Five keys to more profitable deliveries

Friday, August 19, 2016

Product uptime is the Holy Grail. But for providers of home medical equipment, it’s also expensive to ensure, with costly skilled field workers required to maintain these machines. And now, with customers demanding higher service levels and more competitively priced service contracts, it’s getting much harder to cost-effectively manage, especially when you consider that a good chunk of field workers’ time—as much as 25%—is spent, or you could say, wasted, on administrative tasks that don’t actually require their expertise.

The good news is, there are ways to meet customers’ increasing expectations while preserving and even improving your profitability. Here are five best practices HME providers have followed with great success:

Solve more problems remotely

An obvious way to spend less on field HME support is to solve more problems before they’re escalated to the field. This requires improving the remote tech support team’s knowledge so they can handle more issues. One of the best ways to do this is via an exchange with field workers. Have remote personnel accompany field workers on site for several weeks. Not only will they see the product in a variety of real home environments, but they’ll also get to problem-solve along with experienced field staff, and then bring that intelligence back to the office. Along these lines, you should also transfer some senior field workers to remote teams on a permanent basis. 

Enable field workers to handle more jobs

There are several ways to accomplish this. The first relates directly back to the remote team. When remote support sends cases they’re unable to solve to the field, they often write their conclusions (i.e., problem, replacement parts, field worker skill set and hours to fix) in haphazard ways. Instead of trying to decipher that information, field workers often just ignore it and, essentially, reinvent the wheel by going through the same tests and processes the remote team conducted. However, if you standardize how cases are communicated, so everything is documented in the same crisp, easy-to-understand way, the field can use the original information and accelerate time-to-resolution.

With standardized info in hand, you can also reduce two-visit repairs and transfer administrative burden from the field worker, who may cost $100/hour, to a central dispatcher, who costs about $20/hour. For instance, instead of having the field order parts after determining the problem when onsite, and then returning to the customer’s home when service parts arrive, central dispatchers can proactively order parts and tools specified by the, now, more knowledgeable remote team, follow-up on delivery and schedule the first, and hopefully only, field visit to coincide with parts arrival.  

Another administrative task you can offload—and improve—is checking for service entitlements. Field workers are supposed to do this in response to event situations. Sometimes they don’t because it’s too time-consuming, which causes its own problems downstream, but when they do, it takes away from working on their real job—repair. Instead, at initial order creation, have customer service center coordinators review the entitlement for the support type (remote/field), coverage hours and response time. Also have them review the service contract when checking parts availability to determine parts coverage and/or pricing.

Leverage multiple communications channels 

The easier it is for customers to communicate with you, the more likely you are to avoid mishaps and save money. A well-designed self-service portal provides customers with real-time visibility into order status and updates on open cases, so they don’t have to call a helpline, thus reducing inbound call volume. Create a portal where customers can also check planned maintenance schedule, coverage hours and service history. In addition, use email, phone and text, as more and more people prefer to get updates via apps on phones or computers, and this also reduces administrative burden and call volume. 

Reduce truck stock to accelerate case closures and reduce costs 

It’s not unusual for field workers to over-order high-value HME parts and, then, keep them in their truck instead of promptly returning them. When inventory like this is stranded, you have to invest, or, again, as some would say, waste, money on excess inventory for the warehouse. Plus, you risk not meeting HME compliance requirements that often call for 30-day complaint-to-closure timeframes, since cases can’t be closed until offending parts are returned. Best practice for avoiding this is to set up a process whereby central dispatch follows up with field workers immediately after service events and handles coordination of part pickups.  

Employ visibility to identify opportunities for optimization

Use a control tower approach to gain visibility across fragmented field service functions. With end-to-end visibility into service event management, you can eliminate silos, recognize and correct process bottlenecks and inefficiencies, surface non-conformance and centralize exception management so that alerts are triggered when actions need to be taken.  

The global HME market is expected to grow from $27.8 billion in 2015 to nearly $44.3 billion by 2020. With all that equipment coming into the field, it’s more important than ever to streamline field service delivery and get on the path to higher profitability. The time to start is now. hme

Bhaskar Banerjee is chief solutions officer at OnProcess Technology. He is an expert at growing and managing complex, global supply chain solution organizations.