One of the formative work experiences in my career was working for a subcontractor. The company installed insulation and fireplaces. It was by no means a small company, but it wasn’t a huge company either (i.e, in the SMB category). However, the company had this constant issue of losing work orders and records of how much insulation was being used per job. Since I was the one who managed the filing systems and had to go find orders (in the most literal form imaginable), I remember the extreme irritation when work orders couldn’t be found. I even recall one of the salespeople referring to the field service teams as "human dryers" – because you never knew if the paperwork was going to somehow disappear or not, much akin to that missing sock in a load of laundry. All that aside, once they implemented my solution of backing everything up offsite on an external system (Cloud technology didn’t exist yet), the problem for the most part disappeared.
So, keeping that in mind, here are some solutions that will allow SMBs to compete with the heavy hitters in their respective industries. The solutions include apps, mobility, changing mentality to work efficiently, but correctly the first time and embracing the all-powerful social media.
Embrace mobility & its related technological innovations
The company I worked for was one of the first I know of that gave all salespeople and installation teams a basic cell phone so that they could communicate with the home office. This was impressive considering that cellphones were a new concept and cost nearly $200 apiece. And that was for the most basic phone. In the modern era though, this isn’t going to cut it. Most people use smartphones that can be used for much more than simple phone calls. You can photograph jobs, photograph or scan work orders. SMBs can harness this technology to provide better customer service, simply because they are smaller and can better serve the customer.
In addition to mobility, stop using paper. As my experience shows, too many bad things can happen to that paperwork. Instead, make use of technology - store everything on an external hard drive, or even better, on a cloud. If you’re worried about losing the information, then print it all out and file it away. If your technicians need to view an order or specific piece of paper, equip them with an app of some kind or even tablet with which they can view that information.
If you really want to get with the program, develop and implement apps that your employees can use to access information, process payments, et cetera, when at service calls.
Learn to schedule and automate processes
Forget the old school ways of doing things, such as figuring out payroll by hand. If you’re still doing that, you at the minimum need accounting software like QuickBooks, but also need to start using scheduling software (like ClickSoftware’s) that can oversee all of your business operations. And I mean immediately. These systems are built to automate processes and cut down on expenses while speeding up the time in which tasks are completed. It’ll also reduce your stress levels and let you focus on what you do best – sales, management, et cetera.
I witnessed the partial automation of processes at a former employer. Once they managed to computerize and automate most of the shipping process (other than sticking labels on the actual packages), the number of packages sent out per day jumped from under 100 to well over 300. Then again, they also set up five stations rather than having just one, so there were also more people sending out packages. However, the process was made much simpler and quicker and it was very obvious that automation is definitely necessary.
Tailor jobs to the technician
SMBs have fewer technicians. That means sending the right technician to the job is essential. In addition, it can negatively affect the bottom line if the technician is thrown into a job that is outside his skillset and does a poor job. Larger companies don’t necessarily pay as much attention to who is good at what, and they can do that because of their size. SMBs, by sending the right technician to the job, can reduce expenses (i.e. fuel for extra service calls) and retain customers by getting it right the first time, with the right technician.
Embrace the cloud - The SMBs ultimate leveling tool other than customer service
If you don’t know what cloud technology is, stop right now and go learn what it is. This technology could be the biggest leveler of the playing field because it reduces the need for filing clerks, it makes all paperwork easy to find, and stores everything in one place where it can be easily accessed by all employees. By using the cloud, those missing sheets of paper vital for completing jobs won’t magically disappear and the flow of work interrupted. In addition, the cloud looks to be the way of the future, at least with regard to document storage.
Social media, whether you like it or not, has become absolutely essential. Everyone has a Facebook page, whether you’re a one man operation like a plumber, an international corporation such as PayPal or Delta Airlines or a politician or celebrity. The same goes for Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, et cetera. Social media has also become a major outlet for customer service. Very often you can get the attention of a company by posting something on their page – especially since no one wants a negative post to go viral and ruin the company’s reputation. SMBs can use social media to promote their services and engage with customers.
In addition, social media is a great way to personalize your services. That same responsiveness that can lead to excellent customer service ratings can also be used to give customers the kind of service that will retain customers and possibly even gain some new ones.
Invest in your employees and keep them happy – and they’ll stick around
In the field service industry, the employees are pretty much the greatest asset after the service, if they aren’t the most important asset the company has. To compete with the larger companies, SMBs can focus on keeping their employees happy, which in turn can keep costs down. Let’s face it, training new employees is expensive, but training the right employee who will stick around for several years down the road can be an investment that will pay off massively over time. If you can create an awesome corporate culture where people are engaged at work and look forward to showing up, that’s even better because then your employees – including the service technicians – will have better performance, which translates to all sorts of benefits. Especially being able to compete with the heavy hitters on even turf.