At first glance, using a digital system to manage an HVAC operation seems like an obvious business decision in the 21st century. Yet some contractors continue to resist a full commitment to such a system, sticking with older systems and even pen and paper. Why? Because if done incorrectly, the shift to digital can quickly turn into a nightmare.
To help contractors avoid this situation, ACCA assembled a panel of six representatives from leading software firms at its service managers forum last fall. These industry leaders discussed ways to smooth the transition, from choosing the right system to getting everyone on board — technicians to CEOs.
GETTING ON BOARD
One reason for putting off the shift to a digital system is the time involved. Onboarding can take 10 to 15 weeks, said Alyssa Bennet of Housecall Pro — although her company aims for a shorter transition period. Regardless of how long the switchover lasts, panelists agreed contractors need additional support during this time.
Amanda Harp of XOi technologies said many of the company’s staff come from contracting, so they understand these challenges.
“We worked really hard to just keep the process itself within the software simple, but [we’ve also] got some guys that have been in the field before, and they know what techs look for,” Harp said.
Kirby Oscar of FieldEdge recommends that contractors take a good look at any system before they make a switch.
“Probably the biggest nightmare you can face is if you don’t ask what implementation is going to look like,” Oscar said. “I think the majority of people get really excited about bells and whistles and software, and they never ask really hard questions.” Harp agreed that contractors often oversize their software systems. Before making a choice, business leaders need to ask how many of the features they are paying for will actually be used.
While support remains crucial, Shaun Cartwright of 3C Connect said his company designed its system to provide many answers directly through the software, which it does via self-navigation tools.
Another consideration in selecting a software system is making sure it works well with other tools a contractor already uses. Brett Faulk of HP Inc. said the company works with other measurement tool vendors “to drive proactive integration with field service software companies.”
Any software’s success or failure depends on the ability of technicians to use it properly. Technicians will likely have apprehensions during the rollout of a new system, and Bennet said it’s important for techs who are learning a new software to see little wins quickly. This builds their confidence with the tool.
It’s also important to show how a new system will make life easier for them: for example, less time filling out paperwork and more time doing the work for which they, and the company, get paid. Harp said owners often see all the efficiencies when selecting the software — but it’s hard for technicians to see the big picture. She recommended that contractors allow the software firms to train the techs directly; however, whether the training comes from the providers or the service managers, it’s best to present it in increments.
By saving time for technicians, digital software also helps with the labor shortage, Harp said. XOi offers features such as using a photo to pull a model and serial number on a job site to create consistency across all jobs. Other features are specifically designed to help newer technicians; for example, XOi provides nearly 40,000 manuals and wiring diagrams via its software. 3C Connect offers videos for diagnostic training that technicians can access, shot at the company’s training facility. Individual companies can add their own training videos as well.
XOi also allows technicians to share videos of specific examples they encounter on the job, which builds consumer confidence in the work being done. Bennet said transparency is critical for competing in today’s market; it’s something consumers have come to expect. Housecall Pro, for example, sends a text with a photo of the technician to the customer once the tech is on the way — similar to ride-sharing apps. This is what consumers now expect, Bennet said.
“At the end of the day, everyone wins because you’re going to be able to charge more for your services on the job, and the homeowners are going to be more trusting of the contractors coming out to their work,” Bennet said.
Oscar said contractors need to take their time in selecting a software platform, and recommends asking the same questions of every platform provider to determine the best fit.
“Don’t buy the first thing you see,” he said. “There’s a lot that are very attractive in a demo.”
Similarly, Bennet advised contractors to talk to others in their field about their experience with different platforms. At the end of the day, opinions gleaned from firsthand knowledge are often the most insightful.
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