All through the skilled trades industry, organizations are still using manual scheduling for their employees. It might be a whiteboard, or a master appointment book, or occasionally something as advanced as a shared Google calendar or even excel, but for most skilled trades businesses, there's still someone manually tracking jobs and hours worked.
Such a system is, of course, prone to errors, particularly when schedules have to change on short notice, and often require work to maintain.
Error-Prone At Crucial Moments
The main reason you need a schedule is to keep track of where your workers should be, and when in order to track outstanding jobs (and job requests), and make sure workers are present at them.
But most pen & paper (or but I want to change it to? & whiteboard) systems have difficulty staying up to date as jobs run longer than predicted, workers are sick or unavailable, or that the client wasn't available for the work to be done. These scenarios are when pen and paper record-keeping is at its' weakest.
It can be difficult to know where to redeploy your staff without causing yourself more trouble downstream if you're using one of these 'old school' methods. Called with a problem on the fly, needing to make (potentially far-reaching) changes to the schedule, pen and paper tracking might require half a dozen phone calls or emails – any one of which might not connect with the person it needs to reach in time, and cause another cascading problem of its own...
More Work than it Should Be
A manual system for tracking scheduling is often quite work-intensive. It's not uncommon for there to be one (or more) employees whose only job is to track schedules. Sometimes this incorporates other aspects – setting new appointments, for instance – but their work-day largely rotates around updating the schedule.
Having someone dedicated to manpower and availability isn't a bad thing, but that shouldn’t be the same as spending all day juggling schedules. With a reliable scheduling system, someone who used to be tasked with schedule maintenance can spend their time more effectively, taking on more duties and perhaps reducing staffing expenses.
Mistakes have Consequences
Using a system that's vulnerable to errors and problems wouldn't be so bad if those problems didn't have the weight of consequences. Your scheduling system, though, most definitely does. Double bookings and missed appointments carry a financial cost, but also a human one.
A schedule that leads to workers who are double-booked too often, or find the schedule process confusing or frustrating, eats away at morale; workers begin to lose faith in the booking system, and either start calling in to check up rather than following their schedule (causing delays and extra work), or worse, can start neglecting the schedule entirely.
Setting the human cost within your organization aside, there's still a human cost outside the organization. Double bookings or missed appointments erode a client's confidence in your business, sometimes causing them to view any other problems that might come up in a harsher light. Sure, a delay in parts might be unavoidable, and your client might forgive you for that, but combining a parts delay with a missed appointment slides closer to unforgivable.
Better for Customers
An automated scheduling system for your appointments and maintenance is going to have other benefits for your customers, as well. A more reliable service company gets more regular calls, gets referrals to other businesses, and builds a relationship with their customer. Often in the skilled trades industry, you're responding to emergencies where you have to get critical systems functioning again, and your dependability is ultimately the determining factor in ensuring a client calls you again next time.
It's easy to get caught in a trap where the current way of doing things begins to seem like the only way. As a business owner, it is important to be able to step back from your business and see it objectively to be able to identify your weaknesses and your strengths. Keeping an open mind to new ideas and technologies is a great way to make sure your business gets ahead and stays ahead of your competitors. An assessment of your current practices is a great starting point for figuring out the ways automation and software can help your business excel.
SnapSuite is a Toronto based software company that helps businesses in the construction and skilled trade industries increase their operational efficiency.
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