By Jennifer Persechino
Summary: Any water treatment dealer servicing a growing metropolis will need to face growing pains if it plans to stay in business. Such was the conundrum facing one particular business. Here’s a rundown of how it overcame the obstacle of maintaining solid customer service with the help of automated technology.
The population of Phoenix has been rising quickly. “Over the last 30 years, an average of 127 new residents moved to the Phoenix region every day,” according to the Morrison Institute for Public Policy.1 It’s now the sixth largest city in the United States with a population of more than 1.3 million, according to preliminary 2000 U.S. Census figures.
A swell of that magnitude affects everything from employment and business to traffic and pollution. For a local service company, it can dramatically increase revenue. It can also increase headaches. In one particular case, it did both.
Puretec Water Services, a reverse osmosis (RO) and water softener company serving the metro Phoenix area, was feeling the effects of the population boom. It was reaping the benefits of a larger customer pool, including more installations, service jobs and revenue. But, with more customers, came more logistics—increased scheduling, dispatching, installing, technicians, customer files, inventory and vehicles.
The one thing not growing was Puretec’s computer system. Installed in 1992, the DOS-based system was lacking in capabilities, including reporting and scheduling. “The system wasn’t obsolete, but we were lagging behind as technology moved forward,” says John Bannen, Puretec division manager. It didn’t have the capacity to keep up with the company’s quick expansion.
Grown from three service technicians and 9,000 customers to 33 technicians and more than 40,000 residential and commercial customers in less than 10 years, the company needed a system that could improve efficiency and help the field force get to more customers. “We were restricted,” states Bannen, “we had more customers than we could service. We were only reaching one-quarter of our regularly scheduled customers.”
Following the manual
The business was spending a lot of time doing work that could be automated and the company wasn’t very efficient with its manual routing and scheduling process. Organizing customer locations, directions, driver availability, time-windows and guessing at travel times for several routes were difficult and very time-consuming, with results that often weren’t as accurate as they could have been. New streets and developments popping up throughout the city made it even trickier.
To dramatically reduce time and aggravation spent on routing and scheduling, the company implemented a new comprehensive route management automation system. The system optimally routes and schedules the company’s technicians—based on location, expertise and availability—to eliminate the guesswork and inefficient routes associated with manual dispatching. It also takes into consideration variables such as customer time windows and preferences, posted speed limits and inventory availability. Instead of sorting through orders, customer files and paper maps, the company now lets the system automatically plan its routes. And changing schedules is just as easy. If a driver is out sick, rather than personnel trying to manually reconfigure all the routes, the system can revise the necessary routes within a few minutes.
More with less
Since using this route management system, Puretec has been able to tighten the field force schedules and complete more work in the same amount of time. The system increased the company’s productivity by 25 percent. “We were immediately able to add two service stops a day to our routes,” says Bannen. “With (this system), we can now contact and see as many people per day as possible.”
Along with the city’s burgeoning population came increased traffic and transportation delays. But the route efficiencies created cut the company’s fuel use and driving time to combat the rising costs related to traffic. By optimizing resources, the system minimizes travel time and miles between stops to reduce transportation costs by as much as 25 percent, while increasing revenue opportunities with available road time for more stops.
Setting the criteria
Puretec researched several packages before deciding that the InterGis system was exactly what the company needed. In addition to the routing capabilities, it needed help with customer service. Many of its customers need to be serviced every six months. The reoccurring service and installations are now better managed with automated scheduling.
The company profits from the system’s phone response function. Its customer service representatives used to take about 300 calls a day, many of which were estimated-time-of-arrival calls. The new system now automatically notifies customers in advance of appointment times or changes in schedules by phone, fax or email. Plus, customers are able to call into the system at any time to confirm appointments by telephone. “(This) allows us to be proactive as a service company,” says Bannen. The automation relieves customer service representatives of estimated-time-of-arrival responsibilities, allowing them to spend more time with customers on service calls. It also shortens the time customers need to remain on the phone for representatives.
Puretec’s customer service program has benefited from the technology in additional ways. All pertinent information—scheduling, work order, customer, inventory and accounting—is in one central system that’s easily accessible to representatives. Plus, automated, on-the-spot scheduling and customer notification have helped to simplify the representative’s tasks. The training program for a new customer service representative was cut from 20 days to three days due to the ease of the technology’s processes.
The system also tracks the company’s parts and inventory in real-time. “Our resources are now better equipped. Not only do the technicians have the necessary parts with them when headed to a job, but the customer service representatives are able to tell whether a part is in stock before scheduling a job, rather than assuming it’s in the warehouse and possibly needing to reschedule,” says Bannen. A better handle on inventory results in less callbacks and happier customers.
Bannen finds managing resources and operations is much easier with a computer automated route management system, with additional benefits for staff scheduling, customer cross-selling and inventory control. The company’s multiple service, work codes and multiple variables for scheduling are all incorporated into the system to easily track and analyze productivity and performance. The system’s flexible reporting capability formulates current and historical data to produce critical decision-support documents. And information is easily accessed to those who need it, including service and installation divisions, accounting departments and management. There are 15 users of the system with more to come on board as the company and the city continue to grow.
- The Morrison Institute for Public Policy, “Hits and Misses: Fast Growth in Metropolitan Phoenix,” September 2001: http://www.asu.edu/copp/morrison/growth.htm.
About the author
Jennifer Persechino is marketing director of InterGis, of Torrington, Conn., which develops advanced computer technology and systems for scheduling, mapping, routing, dispatching, customer service, field communications and general business support. The system described above is InterGis’ Visual Control Room (VCR). The author can be reached at (860) 496-4900, (860) 496-4907 (fax), email: http://[email protected] or website: http://www.intergis.com.