Edison is thinking out loud: Soft and Hard Constraints

In the research related to vehicle routing, the difference between hard and soft constraints is well defined. Hard constraints (e.g., customers’ time windows, capacity constraints, maximal duration of the working day, etc.) cannot be violated. That is, these constraints may cause the instance of the problem at hand to have no feasible solution. Indeed, violating soft constraints is allowed (that is, some time windows may not be met, a working day may have overtime, etc.) but incurs a penalty. Having said that, I wonder: what do the terms “hard constraints” or “soft constraints” mean in the industry?
All service providers argue (and with good reason) that customers’ time windows must be met. That is, these constraints are hard. So far, so good. But, on the other hand, service providers require the software developers to provide flexible software. One example of such desired flexibility is to allow the manual insertion of customers to the current route in a way that may violate some pre-committed time windows. Well, it looks like flexibility means soft constraints? If not, what does it say? Is there a contradiction here?
When I try to settle this issue in my mind, I often conclude that our business should include elements of mind reading, in addition to software. Yet, although I’m not a mind reader, I have witnessed that service providers prefer to receive a software that enforces (in the maximal possible manner and automatically) the service level at the customers (i.e., zero late arrivals), but at the same time to provide flexibility that allow them to change the automatic solution. Sometimes in a way that hurts service levels.

That is, flexibility (or softness, if you will) should be kept in the service providers’ hands. However, software providers should allow it.

Edison is thinking out loud: The field service technician showed up early, that’s good, right?

Hi all,

I want to share with you some of my recent experiences with two field service technicians – one for my fridge, the other for my cable. Both technicians were scheduled to arrive on the same day. The cable guy was supposed to come between 11:00 and 13:00 and the fridge guy – between 13:00 and 15:00. Surprisingly – none of them was late.

In fact, they were both early. Very early…

The cable guy called me at 8:00 (!) and informed me that he would be at my house within 30 minutes. Luckily, I was home (and awake) so this sudden change of plans was OK by me. Next, the fridge guy called me at 10:30 and informed me that he was coming. Since the cable gay had already left, this was, again, OK by me. However, a significant question came up to mind:

What just happened here? What made the technicians change their schedule?

Frankly, I cannot know. Maybe they had some cancelations. Perhaps the service of the previous customer in the schedule was shortened. Perhaps they just decided not to follow the schedule. And the technicians were early, not late. That’s good, right?

Well, not really. Had I been asleep, or outside of my home at 8:00, this sudden change of plans could have caused problems. Field service personnel can and should arrive at their pre-committed time windows. Technician that shows up way before his time window can be just as bad as a technician showing up way after that window.

So, how can we make sure that we provide high service levels, that is, arrive at the customers at their pre-committed time windows while maximizing the utility of the technicians, that is, busy and not idle?

The answer to this question lies in dynamic and online scheduling. That is, the technician schedule is modified as his working day progresses to accommodate for the real-life occurrences.

This is our mission.

The Customer Experience Can’t Be Ignored.
Here’s How Technology Can Help

Gone are the days when the customer experience could be dismissed as an unnecessary expense. It is now an essential part of running a successful service business. Many companies have woken up to this reality, and realize that their customers expect a seamless experience with real-time visibility and the ability to control the interaction to some extent.

Customer experience has become the ultimate competitive differentiator, mattering more than the price and sometimes even more than the service being offered. There’s no denying it: customer experience is the deciding factor for many customers when choosing a service provider.

This marks a major shift in the way service companies have traditionally viewed the customer experience. It also places pressure on companies to meet certain expectations across the entire process. Companies understand that they can no longer afford to ignore their customers’ needs. In fact a study conducted by Gartner found that 89% of companies are aware they now compete on the basis of customer experience. And that’s where technology comes in.


Customers want control over the experience

Technology does play a vital role in ensuring companies can meet their customers’ needs and provide the kind of experience customers expect. However it’s not enough to just integrate the latest technology and hope for the best. That misses the point.


Service providers that really get it focus on specific solutions to meet their customers’ unique needs. The starting point should always be the customer. Such a customer centric approach is the best way to provide customers with the experience they’re looking for.


Most customers aren’t looking for a smarter customer experience. They simply want to have insight and an element of control over the experience especially when it’s a service being provided in the home such an internet provider. Customers want to know where a technician or service provider is, when they’ll arrive and how long it will take to complete the job. Because this is what the modern customer has been trained to expect. From flights to the items we order on Amazon, we’re accustomed to tracking everything. So why should it be any different when it comes to service providers?


When used correctly, the right technology can greatly enhance the customer experience and a company’s bottom line. However, the key is to make sure that the solution is customized to suit customers, is implemented properly and isn’t overwhelming to use or it may have the adverse effect.


Technology to the rescue

More and more service companies are adopting different technological solutions such as remote connectivity to minimize downtime, provide real-time status updates and boost customer satisfaction. Deploying solutions which benefit the customer is one of the best ways to turn every customer touch point into an opportunity to deliver the best possible customer experience.

Here are 3 ways technology can be used to enhance the customer experience.


  1. Guarantee a seamless, convenient experience

Customers want as much real-time insight into the experience as possible. This includes wanting to know where the technician or service provider is; how long it will take for the technician to arrive as well as how long it will take to complete the job. Some solutions also update the technician’s ETA to reflect heavy traffic and other unforeseen service delays. With this kind of real-time data available to them, the customer is able to plan their day around the technician’s scheduled arrival instead of wasting hours waiting at home. This saves the customer time and unnecessary frustration.


  1. Anticipate and better understand customer needs

Many service companies collect detailed customer information, including service history and customer preferences, which can be accessed easily from a technician’s mobile device. This can dramatically improve the customer experience as in many cases the service provider is able to anticipate the customer’s needs. This makes technicians more efficient and tends to improve fix rates. It also frees up valuable time that can be used to ensure a customer’s unique needs are met.


  1. Ensure peace of mind

Workforce navigation companies, like Timing, which favor a customer centric approach to business focus on technological solutions that guarantee transparency. This could include things like sending the customer an email or text message with the name and picture of the service provider who has been sent to provide the service. Not only does this reassure the customer, but it’s also a good way to establish legitimacy and earn the customer’s trust. Customers are also do more likely to feel comfortable welcoming a technicon or service provider into their homes if they’ve seen a photograph beforehand. This is one of the best ways to give customers an added level of security as well as the peace of mind every customer deserves.

More and more service providers are starting to realize that they can no longer afford to ignore the customer experience. In our hyperconnected world, every interaction with the customer matters, and it’s only with the right technology that companies will able to make make the most of these touch points.


It’s Time to Confront the Misconceptions about Workforce Navigation Software

Workforce navigation software is not new, and thanks to technological innovation it’s evolving at a rapid pace with new solutions and offerings appearing on the market almost daily. It’s thanks to this innovation that the software is becoming increasingly popular, but many still remain skeptical.

Some companies are concerned that integrating new technology will be time-consuming and complicated while others fail to see how this innovation will impact their bottom line. Rather than reflecting the reality on the ground, such thinking is simply a by-product of the many harmful misconceptions surrounding such optimization software.

Confronting misconceptions head-on

It’s important that we confront this thinking head-on if we plan on serving the modern customer who is ready and accustomed to the kind of experience that only workforce navigation software can provide. Companies that fail to adapt will be left behind.

There is an undeniable need for technology which can provide customers with a seamless experience. One report from Research and Markets suggests that the Field Service Management industry will grow from $1.7 billion in 2016 to an estimated $3.61 billion by 2021. Companies that miss out on this are doing themselves and their customers a disservice.

It’s all about putting customers first

Workforce navigation software is about putting the customer first, and ensuring they enjoy a seamless experience. And it’s generally only companies which have been blinded by the many misconceptions surrounding this technology that fail to see this.

Here are 5 of the biggest misconceptions all companies considering workforce navigation software should be aware of.

1. It’s complicated and time-consuming to implement – false

Most field service management software can be adopted with ease and minimal disruption. While this varies from solution to solution, it can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to be up and running. The process is generally seamless and only requires a few minutes from the customer. Also since most of this software relies on mobile devices, it makes the process that much easier.

2. It requires a company to overhaul their current IT system – false

Most field service management software is SaaS which means that it doesn’t affect a company’s IT infrastructure in any way. Additionally, there is no need to worry about storage or external servers as this is something the software provider takes care of. In many ways, integrating field management software has a plug and play feel to it.

3. There’s a steep learning curve and a need for extensive training – false

Most field management service software is designed to be user-friendly and intuitive to use. A lot of the time the software has a similar feel to the apps and other SaaS platforms service providers are already familiar with. While there will be some learning curve, as there is with any new software, most of the time extensive training isn’t required.

4. Workforce navigation software isn’t safe – false

Since most field service management software is cloud based, some companies fear it may be vulnerable to hacking. This is rarely true, and in the instances where there was a security breach it was often due to user error. In fact cloud storage can actually help prevent a breach as entry is often very secure and restricted by things like multi-factor authentication and tokens.

5. The software is costly and won’t impact a company’s bottom line – false

Some companies are reluctant to invest in field service management software as they fail to see how it will be beneficial. There is also a fear that integrating new software will end up costing too much and may even hurt a company’s bottom line. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact research suggests that adoption of this software is delivering impressive revenue growth globally. Research from Gartner also shows that in only 9 months most companies will see the financial benefits of investing in field service management software. Additionally, a survey conducted by McKinsey found that 60% of the companies surveyed reduced communication costs and 44% were able to significantly reduce travel costs.

6. Optimization is the same thing as scheduling – false

The words optimization and scheduling are often used interchangeably when in fact they’re two very different things. Scheduling is a simple and often automated process whereby the service provider will make and adjust appointments based on cancellations and delays. This isn’t the most efficient approach and doesn’t always work. With scheduling, for example, the service provider is unable to adjust the schedule to reflect traffic delays or work time. Optimization is a more sophisticated way to handle appointments. Adjustments to the schedule are often made in real-time and dynamically to reflect changes as they happen

How to Deal with Employee Skepticism about Workforce Navigation Platforms

New technology isn’t always met with enthusiasm. This is especially true in the workplace where many employees fear that integrating a new solution will mean more work and a steep learning curve. While this may be the case with some software, most workforce navigation software is easy to integrate and intuitive to use. But it’s more than that. The benefits of adopting such software extend across the entire workplace where it has been found to benefit the bottom line while also boosting employee productivity. With enough time, even the most skeptical employee can come to appreciate workforce navigation platforms.


For many service companies, the service representative serves as the face of the company as they are often the only contact point the customer has access to. This is why employee morale and job satisfaction matters more than ever. This is especially true when you consider the link between employee satisfaction and the quality of service provided. A happy employee is not only more productive, but is also more likely to do a better job. This impacts how the customer perceives the company and ultimately shapes the customer experience.


Technology plays a vital role in boosting workplace motivation and overall happiness. In fact one survey found that 81% of employees surveyed said that technology which makes them more efficient matters more than other job perks such as food and other on-site amenities. Interestingly, 85% of the employees surveyed believed that technology makes them more productive; 70% said it improves work-life balance while 74% said that technology makes their workday better and more manageable.


Why some employees resist new technology

Despite the benefits of adopting technology, not everyone is on-board. While there are many reasons for this, a lot of this resistance to technological change has to do with long-held misconceptions grounded in fear.

For many employees integrating a new solution can feel disruptive and unsettling, especially for those who like the way things are done. Those who value stability and predictability may find the idea of having to learn something new terribly alarming. Technology tends to feel threatening to employees who do not consider themselves to be tech-savvy. Many also fear that that such change may render them expendable.

The sobering reality is that 70% of change management programs fail to achieve their goals due to employee resistance. However research from McKinsey found that when a company and its employees are committed to change, it is 30% more likely to stick. This is great news for companies looking to adopt new workforce navigation platform and suggests that company culture has a big role to play in how new technologies are received.

Strategies to deal with employee resistance


One of the biggest mistakes a company can make is to switch to new software without adequately preparing its employees. Any change is bound to be met by some resistance and maybe even a little skepticism. What matters is how a company reacts, and what they do to communicate this change to employees.


Here are a few things that can make adopting new software a stress-free and rewarding experience for everyone involved.


  1. Communicate clearly and openly

Communication is one of the best ways to prepare employees for technological change. This way they’ll be prepared for the change and will know what to expect. It’s important to explain how the new software will work and how this will impact their daily tasks. This is also the perfect opportunity to hear any feedback employees might have about the change.


  1. Involve employees in the process

Employees are less likely to resist change if they feel they’ve played an active role in the process. It’s a good idea to involve employees by encouraging them to give feedback and suggestions. Before implementing any changes, employees should be encouraged to explain what aspects of their job could be improved by technology. Adopting a collaborative approach to change is the best way to make skeptical employees feel like they’re part of the process.


  1. Provide necessary training

One of the challenges with implementing new software is that often employees don’t feel ready to deal with the change. Proving training and access to any resources that may help employees adjust is an effective way to make sure everyone is prepared. This is the best way to ensure all employees have the necessary skills before the new software is implemented. It will also make for a smooth and hiccup-free transition period.


  1. Focus on the benefits

Workforce navigation platform software enhances productivity and can make employees more productive. In many ways the right software can make a technician’s job easier and helps alleviate unnecessary stress. The software enables employees to work from anywhere with ease as they have access to any customer information as well as the tools they need to get the job done. Thanks to such software large parts of the job from optimizing appointments to managing work orders can be done from anywhere.


  1. Show employees what’s in it for them

Employees may be less likely to resist new technology if they can see how it will benefit their job and career specifically. The idea is to get employees to see that adopting new technology will mean different things to different people in the company. A good way to get employees to see this is by asking them to identify what’s in it for them. By focusing on how technological change can benefit the individual rather than the just company, employees will be more willing to embrace change.


As more and more companies turn to new technological solutions to solve their problems, change becomes a natural part of workplace. But it’s no longer enough for a company to embrace this change. The onus is on the company to make sure that all employees are onboard, have the necessary skills and are adeqtly prepared for the change. If well-managed, adopting new technology provides a useful opportunity to collaborate and boost company morale.



Customer Service vs the Customer Experience: How Choosing What to Focus on Can Boost Your Bottom Line

Most customer-facing businesses understand that the secret to excelling in today’s cutthroat world is to focus on customer satisfaction. But what that means isn’t always obvious. Some businesses choose to concentrate on touch points, and do everything possible to ensure all customer interactions with the company are seamless and hassle-free. Others take a different route, and focus on providing exemplary service. As well-meaning as both of these approaches may be, they can’t ever guarantee true customer satisfaction as they ignore the customer’s end-to-end journey. And that’s where the customer experience comes in.


Businesses looking to stand out and differentiate themselves from the competition cannot afford to ignore the customer experience. This has become the key to success, giving companies the competitive advantage they may otherwise lack. The customer experience matters because it goes beyond simply providing good service. Instead it focuses on what happens both before and after service has been provided. And this is not only what matters most, but is also what a customer remembers long after service has been provided.


Of course this doesn’t mean a company should neglect customer service. After all customer service has become an integral part of the customer experience. It actually plays a vital role in shaping the overall customer experience. And companies that overlook that will never truly satisfy their customers. Where many companies go wrong is in assuming that only a select group of employees are responsible for providing quality customer service. In order to provide the kind of experience the modern customer expects, every employee regardless of their role needs to focus on providing the best possible customer service. This will go a long way toward creating the kind of experience that customers come back for.


Customer Experience vs Customer Support: What’s the difference?

While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, the customer experience and customer service are actually very different. Customer service refers to what a company does for the customer before or after a purchase has been made. Traditionally customer service is only provided when there is a problem or issue that needs to be resolved. Customer service generally focuses on a specific event, like a product which fails to work. While customer service is only a small part of the customer experience it’s still a powerful opportunity for a company to turn a negative experience into a positive one. It’s for that reason that many companies go all-in when it comes to customer service.


The customer experience is harder to shape and control because it encompasses all the interactions a customer has with a company. Unlike customer service, the customer experience cannot be confined to one particular touch point. The customer experience describes the customer’s journey and includes everything from the initial awareness of the product or service, the purchasing phase as well as the customer’s use of the product or service. All these stages make up the customer experience, and ultimately shape how a customer perceives a company. The customer experience extends beyond the moments when employees are providing service to customers to ensure that every interaction with the company is a positive one.


While the distinction between customer service and the customer experience is important, companies looking to differentiate themselves from the competition need to understand that the two go hand in hand. A company cannot provide quality customer experience without top notch customer service.


A holistic approach to the customer experience

There is no denying the link between the customer experience and a company’s bottom line. In fact it’s estimated that by 2020, customer experience will matter more to most customers than price or product. This is an eye-opening wake up call to all companies.


Gone are the days when a company could choose to focus on customer service alone. Instead companies should consider adopting a holistic approach where all employees do their bit to improve the customer’s experience. And often it’s by adopting technological solutions, like workforce navigation platforms, that companies can provide the best possible customer experience.


An effective workforce navigation platform streamlines the customer’s end-to-end journey. Such platforms go beyond simply providing better service by giving the customer control of their experience. Using workforce navigation software like Timing, a customer would receive real-time updates about the service provider’s ETA. Often these updates are dynamically updated to account for things like traffic and service time. This means there’s no more waiting at home for the service provider to arrive. Technological solutions are one of the best ways to optimize the customer experience, providing the kind of experience most customers have become accustomed to.


The customer experience and all that it encompasses is too important to ignore. Not only does a positive customer experience keep customers satisfied, but it can boost a company’s bottom line. Companies need to adopt a holistic approach to the customer experience which places as much importance on the customer’s end-to-end journey as it does on the service provided.