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Password Headaches? Some Simple Advice to Ease the Pain

Cloud applications are like banks: Your money is much safer under lock and key at the bank than it is under your mattress because anyone can “hack your house.”   Bank security is as good as it gets, but like a bank, your data is only as secure as the keys to the vault; your password(s).  You will have security problems if you use one password for everything or you keep your passwords on sticky notes, notepads, or spreadsheets.

Old school password security

For maximum security, you should have a unique password for every application and you should update them on a regular bases.

Keeping up with numerous usernames and passwords can be a very frustrating task considering the number of online tools you use.  Like me, you may have a list of 20-30 username/password combinations that you use regularly.   Fortunately, there are products that solve this problem for your PC, Mac, and mobile devices:


Both of these products operate in much the same way.  They create a secure, encrypted “vault” that secures all your credentials behind a single password.  Whenever you are prompted to login at a website, simply enter your “master” password and these applications will enter your credentials automatically.  Whenever you create credentials or change passwords for a website, these products automatically store the data in your “vault.”

You only need to remember one password, that’s it.  Your data is secure in the cloud, and your credentials are safe in your vault.

Icons made by Freepik from is licensed by CC BY 3.0

Automate Collections With InvoiceSherpa

In today’s connected world, new online services are popping up each day to improve the connections between you and your customers. One connection that is critical is the payment connection, and we found a cool app called InvoiceSherpa to help you.

This fantastic product helps service contractors better manage their invoices and boosts cash flow by helping speed collections.  Cash is the lifeblood of all small companies, and InvoiceSherpa can truly deliver more cash.    Instead of monitoring your invoices and sending reminders, InvoiceSherpa does the heavy lifting of reminding clients about due dates, forgotten invoices, and upcoming payment schedules.


InvoiceSherpa reminder interface

From the InvoiceSherpa website —

Automated Invoice Reminders

The key to staying on top of your invoices and accounts receivable is letting customers know the current status of their invoices. Using InvoiceSherpa you can easily automate the entire process including reminders when:

  • An Invoice is created.
  • A due date is coming up.
  • The invoice is past due.
  • A thank you when payment has been received.

All of these items can be scheduled at different intervals with a unique template that you customize to fit your custom branding. Our goal is to be a seamless extension of your business.

InvoiceSherpa is one more example of the rapid fire innovation that is available with online services these days. If you still believe you should be running your service contracting business with a single “all in one” application running on a PC server in your closet, you are missing out on a world of great capability.

Nearby Now & ServiceTrade Can Improve Your Local Search Results

Consumers no longer turn to the yellow pages, newspaper ads, or direct mail to find the best service contractors. Instead, they turn to Google to answer the question “Who should I call?”  To address this change ServiceTrade is happy to announce an integration with Nearby Now, a tool that helps the best service contractors showcase their great reputation online and improve local search results.

 The Results

Need some proof that your company can dominate Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? Try searching for an electrician in Atlanta or any surrounding city. For example, check out the results for these searches:

Atlanta electrician –
Marietta electrician –
Sandy Springs electrician –

Did you notice that TE Certified Electricians is at the top of the list for every search in the area? Amazing customer service and a Nearby Now-powered marketing strategy led by a digital marketing firm FOR service contractors, LeadsNearby, drive these revenue-generating results.

 How Nearby Now Works

Nearby Now enables field technicians to check-in to each job throughout the day.  Each check-in updates the Nearby Now check-in feed and network map embedded on their company website. Before the tech leaves the job, he or she can request a review of their service from the customer.  Combined, the check-in data and customer reviews generate fresh, powerful content for the service contractor’s website that drive great search results and volumes of inbound inquiries.

 ServiceTrade Simplifies the Process

The integration of Nearby Now with ServiceTrade simplifies everything about driving these outstanding results.  Service contractors using ServiceTrade check-in to jobs with the mobile application as part of a process that enables amazing customer service.  Instead of burdening the technician with extra applications and processes, the Nearby Now functionality is driven automatically out of ServiceTrade.

ServiceTrade enables smart service contractors to provide amazing customer service and the Nearby Now integration helps them broadcast their great reputation to the markets they serve.  Give us a call at (919) 246-9901 to learn more.


Cloud Computing & Service Contractors – A Perfect Match

Service contractors need the cloud, but over and over again we see companies that are confused or unsure about how moving to the cloud will affect the operations of their business. Change is scary.  As human beings, we are wired to avoid change, especially when it concerns a switch from what we are use to.


Cloud Computing

At a recent HVAC convention, our VP of sales witnessed two different speakers advocating the benefits of cloud computing for service contractors. Obviously, we are always pleased to have others singing the same tune. Here are a few excerpts of what was said:

The Cloud is Secure –  One attendee described how all company data on their PC server was held hostage with Ransomware that cost more than $10,000 to remove.  Huge organizations like Amazon, Google, and the US Government store billions of documents in the cloud.  Virus protection and security are an integral part of data management and these large organizations would never store data in a location that wasn’t secure.  Do you trust technology experts to build strong security or do you trust one of your administrative staffers to know about the latest virus, bug, or software flaw?

The Cloud is Cheap – There’s truly no reason to maintain a mail server anymore (or any other type of server, for that matter).  Dozens of cloud applications can not only provide a hassle-free email solution, but a more feature rich solution as well.  No one wants to pay an outside IT professional to be their problem solver.  The cloud has lowered the price of software solutions by allowing software companies to put more power and more features into the hands of users.  Cloud storage is essentially free. There’s truly no need to buy more file cabinet or PC hard drives.

The Cloud Empowers Your Customer Service –  Items stored in the cloud can be accessed from any device – PCs, tablets, or smartphones.  Your technicians can answer questions faster and with greater accuracy, even when they are in the field.  Customers expect speed and accuracy. (Don’t we all use Google for fast answers?)  Showing clients before and after photos, online work acknowledgements, past work history, or old invoices make you and your team shine.

The key point  is simply this: Cloud computing is a perfect match for service contractors and their business operations.  Embrace the cloud and prosper.

What is Great Customer Service Worth? About 20% and $41 Billion.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock recently, you know that Uber is a taxi service start-up that connects drivers with folks who need a ride. As a business, Uber connects riders and drivers (just as a taxi service does) and they collect a 20% fee on top of what is paid to the driver.  As of December 2014, the company is worth $41 billion.  Here is the Wall Street Journal article with the details on the financials. When examining Uber, I find some interesting lessons for service contractors. The key takeaway is:

How does a simple change in customer service practices lead to such a massive breakthrough in shareholder value?


Uber has effectively changed one thing in the customer experience associated with a taxi ride – they have dramatically improved customer service by providing rich information to the customer throughout the service cycle. Uber has done this by eliminating the aggravating service uncertainties and the unknowns that are inherent in hiring a taxi.  There’s no need for the customer to jump up and down on the curb to hail a cab or berate a dispatcher who has no better information than the customer on the real whereabouts of the driver and a likely pickup time.   The Uber customer simply touches the application on their smartphone, chooses the driver/car with the best value for their needs (arrival time, type of car, price), and then collaborates with the driver from pickup planning through to drop-off and billing.  The ride is essentially the same, but everything about the customer service experience is different. Thus, in exchange for amazing customer service and 20% above what is paid to the driver, Uber has built a company worth $41 billion.

Think about the parallels with the service contracting space. Great service contractors will tell you that a premium price is achieved through great customer service. Any contractor trying to run the business simply as a markup on skilled technician labor is ultimately going to fail. Yet most service contractors have a customer service approach that resembles that of a taxi company. The customer is only engaged via phone calls and a paper receipt at the end of the “taxi ride.” How valuable is that customer experience?  Not very.  How much more valuable might a service contracting company be if it were to adopt an Uber style approach to customer service?  Much more.

Here are the lessons from Uber on building a premium brand through great customer service:

1)  Engage the customer online throughout the service process:   Customers do not want to speak to your dispatcher about status. Also, it is inefficient and likely prone to errors. Show them what is happening online – the driver, the arrival, the problem, the fix, the fees.

2)  Images are more powerful than text:   Show the customer, don’t tell them. Uber shows the car en route to the customer. Give the customer photos and images of what is happening with the equipment being serviced. Humans learn from stories and images.

3)  Make it easy for them to engage your company:  Uber does this by being ever present as an application on the phone. You can also do it by being easy to find online, by being in their inbox with regular correspondence about your recent service delivery, by providing service history online, and by allowing them to initiate service online.

Service contracting is definitely different than a taxi service, but the customer service experience has certain parallels. New Internet services are coming on the market everyday attempting to “Uberize” the service contracting business. Because the dynamics of service contracting are more complex than a taxi ride, it is unclear if these emergent Internet brands will gain the momentum of Uber. What is certain, however, is that great brands stem from great customer service. There’s little doubt that service contractors can dramatically improve the value of their business by embracing many of the elements of customer service that make Uber worth $41 billion. What steps are you taking to create a premium service contracting brand by engaging your customers online and pulling them into the service process?

Is your website mobile friendly? Simple test to avoid Google penalties

If you expect customers to find you online, they must be able to find you online.  Sounds like circular logic, but it is true.  Google is always shifting their rules to make their search engine more valuable to users and advertisers.  You have to keep shifting your website to avoid being pushed down the rankings.  The new rules say that mobile readability is important (your website should not be an eye test if viewed on a mobile device).  Check here to see if your site is already in the clear, and read on to review the new rules (from Google’s update on the matter):

When it comes to search on mobile devices, users should get the most relevant and timely results, no matter if the information lives on mobile-friendly web pages or apps. As more people use mobile devices to access the internet, our algorithms have to adapt to these usage patterns. In the past, we’ve made updates to ensure a site is configured properly and viewable on modern devices. We’ve made it easier for users to find mobile-friendly web pages and we’ve introduced App Indexing to surface useful content from apps. Today, we’re announcing two important changes to help users discover more mobile-friendly content:


1.   More mobile-friendly websites in search results

Starting April 21, we will be expanding our use  of mobile-friendliness as a ranking signal. This change will affect mobile searches in all languages worldwide and will have a significant impact in our search results. Consequently, users will find it easier to get relevant, high quality search results that are optimized for their devices.  Do a search on  “mobile – friendly test”  to locate our website that you can use to test your website(s).

2. More relevant app content in search results

Starting today, we will begin to use information from indexed apps as a factor in ranking for signed-in users who have the app installed. As a result, we may now surface content from indexed apps more prominently in search. To find out how to implement App Indexing, which allows us to surface this information in search results.

What this means for service contractors (and for all others on the web) is that you MUST ensure your web presence is optimized for mobile.  Make sure that websites, blogs, and any other content you put out there is created with mobile in mind.  You cannot create a premium service contracting brand if it is difficult for your customers to find your company and your value online.


What is an Inspection Worth?  About 2X What You are Being Paid!

I recently went to Vegas, but I was not there to gamble away my kids’ college funds.  Instead, I was participating in the annual western region meeting of the National Association of Fire Equipment Dealers (NAFED).  During the meeting, an interesting narrative regarding the value of an inspection job versus the value of repair work for the customers’ fire protection systems emerged during several of the conversations I witnessed.  Opinions were varied due to lack of relevant experiences, but I am in the fortunate position to have the facts and the rationale to support the findings.


When I arrived at DunnWell (the company where ServiceTrade began) in 2010, I discovered that the company was reporting system deficiencies to customers based upon the findings of the inspection reports, but less than 23% of those impaired systems turned into repair orders for the company.  As a sales professional, I was blown away by this poor performance.  There is no better sales lead than the following:

“I was at your facility yesterday, and I discovered a malfunction with your equipment.  It is not operating correctly, but rest assured we are the experts and we can fix it.  In fact, I have already put together a quote and a suggested time for us to return and put everything in good working order for you.”

How in the world can you NOT make a sale with that type of pitch?  Here’s how – be unorganized or sloppy in the follow up and speak in “codespeak” instead of customer terms.  Customers do not care about “code”.  Nor are they concerned about a deficiency you discovered BUT waited 2-4 weeks to report to them.  DunnWell was taking 2 – 3 weeks to turn around quotes for the work, if it was quoted at all.  Plus, the quote was attached to an email with multiple references to code violations with some accounting codes referencing what the customer must pay.

We fixed all of that at DunnWell, and now those lessons benefit the ServiceTrade application.  If you deliver your deficiency quote within 2 days of discovering the problem, and it includes photos that “tell the story,” and it can be reviewed and approved online, the approval rate will 75% or higher.  We have the data.  How would you like to improve your repair revenue by 3X?  Here is another number for you – your ratio of repair work to inspection work should be about $1 of repair to $1 of inspection.  If it is not, you are being sloppy in the stewardship of your customers’ equipment.  And both you and your customer are incurring liability that should not be there.  Higher liability and less profit, simply because you cannot be bothered to do a good job following up on deficiency opportunities, is a recipe for failure.

Why do people respond so positively to online quotes with photos attached? The reason is obvious – it’s easy!  Easier than downloading and printing some PDF attachment to an email, signing it, faxing it back – what a drag.  Also, if it is delivered within a day or two of the inspection, it must be important.  Better review it and make a decision.  Finally, people respond more readily to images and stories.  Our brains are wired that way.  The best sales pitch is a story that people can relate to – not some cryptic code references and accounting bric-a-brac with a price they have to pay.  Lead with the images and the story, then watch your conversion rates go through the roof.  Here is the science behind story-telling as a sales tool if you are interested.

Well, I have some good news.  For ServiceTrade customers, all of the work to be great at service revenue from deficiencies is streamlined for the benefit of our customers and their customers.  Our deficiency quoting process is totally integrated with the photo and audio deficiency reporting of our mobile app.  It allows you to use templates for frequently quoted repairs, and lets the customer review the quote online.  We even tell you when the customer has looked at it online.  Higher revenue, higher profit, lower costs, and lower liability.  What are your inspections worth?

How Good Software "Learns" to Help Service Contractors Over Time.

Operating a business in a vacuum is a handicap.  There’s a limit on information you can gather about smart business practices when you are swamped with managing the details of your enterprise.  How helpful would it be to have “partners” in your business that are constantly on the lookout for solutions to your most challenging issues?


Here at ServiceTrade, we constantly solve problems that our customers face.  Because we provide such a high level of support, our clients regularly bring us new challenges  and ask our team for solutions.

An intrinsic part of good software is that it improves over time.  Software deployed via the cloud, gets those improvements immediately into the hands of customers.  Imagine if your car had a feature that allowed it to immediately implement new improvements as soon as the manufacturer created them  –  brighter headlights, lighter bumpers, improved braking systems.  Well the physical world can’t do that.  You have to buy a new car.

Software is different.  Every improvement made for one customer is available to ALL customers (when applicable, proprietary customer data is NEVER shared).  If a client asks us to make an adjustment or add a feature that we feel will benefit others, then it is a win-win for all of our clients.   After review and testing, an improvement is added to the product and available to everyone.   The software has “learned” how to solve a new set of problems.

Let ServiceTrade show you the  path to better management of your service contracting business.


The Only Certainties in Life – Death, Taxes…& Software as a Service (SaaS)

– Apologies to Ben Franklin –  .   The actual quote is  “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”   If Mr. Franklin were alive today,  there’s little doubt that he would add a third item to this list –  Software as a Service (SaaS) …aka Cloud Computing.


Why is SaaS as inevitable as Death and Taxes?  Why am I using Mr. Franklin’s quote to segue into a discussion about the cloud?  To make a simple point — Change is inevitable and a dramatic shift is underway in the world of software.

Smart consumers of software know the advantages of the cloud and thus are demanding solutions based online.  (Rather than on desktop machines.)

Here’s a great example:   QuickBooks.  This product is the king of accounting software for millions of individuals and small businesses (SMB’s).  Because QuickBooks is such a popular accounting system for customers of ServiceTrade (all SMB’s) , it also serves as a great example for this discussion.

Here’s a quote from Oct. 2014 –   “QuickBooks Online hasn’t received much attention over the years. Launched in 2000, it only had 100,000 paid subscribers in 2009, compared to QuickBooks’ four million desktop subscribers. However, Intuit says at the end of last year they acquired a higher number of users online than on desktop — marking a shift in consumers.  Now the company is rolling out all sorts of features to their online product.”

Do you think that QuickBooks is rolling out a ton of new features for their “desktop” subscribers?   Doubtful.  Will QuickBooks have a desktop version of it’s products in a few years?  Very Doubtful.

The reason?  The cloud delivers a better product, period –  1)  No hardware to purchase/upgrade.   2) Connect from any PC or mobile device anywhere in the world.  3) New features added weekly instead of every few years.

SaaS Solutions are better.  Contact ServiceTrade and let us guide you towards the best software solution for your Trade Contracting SMB.




Amazon Plumbing? Google HVAC? Navigating the Digital Service Contracting Landscape.

What does it mean when two of the biggest names in Internet technology jump into the service contracting business?  It means that service contracting is a huge and lucrative market that is due for a shake up (or a shake down, depending on your perspective).  Amazon and Google are both taking on initiatives that will plug them into the world of home services (light commercial as well, and I am certain that some level of industrial capability will ultimately follow), and I believe there are lessons to be learned by observing how these new entrants operate.  Learning and reacting thoughtfully could yield some nice opportunities for growth and profit.  Poor planning and stubbornly insisting that nothing needs to change will yield abundant misery and sorrow.


So what exactly are Amazon and Google up to that will have an impact on the service contracting space?  Amazon has quietly announced a local marketplace for service contractors.  A Forbes magazine article describes their plans, and here is the money quote:

     “Amazon Local Services is a new and simple way to buy professional services from pros such as plumbers, auto mechanics and yoga instructors,” said a promotional video on the site. “We’ve handpicked some of the best pros in your neighborhood and require them all to be licensed, insured and background-checked.”

Now, my focus in this post is not auto mechanics or yoga instructors, but instead the folks ServiceTrade calls customers.  Some of these are plumbing, HVAC/R, kitchen equipment, and other specialty tradesmen that offer repair, upfit, and maintenance services for property and equipment at the customer’s home or business site.  Amazon plans to step in between the customer and the contractor to moderate the transaction – and take their fair share of 10 – 15% for their trouble.  Amazon is an expert at driving efficiency in logistics and offering customers very low prices for everything they sell.  Now they are bringing this efficiency and low price strategy to local services.  Low prices, minus 10 – 15% sounds like a painful bargain for the service contractor that does not have a plan to respond to this strategy.

How about Google?  Well, they bought a company called Nest that makes smart thermostats and smoke/CO detectors.  Here is the money quote from a Forbes article on this acquisition:

“Google will help us fully realize our vision of the conscious home and allow us to change the world faster than we ever could if we continued to go it alone. We’ve had great momentum, but this is a rocket ship,” said CEO and cofounder Tony Fadell in a blog post.

The key term here is the “conscious home.”  A home that is “conscious” is one that is aware of what is happening and can help Google respond to help meet the owner or occupant’s needs.  With the thermostat and other devices in every room collecting information about the home environment, Google will be well positioned to help the homeowner get more value from their home ownership experience.

Google and Amazon are both in the business of using massive amounts of computing power to organize information to help their customers make thoughtful buying decisions.  Isn’t the goal of any service business to organize information and provide expertise so the customer gets good value for the money that they spend upgrading, maintaining, or repairing the important things in their life?  If you are a service contractor, how are you going to get better at knowing your customers and organizing that knowledge to help them make good decisions on equipment and services that improve their lives?  How are you going to monitor their equipment usage and behaviors to make thoughtful recommendations in the manner of Google and Amazon?  Or is your plan to simply let Amazon and Google own the customer relationship and instead settle for a 10 – 15% discount on the lowest price in the market?

Here are some broad recommendations I believe will help you have a thoughtful response to these new entrants:

Upgrade your approach for managing and using customer information
If your information about your customers is still trapped inside an accounting application running on a PC server in your office (or worse, filing cabinets), you are not well positioned to respond to Amazon and Google.  I assure you that the systems and structure that Amazon and Google use to understand customer needs looks nothing like an accounting application.  Great customer service will be defined by a rich mobile and cloud experience that allows your employees and your suppliers and your customers to collaborate online to deliver memorable outcomes that build your brand value with the customer.  A PC server based accounting application will not distinguish you in this online fight for customer attention.

Invest in “smart” technology expertise
You need to have your own story regarding how you are going to monitor the needs of the customer and be responsive.  Remember Tony Fadell from Google talking about the “conscious home” above?  Think about smart electric meters, smart water meters, smart thermostats, and other connected sensors that allow you to be informed, thoughtful, and responsive on behalf of the customer.  Be creative in offering maintenance contracts enabled by smart devices that make your services sticky, responsive, and invaluable for the customer.  These types of “monitoring” services have existed for many, many years in the realm of security and fire systems.  Bringing them to other areas outside security and fire in order to be proactive in customer service makes perfect sense.

Embrace Google and Amazon and others as a source of leads
You should be connected to these new entrants (and perhaps some of the older Internet players in the service contracting space like Angie’s List, Home Advisor, etc), but you should use them ONLY to establish a connection with a customer that you subsequently OWN.  Avoid any contract with these entities that prohibits you from serving the customer independently after first touch.  Deliver a memorable service during first touch, and then stick to the customer like glue using your upgraded customer service capabilities from recommendation #1 above.  If you are memorable and attentive with a perpetual service approach, you will not have to ultimately settle for a 10 – 15% discount off the lowest price in the market after the first call.

You do not have to own massive amounts of computing capacity to enable a thoughtful customer service approach that makes you memorable for your customers.  However, you do need to embrace cloud, mobile, and smart technology as a means to remain competitive in a customer service world that is increasingly defined by information, knowledge, expertise and online connections instead of simply local presence. Customer service does not begin and end in the parking lot or the driveway of the customer any longer. It extends to the boundaries of the Internet.  Create a memorable online AND local experience for your customers and you will stick to them like glue.  Miss this opportunity and you will be managing labor and truck maintenance in order to serve someone else’s (Amazon, Google?) customer for a 10 – 15% discount off the lowest price in the market.