At the 2012 Google I/O conference, the big “reveal” was Google Glass.  A team of Glass-wearing skydivers live streamed their descent toward the roof of the San Francisco Moscone center where the event was underway.  It was an awe-inspiring stunt, but Google Glass flopped due to a buggy and ridiculous user experience, and the project was shuttered in 2015.  Or was it?

The website for glass proclaimed “Thanks for exploring with us,” but it also offered hope for the future with “The journey doesn’t end here.”  Of course, Google can waste money on pie-in-the-sky projects forever because they print so much pie-in-the-sky money with their AdWords platform.  But what about the rest of us?  When should we expect some breakthrough capability with smartglasses?  And what would that look like anyway?

I actually think other technologies that were related to the first glasses experiments are going to dominate our attention, and that is probably a good thing.  Smartglasses initially were a symbol for three separate and distinct technology advances:

  1. A heads-up type display that removes the need for a display screen to be positioned in your field of view.
  2. A hands-free user interface to be able to engage with an application to move the experience along without tapping on a screen or pecking a keyboard or zapping a barcode or whatever other input you choose.
  3. A camera application to capture and share the imagery in your field of view.

Let’s start with number 3 first.  I decided to do this blog post when I saw that Snap (the company behind Snapchat) just disclosed in an investor update that they are writing off about $40 million on Spectacles inventory they are not able to sell.  In case you have not heard, Spectacles are the smartglasses that are integrated with Snapchat to give the user a hands-free camera application to share the imagery in their field of view with the Snapchat application.  It flopped. But that is not the interesting bit.  The interesting bit is that the glasses were $129 including the charging case.  While not free, that is not bad for a first generation, new form factor camera with LED lighting, a power source, and the electronics for connecting to other devices.  I think experiments like Spectacles are going to lead to a simpler form factor for a lightweight, high functioning camera that attaches to your glasses or the bill of your cap.  It will simply be able to attach to whatever application you are running via Bluetooth or WiFi, and now you have a hands-free camera to snap images or stream video to applications running on your smartphone or tablet.

Item number 2, the hands-free user interface, is actually here today.  It comes in two parts that everyone will quickly recognize.  The first is the earpiece/microphone that we have all used or seen others use (Jawbone is a popular brand that has done well in the market).  This allows you to give audible input to an application (likely running on your smartphone or tablet) and receive audio back from the application.  The second part is Alexa (or Siri, pick your assistant).  I think Alexa is actually going to be the game changer because Amazon is so good at productizing computing infrastructure for folks like ServiceTrade to incorporate in our applications.  We also have experience with Google and Microsoft – there are good reasons why Amazon is the market leader by a pretty wide margin.  I believe Alexa will be another example of their market-leading competence in this area.  The applications you use will have an Alexa interface that enables the technician to move the workflow along by saying “Alexa, move the workflow along (as a proxy for whatever application option makes sense.)”

Item 1, the heads-up display, is the hard bit.  Not because this is new or novel because pilots, for example, have been using heads-up displays in aircraft since the mid-90s.  It is difficult because shrinking it to work in a miniature and mobile environment like a pair of glasses is a difficult piece of physics.  The display only works correctly if the user can see the application interface in the same plane of focus as the other items of interest.  If I understand what I have researched, it appears the approach being used by Google Glass is a near retina display. The image is projected directly onto the retina, so there is no issue with the depth of focus. The information is just “there” for the retina to absorb without refocusing on a “closer” screen display.

What Google Glass got wrong (in my humble opinion) was trying to introduce all three elements in a single device, while simultaneously assuming that the applications where we might use the technology were readily available.  None of the technologies were significantly evolved to enable an “all in one” device to be successful.  I am not a fan of “all in one” applications anyway, as I find they typically suck at most of the things they try to achieve for the sake of claiming a longer checklist of “features.”

Instead of the “all in one” that flopped for Google (although the physics breakthroughs they achieved with the display are impressive), I believe you will begin to see small changes sneak up on you.  It is easy to imagine someone with a Bluetooth Jawbone and a visor-mounted camera collaborating via Facetime with a remote colleague.  There’s nothing extraordinary here because all of the technology is well developed already.  I can also imagine a technician setting up their tablet beside a piece of equipment and asking Alexa to play and pause and rewind a recorded video of how to repair a complex piece of equipment – hands-free with an interactive application that we already use every day.

There is a phrase in my industry called the “consumerization of IT.”  Basically, this phrase means that the end-user consumer applications for new technology will generally lead the market before the commercial applications become available.  Seems counterintuitive until you realize that consumer spending makes up 70% of the US economy.  It just makes sense that the titans of technology such as Amazon, Apple, and Google, would focus their research and development dollars to address the biggest available market.  If you want to experiment with things that likely will work to improve your commercial application, don’t look for some big breakthrough from a wildly new and different application.  Instead, focus on the commercials that you see during the holidays that demonstrate how you can display an eggnog recipe and play holiday music by commanding Alexa to do so.  Pay attention to the display of best-selling gadgets at Best Buy from companies like Jawbone that connect to applications on your phone.  Then go play around in the context of your work for customers and find innovative ways to put these consumer breakthroughs to work for the benefit of your customers and your company.

I had not thought about how much our service contracting customers have in common with Southwest Airlines until I read an article about the airline issuing iPad Minis to flight attendants to streamline operations. Ok, so their territory is pretty big. And they have quite a fleet to manage. But they offer recurring services, and their scheduling is pretty important! I’m mostly joking here, but the article is definitely worth reading.

Read iPads Take Flight At Southwest by Brian Albright at Field Technologies Online
A free account is required to read the full article.

southwest-600px

 

Southwest is deploying 14,000 iPad Minis for customer service and to trim costs.  Their first change is going paperless with its 700-page flight attendant manual. They frequently print updated pages and distribute them to every flight attendant to update their manual. The FAA is regulating the process of going paperless, so they haven’t completely abandoned paper yet. This move will decrease their paper costs, ensure that the latest version of the manual is deployed to each device and employee, and save flight attendants from carrying around and replacing pages in a 700-page binder.

Customer service gains will come in the second part of the phased rollout, when they replace their current aging point-of-sale (POS) terminal for in-flight alcohol sales.  The POS features aren’t expected until early 2017. Instead of maintaining a fleet of secondary devices for this specific purpose, iPads will become the POS device that’s centrally maintained by the airline.

How do you deploy 14,000 devices to people who are constantly in flight? Very carefully?? The article gives an interesting summary of the process they underwent with their partner Stratix to manage the deployment and ongoing device management.

What can service contractors take away from SWA’s deployment, even if they don’t have Southwest’s resources?

  • Mobile Device Management (MDM)
    MDM ensures a consistent working experience for each employee when device maintenance is handled by a central resource. Shawn wrote about MDM options for service businesses in this recent post.
  • Find your ROI
    Mobile devices and applications enable a number of operational efficiencies and a great customer experience. If you find that going mobile or paperless solves one problem, look for others that you can tackle at the same time to improve your ROI. Southwest explains how this worked for them in the Field Technologies Online article.
  • Ensure adoption and sense of ownership
    Southwest had a modern, progressive, and I think the right attitude about sending 14,000 devices to its employees. They want flight attendants to feel like the device is theirs, and welcomes their personal use. Instead of requiring employees to have separate personal devices, this policy makes their work device a perk that they will appreciate it and care for.

Finally, acknowledge that a big change is a big change and accept that sometimes a rollout is best to happen in stages. I’m sure it’ll be frustrating for flight attendants to deal with carrying the iPad, binder, and a separate POS system for alcohol sales for a while, but it’s a first step that sets up future efficiencies and savings.

Team 360 Services was featured in a case study by the author of the Southwest Airlines article Brian Albright. Read “Dousing Field Service Inefficiency” from the March 2016 issue of Field Technologies Online to learn how Team 360 Services is using ServiceTrade to save time and lower costs across their service organization. A free account is required to read the full article.

 

How many photos are stored on your smartphone right now? I have 1,438 photos that take up 4.8 GB of storage space — but this is pretty low compared to some of the folks around ServiceTrade.

Carrying around more than 1,400 images is pretty painless — until it isn’t. Have you ever hit the storage wall where your device refuses to take one more photo or download one more app until you free up storage space? When that happens, you’re faced with deleting photos until you have the free space you need.

photos in iphone album

Google Photos is a great free solution for automatically syncing your photos to the cloud where they can be easily viewed, organized, and shared so you don’t have to keep them all on your smartphone.

Take Lots of Pictures

Service photos are one of your best customer engagement tools. Before and after pictures show that you did what you said you were going to do. Sharing before and after photos help customers see the value that you bring to their business. They also C.Y.A. in case there’s ever a question about that service call.

Also ask techs to take pictures of issues or items that need to be repaired. Online eQuotes that include photos of the issue, that are provided within 24 hours of the service call, and have an online approve button are approved 3-times the rate of emailed PDF quotes. Encourage your techs to take lots of pictures through every step of the job — then use them!

Benefits of Cloud Photo Storage

Google Photos will help you manage all those pictures by storing them in the cloud, and making them available to your office staff in an online interface. The ServiceTrade application will take care of this for you by automatically storing photos on the job record, in the app, in the cloud where your customers and the rest of your company can use them. If you aren’t using ServiceTrade, Google Photos will help.

With centralized photo backup, service companies can:

  • Securely store photos, and give you a choice to keep or delete the originals from techs’ devices
  • Automatically share photos across the team, without requiring any extra work after initial Google Photos setup
  • Easily organize service pictures in the web-based interface
  • Free up storage space on your devices, but retain control of what is deleted, and what is kept locally

To use Google Photos:

  • Download the Google Photos mobile app for iOS or Android, and choose either the free storage option for compressed images, or a paid option that allows for higher image quality.
  • Allow the Google Photos app to begin uploading your images. This could take a while depending on the number of photos you have and your wifi speed. My upload of 1,438 photos took about 4 hours on a slow wifi network.
  • Login to Google Photos at photos.google.com to see your photos and manage them through the web interface.
  • Choose who you might want to share photos with, like your family for personal photos or your office admin for work photos. You can set up special albums for sharing and choose who sees what.
  • Delete photos and videos that you no longer need to store on your device.

Once setup, photos and videos will continue to automatically sync to Google Photos.

Why Google Photos?

They’ve built in some fun and time-saving features. This blog post from Google will give you more detail than I’ll share here. Some of my favorites:

  • Searchable facial recognition. When I search for photos of mom, there she is!
  • Automatic albums. Google Photos is smart enough to scan your photos and group those that were taken in the same span of time, or at the same location together in an album. It’s not perfect. It had a hard time telling the difference between dogs and sheep and has them all in one album labeled “dogs,” but at least I know where my farm animal photos are – and that’s an improvement from them being mixed in with everything else.
  • Photo management is easier when you can view them on a larger screen and make better choices about which images to keep and which blurry photos can be deleted.

Google Photos isn’t the only option. Apple devices will sync to iCloud. All device types can sync to Dropbox. The strength of Google Photos’ features at its free price makes it a winner.

If you are a ServiceTrade customer, photos technicians take in the ServiceTrade mobile application are automatically stored in the ServiceTrade platform as part of the service record. When you create an after-service Service Link to send to the customer, you can click a button next to each photo to decide if it’s shown to the customer or hidden. Those photos are stored permanently, in the cloud, and can be recalled any time you or the customer need them. But even ServiceTrade users need help managing and storing their non-job photos, and Google Photos is good for that.

Who hoards the most images?

I did a quick survey around the office and found that my 1,438 photos is pretty modest by comparison.

Kelsey: 3,761
Wes: 5,377
Kim: 15,740
James: 16,249

That’s a lot of selfies and cat photos. Can anybody top the 20,000 mark?

Also read:
Photo Cliches Drive Sales and Retention for Service Contractors

Smartphones, tablets, and mobile applications have finally reached both a price and a level of functionality that make them an absolute no-brainer for service contractors.  Aside from the obvious risk of device breakage (read our earlier post about this), contractors that deploy mobile devices to more than a few field techs quickly discover a tangle of IT-related device management headaches.

2 iPhones - Mobile Device Management

Setting up the email account, WiFi, apps, and other general settings can take forever for one device, let alone every other device to be deployed in the field. To add to the complexity, if anything changes such as the email server or WiFi password, updating every company device can be an absolute nightmare. Once the devices are in the field, what’s to prevent them from becoming distractions (thanks Candy Crush Saga and YouTube) as opposed to the productivity enhancers they are expected to be? Furthermore, poor device management can leave your company vulnerable to security risks like data theft and cyber vandalism.

 

Fortunately, there are platforms that simplify mobile device management (MDM). These applications can even help you manage laptop and desktop computers, hence the use of the term “device” as opposed to “smartphone” or “tablet.” MDM solutions work best for company-supplied devices on which there should be no personal data. Mobile device management can be implemented on personal devices in a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD – Learn more) workplace, but this can lead to some potentially hazardous outcomes given that administrators will have the capability to remotely erase personal data.

 

Common MDM Features

Features among mobile device management solutions vary to some degree, but you can expect MDM applications to manage the following:

  • Remote Setup and Deployment – Installing a MDM solution on a device typically follows a simple invitation process initiated from the administrative dashboard. No matter where the devices is, its user can accept the invitation and install any necessary apps or profiles. After installation, devices can be managed and updated remotely; maximizing utilization and productivity without the need for spare devices as backup.
  • Inventory – Office administrators will have a complete view of every device under management including the device’s location (via GPS) and which employee is responsible for said device.
  • Applications – Installing, updating, and blacklisting of mobile apps can be centrally organized with MDM solutions. For example, an MDM would enable mass installation of the ServiceTrade mobile app for your field technicians, and blacklisting of apps like Netflix to avoid distractions.
  • Security – To avoid security threats, password specifications can be set so that they are not only required, but also meet certain character requirements for maximum security. Additionally, devices can be remotely locked or wiped of all their data.
  • General Settings – Email accounts and WiFi profiles are a couple examples of the general settings that can be setup and managed with MDM applications.
  • Groups – All of the above management functions can be deployed across all company devices or to a specified group with the push of a button. Individual device setup is possible but rarely necessary.

 

Recommendations

Especially for small and medium service contractors, steer clear of any enterprise mobile device management applications.  Solutions from companies like Cisco, IBM, and Citrix are designed for large corporate environments and require IT managers for implementation and support. Instead, look for solutions that are simple, cloud based, and cost effective. If it feels expensive and seems complex, it probably is.

One product we found that stands out against the competitors is Miradore. In addition to all of the features listed above and support across Android and iOS, it also comes in at only $2/month per device for the top-tier plan.

For more advice on how to make the best decision on any software purchase, check out our eBook “The Practical Guide to Buying Software for Service Contractors

In the final installment of the Smartphone Buying Guide for Service Contractors we will address the final decisions you’ll make before purchasing.

  1. Should you provide devices for your technicians or should you have a bring your own device (BYOD) policy?
  2. If you’re providing devices, where should you buy?

this is not where a service contractor should buy devices

Company Provided vs. BYO Mobile Devices

How much time do you want to spend managing mobile devices? What is your budget for your mobile systems? Should you provide devices to employees or require them to use their own? In most cases, the answers are “not much,” “not much,” and “I’m not sure.” Our customers’ experiences have shown that it is best for the company to provide devices for techs.

Advantages of providing devices:

  • There will be a smaller number of device configurations across your team.
  • It’s easier to deploy and maintain your mobile solutions when there are fewer device types in the field.
  • It’s easier for your techs to share their collective learning when they have a similar mobile system setup.
  • There are price advantages available when you buy in quantity.

The challenge of providing devices is the out of pocket expense.  That’s why we recommend you work with a sales rep who focuses on commercial customers, who will help you take advantage of your volume purchasing power.

The Best Places to Buy Mobile Devices

The wireless store on the corner isn’t the best place for a business owner to buy devices. The long lines and consumer-centric experience of the sales reps don’t align with your business needs. Instead of the corner wireless retail store or buying devices online, work with a commercial sales representative or a mobile solutions integrator.

Buying from Wireless Providers

Each reputable wireless network provider has commercial sales representatives who are well-versed in the devices on the market, and are experienced working with business owners.

Commercial sales reps at your provider (AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, etc.) will help you with:

  • Choosing the right smartphones and tablets
  • Creating support and service packages to maximize your up-time
  • Setting up a single business account to manage your mobile deployment
  • Sticking to a mobile budget that you can afford

Buying from a Mobile Solutions Integrator

If you have one in your area, a turnkey integrator is a terrific option. An integrator works like a consultant to guide you through your hardware, software and service plan decisions. An advantage of integrators is that they’ll configure your devices, install the applications, train your staff, and put them in your hands, ready to go.

Some reasons working with an integrator is a good idea:

  • You’ll get more help picking the right devices for your techs’ working environment
  • Integrators can recommend devices and networks across more brands than a wireless provider
  • As with buying from a wireless commercial sales rep, you can negotiate volume pricing
  • Devices come to you fully installed and ready to deploy
  • Your relationship with an integrator lasts from the purchase through support and service, to end-of-life for aging devices

You’ll know you’re working with the right salesperson when they ask questions about your goals in going mobile, how and where your techs will use the devices, what type of information techs collect in the field will be conveyed back to the office, and what you can realistically spend.

If you’re interested in purchasing devices, we’d be happy to introduce you to local wireless commercial sales reps and integrators who work with service businesses.

Reread:

If you’ve been reading our blog for a while (thank you, by the way), you’ve heard ServiceTrade advocate a connected IT ecosystem of business operations applications for your customer service, accounting, inventory, CRM, payroll, email marketing and online reviews.  There are modern, mobile solutions for all of these needs that work within an integrated system.

A multi-software platform isn’t just for your office users, it applies to your field technicians, too.

pocketknife-600px

Technicians and service managers perform several tasks throughout the day. It’s perfectly reasonable to use different applications to perform smartphone tasks the same way that they use different tools to perform the mechanical tasks of their service jobs.

If all you Have is a Hammer, the Whole World Looks Like a Nail

Each tool – whether a cloud-based application or a hand tool from the truck – is specifically built to do certain jobs. It’s no more realistic to expect a tech to open an access panel with a hammer than for them to update parts inventory in a customer service application. Neither scenario will be particularly successful.

The same is true of using an accounting platform or an ERP system for customer service. Your accounting system hammer will make customer service look like a financial transaction, not a planned customer experience.

Make it Easy for Users

Smartphone users are already used to using different mobile applications to perform different tasks. As Billy said back in August, his smartphone has several pages of applications installed.  It’s no more realistic to expect a technician to login to a single application for everything they do in a day than it is to expect you to call your spouse through the calculator app.

A mobile application that serves a specific business function will do those functions well. Dedicated applications are more efficient and give a better user experience for field and office users.

You don’t have one big application button on your phone. You may think that having techs use just one app saves them time, but efficiency gained by clicking just one button to start a large, cumbersome app is lost by the amount of time it takes to navigate and use it. You’re better off to have more agile tasks across multiple apps.

Smartphones Deserve Smart Apps

Whether you’re in the office or in the field, all-in-one solutions aren’t so much solutions as they are a weight on your shoulders that becomes more difficult to manage with the passage of time. Take advantage of the smartphones in your techs’ hands by loading them with a network of smart apps, too.

Related Posts

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

Once a service contracting business makes the decision to adopt ServiceTrade, the conversation almost always shifts to making device decisions.

We covered one factor of this decision, Android or iOS in Part 2 of this series. In Part 3, we will take a closer look at the software-related factors for deciding between smartphones, tablets, and the in-between phablets.

Relevant Differences for Service Companies

Let’s start with the biggest differentiator: Phone calls. This is the top of the decision tree. Since we can’t make audio-only cellular phone calls from tablets, the question seems to be one of whether your techs will have just smartphones or smartphones and tablets.

Most tablets offer benefits in terms of processing power and screen size. They also give techs:

  • A more usable touchscreen keyboard
  • A larger screen size for fillable forms and reading paperwork
  • A better experience for sharing information with the customer

Think about the impression it makes on customers when your technician approaches them at the end of the job with a tablet that has photos on a work acknowledgement for their signature. This is the type of customer experience that will wow your customers and strengthen those relationships.

Most smartphones have better cameras and video recording features. Smartphones are also better for:

  • Portability into tight spots for taking photos and videos
  • Taking photos in dark areas because of a built-in flash
  • Cellular connectivity for internet and telephone

The differences related to device size, processing power, camera features, application availability, and battery life lead software companies like ServiceTrade to build native applications for both device types to take advantage of their respective strengths.

ServiceTrade on Smartphone and Tablets

The ServiceTrade smartphone application has all the features technicians need to clock in and out of jobs (whether or not they have a signal), get job details, service details, deficiency history, and record rich media to document what they’ve done.

The ServiceTrade tablet application has everything in the smartphone app, plus features that take advantage of the larger screen size. Tablet users like the larger screen to fill in forms, and prepare the job summary work acknowledgement to review with the customer on-site for their signature.

The biggest difference is that ServiceTrade’s tablet app allows you to create and review a work acknowledgement and the smartphone app does not. Users who want to collect customer signatures through the application will need tablets. Smartphone users simply have customers sign printed paperwork, and photograph the paperwork to save the signature in the job history.

But seriously, what devices should I buy?

Yes, I skipped over the complex technical comparison between smartphones and tablets both within and across the iOS and Android ecosystems. There are companies that have built their expertise and spend their days helping service companies answer that question.

One of those companies is ServiceTrade’s integration partner Integrated Communications. Their experts will help you choose the right device for the environment your techs work in, and put it into their hands loaded with ServiceTrade, and ready to go.

The fourth and final installment of this smartphone buying guide for service contractors will delve into where and how to buy, the pros and cons of having techs BOYD (bring your own device).

Reread:
Part 1: Rugged vs. Consumer Devices
Part 2: iOS or Android?

Coming up:
Part 4: Where to Buy

As I ponder the differences between mobile device platforms, I wonder if this blog post is like dispensing parenting or political advice? Is this one area where we all have our preferences and nothing anybody else says will change our opinions about which is the best?

Sumsung or iPhone?
If that’s the case, carry on with your established allegiances.  But if you’re looking for some advice from a software development company that creates applications for iOS and Android mobile platforms, we can help.

The Mobile View from 10,000’

iOS is the mobile operating system created by Apple to run on Apple devices like iPhones, iPods and iPads. This model gives Apple all of the control and decision-making power about how the hardware and software work.

Android is the mobile operating system created by Google that runs on a variety of smartphones from providers like Samsung, LG, Motorola, Sony, Kyocera, and the list goes on. This model means that the operating system works slightly differently across different hardware vendor’s devices. For example, Samsung is a leading Android provider with an affordable suite of devices. However, Samsung applies more changes to the core Android operating system than other device makers. Software companies like ServiceTrade have to take these multiple configurations into account and spend more time developing and supporting Android-compatible applications to ensure that every user has a great experience.

Windows Phone is the mobile operating system created by Microsoft for Windows mobile devices like Lumina phones, Surface tablets, Dell Venues and HP Streams. There is a chicken and egg situation developing for Windows devices:  A relatively low adoption rate means that application development by vendors other than Microsoft is uncommon. Whether it’s because of the low adoption or the shortage of high-quality applications, Windows devices aren’t keeping pace with Android and iOS, and are not your best bet. Notice that they didn’t make the title.

Comparing Approaches

As a consumer, you probably see the wider variety of Android devices a positive: More options to pick the right phone and tablet for your job and life. But for software companies like ServiceTrade, this presents a significant amount of additional time in development, testing and support.

With iOS and Apple devices, software development companies can focus on compatibility with a limited number of configurations. Software companies choose to support a certain number of older operating system versions and devices, which allows them to spend more of their R&D time in development of new features instead of tweaking the same feature to work on multiple operating system/device combinations.  

With Android devices, software development companies develop features, then spend more time making sure that they work on the wide array of devices and operating system versions in the market. In most cases, if the R&D time is going into porting features, it’s not being spent creating new features. This can negatively impact the pace of innovation.

This is why ServiceTrade’s iOS users see new features more frequently than ServiceTrade’s Android users. We strive to keep the user experiences as similar as possible, but the reality is that our iOS development team is able achieve more in less time.

Pros and Cons

Like politics and parenting, if you Google anything related to why one option is the best, you’ll find an infinite number of opinions in either direction. From our perspective, these are the most important pros and cons for a service contractor:

iOS:
Pros:  Easy to use, lots of high-quality applications
Con:  Cost

Android:
Pros: Many device options to choose from, wider range of price points
Con:  Apps more likely to have usability issues on less common devices

Putting a Stake in the Ground

Today, ServiceTrade’s users are 40% Android and 60% iOS. The competitive pricing of Android options is very attractive for a business owner with a fleet of trucks and techs. The stability and user experience of Apple devices make them easy for almost any user to pick up and become productive with almost immediately.

At the end of the day, what matters most is that you have a mobile solution in the field that is giving techs the information they need, and collecting on-site information that enables amazing customer service. And you can get that with both Android and iOS smartphones.  

Three steps to choose between iOS and Android devices:

  1. Look into pricing.
  2. Compare application stores for the tools that you need.
  3. Work with a sales rep who will let you test both types of devices before making a purchasing decision.

If Apple iOS smartphones are in your budget, they’re a safe choice for a great user experience. If they’re not, choose between the widely available Samsung Android devices.

Reread:

Coming up next:

Icon made by Freepik from www.flaticon.com. Smartphones photo by Karlas Dambrans on Flickr. Both are distributed under the Creative Commons License.

So-called “rugged” smartphones are appealing to service contractors because field technicians work in environments that aren’t always electronics-friendly.  As we’ve found in our own testing and heard from our customers, that durability comes at a price in performance and usability.

Mobile device on job

The Deal with Rugged Devices

The housing is the main selling feature of a rugged device. The manufacturer’s research and development time and effort is spent making the device durable and shock-resistant in lieu of performance. Rugged devices often have displays with a low pixel count, poor camera quality, slower response times and bloated operating systems that take valuable storage space to run.

Here are two reviews of rugged devices that explain some performance shortcomings:

Kyocera Torque
CAT B15Q

The Deal with Consumer Devices

Mobile devices like those from Samsung and Apple are more commonly available and supported. The huge user bases for Android (Samsung devices) and iOS (Apple devices) mobile operating systems means that core issues are less frequent, or quickly fixed when they occur because of the large number of users impacted.

Because of the relative instability of the operating system on rugged devices, it’s more difficult for those devices to run many third-party applications without crashes, hangups or other frustrating issues for users. Because consumer devices have more users, application developers like ServiceTrade tend to develop more features and conduct more testing for these mainstream devices.

Compare these two commercial device reviews with the two rugged device reviews above:

Samsung Galaxy S6
Apple iPhone 6

Our Recommendation: Choose a Good Device and Buy a Good Case

Because of the speed and performance, ample storage space, impressive camera features and application availability, the more common “consumer devices” from Samsung and Apple are our recommendation for service contractors.

My personal recommendation for a durable, user-friendly case is the Spigen Neo Hybrid, a dual-material case with a pliable shock-absorbing surround and a hard polycarbonate bumper.

Coming up next:

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

If you have been looking for an excuse to arm your field techs with smartphones, I am going to give you several in this blog post.

The goal of any business expenditure is to make your business more competitive by lowering costs, improving customer service, or increasing revenue.  I believe an investment in smartphones for your technicians can do all three.

Lowering Cost
The biggest cost to your business by far is the payroll expense for your technicians.  The way to lower these costs with smartphones is to maximize billable hours relative to payroll hours.  Simply put – deliver more jobs with less time spent planning, reporting, and traveling.  The smartphone features (coupled with the ServiceTrade app) that help deliver more jobs are:

GPS Time Clock – when you know where your technicians are working and their status (en route, onsite, job prep), you don’t have to call them (and waste time) asking for updates. When they know you know, they will also act differently.  Everyone performs better with management oversight.

Job Planning and Dispatch – when job details arrive in the palm of their hand, techs don’t have to waste time talking to the office, taking notes, or traveling to a place to print paperwork.

Map Based Planning – when techs can plan their route using a map displaying all of their work, they will travel less and bill more.

Faster Paperwork – when the paperwork is printed with all the customer details pre-filled, and the job report is delivered instantly back to the office using the phone as a mobile scanner, techs don’t waste cycles (or lose paperwork) delivering it back to the office.

Less Paperwork – when job notes can be entered onto the ServiceTrade job record using the camera and the audio recorder on the phone, the techs spend less time writing out notes and talking with the office to explain their cryptic, bad handwriting from a job two weeks ago.  The report is fast, detailed, and “in living color” for both the office and the customer.

The smartphone lowers technician costs by improving accountability, streamlining reporting, and optimizing the job plan.

Improving Customer Service
Great customer service is all about better and faster information (assuming of course that work quality is a given).  Smartphones coupled with ServiceTrade get you and your customers better and faster information through many of the same capabilities that lower cost:

GPS Time Clock – when you and your customers know where the technicians are, it saves effort associated with calling and verifying.  Good status information makes everyone more comfortable with the plan.

Better Job Reports – online job records with job photos and audio memos from the smartphone give the impression of thoroughness, and it establishes trust.

Job Planning and Dispatch – when technicians have location service history in the palm of their hand along with job details in the form of customer preferences and logistics, problems are diagnosed faster with fewer foul ups.

Map Based Planning – when you know where every tech is located and their job status at a single glance (based upon the GPS job clock), you can make dispatch decisions while the customer is still on the phone instead of calling them back after you play tech update bingo by calling and interrupting every job.

The smartphone improves customer service capability by giving everyone – the customer, the dispatcher, the tech – faster and better information about the job from start to finish.

Increasing Revenue
Higher revenue comes from selling more jobs and delivering more jobs.  We already reviewed how to deliver more jobs through tech productivity, so let’s talk about selling more jobs.  If we again assume quality of work product is a given, then the selling edge goes to the company that builds more trust with the customer.  Here’s how you build trust with the smartphone:

GPS Job Clock – sounds like a broken record, but showing the customer via GPS records when technicians arrive and depart builds trust in your billing.

Better Job Reports – the best sales lead in the world sounds like “I have some photos of broken equipment that were taken yesterday at your site.  Take a look at them online, and let me know if the quote I provided to fix it is acceptable.”  Quotes with photos (or video) get approved twice as often as those without.

Technician Professionalism – when customers see the technician as informed and armed with technology to provide a better job outcome and report, they trust that he is part of an organization that invests in their people and their customers.

So now you have the excuse and justification you needed to do something you wanted to do anyway – arm your technicians with smartphones.  Just by themselves, smartphones would probably be a good investment.  But coupled with the ServiceTrade mobile and cloud app, they are definitely a homerun for your business.  Have a look at this quick video to see more, or jump right into a ServiceTrade free trial.  We will help you get the most from your smartphone investment.