Since the start of 2019, Fred's Appliance Service has been a completely remote operation. Meaning that the entire staff work from their homes and we do not report to a central location, this includes the field staff and the support staff.
There are a number of reasons why Fred's Appliance decided to transition to a remote model, but due to recent events, we're not going to spend a bunch of time going over the pros and cons of working from home. Instead, we want to give some tips and high-level guidance for what you need to review at your company and some of the tools that Fred's Appliance has used to make this transition happen.
Part of our challenge of creating a guide like this is that every field service company operates a little differently and each has its own sets of unique challenges. At Fluid, by providing one on one consulting, we have been able to give companies more specific first steps on what needs to be addressed to get their team one step closer to working remotely.
And that's the big point to take away from this guide. You will not be able to implement everything we list in one day. Fred's Appliance has been making small changes and improvements over many years to get their team all working from home every day. But you have to start somewhere!
Our Starting Point
To give us a starting point for this guide, we are going to use a fake company called ABC Appliance Repair.
- ABC Appliance Repair runs in Springfield (the city in the Simpsons, not a real Springfield)
- ABC has been in business for over 30 years.
- ABC has 15 technicians running appliance repair calls
- An ABC technician on average runs 7 calls a day.
- ABC has one brick and mortar location in downtown Springfield
- All support staff report to the location to perform their jobs.
- All invoicing is done on paper
- All field staff report to their main location twice a day.
- Once in the morning to pick up the parts and paperwork related to their jobs that day.
- And once more at the end of their route to drop off parts and the completed paperwork for that day's route.
So with ABC, for any employee to perform their job, it's required to visit the brick and mortar location in downtown Springfield every day.
At Fred's Appliance, the technicians rarely visit the brick and mortar location for Fred's, which is actually Fred's Appliance Academy, so only for specific training sessions. Eliminating this daily commute is one big reason that a Fred's seasoned technician is expected to run 10 calls a day. That is 3 more a day than our ABC example company.
Take 3(extra service calls per day) x 15(how many technicians at ABC) = 45 jobs a day are being missed at ABC
Take 15(how many technicians at ABC) x 7(how many jobs on average an ABC technician runs per day) = 105 jobs a day at ABC.
Field Staff Checklist
The first priority is to get the field staff out of the building altogether before tackling your support staff. The technicians are the revenue generators of the field service business. The more time they can spend in the field fixing appliances, the more money the technician and company can make. Outside of training opportunities to improve their skills, a field technician needs to be... in the field.
At Fred's, the support staff only physically sees a field staff member a few times a year, typically company meetings and gatherings. The team is in constant contact with each other using technology but the need for face-to-face dialogue is not necessary to provide an experienced technician with their daily routing information and parts.
Challenges to Address with Field Staff
- Dispatch Software
- Special Order Appliance Parts
- Truck Stuck Parts
- Part and Core Returns
- Collecting Cash and Checks
- Truck Repairs and Inventory Accountability
- Technician Tools and Supplies
- Field Staff Communication
- Field Staff Motivation
The first thing to do at ABC is to dump the paper invoices and start using some type of dispatch software to track job information, handle job scheduling and routing, and dispatch job info electronically to technicians. There are plenty of field service dispatch software options out there to explore and test out to find one that is the right fit for your business.
ServiceDesk by Rossware is what Fred's is using for dispatch software. If you are not using any type of dispatch software, stop reading this article and start shopping for one. It's really hard to do much of anything from home if you don't start using software of some kind to run your business.
Special Order Appliance Parts
With no central location to report to at Fred's, there is also zero part inventory as it makes no sense to have a warehouse full of parts for our technician's to report to. Remember the focus is to have technicians repairing appliances as often as possible, chasing down parts themselves is not the best use of their skill set.
Sure, there are occasions where a parts store is around the corner and the technician can make a quick jump to grab an item, but in many cases, a distribution center is not around the corner.
At Fred's, all special order parts are shipped directly to the customer and Fred's has been shipping parts direct to customers for over 10 years. It's no longer a theory, but it's a proven concept that has made the service experience better all around for the Fred's team and their customers.
Other companies are using their own in-house courier system to deliver special order parts directly to the technician's home the night before their routes.
We're not going to dive into the specifics of how Fred's is handling shipping parts direct to customers, this topic will require it's own blog post.
Truck Stock Parts
Truck inventory for fast-moving parts in your territory is still important with a remote operation. So how do you replenish a truck stuck part? Keep it simple and ship it to the technician's home as soon as a part is used or if a parts shop will be nearby in their route, have your Parts Distributor(PD) place it in will call for a quick pickup, it all depends on how fast your normal PD can get you a replacement part.
At Fred's, 99.99% of the time, they are shipping a replacement truck stock part to the technician's house and it is normally arriving the next business day. There is always a chance of needing the part while waiting for it to arrive, but that is an extremely rare occurrence.
Part and Core Returns
What if a part needs to be returned?
At Fred's, each technician has their own printer to print out shipping labels. The support team creates the label for the technician and it's attached to their job record for the technician to print, and the support team will schedule a pickup of the box at the technician's house.
Collecting Cash and Checks
How does a manager/owner/billing reconcile cash and checks that the technician collects if they do not report to an dedicated office?
At Fred's, they have set up a company checking account for each technician to make deposits into. They are not able to make withdrawals.
Checks can be accepted by most banks using the bank's mobile app to scan each side of the check using your phone's camera and that accepts the deposit.
For cash, a Fred's tech can either keep the cash and write a check to Fred's Appliance for the amount and deposit the check using the bank mobile app like any customer OR they can go to a branch of their company bank and deposit the cash into their company checking account.
Your biller can then reconcile the technician's checking account when closing out the job.
Truck Repairs, Fuel, and Inventory Accountability
For a technician to run calls from their home, they will need to be able to take their truck home every day. This can cause all kinds of anxiety for owners, but thanks to GPS tracking technology, companies have full visibility on their service trucks 24/7.
Truck fuel is easy to manage using Fleet Gas cards. At Fred's, a card is assigned to each truck.
When it comes to tracking truck repairs and maintenance, Fred's is using a service called Fleetio. When it comes to repair work and maintenance, these tasks are added to a technician's routes as if it was a another repair job. Fred's conducts remote truck inspections using the Fleetio app which require various pictures of the current condition of the truck.
Technician Tools and Supplies
Since technicians will be working from home, they need all the right hand tools to properly fix appliances.
Most tools can be sourced online and shipped right to the technician's home. If you need help finding tools, you can explore various hand tools that relate to appliance repair at Fred's Appliance Academy Toolbox.
Each technician will need a company issued cell phone and tablet. Why company issued? Management needs to ensure that the techs have the best equipment available to fix appliances right the first time, you can only ensure that's happening by issuing equipment like this yourself. If the tablet freezes up on the road, it will directly affect the revenue for the company. Same goes with the cell phone, this stuff just needs to work when employees are working from home.
Field Staff Communication
Each technician should get a company issued email. Fred's and Fluid Services utilize G Suite by Google to manage company email.
Do not rely on your employees to spin up their own emails to use, not only is this a huge security risk, owners of a business will have limited visibility in how their staff is communicating. What happens if a technician that is using their own personal email decides to quit? What's to stop that technician from reaching out to your customers? Your staff?
Company email using a service like G Suite is pretty much mandatory in 2020 for any business in any industry especially if you want to start improving your company's efficiency.
At our fake ABC Repair Company, when someone wants to log into Electrolux tech support's website, the password is shared among the entire staff to make it easy for everyone to log in.
This is not a good idea anymore, whether it's a remote operation or not. If a password has to be shared with your staff, you should be using some type of Password Management software like LastPass to ensure you have control over your accounts.
At Fred's, when a new technician is on-boarded after being hired, they get a their own LastPass account and there is a shared folder containing various login's and passwords to a variety of different websites and services that they will use in their day-to-day job. No more phone calls or text messages asking for passwords to certain websites from your team.
Field Staff Motivation
When working from home, it's a good idea to define daily and monthly goals for each member of your field staff.
At Fred's, every morning, every technician receives an email with the company revenue numbers and each technician can see where everyone stands and what is needed to earn a monthly bonus.
So What Now?
Pick an topic from the checklist above and review your own workflows at your company. Explore a software tool that may help your business solve one of these challenges and start experimenting.
If you need more guidance when it comes to getting started with dispatching your technicians from home, you are always welcome to schedule time with us and we'll be happy to talk shop.
Support Staff Checklist
Getting the field staff working from home is simpler then the support staff as technicians job is mainly on the road in an isolated environment. To allow your support team to all work from home, while still maintaining full visibility over all of their responsibilities and tasks, will require a large amount of documentation of your current operation in conjunction with some software tools to help manage it all.
Challenges to Address with the Support Staff
- Company VoIP
- CRM Software - Customer Relations Management
- Standard Operating Procedures
- Team Portal
- Sending physical mail
- Home Office Equipment
- Support Staff Training and Communication
Using a VoIP phone system is the first step to managing your support team remotely. Most of your COD business is still coming from phone calls and managers need to ensure that phones are being answered and all calls are being recorded. With a remote operation, you just can't listen for the phone to ring in your office.
With employees working from home, all phone calls should be on recorded lines for auditing purposes. A manager can't listen to every phone call as it happens and you need a papertrail to investigate complaints and issues, a VoIP phone system will provide this visibility.
There are a bunch of VoIP options available to explore and a ton of variety when it comes to pricing, features, and support.
At Fred's, the team has assembled their own in-house VoIP using open source software.
CRM Software - Customer Relations Management
While Dispatch software can cover most of the job related communication, there are other types of communication that can take place between our staff and customers that does not always related to a specific job. Or tasks and communication that need to happen within your support staff that again, a dispatch software is not designed to track.
For this, it's best to use a CRM software of some kind. At Fred's, Freshdesk is their preference. Zendesk is another option. None of these software platforms are designed for a field service company when you sign up, it's on each company to customize the platform for their business and how it operates.
With FreshDesk, every email, text, web form, social media message, between the team and customers, is tagged and tracked. Fred's management has full visibility on what each team member is working on and how much work each person is doing using FreshDesk analytics. The days of one person in the office doing most of the work are long gone at Fred's Appliance. All the work is evenly distributed among the staff by FreshDesk.
The next step for Fred's was to document every task that each support person is responsible for on a given day of the week or month. When the right conditions are present, usually based on a time of day, a notification comes through to the specific team member for them to address the task. Obviously, the team member could ignore the task, but FreshDesk requires that the employee marks the task completed or not. And if it's completed and a manager discovers that an employee disregarded the task, it's an open and shut case for management thanks to the paper trail in FreshDesk.
Reminders like this are not created by FreshDesk, Fluid Services provides a reminder creation service like this which we take out the coding challenges of setting something like this up. We help setup a "route" for each one of their support staff that pushes out tasks depending on parameters set by Fred's management.
Standard Operating Procedures
To ensure your support team follows the same procedures, management needs to write it down and spell it out, whether it's by text, screenshots, gifs, a video, or all of the above.
For example, what are the steps when your company receives a dispatched job from a warranty company? Do you require certain pieces of information before you are willing to schedule the call? Do you require your support team to follow up by phone or email? Or Both? That's up to you! Just start writing it down so a new employee has something to reference.
At Fred's, they are using G Suite to make this happen, specifically Google Docs. Each support team member has the ability to view the document and can sort by a specific topic and any change management makes to the document will happen in real time.
The tools to make a company handbook are included in a G Suite subscription, it's up to management to take the time to spell out each procedure, step-by-step.
At Fred's, part of the challenge of introducing all of these various apps and written procedures, the team discovered that it needed to create a central location to make it easy for the remote staff to go to one dedicated place to find everything related to their job.
Sadly, Fred's couldn't find any software that would be dynamic enough to allow for the types of customization that the Fred's team required.
So Fluid Services stepped in and we built a team portal for Fred's Appliance from scratch. A service which we are willing to explore with any field service company.
An example of using the Fred's Team portal, you are a CSR who has a customer with a broken cooktop and they would want an estimate on replacing the cooktop. This would require a team member who handles appliance parts to get involved.
The CSR goes to the team portal and selects Parts Department, enters the ticket/job number from their Dispatch software and clicks on Pre-Id, then hits Submit.
From there, a ticket in FreshDesk is created and assigned to the Part's Department Group which is setup to distribute evenly any related parts department communication between the two team members who handle part issues. Once it's assigned to a specific team member in the Parts Department, they will update the job history in their Dispatch Software and assign the FreskDesk ticket back to the same CSR or submit it through the Team Portal to be placed in the general queue for any CSR to address reaching back out to the customer to provide the estimate.
This allows full visibility for management to see that a Pre-Id request was made to a specific employee and that the employee completed the Pre-id request. Every part of this process is time stamped and documented in FreshDesk in case management needs to audit.
Say the same customer called in again stating no estimate was provided, management can determine what happened and where the communication breakdown occurred. Regardless of where the support person is working from. The Fred's support team is mostly based in Ohio except for their parts department, where one employee lives in Florida, and another one lives in Michigan.
Sending Physical Mail
At Fred's, they use a mailing service for sending out physical mail to various vendors and customers. If an invoice needs to be mailed, they can log into a portal, provide the pdf copy of the invoice and the address to send it to.
The mail service then takes care of the rest. The reasoning behind using a dedicated mailing service is again giving management the visibility and accountability that a task has been done. Management can review the service online and see what mail has been sent and when.
Home Office Equipment
Each support person will need to be provided a desk, chair, computer, and any phone equipment like a head set. Just like with the technicians, this stuff should be company issued. It's the only way to ensure that your team is working with the best equipment to provide the best service.
Otherwise, expect troubleshooting issues to be a challenge if one of your team members is using a computer build you are not familiar with or using an old, less secure Windows operating system.
High speed internet is a must as well. While a remote operation allows the flexibility of working from anywhere, high speed internet is the only thing that might restrict a team member's home office location.
Support Staff Training and Communication
Training new support staff is similar to how a technician is trained. We pair the new team member up with an experienced team member and they shadow for a few days and start doing some of the basic front line support tasks. Once management is comfortable with the new teams member's performance, they are then sent home to work on their own.
This is all a work-in-progress though as the Fred's team wants to get the training done remotely from the start but they have some challenges to still over come.
Until then, ideally new hires need to live in the general area of a current Fred's team member so they can drive to their house everyday for training, it also requires that the trainer has enough room for a 2nd work station in their home to allow the trainee to start handling tasks on their own as if they were at home on their own.
When it comes to communication, the support team will either call or chat with each other, if it's related to a specific procedure or job, the team will use the Team Portal to communicate. Chat is handled using G Suite and Google Chat.
The support team also has a weekly conference call where the entire team gets on a call together to discuss any major talking points or news from the week. These meetings, since the team rarely talks in a group format like this during the week, have been very productive for the Fred's team. They also host one technician every other week on these conference calls to give each technician a chance to speak to the entire support team and work out any issues or make a suggestion to improve our repair process.
The flexibility cannot be understated. Many of the support team has kids and it's real easy to work around a hectic school schedule.
So What Now?
Pick an topic from the checklist above and review your own workflows at your company. Explore a software tool that may help your business solve one of these challenges and start experimenting.
If you need more guidance when it comes to getting your support team to work from home everyday, we're here to help and talk shop and get you going on the first steps! Schedule a time to talk with us today!