June 16, 2015
Planning Your Routes for Efficiency
Every pest control company has the same problem of trying to take care of the maximum number of customers with the minimum number of miles driven. Everyone deals with this. If you ignore it and just take care of your customers whenever they pop up on your schedule, you will pay the high price of more fuel and more vehicle wear and tear. If, on the other hand, you manage it well, those two costs can drop by up to 50%! Take a look at your fuel and vehicle costs for last year. Now, imagine reducing those numbers in a major way. That is why carefully designed routes are so important. Routes are clusters of locations that you service together to save money and time. And the more time you spend aligning your routes, the more money you save. You can’t lose by investing your time here.
The reason that routes are a bit challenging to set up is because we have two conflicting objectives. Our ‘call-in’ customers want us to be available all times, everyday, everywhere! But to control costs, we need our routes to be carefully clustered such that our techs travel to only one or two areas per day. Those are exact opposites.
Another way to look at the conflict is that we have two types of customers, those that we service on a regular interval and those that simply ‘call-in’ for service at random times. If you only had PreSched customers it would be easy to set up your routes. These people provide your cash flow and most profits. But the ‘call-in’ customers are also important, because tomorrows future growth comes from today’s ‘call-in’ business.
So now we can re-frame the route question, “How do we efficiently take care of both of these two types of customers?”
The solution is to use your PreSched business to build a scheduling framework that allows you to be in the most number of areas each month with the least miles driven.
Here is a simple example. Lets say you have four towns or areas you service. A, B, C, and D. You could service A in first week of the month, B in the second week, C in the third, and D in the last week. That would be mileage efficient and easy to set up. But it would be a disaster for your your ‘call-in’ customers. If they happened to call for help just after you finished their area, they would have to wait almost a month for service. You’ll lose that business for sure!
But, continuing with our example, you could take care of area A every Monday of the month, area B on every Tuesday, area C on Wednesday, etc. This will give you 4 different days per month for each area. This setup takes exactly the same amount of mileage as before, but give you dramatically better service response time for your ‘call-ins’. And with multiple technicians, you can even provide service in most areas 2 or 3 times a week. That is the kind of target we are aiming for.
So, how do we prepare this kind of schedule? How to we maintain it? How do we know when we are going to be where?
Those are the three key questions. And the three answers are: 1) Use a framework 2) Schedule in the future, and 3) use Hot Links to see where you are when.
Building a framework basically means finding out how how many customers are in given area, or route. Once you know the numbers, you’ll know how many days you’ll need to schedule each month for that route. This could be 1 day or 15. Note, though, that the smaller the route area the more cost effective, so if you need a lot of days to cover a route, make the route smaller. Then align their PreSched service dates, gradually overall several months, so that every customer on a given route falls on the same day number. You should also realize that the interval of service isn’t that important for designing or framing routes…only the day of month. So the key here is to find the number of day slots you need for each route.
Once you have determined the number of slots, pick the days, in the future for those needed days. If you are going to be on a route for eight days in each month, spread out those eight days so you’ll be able to have lots of options for those ‘call-in’ people. Since every month has basically 4 calendar weeks of 5 days each, you’ll have at least 20 ‘slots’ to play with for each tech. So, most companies build their schedules not by day or month, but week/day number: 1st Tuesday, 3rd Friday, etc. Now you can flag where you you are going to be for any week/day number in the future! Most people plan out their calendar in their software for 3 or 4 months into the future. Now, you have your framework completed and you have selected where each tech will be on each week/day. Again, you’ll work to slowly tweak the scheduled dates of all you PreScheds such that they always land on a pre-planned week/day when you are in their neighborhood! This is where the savings start.
Lastly, good software lets you click on a “hot-link” for any route to view all future days where one of your techs will be there, and how busy the tech is for that day. This is where great customer service starts. When a ‘call-in’ person phones for help, you can click on the appropriate hot link and see that, “Frank will be in your area both tomorrow and Friday, and Henry will be there on Tuesday. Which one of those days be most convenient?” Customers love it when you can answer their needs nearly instantly.