This is the first article in a nine part series about the role that software plays in the field service industry. It’s intended to give an overview of what you can expect from any good software system and inform you of some of the ways software can help you run a better service business. We’re passionate about software and the service industry, and we want to help you find the right software for your business, whether it’s our product or a competitor’s. You’ll receive the next white paper in the series next week, but if you can’t wait we encourage you to read the rest of the series now using the links at the bottom of the page.
The influence that electronics and software have on the business world has been steadily increasing for decades to the point where most businesses rely heavily on software in some form, from simple email correspondence to complex, comprehensive systems that include accounting, customer relationship management and much more. The most important question to ask yourself as a field service business professional is where on the spectrum of software reliance do you fall and how is that affecting your business? The answer to that depends on many factors, which we’ll delve into below in an effort to assess the role that software plays in a modern field service business.
What Do Field Service Businesses Do That Software Can Help With?
Customer Relationship Management
The field service industry has unique and complex business processes. The backbone of a
service business is formed by its network of customers.
A good service business will maintain some form of Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to track contact information, site locations, equipment, work order history and other valuable info.
Potential Problems: Simple CRM methods can quickly become disorganized or inefficient if the business expands past a certain point. Obtaining comprehensive views and reports on a customer’s history can be difficult.
A great service business will use specialized software to store extensive customer information (including customized notes, forms and uploaded documents). Customizable search views and reports can be easily generated to obtain valuable insight on a customer’s history. All customer information is readily available to all relevant personnel through software running in the office and on mobile devices. Customer info like customer equipment, contact info and requests for new work orders can be updated by technicians in the field to capture info at the source before it’s forgotten and synchronize field and office operations.
Video showing how software handles CRM processes
Work Order Management
The defining factor of a service business is their system of work orders. The specifics may vary across the different industries within the overarching heading of the service industry, but all service businesses have the following in common when it comes to work orders:
A good service business might use spreadsheets, email, whiteboards or paper work orders to communicate with their technicians. Incoming work order requests are probably taken by phone or email and manually recorded, then sent to their technicians.
Potential Problems: Large projects or complex service orders might become disorganized. The process for logging a new order and getting that information to your techs along with all of the relevant customer information might involve a lot of double entry and inefficiencies related to printing and transferring hard copies of documents. Communication between techs in the field and back office personnel is sluggish and disconnected. Any changes in work order scheduling are slow to reach the techs in the field.
A great service business easily opens new orders using automated email triggers and a smooth interface for quickly recording incoming information. New orders are automatically tied to that customer’s work order history. Customizable search views and reports can be easily generated to obtain valuable insight on a customer’s work order history, open orders and more. All new work order information is readily available to all relevant personnel through software running in the office and on mobile devices. Work orders can be updated by technicians in the field to optimize the turnover process and synchronize field and office operations.
Work order management app lets techs work from any mobile device in the field and syncs all info back to the office
Sales, Leads and Proposals
A good service business will keep records of their leads in much the same way they track their customers. They will create proposals manually.
It might be inconvenient to schedule follow ups or reminders, causing lost or neglected leads. It may be an awkward transition converting a lead into a customer.
A great service business can track extensive info on their leads, automatically assign incoming leads to salespeople and enter them into their software, set automated reminders and emails at predefined intervals and keep in close touch with their leads. Converting a lead into a customer literally happens with the push of a button and it keeps all of the relevant information separate and organized.
Dispatching and Scheduling
A good service business can probably get along fine with a white board and paper work orders until they outgrow that system. Maybe they also use spreadsheets or some basic scheduling software. The field and the office probably stay in touch relatively well via email, instant messaging and phone calls.
The technicians in the field and the back office employees aren’t truly synchronized; there is a delay in how the information is available to the company on a broad scale. Changes in the schedule are slow to reach techs. Updates on work order statuses, invoicing and other concerns in the field are slow to reach the office. Turnover time suffers as a result. It’s probably difficult to obtain a comprehensive view of which techs are at what place and at what time, so making informed decisions about scheduling is difficult.
A great service business uses software that can help dispatchers choose the best tech for a work order and view all of their technicians’ availability at a glance. Software will also store technician qualifications, certifications and reference that against the demands of particular work orders in the system to choose the appropriate technician for a job. Techs can access, update, invoice and complete their orders from the field on their mobile devices and all of their activity is immediately synchronized with the office. Time spent on the job can be automatically tracked and entered into the software database to be billed. GPS capabilities, signature capture, invoicing in the field and more are all part of a technician’s arsenal of software tools.
Video demo of how inventory, one of the
most complex parts of some service
businesses, can be managed more effectively
A good service business may or may not need inventory capabilities, depending on a lot of factors. Again, many smaller businesses might get along just fine with spreadsheets or basic inventory software.
It’s probably difficult to associate inventory with a work order, verify that the technician for that job has the right items and place purchase orders if necessary. Inventory really spans many different sectors of the service industry and affects everyone from the warehouse to the purchasing department to the technicians in the field. It’s easy to end up with miscounted or misplaced inventory and have a tech arrive without the right parts for a job, only to find out upon returning to the warehouse that those parts are all gone and need to be ordered.
A great service business will use enterprise level software to track inventory on its journey from the vendor to the warehouse, to the technician, to the job site and then automatically alert personnel that inventory levels are low so they can create a purchase order. It will be compatible with bar code scanners that work in the warehouse and from mobile devices in the field so that workers in the warehouse can receive items and techs in the field can transfer and tie them to work orders.
Video demo of how inventory, one of the
most complex parts of some service
businesses, can be managed more effectively
Eliminating Double Entry
Even a good service business is going to suffer from the woes of double entry. Re-keying invoices and payments into accounting software, taking paper time sheets and entering them into your database and sales notes or site notes that are scribbled down during a call or a field visit must later be entered into your CRM system. Plus, think about how many notes are forgotten, the number of time sheets that are illegibly scrawled and the errors that happen when re-keying data into a computer. Double entry is a huge cause of inefficiencies, miscommunications and errors.
Too many to enumerate.
A great service business must use software that spans every department and synchronizes all of them to eliminate double entry. That software allows notes to be electronically entered once and then ties them to the customer or work order permanently. It converts proposals into work orders and word orders into invoices. It takes those invoices and syncs them with QuickBooks and other accounting software, or includes accounting capabilities within the system. Payroll and time tracking can all be done electronically.
A good service business uses an email client like Gmail or Outlook to handle their communications internally and externally. They might have some automatic responses and form emails.
Potential Problems: Even the best email clients don’t cater specifically to the service industry. It’s generally difficult to integrate incoming and outgoing email with your work order flow, so customers will either be kept in the dark or you’ll spend far too much time sending email updates and correspondence.
A great service business can automate email to work in conjunction with their work orders and customer relationship management. Incoming emails are automatically turned into work orders for that customer and stored in your software database. When an order status is changed or an order is completed in your enterprise software it sends an email update to that customer. Software allows you to email any report with the click of a button, and any software worth its salt will come fully loaded with standard reports for any situation. Alerts and reminders can be set that will trigger an email to relevant parties to help track obligations and set meetings.
Reporting and Business Intelligence
A good service business probably has some reporting capability using Excel graphs and plots. Custom reports for customers are all done manually.
Potential Problems: Since data from each department is fragmented and not consolidated into one database it’s difficult to gain a comprehensive view of anything. Many reports might be on paper so sending invoices, statements of work and more to customers is probably difficult. Generating picking tickets for warehouse personnel, printing or emailing work orders for your techs and tracking payroll for your employees might be tedious. Combining any of this data in a meaningful way is next to impossible.
A great service business will have its data consolidated into one software system and therefore be much more able to gain insight into business processes and records. Reports can be created, customized and saved to be used at the click of a button. Most software will come standard with dozens of useful reports that can be electronically completed and then emailed or printed. Most software providers also offer custom report work to tailor reports to your specific business processes.
These are simply a handful of features that are absolutely necessities when considering any field service management software. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, rather it is just a starting point when considering what to look for. Any enterprise level field service management software should fulfill these bare-bones requirements and then some. So don’t stop the search until you’ve found the software that’s right for your specific business processes, and if you have any questions about what software might be right for you, don’t hesitate to call us. We’ll give you our honest opinion. Obviously we hope our software fits your needs since we’ve been designing software specifically for this industry for over 25 years, but we’re quick to acknowledge when the fit isn’t right and we’d be glad to point you to one of our competitors who might suit your needs better.
This article is the first in a nine part series of white papers designed to inform you about the role that software plays in the field service industry. You’ll receive the next article in the series next week, but if you can’t wait until then we encourage you to check out the entire series using the links below. Thanks for reading!
The Team at High 5 Software
Read The Whole Series