Technology isn’t a cure-all for your problems, but it can cut many problems down to size.

Illustrated by: Chuck Horgan

Usually when you think of an audit, you think about reviewing financial statements to make sure the business accounting systems are working as they should.

But using the same approach as a financial audit, you also could review any of the systems in your business. I suggest you review where your business stands in the use of modern technology. Since technology can offer competitive advantages and cost savings, it’s worth assessing your position.

Purchasing technology solutions alone is not, of course, an automatic answer to greater profits, more customers or stronger management. However, increasing your awareness of what is available may encourage you to see if there is something you could use that will increase productivity and still fit in your budget.

When speaking of technology available today, we have to include the latest software, computer hardware and global positioning system combinations that provide data for management that has not been available in the past, or has not been interconnected to the degree it is now available. I would like to begin by breaking down the primary functions of the business and seeing what we can do to automate some of the functions, then progress from there.

Call Taking

As soon as a customer calls your company, your call-takers have the opportunity to acquire and process data. Instead of treating each call as a new experience, your call-takers should be accessing a database and entering or recalling data for the caller.

If it is a former customer, it is important for the call-taker to demonstrate to the caller that your company has the best customer service by recognizing the caller’s previous business contact and welcoming them back as a customer. With the caller’s data on file, much of the information the call-taker would have to log in is already in the database. Only the latest problem needs to be entered.

Keeping track of the results of marketing campaigns, such as postcard mailings, new advertisements and Yellow Pages results, are other inputs that can be entered and monitored.

Let’s see where your business stands on call-taking:

  • Do you have call-taking information entered into a database?
  • Can your call-takers access prior customer data as part of the database?
  • Does your software make the relevant data available to other departments?
    The most efficient processing of calls uses not just a database, but an integrated system where the data from the call is stored and can be recalled by other departments.

  • Dispatch

    If there ever was an area to automate in the service-and-repair business, dispatch software systems have been shown to simplify and improve that function of the business by improving accuracy and cutting costs.

    If you still rely on a completely manual dispatch system, betting that the dispatcher can find the nearest or best technician for the next job, your business is not as efficiently run as it could be. Ideally, the call-takers’ information about each customer and job is automatically forwarded to the dispatch department software. The dispatch people can now see what the job is and, using more than just a database of jobs and technicians, select the best technician for the job.

    The criteria for this selection might include location, completion time for prior jobs, technician expertise or other criteria you select. The analysis of this data assures that the customer gets speedy service by the most appropriate technician for the job.

    Let’s see where your business stands on dispatching:

  • Do you have data automatically transferred from call-taking to dispatch?
  • Does your system keep track of the time, location and type of job being performed by each technician?
  • Can your dispatch program assist in selecting the technician best suited for the job?

  • Techs On Calls

    Technicians typically like doing the work required for the job more than completing all the paperwork associated with the job. Invoices, time sheets, parts used and the job-related data that must be completed can all be automated. Accuracy is improved and the technician’s time is spent on tasks that are not administrative.

    If your dispatch and accounting program are integrated, billing, payroll and materials information are sent to the department where they are needed. Before the technician goes to the next job, his charges and the parts used are sent to the home office, simplifying recordkeeping and reducing paper used in the office. With less paper reports, errors seem to drop significantly.

    GPS has been in the news and you have read or heard me speak about it many times. After several generations of navigation systems available to businesses, there is no reason not to have one available for technicians. The advantages are numerous, but include ease of finding customer locations, keeping track of each truck’s location and logging reports on truck mileage and maintenance data.

    There is so much data available from GPS systems it’s hard to imagine functioning without one. Once you are used to having precise information on all your trucks, costs decline and you can make very timely management decisions. The level of technology that you use with GPS is generally determined by how integrated your GPS data is with your other software systems, such as dispatch, maintenance and accounting. The more integrated the system, the more valuable and timesaving it is.

    Let’s see where your business stands on keeping track of techs and vehicles:

  • Do you have GPS guidance for technicians to locate the job?
  • Do you have reports on the location and time on the job for each truck?
  • Do you have direct inputs to your truck maintenance records from your GPS?

  • Parts And Materials

    Keeping technicians’ trucks stocked with the parts they need for most of the jobs they are going to be assigned is always a challenge. Some technicians are very diligent about making certain all the usual parts are in stock, replacing the ones used each day for that day’s jobs.

    No need to rely on technicians, however, if your software provides that data automatically. If it is integrated into your truck and warehouse records, parts can be drawn from bins by the time the technician’s truck arrives back at the shop. The list is extracted from the job invoice, then sent to the warehouse, where the parts are pulled and then assembled for loading on the technician’s truck when he returns to the shop.

    The advantage of such an integrated system is better control over parts, advance notice of stocking requirements and assurance that your technicians’ trucks are always stocked with the parts and materials they will most likely use. Inventory control is always up-to-date.

    Let’s see where your business stands on inventory management:

  • Do you know which parts technicians have used during the day on their jobs?
  • Do you know what parts need to be pulled from the warehouse to restock trucks?
  • Do you have a daily inventory of parts in the warehouse, including ones that need to be ordered?

  • Accounting/Payroll

    Administrative functions like accounting and payroll need to be accurate. That accuracy can be expensive. But if fewer personnel are needed, costs are reduced. If the data entry is automated, accuracy is assured. Ideally, data should only be entered one time for a job. The technician’s compensation is extracted from the data supplied by the job invoice. Using a system that will produce the data needed leads to a paperless office that costs less to operate.

    From this one data entry, customer records are updated and invoices can be printed (by technicians if the program allows technicians to print on-site). All of the payroll data for each technician can be downloaded automatically. At the end of each day all records are current and complete. Checks can be issued on payday automatically.

    For this comprehensive system to work, the service-and-repair business has to go beyond the basic accounting packages. If you have not automated your accounting, by all means get started with basic software to get your accounting records on computer. Then progress from there as you can so you can get as much data as possible entered in an automated system.

    Let’s see where your business stands on accounting and payroll:

  • Do you have computerized accounting records?
  • Can you get inventory and payroll records from your accounting software?
  • Do you have a paperless office with all data entered once and recallable on demand?

    Having your business automated doesn’t mean it’s operating at a maximum level of efficiency or profitability, only that the data is there to make timely and accurate management decisions. The systems still need management oversight.

    If you have responded to all of the questions in each area with “yes” answers, you probably are among the top users of technology in the industry. If not, see what will pay off for you in the future to make management of your business easier.