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How Mobility Solutions Can Get You There

Originally published: 06.01.10 by Frank Steinocher

Improving productivity, profits, and customer retention requires investment in the right tools.

When you were young, do you remember those trips you and your family took? Your father had driven no more than 30 minutes, and the backseat was already asking, “Are we there yet?” The mode of transportation has changed to planes, but the young still ask, “Are we there yet?”

Let’s use that model for discussing mobile devices in the hvacr service field. As hvacr business owners and managers, we have been asking, “Are we there yet?” about field-service devices for 20 years, since pagers and 800 MHz radios first gave us communications without using a payphone. Now 800 MHz has come and gone; my daughter doesn’t even know what a pager is; and cell phones are quickly becoming obsolete in favor of PDAs, net books, and multi-tasking mobile devices.

My point is, you may be thinking that mobile systems aren’t there yet — meaning they won’t return value for the investment required. Our experience at Shumate Mechanical is that investing in an enterprise-wide mobility system returns value in many ways that will reduce costs and increase revenues. I will elaborate on that later. First, let’s take a look at

the basic common benefits enterprise mobility brings:

  • Improved field-service performance.
  • Better inventory management.
  • Maximized asset investment (fuel, fleet, and labor).
  • Accelerated cash flow.

Improved field-service performance

Imagine receiving an incoming call, and the customer experiencing the personal attention provided by real-time and historic data. What if a customer wants a copy of his invoice sent to his office? Could you do that? Could you e-mail or fax a copy to them while on the phone? Then be able to discuss any concerns or recommendations and follow up? With a mobile solution, you can have the invoice available to customers and employees immediately after closing the service call. An invoice, check-list and/ or any other document generated during this call are e-mailed to the customer and stored in the company’s electronic repository.

In the past, hand-written service tickets were hard to read, and paper work went undone until it had to be turned in to the staff for processing. Why? Service technicians are not paper-oriented people. They are mechanics. Naturally, it was put off to the last minute only to be hastily filled out with incomplete data.

With modern mobility applications such as bar coding, card swiping, and voice recognition, technicians can complete necessary paperwork while in front of the customer. This increases accountability, standardizes practices, and improves the ability to service customers as explained in the call-center example.

Better-managed inventory

Inventory management is only as good as the person writing down or scanning a part number while on the job site. It is when this is not done that inventory shortages and variances — along with their associated extra costs — happen. A mobile device allows you to add “checks” into the system that require or remind the service technician to track parts usage by scanning the part number being used.

The check is set up similarly to how a grocery checkout clerk can’t ring up an alcohol or cigarette purchase without entering the customer’s driver-license number. This keeps the clerks from skipping the state-required age check to sell age-restricted items. In the service field, a tech wouldn’t be able to close a job on his mobile device if a part number was not recorded.

Maximized asset investment (fuel, fleet, and labor)

With mobile navigation/GPS, a technician must enter the customer’s address accurately to enable the navigation system. This provides another check — if an invalid address or street name is entered, the tech knows it right away before wasting time and fuel looking for an address that doesn’t exist. (A bonus is that you don’t upset the customer when the tech doesn’t show up on time!)

Additionally, GPS can accurately document when the technician arrived, length of the call, and any stops or other information you may need to keep your asset rolling along. Perhaps you could schedule your techs for one additional call per day once you identify how they are spending their time. That’s additional revenue every day.

Accelerated cash flow

What is the biggest benefit of being able to conduct point-of-sale transactions: Cash flow! Cash flow! Cash flow! You will no longer need to wait 10 days, five days, or some combination of days before the payment posts to your bank account. A mobile solution enables payment to be deposited immediately. Also, credit cards are verified and processed on-site in front of the customer, all without the liability of having the customer’s credit card information on pieces of paper.

The Shumate Story

When Shumate Mechanical began its mobility project, the Great Recession had not begun; however, as we progressed, it was upon us. In the beginning, we thought we might have made a mistake taking on such a big project during an economic downturn. Boy, were we wrong. Our business challenge — whether in good or bad times — was to reduce costs, automate routine tasks, and grow revenue with the same number of revenuegenerating resources in the field.

We wanted to reduce fuel costs, reduce the amount of time before information was available to the main office, expedite inventory and cash flow processes, and increase overall productivity. Depending upon your needs and budget, there are several choices for mobile solutions. Our criteria was reliability, support, and cutting-edge technology. We expect our mobile solution to evolve as mobility itself does, so we’ll always reap the benefits of the latest technology as it becomes available.

Based on our experience, we encourage every company to have a roadmap before getting started. Here’s a checklist to start creating the plan:

  • Identify the problem areas.
  • Establish a budget.
  • Establish a task team. 
  • Establish a timetable.
  • Create an RFP (Request for Proposal).
  • Establish and set success ful expectations.

Shumate Mechanical was able to target and legitimize savings in critical time by:

  • Reducing fuel costs and decreasing total mileage with navigation and GPS.
  • Reducing unapplied labor costs with accurate GPS and time tracking.
  • Expediting cash flow with the ability to execute any form of payment in front of the customer.
  • Reduce inventory variance by tracking inventory and setting up checks to assist the technician when closing a service ticket and routine inventory counts.
  • Updating parts and labor rates on a daily basis, which reduced the negative impact of vendor price changes; and was a seamless electronic action.
  • Establishing standard operating procedures that would be the basis for both technician and customer service personnel to follow with proper accountability and responsibility.
  • Adding at least one extra revenuegenerating call per employee per week.

Do It Now If none of these reasons convinces you that your company needs a mobility solution, consider this: In today’s environment our customers are different from our parents. They are Internet savvy, mobile, wireless, and even virtual. Soon, all of your customers will expect you to have such a solution. You will need to meet that expectation. As a business owner you’ve learned that if you don’t plan for a vacation, you’ll never get to take one. So if you never plan and budget for mobile application, you’ll never have one. Everyone needs a mobile solution to some degree. Are you there yet? 

Frank Steinocher is the CIO at Shumate Mechanical LLC, a commercial and residential hvac company in Duluth, GA.

Contact Frank at fsteinocher@shumatemech.com 


About Frank Steinocher

Frank Steinocher

Frank Steinocher is the CIO at Shumate Mechanical LLC, a commercial and residential hvac company in Duluth, GA.

Contact Frank at fsteinocher@shumatemech.com 

Articles by Frank Steinocher

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How Mobility Solutions Can Get You There

Investing in an enterprise-wide mobility system returns value in many ways that will reduce costs and increase revenues.
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