On several occasions, I’ve walked into a meeting with dispatchers, schedulers, and service managers who were glued to their phone texting with their technicians in the field.  Why should the office staff use a tiny keyboard on a phone to update and respond to the techs when they have a full size keyboard and monitor at their disposal?  Text messaging has been a huge advancement for connectivity between these folks and their field technicians since the turn of the millennium, and now applications are available to speed up and enhance this communication.  Here are a couple free solutions that will enable the office to use their computers as a hub for messaging the techs in the field and anyone else on the team.

OS X Mavericks: Messages Everywhere

Windows

Multiple applications are available that enable messaging between Windows PCs to smartphones in the field.  All of these applications will have to be installed on the technicians’ smartphones in addition to the PCs in the office.

  • Skype – Typically thought of for video chat, this application is great for general messaging use.
  • mysms – A newer application that includes integration with the standard sms text functionality on Android devices so techs can continue to use their favorite texting app as long as mysms is running in the background.
  • WhatsApp – A widely used messaging application (over 800 million) with rich mobile functionality, including location sharing, and a web-based chat client for office users.

MacBook

Any of the applications listed above will work for Apple users, however Apple computers have a messaging solution built in that does not require technicians to install a new mobile app on their devices.  An application named Messages enables office staff to send and receive text and other messages right from their Apple computer.


 

Paired with their personal devices, office staff can use the above applications to send messages from any device and receive messages on all devices.  Much like call forwarding, this is handy when stepping away from your desk for meetings or lunch.

Don’t let anyone in your office waste more time pecking away on a tiny smartphone keyboard.  Not only will these applications save your office time, but also increase the amount and improve the quality of communication with the field.

Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC BY 3.0

For commercial service contractors, connecting with prospects that are responsible for facility management has historically been a tremendous challenge for the following reasons:

  1. Finding the decision maker is challenging
  2. Discovering their contact information is difficult
  3. Bypassing the gatekeeper is impossible

LinkedIn is the centerpiece of a host of technology available to overcome these challenges. From prospect discovery to initial contact, the following is a quick guide to using this technology to land your next deal.

LinkedIn on phone

Discover
LinkedIn enables you and and your sales team to find prospects that fit your exact criteria. Whether you are looking for the facility manager of a company responsible for multiple locations or a small business owner who is solely responsible for facility and equipment maintenance. LinkedIn’s advanced search functionality can drill down to a great list of potential customers. For example, the following searches returned hundreds of local results:

  • Keywords = “facility manager”, Postal Code = “27603”, Within = “50 mi”
  • Title = “Owner”, Company = “Restaurant”, Postal Code = “27603”, Within = “50 mi”

Not all of the results are a perfect fit, but it is easy to spot the most promising profiles.

Connect
Once you have a list, it’s time to connect with every potential prospect. Even if they are out of your LinkedIn network, you can take advantage of tools such as Lippl that will find their public profile and enable you to connect. When you request a connection, they will immediately be aware of who you are, so be sure that your profile effectively promotes your service offerings. Take advantage of LinkedIn’s tagging feature to differentiate your prospects from other connections in order to stay organized.

Note: If you are using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application to manage sales, be sure to look for tools that help you directly integrate LinkedIn into your CRM. For example, many integrations will automatically add a LinkedIn profile to you CRM as a new lead with the click of a button.

Contact
Direct electronic communication is the best way to reach your new prospects in order to get their attention and bypass any gatekeepers. There are three possible avenues to do so:

  • Send a message directly through LinkedIn
  • Use Thrust.io to determine their email address based on their name and domain.  This tool will find most email addresses, but not all.
  • Use the LinkedIn contact export to discover their email address. Note that this is often their personal email address and you may only want to use this as a last resort!

 

These technologies, a complete LinkedIn profile, and a brief introduction letter that focuses on your differentiators are proactive elements of the digital wrap that are far more reaching – and effective for creating relationships – than a truck wrap alone could ever be.

Cloud applications are like banks: Your money is much safer under lock and key at the bank than it is under your mattress because anyone can “hack your house.”   Bank security is as good as it gets, but like a bank, your data is only as secure as the keys to the vault; your password(s).  You will have security problems if you use one password for everything or you keep your passwords on sticky notes, notepads, or spreadsheets.

Old school password security

For maximum security, you should have a unique password for every application and you should update them on a regular bases.

Keeping up with numerous usernames and passwords can be a very frustrating task considering the number of online tools you use.  Like me, you may have a list of 20-30 username/password combinations that you use regularly.   Fortunately, there are products that solve this problem for your PC, Mac, and mobile devices:

LastPass
1Password

Both of these products operate in much the same way.  They create a secure, encrypted “vault” that secures all your credentials behind a single password.  Whenever you are prompted to login at a website, simply enter your “master” password and these applications will enter your credentials automatically.  Whenever you create credentials or change passwords for a website, these products automatically store the data in your “vault.”

You only need to remember one password, that’s it.  Your data is secure in the cloud, and your credentials are safe in your vault.

Icons made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC BY 3.0

In today’s connected world, new online services are popping up each day to improve the connections between you and your customers. One connection that is critical is the payment connection, and we found a cool app called InvoiceSherpa to help you.

This fantastic product helps service contractors better manage their invoices and boosts cash flow by helping speed collections.  Cash is the lifeblood of all small companies, and InvoiceSherpa can truly deliver more cash.    Instead of monitoring your invoices and sending reminders, InvoiceSherpa does the heavy lifting of reminding clients about due dates, forgotten invoices, and upcoming payment schedules.

invoicesherpa-custom-reminders

InvoiceSherpa reminder interface

From the InvoiceSherpa website —

Automated Invoice Reminders

The key to staying on top of your invoices and accounts receivable is letting customers know the current status of their invoices. Using InvoiceSherpa you can easily automate the entire process including reminders when:

  • An Invoice is created.
  • A due date is coming up.
  • The invoice is past due.
  • A thank you when payment has been received.

All of these items can be scheduled at different intervals with a unique template that you customize to fit your custom branding. Our goal is to be a seamless extension of your business.

InvoiceSherpa is one more example of the rapid fire innovation that is available with online services these days. If you still believe you should be running your service contracting business with a single “all in one” application running on a PC server in your closet, you are missing out on a world of great capability.

Consumers no longer turn to the yellow pages, newspaper ads, or direct mail to find the best service contractors. Instead, they turn to Google to answer the question “Who should I call?”  To address this change ServiceTrade is happy to announce an integration with Nearby Now, a tool that helps the best service contractors showcase their great reputation online and improve local search results.

nbn_logo_dark_teardrop

 The Results

Need some proof that your company can dominate Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? Try searching for an electrician in Atlanta or any surrounding city. For example, check out the results for these searches:

Atlanta electrician – https://www.google.com/#q=atlanta+electrician
Marietta electrician – https://www.google.com/#q=marietta+electrician
Sandy Springs electrician – https://www.google.com/#q=sandy+springs+electrician

Did you notice that TE Certified Electricians is at the top of the list for every search in the area? Amazing customer service and a Nearby Now-powered marketing strategy led by a digital marketing firm FOR service contractors, LeadsNearby, drive these revenue-generating results.

 How Nearby Now Works

Nearby Now enables field technicians to check-in to each job throughout the day.  Each check-in updates the Nearby Now check-in feed and network map embedded on their company website. Before the tech leaves the job, he or she can request a review of their service from the customer.  Combined, the check-in data and customer reviews generate fresh, powerful content for the service contractor’s website that drive great search results and volumes of inbound inquiries.

 ServiceTrade Simplifies the Process

The integration of Nearby Now with ServiceTrade simplifies everything about driving these outstanding results.  Service contractors using ServiceTrade check-in to jobs with the mobile application as part of a process that enables amazing customer service.  Instead of burdening the technician with extra applications and processes, the Nearby Now functionality is driven automatically out of ServiceTrade.

ServiceTrade enables smart service contractors to provide amazing customer service and the Nearby Now integration helps them broadcast their great reputation to the markets they serve.  Give us a call at (919) 246-9901 to learn more.

Service contractors need the cloud, but over and over again we see companies that are confused or unsure about how moving to the cloud will affect the operations of their business. Change is scary.  As human beings, we are wired to avoid change, especially when it concerns a switch from what we are use to.

download

Cloud Computing

At a recent HVAC convention, our VP of sales witnessed two different speakers advocating the benefits of cloud computing for service contractors. Obviously, we are always pleased to have others singing the same tune. Here are a few excerpts of what was said:

The Cloud is Secure –  One attendee described how all company data on their PC server was held hostage with Ransomware that cost more than $10,000 to remove.  Huge organizations like Amazon, Google, and the US Government store billions of documents in the cloud.  Virus protection and security are an integral part of data management and these large organizations would never store data in a location that wasn’t secure.  Do you trust technology experts to build strong security or do you trust one of your administrative staffers to know about the latest virus, bug, or software flaw?

The Cloud is Cheap – There’s truly no reason to maintain a mail server anymore (or any other type of server, for that matter).  Dozens of cloud applications can not only provide a hassle-free email solution, but a more feature rich solution as well.  No one wants to pay an outside IT professional to be their problem solver.  The cloud has lowered the price of software solutions by allowing software companies to put more power and more features into the hands of users.  Cloud storage is essentially free. There’s truly no need to buy more file cabinet or PC hard drives.

The Cloud Empowers Your Customer Service –  Items stored in the cloud can be accessed from any device – PCs, tablets, or smartphones.  Your technicians can answer questions faster and with greater accuracy, even when they are in the field.  Customers expect speed and accuracy. (Don’t we all use Google for fast answers?)  Showing clients before and after photos, online work acknowledgements, past work history, or old invoices make you and your team shine.

The key point  is simply this: Cloud computing is a perfect match for service contractors and their business operations.  Embrace the cloud and prosper.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, you know that Uber is a taxi service start-up that connects drivers with folks who need a ride. As a business, Uber connects riders and drivers (just as a taxi service does) and they collect a 20% fee on top of what is paid to the driver.  As of December 2014, the company is worth $41 billion.  Here is the Wall Street Journal article with the details on the financials. When examining Uber, I find some interesting lessons for service contractors. The key takeaway is:

How does a simple change in customer service practices lead to such a massive breakthrough in shareholder value?

uber-customer-service

Uber has effectively changed one thing in the customer experience associated with a taxi ride – they have dramatically improved customer service by providing rich information to the customer throughout the service cycle. Uber has done this by eliminating the aggravating service uncertainties and the unknowns that are inherent in hiring a taxi.  There’s no need for the customer to jump up and down on the curb to hail a cab or berate a dispatcher who has no better information than the customer on the real whereabouts of the driver and a likely pickup time.   The Uber customer simply touches the application on their smartphone, chooses the driver/car with the best value for their needs (arrival time, type of car, price), and then collaborates with the driver from pickup planning through to drop-off and billing.  The ride is essentially the same, but everything about the customer service experience is different. Thus, in exchange for amazing customer service and 20% above what is paid to the driver, Uber has built a company worth $41 billion.

Think about the parallels with the service contracting space. Great service contractors will tell you that a premium price is achieved through great customer service. Any contractor trying to run the business simply as a markup on skilled technician labor is ultimately going to fail. Yet most service contractors have a customer service approach that resembles that of a taxi company. The customer is only engaged via phone calls and a paper receipt at the end of the “taxi ride.” How valuable is that customer experience?  Not very.  How much more valuable might a service contracting company be if it were to adopt an Uber style approach to customer service?  Much more.

Here are the lessons from Uber on building a premium brand through great customer service:

1)  Engage the customer online throughout the service process:   Customers do not want to speak to your dispatcher about status. Also, it is inefficient and likely prone to errors. Show them what is happening online – the driver, the arrival, the problem, the fix, the fees.

2)  Images are more powerful than text:   Show the customer, don’t tell them. Uber shows the car en route to the customer. Give the customer photos and images of what is happening with the equipment being serviced. Humans learn from stories and images.

3)  Make it easy for them to engage your company:  Uber does this by being ever present as an application on the phone. You can also do it by being easy to find online, by being in their inbox with regular correspondence about your recent service delivery, by providing service history online, and by allowing them to initiate service online.

Service contracting is definitely different than a taxi service, but the customer service experience has certain parallels. New Internet services are coming on the market everyday attempting to “Uberize” the service contracting business. Because the dynamics of service contracting are more complex than a taxi ride, it is unclear if these emergent Internet brands will gain the momentum of Uber. What is certain, however, is that great brands stem from great customer service. There’s little doubt that service contractors can dramatically improve the value of their business by embracing many of the elements of customer service that make Uber worth $41 billion. What steps are you taking to create a premium service contracting brand by engaging your customers online and pulling them into the service process?

If you expect customers to find you online, they must be able to find you online.  Sounds like circular logic, but it is true.  Google is always shifting their rules to make their search engine more valuable to users and advertisers.  You have to keep shifting your website to avoid being pushed down the rankings.  The new rules say that mobile readability is important (your website should not be an eye test if viewed on a mobile device).  Check here to see if your site is already in the clear, and read on to review the new rules (from Google’s update on the matter):

When it comes to search on mobile devices, users should get the most relevant and timely results, no matter if the information lives on mobile-friendly web pages or apps. As more people use mobile devices to access the internet, our algorithms have to adapt to these usage patterns. In the past, we’ve made updates to ensure a site is configured properly and viewable on modern devices. We’ve made it easier for users to find mobile-friendly web pages and we’ve introduced App Indexing to surface useful content from apps. Today, we’re announcing two important changes to help users discover more mobile-friendly content:

Google-Derank

1.   More mobile-friendly websites in search results

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use  of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.  Do a search on  “mobile – friendly test”  to locate our website that you can use to test your website(s).

2. More relevant app content in search results

Starting today, we will begin to use information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking for signed-in users who have the app installed. As a result, we may now surface content from indexed apps more prominently in search. To find out how to implement App Indexing, which allows us to surface this information in search results.

What this means for service contractors (and for all others on the web) is that you MUST ensure your web presence is optimized for mobile.  Make sure that websites, blogs, and any other content you put out there is created with mobile in mind.  You cannot create a premium service contracting brand if it is difficult for your customers to find your company and your value online.

 

I recently went to Vegas, but I was not there to gamble away my kids college funds.  Instead, I was participating in the annual western region meeting of the National Association of Fire Equipment Dealers (NAFED).  During the meeting, an interesting narrative regarding the value of an inspection job versus the value of repair work for the customers’ fire protection systems emerged during several of the conversations I witnessed.  Opinions were varied due to lack of relevant experiences, but I am in the fortunate position to have the facts and the rationale to support the findings.

logo_design_nafed-4

When I arrived at DunnWell (the company where ServiceTrade began) in 2010, I discovered that the company was reporting system deficiencies to customers based upon the findings of the inspection reports, but less than 23% of those impaired systems turned into repair orders for the company.  As a sales professional, I was blown away by this poor performance.  There is no better sales lead than the following:

“I was at your facility yesterday, and I discovered a malfunction with your equipment.  It is not operating correctly, but rest assured we are the experts and we can fix it.  In fact, I have already put together a quote and a suggested time for us to return and put everything in good working order for you.”

How in the world can you NOT make a sale with that type of pitch?  Here’s how – be unorganized or sloppy in the follow up and speak in “codespeak” instead of customer terms.  Customers do not care about “code”  Nor are they concerned  about a deficiency you discovered BUT waited 2-4 weeks to report to them.  DunnWell was taking 2 – 3 weeks to turn around quotes for the work, if it was quoted at all.  Plus, the quote was attached to an email with multiple references to code violations with some accounting codes referencing what the customer must pay.

We fixed all of that at DunnWell, and now those lessons benefit the ServiceTrade application.  If you deliver your deficiency quote within 2 days of discovering the problem, and it includes photos that “tell the story,” and it can be reviewed and approved online, the approval rate will 75% or higher.  We have the data.  How would you like to improve your repair revenue by 3X?  Here is another number for you – your ratio of repair work to inspection work should be about $1 of repair to $1 of inspection.  If it is not, you are being sloppy in the stewardship of your customers’ equipment.  And both you and your customer are incurring liability that should not be there.  Higher liability and less profit, simply because you cannot be bothered to do a good job following up on deficiency opportunities, is a recipe for failure.

Why do people respond so positively to online quotes with photos attached? The reason is obvious – it’s easy!  Easier than downloading and printing some PDF attachment to an email, signing it, faxing it back – what a drag.  Also, if it is delivered within a day or two of the inspection, it must be important.  Better review it and make a decision.  Finally, people respond more readily to images and stories.  Our brains are wired that way.  The best sales pitch is a story that people can relate to – not some cryptic code references and accounting bric-a-brac with a price they have to pay.  Lead with the images and the story, then watch your conversion rates go through the roof.  Here is the science behind story-telling as a sales tool if you are interested.

Well, I have some good news.  For ServiceTrade customers, all of the work to be great at service revenue from deficiencies is streamlined for the benefit of our customers and their customers.  Our deficiency quoting process is totally integrated with the photo and audio deficiency reporting of our mobile app.  It allows you to use templates for frequently quoted repairs, and lets the customer review the quote online.  We even tell you when the customer has looked at it online.  Higher revenue, higher profit, lower costs, and lower liability.  What are your inspections worth?

As the Internet shrinks the world and arms consumers with information on how much things should cost, the service contractor’s service area will shrink as well. Customers will have information on which contractors are nearby, and they will make judgments on who can likely deliver the service for less due to lower expenses for travel time. Customers will also be armed with information regarding what service calls for common repairs and replacements should cost. They will simply Google:

“How much should it cost to repair [insert service item here]” ?

Google sends back advertisements, forums, customer reviews, articles, and a whole host of information to arm them in negotiating for better pricing on common “bread and butter” service calls. With a shrinking service area and pricing pressure on “bread and butter,” how can the service contractor maintain margins and growth?  One strategy is to offer the customer “Artisanal Cheese” to complement the “bread and butter.”

cheese

Add some “Artisanal Cheese” to Your Services

Why do grocers always place the bread, butter, eggs, milk, and other daily consumption items at the back corners of the store? So the customer has to walk past craft beer, tasty snacks, soda, candy, fine wine, and artisanal cheese to get to the commodity items. Everyone knows what bread and butter should cost, so grocers do not make any money on it. Artisanal cheese does not face the same pricing pressure because it is a niche item that does not suffer the same comparative price scrutiny. It is a “treat” that customers will “splurge” to enjoy. If you are a service contractor, offering the service equivalent of artisanal cheese is a great way to maintain growth and profit as the Internet inevitably shrinks the service area for bread and butter.  Artisanal cheese, however, needs to be packaged differently than bread and butter. It is typically merchandised in a fancy wrapping inside an attractive display that also contains complementary items which likewise command a premium margin. It is offered in the context of the consumption habits of the customer, often with expert reviews (wine spectator for example) that help the customer feel good about the purchase even at a high price.

So, the service item analog should be thoughtfully packaged for consideration by the customer as part of a standard call for delivering bread and butter. During the bread and butter call, the opportunities to sell artisanal cheese should be documented and presented back to the customer in a way that relates the thoughtfulness of the recommendation. These are upgrades, improvements, retrofits that all bring incremental value to the customer. How might they be received if they are laid out in bad handwriting on a coffee and tobacco stained accounting ticket? How much more receptive might the customer be if they are laid out online with photos and other rich supporting documentation that purports the superior quality of this premium service item (artisanal cheese)?

Fancy wrapper?           Check.

Attractive showcase?         Check.

Complementary items offered?      Check.

Premium margin?            Check.

A better customer service experience and better profits?   You Bet.