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Software: Choose Wisely

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The software you choose will depend on the functions you want to accomplish, says Michele Thomas, who spent 18 months investigating companies and features before selecting Electronic Service Control (ESC) by dESCO.

“I went to a lot of trade shows, met with manufacturers, such as Lennox, Amana Goodman, and American Standard, and asked around which vendors other contractors in the southeast used,” recalls the owner, A-1 Certified Service in Knoxville, TN. “dESCO and ESC kept coming up in the conversations. I also looked at Smartware, which did most everything I was looking for, but it had a monthly service fee on top of the purchase price.”

What initially tipped the scales for her, Thomas says, is the excellent interface between ESC and QuickBooks, which her family-owned business was already using as its accounting platform. Now her favorite feature is the software’s qualify screen, because with a quick glance, she can see everything the customer has going on.
“The qualify screen tells me the customer name and location, the aging balances, billing information, service agreement, notes to location, dispatches, invoices, photographs or contracts, equipment, and multiple sort codes for marketing purposes,” she says.

The sort codes help her target customers with specific appeals. “For example, IAQ customers who have allergies might get a targeted message about installing an indoor air quality system,” she explains. “I can do customer marketing through email or snail mail. ESC has full service-agreement software, which I use to manage my preventive maintenance contracts. I interface that email piece, and every month I send out a letter letting my customers scheduled that month, saying, ‘Hey, it’s that time of year to get your maintenance. Please give us a call or email us back.’”

Since the purchase of the software, the sales process at her firm—which employs 11 and generates $1.2 to $1.4 million annually with a 70/30 split for sales and service— has been simplified. “We now automatically add sales appointments to our customer base,” she says. “Even if they don’t go with us, I still have valuable information, including addresses and phone numbers.”

“My comfort specialist goes out, does quotes, takes pictures of all existing equipment, and adds quote information,” she continues. “If the customer calls back with an converting the quote to a purchase order, which I email to my vendor. From the quote, I also create a dispatch, which is a work order for my team. I move that to the electronic dispatch board. Now I’ve taken the process from a potential lead all the way through to installation. Where it used to take a few days to complete an order, now it’s a matter of minutes.”

Dispatch Optimizes Technicians’ Time
Until he switched to Explorer Shafers almost two decades ago, Bryan Hoff was using a customized data program for HVAC companies that he now describes as a “mess.” “Explorer Shafers, an all-encompassing software that is tailored to the HVAC industry, does everything from maintenance agreements to job costing to payroll,” explains the service manager of Hoff Heating and Air Conditioning in O’Fallon, MO. “You can get different modules, but we have the whole package.”

Hoff is particularly fond of the dispatch board feature and its ability to be customized to his specific needs. “We have 10 fulltime service techs and cover a range of close to 200 miles in the service area, from rural to city. When a call comes in, it’s important for me to be able to identify when we’re going to be in that area and optimize our technicians’ time to get the most calls in per day. Before we had to write down the call and guess at a time slot. Now, when a call comes in, I type in a Zip Code. As I talk to them, I pull up the dispatch board at the same time, quickly scanning when we’re going to be in that area.”

The company, which employs 52, operates 10 service trucks, and averages just under $10 million annually, just added the software’s mobile feature last year. “That is where the technicians get laptops or tablets so they can create invoices in the field,” Hoff explains. “They get the information, bill it, and upload to our database. Then, we in the back office review the invoice. If everything looks good, we click accept, and it rolls it right into our accounting.”

Although they have gotten used to it, his technicians weren’t particularly gung-ho when encountering software features and processes for the first time. “This is probably typical of most companies,” Hoff says. “The first time I brought it up, a few old-school guys threatened to quit before they would use the computer saying, ‘We didn’t train to be a computer guy.’ Now, they’re all excited about it because it saves paperwork for them. As everybody knows, paperwork is the albatross around a technician’s head. They all hate paperwork, and this streamlines it.”

What About Drawbacks?
Not all HVAC professionals are 100 percent satisfied with their current software’s capabilities. Although Michael Linton, principal, Accurate Mechanical, Inc. in Chillicothe, OH, can quickly recite what he likes about SAWIN Pro from Service Automation, he also pinpoints a drawback.

“I like the fact that the front office is integrated with the back office so accounting is integrated with front office components, the billing, and dispatch,” he says. “When we perform a service for a customer, the billing is generated directly from the system. That billing feeds into our accounting software so there is no duplicate entry or uploading of information.”

However, because he finds getting data out of the system cumbersome, he is currently exploring alternative software programs. “The way the system is programmed it is very hard for us to pull reports to get current data. I feel like I’m back in the days where you have to get a program to pull data. I’m a business consultant by training and worked for a consulting firm where we did a lot of system integrations, and my experience tells me you ought to be able to query the system and say, ‘I want to know sales in this area for the last three months.’ The way the files are written and the way the fields are matched, it’s not intuitive.”

Accurate Mechanical, which has 68 employees, averages about $10 million annually with a 70/30 split between new installation and service and a 55/45 split between commercial and residential. The company uses nine of SAWIN’s modules, including service dispatch, general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, sales and marketing, job costing, counter sales, payroll, and inventory.

Like many other HVAC companies, Accurate Mechanical now equips technicians with notebook computers.
“Both residential and commercial service technicians are integrated so when they are in the field two things happen: They have full access to customer and equipment information. When the job is dispatched to them, they get a full screen shot of what they are to do, what the customer’s comments have been, and the history of service for the account. Once the service work is completed, they can bill and actually accept payment in the field and post that payment to the service invoice.”

Margo Vanover Porter
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Posted In: ACCA Now, Technology

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