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Category: Front Office Efficiency

A Better Approach to the Skilled Labor Shortage

At ServiceTrade’s 2022 Digital Wrap Conference, CEO Billy Marshall presented an innovative solution to a core challenge that’s top of mind for everyone these days—the ongoing labor shortage. 

The statistics are concerning. For every two techs that retire each year, only one enters the field. But demand for your services continues to grow. So what’s the play? Billy offered this 3-step strategy: 

We’ll get to those in just a minute. First, an illustration…

The F1 Analogy

Watch this:

In case the analogy isn’t clear, your technicians are your race cars on the track. The growth and limitations of your business rely largely on the quality and efficiency of their work. But in a labor shortage, skilled technicians are a constrained resource. You can’t just go out and hire more techs. You can’t tag in another race car.

But you can innovate and build up your supporting team, your pit crew, your technology-empowered office staff and sales team. Employ as much administrative staff as you need to achieve one mission – keep the technician solely focused on doing the high-value, hands-on work that only they can do. 

3 Steps to Growing Revenue Without Hiring More Techs

Minimize Demand Work

You can’t plan for demand work. It causes chaos and throws off schedules. Prioritize maintaining and repairing equipment with routine service. If you have customers who refuse to properly maintain or repair equipment, consider cutting ties with them, raising their prices, or deprioritizing their service. 

Sell Better Customers 

If demand for your services is high, make room for only the best customers. Good customers would much rather sign up for your premium packages than risk their equipment failing. Good customers want predictable operating expenses, not the unexpected and unpredictable cost of demand work. 

Organize Around the Goal of Keeping Your Techs On Track

Take administrative burdens off of your technicians. Invest in your office staff. Make sure that everyone in the company understands the goal and is working toward optimizing technician efficiency. Software helps you do just that.

You can learn more about growing your business despite the skilled labor shortage by watching the full presentation.

Commercial Service Contractors – Can You Reduce Busy Work in the Busy Season?

Busy season is here for many commercial service contractors.  Being busy is much better than the alternative, but this busy season may be a good opportunity for you to examine your current operations and workflows and ask, “What are my people busy doing?”

Busy doesn’t necessarily mean productive. In fact, busy often means hurried, overwhelmed, and constantly running in reactive mode.  This isn’t good for you or your company. Eliminating the unnecessary busy work can go a long way in improving morale during a stressful busy season. Instead, focus on working smarter and increasing productivity across the board for all your employees.

For the purposes of this post, we are looking at the busy work that arises when customers are calling in emergency repair work.  Let’s look at four basic stages or phases of an emergency repair job to identify areas where you can potentially reduce busy work, and reduce stress levels for you and others in your company.

Phase 1: The customer calls

A customer with an emergency calls in a repair request.  One of your front office staff members fields the call and gathers all the necessary details.  They may scribble notes on a piece of paper, or type information into a spreadsheet saved to their computer.  Either way, it’s likely the beginning of information about the job being recorded everywhere but one central location, which is going to cost you a lot of time over the course of the job.

Busy work time drains:

Phase 2:  You schedule the service call

Once the work order is created, it’s time to schedule the service call, and fast. But unless you have real-time visibility to your techs’ schedules, an increased volume of emergency calls can create a lot of distracting, time-consuming phone calls in just getting the tech to the job.  The pace that comes with the busy season can make even the best organized spreadsheet or whiteboard outdated by mid-morning.

Busy work time drains:

Phase 3: Your service techs do the work

Once the tech is on site, questions they have about the location or facility will require that they search through a stack of papers, search their email, or call the office to get more information. Even worse, you may find the information your tech needs is on a piece of paper you can’t find, or in the head of an employee who is on vacation.

Busy work time drains:

Phase 4: You invoice the customer  

Once the tech drops off the paperwork (unnecessary in and of itself), the fun for the back office begins.  

Overwhelmed techs are filling out paperwork faster than ever.  Sloppy handwriting and incomplete descriptions can be an even bigger than usual source of frustration for your back office staff. Someone in your back office has to retype information from work orders into your accounting system. Techs are hard to get a hold of when your accounting team has a question about the paperwork, or, even worse, an irate customer calls in with a question about their bill.

Busy work time drains:

All these time drains assume the paperwork is already in the office. Waiting on paperwork to get back to the office is a common problem for commercial service contractors. Techs keep paperwork in their trucks until the end of the day or week, and then bring it into the office for back office staff to process. (Unless they’ve lost it somewhere along the way.)  While it’s more of a bottleneck than busy work, it’s a huge opportunity for companies who want to streamline processes. While you are identifying busy work tasks, take a look at this process within your organization to see if there are opportunities for improvement.

Use this busy season to better your business

Commercial service contractors can save time for techs in the field, front office staff, and back office staff by reducing busy work that comes with a higher volume of jobs. Use this busy season as a discovery period to identify inefficiencies in your processes.  Then, you can use your slower season to implement solutions based on your findings. Otherwise, you’ll be losing time and money from the same busy season busy work this time next year.

WFH (Working From Home) FTW (For The Win)

There’s some sort of bug working its way through our sales team this week, so everyone who doesn’t feel 100% is working from home. The rest of us appreciate not being exposed to sickness while those affected remain productive in their home office. That’s just one reason why having a flexible working environment is a good idea.

working at home has advantages

Service businesses that use SaaS and other modern technology have the freedom to offer such conveniences to their employees. If you’re looking for a low-cost perk to offer employees, run a pilot program of working from or dispatching from home and see what works and what doesn’t. Some ideas for a paperless office:

I can’t say that the risk of employees abusing the privilege is nonexistent, but if your expectations are clear it becomes the employee’s responsibility to work ethically and do their job. I bet you’ll find that many will do their work even better in appreciation for the trust and the convenience. Here’s some evidence to back that up (source):

  1. According to Gallup, remote workers log an average of four more hours a week than their on-site counterparts.
  2. People who work from home get more sleep and are more attentive, according to Penn State University.
  3. A typical business can save $11,000 per employee per year by letting them work from home 50% of the time according to a study by Global Workplace Analytics.
  4. Meanwhile, Gallup found that people who work remotely 20% of the time are more engaged in their work.

Many of us at ServiceTrade work remotely from time to time.  Some examples:

One thing that stood out to me at the 2016 Digital Wrap Conference was watching several owners of our customer companies log in to their ServiceTrade account to check in on what’s going on in the field. You simply don’t have to be in the office to know what’s going on in the business and to keep it efficiently moving forward. Today’s technologies offer many employees the freedom to do their work or dispatch from home, the coffee shop, or even on vacation if an emergency pops up. Why not offer this as a low-cost perk to your employees?

Service Hazard (Infographic)

What’s holding your service business back? Is it double data entry and other accounting inefficiencies in the back office? If you solve those problems, are you going to create more value for your customers, make your techs more productive, and differentiate yourself from the competition? Nope. Accounting doesn’t drive better customer outcomes. So, why do accounting issues get all of the attention? Well, it’s easy to fall into the trap of prioritizing those back-office problems because they are in your face every day. They are like a thorn in your foot; very obvious. However, they are just the tip of the iceberg. Under the water is something much more deadly.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I decided to show you what I’m talking about:

Field Service Management Hazard


Hiding under the surface is what’s really holding you back. Scattered customer service data slows everyone down. The symptoms are pervasive, and the costs are enormous. Why do you think the front office is always behind, techs waste time on callbacks, and sales is struggling to win new customers or make upsells? Well, when service history, customer quotes, contact information, recurring service schedule, and asset details are all stored in different places, it’s no wonder there’s so much confusion and so many slowdowns. Instead of a central system that helps your team collaborate, you’re stuck with ad hoc calls, emails, conversations, txts, and paper.

On top of that, when your service information is disorganized, it’s impossible to give your customers any visibility to the value you provide. When you don’t even know exactly where your techs are, what they are doing, or what work they’ve completed, how are you supposed to share that information with your customers? Remember what it used to be like to schedule a taxi? It was miserable. Calling the taxi dispatch took forever, you’d have no visibility to where the taxi was, no idea what they were going to charge you, and they may not even show up. It’s no wonder Uber is dominating that entire industry. All it took was a change to the process that removed risk and aggravation for customers.

Icebergs perfectly demonstrate what’s going on with most commercial service contracting businesses. It’s easy to get stuck thinking about back-office problems. They are the tip of the iceberg. But, hiding below the sea is a mess of customer service data that is slowing down the entire organization and limiting your ability to provide a better experience to your customers. When you organize that data and move it to the cloud, you can cut your costs and Uber your competition.


Scattered Data Could Sink Your Ship

Every day, we talk to service contractors that think the biggest problem with their business is double-data entry into their accounting system. We tell them the same thing every time. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Below the surface, it’s hard to see the hundreds of small, but cumulative inefficiencies caused by scattered customer service data. Organizing that data will lead to leaps in efficiency and bounds in customer service.

By “customer service data,” I don’t mean accounting information. I’m talking about the data necessary to provide top-notch customer service and efficiently deploy your most expensive resource, skilled technicians. Data like service history, scheduling information, equipment failure records, and customer contact information to name a few.

Where is your customer service data stored? Multiple spreadsheets and Word documents on a server? Paperwork, files, and whiteboards? Pictures and videos on phones and random computers? Even worse, an accounting system that isn’t designed for customer service that only a few back-office staff have access to? Furthermore, how is that information communicated throughout your team? Email and text? Phone calls? Fax and snail mail? Cup and string?

Let’s dive a little deeper and take a look at how scattered data makes your team slow, inefficient, and prone to error.

Back Office

Bookkeepers shouldn’t be chasing wild geese. Hunting down coworkers to get the information they need to correct invoices, complete payroll, and record costs is a waste of time. And, it’s easy to blame sloppy front-office staff and technicians for the mistakes and oversights that they have to deal with. However, sloppiness is not the root cause of the problem. Instead, consider the inevitability of data getting mismanaged or lost by the front office and technicians when there are so many systems in place to store and communicate it. That means more time spent chasing the data, and less time spent billing the customer.

Front Office

The front-office team, typically responsible for scheduling, customer service, and quoting, is the biggest victim of scattered data. Accounting systems are either unable or are poorly equipped to help them manage customer service data. In that vacuum, they implement a patchwork of paperwork, software, and processes to accomplish their goals. The resulting hodgepodge slows everyone down and is prone to error. Here’s what I mean

Q.) What did we do last time we were at that location?

A.) Let me dig up the file. I can’t read the tech’s handwriting, so I’ll send him back out.


Q.) What was the problem with my equipment and when can I expect a quote to fix it?

A.) Someone else takes care of quotes. They are on vacation so I’ll have them call you back in a week.


Q.) When is a tech supposed to be on site?

A.) Check the calendar. Oh wait, that calendar is out of date. I don’t know.


Q.) Can you get that file for me?

A.) No, the server is down.


Skilled labor is the most expensive and coveted resource for service contractors. Technician downtime and missed opportunities can be attributed to disorganization and miscommunication of customer service data most of the time. The ball gets dropped somewhere in the multitude of channels used to tell techs where they need to go, when they need to be there, and what they need to do. When the work is done, the information about what was discovered or completed is slow to travel back to the office, if at all and is often unintelligible. That means more communication with the tech to find out what happened and more wasted time.

All of our customers thought that double-data entry was their biggest problem when they first approached ServiceTrade. A couple months after implementation, they gained visibility to the underside of the gigantic iceberg that was slowing down their business. However, after 6 months of using ServiceTrade, that iceberg turned into an ice cube when they were finally able to streamline their customer service data.

Field Service Management Hazard

How Service Companies Send Appointment Reminders

Everybody sends upcoming appointment reminders: Your doctor, your hair stylist, the vet. Are you sending them to your customers? If so, is it a phone call or an email? How informational is it? Is it boosting your brand image?



Why Service Contractors Should Send Appointment Reminders

Whether for your business or for your vet, lost appointments are lost money. Confusion happens, appointments fall off of schedules, and people get flakey and forget. So it makes a ton of sense to remind customers about appointments. In case you need convincing:

There is a good back-story about how ServiceTrade appointment reminders came to be.

The Story

When Service Link was created, we only thought of it as an after-service online report. A few months after it launched, we started to hear from customers who were sending Service Link before the appointment, too.  

It was a brilliant idea! Service Link included the list of services that were scheduled. It arrived in their customer’s inbox in a nice, mobile-friendly, branded email.  So we supported their innovation with a few small changes to make it explicitly clear that what the customer received was about an upcoming appointment.

Using Service Link in this way was one of the most eye-opening ideas that was shared at the Digital Wrap Conference. More than half of attendees surveyed said they’ll start using Service Link in new ways.

How it Works in ServiceTrade

My quick Google search today returned dozens of appointment reminder software vendors. Lucky for ServiceTrade users, they don’t need to integrate with another solution, they can use what’s already built into the application.

James Jordan covered Service Link appointment reminders in the last Bearded Briefing. Here’s how it works.


Innovation is Part of a Digital Wrap

Innovation was a big message at the Digital Wrap Conference. Shawn Mims explained that innovations come at all sizes to fix small to large problems. It’s hard to imagine a more simple innovation than using an existing feature in a new way.

An appointment reminder is one of the MIPS (Marketing Impressions per Service (read post)) that are part of your Digital Wrap. This simple alert:

ServiceTrade customers are innovators who use technology in unexpected ways. Those customers solved a problem by looking to the software they were already using. There’s a good lesson here that if you find yourself with a problem, take a look at what you already have in place for how it might be part of a solution.

And if you’re using ServiceTrade to solve a problem, let us know about it!  Our customers constantly surprise us with their innovative problem solving.

Also read:


Don’t Let the Back-Office Tail Wag the Company Dog

Wag The Dog

All too often, as field service companies are considering new software, they base decisions on their historical software usage patterns and let the tail wag the dog.  Since accounting software is the primary, and often only, business application in use, companies search for ways to extend back-office capabilities to the front office and beyond.  This line of thinking is understandable, but flawed because it ignores the needs of the majority the organization including the:

Click the “Start Prezi” button below for a quick visual representation of the current mode of thinking about software I am referencing.  Click the right arrow button to continue the Prezi.

If this Prezi does not load for you, click here to view the summary.

Notice that little to no consideration is made for customers and prospects; the source of revenue. In addition, less functionality is desired for the considerably larger divisions of the organization that drive this revenue. I propose a slightly different, proportional perspective on technology selection wherein a stronger consideration is made for the needs of customers and prospects while the needs of the back office are met through loosely coupled integrations with existing systems to reduce double data entry.

If this Prezi does not load for you, click here to view the summary.

From this customer-centric perspective of a service contracting organization, software purchases have the potential to bring more than efficiency to the table.  Unlocked from the constraints imposed by the back office, applications can be used to generate inbound leads via brand evangelism, increase customer retention, and reduce customer price sensitivity. This software approach is what we call the Digital Wrap.

Much like your physical truck wraps, the Digital Wrap is a low-cost marketing approach that requires no extra work on behalf of your company other than normal daily service activities. By thoughtfully engaging your customers on the internet in educational and informative ways, you can gain the benefits mentioned above.  For example, you can:

Simply put, a digital wrap will lead to more inbound leads to the front office, and an overall increase in customer lifetime value through customer retention and the amount of work performed for each customer annually.  See here:

If this Prezi does not load for you, click here to view the summary.

When considering technology for your field service company, think about the needs throughout your organization, including those of your customers and prospects. Ultimately, applications that benefit your customers will help your company grow.  Check out our book The Digital Wrap: Get out of the truck and go online to own your customers to learn more about the Digital Wrap.

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Modern Tools for Service Contractors, Part 1: Operational Efficiency

Over the last couple years, we’ve compiled a list of free to low cost, easy-to-use applications and products that we often recommend to service contractors. These products range in benefits from operational efficiency to lead generation and fit into a modern ecosystem of tools necessary for service contractors to adapt to the business challenges (and opportunities) presented by the evolving nature of the Internet.

Part 1 of this series will focus on simple products that will boost your company’s operational efficiency.  Each one of the applications below will save time so you can focus on growing your business.


Fiverr – Task Outsourcing

Too busy to consider making any changes to your company processes? Buried under a pile of spreadsheet work and data entry? Fiverr is here to the rescue. Fiverr connects you with thousands of individuals all over the world who will perform any task you hand them for as low as $5. After your first gig, the Fiverr term for a transaction, you will be on a constant lookout for opportunities to outsource work to save time and money.

Slack – Chat Application for Teams

If you are still communicating with your coworkers via texts and one-sentence emails, consider the switch to Slack. Slack is a chat application that works on any desktop computer or mobile device. Slack makes it easy to chat directly with anyone on your team or communicate in predefined groups. We typically recommend that service contractors set up chat groups for every operational division so that schedulers and dispatchers can quickly communicate with techs in the field.  This setup also makes it easy for technicians to communicate and lean on each other’s expertise.

Google Apps or Office 365 – Office Productivity and Collaboration Tools

Strong opinions about these solutions can be found all over the Internet. Microsoft diehards swear by Office 365 and Google fanboys and gals will forever be loyal to Google Apps. We’re here today to to tell you that both products are great! What really matters is that they are both cloud-based products that enable your company to easily collaborate on work and focus on service delivery instead of server IT.

TSheets – Employee Time Tracking

Time tracking for any hourly employee is difficult, but service contractors have the additional complexity associated with field technicians who are not present in the office. TSheets enables remote time tracking via their mobile app which connects back to the accounting system to summarize payroll and job costing. The application even provides overtime warnings to prevent excess payroll spend.

InvoiceSherpa – Accounts Receivable Automation

Once an invoice is sent to your customer, InvoiceSherpa not only provides them with a convenient payment workflow, but also reminds them when the invoice is due. Prebuilt reminder timelines ensure that your customer receives appropriate messaging according to the payment due date. For more information, read our previous blog post about InvoiceSherpa.


None of these applications are difficult to use and each of them requires little implementation. Take advantage of what the internet has to offer so that you can save the time you need to focus on engaging your customers in thoughtful, modern ways.

Coming up next:

Note that we’ve purposefully excluded accounting applications on this list. Every company needs a back-office financial system that meets their needs, and there is no accounting system that is a perfect fit for every company. With that said, we do have strong opinions about what makes a good accounting application. Read our eBook, The Practical Guide to Buying Software for Service Contractors, to learn why every service contractor should use a web-based accounting platform that does NOT claim to be an all-in-one.

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Don’t bring an operations knife to a customer service gunfight: Customer engagement must be the first priority in a connected world

“Why yes, I regularly purchase products from mail order catalogs” said no one in the last 20 years.  Yet 20 years ago, most catalog retailers were thinking to themselves “If only we could improve our operations and reduce our cost of delivery, print, and call centers, we will outprice the competition and really rake it in!”

This line of thinking is obviously absurd in the face of Amazon’s success and the Internet commerce imperative every surviving retailer has now embraced.  However, this “internal operations is all that matters” mindset is still rampant in commercial service contracting companies today.  Like the retailers of the 90s, commercial service contractors are focusing their systems upgrades on internal operating efficiency and accounting when instead they should be girding themselves for the internet shootout that is going to occur in the war over customer engagement.

Using tablet instead of catalog


Efficiency ≠ Growth

So why did catalog companies believe that operational efficiency and outpricing the competition would provide them with the edge? Much like commercial service contractors today, they focused on tactical, cost saving goals that were easy to understand.  For example, it’s not difficult to calculate that reduced windshield time for technicians will result in fuel and vehicle maintenance savings, increased availability for billable calls, and decreased price for the end customer.  The math seems pretty simple right? Reduced costs = Increased profits and growth

This equation is WRONG.

What the equation is missing, and what catalog retailers failed to recognize, is the eroding demand that occurs when customers inevitably switch to a competitor that provides a better customer service experience.  Amazon, eBay, and the hundreds of other online retailers provided shoppers with a simple, online experience that resulted in the downfall of the old-guard catalog retailers. Commercial service contractors are at risk of the same demise if they don’t provide their customers with an engaging and enduring online customer service experience.

Step One: Demand, Step Two: Efficiency

This is not all to say that commercial service contractors should neglect operational efficiency. For example, Amazon has one of the largest, most efficient distribution models in the world. However, the distribution model was developed well after their ecommerce platform released to the public. Amazon understood that an efficient distribution model didn’t matter if they could not engage and retain customers.  By first building the ecommerce platform that shoppers enjoyed, Amazon drove demand that later supported the construction of their distribution model.

How to Avoid the Catalog Trap

How can modern commercial service contracting companies avoid the catalog retail trap?  Stop obsessing on operational efficiency and cost reductions.  These are important, but hardly matter to your customer when another company provides much better customer service.  When you lose all your customers to an internet savvy competitor, no amount of operational efficiency will lead to profits on zero revenue.

Take a page from Amazon’s book.  Focus on generating demand by engaging customers online and providing them with an amazing customer service experience that keeps them coming back for more.  Strong customer engagement and a reputation for amazing customer service will yield robust revenue that offers the possibility of perpetual profit.  You will have the privilege of focusing on improving operational efficiency for many years to come if you survive the internet gunfight that you will inevitably face in the next few years.


Stop Texting. Start Messaging!

On several occasions, I’ve walked into a meeting with dispatchers, schedulers, and service managers who were glued to their phone texting with their technicians in the field.  Why should the office staff use a tiny keyboard on a phone to update and respond to the techs when they have a full size keyboard and monitor at their disposal?  Text messaging has been a huge advancement for connectivity between these folks and their field technicians since the turn of the millennium, and now applications are available to speed up and enhance this communication.  Here are a couple free solutions that will enable the office to use their computers as a hub for messaging the techs in the field and anyone else on the team.

OS X Mavericks: Messages Everywhere


Multiple applications are available that enable messaging between Windows PCs to smartphones in the field.  All of these applications will have to be installed on the technicians’ smartphones in addition to the PCs in the office.


Any of the applications listed above will work for Apple users, however Apple computers have a messaging solution built in that does not require technicians to install a new mobile app on their devices.  An application named Messages enables office staff to send and receive text and other messages right from their Apple computer.


Paired with their personal devices, office staff can use the above applications to send messages from any device and receive messages on all devices.  Much like call forwarding, this is handy when stepping away from your desk for meetings or lunch.

Don’t let anyone in your office waste more time pecking away on a tiny smartphone keyboard.  Not only will these applications save your office time, but also increase the amount and improve the quality of communication with the field.

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