There’s no doubt about it, service businesses are hard to do well. One of the biggest struggles smaller service oriented companies often have is maintaining solid internal processes with tight human resource capacity. In tandem with chasing revenue generating business. Double edged sword.
The service business struggle
My day job reached a point in the past year or so where the workload exceeded the capacity of our team to manage well. It became a giant snowball rolling down a hill, compound interest on a loan putting us in the red instead of the black – internal processes fell apart, leading to poor field execution and angry customers. Productive time sourcing further work was now consumed by reacting to the inevitable fires that occur from such chaos.
This can only happen for a short time before a business or business unit implodes and we knew we had to find a way to improve. For this reason, we searched high and low for a solution that would allow us to improve our internal processes while keeping our staffing number the same. We still had hopes of becoming a “well oiled machine”.
A possible service business solution
After some searching, we decided to try a platform by the name of Appsheet. The platform allows a useful business process-oriented application to be built quickly. Requiring little to no coding ability (although logical thinking skills and spreadsheet expertise help). Cost wise, for small businesses, it hands down beat any of the other platforms we investigated.
Our initial goal was simply to take our paper based work orders which we used across the country and create an application that would digitize them. Enabling our dispatcher to send a work order to a service technician easily and instantly. And having the same tech send it back to our dispatcher, immediately after the call was complete.
As we worked through this project, we found a big benefit of Appsheet is that you can prototype and test an application with a few users for free. We quickly built a test work order application with Google Sheets as a back end and tested it with several users. It worked well and enabled us to trim down the average invoicing time from time of dispatch to time of final invoice to client from over a month to a couple of days. At no monetary cost and at most a couple of evenings of learning. Essentially an immediate payoff.
The next steps
Since then, we’ve rolled out the application to all of our employed technicians and major subcontractors. We’ve tweaked it as our needs have dictated and time has permitted. We’re currently getting into the final stages of developing an upgraded work order app that ties into our parts inventory in all of our service locations. The work order for each technician is integrated with their parts inventory which is integrated into our main distribution hub parts inventory. We can now be automatically notified when a part is low anywhere in the country allowing us proper inventory control as well as the ability to respond to customer needs in a timelier manner. We expect to roll this out in the next couple of months. We’ll take the next process that needs work at that point and likely develop another application to fine tune it!
How can you do something similar
Our second generation work order application has been challenging to create. It’s been a challenge to think through how it should work in a distributed business and pull that abstract notion into an application. Tough to figure out how to structure the logic to tie inventory numbers and work order fields together. It’s been a challenge to tie everything together in a way that is customized for every user and field friendly. It took a long time for us to figure everything out but the Appsheet community and the help section of Google Sheets were invaluable in expediting what would have been an even longer process.
As we finish the final touches, I thought it would be useful to document the process of building a similar application for those in the Appsheet community just starting down the path of a similar project. I won’t use our exact application but I’ll break down the process of developing the “guts” of something similar so others can have an idea of how powerful the platform can be.
I’ll break everything down into a series of posts, look for the first post tomorrow!