The contract services industry has changed vastly over the last decade as business owners and managers within organizations strive to stay on top of the current workload, as well as look for ways to obtain new sources of revenue. One of the biggest changes to this “not so technology oriented industry” is the need to embrace technology in order to keep the focus on serving customers with exceptional service. In the services industry, there are not a lot of differences in the services one may offer clients, so utilizing technology helps you maintain service standards and provides a true competitive advantage over those not using the tools available.
Tools available today include, but are not limited to, those that track time and attendance, billing, work orders, project scheduling, site/job inspections, customer relationship management, supply management, job costing and more. Acquiring the different tools often requires purchases from multiple vendors as some are more tailored for your needs. Looking for packages—that are integrated or offer modules that may be added as your needs grow—is one thing to be aware of in the evaluation process. Working with multiple vendors often attributes to multiple setups as each package has its own requirements. Your overall goal is trying to free up time and resources so you can use them on new clients and projects, in turn, increasing profits. Purchasing should be done with due diligence, researching and looking for solutions, which offer integration with other solutions you already have or might want to add to your arsenal in the future. Additionally, you may want to look for outside integration with a software package like QuickBooks, Peach Tree or Great Plains so when it comes time to do your taxes, everything isn’t duplicated costing you time and money. Don’t assume the higher the price, the better the product. As you may know, some apps for smart phones are only 99 cents and are quality products that do exactly what you need and can’t live without.
Now that you are ready to decide which path to take, evaluate the hardware you already have (smart phones, tablets, laptops and desktop computers) and see which products support them in order to avoid a more costly start up. Some software may run on any web-enabled device using a data plan included that can save money. Using software, that is less hardware specific, allows you to hit the ground running using tools you are already familiar with and, as a result, speed up the time for getting results.
Now that you’re ready, write up a plan, establish short-term goals for getting information flowing into the system, and make sure you are entering the right information so your future integration plans aren’t stymied. Also train staff and ensure follow-up so that the process is working. Now that the system is running and data is continually flowing in, you are ready to explore the reports and see which options are right for your individual needs. Utilize these reports and use them as a tool with your customers. This is just another way of letting them know you are not only providing them with great service, but are continually monitoring and evaluating the current processes in place for ways in which they may be enhanced by spotting inefficiencies.
Using the technologies available today specifically designed for the services industry, owners and customers alike can be “in the know” and communicate more effectively. Customer acquisition and retention are radically being changed as the focus from a communication log book on location has been transformed to allow issue submission and tracking electronically. Previously, companies would log their comments, problems and requests into the book in the janitor’s closet or supply room and use this as a to-do list. This provided a means of communication that would be reviewed upon the next visit, but might not be escalated quickly. It allows breakdown in communication and often loses the original meaning from the customer.
With the emergence of products offering new ways to process and track issues in “real-time”, owners and clients both login and are able to focus on the issue. People’s schedules may be adjusted and projects scheduled at the touch of a button in order to meet the changing needs of the client. Allowing customers access shows you are investing in the technologies in order to provide them with the optimum level of service. Additionally, you may use the Inspections/ CRM piece to notify the facility manager about something the team noticed that does not affect your service, giving a “heads up” of a problem that might not have been reported like a leaky seal around a water fountain. This value ad, costs you nothing, but shows your contact that you are looking out for them.
Once you know the tools needed, get them integrated into your process, then get out there in front of your customers and show them the quality of service and don’t look back. Before you know it, you’ll have lots of statistical information for measuring quality, making informed decisions, spotting team and employee weaknesses, and seeing areas in which you can provide additional services helping to drive greater profits and performance. Don’t give up right out of the gate or take a break; the information you get out of the system is only as good as the work you have done getting it entered. You have made all the right decisions, planned the implementation process, evaluated the equipment needs, so all that’s left to do is get started.
Harrall Griffin, III is Director of IT and development, A & B Express Products – ExpressTime, Express Inspections, ExpressTime Customer Communication Manager. Visit www.expresstime.com.