How Technology That is Currently in Development May Have a Major Impact on Service Companies

http://thenextweb.com/insider/2012/02/20/evrythng-internet-of-things/

Most mornings I spend some time reading technology blogs and articles to stay informed on the latest advancements in technology.  Technology is advancing faster than ever before and keeping up with the latest advancements requires constant monitoring.

I learned the importance of this a few years ago while calling on a customer, HP.

Image representing Hewlett-Packard as depicted...

Image via CrunchBase

At that time, printer technology was advancing every 18 months, making printers manufactured before the technology advancement must be sold at significant discount or be discarded.  HP tried to keep in pace or, preferably, the leader in printer technology.  They were reasonably concerned about having a ship load of printers leaving their manufacturing plants in Asia and becoming outdated before arriving at their retailers.

Keeping Pace or Becoming Leaders in New Technologies

Those companies who are able to understand how the newest technologies can grow their business through increased sales, increased efficiency in operations, and lower cost (to name a few) will have significant advantage over their competitors who fail to keep up with technology because they will become market leaders and experts in their industry.

An article I read this morning titled, “How Evrythng (sic) could give any physical object a life online” (http://thenextweb.com/insider/2012/02/20/evrythng-internet-of-things/) is an example of technology that is now under development that may have a significant impact on Service Companies (Plumbers, HVAC, Handyman, Pool Service, Carpet Cleaning, Residential Cleaning, Commercial Cleaning, Security Services, etc.), particularly in tracking inventory in company service vans because technology does not yet exist to remove the “human element” in the process.  To track inventory accurately, a company has to rely on all technicians remembering to add all parts used on every job to an invoice or inventory software system.  This human element guarantees inaccurate data regardless of whether a company uses a “carrot” or “stick” approach with its technicians.

Reducing Technician Travel to Pick up Parts

In many service companies, the parts are a small percentage of the overall cost of most jobs, i.e. a leaky faucet that uses only a single, inexpensive washer ring to eliminate the leak.  In this instance, the cost of the washer is insignificant in the total amount charged to the customer for the service call.  However, the cost of the part as a percentage of the job cost is not the only factor important to a service company.  Knowing what parts need restocking on service vans to prevent the technician from having to make a very costly trip to the company warehouse or vendor, is in many cases, a bigger issue.  Additionally, technicians who are paid hourly, rather than commission, have little incentive to reduce trips for needed parts.

Tracking Inventory on Company Service Vehicles: Removing the Human Element

Removing the human element will most likely be accomplished when very small, inexpensive digital devices can be attached to parts that can then be automatically read by digital detectors on company service vehicles that are integrated with a software inventory system.  I believe this technology will be developed, most likely sooner than later.  “Evrythng” (http://evrythng.com/) just may be the technology to do it.

Les Hellewell

VieDispatch Service Company Software Customized for Chimney Sweep Companies

The thing I like most about VieDispatch’s web-based service company software is its incredible flexibility.  It is so much fun being able to say “Yes!!” to almost all customization requests from VieDispatch’s customers.

One great example of this is a Chimney Sweep customer in New York.  When Carl called me, he explained his frustration in trying to find a software for Chimney Sweep Companies.  He explained that they have used an old software for many years that they really like.  However, the software company went out of business a few years ago and their latest version is not compatible with Windows Operating System beyond Windows 2005.  After seeing our Web demo, asked Carl what was functionality was missing in VieDispatch that he needed from his old Chimney Sweep Software.  Carl showed me a few screenshots of forms that are very specific to his Chimney Sweep Company.  You can see the forms below followed by the same form custom-built in VieDispatch (some screenshots are blurred for privacy).

Chimney Inspection Form (Original)

Chimney Inspection Form Custom Built in VieDispatch Service Company Software

Carl needed the ability to inspect more than one Chimney per customer Work Order.  For Carl’s VieDispatch account only, we customized our Equipment table functionality so Carl’s technicians can do inspections on multiple chimneys in the same Work Order / Job.  Below are screenshots for this change.

Chimney Information Form (Original)

Chimney Information Form Custom Built in VieDispatch Web Based Scheduling Software

All of this customization required less that three hours of work, with two hours that could have been done by Carl himself.  That is an amazing amount of customization in such a short time and with minimal cost.
Les

Signature Capture on Web Based Applications

Many customer’s of our Service Company Software, VieDispatch, have put tablets into the hands of their Technicians.  Some of our customers have experienced ROIs less than 6 months, making automation of their Technicians a no brainer.

One of the challenges of automation of Field based employees is capturing the signature on the digital invoice.  We considered building this functionality into our VieDispatch software.  However, we found two iPad apps and one Android app that can have a signature signed on the PDF invoice that is created in VieDispatch.

“JotNot Signature Capture” (Apple only)

English: The logo for Apple Computer, now Appl...

Image via Wikipedia

and “SignMyPad” (Apple & Android) applications worked equally well.

English: Android Robot. Français : le logo d'a...

Image via Wikipedia

Very Fast!!!

It took only thirty-two (32) seconds to get a digital signature on a PDF invoice created in VieDispatch Scheduling Software.  The simple process works as follows;

  1. Click on the “Invoice (PDF) button on the bottom of a VieDispatch Work Order. The invoice is opened in the tablet’s browser.
  2. Click the “Open With” button in the top right corner and select JotNot or SignMyPad.
  3. Click the “Signature” button in the top right corner and have the customer sign on the tablet.
  4. Save the Invoice.

The lesson learned is to not build a feature in your software if the feature has already been built, is inexpensive, and runs as fast as you could ever hope to build.

Les Hellewell

VieDispatch

Email: les@viedispatch.com

URL: http://www.viedispatch.com/

The Next Technology Wave: Desktop Apps Must Move to the Web to Survive

Until recently, the most common software “set-up” for mid-size businesses was to run business operations with software that resides on company server/s and employee desktop computers. This set-up has several downsides that companies have become very familiar with, including (See more details at VieDispatch

    • High IT costs to maintain hardware, software, and employee computers.
    • Access to data limited to the office or through high maintenance ftp connections.
    • The risk of losing critical data without recent backups or from catastrophic events such as burning or flooding of the business location where the data is kept.

In this same time period, many businesses purchased or custom built Enterprise solutions that contained all business operations in one “package”.  Most of these legacy systems have become outdated, having a potentially negative impact on company growth and competitiveness.  The cost and risk associated with upgrading or repairing these systems have “paralyzed” many businesses from making a change

However, when companies become familiar with the superior options available to them from significant advancements in Web and Cloud technologies, the transfer to newer technology is often easier than anticipated.  Security on the Web now rivals the security of software applications running on company servers, making highly regulated security requirements for medical and financial information readily available on the internet.

Companies transferring to the robust Web and Cloud technologies are experiencing an increase in revenues and a reduction in operating costs.  Some of the benefits this relatively new technology offers are;

  • Access to “real-time” data anywhere, anytime with an internet connection.
  • Automating their Field Technicians by putting web-enabled devices (smart phones, IPad, Mini-Computer, etc.) in their hands.
  • Increased data accuracy and a reduction in costs by eliminating multiple entries of data.
  • Increased security of data because most main stream web database applications run simultaneously on multiple servers with automatic backups.
  • Decreased IT costs: Companies no longer need to worry about hiring and keeping talented IT staff required to run enterprise systems, instead they are able to focus on the revenue generating areas of their business.

VieDispatch is one of the first, fully functional, business operations software available on the web.

The #1 Customer Complaint with Service Companies

Shoddy Work is the complaint most often received by Service Companies from their customers.  Shoddy work covers a variety of specific complaints, including the following:

  • The Technician did not clean-up after himself.
  • The technician did not put things back together that he took apart.
  • The technician spilled dirty water on carpet while removing old water heater.
  • Dirty dolly tracks on carpet and stairs from removing old equipment (water heater, furnace, etc.).
  • Damage to wood floors.

Research shows that a customer who has a complaint will tell eight to ten people about it but fewer than one in twenty who have a complaint will actually complain to company itself.

VieDispatch Service Company Software was able to confirm the validity of this research when it surveyed customers of  Plumbing and HVAC service companies.  Complaints that companies do not hear about from their customers are of particular concern because the company does not have the opportunity to correct the problem.

This type of complaint seems is more prevalent with companies whose technicians are paid on commission.  This is most likely because the technician is trying to do as many calls in a day as possible.  Service companies try to reduce these types of complaints by training their technicians to realize that they are actually hurting themselves as much as the company because every unhappy customer is a customer that they will most likely not have as a return customer.   This should be particularly pertinent to a technician since as high as 75% of an established service company’s business is from return customers.

VieDispatch Service Company Software has developed a unique way to encourage technicians to improve in this area.  The Field Automation functions in VieDispatch’s work order can require a “before and after” picture of the job-site.  This functionality is quite user-friendly for a technician using an internet enabled device because clicking on the “Camera” link in the work order automatically launches the devices’ camera.  After the picture is taken, the photo is automatically uploaded to VieDispatch and attached to the work order.

This is only one function of many in VieDispatch’s software that uses the power of internet enabled devices in the hands of technicians to improve customer satisfaction.  In my next blog, I will write about one of these features, “Pic-A-Tech”, where a service company can set up the software to automatically email a picture of the technician, with a short biography, to the customer as soon as the technician is assigned.

Studies show that a high percentage of women are afraid of having a technician they know nothing about entering their home.  These pictures are one way to use modern technology to improve customer satisfaction.

Les

Real-Time Data: The Key to Remaining Competitive in the Service Industry

Companies primed for success in today’s fast paced, technologically advanced business arena have learned how to use the Web to reduce costs and increase revenue. Most service companies have made the switch from a paper based, desktop calculator business environment to running their businesses on database software of various types. Spreadsheets have become the norm in this business environment and many companies make most of their decisions based on the data retrieved in their spreadsheets.  Until recently, virtually all of these software products have resided on the customer’s desktop.

Historically, most sales revenues in the service industry have been generated from “Yellow Page” advertisements. Being on the “first page” for your industry with a full-page advertisement was the most efficient way to generate sales growth.  Because of the rather recent arrival of internet / web-based technologies, generating revenue from yellow page advertisements is becoming obsolete. The companies implementing the latest technologies will experience lower costs and higher sales revenue than their competitors.

Companies still making business decisions based on data in spreadsheets are at a significant disadvantage because, 1) Spreadsheet data is “old news” when compared to the “real-time” data mined by their forward thinking competitors, and 2) Service companies who have embraced the internet technology by having SEO optimized websites are receiving most of their sales from customers who found them by searching on the internet.  New customers from the internet are obtained with far less cost than those obtained from the yellow pages.

The major obstacle preventing many companies in the service industry from harnessing the power of the web is finding employees or vendors with the technical expertise needed to help the company move away from their out-dated marketing techniques.  However, service companies who continue to use desktop software to run and manage their business will soon find that their competitor’s have lower costs, make more informed decisions, because they have found a way to change their marketing efforts to take advantage of the web.

The handful of service industry software companies, who have built web versions of their desktop software, will quickly start taking market share from their competitors. It is very difficult for a software company to build a web-based version of their software because the technical skills of their programmers are building and maintaining the desktop version. Different than most people think, building web-based software is a completely different animal than building software that resides on the desktop.

Software companies whose skill-base and knowledge is with building web applications are also able to offer a more user-friendly experience. They enable their customers to obtain “real-time” data by equipping their field technicians with internet enabled mobile equipment which allows the technician to fulfill work orders and invoice customers on the job site!!

One company who is ahead of the Web technology curve is VieDispatch with its web-based Service Company Software product. In addition to capturing the power of the web in their simple, but powerful software, VieDispatch has developed a proprietary software development platform that gives their customers the several advantages including;

  • §  A customer can easily customize the VieDispatch software to run their business the way they know is best. Though many software products have some customizing features, VieDispatch’s software product gives “customization” back its original meaning.

 

  • §  Software functionality is very consistent throughout the application, making it very easy to learn, reducing training costs and expanding the pool of employees who can use the software.

If you are looking for web-based software to run your service business, be sure to check out VieDispatch.

Les Hellewell

 

Paralysis by Analysis

With the technology tools available to business today, it is just
as likely that a business will accumulate and track more data than what is
needed to run the business efficiently. This somewhat common practice is
referred to as “Paralysis by Analysis.

Many companies in the service industry have either tried or are
looking for a system that helps them track inventory on their service vans,
i.e. plumbing parts for a plumbing service company. The reasons for attempting
this tracking of inventory are many, including;

  • Deter and
    catch theft of parts by service technicians
  • More
    accurate job costing
  • Reduce
    trips by technicians from the job-site to the parts warehouse
  • Increase
    the ability of purchasing parts in discounted bulk prices

The first analysis a service company should complete before making
the decision to collect and analyze specific data is; 1) Determine whether or
not the cost of collecting the data is smaller than the amount saved, and 2) The
value of the parts being tracked is a significant percentage of the cost of the
service.  For example, the cost of the
parts to repair a leaky faucet is not a significant cost to the job.

The materials used by a plumbing contractor, whose main business
is plumbing installation for new construction, are a much higher percentage of
the total job cost than a plumbing service company whose main business is
plumbing repair. On new construction, the plumbing contractor usually purchases
almost all the parts for each job under one purchase order while the service
company must carry an inventory of parts on the service van.  For this reason, the tracking of parts for a
service company is much more burdensome.

One other factor that service companies should consider is the
cost of counting and balancing inventory on service vans may be more costly
than what can be saved because of the following reasons;

  • The
    inherent inaccuracy and cost of data collected from hand counting the inventory
    of low value parts,
  • The cost
    of taking service vehicles out of service to do the counting, and
  • The
    impact on employee morale that often occurs.

With these inherent factors weighing against inventory tracking
for some service companies, the risk of the outcome being “paralysis by
analysis” is greatly increased.

One way to lower this risk is to bundle the cost of parts in
determining the cost of a service. The cost for a particular service should
include the parts and labor that are unique to that service. For example, the
labor and parts to replace a wax ring on a leaking toilet are consistent enough
that a “service fee” can be calculated and then charged on every
service of this type.

VieDispatch
includes a “Services Pricing Module” that makes it easy for service
companies to price jobs by “Service Type”. This results in accurate
job costing and inventory reports without experiencing “paralysis by
analysis”.

Les Hellewell

Co-Founder, VieDispatch.com