by Rosanna Chipkin
Remember plum-bobs and tumble kits? If you do, you will definitely remember having to search for a landline to use on-site when you needed to call your dispatcher or running long extension cords just to drill a few holes. Whether it be laser levels, combustion analyzers, cordless drills or smartphones, each new technological development has not only made a technician’s life on-site easier, it has made their day entirely more efficient and this translates directly into increased work volume and revenue for a mechanical contractor. Overall, technology has elevated and redefined people’s expectations and this, coupled with a competitive economy, means that any mechanical contractor worth their salt better be willing to embrace and utilize this new tech if they want to remain a real contender in the commercial HVAC game.
Smartphones and Tablets
Ask any journeyman what piece of technology has changed their working lives the most and it is fairly likely that they will tell you it has been the advent of smartphones and tablets. This may seem like old news, but these tools are the driving force behind the changing HVAC landscape and making sure your technicians are outfitted with quality, reliable products is now essential to keeping operations moving at a competitive pace. With the swipe of a screen, air conditioning mechanics, plumbers and gas fitters alike have access to a wealth of knowledge and resources that often far exceeds that of any company’s staff experience combined. There are countless blogs discussing potential problems and workarounds for pieces of equipment, videos demonstrating troubleshooting procedures and installs and apps like Refrigerant Slider and HVAC Buddy that will help simplify diagnostics procedures on-site. This kind of crowdsourcing of information has proven so valuable that even NASA is experimenting with ways to do it. On top of this, these devices allow technicians to instantly relay information, pictures and videos back to their office counterparts which can greatly reduce turnaround times in getting quotations and recommendations out the door to customers. In an industry where urgency often applies, being able to provide such a rapid response can be the very thing that makes the sale, as it demonstrates that you are invested in your customer’s needs.
While smartphones and tablets are analogous in many ways, arming technicians with both is never a bad idea. Having a larger screen on which to view manuals and mechanical drawings can be the difference between a job getting done in one day or a return visit being required. Depending on what kind of database that is used in the office, you can also develop digital work orders for technicians to fill out that can instantly be accessed by internal staff when a customer calls with a question about their service. Depending on the size of the company, purchasing smartphones and tablets for all technicians could be a major expense. However, they are quickly becoming indispensable tools of the trade so, if you haven’t already, it is time to take the plunge.
According to a study by Software Advice, a customer who is left waiting for an hour or more is about 36 per cent less likely to rehire a contractor than one who shows up on time. Installing GPS in your fleet of trucks can not only help you provide customers with more accurate arrival times by way of their built-in traffic monitors, they can also help allocate labour more efficiently and assist with staff accountability. A dispatcher’s work can be unrelenting, but having GPS-enabled trucks can offer them a life preserver on those days when the phone never seems to stop ringing. With a quick glance, they can assess which technicians are closest to site, who is most likely to be available first and which have the right skills and equipment to get the job done properly the first time.
After a quick call to the technician to confirm they can attend, the work order details and customer contact information can be instantly sent to their trucks so that when they get in, all they have to do is turn on the engine and hit “route drive” to get underway. If technicians find they need a part that they are not already carrying with them, they can also quickly find nearby wholesaler locations that can be preprogrammed in. Finally, all throughout the day a GPS system will track technician’s driving speeds, fuel usage, locations and when they arrived at and left any given site. All of this allows an owner to assess strengths and weaknesses within their team and rectify any recurring problems that are adversely affecting customer service. Whether it be more efficient dispatching, reduced wait times for customers or savings in fuel costs, a GPS system is one technological tool that is proven to reduce overhead and keep businesses running efficiently.
One quick note however, it is vital that you involve your staff in decisions to implement GPS tracking in your fleet. Taking the time at the outset to highlight that it is as much a tool for them as it is for you in keeping them accountable will make the entire implementation process much smoother. Your technicians are the service you sell, so taking the time to hear their concerns before a decision is made will not only demonstrate you value their opinions, it will help ensure successful uptake of this new technology when it is implemented.
Rosanna Chipkin has spent the last 9 years working as a Sales Representative for Gordon Latham Limited; a commercial mechanical contractor based out of Vancouver, BC.