For most plumbing and mechanical contractors, implementing technology in the office and the field has become standard practice for improving communications. Today, high-speed Internet access, integrated software applications and cellular phones with two-way radio features are typical business tools.
Perhaps the newest technology tool for plumbing and mechanical contractors is wireless communication between the office and the field -- in particular, for service applications. The question is: When should you consider adopting this new technology for mobile service?
To answer this question, we need to take a look at some of the common field communication issues faced by plumbing and mechanical contractors and examine how mobile service addresses those issues.
Field TechniciansPlumbing and mechanical service technicians deal with a number of productivity-sabotaging obstacles each day. For example, instead of beginning their day with the first service call on their schedules, they may begin their day by going into the office to first pick up their service schedules and work orders.
Limited details on paper work orders often prompt the technicians to call the office for additional information or to get site history. Phone tag to get the necessary information isn't uncommon, which may create additional work delays and wasted down time.
As the day progresses, the technicians make handwritten notes -- that are often hard to decipher -- about the work they've done. What they end up with is a pile of paperwork, which eventually gets returned to the office for processing. What's more, each technician typically has his own way of making notes; consistency among technicians is nearly impossible with this manual system.
Enter wireless field communication in the form of mobile service technology.
Mobile service provides real-time communication between the office and field via wireless handheld devices. For the field technicians, this means they have instant access to their schedules, work orders, work site history and more. Because the service application on their handheld devices constantly synchronizes with the service software back at the office, their information is always accurate, detailed and complete.
The technicians no longer begin their day by heading to the office to pick up their schedules. Instead, their schedules are instantly available on their handheld devices. For each work order, detailed notes and site history are now at their fingertips. This better prepares them for the tasks at hand and better prepares them to address customer questions. Knowledgeable and confident, the technicians are now free to focus on their service work rather than spending time getting organized or chasing down missing information.
With mobile service, handwritten job notes are a thing of the past. Now all the work notes are entered directly into the service software using a standardized format. Drop down lists, predefined tasks and other ease-of-use features streamline data entry.
Recommendations for future service work are also recorded while they are fresh in the technicians' minds. When the work is done, the technician captures the customer's signature onto their handheld device (similar to how UPS captures signatures for package delivery) and transmits the completed -- and legible -- electronic paperwork back to the main office.
For the field technicians, mobile service streamlines their workflow and eliminates cumbersome paperwork. Perhaps most importantly, though, having complete and detailed information about every service call and work site gives them a definitive and competitive edge over a technician without that information.
DispatchersIt's 10 a.m. and you have a customer on the phone with a service emergency. How fast can you get a technician out to them? To answer this, you need to find out the status and location of your technicians. So, using an educated guess based on the current schedule, you get on the telephone.
Several calls (and maybe even voicemails) later, you find a technician to take care of the emergency and make adjustments on the dispatch board to account for the schedule change. Now you need to communicate the adjustments to those in the field. After more telephone time everything -- and everyone -- is back on track. Until the next scheduling change, that is.
For the dispatching staff, the real-time communication provided by mobile service gives them continuous feedback on the status of the technicians. With a glance at the dispatch board they can see where each technician is and the status of each work order.
When the 10 a.m. emergency call comes in, the dispatcher's task of finding a technician is simplified because they are informed of the whereabouts of the field staff at all times. Telephone calls and voicemail messages aren't necessary because instant messaging provides a strong wireless communication link with the technicians.
Here's even more good news for the dispatchers: When a change is made to the dispatch schedule, they are confident that the change is immediately transmitted to the field.
Accounting StaffBilling for service work can be a time-consuming process. Technicians turn completed work orders into the office in batches. By the time the accounting staff deciphers the handwritten notes, enters the data, and sends the customers invoices, several days to several weeks have passed. By that time, the work performed -- let alone future work recommended -- is no longer fresh in the minds of the technicians or customers. This delay makes it difficult to answer follow-up questions and creates a variable delay in getting paid for the work that's been done.
Not so with mobile service. Since technicians are transmitting completed and signed work orders back to the office as soon as the work is done, accounting is able to invoice the customer immediately, without deciphering handwriting, duplicating data entry, or waiting for paperwork to be returned by the technician. Prompt -- even same day -- billing for service work shortens the payment cycle, thereby increasing cash flow.
CustomersThe benefits of mobile service are even extended to the plumbing and mechanical contractor's customers. Having a technician show up on time with complete information on the current service issue as well as the service history builds confidence with the customer that the technician is prepared to handle the job.
Immediate feedback on any additional work that needs to be done and prompt invoicing for the work completed assures the customer that his or her needs are being handled efficiently and effectively.
New BusinessMobile service provides technicians with the opportunity to generate new business at every service call. Additional work recommended such as preventive maintenance or equipment repairs are discussed with the customer, entered into mobile service, and instantly authorized for scheduling via the handheld customer approval system.
This proactive approach to generating additional service work creates a win-win situation for the contractor and customer. For the contractor, new business translates into the potential for greater profitability and is a prerequisite for growth. For the customer, regular preventive maintenance and equipment repairs can actually save them money in the long run.
When going after new business, contractors with mobile service capability can use this technology -- and the resulting improvement in customer response and service -- during their sales process to distinguish their company's services from their competitors.
So, now that you have an idea of how mobile service addresses the issues faced by plumbing and mechanical contractors, it's time to ask yourself: Are you ready for it? The questions below can help you assess whether you are ready to further explore this new technology:
- Does your current service system make it difficult to standardize workflow?
- Do your technicians experience productivity delays with the system?
- Do they have limited access to work order details or work site history?
- Are paper work orders ever lost or misplaced?
- Do you experience delayed customer billing for work performed? Are answers to customer questions delayed because information is not readily available to your technicians, dispatcher and billing department?
- Do you have an easy and expedient way to follow up on and schedule additional work recommended by your technicians?
- Is duplicate data entry and deciphering handwritten work notes a drain on your accounting staff?
- Would immediate customer authorization of additional work increase your service activity?
- Would automating your service operations positively impact your workflow?
- Would your dispatching system benefit from direct communication with the field at all times?
- Is your quality of customer service affected by technicians, dispatchers, and accounting staff with limited access to information, poor follow-up, and/or delayed billing for completed work?
- Would same day billing for service work increase your cash flow?
- Would improved customer service and confidence have a positive impact on your business?