Big Brother is watching, and likes what he sees

ALMOST 20 YEARS have passed since 1984, and the Orwellian vision of government being Big Brother who watches our every move hasnt happened yet. Or, at least most Americans dont think so. In its place, however, technology has provided you not the government with the means of keeping a close eye on both your employees and your customers. And this all-seeing version isnt so big and bad. In fact, in the

ALMOST 20 YEARS have passed since 1984, and the Orwellian vision of government being Big Brother who watches our every move hasn’t happened yet. Or, at least most Americans don’t think so.

In its place, however, technology has provided you — not the government — with the means of keeping a close eye on both your employees and your customers. And this all-seeing version isn’t so big and bad.

In fact, in the last couple issues of CONTRACTOR, we’ve published stories that feature smart service contractors who have invested in technology and are reaping the benefits as a result. These companies are using truck-tracking systems, automated dispatching and other forms of wireless communications as business tools to improve their bottom line.

Unfortunately, a number of contractors have shied away from these tools either because they’re concerned about the expense or they don’t want to alienate their employees, some of whom think this type of technology really is Big Brother.

The cost of some of these systems can be considerable, but so is the expense of running an inefficient operation. One contractor told us last month that the annual cost of his callbacks had been $750,000. He is using wireless technology to reduce that amount.

He correctly points out that the cost of being called back to fix your previous work should include the time you’re not in front of another customer, creating new business.

Another contractor says in this issue that the fuel bills for his 12 trucks equipped with a global positioning system have been going down $300 a month.

A larger issue than expense for some contractors is the concern that their people will find this technology too intrusive. Make no mistake, nonproductive employees have reason to worry about these systems.

While good employees also may be wary at first about having their workday detailed down to the minute, they eventually discover that these tools can help them do their jobs better.

Companies that have implemented these types of systems successfully have taken the important step of first getting buy-in from their field and dispatching people. The point of the technology is not to spy on them but to help everyone be more productive. These companies realize that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all technology and have looked for programs that best suit their specific needs.

The contractors understand that they have the responsibility of keeping all their people productive during the hours they’re on the clock. Employees’ personal time is still their own and Big Brother won’t be watching — unless, for example, someone is making unauthorized personal use of a company truck.

If you’re not using these tools now, consider a few of the benefits:

Improved customer service. You can compile a complete service profile of your customers and link the data to your dispatching system. When a call comes in, you can transmit the customer’s brand of equipment and service history along with his name, address and phone number to your plumber or tech so he knows what to expect when he arrives at the job.

Faster response time. If your dispatcher can see the location of each of your trucks on a computer screen, he or she can get the closest truck to a call more quickly. Incidents of sending one of your trucks across town only for it to pass another of your trucks heading the other way can be eliminated.

Fewer time disputes with customers. Contractors tell us that their customers have learned to trust the accuracy of the time records that GPS-type programs provide. Previously, disputes over how much time a plumber or tech spent on the job had been among their biggest customer complaints.

Higher morale. Perhaps the most ironic discovery that contractors have made is that employee morale actually has improved where these systems have been used successfully. With the time wasters weeded out, good employees feel more appreciated for the work they do.

So, don’t be put off by worries that your employees will think of you as Big Brother. Instead, keep your eyes open to ways to make your business operate more efficiently.