By Greg Crumpton, Mechanical Contractor
HAVE YOU EVER wondered if paperless dispatching is right for your company? If you’re interested in increasing the efficiency of your service department, the functionality of your systems and improving cash flow, it certainly could be.
I began my career as a service technician, and personally suffered through many of the pitfalls of verbal dispatching. I knew there was a better way. When we started AirTight Mechanical five years ago, we used electronic dispatching with an inexpensive software package designed predominately for residential and light commercial work.
As our revenue and technician base grew, however, we quickly felt the effects of its DOS-based limitations. That, combined with the need to have multiple users in the system, pushed us to upgrade to a networked, Windows-based package. Our quest to implement wireless dispatching was on.
The decision to move to a wireless system meant evaluating our current processes, defining new ones and finding an affordable, integrated software package flexible enough to meet our needs today and grow with us in the future. We also met with key customers to be sure we were adding value for our clients as well as our company. After much research we selected a software vendor.
We chose a slow migration process to better integrate the system within our office. It was important for us to minimize the negative impact on our employees and our customers. We started by selecting employees we considered early adapters. By training them first, we garnered their support and used them to help train the other techs.
The process was frustrating initially because it required the team to both enter work orders into the new system and to hand write them. Although time consuming and somewhat labor intensive, it allowed us to reduce the number of errors during implementation. Our process now includes the following steps:
- Enter a service call into the system;
- Send the call to the technician’s laptop mounted in the vehicle; and
- Upon completion, the technician enters the repairs into the service order and sends it to the office via e-mail where it is picked up and processed by the program. The form in the software includes purchase orders, parking expenses and labor, as well as other job associated costs.
Despite all of the time, planning and training necessary to implement a new system, the end result has been worth the effort.
Wireless dispatching offers three major benefits to our customers:
The first is more accuracy at the work order level. Typed text on work order forms has eliminated the confusion and frustration of deciphering handwriting.
Second, customers now have the ability to access their work order progress and history online 24/7, a feature our customers requested during the research phase of this project.
Finally, technicians are better informed and therefore provide better service now that they can look at work history before arriving onsite.
Our customers are not the only ones who benefit. Wireless dispatching has allowed AirTight to more easily implement same-day invoicing and reduce outstanding accounts receivable. The use of innovative new technology gives us a competitive edge in both the hiring and sales arenas. Lastly, the number of errors has diminished greatly.
If you are thinking about a wireless dispatching system for your organization, here are five tips to consider:
1. Define your process. Look at your current dispatch operation and identify the processes you would either keep or change if you were to utilize a wireless system.
2. Choose partners who will help you decide what you want not just today but several years from now. This will make choosing a software package much easier. Remember to plan for hardware purchases as well. We chose Toshiba laptops installed with Gamber-Johnson mounting devices, but there are many options available in the PDA or handheld arena as well.
3. Identify the effects this transition will have on your customers, both positively and negatively. One way to do this is to select key customers and ask them how your process can make their jobs easier.
4. Recognize that some of your technicians might not be comfortable with computers. Therefore, although they may embrace the concept, they may be apprehensive when it comes to getting started.
5. Plan and communicate your migration process to gain technician buy-in. This will help you minimize pitfalls as well as customer and employee frustration. And surround yourself with people who support forward thinking. We are proud members of The Unified Group. They continue to help us and challenge us to take AirTight to the next level.
If you decide that wireless dispatching is for you, the most important advice I can offer is to enjoy the process, be diligent and don’t let a setback shelve your plans. Regroup and keep digging. This tool can work for your company!
Greg Crumpton is president of Charlotte, N.C.-based AirTight Mechanical, which specializes in commercial and industrial sites. Crumpton is a member of The Unified Group, a best practices group composed of mechanical service contractors. He can be reached at 704/377-3886 or [email protected].