Make Your Move to Mobile

Originally published
Originally published: 12/1/2010

Lower prices and flexible service models make solutions affordable for small contractors.

When I started my contracting and service company in 1972, common practice dictated the service technician start out each morning with a roll of dimes for the pay phone. That allowed him to call the dispatcher after every service stop to report the results and get the information for his next stop. Obviously, this was inefficient and time-consuming. We’ve come a long way in improving on this method, and along the way, larger companies tended to be the early adopters. (See “From Pay Phones To Pocket Communicators,” page 14.) The next big paradigm shift for hvacr contractors is mobile service-solutions systems, and the good news is that providers are targeting smaller contractors with less expensive and more flexible service models. Generally speaking, mobile servicesolutions systems communicate with the service office through the use of broadband cellular technology. The mobile portion of these systems operates on devices such as PDAs, notebook computers, laptops, and tablet computers. Some systems accommodate all of the above. I am going to discuss the features and benefits of almost all the systems that we investigated without going into the technical details or revealing specific provider names. This is certainly something you will want to research yourself.

Mobile service solutions enable the technician to: receive calls, access service history, enter repair codes, automatically get the correct pricing, print and/or email the invoice, keep track of truck inventory, obtain the customer’s signature, and record customer payments. All of this information is captured and relayed back to the service office in real-time. Think of all the benefits derived from this solution:

• Techs have immediate access to service history and technical information, including wiring diagrams, and sales brochures.

• Time sheets are automatically updated as each task is performed. Travel, diagnostic and repair, and non-billable times are itemized, logged, and tracked. Calculating payroll is as easy as printing out what is already in the system.

• No more sloppy, illegible and unreadable service invoices. Customers receive a neatly typed (or emailed) invoice with pre-written repair descriptions that help justify the value of the price they pay.

• The huge bottleneck in the service office is eliminated. No longer is it necessary for someone to decipher the service tickets and reenter all the information into the computer. (As most owners and service managers know, this task is usually put off until as late in the month as possible because no one wants this tedious task.) Now, it’s all done in real-time by the technician. Imagine how much productivity would be gained simply by eliminating double entry, how much faster the monthly books could be closed and accurate financial statements generated. Imagine how much greater control you will have over your service operation.

• As the owner/service manager, you now have immediate access to real-time reports that are customized to your business needs.

The next time you are doing employee reviews or a technician asks for a raise, you will have up-to-theminute information to gauge productivity, call-back rates, average ticket revenue, and a myriad of other performance indicators. These mobile service solutions are not only affordable; they will typically pay back your investment in less than six months. They can be purchased outright for about $695 for each office user; and $495 for each service truck. If you want to pay monthly, the fees begin as little as $30 per month/per user. Most companies have a one-time set-up fee of about $300. In addition, you need to purchase the notebook computer and printer for each truck. This can be done for as little as $200 per device.

Some broadband providers are actually giving the notebook computers away with a two-year contract. Let’s say that you are a five-service truck company with one dispatcher. You could purchase an entire system including set-up and hardware for as little as $4,500. If you decide on the monthly route, your one-time cost would be about $1,300 for hardware and set-up; and the monthly fee would be $150. That totals $3,100 for year one, and $1,800 for each subsequent year. Most of these systems can be integrated with global positioning and credit-card swiping. These options will further increase productivity and improve cash-flow. If you are billing at a rate of $100 per hour (I hope that you are higher), and as a result of implementing a mobile service solution, you are able to run three additional calls per week, your annual revenue increase is $15,600, plus the parts sale and the labor savings in the office. At the very least that’s a 346% return on investment in the first year alone. If you choose the monthly option, the first year return on investment jumps to 503%. The next time you’re nursing an adult beverage and wondering how to improve your service operation, think mobile service solutions. They are the new key to improved professionalism, productivity, and profitability.

 Mike Callahan is President of Callahan/ Roach & Associates Inc. The firm is an industry leader in management and marketing training, consulting, and business sales, mergers and acquisitions Mike served as president of The Air Conditioning Contractors of America and is an internationally known speaker and writer on business topics. Contact him at or call 800-462-8217. 

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