In 2018, the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) noted the major technology evolution in landscaping. Up and coming business technologies such as 3-D mapping, mobile apps and even drones are beginning to find a home in landscape design and build. However, the force in the field, management and maintenance teams often continue to limp along with outdated means of managing the field service operation.
Landscaping project leaders often manage large crews of maintenance, snow removal and design-build professionals, among other crews, while also working cross-functionally with architects, sales and other back-office teams.
Strides in capability and availability of cloud and mobile technologies now make serious gains in field service efficiency and customer communication available to landscapers of all sizes. How? Here are four ways landscapers can apply technology to improve and grow field service operations:
In the office: Have a bird’s eye view of field activity, reduce manual data entry
- Schedulers can reduce data entry and improve visibility. Scheduling mobile employees and landscaping crews who travel all day is harder than scheduling in-office employees. Today, many mobile apps integrate with a desktop version, which lets dispatchers and managers use a visual map to see where each landscaper is in proximity to the customer calling for service. With visual drag-and-drop calendars, the desktop user can schedule employees much faster than with Outlook or Excel. Additionally, most field service apps are cloud-based, which means lawn care techs can view their schedules on their tablet or phone, rather than coming in the office. And by not having to come in every day, landscapers have more time to help more customers daily.
- Employee-business contracts can be digitally managed. Many field service clients may request service on a regular schedule. In the landscaping business, this can go from a quick seasonal touch-up, or twice a week visits over the course of a year (104 service visits). Certain automation software can manage the whole process without paperwork or manual service scheduling. Nothing makes it harder to manage contracts than messy file cabinets.
A cloud-based system can keep digital customer records with aspects including:
- Terms of contract
- Equipment, inventory, crews and parts
- Warehouse locations
- Service history
In the field: Track labor time, appointments, routes and more, all in a single app
- Digital punch clocks simplify billing and record keeping. Lawn care professionals travel all day and must log every aspect of every project, just like service technicians in other industries. Different duties in a landscape, hardscape or maintenance job vary in cost, and recording work hours on paper is hard. Payroll specialists may spend excess time entering time sheets into a system or may even misplace sheets, and the company loses profit. An app with a punch clock lets landscapers and crew leaders “clock in” for each duty within a job, from an inspection to an installation. Even better, an app with a camera or video recording lets workers document processes for both managers and customers, which helps a lot in design-build. These orders on a central network are easier to view and manage than file cabinets or spreadsheets.
- GPS mapping ensures faster arrival and more accurate ETA windows. Using a map or GPS app on a mobile device not only makes it easier for landscapers to navigate customer sites but also provides ETA time slots. Customers appreciate accurate time slots so they know when they should be home for landscapers to arrive. Once landscapers view their schedules via an app, they can get driving directions via a GPS or maps app on their smartphone. Some apps can even find the fastest route based on traffic and weather conditions. This way, landscapers can call and tell the customer ahead of time that they may arrive late. When landscapers tell customers when and why they’re arriving late, the company is set apart from a competitor that doesn’t use technology to predict accurate ETA windows.
Conclusion: Empower the field
Opportunities abound for landscapers to utilize technology to positively impact their customer’s experience and operational efficiency. Whether it’s for design, installation or maintenance, empowering field employees and those operations staff with technology can open a new frontier of competitive advantage.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was written by Mrinal Gokhale who works in content marketing at MSI Data. MSI is a field service automation software company that strives to eliminate paperwork in field service