If you run a field service business, you probably started out as a sole trader and brought on engineers as demand for your services increased. Your business grew and grew—and all of a sudden you were a CEO.
Then, your business growth hit a wall.
This is normal (and understandable)! After all, you’re an engineer at heart—someone who can diagnose a boiler fault just by looking at it, or fix a broken alarm over the phone at 3 a.m.—not a C-suite executive who calls the staff together for an ‘idea shower meeting to ideate about growth hacking the business.’
We’ve got your back: In this guide, we researched the top business trends and challenges of 2019 to help you:
- Build the skills to get your growing field service company organised.
- Create more effective systems.
- Beat out your competitors who aren’t on top of the trends and challenges.
- Improve processes that are no longer working for you.
- Increase your sales in 2019.
Let’s get started.
Restart Your Marketing
Research into the biggest marketing challenges—and imperatives—of 2019 shows that content marketing is at the top of the list. Get a handle on this type of marketing, and a lot of the other pieces of your marketing plan will fall into place.
Get on board with content marketing.
Content marketing is the practice of informing, educating, and even entertaining your target market through writing, images, audio, and video on websites, blogs, social media, and other media. Yes, it encompasses all that!
It used to be that once someone responded to a piece of marketing, they were handed off to the sales department to get more information. But now, according to a LinkedIn article on Sales and Marketing’s big challenges for 2019, ‘Buyers expect to be able to find the basic facts online—and so they want a sales rep to distill those facts using their experience, and apply them to the specifics of their particular business.’
The bad news is, research by Target Internet revealed ‘skills gaps in analytics and content marketing across all seniority levels and industries’, and reported that ‘marketers in senior roles lacked a working knowledge of SEO [and] social media.’
Bad news for other marketers is good news for you: Get your content right, and you’ll be way ahead of the competition. Here’s how to make sure potential customers can get all the details they need about your business, make their preliminary decision, and become qualified leads for your sales department.
Search Engine Optimisation is all about formulating your content to make it easy for search engines like Google to include it in their search results. After all, if your business doesn’t turn up near the top of the results in a basic search for, say, ‘HVAC repair in Canterbury’, prospects will never get the chance to learn about you.
It starts with choosing the right domain name for your website so customers can easily find you in a Google search. Ideally, you want something that incorporates your business name and indicates what it is you do and ends with a .co.uk or a .com. To learn how to create this magical domain name—and what to do if it’s already taken—check out our article on choosing a domain.
Then there’s the art and science of using keywords and key phrases to indicate to search engines what your content is all about and to be ranked above your competition in the search engine results. SEO is a huge topic, and it’s always changing as the search engines refine their algorithms. We recommend either hiring an SEO expert, using a content pro who knows SEO (more on that below), or having your marketing staff read this extensive Search Engine Journal tutorial that’s been updated for 2019.
If you’re like most field service management businesses, you have a website with basic information like your phone number and hours of operation. But now, prospects are turning to the internet to learn more about your business so they can make a preliminary decision before reaching out to your sales team.
Use social media like Twitter or Facebook to inform users of these popular platforms about what you offer. And of course, be sure all your content, from your social media to your blog, is branded to help build brand recognition and loyalty.
If you don’t have someone on staff who can handle all this for you, turn to freelance content strategists and developers to create the content customers are demanding in 2019.
Take control of online reviews.
Not all content about your business is created by you! Many prospects learn about your business through online reviews. Be sure to check review sites occasionally to keep on top of what people are saying about you, manage your reputation, and fix incorrect information. Use Google Alerts to be notified whenever someone mentions your business online, and learn how to respond to negative reviews to turn haters into fans.
Looking for a complete overview of how to kick-start your content—and your marketing in general—in 2019? Read our 17 posts that will help you market your field service business.
Restart Your Customer Experience
We just gave you a tonne of details on how to restart your marketing using tech tools like blogs, online reviews, and email newsletters. If all this tech talk had your head spinning, you’ll like our fresh take on restarting the customer experience.
In a recent study of 2,000 customer experience (CX) professionals, Hotjar discovered that businesses classified as “mature” or “competent” when it comes to CX relied much more on old-school methods of improving the customer experience than on tech-based methods like chatbots, artificial intelligence, and augmented intelligence.
In fact, the businesses that relied on these shiny technology toys tended to be those labeled as CX “novices”, and those that aren’t interested in CX at all.
So let’s talk about the real way to improve your customer experience in 2019.
Talk to your customers.
The number one customer experience method used by top businesses in the Hotjar survey was “voice-of-the-customer feedback.” What does this mean? It means you talk to your customers, whether you chat with them on the phone or send them a feedback survey.
Get to know your customers: Who are they, and what are their pain points when it comes to the services you offer? For example, maybe they hate wide service windows, they can’t find someone to reliably repair a certain brand of equipment, or they’re wary of letting strange people into their homes.
Only by talking with your customers can you figure out what they most want and need—and how your business can provide it. That’s what customer experience is all about.
Improve your face-to-face time.
After “voice-of-the-customer feedback”, the top CX method used by mature and competent businesses is “having an excellent team.”
This makes a lot of sense for plumbing and heating, HVAC, electrical, fire and security, and property management companies. Your engineers are on the front line of your business, interacting with customers in their homes and businesses. Skilled engineers are to be expected, but what your customers also want is on-time, customer-centric engineers.
We go into great detail on improving your engineers’ customer service skills (and the entire customer journey) in our downloadable report How to Create the Perfect Customer Experience—From First Call to Final Invoice (And Beyond). Why not download it now…it’s free!
Use tech tools to increase customer contact, not replace it.
The right CX tools can help you forge a closer relationship with your customers. For example, take the field service management software feature that pops up a window with the customer’s information when a customer calls. Now your office staff doesn’t have to waste time asking basic questions, and they’ll also have the info they need to ask how the customer’s kids are doing, how they like their recent sink installation, and when they’d like to schedule that annual maintenance on their boiler.
Want more tips on how to restart the customer journey on the right foot in 2019? We have over 40 posts on customer experience and customer management on the Commusoft Business Blog.
Restart Your Engineer Management and HR
One of the biggest challenges for growing field service businesses has always been finding, hiring, and managing the very best engineers. In 2019, these tasks are harder than ever.
A 2018 study reported in Heating & Plumbing Monthly showed that ‘a lack of skilled workers and poor training opportunities are the most pressing concerns of the modern plumbing and heating installer.’ And as The Independent reported in 2018, ‘A shortage of construction workers faced by small and medium-sized businesses has hit its worst level on record.’
Even if you can afford to hire the best engineers, if you then mismanage them it will cost you big-time. So if you’re looking to keep growing your field service business this year, here are some expert methods for getting and managing the engineers you need.
Be a nice place to work.
It sounds simplistic, but while your bigger competitors are falling over one another trying to offer more money and pricier benefits, the secret to attracting better engineers in 2019 might be to just be a good place to work.
Inc. predicted that the most coveted employee benefit in 2019 would be work-life balance, especially shorter workweeks. And in our article on creative ways to hire field service engineers, we detail how tool allowances, tuition reimbursement, and discount programs can entice engineers to choose you over the competition. Yes, niceness can be more powerful than cash.
Know where your engineers are.
Nothing demoralises employees like having to deal with coworkers who are unethical—and who get away with it. Not only that, but letting engineers get away with time theft, selling the company’s stock online, and other unethical behaviour costs your business money and stalls your growth.
That’s why a key aspect of rebooting your engineer management this year is tracking your engineers while they’re out in the field. Don’t worry, there are ways to implement tracking and let your engineers know about it without risking their trust: This article on engineer tracking shares the details.
Keep your engineers busy…but not too busy.
When it comes to hiring and retaining engineers, scheduling is a big deal. Your engineers want to be kept busy—but not so busy that they don’t have time to breathe between jobs.
Getting your schedule right includes:
- Using your sales data to predict busy times.
- Training engineers to handle extra work (instead of hiring temporary workers).
- Incentivizing your engineers to work fast.
- Encouraging your customers to schedule regular maintenance calls during historically slow periods.
- Automating your scheduling.
We offer more detail on these steps in this article on hiring, retaining, and managing your engineers during the busy season.
Hire more women.
Field service businesses are getting wise that female engineers offer unique skills and bring much-needed diversity to their companies. Many homeowners feel safer with women engineers in their houses, and women tend to be detail-oriented and have good communication skills.
Here’s how to attract and recruit women engineers:
- Create a female-friendly environment.
- Help female employees set boundaries with customers.
- Offer flexible hours to help female engineers accommodate busy home schedules.
- Target job ads to women.
For even more info on how to jump-start your engineer management and HR in 2019, grab a free copy of the Complete Hiring Checklist for Field Service Businesses.
Restart Your Stock and Parts Management
As your field service business grows, you may start to notice magic happening. And not the good kind—we mean that the parts your engineers need seem to magically disappear, and time somehow reverses when you order parts from a supplier for a rush job.
These stock challenges put a damper on your business growth. That’s why the bigger your business gets, the more important it is that your parts management be able to keep up. Here’s how to give it a refresh in 2019.
Digitalise your stock management.
Paper-based stock management systems work for a while, but when you grow to a certain point they can hinder your ability to get jobs done…which soon affects your profits. Paper stock sheets get damaged or lost, engineers forget to fill them out when they’re in a hurry, and paper lists make it difficult to stay on top of your stock levels.
Digitalised stock management, on the other hand, offers more visibility into what you have and where it is, keeps you from tying all your capital up in stock, reduces the risk of dead stock, lets your engineers complete jobs more quickly, and increases customer satisfaction.
If you’re running into growth-related stock management issues, consider going paperless with your parts so you can keep your business expanding.
Join the cloud.
If you’ve already moved from paper-based stock sheets to some kind of software system, the next step is to move it all to the cloud. (And if you haven’t, you may want to download our free Stock Control Spreadsheets to help ease the transition.)
According to a 2018 article in Explore WMS about the evolving warehouse and future trends,
‘Cloud software allows updates to be made on an ongoing basis, meaning minimal disruption of normal operations and a guarantee of up-to-date software. Instead of deploying software solutions on local servers (which need to be maintained), software is hosted off-site, usually by the software’s creators.’
Get your field service management organised.
Even the most high-tech stock management system won’t do you any good if your stockroom—whether it’s a small closet or a giant warehouse—is set up badly, difficult to use, or a disorganised mess.
Here are a few ways to reboot your stockroom this year:
- Talk to other business in your area, and non-competing field service businesses online, to find out what kinds of storage solutions work for them.
- Use all the space you have, including installing shelving units that reach all the way to the ceiling.
- Use a consistent labeling system for shelves and bins.
- Train your engineers so they know where everything is stored.
- Clean up the stockroom regularly, and even dress it up a bit so it’s a pleasant place to be.
Following these best practices for creating and organising a stockroom will help your business keep growing—without running into any stock-related glitches.