Mobile Apps for Plumbers: Advice for Using Mobile Software [includes free checklist!]

Rhys Pattimore
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If there’s a lesson to learn from recent years—and we’re not just talking about 2020—it’s that a willingness to accept change can help businesses thrive.

“Adapt to survive” has an almost Hollywood-action-movie “survival-of-the-fittest” vibe to it, but without using too many stereotypical phrases, “it is a dog-eat-dog world out there”, and if your business isn’t prepared to change, you could find yourself overcome by the competition.

graphics_tools_orangeBesides, the speed with which times change only seems to ramp up, year after year. If you’re seasoned enough to remember when PCs found their way into mainstream use, you’ll know how far we've come. But even for a younger generation, if you compare a mobile device from 5 years ago to one released today, the difference is just as profound.

Of course, despite these revelations, convincing everyone in your business—or even your customers—just how important good technology is at  enhancing their day-to-day experiences can be a challenge.

That’s because there are some deep-set myths that can be challenging to disprove, especially when people so used to their way of doing things:

While a challenge to overcome, a great leader (that’s you) is more than capable of convincing a team to adapt, especially when it’s easy to demonstrate the path to success. That’s why user-friendly, seemingly simple apps that actually let you do complex, time-consuming tasks, are so important!

To assist you further, we’ve also prepared a checklist that you can download at the end and use to track progress use as a visual tool to guide your efforts!

For now, let’s take a look at debunking those myths:

Myth #1: "Mobile apps and devices are too complicated to use"

Solution #1: Get your engineers devices they’re already comfortable using. 

Forcing someone to use a tool they’re unfamiliar with is not the best way to engage them. Fortunately, with a lot of mobile apps these days, you’re given a choice: iPhone or Android.

If you’re using software that allows you to download an application for either type of operating system, then it can already help you overcome a problem. 

graphic_download_mobile-01It can seem like an arbitrary thing, but the simple act of providing your staff with a choice “Android or iPhone” (it could also be a choice of mobile phones vs. tablets) is something they’ll not only appreciate being asked, but, as a result, may find themselves working better and faster because they’re not having to re-learn how to use a whole new device, on top of a brand new app. 

A mobile phone is fast becoming (if not already) an engineer’s best friend, especially when they’re out in the field. It’s a powerhouse of communication in itself, and with the right app, can let them complete as many (if not more) paperless tasks when they’re out on the job, than if they’re in the office.

The idea, as mentioned, is to help engineers feel like they have a choice rather than being dictated to. This doesn’t mean you have to get them the latest model either - but the flexibility to have choice, and even provide input, can help you make savvy choices to boost satisfaction, interaction, and even save some money too. graphic_invoice_payment_ipad-01

After all, not every company can afford the latest Samsung or iPhone but you shouldn’t feel like you have to, either:  oftentimes, a mid-range device, even second-hand, can run software just as well. 

If money is tight, you may well ask your engineers to use their personal devices, and that’s definitely an option to explore that can help make sure you’re not breaking the bank; the plus side is that your staff—admittedly—might also take better care of a personal device as it can sometimes be the case of: “well if it breaks, the company can buy me a new one”. At the very least, it will save them from having to carry around a second device in addition to all their tools.

Granted, this can lead to concerns about privacy, which brings us to Myth #2:

Myth #2: "The company will strictly monitor the use of a device"

Solution #2: Be clear about separating the personal from the professional. 

graphic_spotting_problems-01Whether you’ve chosen to buy your engineers mobile devices or asked them to use their own, this is always a concern for employers. There’s no use in being coy when it comes to privacy either. As ever: honesty and openness should (and will) be welcomed if you make it clear to your staff, and vice versa, what your expectations are. 

When it comes to hardware, especially that with internet access, you expect it to be used in a professional and secure manner, to help staff improve productivity. Employees promise to care for the equipment they’re provided with, and commit to doing a great job. This applies whether it’s a personal or professional device and either way it comes down to trust. 

Many employers feel confident allowing their staff to use their mobile phones during work-hours, not least of all because it’s hard to police, and—considering how integral they are to our lives (for better or worse) it’s naive to think people aren’t using them anyway. However, if there’s trust, employers and employees should each feel confident that work is being done and being done well whilst their privacy is mutually respected.

Lessons Learned from Trying Times:

Working from home has seen a major shift, particularly in 2020, with many employers forced to accept that—for the safety of their employees—they needed to trust them with work equipment, whether it’s laptops, phone, cameras, or other technical equipment. By and large, it seems people can be trusted, with many also proving to be more productive, too. 

graphic_small_fish-01At the very least, the thought of having a Big Brother figure watching over their every Google search is not a pleasant one and trust us when we say that perfectly innocent search terms can look downright sketchy when taken out of context (“how to clean up blood” is a common one, and mixed with “lead piping” you could be forgiven for thinking real-life Cluedo is on the cards...). 

Drawing a line can trip some managers up when discussing it with employees. However, if you’ve chosen to provide your technicians with mobile devices, separating the professional from the personal will be much easier if you insist on a couple of ground rules like:

  • Separate chat conversations for work teams 
  • Delete any personal customer information from a device’s memory when no longer needed (this could even be part of an employee’s contract) 
  • Save work photos, videos, or other related files into a shared work drive, then remove them from the personal device

📚 Learn more about why training matters:

Myth #3: "Mobile software doesn’t have immediate benefits"

Solution #3: Demonstrate the impact directly. 

With so many of us guilty of being caught up in the “immediate gratification” culture that we live in, it’s understandable why we often expect results fast. Like going to the gym, kicking off a diet to lose weight, or even blowing up an air-bed with a manual pump; the benefits of a dedicated task will take time before they’re seen or felt.

graphic_hand_pointing_v2-01Where apps and software are concerned, employees can often assume something similar and, as a result, making a change to the way they operate isn’t worth the effort if the effects aren’t immediately clear. Like any new tool though, learning to use it properly, or even seeing the benefits first-hand (rather than through hearsay) can make all the difference. 

We’ve spoken before regarding training, and why it’s so important to invest the time to make sure that your staff can learn to make the most of the software, apps, and all the functions that come with using new technologies, but the real problem is that benefits of mobile apps are not usually outlined specifically for engineers, but rather for managers. 

Advantages like “provide a better customer experience than the competition“ or “save on fuel spent on back-and-forth trips to the office for paperwork” only speak to admin staff.

If you want employee buy-in from your engineers, you need to outline the benefits that will immediately impact them and make their lives easier now. A live demo, or recorded video can also help assuage these fears; so long as you're demonstrating the immediate impact of implementation. 

Download the guide mentioned in the video here, but in addition, or if you’re just looking for a starting point, we've also got a list of benefits of mobile workforce management software, which can get the conversation started: 

  • Personalising the customer experience. Even before they arrive on-location, the engineer can clearly see the job details, from who they’re visiting, what assets are at the site, and even a comprehensive job history. Talk about going in prepared!
  • Offering multiple estimates on the spot. No need to run back to the office or call an admin to crunch the numbers. All they have to do is fill in a custom form and the app shows an estimated price straight away, accounting for the tech’s hourly rate, too. 
  • Taking digital signatures. No need to leave the customer waiting for a formal quote from the office and come back for a second visit. A digital signature means they can get a sign-off to start straight away. 
  • Taking photos and videos of a job. This means it will never be a case of their word against a customer’s which is a particularly awkward situation for any tech. 
  • Having everything on the app. No more paperwork in the car, in between jobs, awkwardly perching a clipboard against the steering wheel, then running to the office to drop off the papers and having the admin complain they’re illegible.   

Or, even better, show them this video:

watch a 20 minute demo of commusoft in action, computer screen with demo video sample

Myth #4: "There’s never human support to help me learn/use the software"

Solution #4: Pick a provider with user-friendly software and an excellent client services team. 

Ensuring you can implement this solution will require some research, but such businesses can and do exist!

If you’re looking for comprehensive software that’s easy to use, comes with great training, and provides excellent ongoing support (including app updates, bug fixes, and on-call staff) these are the sort of things you can search for when you’re Googling your options. 

No developer will be intentionally designing an app that’s complicated or difficult to use, but with all the bells and whistles that come with job management software, they can certainly become complex beasts to wrangle.

After-sales care Portal graphics-03So, it's important to think about the service you receive as well as the service you end up using! After all, as our guest post from the expert reviewers at G2 discussed, Customer Service is King these days! And if you're still uncertain, you can check out our post What is Online Customer Service to your Field Service Business? to really dive in to it.

If you can clearly see there’s a dedicated team who not only listens, but reacts and improves the software constantly (like Commusoft), you’ll know that “not being able to get help” is more likely the fault of the provider, rather than software itself. As a side note, when a person isn’t available, an in-depth knowledge base and pending client support can also great to note, too. 

Myth #5: "We’ll never be able to tell how big a difference it really makes"

Solution #5: Measure progress and reward engineers for proper use. 

Though similar to Myth #3, we’re thinking about long-term impact here.

After all, it’s easy to nitpick a new tool a week or two into using it, but if you can be patient to build data that lets you compare more insightful “before and after” observations, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see a massive impact over time. 

graphic_coffee_card-01

To better assess this data, write down a few key performance indicators (KPIs) before you implement new mobile devices and software. To decide what you want to track, think about the reasons why you got software in the first place. If it’s to reduce admin time, consider the number of work orders being completed, or the number of estimates sent; if money is the focus, then look at things like the average fuel costs, or if the number of jobs you’re able to complete has increased.

Measuring these results over a month, three months, half-a-year, and more is a great way to see a periodic impact and the data you collect is hard proof of the benefits it can help you reap.

As your team gets used to new apps and software, these improvements should only continue to increase and seeing how well they perform can also influence the actions you take in other areas of your business. Whether it’s being able to hire new staff, expanding the types of work you do (or even growing to take on commercial clients), a good manager will always consider reports before making a decision.  

The Takeaway

The reality of what it’s like for field service businesses to make use of apps and software is far different from what the myths suggest, and we hope we've convinced you of that!

While it’s true that there can be anxiety around introducing managerial changes and new ways of working, these concerns can be far easier to overcome than many would expect. As with many things, a bit of confidence and preparedness can take you far.

And yes, there can sometimes be the fear that an older generation "isn’t tech-savvy enough", or that software is “too complicated”, but it’s often an incorrect assumption. After all, an engineer is a highly skilled individual who is used to dealing with specialist equipment, unexpected situations, and complex fixes. Learning to use an app should pale in comparison to their problem-solving skills! 

To outline the options available to you and your engineers, we’ve put together a checklist with 10 questions you need to ask your staff. You might be surprised at how it helps you shape up the tech and software you’re all using, day after day!

tips for training engineers to use mobile software, download your guide

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