Save The Cargo Shorts: A Field Service KPI Guide

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I’m not the first person to defend cargo shorts, those workhorses of the wardrobe. I’m also not the first person to say they should be enshrined in the Constitution, nor am I the first person to defend against deplorable attacks like forcing cargo shorts-wearers to sleep on the couch, nor am I the first person to viciously attack this triumph of form and function as some kind of public fashion emergency.

But I hope to be the first to champion these noble knickers by comparing them to the broad range of  field service software available today, and the field service KPIs that software helps you track.

If that sounds crazy, hear me out: cargo shorts are the field service KPIs of the fashion world. Both help you organize yourself. Both can hold vital information that optimizes your daily performance. And, while both can be overdone, if used right, they’re radically empowering. They can make order out of chaos.

And I don’t want to overstate this, but cargo shorts—and KPIs—basically make you a god.

Field Service KPIs: Use Wisely

KPIs, like cargo shorts, should be used wisely. Both ennoble and enable, but both need to be purpose-driven and “linked to a strategy.”

A common refrain among field service experts is that you should not use KPIs for just for the sake of using them: they have to be tied to a business objective. A common refrain among myself is that cargo shorts aren’t to be used lightly. To strut the street in a pair of cargo shorts, without a solid, objective idea of what you want from the experience, is akin to using a noble redwood to make Ikea furniture. Likewise, if you don’t know what you want out of your KPIs, they can frustrate your employees and hinder your performance.

I asked Bill Pollock, President of Strategies for Growth, about how you can keep yourself from being overwhelmed by field service KPIs:

The general rule of thumb is to measure all of the factors that are important to the organization and its customers, focusing on those areas where the organization’s performance is already known (or suspected) to be deficient; and measure them over time, until such time that they no longer represent problem areas. 

Pollock then suggests that you can monitor that KPI less frequently, and possibly even “retire” it altogether.

Though you don’t want to be bogged down by meaningless field service KPIs, there are some basic ones that are useful to most companies. Like a reliable pair of cargo shorts, these key performance indicators are helpful to a diverse range of backgrounds and needs.

Technician utilization/employee productivity

Whether your business is big, small, new, or old, productivity is key. Technician utilization (also called employee productivity) measures how much time a technician spends working each day. In this case, working means time in the field, fixing something.

Meetings and paperwork don’t count.

Greg Dooley, President of Field Nimble, calls technician utilization the “100% most important KPI.” Your employees are both your biggest resource and investment, so helping them perform at a peak level makes sense. He also notes the KPI’s flexibility: “you can base [technician utilization] off billable hours, or hourly expectations, or even selling numbers.” Utilization is a metric that can be tailored to what your workers need. Technician utilization is also one of service industry expert Bill Pollock’s top-four KPIs.

One way to drive up technician utilization and reduce paperwork mentioned above? Field service software with an app that lets you enter invoice information from your phone in the field. Programs like mHelpdesk, Service Fusion, and Jobber all offer this. Actually, most FSM apps have this capability, and a process that might take a few minutes… then fifteen more trying to find all the paper invoices themselves… is reduced to seconds when your employees just plug the info on a recent job into their phone.

Likewise, cargo shorts can take your productivity from futon-dwelling-college-slacker to uber-active ubermensch. You’ll go from human 3AM-Facebook-selfie to DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man.

So THAT’S what this guy is called.

And what do you think DaVinci was wearing while he drew this? Doubtless something with multiple pockets, for all his genius ideas. As the Vitruvian Man is the expression of the beauty and potential of the human form, so too are cargo shorts the expression of the potential of a life of ideas and creations.

In fact, when we think of how stunningly prodigious DaVinci’s output was, what better represents the universality of his intelligence than a pair of sensible, off-white cargo shorts, containing ideas as beautifully diverse as tanks and pianos that sound like stringed instruments?

Field Service KPIs and Customer Satisfaction

When I see a review from a satisfied customer online, it impresses me more than any ad.

Someone took the time to write what’s basically a book report, albeit about a coffee shop. That’s the power of customer satisfaction, and it’s one reason why many field service experts say even “users new to KPI measurement” should track it.

Laraine Geddes of Kirona sees customer service as a matter of trust. That’s a fair point in a business where a major customer expectation is that you arrive during a certain window of time. Service Failure author Jeff Toister suggests that one way to build trust, and satisfaction, is to prioritize cutting back on those appointment windows. Comcast prioritizes this part of customer satisfaction so much they even use a technician’s GPS to automatically credit you $20 if that technician’s late.

Though customer satisfaction is important, its subjectivity can be a major drawback. Even good technicians have off days, and some customers aren’t pleased with anything. One way to handle this uncertainty?

Field service expert Jackie Carney suggests creating a reward-based customer survey, but being canny about the results. Look at multiple reviews, and allow your technicians a range of scores. Carney suggests that scores in the eight-to-ten (out of ten) range “may indicate loyalty and increase the likelihood of repeat business or a referral.” If a score dips below 5, however, then it may be time to look into an employee’s performance.

And how do cargo shorts fit into this?

The question, instead, should (always be) how does this fit into cargo shorts, and the answer is always “both suitably and tastefully.”

Take an appointment to which the other party doesn’t show. To be thus left in the lurch would be deeply dissatisfying… if it weren’t for the book and notepad in my left cargo pocket. An otherwise harrowing descent into ennui-ridden loneliness becomes a chance to relive a favorite yarn, or unburden my soul. Perhaps you’d like to argue with that. But perhaps, then, you’d also like to argue with literacy. And I can’t fix that. But the right KPI could help you with that.

And if those friends don’t show, the cargo shorts’ pockets will still be full.

First Time Fix Rate

“First time fix rate” is a measurement of how many first time fixes stay fixed. If a technician has to return to fix the same fridge he already looked at, the first time fix rate drops. If that fridge stays fixed, the first time fix rate goes up.

The average first time fix rate is 77%, which means nearly a quarter of jobs require another visit. That’s not good for customer service, and it also cuts down on time a technician could be generating new revenue, rather than fixing old problems. Microsoft Field Services executive Jim Hare argues that first time fix rate “gives you a genuine insight into your operational success.” It’s also a good metric to track if you want to “improve customer retention and technician productivity.”  

Greg Dooley of Field Nimble adds that first time fix rate is a “great indicator to see if there are departments who are not performing.” It can reveal other information, as well: “If you find that across the board you have low first time fix rate, it could be something else; if it’s individual techs, then it might be training or selling process.” First time fix rate can thus be a source of intelligence about other issues.

Like the first time fix rate, cargo shorts are a sign of success and completion. Who hasn’t left the house in their ridiculous skinny shorts, feeling like a complete doofus because—whoops!—you simply couldn’t fit both keys and wallet in these godforsaken man-leggings. Much less your phone! You’ve got to go back, but even then, where will you put your things?

Do you know what skinny shorts lead to? Indecision. Laziness. A horrible choice between essentials. A horrible choice that could be prevented by, say, two dashing pockets on the side and a handle thingy that serves any range of purposes. No need to return to the house for necessities when they travel with you. This is both smart and chivalrous. Where will Captain Shinhair be if a lady needs a handkerchief? Rude and alone. Where will a man in cargo shorts be? Hankie at the ready, with an edition of the poetry of John Keats casually tumbling out as he goes for it.

Courteous. Cultured. Cargo.

Net profit margin

You probably want some way to measure how much money you’re making since, you know, you’re in business. There are numerous ways to do this, but one of the most popular ways to measure this is net profit margin. You can get your net profit margin by subtracting expenses from overall costs.

Brian Wells of Sky Boss advocates for this metric, seeing it as necessary: “If you don’t know what your profit margins are, you are guessing as to how your business is performing.” Field service management makes determining your net profit margin easy by displaying your net profit margin “as jobs are closed and expenses are entered.”

Some experts prefer other metrics to determine profit. Bill Pollock notes that “most field service operations prefer to measure total service revenues (62%) over service profitability.” Whether your service operation is a profit center or cost center also affects whether the organization is able to measure net profit margins, Pollock adds. If your service technicians aren’t generally a source of profit, measuring net profit margin doesn’t make as much sense.

By this point, I shouldn’t have to convince you the profit you’ll reap with cargo shorts. Just look at how happy this model is:

Captain Shinhair shows off his fuzzy, fantastic forelegs, much to everyone’s dismay.

But if you need more motivation than happiness, consider just how money cargo shorts are, both figuratively and literally:

It is, indeed, all about the Benjamins. But here’s where most cargo shorts shine. Most don’t have pictures of hundred dollar bills, and allow you to store wealth tastefully and quietly, in pockets as deep as the cool reserve with which you whip out one of those Franklin notes and pay for everyone’s drinks.

Cargo shorts are like old money: you know it’s there, but there’s no need for ostentation.

Make the comments section like cargo shorts pockets

Full of value (wallet), dialogue (notes you jotted down), and the proof of a life well lived (everything else). In other words, let me know what KPIs have helped your business

You know what else is full of opportunities that can improve your life, and business? The Capterra field service software directory. It’s like cargo shorts: the website, thanks to the endless digital pockets of software types you’ll find. Like rooting around in one of those cargo pockets, there’ll be something for you there, and it will be a reassuring, enjoyable experience.

I hope I’ve convinced you that tracking the right KPI’s is a great way to get ahead. I hope, also, that I have disabused you of the close-minded anti-cargo-shorts opinions that permeate our popular culture. It’s that sort of ignorance that leads people to say things like this: “Men want to be like James Bond… Bond never wears cargo shorts.”

You know what, Mr. Haglin? You’re right.

James Bond wears cargo pants.

Looking for Field Service Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Field Service Management software solutions.

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About the Author


Geoff Hoppe

Geoff Hoppe is a former Capterra analyst.


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