Are you writing a happy story?

I remember reading books in grade school where I could choose my own adventure.  The book began by introducing characters, a setting, and some trouble. As I read along, I made decisions at forks in the story.  Should they turn left or turn right?  Should they enter the castle or continue through the forest? Should they follow the trail of candy to the witch’s house or turn and run? I knew the beginning of the story but my decisions would change the ending.

You are writing that type of story every day in your service business. You have your cast of characters, the setting, and maybe an evil villain or two. But can you predict how the story will end? QuickSight reporting will help you make better decisions in the midst of writing the story of your business that lead to a better ending.

As we were deciding on the reports we wanted to show during the QuickSight webinar we hosted this week, I realized we were examining plot twists: Which sales rep is the most successful with their quotes? Which technicians are and are not recording deficiencies that represent new revenue opportunities? What does the labor demand curve look like for planned contract work in the next six months?

Here’s how you can approach setting up your QuickSight data analysis to uncover insights that will help you make good decisions:

  1. Define what you care about. What are the key performance indicators for your business? There will probably be a lot of them and that’s good.
  2. Choose your cast of characters. ServiceTrade data can be analyzed in six major datasets:
    • Deficiencies
    • Jobs
    • Recurring services
    • Invoices
    • Quotes
    • Technician productivity
  3. Ask some questions. Parameters around your reporting generally fall into two buckets: Time and money — or both. Craft a one-sentence question that data analysis can answer for you like:  
    • How many of our quotes for deficiencies are being approved?  
    • Which sales rep in the Durham office has the highest quote approval rate?  
    • Which technicians record the most deficiencies?
    • What service lines generate the most revenue throughout the year?
  4. Collaborate. Create a team that’s responsible for generating reports and finding the best ways to discover what it is that you want to learn. Once you’ve built a few reports and are familiar with the app, you’ll think of new ways to uncover new insights.

While you’re discovering new insights from your ServiceTrade data there’s one more thing to do:

  1.  Take action. Insights require action, whether that’s doing more of what’s working or making changes where needed.

QuickSight reports tell you the whole story of your business – the comedies, adventures, dramas, and the horrors. Use this reporting tool to measure the health of your business and learn where you should make changes for better growth, profitability, and efficiency.

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How to Make Billions Selling Nothing – The Story of Red Hat

The following story is a preview from an upcoming book about how commercial service contractors can earn “money for nothing” by rethinking the way that they present and deliver the services that they provide their customers.

I left IBM to join Red Hat in late November of 1998.  Red Hat would record five million in revenue in 1998 selling a software collection on compact discs (CDs) to computer science enthusiasts in retail outlets like Fry’s, CompUSA, Egghead, and Best Buy.  All of the software on the CDs was also available for free online, but in those days the Internet was still a bit slow for most people, so the CDs were more convenient because installing the software from CDs was faster and easier. The collection also included useful user manuals to help with installation and setup.  Fast forward twenty years to today and almost all of the software that Red Hat provides to its customers is still available for free on the Internet, but somehow Red Hat is a worldwide enterprise worth more than twenty billion dollars with annual sales of about three billion dollars.  How is that possible?  How can Red Hat make so much money for something that is available for free?  Because Red Hat is a “money for nothing” premium brand.

One of my first tasks, after I joined Red Hat, was to determine why all of these computer geeks liked Red Hat so much, and what, if anything, the company might sell to them or their employers that was worth more than the fifty to sixty bucks they were spending on a CD collection at Best Buy.  Shelley Bainter, who works with me here at ServiceTrade, alongside Hilary Stokes and Marty Wesley began setting up “customer Friday” events every week to quiz Red Hat customers and users on their experience with the technology and the company.  Our goal was to understand what was important to them, and how Red Hat might use that information to make a more valuable product.  The company had an initial public offering of stock on the NASDAQ exchange in August of 1999, and the shares jumped from about $20 per share to about $150 per share in a few short weeks. With huge expectations and a monster market capitalization of about twenty billion dollars, it was critical that we figure out a premium product strategy.  The company still had no clue what to sell potential customers, and we certainly did not want the shareholders to figure out that we didn’t know what we were doing.

Well, we weren’t fast enough.  The share price plummeted from one hundred fifty dollars to about three dollars over the course of the next few months.  But in the midst of incredible employee anxiety and shareholder lawsuits, we discovered something that proved to be very, very valuable.  We discovered from our research that the more experience a customer had with Linux (the name of the software collection that Red Hat distributed), the more they valued easy and quick access to the maintenance package downloads provided by Red Hat.  These highly experienced Linux users were keen to keep their server systems in top working condition.  They did not want their critical servers to be susceptible to security flaws or operating errors that might disrupt their business.  They readily indicated that they were willing to pay Red Hat a premium to be certain that nothing ever happened to their systems.

With validated information about why Red Hat was valuable to its most knowledgeable and experienced customers, my product marketing team set about defining a premium program that would allow customers to pay for a subscription to the maintenance packages delivered by Red Hat engineering.  Coincident with our efforts to formulate a scalable product plan, the press became involved in describing Red Hat’s business model (we couldn’t yet describe it, so someone was going to fill the gap). Red Hat was a high flying stock (before the crash), and journalist and technology pundits were keen to weigh in with their opinions of whether or not any business model would actually emerge to sustain the shareholder value.

The press told the world that Red Hat sold “support” for free software.  Unfortunately, our customer prospects took this to mean that if your free software “broke” you could call Red Hat to fix it.  Nothing was further from the truth.  Our most valuable users told us that AVOIDING system failures was most important, not fixing problems after they happen!  But the “break/fix” story was a simple message that was widely promoted in the technology press.  A “break/fix” business model is a miserable model. You engage with your customers when they are under extreme stress and every revenue opportunity is an emergency.  By definition, the relationship will be stressful and challenging.  But it was easy for the salespeople to talk about it, so that’s what they began trying to sell.

No matter the musings of the popular press, my product marketing team knew what Red Hat needed to deliver to be valuable to customers.  We released two products in 2001 that, taken together, represented a premium subscription program.  Red Hat Network was a management console that helped customers update and patch systems, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux was a well-defined set of free software packages for which Red Hat promised to deliver prompt and quality maintenance.  We priced these based on the number of computer systems under maintenance and the type of application workload these systems supported for the customer.  This pricing scheme aligned the value of the systems and their consistent operating performance with the amount the customer paid.  Perfect alignment, right?  Not exactly, because the press has poisoned the market with their “break/fix” news story, which resulted in a lot of uncomfortable conversations with large potential customers.

I got to lead most of those conversations because I was promoted to run sales for the company after I negotiated the first seven-figure deal the company had ever signed.  The sales team was not yet comfortable with all of this new messaging around maintenance instead of “break/fix.”  So I nominated myself to go show them how it was done, and I got my first opportunity when Cisco Systems of San Jose, California reached out to Red Hat for suggestions on how they might simplify and streamline their Linux technology systems and applications.  The biggest deal the sales team had closed to that point was in the low six figures. When Cisco signed a multi-year seven-figure deal, the formula that I had used to sell them became extremely interesting to the rest of the company, especially the sales team.  I happily accepted my promotion to run sales, and off I went to have a bunch of uncomfortable conversations with high profile customer prospects.

One of the first calls that I fielded was from someone that worked directly for the Chief Information Officer for BankOne in Ohio.  BankOne was one of the ten largest banks in the country, and it was run by the visionary executive Jamie Dimon.  They would later merge with JPMorgan Chase in a deal orchestrated by Dimon, and today the combined JPMorgan Chase, headed by Jamie, is one of the largest and most admired banking and financial services conglomerates in the world.  Clearly, this was an important prospect for Red Hat, and they had approached us about helping them with their Linux strategy.  The person responsible for Linux made it very clear to me that they were not interested in our maintenance product strategy, but they would sign an agreement to call us when they needed technical support.  He wanted me to come to Ohio for a meeting.  I told him there was no point in me coming to Ohio because we did not offer what he was looking to buy.  I referred him to our competition and told him to call me back if he ever had a change of heart.  The CEO of Red Hat was beginning to wonder if promoting me to run sales was such a great idea.  BankOne was gone.

Fortunately for both me and Red Hat, I was having other conversations that were going quite well.  One of them was with Rich Breunich, then the global head of technology for Citigroup, which was actually the largest financial institution in the world at the time.  In a meeting with Rich and his team, I explained our maintenance business model to them.  “A break/fix model means we are incentivized to provide customers with technology that breaks all the time in order for us to grow our revenue.  This model delivers the highest revenue when things break.  But we don’t want to collaborate on technology with you only when things are broken.  We want to have a more thoughtful relationship where we collaborate continuously to give you great technology that never breaks and exceeds your expectations.”

Rich’s staff was having none of it.  They pounded the table and puked on my grand vision.  They explained to me that every major technology publication asserted in article after article that Red Hat sells support for Linux, and by God that is what they intended to buy from us.  Rich, however, was in my corner, and he settled the matter quickly by siding with me.  Citigroup did not want to incentivize their vendors to deliver shoddy products in order to increase revenue from break/fix support, he explained to his staff.  They would happily pay a premium for great technology that performs without aggravation.  Certainly, Red Hat was available when things go wrong, but that should not be the basis of the relationship.  It should be the exception, not the rule.  Like Cisco, Citigroup signed a multi-year, seven-figure deal with Red Hat.  Now my sales team was off to the races.  They had a premium formula, and they had a leader that would back them up as they engaged in uncomfortable conversations with high profile market prospects, even if that meant walking away when a large prospect like BankOne did not agree.

Does any of the Red Hat story feel familiar?  Do you find yourself selling service features that are defined by your customer and by low-end competition? Break/Fix? Price? Labor Rate? Parts?  Do the sales people race to the lowest common denominator to declare a win?  And then dump it into the lap of the service department and move on?  All of these things were true for Red Hat as well, and yet they managed to break out of this mold of break/fix misery and create a multi-billion dollar brand by collecting “money for nothing.”  

When Red Hat turned the corner financially with a scalable model, I was often dispatched to investor and press meetings to explain how we were making so much money selling free software. My message was simple.  Red Hat offered customers “a predictable outcome for a predictable price.”  Sure, they could download a bunch of free technology off the Internet and cobble it together, and in some cases that might work out OK. In the most important cases, however, not having a reliable vendor for critical systems was not acceptable.  Putting the hardware vendor in charge was also generally a bad idea because all they want to do is sell more hardware, not optimize outcomes.  Hardware vendors get paid more when systems have marginal performance and the customer requires more hardware to support the load.  Red Hat was perfectly positioned to help them get the most from their hardware and systems through a managed technology maintenance program.

There are several important lessons in the Red Hat “money for nothing” story for the commercial service contractor:

  1. Break/fix support is a terrible business model.  Your brand becomes associated with stress and chaos at the customer.  Earning more revenue means the customer is experiencing more trouble. This model does not end well for the vendor.
  2. Selling what the market is buying is often not a good idea.  All of Red Hat’s competitors simply said “yes” to the customer’s break/fix support request because that was easy.  They got exactly what they deserved.  Almost all of them went out of business after the Linux frenzy subsided.  Be willing to have the hard conversation with the customer to get a better outcome for both you and them.
  3. Know who you are and the value of your service model.  It is not enough to say “no” to something that is obviously bad.  You have to offer the customer an alternative plan.  You need to sell a premium program.
  4. Say “no” to the customers that do not buy into your vision.  Better still, offer them the contact information for your competitor.  Let the competition sully their brand with miserable customer experiences while you strengthen yours with long lasting and scalable relationships.
  5. A subscription revenue model for a technology maintenance program is an extremely lucrative business model.  Service contracting is not incredibly different than Red Hat’s model.  Red Hat found a position of authority relative to the system vendors (Dell, HP, IBM, etc.) by offering a branded, third-party system maintenance capability.  Customers could turn to Red Hat for advice on which technology subsystems were most scalable and reliable.  As the manufacturers in your segment seek to exert more control on the customer maintenance program, you need a strategy to push back and become the technology expert that the customer trusts to deliver optimum system performance.
  6. Don’t let the manufacturers of the hardware take your seat at the table with the customer. System vendors are generally terrible at customer service, and they are incentivized to sell more systems.  Be certain you build skills and collect data across a broad swath of hardware brands to offer the customer the insights and outcomes that they are seeking.
  7. Focus on engineering and innovation.  The only way you will get to set the agenda (as opposed to a hardware vendor or another contractor) with the customer is if you have the expertise to optimize their outcomes through your premium service program.  It is better to get paid for what you know instead of getting paid for where you go.

Red Hat is a terrific example of how a “money for nothing” strategy can be used to deliver incredible customer loyalty and superior business results.  A premium system maintenance program gives the customer the “nothing” that they want – no breakdowns, no budget surprises, optimal performance – while providing your business with a predictable, high margin, subscription revenue stream.

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Keeping Score is Not the Same as Winning

Every major sports venue has a prominent scoreboard so that fans and participants alike can easily review the score with a glance to the outfield or upward at the jumbotron.  Knowing the score is a critical element in decision-making.  No point in running the ball up the gut in football when you are behind by 3 touchdowns with five minutes left in the game.

Imagine trying to coach the game, however, by looking at the scoreboard instead of watching the action on the field.  Ever notice what is happening with the coaches on the sidelines during the game?  Doesn’t really matter what sport.  The coaches are riveted to the action on the field or on the court, right?  They may glance at the scoreboard occasionally, but most of their attention is directed onto the field of play.  So that they can make adjustments during the game to accentuate what is working and compensate for what is not.

Why is it, then, that commercial service contractors so often obsess over the accounting systems that measure the score while completely ignoring the customer service systems that provide real-time feedback regarding the action on the field of play?  Keeping score is not the same as winning.  Winning means that everyone is executing the plays for the business to the best of their ability and in the interest of great customer outcomes.  Accounting systems and accountants have almost zero impact on the game, and yet they are often placed at the very center of decisions regarding how to execute a winning game plan.  That’s like asking the statistician to draw up the winning play on fourth and long with the game on the line instead of entrusting it to the offensive coordinator.  The score at any time in the game matters, but it is a small element in a winning coaching strategy.

To be fair, customer relationship management systems, electronic commerce, and customer service applications (along with marketing automation) are newer applications on the market relative to the older and more established accounting and enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications.  It is worth noting, also, that these newer applications focused on sales and customer service are the fastest growing breed of applications on the market.  It makes sense.  If you are going to compete in today’s fast-paced and online markets, you have to observe and measure what is happening on the field – play by play – instead of just waiting for the score to be tallied.  How are the salespeople performing on their calls and quotes?  How are the technicians performing identifying opportunities for repair?  How are the customers grading your customer service via online reviews?  How often is the service level agreement being met or exceeded?  None of these items register in the accounting system, but all of them will have a profound influence on your ability to win the game.

There is nothing wrong with glancing at the scoreboard a few times every quarter to tweak the playbook.  Winning consistently, however, means a relentless focus on the play by play action in the field while making constant adjustments.  Keeping score is not the same as winning.  Remember this maxim when you prioritize how you invest in applications for running your business.

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Get Busy Growing

“It comes down to a simple choice, really . . .  Get busy living or get busy dying.”  

            —  Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption

Growing your business is a simple choice.  And if you are not growing, the business is in decline, whether you realize it or not.  Equilibrium is dangerous, and it is also difficult to maintain.  The slightest perturbation will knock the system out of balance and cascade it toward its natural inclination.  If that natural inclination is growth, growth will continue.  If that natural inclination is a decline, the decline will hasten.  Growing is the better of the two choices, and it is actually easier and more fun than the alternative – grinding away just to keep what you have already.

Why do I say that growing is easy?  It is easy for many reasons, but foremost among them is because talented people gravitate to growth.  And the opposite is true as well.  If your business is growing, talented people will come aboard and stick around to advance their interests, while using their talent to build your brand.  If you are not growing, you will find yourself surrounded by dead weight on the payroll that you must lug around to achieve the results you desire.  You will work harder and achieve less, and that is no fun.  Less work for more pay is a better alternative.

So, how are you going to grow?  So that you can attract better talent, work less, and earn more pay?  A good place to start is simply committing the organization to growth.  Say it out loud to everyone.  “We are going to grow!”  Then set targets and build a plan, because it won’t happen just because you say it (although saying it helps). Here is a simple set of ingredients that I find work well in a growth recipe.  You can modify and add others, but these make a good start.

Choose Your Customers – It is difficult to grow when customers are a source of aggravation and heartache in the business.  Who wants more of that?  Choose customers that you actually enjoy serving, and who appreciate what you do for them.  Fire the others as quickly as you can, or raise their prices until they are forced to fire you.  The simple act of choosing good customers will give you miles and miles of credibility during your organization’s journey to consistent growth.

Keep the Customers You Choose – Great service businesses are built upon long lasting customer relationships.  Set up your service programs to maximize the outcomes for your best customers.  If you can eliminate customer churn, your growth every year will simply be the additional customers you add through the sales cycle.

Add New Customers – If you know the type of customers you want, and you also know how to serve them well, and you have a sales team that you pay to go sell to them, you should grow every year.  Simple logic, right?  If you cannot add customers, then you need to determine if your salespeople are ineffective or if your service program somehow is not attractive.  If you have already been successful in the first two principles above, you might need to replace your salespeople.

Commit to an Apprenticeship Program – If you know you are going to grow, you will need skilled labor to service the customers.  In case you have not noticed, there is a skilled labor shortage. It can be very difficult to hire quality trades people to deliver the service in the manner that keeps the customers you choose.  Go ahead and commit the resources to hiring, training, and developing talent to support your endless growth cycle. Always be hiring. The pressure of the growing payroll will add urgency to the sales efforts of the organization.

Offer a Branded Service Program – It is far easier to rally an organization around your branded service program than around platitudes like “integrity, honesty, hard work, motherhood, apple pie.”  Be specific in the creation of service programs and features that define your brand.  Commit to technology innovations that establish the bedrock of how you deliver service so that the organization can actually enjoy growth instead of being crushed by it.  “Work harder and care more” is NOT a sustainable growth strategy.

It may feel risky to you to strap on a bunch of ambition and commit to growing your company year after year after year.  It is far riskier, in my opinion, to grind away with mediocre people just to keep what you have already earned. Go ahead and be ambitious.  Get busy growing and enjoy the best things in life.

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Build a Services Brand that is Worth Something

ServiceTrade talks a lot about using technology and great customer service to increase the value of a service contractor’s brand. It is worth exploring what we mean when we talk about a brand.

What do we mean when we say brand?

As your personality makes you different from everyone around you, your company’s brand is a collection of characteristics that make it unique. Your brand is the truth about your company and what makes it special. 

ServiceTrade’s mission

I used to work at a branding and marketing agency that helped companies define and communicate their brand. Brands are the fabric of the business – what it does, what it values, and how it engages with the world around it. A genuine brand should reflect what’s happening in the business during normal operations —  not the aspirations of what anyone thinks should be happening now or in the future.

At the agency, we used an employee survey to help discover the truth of a company’s brand. One of the questions is “If <your company> was a car, what kind of car would it be?” I know it sounds like a silly question but it revealed so much. It wasn’t uncommon for owners and executives to claim high-end, high-cost luxury vehicles while people in the trenches in the lower reaches of the organizational chart identified with affordable, four-door family sedans. It was one of the strongest indicators of consensus or uncertainty across the company about the brand. For a fun exercise, ask this question of your employees and look at the range of responses.

Why is branding important?

A clear, engaging brand is as important as a person’s winning personality. Your brand sets expectations for what it’s like to work with you. Your brand is your reputation. It is what you are known as or known for. Your brand reputation should be protected as a valuable asset.

Besides establishing who you are, your brand defines what makes you different from your competition when someone cares to compare. Your brand helps people feel a connection to your company by understanding what it stands for and how it can help them. Your brand’s mission also directs your company’s initiatives and your employees in their work.  The next time you face a tough decision or a rough patch, take a look at your brand promises and see where they direct you.

Elements of your brand.

Hopefully, it’s clear that your brand is more than marketing, it is how you work every day. But there are some tools in your marketing toolbox that help you communicate your brand:

  • Logo
    • There are countless logo styles. Putting your brand into words can help a talented designer create a logo that reflects your brand.
  • Color palette
    • Choose a suite of colors to use on all of your materials and use them consistently. Creation of a brand color palette is usually part of a logo design project.
  • Imagery
    • Here we’re mainly talking about the style of photos, videos, or illustrations that you use on your website and in your sales and marketing. Do you have a cartoon character or set of iconography that you rely on? Do you prefer photos of environments over photos of people? Give this some thought, and use these elements consistently.
  • Tone of voice
    • If you were in a law firm instead of a services company your tone would be formal business language. But in services, you can be more casual and talk in direct, simple language to your audience. Be thoughtful about how you write on your website and in your proposals. If you’re easy to talk to (or read), maybe they’ll also think you are easy to work with.
  • Mission statement
    • Mission statements are usually for internal use to make sure that everyone agrees with what kind of car the company is (going back to my favorite branding survey question.) Craft a short mission statement. Share it. Repeat it. Let your mission drive everything you do. ServiceTrade’s mission is in the image at the top of this post.
  • Elevator message and key messages
    • Your elevator message is used externally when someone asks “What does your company do?” If you ask any employee in the company, you should get a similar response that could be delivered in the short amount of time of an elevator ride.

Who cares about your brand?

Everyone who has a relationship with your company.

  • Employees – Employees know what is expected of them as they deliver on your brand promises in their work.
  • Customers – Customers reap the benefits of your brand promise in every interaction with you.
  • Prospects – Your brand tells prospects if the things that matter to them matter to you.
  • Community – The communities where you do your work should also see you living your values in visible ways.

Live your brand.

I have four tips for you for living your brand to keep your company focused on the things that matter.

  1. Be genuine about your brand and your mission.
  2. Use your mission as a touchstone for your daily decisions.
  3. Talk with your customers to learn if their perception of your brand matches yours.
  4. Don’t stop building up your brand. It should evolve as your business grows and moves forward.

Increase the value of your brand.

Let’s be clear – adding to the value of your brand means adding to your bottom line. Here are three things you can do to increase the value of your service contracting brand:

  1. Stop competing on price and sell a premium program that provides better outcomes to customers.
  2. Give your customers a modern, online customer service experience that reduces their risk and aggravation and makes them want to work with you forever.
  3. Enable and encourage your employees to make decisions that support the mission and the brand so they can embody it fully.

Here are some resources that can help you increase the value of your service contracting brand.

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Case Study: Ressac Implements Sage Intacct with ServiceTrade Integration

For more than 85 years, Ressac has established itself as a high quality, low-cost commercial contractor for heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems. Specialties include low-rise office parks, mall retail, and big box retail sites.

 

THE CHALLENGE

Ressac recently implemented ServiceTrade to improve their service management and customer service. While this solved their challenges on the service side of their business, they were still using an outdated version of Dynamics NAV, a server-based accounting platform, to maintain financial records. “We were so focused on making improvements to the service side including customer service and earning more revenue that accounting was an afterthought,” explains Nick Rohan, CEO at Ressac. “We lacked real-time visibility into our financial information,” he says, “and we had to double key everything.”

With no transparency into financials such as working capital and cash flow, decision-making was more like guesswork. In a very competitive industry, and with a profit margin as low as 5-7%, it was critical to know the current situation when making business decisions. And since data wasn’t being shared between the accounting system and ServiceTrade, the finance team carried a large time burden related to too many AP and AR manual processes.

“Connecting to the old accounting system was cumbersome,” Mr. Rohan explains, “and we had a lot of issues getting into the system.” And with no AP approval process in place, service managers had to approve purchases, which took them away from more strategic job-related activities and created time-consuming invoicing of their clients. Additionally, data siloed within spreadsheets led to inefficient and time-consuming reporting processes throughout the organization.

Ressac desired a cloud solution that could streamline its AP workflow and approvals and provide real-time visibility into its multiple locations’ financial results. Sage Intacct’s financial management software was selected and was seamlessly integrated with ServiceTrade to eliminate many hours of manual data entry and reduce costly errors inherent in their old system.

 

THE SOLUTION

Nick recalls, “We relied heavily on ServiceTrade’s recommendation of Sage Intacct. When we looked at various systems,” he says, “what sold us on Sage Intacct was the reporting.” And selecting Wipfli as the service partner was easy. Wipfli provided full-service implementation, integration assistance, and ongoing support through a collaborative team approach as Ressac navigated through the process. “We liked the feeling from Wipfli, and had confidence in the team we were talking to,” explains Nick.

Everyone worked together to ensure a smooth integration. “The ServiceTrade integration is behind the scenes, so you don’t really notice it,” reports Nick. “With the Sage Intacct and ServiceTrade integration, we’re operating differently now,” he says. “The time we’ve saved on double data entry allows us to code our transactions, which allows for better financial reporting.”

With real-time visibility and transparency into their financial results across their multiple CA locations, Ressac now has the “right information at the right time” to make critical business decisions. “We’re getting more information out of our systems and doing a lot more meaningful work,” he says. The improved financial reporting means Nick Rohan and his team can easily see where their financials stand on a day-to-day basis.

What’s more, according to Nick, “the thing we really enjoy with Sage Intacct is our ability to access it anywhere from a browser, whether we’re at home or out of town. We can get in and see our daily runs and see how cash is doing,” adding, “it’s been fantastic!”

Overall, with Sage Intacct in place, Ressac taps into deeper financial and operational insights and is able to tackle more strategic issues, keeping the whole organization focused on their customers. Now the pressure of competition is less of a burden as Ressac has the insights its team needs to “grow strategically in existing markets and into other regions.”

 

LEARN FROM RESSAC’S EXPERIENCE

Key Requirements

  • Implement cloud-based financial solution to automate and streamline workflows and provide financial visibility
  • Integrate their new system with ServiceTrade to allow for one single set of data to run the business reliably and remove the guesswork

Key Challenges

  • Remove data from spreadsheet silos and make it available for decision-support across organization
  • Save time and reduce costly errors associated with manual data entry
  • Enable managers to focus on strategic initiatives

Key Outcomes

  • Gained real-time visibility into their financial results across locations
  • Saved time, money, and effort through automating processes, enabling greater focus on customers
  • Positioned to make long-term strategic plans for company

 

EXPLORE INTEGRATIONS

ServiceTrade can help whether you’re looking to integrate your current accounting system with our application or explore a new accounting solution. Call your representative to talk about the best way to start weighing your options and understanding the scope of integrating ServiceTrade with your accounting or other operational applications.

Read more:

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Service Repair Funnel

As a commercial/industrial service contractor, what is your ratio of repair to recurring service revenue? 1 to 1? 2 to 1? 5 to 1? If you don’t know, you could be missing out on a gold mine of high-margin work. If you do, you probably know that there’s room for improvement. And, when skilled labor is so hard to find, you know that you’ve got to drive as much repair revenue as possible to maximize the revenue potential of each tech.

So, what’s holding you back? Funnel friction. In other words, how easy it is to move from the top to the bottom of the repair funnel. Now, before we talk about the friction, let’s define where the funnel begins and ends. Too often, service contractors think that all the magic happens once the deficiency or repair report gets back to the office. As I wrote in another blog post, it actually starts WAY before you ever find a problem to quote. To keep this post simple, we’ll be talking about a funnel that starts with reporting problems in the field and ending with customer approval:

Now, ask yourself: “How much friction is in each task?” Or, simply put: “How easy is each step?” The easier it is, the more money you’ll make.

Report problems from the field

How easy is it for your techs to send the office all of the information necessary to generate a quote? How is that information communicated? Phone calls, paperwork, and email attachments? Does that data have to be manually entered into your database that manages repair sales?

…Do you have a database to manage repair sales? ServiceTrade does this, and if you’re not using ServiceTrade, a good CRM is your next best bet.

It should be as simple as taking a couple quick pictures, videos, and audio notes that automatically get added to a database for your office staff to start working from. The easier it is, the more reports your techs will create.

Create quotes

How easy is it to take a report from the field and create a quote that’s ready for the customer? Do you have to read chicken-scratch handwriting on reports, call the tech for more details, and retype everything into a Word document?

It should be as simple as clicking a couple buttons to turn a digital report from the field into a quote ready for the customer. The easier it is, the more quotes your company will create.

Follow up on quotes

Does your team manage this whole process out of their email inbox/outbox? Is it obvious which quotes need a follow-up? Is that chain of communication effectively managed and easily shared across the team?

It should be as simple as viewing a list of quotes that are due for a follow-up, no matter which of your team members created and sent the quote. The easier it is, the more follow-ups your company will perform.

Approve quotes

Once your customer receives your quote, how easy it for them to say “yes?” Do they have convenient access to the pictures, videos, and audio notes that will help them make the best decision quickly? After they decide, do they have to print, sign, and fax the quote?

It should be as simple as viewing an interactive quote online with rich media collected in the field that can be approved with the click of a button. The easier it is, the more quotes your customers will approve.

 

The easier all of these steps are, the more repair revenue you will drive and the more you will get out of each of your techs. Spend an hour assessing your processes. You’ll probably be surprised what you find.

Another blog post you might be interested in: 6 key metrics that that boost repair revenue

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WFH (Working From Home) FTW (For The Win)

There’s some sort of bug working its way through our sales team this week, so everyone who doesn’t feel 100% is working from home. The rest of us appreciate not being exposed to sickness while those affected remain productive in their home office. That’s just one reason why having a flexible working environment is a good idea.

working at home has advantages

Service businesses that use SaaS and other modern technology have the freedom to offer such conveniences to their employees. If you’re looking for a low-cost perk to offer employees, run a pilot program of working from or dispatching from home and see what works and what doesn’t. Some ideas for a paperless office:

  • Dispatch technicians from their homes.
  • Allow schedulers and dispatchers to work from home. Forward their desk phones to the mobile phones and they can manage where field crews are needed now and in the future.
  • Sales and account managers use SaaS apps to access everything about their client accounts to make recommendations, create quotes, or create audits that will help sell a contract program.

I can’t say that the risk of employees abusing the privilege is nonexistent, but if your expectations are clear it becomes the employee’s responsibility to work ethically and do their job. I bet you’ll find that many will do their work even better in appreciation for the trust and the convenience. Here’s some evidence to back that up (source):

  1. According to Gallup, remote workers log an average of four more hours a week than their on-site counterparts.
  2. People who work from home get more sleep and are more attentive, according to Penn State University.
  3. A typical business can save $11,000 per employee per year by letting them work from home 50% of the time according to a study by Global Workplace Analytics.
  4. Meanwhile, Gallup found that people who work remotely 20% of the time are more engaged in their work.

Many of us at ServiceTrade work remotely from time to time.  Some examples:

  • David Varnedoe writes and records scripts for ServiceTrade Certification courses from his home office. Sometimes he records audio while in his closet, but that’s a topic for another time.
  • Wes Cox conducts remote training from his home office. Wes and the rest of our services team can conduct webinar-based training from anywhere – and often do.
  • Shawn Mims spends hours doing the detail work of data management from the relative quiet and comfort of his couch under the close supervision of his two dogs.
  • I do a lot of writing from home for the same reasons – the quiet environment of my home office is more conducive to certain types of work than the bustle of the office. #2 above is a really strong selling point for me, too. That extra hour of sleep I get because I’m not commuting makes me a new person!

One thing that stood out to me at the 2016 Digital Wrap Conference was watching several owners of our customer companies log in to their ServiceTrade account to check in on what’s going on in the field. You simply don’t have to be in the office to know what’s going on in the business and to keep it efficiently moving forward. Today’s technologies offer many employees the freedom to do their work or dispatch from home, the coffee shop, or even on vacation if an emergency pops up. Why not offer this as a low-cost perk to your employees?

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Break the Profit Vise

Service contractors, you’ve got 2 huge problems. First, skilled workers are expensive and hard to find. We call this the “Skilled Labor Squeeze.” Second, small-time competition is undercutting you on price. We call these fly-by-the-night operations “One Truck Chuck.” With expensive labor driving costs up and cheap competitors driving prices down, you’re stuck in a profit-squeezing vise. So, what are you going to do about it? It may seem crazy, but the answer is to organize your customer service data.

Not sure what I’m talking about? Take a look at this blog post from a couple weeks ago about the inefficiencies hiding in most service contracting businesses. Basically, customer service data, the information necessary to provide world-class service, is usually scattered or locked up in an accounting system and filing cabinets. Data like service history, scheduling information, equipment failure records, and customer contact information, to name a few, are stored in a hundred different places and in a hundred different formats.

Effective collaboration makes technicians more productive and helps customers understand why you are different and better. If your information is locked up and inaccessible by technicians and customers, you’re especially vulnerable to the Skilled Labor Squeeze and One Truck Chuck. Why? Let’s break it down:

Technicians
Administration, callbacks, and downtime are extreme wastes of tech time that are all caused by messy customer service data. Taking calls to answer questions about the work they performed last week is a waste of time. Calling the office or other techs to understand service history at a location is a waste of time. Going back to a location to gather data that was lost in the office is a waste of time. Coming back to the office to drop off paperwork is a waste of time.

Real-time collaboration of centralized customer service data in the cloud eliminates all of that waste. When skilled labor is more difficult to hire than ever, it’s critical to keep field technicians as productive as possible.
Customers
If your only vehicle to inform customers about what you do for them and why you’re important is an invoice, Chuck is going to steal your customers. In their eyes, you and One Truck Chuck look the same. You need to show them how you are more valuable. Queue the customer service data!

Once your data is organized and accessible, you can differentiate yourself from Chuck by collaborating with customers and providing visibility to the quality of your work. You can show them how thoughtful your program is. You can show them the pictures and videos that demonstrate equipment failure. You can show them how you save them money by keeping your techs productive working on their equipment instead of wasting time on administration and callbacks. You can show them how you help them make better decisions because they will have better information.

You will stand out against One Truck Chuck when you collect and use service information in helpful ways for the customer.
Organized customer service data enables collaboration. Collaboration makes techs productive. Collaboration creates value for customers. This doesn’t work when the data is locked up in an accounting system. This doesn’t work when data is scattered across spreadsheets, email inboxes, and paper. Organize the mess, free the data, and start collaborating.

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Scattered Data Could Sink Your Ship

Every day, we talk to service contractors that think the biggest problem with their business is double-data entry into their accounting system. We tell them the same thing every time. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface, it’s hard to see the hundreds of small, but cumulative inefficiencies caused by scattered customer service data. Organizing that data will lead to leaps in efficiency and bounds in customer service.

By “customer service data,” I don’t mean accounting information. I’m talking about the data necessary to provide top-notch customer service and efficiently deploy your most expensive resource, skilled technicians. Data like service history, scheduling information, equipment failure records, and customer contact information to name a few.

Where is your customer service data stored? Multiple spreadsheets and Word documents on a server? Paperwork, files, and whiteboards? Pictures and videos on phones and random computers? Even worse, an accounting system that isn’t designed for customer service that only a few back-office staff have access to? Furthermore, how is that information communicated throughout your team? Email and text? Phone calls? Fax and snail mail? Cup and string?

Let’s dive a little deeper and take a look at how scattered data makes your team slow, inefficient, and prone to error.

Back Office

Bookkeepers shouldn’t be chasing wild geese. Hunting down coworkers to get the information they need to correct invoices, complete payroll, and record costs is a waste of time. And, it’s easy to blame sloppy front-office staff and technicians for the mistakes and oversights that they have to deal with. However, sloppiness is not the root cause of the problem. Instead, consider the inevitability of data getting mismanaged or lost by the front office and technicians when there are so many systems in place to store and communicate it. That means more time spent chasing the data, and less time spent billing the customer.

Front Office

The front-office team, typically responsible for scheduling, customer service, and quoting, is the biggest victim of scattered data. Accounting systems are either unable or are poorly equipped to help them manage customer service data. In that vacuum, they implement a patchwork of paperwork, software, and processes to accomplish their goals. The resulting hodgepodge slows everyone down and is prone to error. Here’s what I mean

Q.) What did we do last time we were at that location?

A.) Let me dig up the file. I can’t read the tech’s handwriting, so I’ll send him back out.

 

Q.) What was the problem with my equipment and when can I expect a quote to fix it?

A.) Someone else takes care of quotes. They are on vacation so I’ll have them call you back in a week.

 

Q.) When is a tech supposed to be on site?

A.) Check the calendar. Oh wait, that calendar is out of date. I don’t know.

 

Q.) Can you get that file for me?

A.) No, the server is down.

Technicians

Skilled labor is the most expensive and coveted resource for service contractors. Technician downtime and missed opportunities can be attributed to disorganization and miscommunication of customer service data most of the time. The ball gets dropped somewhere in the multitude of channels used to tell techs where they need to go, when they need to be there, and what they need to do. When the work is done, the information about what was discovered or completed is slow to travel back to the office, if at all and is often unintelligible. That means more communication with the tech to find out what happened and more wasted time.

All of our customers thought that double-data entry was their biggest problem when they first approached ServiceTrade. A couple months after implementation, they gained visibility to the underside of the gigantic iceberg that was slowing down their business. However, after 6 months of using ServiceTrade, that iceberg turned into an ice cube when they were finally able to streamline their customer service data.

Field Service Management Hazard