors. This is the only way both parties will reap the rewards of the inevitable relationship that must be established when field service companies experience strong growth in customer demand.

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