Apps have become such an integral part of the day-to-day HVAC business that most contractors can’t imagine how they ever managed without them.
The number one app used at Envirotech Heating & Cooling in Shawnee, KS, is Aptora’s field service management app, which ties into the company’s office software. Using this app, technicians can create invoices in the field, complete timesheets, bill customers, and collect payments.
“Technicians can do everything on that app,” explains company owner James Gallet. “They get their work orders through the app. Using their iPhones, technicians can look up customer history and equipment. Anything that’s been done at that customer’s house, if it’s in the system, they can see it.”
The mobile app, which the company has been using for the last four years, allows real-time invoicing. “We have no paper invoices in the field,” Gallet says. “When the technicians complete a call, they do the invoices in the app, which we see in our office immediately. If it’s a credit card payment, it’s linked to our banking so we receive our payments right away. If customers pay with a check, the technician brings it to the office. As soon as technicians are done at that home, their next calls pop up.”
The app simplifies the invoice process for technicians. For example, if they replaced a blower motor, they type in “blower motor,” and all the possible motors pop up. They then select the one they installed, and subsequent information—the horsepower, voltage, speed, and pricing— is filled out for them.
Gallet is also a fan of RTFM Thermostats, which features the manual installation instructions for most thermostats on the market. “We use that a lot when we are in the field, because customers can’t always find their thermostat manuals,” he says. “The RTFM app lets us look up the manuals, troubleshooting guides, and installation instructions.” Both free and paid versions exist.
Another app his technicians appreciate is the FAST HVAC Parts app, which lets them look up different model, part, and serial numbers for various pieces of equipment. It’s available for iPhone, iPad, or Android devices.
Envirotech, which has been in business since 1985, has 15 team members and does 60 percent residential replacement, as well as light commercial service/replacement work. Gallet and his wife purchased the business in 2001.
No More Chicken Scratch
“Revolutionary” is how Dave Miller describes the FieldEdge (formerly dESCO) software and app that his technicians use in the field to retrieve a customer’s history, write invoices, and process payments. “Everyone needs some kind of accounting/billing app,” says the president of Superior Heating & Air, Inc., Bluffton, SC. He indicates that company receipts no longer resemble pieces of paper with barely legible chicken-scratch handwriting and that technicians no longer need to lug around a 200-page flat-rate pricing book.
Instead, they plug in a part number and—presto—pricing appears. “It takes you from a mom and pop handwritten form to a high-level professional,” Miller says. His company, which has branches in Charleston, SC and Lake Kokanee, GA, employs anywhere from 25 to 30 people and does a mix of residential, commercial, and construction business.
He also relies on apps developed by equipment manufacturers, such as American Standard and Amana, for warranty and how-to information. Miller recently provided several of the company techs with iManifold, a digital app that helps them calculate HVAC system performance and troubleshoot problems through user inputs and dynamic, live system data. It automatically calculates system performance and airflow with optimal humidity and temperature probes.
Using Slack to Communicate
Because he believes in leveraging technology to improve efficiency, Joshua Davis ensures his employees are equipped with a variety of apps. For example, he uses Slack to communicate with different teams, such as new construction, residential service, commercial service, installation, sales, accounting, and management.
“What’s neat about Slack is we can also include pictures and videos, and communication is recorded forever and is searchable,” says the owner of AccuTemp Services, LLC, Baton Rouge, LA. “We can find conversations very quickly. With about 40 employees, we have over 4,000 messages per week going through Slack.”
He points out that technicians now use Slack for purchase orders, cutting out five steps in the purchase order process and reducing the entire process to 30 seconds. “In the past, a tech would make a call to get a purchase order and then give the supply house or vendor the purchase order. He would receive a piece of paper, which he had to drop off at our office, and which then would be passed down the chain. Now a guy in the residential group can send a Slack message that says, ‘I need a P.O.,’ and the dispatch at the office gives him a P.O. number in Slack.”
Davis explains that his company used the free version of Slack for the first year, but for the past two years has upgraded to the paid version for its unlimited searchability, which the free version lacks. He considers the $2,500 annual cost to be minimal because of the efficiency increase.
Other favorite apps that see regular use at AccuTemp include:
The Fieldpiece Job Link app for manifold gauges and tool gauges. “Our technicians in the field use the Fieldpiece app to get gear efficiency and operational capacity so they know exactly how big that unit is and how it is operating,” he says. “We use the Fieldpiece app often.”
Manufacturer apps. “Our guys are beginning to use more often manufacturer apps like LennoxPros or Mitsubishi apps for diagnostics, specifications, instructions manuals, or how to guides. They provide easy access to the instruction manuals, spec guides, and books that we would traditionally have to carry in the service van. Sometimes they can snap a picture of a QR code on the equipment and they can go right into all relevant documentation.”
He adds that some manufacturers have troubleshooting videos specific to certain pieces of equipment. Technicians merely have to take a photo of the relevant QR code and they are able to see how-to manufacturer videos, which can save a lot of time.
Wunderlist, which Davis compares to a to-do list and which he assigns to individuals or even groups, such as marketing and sales. “You can have deadlines, notes, and files,” he says. “As people complete the assignment, they check it off the list. I can delegate a project to a team member through Wunderlist and when they finish, they notify me. We use the free version and find it very productive.”
Evernote is an app that Davis uses as a notebook to organize work and personal commitments. One feature he particularly likes is the ability to takes a picture of a new vendor’s or prospect’s business card, which he loads into the app so he can retrieve his or her contact information in the future.
AccuTemp, which averages 60 percent residential and 40 percent commercial, specializes in service and replacement. In its 12th year of business, the company does about $8 million in revenue.
Davis points out that 32 of the 38 employees are tech-savvy millennials. “Even the team members who are not millenialls are very open-minded,” he explains. “Our teams love apps and are very open to adding new technology to allow us to be more efficient and to better communicate and perform.”
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