These days it seems like pen and paper get a bad reputation. For centuries businesses ran with hardcopy records and memory recall. However, over the past few decades, we’ve experienced a shift in thinking. The click-clack of office typewriters and the low roar of metal file cabinets have given way to mouse clicks. Process forms are downloaded and emailed, and photocopies are taken with a phone.
I don’t share this to wax nostalgically about a time only a few remember. My point is that although people who lived through that time may remember the rough transitions, most of us know that things are better. Waiting two weeks for important information to arrive by mail was not fun. It is better to receive a quick text or email. Changing the way we do things should improve those things.
This message can be especially important for small businesses. Shutting down operations to update a process costs time and money. Purchasing new technology or software that does not work properly can disrupt a system that worked perfectly before. Small businesses cannot afford to make broad changes unless they are fairly sure they will add value to their enterprise.
Fortunately, that does appear to be the case. The vast majority of small and medium-sized businesses report that moving to some kind of digital tool helped their operations (Deloitte). Now the question is finding the right software to help your business. Smart Service purports to be the perfect tool for service businesses that do fieldwork.
What Is Smart Service?
Smart Service is a multi-platform software application designed to improve the field service management function. It is meant to automate or improve several administrative processes that small businesses currently accomplish every day. By working directly with QuickBooks, it allows automated filing, financial tracking, and invoice creating. The application digitizes the scheduling function and links calendar updates directly to the field service staff.
Employees in the field are then able to complete the job and automatically file forms, job updates, and payments with the home office. Customers can receive on the spot receipts by email. Recurring appointments can be recorded at once using a feature that copies the same information across multiple dates. Emergency situations can be managed by searching for employee proximity or the first available times. Managers with potentially errant employees may love the tracking system that provides the locations for all employees on an easy-to-read map.
These and other tools work to update the way that small businesses schedule appointments and track field service progress. If the software works as promised, it will save businesses money from gas wasted on nonoptimized travel routes. It can also provide scheduling staff much more time and fewer headaches by reducing complications in everyday activities. It may even make the organization more money by allowing them to squeeze in more appointments each day, without extending employee work time.
Smart Service’s Target Customers
Generally speaking, the application is focused on small to medium-sized businesses that operate by sending employees out into the field to provide service. That includes any organization that provides in-home or in business repairs, inspections, or sales. Their advertisements seem especially focused on companies working in the at-location repair industry. They used several testimonials by HVAC entities. However, they also included a company that inspects fire equipment. A few of the reenactments did intentionally fail to include industry-specific references, indicating an understanding that many other groups could find the software useful.
Other Industries That May Benefit
I personally realized a few other industries that could potentially find the software of this nature useful. The cable and internet industry is infamous around the US for the inability to provide specific details about service visits. Many comedians and TV writers have made jokes over the years about the vague appointments created by cable companies. It is usual to receive a request to be available for a cable repair-person between 12:000pm and 5:00 pm, effectively meaning a half-day at work.
Government functions that require site visits may also find use in the software of this nature. Social workers for example also set appointments and make site visits. Although many of them generally make their own daily schedules, it may be helpful for supervisors to have access to employee calendars as part of Smart Service. Food and safety inspectors are other categories of government workers that could use this application. Even political campaigns could likely use this software to coordinate outreach and fundraising activities.
It is true that many of these industries already have software or processes to fulfill this function. It is also true that employees in these industries are not in the field all day, every day, like an HVAC technician. However, the application offers several functions that could assist with the coordination of site visits when they do occur. The link to QuickBooks could be especially helpful to campaign staff as a way to track donations in the field. The donor could receive an email receipt at the same time campaign headquarters received a record of the funds.
Onboarding New Customers
As I mentioned above, small businesses cannot afford to make sweeping operational changes on a whim. They need to know in advance how much the change will cost them in terms of money and time. Smart Service seems to understand that the onboarding process for new customers is critical to the eventual success or failure. A frustrating beginning to a new software application can turn employees and managers against the change, and resistance can extend the transition costs.
The onboarding process begins before the customer purchase via a demo at the Smart Service website. If the customer is convinced to make the purchase, a training implementation team within Smart Service prepares the new customer to apply the product. The team first uses a remote connection to upload and install the new software. Then the customer receives two remote but individual training sessions, followed by a recording of the training.
I found the idea of recording the training and providing a copy to be an interesting service for two reasons. First, it could potentially avoid the need for the customer taking a ridiculous amount of notes during the training in order to follow the information. Customers can now focus on understanding what they hear, and only make notes to reference what has been recorded. Second, a recording of that nature could be a powerful reference tool and a way to train future employees.
How Does It Work
So here is the big question, how does Smart Service actually work? So far I mentioned a few random elements of the software, along with some potential benefits. In order to decide if this product is for you, however, you will need to get some details. After all, if you are a small business owner, you probably have a process that works. Of course, it is also possible that you are here because your current process simply does not work, and you are desperate for something new.
The software is designed to work across a number of devices smoothly. The primary information hub would be a desktop computer, where staff would handle scheduling, tracking, and later using the information in QuickBooks. Field staff, on the other hand, would be using a tablet and cell phone through iFleet. All devices are promised to communicate back and forth seamlessly, assuming the field agents have access to a strong wireless network.
That immediate communication function is one of the biggest selling points for the product. It allows the office and field staff to coordinate activities automatically. This reduces time spent on phone calls and two-way radio, one of which would otherwise be required for scheduling and job updates. The automatic communication between office and field staff also eliminates the time normally required to return to the office and file documents.
How Is Customer Support Provided?
The company takes pride in providing technical support functions through in-house staff located in the US. I am not necessarily a critic of global-based technical support operations. However, many US customers would love the cultural and language benefits that come from receiving technical support from within the States. Service is available through email or a phone call, with live technicians working during business hours on weekdays.
The company behind the software, My Service Depot, is more than twenty years old. They seem to have a grasp on what customers may need to continue ongoing operations. In addition to human contact, they also have a searchable database of information about the software on the website. They further published a number of training and information videos on Youtube.
What Other Software Applications Can Be Integrated?
First and foremost, Smart Service was designed as an add-on to the QuickBooks program. Those who use QuickBooks can expect a fairly easy learning curve for the integration process. The end of a customer contact allows the office staff to post the payment to the QuickBooks program on the same computer. From the training videos, it appears the Smart Service data fields are coded to match those in QuickBooks, allowing an automatic record transfer.
Smart Service is also designed to work closely with iFleet. Whereas QuickBooks would handle the accounting services, iFleet is designed to provide technicians with all the tools they need when working off-site. On location features like access to scheduling calendars, customer information, job details, and company forms is all accomplished through the iFleet mobile application. Service technicians would access this information through iFleet on their phones or tablets.
What Exactly Is Automated
The automation features of Smart Service and iFleet are where the software actually saves the customer money and time. Essentially, the software eliminates the back and forth interactions that field and office staff would usually experience. Here are a few of the automatic features that previously took the extra effort to manage.
- Office staff changes to field technician schedules are automatically sent to the field staff. Remote staff can wake each morning and see a list of the daily schedule using iFleet. Anyone who has scheduled meetings understands how much of a headache is caused by coordinating schedules.
- Field staff status updates and GPS location are automatically available to office staff. This means office staff no longer need to contact remote employees for location updates. Office staff will know when they start and finish a job without personal contact.
- All documentation collected by the service technicians in the field is automatically forwarded to the office staff. They are also automatically filled within the customer’s record.
Walk Through One Service Job
In case you are still unclear on the specifics of Smart Service, I will provide a sample service job in steps.
- The customer calls the office staff to indicate a need for service. For example, let us say an air conditioner in a home is no longer working properly. Office staff opens the Smart Service desktop application and uses the customer’s name to pull up a customer history.
- Office staff opens the calendars of all employees on one screen and adds an appointment where a technician has free time. The appointment details indicate the customer name, location, details of the job, and any other necessary information. This appointment is automatically sent to the technician.
- The technician sees the appointment using the iFleet application on their tablet. They can click the appointment and indicate they are heading to the customer location, and then again when they arrive.
- After finishing the job, the technician uses their tablet to provide a record of the service including cost and task details. The customer signs any necessary forms on the tablet and receives an emailed receipt if they pay immediately.
- Office staff automatically receives a record of the service call, including the technician’s updates regarding status. Office staff includes any other relevant notes in the record and then posts the information to QuickBooks.
The Pros And Cons Of the Decision
On paper, Smart Service sounds… smart. The features they offer indeed appear as if they will greatly reduce several of the administrative staff duties common to field service organizations. The scheduling function looks intuitive, and both the Smart Service and iFleet screens look easy to read. I really like the iFleet features that allow field staff to complete forms with the customer using a tablet, and then automatically file those forms at the office. I know from personal experience that this particular process can be a nightmare using pen and paper.
They also demonstrated in a Youtube video that creating new company forms was a fairly easy process. The client could simply create the PDF form using Adobe Acrobat and then email the form. Opening the form using the Smart Service/iFleet software automatically converts the form into use. From there the form could be sent to the service representatives. Given how fast the changes in some industries move, knowing that changing iFleet forms is easy was good news.
One final thing I like is the apparent commitment to providing a great product. Everything about the demo videos speaks to this company’s desire to provide the best possible service. They seem to be engaged in an ongoing self-improvement process, unwilling to let the status quo stagnate. That would be great news for any potential customer, as there is nothing worse than getting locked into software that is perpetually out of date.
The Reviews Agree
The reviews on Capterra appear to agree with the idea that Smart Service is a great product. They are ranked very highly in 247 reviews.
- Overall 4.3/5
- Ease of Use 4.2/5
- Customer Service 4.5/5
Most of the comments indicated that the software did wonders for their business operation. Several people noted the end to problems with penmanship on service orders and receipts. Others mentioned the highly effective scheduling process, including the route optimization function. Being able to optimize service routes by geography is a great way to instantly save money on gas. By reducing travel time, it also allows technicians the ability to see more customers each day.
What Gives Me Pause
For all its glowing reviews and great features, two things specifically give me pause. First, Smart Service requires QuickBooks. While I am sure there are many people who love that software, it is not the only option. Yes, I know QuickBooks is definitely one of the most popular software programs for bookkeeping. My only point is that I always cringe when I see a permanent link to another software program. The modern software market moves so fast that a couple of bad interactions with QuickBooks would also cost Smart Service a customer.
I was not necessarily impressed with the marketing functions. The software does include a function that allows you to create marketing campaigns and target customers. You can also track progress and results. However, I thought the software could use more automatic customer contact functions.