Little Boxes Pt2 – Jigsaws Are Better

In part one of this blog, I concluded that repairs scheduling is fundamentally flawed. Maintenance companies try to shoehorn irregular shaped jobs into nice, standardised boxes and it leads to appointments being missed and repairs left unfinished. The company wants its’ customers to be compliant and flexible, but customers need the opposite to be true. So how do we fix the system?

The answer is to turn the system on its’ head and build it with enough flexibility to absorb the variety of work needed to meet customer demand. In plain English, we ask the customer when they want us to turn up and we give operatives all the time and materials they need to complete the right fix. This has the effect of turning the little boxes into a large, irregular, jigsaw puzzle. Now the problem becomes, how to put the pieces together?

jigsaw pieces

This very theory sends shivers down the spine of most traditional thinkers. I know, I used to be one. We think we cannot possibly let customers decide on appointment times due to all the “what ifs”. What if everyone wants Monday at 10.00? What if no one wants Tuesday at 2.00? What if all the 9.00 repairs on Wednesday end up taking all day and we miss all the other appointments? What if, what if, what if!

So what actually happens if we let customers choose when they want their repair done? I mean really give them a free choice and a specific appointment time. Unpredictable chaos right?

Well, we did it in Portsmouth and this is what happened;

June appointment times

The chart for June shows that lots of people did want times between 8.00 and 9.00, which gave us some initial problems. Actually though, this was ok, because it was the only time of day that all the operatives need to start repairs simultaneously. What we really wanted to understand though, was whether there was any predictability to the pattern? Here then, is what happened in July;

Appointment times for June & July

Now we were interested and for the first time, really believed that we might be able to resource against customer demand. What we learnt was that offering customers the opportunity to choose their own appointment times produced predictability of demand;

appointment times for 6 months

Just to be doubly clear here; the customers were absolutely free to pick a time that suited them, without anyone pushing them to particular time-slots and the outcome was stunningly predicable demand. This is not what my traditional head was telling me would happen.

So once we understood the pattern, we could resource against it. We did this by giving our operatives one job at a time and asking them to estimate how long the job would take, once they had thoroughly diagnosed the job from site. Once you know what upcoming appointments you have and when your tradespeople are likely to be ready for their next job, you can start to resource control. Well blow me down, it’s only a way of creating a flexible appointment system to fit in with the customer!

As a result of understanding demand we were able to measure our ability to meet appointment times in terms of minutes early or late, rather than hours and days. On average, we were 9 minutes early and predictably, were no worse than 41 minutes early, or 21 minutes late:

appointments early late times

Whilst the data shows a few days where things went slightly out of kilter, they were few and far between and mainly caused by adverse weather or traffic conditions. Even on the very worst days, we are still talking MINUTES late!

There are several consequences of this change.

Firstly, more repairs are competed in one visit. The first visit might take an hour and a half, but that’s better than two visits of an hour each. Better that is for the contractor and the customer. The contractor ends up with less appointments to fit in the diary and half the amount of travel and the customer only needs to wait in on one day instead of two.

Secondly, because the trades person turns up at a time chosen as suitable by the customer, the customer is actually in when they call. In a previous blog I gave the example of an organisation who’s access rate had leapt from 67% to 97% by employing this method and we have seen similar results everywhere this has been implemented. Imagine what your tradespeople can do with all that time they used to spend traveling to jobs they can’t get in to…

Lastly, the end to end time on the repair from the customer’s perspective was reduced substantially. Last week I witnessed a plumber who went to repair a leak in the customer’s kitchen. Whilst repairing the leak, the tenant pointed out a dripping tap that had got progressively worse since the leak was reported. Despite having the necessary parts in his van, the plumber apologised and said he couldn’t fix the tap as it wasn’t on his job ticket and not enough time had been allocated before he had to get on to his next appointment. The tenant had to ring back in to report the dripping tap, which was raised as a separate repair on the housing system. Two repairs, both seemingly completed on time and in budget when viewed in isolation. However, if you were the customer, would you view them as two successful repairs, or one long repair, which caused unnecessary waste of time?

View the service from the customer’s perspective and allowing the trades person to complete other repairs while they are there is always the right answer. What is less easy to understand is that it’s also the right answer for the repairs company. Allowing the extra time to do the second repair removes entirely the travel time for the second visit, as well as the second phone call from the tenant and all of the paperwork around the second visit. Doing the right thing for the customer nearly always results in removal of waste and unnecessary costs, so why not go and give your customers a damn good listening too.

 

2 comments on “Little Boxes Pt2 – Jigsaws Are Better

  1. Julian Elve on said:

    Interesting post Ian – how does the data look a year later, is customer demand still showing such stability?

    • We have been working away from Portsmouth for the last year, but my understanding is that the pattern of demand has remained stable. In addition, we have witnessed similar patterns in two further interventions where the same methods have been employed.

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