Field communications - contacting techs during their service calls and having them communicate needed data back to the office - used to be much more challenging than it is today. Remember when pagers, walkie-talkies and expensive FM transmitters and receivers used to be common? No longer. We have been fortunate to have new systems available.
Just speaking to the tech is, of course, valuable. However, today with hardware and software programs developing and improving all the time, wouldn’t it be convenient (and actually cost-effective) to have all the data you need transferred back and forth quickly?
For example, your accounting department could be streamlined if the invoice was
printed, provided to the customer and electronic payment from the customer’s
credit card was transmitted from the tech back to the office with an electronic
copy of the invoice. Let’s take it a step further. At the same time, the tech’s
earnings for the job could also be transmitted, along with any additional
information such as overtime.
AutomationAny time you examine communications with techs, you have the potential to expand the automation of the entire business. Admittedly, not all service businesses are ready for complete automation. But if you experience better, simpler and faster communications with techs, it will certainly be tempting to make it easier to transmit all the necessary information typically exchanged with techs.
Another advantage is accuracy. Errors are typically reduced when data is transmitted through an automated system. No more handwritten invoices, receipts or credit slips, with the accompanying potential for errors.
Even if your business is not ready for an integrated system, there are other interim alternatives - systems with degrees of automation.
Although communication can be valuable when speaking to a tech, most communication occurs to transmit information about the job. That information can be transmitted by written/electronic means as easily, and probably more accurately, than by voice alone. That means you need more than a walkie-talkie.
The good news is most of today’s cell phones have texting capability. So an economical first step would be to set up, as a minimum, text message capability on the cell phones your techs carry. Not the most high-tech, but a start.
Progressing from there, using greater electronic data transfer and printing capabilities are going to require a computer or computer-like system. Sometimes these are proprietary; they go with an internal software/hardware system for transmitting data in the company. For now, let’s call these components, those that are part of an integrated system, a pad or the “box.”
Techs enter data into the box and it gets recorded where it needs to be and shares the data with all the necessary departments. For instance, parts used are recorded and then provision is made for replenishing the tech’s truck with those parts.
These boxes and systems are very convenient. Even signatures for credit cards and invoices can be transmitted using a built-in scanner on the pad where data is entered.
Some companies use a combination of a tech-operated laptop computer and a secure Internet site to which data can be transmitted and received. Such a system requires equipment that is not too expensive and is relatively easy to use. Techs can be quickly trained and begin using the laptop computers.
Even without an integrated system, an internal company Web site, where data can be securely exchanged, is an alternative. Although it’s not as automated or complete as a proprietary system, it still is a viable system for making field communications fast and accurate.
GoalsWith so many alternatives available for communication with techs, a good first step is to determine your most important communication needs, then look at the costs for meeting them. Simple voice communication with techs using today’s equipment is relatively simple and economical: cell phones and text messages.
Going beyond that basic goal, do you need (and is it cost-effective to purchase) a more comprehensive system that sends documents? Initially, you need invoices and payment data. Then you may want to incorporate job and payment data, plus parts and materials information. One more step up.
One simple goal that seems to be the overwhelming trend is to eliminate paperwork. A “paperless” office, as the goal is often called, has many advantages. Specifically, accuracy, reduced costs, fewer personnel required, faster data transfer and instant access to important business information are a sampling of the advantages enjoyed by a paperless office.
When considering different means of communication gear, it’s a good idea to look beyond just communicating with techs. What your business is really doing is acquiring data and then transmitting it to all the necessary departments (or business functions if only a few people perform all these tasks) and acting on it.
One key point: The techs are on the scene where all this data is generated, the “front lines” so to speak. So if you make it easier for them to gather the necessary information, do the job and get on to the next job, you have been successful.
Don’t think the current communications systems are all there is going to be in field communications. Technology continues to advance faster all the time.
You know how much I like GPS as part of a system for service and repair businesses. Its uses continue to expand. It can keep track of not just locations but time, movements and data.
Add to that technology the advancements in video and even more capability will be built into communication systems. Try this: detailed instructions for installation of parts - live, through video, on demand at any time. The boxes I mentioned will continue to have more and more capability for data exchanges; for example, a complete database of part numbers with a visual display of the part.
Communication has come a long way since, “Call the office … ” Keeping up may help you maximize the efficiency of your business communication gear; it’s a good idea to look beyond just communicating with techs.