ACHRNEWS

Mesa Energy Benefits From Going Wireless, Internet Savvy

January 4, 2002
IRVINE, CA — In the competitive field service industry, there is constant pressure to provide improved service to customers and, at the same time, to capture new business. Because the field technicians deal directly with the customers, they are usually responsible for these activities.

In the past, Mesa Energy Systems, located here, had automated processes such as accounting, billing, work scheduling, and dispatch operations to provide greater efficiency in the office. Yet, the company still needed to improve the performance of its field technicians to increase its competitive edge. Mesa wanted to find solutions for some common problems that plague most field service companies:

  • Radio and phone communications were unreliable and inefficient — each required the technician to stop working to respond to a call.
  • Inconsistent quality of customer service — technicians had varying levels of skill, which affected their quality of work and ability to satisfy customers.
  • Office processes supporting the field technician were still manual, relying on slow, inefficient, and costly exchange of paper between field and office.
  • Delays in receiving and reconciling completed work order information slowed cash flow, and hindered the company’s ability to get more revenue from existing customers, gain new business, and enter new markets.
“We were constantly struggling to get information to and from technicians,” explained Chuck Feyrer, operations manager at Mesa. “The business generated a tremendous amount of paper in the field — service forms, proposal work sheets, parts ordering, and time sheets. All of this hand-written paperwork came back to the main office, was processed manually, reconciled, and later filed. This often took weeks.”

Bob Lake, chief operating officer at Mesa, summarized the problem: “We had multiple back-office systems that created reports, but did not integrate with field operations. It seemed we were spending hundreds of thousands of dollars not to communicate.

HELP!

According to Lake, Mesa needed a solution that:
  • Reduced delays in responding to customers — To answer a question about a pending service request, the dispatcher contacted the technician via radio or phone. If the technician was busy or unavailable, response time could take hours.
  • Created a corporate knowledge base — The skill level of the technicians, and the quality of work they performed, was uneven. A knowledge base of information, fueled by contributions from the most experienced technicians, would raise the level of service by the less qualified technicians.
  • Eliminated paperwork — The branch offices generated customer work orders and signatures that had to be matched with the work orders before they could be closed and invoices sent. This delay prevented them from entering new markets where same-day work orders and invoicing were required.
  • Automated time sheet processing — At the end of each week the technician completed a paper time sheet, and every Monday he traveled to the branch office to deliver it. An entire day was required each week for the dispatcher to match work orders, time sheets, and other reports.
  • Streamlined the process of preparing job proposals — The cumbersome, manual process did not encourage technicians to generate new business. Business was often lost because the technician did not remember to write up additional service requests. If these challenges could be resolved, the company could meet all its goals of improving customer satisfaction, gaining more business from existing clients, and entering new and profitable markets as well.

    THE SOLUTION

    Mesa turned to technology from FieldCentrix, also based in Irvine. The company introduced its FieldCentrix Enterprise, a suite of Internet and wireless communications-based software. Mesa immediately signed on to take advantage of the new mobile solution for its field service operations.

    FieldCentrix integrated three innovative technologies — handheld computers, wireless data communications, and the Internet. The solution provides constant, real-time communication among the Mesa field technicians, office personnel, and customers. The system is designed to allow a fast, accurate exchange of information, and eliminates the delays and errors of radio and phone communication.

    Three components of the Enterprise suite of application software were installed at Mesa: FX Mobile® for the technician; FX Service Center® for branch and central office operations; and FX Foundation® for the underlying database, security, and infrastructure.

    Each field technician begins the day by powering up a handheld computer running a Microsoft® Windows® CE operating system, wireless data communications, and the FX Mobile software. FX Mobile displays any messages that have been sent to the technician.

    The day’s work schedule is provided, including electronic work orders and equipment inventory by job site. The handheld computer also contains street map directions to all job sites.

    When the work is complete, the field technician captures the customer’s acceptance signature electronically. The work order is closed and forwarded immediately to the branch office for invoicing. Before closing out the work order, the FieldCentrix system automatically prompts the field technician to enter additional service opportunities for the job site. These are immediately transmitted to the inside sales manager who generates proposals for new work, usually responding to a customer that same day.

    Information on the job site, equipment, job history, and preventive maintenance schedules are all available to the technician at the press of a few keys. This eliminates telephone calls to the dispatcher asking for someone to look in the file cabinet for the information, and then read it to the technician over the phone.

    Every part of the process is time-stamped, and the technician’s time sheet is electronically updated. The technician is quickly on the way to the next call.

    Back at the office, FX Service Center software provides dispatchers and management with complete knowledge of service actions and their status. Electronic work orders provide the basis to invoice customers the same day service is performed, without the manual delays of matching paper. Electronic time sheets are automatically matched with work orders, and the need for paper is eliminated. And, because every part of the work process is continually updated, a dispatcher can immediately answer customer inquiries with up-to-the-minute status of a job without having the technician stop work.

    What’s the reaction of Mesa’s field force to the new system? “Our technicians love the system. The software is very easy to learn and to use. The Windows environment is a piece of cake,” said Lake.

    THE BOTTOM LINE

    According to Lake, response to customer inquiries has improved dramatically since implementing the change. Customers used to wait anywhere from 10 to 60 minutes to obtain the status of a service call. Today, a dispatcher can check job status online and supply an answer to the customer in less than a minute. This has eliminated more than 30 calls per day between the dispatcher and field technicians.

    Before the change, work orders had to be manually closed before billing could occur. Half of all jobs that could have been invoiced were waiting to be processed, said Lake. Today, customers electronically sign work orders at the site and the information is sent automatically to accounting and billed the same or next day.

    “Service companies run and die on cash flow. You can’t bill for work until a job is closed. Before, jobs often took weeks to close and for us to be able to bill the customer. Now jobs are closed onsite and we can invoice within a day or two,” said Feyrer.

    Also, time sheet processing was a manual, paper-based process. Now that data is automatically accumulated and processed by the system, one day a week of a dispatcher’s time is saved, technicians make one less trip to the branch office each week, and reconciliation errors for time sheets have been eliminated.

    While every customer will have its own calculation for return on investment, the typical company will see a payback within nine months, according to FieldCentrix. Because the software automatically prompts the technician to record additional service opportunities, the number of new service quotes generated per month has tripled at Mesa, according to Feyrer. Turnaround time to deliver a bid has dropped from five days to one. As a result, the value of new business produced per field technician has increased from $100 a month per technician to $2,000 a month.

    “The recommended repairs feature has had a tremendous impact on our profitability. It paid for the system by itself,” said Lake.

    Mesa was also able to enter the national retail chain market and make $2 million in new revenue (on an $8.5 million base). In the eyes of Lake, this was a direct result of FieldCentrix’s ability to speed up the timeliness and the quality of information (completed work orders and invoices) demanded by retail customers.

    A key benefit of the new system is its ability to create a central knowledge base of information. Besides instant access to job site and equipment history, Mesa found they could use the database as a way to permanently capture service tips from the more seasoned professionals and make them available on the handheld computer to all technicians. These “quick tips” are used as a training tool for new and less experienced technicians and allow Mesa to provide a more consistent level of service to its customers.

    With the new system, Mesa is also able to distribute safety bulletins electronically to all technicians, keeping employees safer and minimizing possible liability in case of accidents.

    Publication date: 01/07/2002