The growing popularity of smartphones and tablets has had major implications for field services organisations. Installers can have a complete knowledge base available at their fingertips, enabling them to deliver a better customer experience and to collaborate with colleagues to solve difficult problems that normally eat up time and money.
Over the past four or five years we've seen a huge change in the way in which we use digital technology. Mobile internet overtook desktop usage in 2014 and in 2016, on average, people around the world spent 86 minutes a day using the internet on their phones, compared to 36 minutes on a desktop.
At first, we bought and used smartphones and tablets as consumers but it rapidly became clear that here were obvious ways they could also vastly improve the way we do business, e.g. with instant messaging. But this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Time to get truly mobile
Over the next five years the most profitable installation companies will be those that make the transition to mobile technology most successfully and most comprehensively. With the right mobile apps, smartphones provide the best possible tool for maximising usage of an installation company’s most important resource: engineers’ time. Mobile apps can help break down and simplify many of the day-to-day tasks a business must accomplish and they vastly improve communication between mobile workers and the office. Moreover, apps are becoming increasingly intuitive, so the retraining overhead is minimised.
Job management software
However, if you are just relying on standard apps such as instant messaging to manage and stay in touch with your engineers you are falling a long way short of exploiting the full potential. With job management software that is specifically designed around the day-to-day work processes of a field services company you will have the power to make your business significantly more efficient.
The key element is the engineer’s diary, which puts every engineer in sync with the office. Tasks for the day ahead are allocated and when the unexpected occurs, such as an installation taking longer than envisaged, appointments can be rescheduled.
All of the information relevant to a customer is at the engineer’s disposal. The engineer simply clicks on the customer’s name and can access details stored on the office server such as telephone numbers, contact people, customer status (e.g. is the person listed a tenant, landlord, keyholder or manager?)
The full service history is also available with details of equipment, when it was installed, when it was last serviced, where it is located etc. Engineers are thus more likely to turn up on time, properly informed and with the right parts. More jobs done right first time, with fewer recalls.
And when a job is completed, the engineer can capture the customer’s signature on a form electronically, eliminating paperwork (which as we know, has a habit of going missing).
Communication with handheld devices is multi-directional and multi-media. An engineer can notify both head office and the customer when he is on his way. GPS then increases speed to the job and keeps head office notified on progress. What if the engineer then arrives and wants a second opinion on a job?
Every smartphone has a camera. So take a picture (or even a video) and upload it to the job management system, then discuss the best course of action with a more experienced engineer in the office or elsewhere in the field.
(The ability to capture, communicate and store images in your customer database might also serve as useful evidence in the event of disputes over costs.)
Multi-media technology is improving all the time – for example with voice recognition, engineers can call up information hands-free and visual collaboration tools enable companies to provide step-by-step instructions for installing or fixing a component without clumsy manual documentation.
Always in touch
“That’s all very well,” you might be thinking, “but a lot of my customers are in parts of the country with a poor mobile connection (or no mobile connection), and a lot of the equipment we install is in basements and cellars that are also out of reach of a mobile signal.” At Commusoft we thought of this! Our app stores all of the critical information on the engineer’s device, ready to access it even when there’s no signal.
For example, the engineer can create customer-specific gas safety certificates, electrical certificates and invoices (and a lot more). The app saves all updates and automatically transfers them to the office as soon as a connection is available.
Once job management software is fully embedded in a company, it can lift revenue by up to 15% while lowering the cost of serving customers by as much as 20%, according to Commusoft customers.
Payments and parts
How about integrating your job management software with payments, accounts and parts management? The ability to take electronic payment onsite will improve your cash flow. Integration between your job management software and your accounting software will eliminate a layer of data input and reconciliation processes. Parts management software lets engineers request parts remotely; the parts can be ordered immediately with a few clicks and inventory managed more effectively. That means less need for capital tied up in parts kept in the back of vans or gathering dust on a stockroom shelf.
Let’s assume your ambitions extend beyond simply surviving: you want to become more profitable and win new customers. In that case you need to build your reputation through good customer relationships. Here too, mobile technology can play a significant role.
With the right information at their fingertips, engineers can provide a more personalised service. This builds customer loyalty, reducing the likelihood that they will choose another installer simply based on a lower price.
Field service customers appreciate, and increasingly expect, the ability to provide feedback. With a handheld device it is possible to collect this immediately onsite. You will find it easier to identify, and correct, any shortcomings and, as your approval ratings increase, this will provide a useful aid to your marketing.
According to US software giant SalesForce, 52% of companies are still using manual methods to handle field service. This figure will fall progressively over the coming years. The good news is that these companies can now leapfrog the static, desktop automation stage to go fully mobile.