West / Regional Reports

CA Contractor Turns to Field Service Automation

May 1, 2001
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UPLAND, CA — Even though it is a typical small hvac service company with 15 technicians, Pacific Mechanical Service handles some of the largest companies in Southern California. With customers like Sears and Sprint, fast response time, reliability, and access to accurate information are critical to Pacific Mechanical’s success.

However, manual processes and paper-based systems were hindering customer service by making it difficult for the company to schedule and service its maintenance contracts in a timely and efficient manner.

“We have thousands of pieces of equipment around Southern California on contract,” said John Klopp, president of Pacific Mechanical Service. “With our old paper-based system, it was very easy for a few of those pieces to slip through the cracks. When you’re dealing with customers like UCLA, Warner Brothers, and CBS Studios, you can’t afford to forget to service their equipment.”

Tracking profitability and technician efficiency were also problems. According to Klopp, lack of quick access to information was the cause. For instance, he noted that a service call came in “and the dispatcher went through the paper records to find the information.

“It sounds easy, but we have more than 65 Sav-On drug stores under contract and each store has multiple equipment,” said Klopp. “So determining which piece of equipment to service at which store, who the contacts were, and how to gain access to that store was time consuming and costly.”

A former field technician with a knack for gadgets, Klopp decided to turn to the latest technology to help him with his business challenges.

“I knew from experience how much technology can streamline a business and make things more efficient, accurate, and cost-effective,” said Klopp. “With that in mind, we went shopping for field service automation solutions.”



Settles On One Company

After thoroughly evaluating more than two dozen companies and their offerings, Pacific Mech-anical quickly discovered that not all field service automation solutions are created equal.

After much exploration, Klopp zeroed in on FieldCentrix, based in Irvine, CA.

“We went to see the software in action at a local trade show,” explained Klopp. “We were quite impressed.”

Less than six weeks after signing the contract, Pacific Mechani-cal was online with the company. Now the contractor’s techs have real-time access to complete customer and equipment information using handheld computers and the company’s FX Mobile™ software. Technicians keep in touch with the office and other technicians through wireless data communications.

In the office, FX Service Center™ provides users with technician status, work order lists, jobsite information, scheduling, and equipment catalogs — all from a web browser. It works in conjunction with the company’s existing accounting system.

“The best feature is the huge database of customer information we were able to acquire,” said Klopp. “Technicians now instantly have historic data on any service call or specific piece of equipment at their fingertips on the handheld computer. It tells them what’s been done on a piece of equipment, how to get on the roof, who they need to see at the jobsite — anything a technician possibly needs to do the job the best way possible is now accessible.”

As a small business, though, Klopp was concerned about costs. He also didn’t want to have to hire a full-time person to maintain a system in-house. Once he learned of the company’s application service provider (ASP) offering, he signed a contract within days.

With this setup, FieldCentrix manages Pacific Mechanical’s entire dispatch system and delivers the application over the Internet. The company provides system administration and maintains all of the software, operating systems, computing hardware, networking, and communications. All Pacific Mechanical needed was an Internet-connected PC.

“The ASP program was the only way we felt that we could get into such a top-end system,” said Klopp. “If you are out shopping for a Mercedes, you don’t want to settle on the Chevrolet just because you can’t afford it.”

Initially, Pacific Mechanical was concerned about its company business being run over the Internet. However, after looking at all the security and backup technology in place, it quickly became a non-issue.

“At first we were worried about security, but then we realized we never think twice about doing banking and credit card transactions over the Internet,” said Klopp. “After seeing the secured servers and Internet firewalls at the application management facility, we determined it would be virtually impossible for competitors to gain access to our data.”



The Bottom Line

With the new setup, Pacific Mechanical has realized a host of benefits to its business, including reduced costs, improved efficiency and accuracy, and an edge over the competition.

“One of the best benefits has been the ability to determine if a service contract is profitable,” said Klopp. “For the first time, we know exactly if we are making money or if we need to increase or decrease the price of that contract — we could only guess before. At the same time, we can now tell which technicians are most efficient at their jobs. This allows us to better evaluate and promote the best ones.”

Also improved is the contractor’s billing cycle. In the past, billing was a paper-based process. Technicians came in once a week to turn in their paperwork. It was the following week before that information was given to accounting to bill the customer. Now, all work orders are sent electronically to the office as soon as the job is complete.

According to Klopp, Pacific Mechanical was also able to reduce its monthly cellular phone bills by almost 50% through FieldCentrix’s wireless communication capabilities. This was an added benefit Klopp had not factored in when justifying the system. “Before, we were using Nextel™ phones as a technician’s primary form of communication. This service was costing us up to $2,500 a month. Once we started using FieldCentrix, we discovered that by keeping technicians and dispatchers in touch through the Internet and e-mail, we reduced the amount of time we needed to spend on phone calls. Because of this, we elected to dispose of the Nextel phones, were able to go with a less expensive service, and are now saving $1,200 a month.”

Klopp believes Pacific Mech-anical has also been able to positively differentiate itself in an extremely competitive industry.

“In this market, where technicians are highly skilled and paid, it’s hard to prove to new customers that we are better than another company,” he said. “But now, what really sets us apart and makes us better than the competition is the technology that we’ve brought in-house.”

According to Klopp, employees and customers alike have reacted positively to the new technology.

“Once the technicians saw how much it streamlined their job, they were thrilled,” said Klopp. “But, more importantly, it has given us the ability to really dazzle our customers. All of a sudden, instead of getting handwritten service reports that might or might not be spelled correctly — and possibly a little greasy — they are now getting clean, accurate, computer-generated reports. This makes us look extremely professional.”

This report provides information for contractors living in the West/Pacific region of the United States. This includes California, Hawaii, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Arizona. If you have information from this region, please contact Mark Skaer at 248-244-6446; 248-362-0317 (fax); or skaerm@bnp.com(e-mail).

Publication date: 05/07/2001

Web date: 06/18/2001

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