Software feature presentations

Start from the basics to find the right software platform fit for your company’s needs.

It wasn’t too long ago that it was common for crews to carry a stack of papers in the truck cab with information about the next clients or the hand-written receipts for work done. Those methods work just fine for some contractors, but as labor continues to be one of the largest industry obstacles to growth, business owners are always looking for ways to get more efficiency out of lower inputs. One set of tools that can be helpful in unlocking those opportunities comes through job management or field service software, which can help a smaller group of employees get more done.

Improved efficiency isn’t the only reason to invest in job management software. As customers become more technology savvy, they have greater expectations for a smooth process from hiring to paying the bill.

“Customers expect their contractors to be highly responsive and to interact with them digitally, whether it’s booking new work, communicating between jobs or accepting payments,” says Nick Keyko, senior director of marketing at Jobber, Edmonton, Alberta. “It’s not just about keeping up with customer expectations. Moving activities like quoting and payments to an online portal helps you win more work and get paid faster.”

For some contractors, working with a portal might be new or daunting. There are multiple platforms available with various capabilities across a wide range. Trying to figure out which option is the right fit with the appropriate features can feel dizzying.

Every field service software implementation is going to be a little bit different to fit the needs of the company. But there are a few functions that any effective platform should have as a basic starting point.

Back to basics

One of the most important jobs that field service software can help with is customer relationship management. As a baseline, a platform should be able to manage tracking customers and contacts with some flexibility, says Nick Streit, product manager at HindSite Software, St. Paul, Minnesota. The software should be able to track who orders what, and make sure that it gets added to the calendar effectively.

“The other aspect is to say, ‘Who didn’t order a service, and can we get them to order it?’” Streit says. If you’re looking to push a particular type of work for the season, job management software can help find those customers who would be worth expanding an already existing relationship with, rather than spending money on developing new clients.

“Having this full customer profile, this prebuilt relationship and density — it’s astronomical how much information you actually have access to,” Streit says.

Making a more seamless connection for customers to choose the services they need and pay for them can make a contractor more approachable for those who just don’t have the time or want to interact with a salesperson. That can open a company up to additional business that wasn’t available before.

“Contractors can win 16% more jobs just by texting customers a link to review and approve quotes online,” says Keyko. “Homeowners can select the services that best fit their needs and watch their quote total automatically update before they approve and pay their deposit.”

Online payments can help contractors get paid much faster than standard procedures as well, says Keyko.

Streamlining customer relationship management gives the crew the chance to focus on doing their best work without worrying about juggling additional information gathering or upselling, says Garrett Wilson, CEO at FieldBin, Charleston, South Carolina. A good platform also details exactly what work the customer wants to have completed and includes any notes from the sales team about problem areas. Photos attached to a customer’s work order or profile can help point a new tech directly to the next step of the project, creating the impression of seamlessness between a company’s sales team and crew.

“It takes out all of the guesswork,” says Wilson. “I think it creates an opportunity for the techs to really show what they’re capable of as far as business value for the owners.”

Field service software doesn’t just let crew members concentrate on the job at hand, but also provides customers with the ability to rate the work that’s done easily, says Wilson. That helps a business owner see not only which of their crew members are getting jobs done quickly, but also which are getting the highest customer ratings. It’s possible that one crew member doesn’t work quite as fast as another but is very successful at customer interaction. That data can be useful in scheduling the most effective crew makeup for future work with difficult customers.

Scheduling and routing are another point where job management software can make a difference for contractors, says Streit. It’s important to be efficient both with fuel and overall windshield time, given that labor is often the highest overall cost for the business.

“If you can reduce your fuel costs and reduce your windshield time and get an extra one or two jobs per tech per day — maybe you go from eight to 10 jobs? You just added 20%,” says Streit.

Making an effective route that fits as crews are going out the door in the morning is one thing, but a good software platform will allow for flexibility throughout the day as well when there are job changes based on proximity and workload.

Routing can tie back to overall job tracking to help the office understand how many hours a particular customer is requiring or what types of materials are being used and have to be restocked, says Wilson.

Top priorities

When it comes to choosing what features a company needs, contractors need to think about what work is being done manually and taking the most time or concentration to get right, then look for software that can automate those processes, says Keyko.

“The top priorities will likely vary by business,” he says. “If a business has a lot of employees, a software that includes scheduling and dispatching features will be more important for them than a business that is a team of two.”

Try not to focus on the presentation of the data overall, and instead think about how the software can use the data to break down that information for the people in the field who need it, says Wilson.

“Everybody can put the same data on a mobile app screen or an iPad screen,” he says. “Think about how it makes it easy for the techs to get the information they need, to get them where they need to be and tell them what they need to do and how to get it done.”

It’s worth taking some time to really consider what makes a good fit when it comes to choosing software, says HindSite CEO Ted Rightmire.

“One of the things we try to be careful about when we talk to contractors is to say when they’re doing an assessment, don’t just run down the feature list and look for who has the most,” Rightmire says. “It’s really about what tools you need for your business. Who’s going to do that in a way that’s easy to implement and efficient for your money?”

Some software platforms have extensive lists of features that run circles around others. But if the contractor isn’t making use of those, then they’re wasting money, he says. Plus, making a quick decision and then having to pull back after implementation because it doesn’t deliver what the company needs can cause even more chaos with internal processes.

“Don’t get trigger-happy,” he says. “Focus on the aspects that you really need to be efficient and successful today.”

Another reason to take the time to determine what features the company actually needs is that it might turn up the possibility of a custom feature to request. While many of the basic features fit a lot of a company’s needs, it’s never going to be an exact match at first. Contractors have requested in-app weather notifications that prompt the crew to reschedule jobs on rainy days or geofence timers that start based on location or time to streamline the need to start or stop time on a job, says Keyko.

The most common custom requests are built around reporting or collecting sets of data in different ways to track a specific metric, says Rightmire. When talking with a software team about what kind of a custom feature to request, it’s often helpful to talk directly about the business problem that needs to be solved.

It might feel challenging to ask for a specific consideration, but most teams are going to welcome the opportunity, says Wilson. In some cases, it can trigger a brainstorming session that leads to an entirely new feature for the overall platform.

“When I get requests for features, it’s a chance to dig deeper,” he says. “This is helping me learn the customer’s needs and how to make their jobs easier.”

Kyle Brown is editor-in-chief of Irrigation & Lighting magazine and can be reached via email.

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