With gas prices surging across the U.S., businesses with employees who drive regularly for their jobs are feeling the pinch. Thankfully, there are tools that can help reduce the sting of gas costs while offering additional business benefits—such as higher employee productivity and customer satisfaction.


Route-planning software helps companies find more efficient routes for employees who drive and make frequent stops, whether pizza delivery drivers or home service providers. While it might be tempting to use a free basic program like Google Maps, software designed specifically for route optimization offers many extra features and functionality that can pay for itself in savings.


“It’s nothing short of essential for us,” says Zach Smith, founder of Smith’s Pest Management, a San Jose, California-based pest control firm whose 15 to 20 technicians call on 250 customers a day across a 100-by-50-mile region.


Using route optimization, Smith can distribute work evenly among his technicians while creating optimal routes that take into account things like the time of day, one-way streets, traffic patterns, road construction, U turns and appointment cancellations.


A dispatcher operates the software from a desktop computer, pushing the routes with a map overview to the technicians’ mobile phones. Smith’s Pest Management uses a tool called ServSuite, an all-in-one software solution that also includes add-ons like accounting and scheduling, but there are many other route-planning tools available. Route optimization has reduced the company’s fuel usage by 35% while increasing employee productivity by 25% to 30%, Smith estimates.


If you are thinking about implementing route-planning software in your business, here’s a three-point roadmap:


  1. Understand what it does

Simply put, route optimization is the process of making drivers’ routes more efficient by more opportunely distributing the workload among drivers while also strategically planning out routes, says Kevin Callen, president of Route Optimization Consultants, a consulting firm in McLean, Virginia.


“It doesn’t just mean making a faster path—it means making a smarter path,” he says. For example, using a route optimization tool, a salesperson might make nine stops in one day instead of seven. It can be especially valuable when there are multiple drivers—a fleet—that need to have their stops coordinated in an efficient way, with new stops needing to be added over the course of the day.


The software can help do it quickly and adjust route plans, as needed. Many route-planning tools have a desktop version as well as mobile apps, allowing the drivers to access their route information from wherever they may be.


  1. Know the benefits

A common benefit from using route-planning software for companies with fleets is a reduction in the number of routes—which, for some businesses, equates to a higher workload with fewer vehicles and crew. “Essentially, it means more productivity—more work for less operational costs,” Callen says.


Moreover, it increases fuel savings and decreases emissions—reducing a company’s carbon footprint.


Other benefits can include improved customer service and satisfaction, thanks to getting service or deliveries faster than they would if the company didn’t optimize its routes.


Another benefit: Many route-planning tools offer live driver tracking, meaning any business owner or employee can know where their drivers are at any time and make last-minute adjustments to their route plans.


  1. Find the right tool

What route-optimization tool is best for your business will depend on the level of sophistication you need. Most small businesses will use a “point-to-point” tool that can help map out up to 125 stops. These tools are ideal for everything from sales rep meeting planning to delivery drivers and home maintenance teams.


It’s important to consider what kind of route-planning help your business needs—including how many drivers you need to coordinate routes for, and the features you will use—when choosing the right tool.


“The business owner needs to define what problem they’re trying to solve and then ask the right questions,” Callen says.


Many tools cost $25 to $50 monthly per driver and include features such as a mobile app for drivers, customer alerts on drivers’ expected arrival times, route history information and analytics.


While there are many to choose from, tools to look at include OptimoRoute, Samsara and Jobber.


“If you’re not maximizing your routes and productivity, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table that you could be saving,” Callen adds. “This is such a low-hanging fruit. It should be considered a part of sound management and responsibility.”

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