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February, 2017 - Smart Service

Join us at NAFED 2017!

On February 27th, 2017 by

Want to kickstart your business? Swing by booth 211 at the National Association for Fire Equipment Distributors Conference March 2-3 at the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino in Las Vegas to take a look at the fire protection software titan Smart Service. Fire protection and fire equipment distribution companies everywhere use Smart Service to handle their scheduling, dispatching, inspection reporting, billing, and equipment tracking needs.

Don’t want to travel west? Smart Service will also have a booth (#24) at the Atlantic City NAFED Conference on April 6-7. If an east coast rendezvous works better for you, plan to meet up with us then!

Can’t wait for NAFED? Unable to attend either show? Request a demo of Smart Service today to schedule a free, personalized tour of the award-winning fire protection software.


8 Tips To Be An Effective HVAC Office Administrator

On February 23rd, 2017 by

As an HVAC office administrator, you know your role is integral to the success of your company’s operations. Oftentimes it falls on you to put out fire after fire and to keep the office running smoothly. The issues you run into always seem to be unexpected and always seem to happen right when you were in the middle of doing something else. Well, you’re in luck. We’ve compiled a list of eight strategies that we think can help make your work life a little bit easier.

1. Prioritize Your Calls

Is this call best taken now or later? You can’t realistically drop everything on the agenda every time someone needs to have a long conversation with you. If a call will take 45 minutes in the middle of other time sensitive tasks, ask to schedule a later time to talk. Calls from vendors or companies trying to sell something to your company are important, but not always as time sensitive as customer calls. Tell them when you can make yourself available, then make the meeting official with a calendar invite.

2. Schedule Time To Purge Your Email

A business that keeps up steady email communications with multiple clients cannot realistically expect to delete messages as they go. If you have that mindset, your inbox inevitably becomes an unorganized mess over time. Taking an hour a week to go through and purge your email will keep your mind clear, and could help you out if you stumble upon an old email you haven’t yet followed up on.

3. Don’t Assume One Time Is Enough

If you’ve been an office administrator for any length of time, you’ll likely understand this one. If you’ve just gotten off the phone and have a list of important notes to pass along to the higher ups in the company, sometimes you might be tempted to drop a note off on your boss’ desk, taking an “out of sight, out of mind” approach. Unfortunately, it is far too easy for these notes to get buried and lost. Even if the note is read, there is little guarantee that it will be remembered and followed through on. In both the teaching and marketing world, there is a rule that information needs to be transmitted three times before it really sinks in. Get in the habit of sending recap emails and setting calendar reminders for yourself to follow up on the message in a few days. Go above and beyond, and you might discover that your coworkers start to appreciate your organization and helpfulness.

4. Don’t Panic, Putting Out Fires is Part of the Job

There is no doubt that as office administrator, a big part of your job will be to put out unexpected fires as they pop up. Learning to calmly handle unexpected emergencies will only make you more capable of handling crises in the future. Knowing who you can go to when you need a quick helping hand and figuring out how to most effectively grab your boss’ attention when something needs addressed immediately can help you keep a level head and navigate issues effectively. Keep a list of important phone numbers handy for when you need them. The more scenarios and problems you take on and address, the easier your job gets down the road.

5. Pay Attention To the Office Environment

You have a significant impact on your work environment. If your intuition tells you that office morale has sunk, a simple gesture can make a big difference. Plan to have bagels and coffee ready for the office first thing the next morning. Prep the conference room a half hour before an important meeting and have a pot of coffee ready to go a few minutes before the meeting starts. Like it or not, a good office admin occasionally has to play psychologist. Sometimes small gestures can make a big difference in your office culture.

6. Take the Initiative, When Appropriate

Have you noticed a procedure that isn’t as efficient as it could be? Every time an issue arises, do you get roped into fixing it? Why not take charge and solve the root of the problem? Come to your boss with a few actionable items that can help mend broken or inefficient procedures. You’ll probably be met with gratitude.

7. Make Your Phone Calls Between 8:00 AM and 11:00 AM

Studies show that this time window doubles as the best one in which to reach people at their desk or office. Getting calls out of the way helps begin the day productively. You will love the feeling you get when you get caught up on your calls before lunch starts!

8. Keep Hard Copies of Important Documents

In today’s fast-paced work landscape, it is far more common to store vital documentation on a hard drive or in a field service management software than it is to keep it in a filing cabinet. However, we still recommend keeping hard copies of important documents with a few well-labeled file folders. Make a quick copy or jot down a footnote with ease. Technical issues come up far too often, and you’ll be glad you have easy access to that backup paper form if the shared network goes down.

Recognize that small changes in strategy and outlook can have a significant impact on a work environment. When you pay attention to the way you spend your time and take steps to be more effective in the workplace, you may find that many of the difficulties associated with your job as office administrator can be streamlined or solved.


Diagnostic Checklist for Your Plumbing Company

On February 20th, 2017 by

As the seasons change, now serves as a great time to start auditing your plumbing company to ensure it continues to run as efficiently as possible this year. From reevaluating your pricing to implementing plumbing software and from auditing the advertising budgets to refreshing employee skills, a variety of actions can ensure your plumbing company performs at its best this year.

Money Pits and Service Pricing

Job estimation poses one of the greatest challenges to running a service business. For newer plumbing technicians and business owners, this process constitutes an essential component of maintaining profitability and staying in business. Determining the cost of each job depends on a number of factors, including overhead, labor costs, material costs, and profit. An estimate must take into account all four of these factors to keep a business afloat.

Simply calling other businesses and asking what they charge for certain jobs (or for their hourly rate) does not represent a successful approach to business. Consider the following aspects when determining job cost:

Calculating Overhead

One of the most misunderstood concepts in the industry is calculating overhead. This applies in particular to the smaller companies just starting out. Even if you own your work vehicle outright, eschew advertising, use a spare bedroom as an office, and never buy new tools you will still have overhead. You may avoid paying for these things with money, but you will end up paying for them in other ways. That requisitioned bedroom could otherwise make a playroom for your kids, the van will still need regular oil changes (even if you do them yourself), and tools will depreciate, necessitating eventual replacement.

In an established company, overhead is a little easier to understand. You know the cost of your rent, utilities, fleet costs, and various office expenses. However, reviewing your monthly revenue and comparing the figure against your cash on hand can reveal discrepancies. Are you tracking that new order of business cards? Did you neglect to factor in repairing the coffee machine at the shop? These little things can add up over time, making accounting at the end of the year very difficult.

It’s a great idea to periodically audit your overhead to see if you are paying for things that are unnecessary. Consider attempting to negotiate prices for certain items. Investigate the idea of switching to other vendors. You can also evaluate rental costs versus purchased equipment costs and other areas of your business to see where you can reduce costs. All of this requires an efficient use of accounting software, such as QuickBooks.

Additionally, if you’re the business owner or operator, brainstorm with your employees for ideas that could cut down on costs. Your technicians are valuable resources, and not just for their ability to replace cracked pipes or run new installations. If you ask them, they can be your eyes and ears.

Arriving at an accurate overhead cost is essential to the estimation process. Without it, even with perfectly accurate labor and parts cost estimates, the overall bid for the job can lose you money.

Labor Costs

Labor costs will vary from company to company depending on several factors. City and state taxes fluctuate based on the location of your business. Do a little research into payroll taxes to avoid overpaying these expenses. There is no reason for a business owner to overpay on taxes with the proper payroll protocols in place. Why give the government a short-term loan if you do not have to? If you suspect inaccuracies in your payroll taxes, consider paying someone with more expertise in that area to do an audit for you.

Another layer of complexity in calculating labor costs is the differences in payroll protocols between union, nonunion, and contracted laborers. If you do operate in a union environment, you must consider additional overhead costs. These can include time spent bargaining over contracts and ensuring dues get accurately checked off (deducting union dues from employee wages).

These complexities aside, there exists another source of easily miscalculated labor costs. One must factor in non-billable paid hours that workers accrue, even in the most efficient work environments. For many bookkeepers in plumbing, factoring in paid holidays, vacation days, and company meetings may be the extent of the non-billable labor costs accrued per worker. However, calculating additional time for inefficiencies can ensure that you guard against profit loss on jobs where the unexpected can happen.

Even with the best-trained employees, you have to assume some risk of unexpected issues in certain projects. Factoring in some additional expenses per job can guard against things such as having to go back to the office for equipment or parts that were not restocked in the truck.

One final tip regarding labor costs; if you’re experiencing high employee turnover, it is extremely beneficial to evaluate your hiring process, levels of compensation, and programs to improve employee morale and retention. Due to the sizable costs in recruitment, selection, and training new employees, it is in your best interest to keep your good employees happy and away from job boards. New workers come with liabilities like poor workmanship and longer production times. They also tend to require greater oversight.

Plumbing Software

Is your company using plumbing software to streamline work orders, scheduling, and dispatching? If not, you are missing out on an opportunity to not only save your company money, but time as well. Plumbing business software gives you the tools you need to streamline processes in your workplace. Although the price tag associated with integrating new software into your company can intimidate, the money it will save you throughout the year makes it worthwhile. There are a variety of positive implications for using plumber software for your business:

Scheduling: Create efficient schedules for your contract plumbers that prevent extra driving, which effectively eats away time and money. When an office employee receives a call or request for an appointment, plumbing dispatch software will find the time slot that fits best with the client and contractor’s schedules. This prevents contractors from driving back and forth across town for appointments, cuts down on mileage, and saves gas. The results will leave your contractors with more room in their schedules for additional work.

Communication: The nature of your company prevents too many meetings where everyone can get together, especially when it takes time away from driving and servicing clients. Plumbing company software programs integrate communication methods to ensure you can stay in touch with your employees at all times. Instead of having company meetings at the office in the morning, hold a virtual meeting using an online meeting service. Virtually hand out memos and bulletins through the dispatch software. Make sure every contractor has the information they need on them as they service clients.

Automation: One of the biggest benefits of integrating a plumbing software program into your business is the automation it bestows every aspect of the business. Through one program, you are able to access all of the information you need about your business. Whether it is historical client data, inventory of equipment or parts, financial information, or getting in touch with office employees/contractors, plumber software can streamline with automation. Without program automation, employees may waste valuable time making calls and waiting for pertinent information from office staff.

Company Website

Your company’s website can make or break your success, especially in today’s technology-laced environment. Your website and other online profiles help establish credibility with potential customers. An effective website for promoting leads should have:

Forms: Include a contact or quote request form on every (or almost every) page. Website visitors will have a better chance to convert themselves into leads if forms exist on the pages they visit. Make sure you have these on the various pages explaining the services you offer.

Phone Number: Make sure your phone number sits front and center so that website visitors can make a call without any extra clicking or searching.

Testimonials/Reviews: Testimonials and reviews become more and more important to the success of a business on the web. With more than 88% of users saying they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, word of mouth promotion is no longer enough.

Third-Party Reviews Sites: Maintaining a profile on third-party sites for visibility and reviews is important. Sites such as Google My Business, Yelp, and Angie’s List are all popular websites for people searching for local businesses. Even more so in the home improvement sector, with 57% of all Yelp searches occurring in the category of Home/Local Services.

Trust Seals: Trust seals on a web page improve conversions, especially for small local businesses. Studies estimate that trust seals can improve conversions by up to 8%. However, trust seals just for the sake of trust seals may not actually provide benefit. Trust seals that provide the consumer with a guarantee are more likely to improve conversions.

Analytics: Monitor your website traffic with Google Analytics, the most useful tool in determining flaws in your website. Many business owners use this tool to determine if consumers get stopped somewhere when moving through your site’s sales funnel. By checking for popular landing pages and other factors, you can help refine your web presence and advertising campaigns (discussed later).

Mobile Website

It’s no longer good enough to simple have a website; your website must also be accessible to and optimized for mobile devices. With more than 60% of all Google searches coming from mobile devices, it’s important that your website works properly across all internet-enabled devices.

Responsive web design ensures your website stays mobile-friendly, no matter how visitors navigate to it. By having one responsive design, you don’t need to worry about creating a mobile version for every device and screen size. Fast page speed represents another major factor in ensuring your website waits ready for mobile users. Avoiding flash, compressing images, minimizing CSS, and eliminating pop-ups ensure your site loads at a speed ideal for mobile users.

Advertising Audit

A huge problem for many businesses when considering traditional advertising methods is the difficulty of monitoring return on investment. You need a few indicators in place to determine which advertising campaigns actually work. Find out which campaigns create value and which waste money. Several methods and practices will help shore up your advertising and eliminate campaigns that simply don’t work:

Tracking coupon codes/special offers: Encouraging your customers to give feedback on how they heard of you becomes much easier when you give them a special discount code or phrase. This makes customers more likely to report the advertisement that made them aware of your company. Using this information in aggregate can help you see which ad campaigns work best. Cutting down on advertisements (door hangers, direct mail postcards, bulletin board postings) that do not show significant coupon code use can help you prioritize which campaigns are most profitable.

A/B Testing: If you do not see the results you desire in your marketing campaign, try changing one of the variables of a marketing piece to see if you can improve the results.

Monitoring website traffic: A major problem that many smaller companies have is a lack of understanding of the role a website. Websites constitute a crucial component of most television and radio campaigns, helping to create a positive return on investment. Google Analytics makes it possible to monitor traffic spikes to your website. With Analytics, you can also test the performance of traffic resulting from certain radio or television advertisements. Another great idea? Use the previously mentioned coupon codes as a form on your website. If users fill in a contact form on your website as a result of the radio advertisement, you can attribute it to the correct advertising source.

Sending the right message: Most important in all of your advertising efforts, however, is making sure your message is appropriate for your audience. For example, it may seem like a great idea to use a direct mail service to target new homeowners in your area of business. However, if these home owners occupy newly built homes, a message you send them about replacing their old hot water heater likely won’t gain traction. Similarly, if you’re hunting for more commercial contracts, like apartment buildings, it’s unwise to leave door hangers on every door, as tenants rarely have the final say in who provides plumbing services. Make sure your designs are clean, free of clutter/clip art, professionally designed, and show an obvious value to your target audience. Without all of these elements, your advertising campaigns will struggle to produce positive results.

Employees

Your employees are the bread and butter of your company; without them, the rest of these tips don’t matter. It is important to take the time to ensure your current employees are up to date with the best practices in the plumbing industry. It’s also important they are all proficient in identifying and fixing common problems such as:

  • Faucet Leaks
  • Water Heater Leaks
  • Slow Drainage
  • Damaged Plumbing Fixtures
  • Pipe Insulation

In addition to identifying these common problems, plumbers should be able to install the necessary parts to remedy these issues properly. An easy and modern way to ensure your contractors know exactly how to fix common plumbing issues could be creating short videos demonstrating how to install new fixtures and parts properly. These videos can then help anyone else in your company, becoming part of your training purposes and saving you time in the long run.

There is no better time than the present to conduct an audit of your plumbing company to ensure you are maximizing the time, money, and resources you have. Using our checklist can help you identify pain points in your business and discover how to effectively remedy them for long-term success.


Join us at the 2017 WWETT Show!

On February 16th, 2017 by

Looking for a great way to leapfrog the competition? Visit booth 5049 at the Water & Wastewater Equipment, Treatment & Transport (WWETT) Show February 22-25 in Indianapolis, Indiana to take a look at the industry-leading software solution Smart Service. Septic, plumbing, and companies with numerous other service specializations use Smart Service to put scheduling, dispatching, billing, inventory, and workforce tracking on autopilot.

Learn About Digital Forms

Join us for a special education session at WWETT 2017!

Presentation Title: Using Digital Forms in the Field to Improve Efficiency
Location: Indiana Convention Center, Room 133
Date: Thursday, February 23, 2017
Time: 8:00 AM – 9:00 AM

Whether you’re in wastewater treatment, septic service, or plumbing, problems with printed work orders have likely kept you up at night. How many times have important forms come back with ketchup stains, water damage, or illegible handwriting? How many times have they been lost altogether? Thanks to advancements in dispatching and scheduling technology, paper woes can finally become a thing of the past. Learn how the right field service software can put your phones and tablets to use, arming your field team with digital work orders and comprehensive forms libraries.

At this year’s WWETT Show, software experts Mike Brendus and Rick Driskill will demonstrate how to digitize existing forms, capture signatures, collect payments, and finalize paperwork in the field. The presentation time and location appear above. Update your calendar today to make sure you don’t miss out!

Can’t wait for the WWETT Show? Unable to attend? Request a demo of Smart Service today for a personal, one-on-one tour of the field service software powerhouse.


How To Beat the Chimney Sweep Busy Fall Season

On February 14th, 2017 by

If you work in the chimney sweep business, you’ve likely experienced the annual “fall rush,” that time of year right around the latter half of August and early September when everyone is getting ready to light up the fireplace for the first time in months. You can try as best you can to suggest your customers get their maintenance done in the slower summer months, but inevitably the orders pile up year after year right at the last minute. It’s not hard to see why; chimney cleaning is not a task that is at the forefront of people’s minds. But the result always manifests in a massive waiting list, one that can last for weeks! With constant appointment cancellations and rescheduling, getting through this busy season can create a huge headache.

Almost always, issues arise from inadequate communication between you and your employees out in the field taking appointments. Things like double bookings, long gaps on schedules between work orders, and poorly planned job routes can cause logistics nightmares that can frustrate clients and needlessly waste time.

The good news is that these problems are solvable. If your business uses paper work orders, or an outdated piece of software to handle your scheduling and job management, then chances are you are missing out on opportunities to streamline the efficiency of your day to day operations. Here are some tips to help you get through this year’s rush season.

Up Your Marketing Game

It is always disheartening to hear feedback from a frustrated customer who had a bad experience due to an accidental double booking or some other minor mistake made during the Fall rush. If half of your clients simply had the foresight to schedule their appointment one month prior during the slow summer season, a significant portion of your troubles would instantly disappear. Why not remind them in late July that your services are available by sending out a well-designed mailer, paying for some ad space in a regional advertisement, or emailing your previous customers and the people on your mailing list? There are also powerful marketing tools in popular social media platforms such as Facebook that could allow you to reach your target audience with ads.

Send Out a Holiday Card On The Fourth of July

Mailing your former customers a card wishing them a safe and happy Fourth of July holiday can be a great way to build a relationship between your customers and your brand. It doesn’t hurt that the holiday happens to fall just before the chimney sweep business’ busiest time of the year. With just a subtle suggestion, customers may consider getting their annual chimney cleaning done early. Even if they don’t, putting yourself in your customers’ recent memory when it comes time for them to seek your services works as a great way to get a small boost over the competition.

Streamline Your Work Order Process

If your business uses paper work orders or an outdated piece of software to handle your scheduling and job management, then chances are you are missing out on opportunities to streamline the efficiency of your day to day operations. This can hinder you greatly come busy season. Consider investing in a chimney sweep software that can improve your efficiency and cut out wasted time and effort spent on inefficient work order processes. If you already use QuickBooks, your existing customer information will be imported into the app, allowing you to begin scheduling, dispatching, routing, invoicing, and much more with efficiency and ease. In this industry, it is far too common for paper work orders to get lost or turn into illegible chicken scratch, leading to confusion that needlessly wastes time. Smart Service offers a complete service scheduling solution, giving you the ability to schedule jobs in a clean and easy to understand interface.


Improving Efficiency for Your Septic Tank Cleaning Company

On February 10th, 2017 by

More and more field service operations are looking for ways to eliminate wasted time and maximize the efficiency of their business. In a fast-paced industry that requires the immediate attention of clientele, this notion especially holds true for septic tank cleaning companies.

Like a clogged septic tank, wasted time, poorly planned routes, and double bookings have plagued the septic service industry for far too long. Below are some immediate things you can do to cut wasted time and effort this year in your daily septic tank company operations.

Maximize the Skills of Your Dispatch Team

Many key team members contribute to the health of a successful septic tank cleaning company. Your on-site technicians make up the core to your success. Setting them up to thrive with clear daily schedules, easy access to clear job information, and efficient routes can allow you to keep them focused on the jobs at hand. That is where your office management and dispatch team comes into play.

As an efficient middleman, office administrators and technician dispatchers can deal with the clients and technicians directly to put both in the best position to get the job completed. If your office administrators are rushed, or if they do not have the tools required to do their job efficiently, the odds of them carelessly booking an appointment will increase significantly.

In most septic tank companies, the people in your office comprise your front line of defense. If you are relying on them to successfully schedule jobs and communicate with clients and technicians using paper-based systems, chances are they run the risk of becoming overwhelmed very quickly. Equip them with effective tools, technology, procedures, and support that allow them to be successful. If you do not have a clear scheduling or dispatching procedure in place, talk to your team and work together to make one.

Detailed Record Keeping Can Improve Efficiency and Morale

Having employee records on hand is vitally important when it comes to scheduling jobs. A database of past jobs completed by each septic tank cleaning technician can help your dispatchers make informed decisions. This can put each technician in a position to do the job best suited for their skill set, as well as assign appointments that maximize client relationships.

A returning client may have had an excellent previous experience with a certain technician. With detailed records, your management team can reassign the same technician to the client to continue to build up that trust. Likewise, if a client had any complaints from a past service appointment, a dispatcher can avoid assigning the same technician to that client.

A connected management system can help dispatchers effectively and efficiently make these decisions. Creating the best scenario for your on-site field technicians will help improve company morale and client relationships.

Upgrade to Dispatching and Technician Scheduling Software

One way to improve efficiency in your septic tank cleaning company is to move to a septic tank service software to sync your on-site technicians with your base office. Communication is key to every business, but it is especially important in the constantly changing environment of septic tank cleaning companies. Moving to a software solution versus a paper-based system can streamline both the input and finding of information. Software can also cut down on the recurring expense of paper, as digital records do not require more space or filing systems to accommodate a growing customer list. Software just makes sense for a company in the 21st century.

Your clients also benefit when your company moves to a quicker and more efficient service scheduling solution. When emergencies arise, you’re better equipped to help out. For septic tank cleaning companies, nearly every job is an emergency in the eyes of the client. Nobody wants to have their pipes clogged and no one wants their home to smell like a sewer for days on end. With septic tank service scheduling software, dispatchers can easily book the earliest available open time slot to resolve the client’s emergency before that client calls the competition. Your client will also marvel at how quickly your septic cleaning technician arrived on the scene to eradicate the problem.

Make Work Order Information Available On the Job

In this day and age, everything is data driven and available at the click of a button. The use of analytics and mobile-accessible information has become increasingly popular, and in many ways septic tank cleaning companies can use the same tactics to increase efficiency in their own business.

If septic tank technicians get their information about their jobs in transit via phone calls to/from the office (or from handwritten work orders), they may miss critical information that could ensure the success of the work. Knowing what type of equipment the customer has, how often they have had their septic tanks serviced, and issues other technicians have had in the past can eliminate wasted time. Don’t let workers ask the customer these redundant questions. Don’t let them sputter trying to figure out the answers themselves. Give your technicians access to this type of customer information right on their mobile device—before they walk through the door!

On-the-job apps such as iFleet allow technicians to research a client’s past history on the spot. With the benefit of this information, they can make informed decisions faster and offer better solutions to their client.

Eliminate Long Travel Between Jobs

Septic tank cleaning companies can receive appointment requests at any time, making them susceptible to constantly changing schedules. This alone can be stressful to all parties involved. The last thing you want to do is make your technicians drive long distances from job to job.

Taking the time to plan routes with the distance between jobs in mind can save on drive time, fuel costs, and even vehicle upkeep over time. A decrease in drive time can also help boost the morale of your technicians while allowing for more jobs to be completed in less time.



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