We can’t do everything we want to — this is a truism of life. In business, it means all the little things we’d like to handle, but can’t because of the sheer volume of them. There is no getting around this.
Modern technology has brought with it both benefits and new challenges, but one of the ways it’s made it possible to do many of the little things is via automated processes.
No one reading this won’t know about some of the automation options in our industry, but how many are we really leveraging? For me, it’s more than I was doing a year ago, and less than I hope I’m doing a year from now.
Below I’ve listed some of the ways we’re helping to use automation to let technology work for us, and improve our business in the process. This list is far from exhaustive, but is indicative of the kinds of practices contractors will have to embrace fully if they don’t want to be left behind.
Not too long ago, we were touting this as cutting-edge tech that had never been heard of. Now, I have to believe this will soon be the norm everywhere for maintenance services.
The time that can be saved with remote monitoring is immense, compared to the manual process of a customer noticing a problem (likely long after it was a problem), calling a contractor, who comes out and inspects the equipment for possible malfunction.
Remote monitoring inverts this process, and ideally it’s the contractor who is contacting a homeowner or business about a potential issue with their system. This saves time, energy, and worry on the part of the customer, and can build trust over time. It signals to the customer that their contractor is looking out for them. So long as we aren’t flagging false positives or using maintenance issues as backdoors to sales calls, it speaks to the integrity of a company, which increases customer retention.
Various equipment models offer this, and the number that do is increasing. Don’t let the recent manufacturing slowdowns (especially with advanced equipment) lead you into complacency. This is here to stay, and will continue to iterate in the years to come.
Smart Tech as a Way of Life
There’s an app for everything, and the newest generation of homeowners doesn’t want manual solutions when automated, digital ones exist. Your sales and service reps should be prepared to sell and teach smart tech app use to customers.
The customer who can set an automated weekly or even monthly heating and cooling schedule, then forget about it, is a happier customer than one who is at their thermostat six times per day.
If we start to treat this as the norm, rather than the customer standing over the in-home thermostat to do the same, our employees will be better prepared as this transition continues.
Let’s mix it up a little bit, while still staying under the theme of “automation.” Do you have automated communications?
Some of you are nodding your heads. Good! If you’re asking yourself what that means, though, fear not — just ask your nearest marketing or communications professional.
Customer communications don’t stop either these days. Go on Twitter right now (or don’t, if you’re smart); there will be thousands of trends and conversations, even if it’s the middle of the night wherever you’re at. And has it been more than an hour since you checked your inbox? I feel confident in saying you have multiple emails waiting for you. Probably dozens for the more unfortunate among us.
There isn’t a person behind each of those. Or rather, there is, but they’re finding ways to automate the function so that they can reach many people with a fraction of the effort.
Social media scheduling? You’re giving your team a headache if you haven’t implemented this. Emails? There are several levels to this, and without going into all of them, one-to-many emails, automated emails for customers when they hit a certain threshold (maybe their maintenance agreement is about to expire), and others are all possible. Ignore these channels at your peril, because your competition will seem like they’re working at light speed compared to your manual efforts.
Automated Website Functionality
Speaking of which, employees have to sleep. I know, it’s a problem I haven’t been able to solve either. But you know what doesn’t sleep? Your website.
When a customer comes to your website, do you have more than just the boilerplate information about your company? What questions can they get answered without talking to a person? Can they schedule an appointment? How involved is it?
Automating these things lowers the barrier to entry and provides you with leads. Everything I mentioned there takes a lot of effort, mind you, and likely a dedicated effort from a marketing or communications professional. But it’s the expectation now, not the exception.
The Limits of Automating
So what can’t we automate? One-to-one connections. The trust that’s placed in a sales representative, or a relationship built over time with a service technician who treats a customer with professionalism and respect.
There’s no end to the ways in which technology will continue to shape our industry in the coming years. Keeping a healthy perspective on ways we can leverage that, while still staying grounded in our person-to-person customer experience, will yield the greatest results for companies hoping to thrive.