What is the software I need to do quotes, scheduling and invoices?24th August 2020
Field Service Management Software
The type of software you’re looking for is called Field Service Management Software (FSM). There is a diverse market, with a range of features and price points, but unlike say “spreadsheet” or “word processor”, “field service management” has not really entered the language of many small businesses yet.
So if you’ve been struggling to find how to ask Google for the right thing, you’re not alone!
This makes is hard for businesses in construction, property maintenance, cleaning etc to find the software that would help them to digitally transform themselves. Which means that many are still using either spreadsheets or paper-based methods to track and schedule work, write quotes and send out invoices.
The market is not yet mature and it is important to find a piece of software that works for your business, with different offering focussed on best serving different parts of the end to end process.
Personally I expect over time that through either development or acquisition these differences will level out, but right now you will most likely need to make trade-offs in terms of where your biggest pain points are.
Benefits of Field Service Management
There are a number of benefits of FSM software in businesses that send workers out to sites to undertake their work
The most obvious of these is capacity. If your field workers (engineers, builders, carpenters, cleaners etc) are getting close to maximum capacity and you could hire one more, but your business can’t really afford to bring on extra admin staff to support that then you need to find a way to create more capacity in your processes. This is where FSM software can be a game changer.
Once the initial bedding-in period is passed, we’ve seen clients save up to 30% of their office staff time by switching to a FSM tool, allowing them to grow revenue much faster than costs.
The next important factor is efficiency. With a FSM system in place you can typically schedule your work more intelligently, leading to less travel time between jobs. Obviously the impact of this will vary depending on the type of work your business undertakes – if you are usually on a site for one or more full days then there’s little to be gained here, but if you have staff who undertake several jobs in a day then this can make an enormous difference to the amount of time lost to travel.
Giving your admin team in the office a simple view of where everyone is supposed to be, and when, can be very powerful.
Finally there’s what we like to called “waste”. This includes the amount of time you are paying staff not to be either working or travelling to a job but also the time and materials used on jobs that don’t get accurately tracked and are therefore not properly billed for.
When you invoice a customer wrongly there are two options, either you over-charge or you under-charge.
In the event of an over-charge most customers are going to query and correct it. In the case of under-charging though (or worse – not even invoicing at all), how many customers are really going to chase you to bill them more? Of course some will, but many won’t.
We’ve seen businesses that have discovered they were missing almost 10% of their invoice values due to missing line items, unreadable / damaged paper records from the engineer or simply not having automated processes in place to make sure invoices were issued.
Think about that for a moment – 10% of all the work undertaken and the materials used never charged for. The impact on their profitability of a system that allows this to be tracked and automatically billed for has been large and immediate… the return on investment for setting up the software achieved within just days. That may be an extreme case but can you be sure your business never misses an item from billing? And even if you think you can, how much time and effort is that taking for you personally or someone in your business to stay on top of, when you could be doing revenue generating work for customers instead?
What features do I need?
Depending on the scale of your business and what tools you already have, you may need some or all of these components in your FSM software:
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
We’ve talked about the importance of this elsewhere, but every business should have a single place to hold lead and customer details and there are a wide number of platforms available to do this.
You may already have on in place in your business, in which case you’ll want to know whether it integrates with your field service management software but if not, the best FSM platforms can provide this capability for you, allowing you to simplify the number of systems your business uses, saving both cost and effort.
The ability for your customers to request you undertake work and book it directly via your website. This may seem scary at first, but most of these tools allow customers to indicate when they’d like you to do the work, and allow your admin staff to actually book the appointment for the job (see work scheduling below) and allowing your customers to use another channel to book work in simply makes it easier for them to use you, especially for repeat jobs, servicing etc
For many businesses there is a need to produce a quote before undertaking work. Depending on the complexity of your quote process, you may be able to do all or some of it directly in the FSM tool, and potentially also allow customers to electronically sign it there too, reducing friction for the sale and lowering the chances of a dispute later.
Of course for businesses selling low volume, high value services it may still be necessary to produce each quote in a bespoke manner, but challenge yourself on whether that’s really necessary, because standardising a process will allow you to scale.
A key requirement for this software usually involves helping to schedule and track the work itself. Depending on whether your staff are visiting multiple sites each day or one site for multiple days, this may be more of less complex. Done right, this can also allow you to automatically remind your customers of an upcoming visit, reducing the changes of access and similar problems.
A FSM tool should also allow workers who are on-site to make any amendments to the work undertaken, such as additional parts needed etc, directly in the job, ensuring they don’t get forgotten about.
You may also want to track staff time on a job and have the ability to bulk reassign work in the event of absence, and both of these features are available in some FSM software.
A more advanced feature, and less common is the ability to track inventory. Some packages allow you to track inventory down to individual van level and if your business requires high volume of parts or spares, this may be an important feature for you.
Be aware though that with only a few FSM packages currently supporting this, it may mean you have to take compromises elsewhere to get it.
We’re expecting to see more FSM software offering this feature over the next few years though so it’s something worth thinking about.
Ultimately you do the work to get paid – so invoicing is an important part of any business. You may already be using your accounting software to generate invoices but it’s worth looking into whether FSM software can help in this area.
By integrating your invoicing into the same end to end process as the quoting and job scheduling you have a single item of work that has all relevant information, parts, costs etc already attached to it. This means that by generating an invoice directly from it you know you’re billing for what the field worker used, and nothing gets lost.
If you’re using a modern cloud accounting package like Quickbooks or Xero, you’ll find that many FSM tools integrate with it, meaning that they can generate the invoice and automatically update your accounting system. This potentially removes a repetitive manual task from your business.
Be aware of your requirements on invoicing from the start however since not all FSM packages talk to all accounting ones so you’ll want to pick one that works with what you’ve got. Or if you plan to introduce one, plan ahead and get a pairing that works.
Sadly, older standalone accounting software often does not support modern connectivity standards and so will not integrate with most FSM tools. In this case you will need to think carefully about your processes for doing invoice production as simply as possible. However, at least the information is on a system, not a scrap of paper in someone’s van!
Most FSM software also integrates with popular online payment tools such as Stripe, Paypal or GoCardless (either directly or via your accounting platform), allowing you to provide an electronic invoice with a “Pay Now” button, streamlining the collection of payments from your customers.
Introducing field service management software is an opportunity to improve the reporting you undertake on your business. Many have some reporting element built-in.
Some also allow you to link up sophisticated dashboard tools (like Microsoft Power BI and Google Data Studio) to allow you to get a great view of your business.
Reporting set-up is a whole topic in itself and it’s important you take advice on what metrics to track and how to do that.
Finally after you’ve done the job you may wish to ask customers for a review of the work, schedule in a servicing visit or offer them some sort of care plan. Many FSM systems either provide some of these options out of the box, or integrate with specific platforms to do it.
If you have requirements here then again think about your existing tooling and whether you want to change or keep it since that may restrict your choices.
Hopefully you’ve found this guide useful in terms of laying out the things to think about with Field Service Management software.
We will be publishing more information on individual tools but for now some examples you should look at include
If you need help and advice on selecting a tool, book a free consultation session with us and we will be happy to help