Wild About Wireless
Originally published: 04.01.07 by Tonya Vinas
Solutions range from management software to single-use devices. To determine which are right for your business, focus on cutting costs and increasing sales.
Leading contractors are using the latest in wireless technology to improve business performance, whether it’s a simple cell phone or a sophisticated business management software solution. The power of these tools goes beyond moving functions from the office to the field. They can reduce costs, increase revenues, and raise quality standards.
Software programs such as Wintac Pro, Wrightsoft, myServiceForce.com, and NetServiceBooks are among the most intensive wireless investments an hvacr contractor will make because they really are management tools that are deployed via wireless devices (see “An All Around Solution,” below). When considering other wireless tools, contractors will find they generally focus on one function, such as cell phones or GPS. These devices, nonetheless, have their place in a wireless strategy and certainly deliver benefits. There also are sales programs that can be used wirelessly at customer sites, such as Opportunity Interactive (www.opactive.com).
For Tom Willison, the increased speed in billing that myServiceForce.com provides is reason enough to sing its praises. His billing cycle has been reduced by 92% since his
“My billing goes out of my office in two days… three days at the most,” said the president of Pro Mechanical Service, a mostly commercial hvac contractor in Riverside, Calif. “Accounts receivable is reduced, which is important to that all important cash flow.”
As happy as Willison is with the faster billing and accounts receivable, he credits myServiveForce.com with much more, including saving $40,000 a year in reduced office support costs, increased sales leads, and improvement in standard practices among technicians. “It sets a standard for how we work,” Willison said. “It’s become a great training tool. We create a checklist [for technicians to use on the job], and with it, I can recreate myself in the field.”
Chris Martin, president of The K Company, an hvac residential and commercial contractor in Akron, Ohio, similarly praises NetServiceBooks, which is used by 32 K Company technicians via handheld or laptop computers. “This tool has enabled us to grow our business and grow the right aspects of our business. We are expanding it as quickly as possible.”
When facing wireless choices, contractors should examine their pain points. What needs to be “fixed” to either reduce costs or increase sales? Here are some common problems contractors have and an explanation of how a wireless device could provide a solution:
Problem: “My fuel costs and truck maintenance costs are skyrocketing. I need to ensure that technicians are taking the most direct route possible to customers’ sites and aren’t using company trucks for personal travel.”
Solution: GPS devices allow for visible tracking of vehicles via the Internet and can provide reports on immediate vehicle history — where it was driven, how fast it was going, what times it was used, etc. “I no longer worry that my trucks are being used at night or weekends, and my employees are no longer late for jobs since their time is accountable,” said Farrel Shuster of hvac contractor Fahrenheit Climate Control, Elkins Park, Pa. Fahrenheit uses GPS devices from GPS North America, Langhorne, Pa. “Our average GPS client sees a productivity and savings increase of between $200 and $400 a month per vehicle,” according to the company.www.gpsnorthamerica.com
Problem: “These cell phone bills are killing me, but we can’t operate without cell phones. Sometimes I think walkie-talkies would be better because my technicians would use those for work-related communication only.”
Solution: Consider a limited-use phone such as the new Sprint PCS Vision Phone SCP-700 by Sanyo. It’s built for endurance, with a slip-resistant grip and can be programmed to restrict incoming and outgoing direct-dial calls. It also works as a walkie-talkie. This dual function could provide technician-to-technician walkie-talkie communications if they are working together and technician-to-dispatcher communication via the cell phone. www.sprint.com
Another popular provider of walkie-talkie solutions and GPS is Nextel, also from Sprint.www.nextel.com
Problem: “I service a large, metropolitan market, and more and more of my customers want to pay using credit cards. I require cash-on-completion payments. Is there an easy way for technicians to process credit card payments at someone’s home without having to involve a dispatcher?”
Solution: Cash Solutions LLC, Scottsdale, Ariz., sells a wireless credit card reader that allows technicians to accept credit card payments at a client site. It uses a cellular battery and doesn’t need electricity or a phone line. Deposits are wire transferred to a designated checking account. (Purchasing a merchant account is required.) 1-800-823-7542
Problem: “I would like my technicians to be able to send invoices and other documents back to the office from a customer site, but I don’t want to invest in handheld computers, BlackBerrys, or a management software program.” Solution: Pacific DataVision has released a product called NextMail, which gives cellular phone users the ability to send e-mails anywhere by speaking their messages. The message is then sent as an audio e-mail to the recipient. The company suggests that technicians can report service updates to a dispatcher’s shared e-mail box by speaking their NextMail message. Pre-programmed subject lines can make this process easier. According to the company, “Field techs can manage their day without calling the service center and waiting to speak with a dispatcher for routine tasks.” www.pacificdata.com
Problem: “I think we would grow faster and be more efficient if our dispatchers, sales reps, and technicians communicated better.”
Solution: The answer might be to make communication easier for them. Programs such as myServiceForce.com (www.myserviceforce.com) and NetServiceBooks (www.netservicebooks.com) make communication instant and visible. A technician can follow a series of steps on every call that will send electronic documents to several people to trigger various actions. For instance, filling out a service report could automatically trigger the invoicing processes by sending a cue to the Accounts Payable staff and can send a cue to a salesperson to follow up for a service and/or maintenance agreement call.
Perhaps your business would benefit from more than one wireless solution. It makes sense to examine the most painful problems first and address those. Also, as the need for equipment and upgrades come up, consider always purchasing a wireless or wireless-compatible product. The entire world is going wireless, and the hvacr market is no exception.
An All-Around Solution: Management software adds much more than mobility.
Businesses in all sectors have increased efficiency greatly using information technology in the past decade, and the hvacr sector is no exception. Leading companies are finding that such solutions connect the silos of their companies (scheduling, field technicians, sales, finance), and by default improve organization and record keeping.
All documents are easily accessed via the program using a desktop computer, laptop computer, or wireless handheld device. This means technicians have an instant record to refer to if they need to know anything related to the history of a job or what has to be done next at a job. It’s organization by default. They don’t need to call a dispatcher to have a file pulled and checked.
At The K Company, an hvac contractor located in Akron, Ohio, using NetServiceBooks has made for more organized and efficient technicians, according to Chris Martin, president. “The technicians can see new work orders as they are scheduled,” Martin said, referring to the ability to access the program in the field using a Palm Pilot, laptop computer or other mobile computing device. “They can also see the status of parts that they’ve ordered for jobs. If a technician ordered a part one day, and we’ve received it overnight, he can see that when he logs in and drive in to get it.
“Also, it used to be that technicians used time cards that they turned in, which then had to be checked against invoices,” Martin continued. “Now, hours are automatically sent to payroll when an invoice is electronically filed.”
The automatic aspect of such programs also ensures that information on sales leads, invoicing, and other actions that are essential to keeping a company moving forward happen seamlessly. “I forgot,” or “I lost the paperwork,” aren’t heard anymore. The documents associated with these activities are automatically generated and sent to the appropriate person when a technician logs information onto the wireless device in the field.
“What we are really trying to do, in its simplest form, is make that technician an extension of the office in the field,” said Mike Yacobucci, system administrator for NetServiceBooks.
Said Martin: “This tool has taken out a lot of stuff that causes frustration and confusion in the office and has allowed the technician to focus on meeting the customer’s needs.”
An increased ability to meet customer needs usually translates into better sales.
Tom Willison, a user of myServiceForce.com and president of Pro Mechanical Service, a commercial and residential contractor in Riverside, Calif., said sales become easier when customers see computerized documentation of an AC or heating problem or service need with testing and/or historical data to back it up.
“The information is there for the customer. It’s amazing how much easier it is to read a digital document. It doesn’t become about price anymore. It becomes about an assurance that a piece of equipment I am getting is going to be serviced properly and have a long life span,” Willison said.
The need to use wireless services and devices will only expand, contractors who are using them say. Customers, whether residential or commercial, are getting used to instant sales and billing processing in other service areas and are starting to value it in the hvacr sector. Also, customers want to be able to access information about their business relations online — something that is made much easier when a management software program is in place.
“The hvacr market is the same: You pick up the phone and schedule a service call,” Martin said. “What this gives us the ability to do is give an online solution to all of our customers. The more information we can deliver up to them, the better partner we are.”
Finally, such programs can allow for a growth in revenue with a limited increase in overhead and labor. “We were thinking about adding people inside to support the field,” Martin said. “But, we’ve been able to add more people in the field with a slimmer office staff.”
More All-Around Solutions
Some other management software programs for hvacr contractors include:
Wrightsoft produces two automated and integrated residential and commercial hvac design and sales software systems designed to increase the productivity and profitability of hvac contractors and design professionals.
Right-Sales (Right-Suite Residential Component): Integrates company data within the connected segments such as the customer questionnaire, project wizard, product information, and proposals in order to involve the customer within the sales process. User can switch between customized proposals, PowerPoint slides, Web pages, videos, and other presentations. Also included is integrated lead management for sales scorekeeping. The sales manager component provides a thorough understanding of closing ratios, proposal status, and sales lead information.
Other components include:
• J Professional Edition (Right-Suite Residential Component): Manual J Seventh and Eighth Edition Load Calculation Module
• Draw (Right-Suite Residential Component): Floor Plan Module
• D (Right-Suite Residential Component): Manual D Duct Design Module
• (Right-Suite Residential Component): Sales and Energy Analysis Module
• Radiant Plus (Right-Suite Residential Component): Radiant Panel Design Module
• Comm 2-Line Duct (Right-Suite Commercial Component): 2-Line CAD-Quality Duct and Fitting Design Module
• CommLoad (Right-Suite Commercial Component): Load Calculation Module
• CommDraw (Right-Suite Commercial Component): Floor Plan Design Module
• CommDuct (Right-Suite Commercial Component): Duct Design Module
• CommProposal (Right-Suite Commercial Component): Job Estimating and Proposal Module
• 98 Upgrade: Upgrade from Right N 98 to Right-CommLoad, Load Calculation Module
Wintac Pro: www.wintacpro.com
Wintac Pro is an all-in-one business management software program for hvacr and other service and installation contractors. Its features include:
• Customer relationship management: Unlimited customers and job sites per customer with installed equipment and service history lookup, unlimited notes, custom fields, critical information warnings, automatic phone dialer, letter-writing with automatic mail-merge, and instant searching and sorting.
• Scheduling/dispatching: Multi-view dispatch board with color-coded drag-and-drop scheduling and on-the-fly call entry. Customizable layout. Schedule single jobs, recurring service and work spanning multiple days. Instantly update, sort and reschedule jobs. Supports caller-ID with automatic customer locator. Two-way wireless messaging of job data. Print work orders, job and routing schedules, site directions. Built-in links to GPS and street mapping software (purchased separately).
• Work-history tracking: Track detailed history of all work and service for an unlimited number of customers and properties. One-click drill down to the original work order or invoice. Information entered in work orders and invoices is automatically compiled for display and reporting — with no redundant data entry.
• Equipment-installation/service tracking: Manage and track installed equipment by model number, serial number, job site, description, manufacturer, vendor, department, technician, install dates, service dates, parts warranty expiration dates, and labor warranty expiration dates. Track unlimited pieces of equipment per location. Instantly view service history at any location. One-click drill down to the original work order or invoice. Automatically schedule preventive maintenance and track service contracts.
Other features include inventory, item search and retrieval; estimating and proposal writing; job costing; invoicing accounts receivable; flat-rate pricing and task; bill-paying accounts payable; financial reporting and graphing; employee and payroll management; mobile computing; contact-management; and to-do list building.
WennSoft provides service management, job cost, and equipment management solutions designed to improve efficiency, expedite reporting, and reduce costs. Each product provides unique business-management benefits and integrates common business activities (dispatching, change orders, construction project management, and asset management) into the Microsoft Dynamics – GP financial reporting package.
• WennSoft Service Management Series — service call capture and assignment, dispatch, resolution tracking, contract management, and execution using WennSoft Tracking Engine. Beyond the core offering, the following additional benefits are available: mobile technology solutions to help track and manage the field force; service quoting solutions to assist the sales and customer-service teams;, document management for organizing and sharing documents; expense tracking to streamline the collection of labor and labor-related expenses with a single point of entry; and Web-enabled solutions that provide a customer self-service portal.
• WennSoft Job Cost — integrates with accounting functions while providing project managers the ability to proactively manage labor, materials, equipment, subcontractors, and other user-defined categories. Additional built-in benefits include billing and accounts receivable, change-order management, contract administration, union payroll, budgeting and reporting. Designed to adapt to changing business environments, Job Cost enables project-based businesses and project managers to track actual and budget activity by project, job, or phase in further detail while tracking revenue, expenses, and profitability.
• WennSoft Equipment Management Series — Ties together equipment management, service management, resources, and financials for companies that buy, rent, and sell equipment. As part of Equipment Management Series, the Equipment Manager tracks costs and financial details, summarizes key data such as service expenses, schedules equipment for periodic maintenance, and delivers extensive reporting capabilities. Additional benefits include linking equipment purchasing, streamlining the equipment rental process, a full integration between the sales process and the Equipment Manager, control over the movement of equipment fleets, tracking attachments related to a piece of equipment, and managing preventative maintenance plans.
Tonya Vinas is a former editor of HVACR Business.
Articles by Tonya Vinas
Clear, Clean Designs Connect with Customers
Electric Vehicles Offer Economical Solution
Are electric vehicles right for your company? Many contractors are unsure, as was Tom Robichaud, owner and president of Precision Plumbing Heating Electric in Boulder, CO. The CEO of one of Precision’s long-time clients, Boulder Electric Vehicle, convinced Robichaud to take a test drive because he thought the truck would be a perfect fit for the short routes service technicians drive daily. After that test drive and some additional research, Robichaud became an electric vehicle advocate.
Earth, Nature Fleet Designs Stay Popular
Tops in Trucks 2011
Light Commercial/Commercial Outlook: Partly Sunny, Lingering Clouds
Contractors, equipment suppliers, and industry groups expect 2011 to be an improvement over 2010, but not an immense improvement. Consumer trends, regulatory requirements, and incentive programs are making anything related to energy efficiency a promising opportunity; and expanding and/or rebounding sectors such as healthcare and stimulus-fueled public works projects are also brightening the outlook somewhat.