How to Digitalise Your Field Service Business (and Earn More) in 6 Steps

Rhys Pattimore
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The world—and your customers—have gone digital. Is your field service business keeping up?

Increasingly, customers have gotten used to organising their lives online. This means how they interact with businesses has changed too. Whether it's signing contracts on digital devices, getting updates via SMS, or receiving invoices via email: if you're not up-to-date, then your offline business practices can make your company look like it's behind the times. You may be used to running your business one way, but best practices - as well as customer expectations - have changed.

It's no longer the case of when digital will take over because it already has.

That said, it's never too late to learn and you can adapt your business by following smart, logical steps to help bring your business into the digital age. You may have concerns or questions about utilising new technology, but that's why we're here to help!

We talked with Nick Garrett, Product Executive at naturalForms, to cut through the confusion and get you the information you need to digtalise your HVAC, plumbing, or electrical business, so you can serve your customers better—and, ultimately, earn more.

Let's start with a quick list of the steps to going digital:

  1.     Know why you're going digital.
  2.     Pinpoint your pain points.
  3.     Get set with devices.
  4.     Digitalise your pain points away.
  5.     Market your new digital capabilities.
  6.     Integrate your digital solutions for double the efficiency.

Ready to modernise your business with the latest digital technology? Let's get started:

1. Know why you're going digital.

Internet business gurus are always shouting that we need to go digital. Sure, that's great—in theory. But without some good, industry-specific reasons why, and help to both create and implement a solid plan, it's no surprise that we can often find it hard to dredge up the motivation to make it happen. So, we'll start with some info about why you should want to digitalise your business.

Going digital makes you more productive.

No one can deny that digital business processes are simply faster (way, way faster) than manual ones. While there may be a learning curve to begin with, results certainly speak for themselves once digital processes become a habit within your business. 'The ability to do more things in real time, and at a high level, basically improves your overall business operations and the productivity of your field service team', says Garrett.

Going digital enhances the customer experience.

Imagine two scenarios:

Scenario #1: the customer waits impatiently for your engineer to arrive. Once the engineer finally arrives, they hand the customer a messy pile of papers with cost estimates and contracts then ask the customer to sign these with a leaky pen. Then the engineer takes a look at the boiler and realises they'll need a part that they don't have—so they hand the customer yet more paper to sign and head out the door.

Scenario #2: the customer tracks the engineer's trip to their house with a GPS app, so they know exactly when the engineer will arrive. The engineer has the customer sign the work order digitally and automatically emails them a copy. The engineer then takes a look at the boiler and realises they'll need a part they don't have—so they order the part on their mobile device and let the customer know when it's scheduled to arrive. A new appointment is scheduled and the customer receives a confirmation text the day before the appointment.

Which scenario do you think will leave your customer with a more positive impression of your business? (Spoilers: it's Scenario #2).

Going digital is good for the environment.

The equation is simple: more digital processes equals less paper waste. With today's focus on waste reduction and "going green", eco-minded customers are far more likely to flock to companies that use environmentally friendly business practices.

Click here to see our in-depth guide to going paperless in the office for field service businesses. You won't want to miss out!

Going digital saves you (and your customers) money.

'You're now doing things in a more efficient manner, which should ultimately lead to an overall cost reduction in the operations of your business', says Garrett. 'This will do two things: it should help reduce costs for your clientele and also improve the ROI for the work you're performing with your field service team.'

Going digital builds trust in your customers.

You know that your employees and engineers are proficient and trustworthy. What your customer sees, however, is a stranger in their home, fiddling with a very expensive piece of equipment. They may already be nervous about the issue, so you don't want to make them even more anxious.

By using digital processes to speed up the service, help your engineers work more effectively, and even reduce costs, your customers will feel more confident in the work being done and in your staff. Simple things like being able to put a face to a name before an engineer arrives thanks to a tracking app, or getting instant notifications about a job by text, will add value to the customer experience too.

2. Pinpoint your pain points.

Knowing where your business processes are too slow, where your business is leaking money, and where you're losing opportunities (and customers) can help you determine what aspects of your business you want to digitalise and how to go about doing it. Here are some of the common pain points we, at Commusoft, hear from our clients, and that Garrett has seen in naturalForm's customers too:

Pain Point #1: Paperwork disappears into the void.

When was the last time you lost an important piece of paperwork? If you're like many field service business owners, the answer is: 'What time is it now?' 'Paper is not easy to manage and track, and that information doesn't get shared very easily across the different users and departments that need it', says Garrett.

Pain Point #2: Your office staff has to do double data entry.

In a non-digitalised organisation, data needs to be entered multiple times. Your engineers enter the information onto a paper form, then your office staff have to re-enter that exact same data into the CRM system, and maybe even again into the billing system. We're sure you'll agree what a monumental waste of time this can be - which also costs money, since you're paying your employees for all the time they spend duplicating their own work.

Pain Point #3: Your office staff make data-entry errors.

The more your staff has to enter data into different systems, the more likely it will be for mistakes to slip through. The chances of, say, a zero magically disappearing (or appearing!) from the price on a customer invoice is much higher in a non-digitalised business. With finances often being so vital, obviously you (and your customers) will want to avoid these errors.

Pain Point #4: The paperwork your engineers fill out is incomplete.

On paper there's no such thing as a 'required field', so if your engineer doesn't have the information they need right there and then, they may simply leave that part of the form blank. The incomplete form later goes to the office staff, and ultimately leads to time wasted digging up the information you need to send purchase orders, order the right parts for the job, invoice customers, and generally get jobs done well, and on time.

Pain Point #5: It's difficult to provide customer satisfaction.

Many field service businesses have to spend time digging up information their customers need, answering their questions, and fielding customer complaints about late (or missing) engineers, jobs that are behind schedule, and more. 'Providing a high-level customer experience is a challenge for many field service businesses', says Garrett.

Pain Point #6: Getting jobs is always a slog.

Customers are what your business is all about. Without customers, you simply don't have a business. And yet, often the task of finding new customers and encouraging repeat ones can fall through the cracks as business owners struggle with completing the jobs they already have, plus organising the accompanying paperwork.

Reminders are a great way to encourage repeat customers, with service reminders in particular, helping you to earn more. Click here to learn everything you need to know from our service reminder guide.

Figuring out your pain points may have been a—well, a painful practice. However, it will help make the actual process of going digital much easier! No pain, no gain, right?

3. Get set with devices.

If your businesses is 100% paper-based, start  to digitalise slowly but surely by choosing devices for your engineers to use in the field. 'Even giving them a mobile device where they can just email things out at a basic level lets a business go digital without really implementing a digital solution.' For bonus points, consider setting your engineers up with some simple apps that will help them work more efficiently.

Of course, choosing and using devices sounds simple, but it can be a major hassle when you're faced with literally hundreds of mobile phones, tablets, or computers to choose from. Thankfully, our Product Blog has three articles that can help cut through that confusion:

Now, let's start getting you some pain relief! 

4. Digitalise your pain points away.

Once your business is set up with mobile devices and other basic tech, you need to start going digital and search online for solutions for your particular pain points. For example:

If your pain point is: Getting jobs is always a slog.

Try this: Find software and apps that help you attract and retain customers. For example, Commusoft lets you send automated service reminders so customers come back when it's time for regular maintenance. Additionally, it also gives you the option to send follow-up messages to customers to make sure they're happy with their service and even request reviews. Also, you can use email marketing services like MailChimp (which integrates with Commusoft as well) to send newsletters, helpful information, and special offers to your customers and prospects. 

If your pain point is: Your office staff has to do double data entry or your office staff make data errors.

Try this: Use solutions like naturalForms' that automatically pull information from your back-end system to pre-populate forms, collect digital signatures, validate data, and more.

If your pain point is: Paperwork disappears into the void.

Try this: Use online systems that let you store data in the cloud and share information, without having to hand someone a pile of paper.

For example, here are Commusoft, we use Slack to share information, files, and more, amongst our team. There's also Dropbox, which is a free and easy way to share large documents, and Google Drive (where, just to start, you get 15GB of storage for FREE) is a fantastic way for your team to store data that's accessible to everyone to co-author, read, and/or edit documents and spreadsheets, all without having to pass paper around. This allows you to benefit in all sorts of ways, from saving money on printing, to saving time from travelling between locations just to hand over documents. Also, for the neat-freaks amongst us, it helps keep things nice and tidy too!

These are just a few examples, but whatever your paint point is: we guarantee there's a digital solution for it. In fact...

Checklist ten steps to level up your field service business 

5. Market your new digital capabilities.

We talked earlier about how going digital can help you do jobs more efficiently, reduce costs, and build trust amongst your customer base. Now that you have all these shiny new digital tools, show them off to your customers to score all those great benefits. 'Tell your customers that you can now do X, Y, and Z because you're using the most innovative technology', suggests Garrett. 'Show them how the new digital solution actually adds to the results, or to the value the customer gets.' (Don't forget you can use digital technology—like an email marketing service, online blog *wink, wink, nudge, nudge*, or social media—to brag about your new digital technology, too)!

6. Integrate your digital solutions for double the efficiency.

Integrating two or more apps can ramp up the power of your digital solutions. For example, Zapier is a freemium service that lets you create 'zaps' that link together two or more apps to create the automated workflows you want. You can set up a zap so that when you receive an attachment to your Gmail account. This is automatically copied to your Dropbox and then you get a notification in Slack.

Now that you’re a digital devotee, we have even more good news for you: naturalForms integrates with Commusoft, so you can link your naturalForms templates to your Commusoft application. We also include industry-standard certificates in the Commusoft app, but we understand that sometimes you may want to use unique forms that we don’t offer. That’s where this integration comes in: create the digital forms you need on naturalForms, and you can pull your Commusoft customer details through to the naturalForms document and save the file as a PDF against a job.

Read more about the integration here, or view our webinar on how the Commusoft and naturalForms integration can help you, by clicking below.

Think we missed out on anything? Don't hesitate to use the buttons below to let us know on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

Watch the naturalForms webinar 

This article was originally published on the 28th March 2018 by Linda Formichelli. The information has been updated to provide you with the most accurate business advice available.

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If you want to learn more about Commusoft's field service software, please see our product blog.