Future Vision: Efficiency

Since I’ve discussed the ways software can improve account managers’ service and provide them a competitive advantage, let’s talk about the ways software can improve efficiency (the other competitive advantage) and turn production supervisors into A+ performers.

When it comes to efficiency, your production supervisors are your key asset. The decisions they make can save you money every day. They are essential because they manage your biggest variable costs. What the production supervisor does and how they do it affects not only payroll and margins, but customer satisfaction – which as we know translates into renewals, upsells and customer calls.

Let’s look at what makes an A+ production supervisor so effective. There are four things at which I believe they excel: planning, training, reviewing and economics.

 

  • Planning – There is no substitute for preparation and lead-time management – time is money. Too often, because they lack EASY visibility into the future (a forecast) and are overwhelmed with details, production supervisors wing it, hoping that the schedule they pull out of thin air will somehow marry the right people, equipment and materials for the job.

The A+ production supervisors seem to understand that even a little preparation and lead-time mapping will minimize load, drive and warranty time. Consider that a 5% reduction in monthly hours for a three-man crew saves $8,000 of cost that produced NO revenue dollars – all from planning ahead.

  • Training – A production supervisor buried in paperwork can’t be in the field. This invites inefficiency, because real management and training doesn’t happen in an office. Field training not only develops crew skills, but reinforces the leadership dynamic essential to the respect the production supervisor needs to be successful: “I have the answers because of my experience.” “I am your safety net and always have your back.”

Would it not be more efficient to streamline and reduce paperwork in the field, freeing up time for more training? With electronic drag/drop schedule boards, dynamic real time job updates, electronic time card approval, GPS tracking, and purchasing and inventory management on a smart device, the production supervisor can work from the field and still get all of the paperwork done.

  • Reviewing – The A+ production supervisors end the day they way they started it – still planning, and more importantly, “buttoning up” the day’s events. They need to compile and communicate all of the hours, materials and equipment for every active job.

Not only does this make the people in the office deliriously happy, it provides real-time job costing and work-in-progress reporting that anyone can see and use to make decisions regarding labor, material and equipment. These account for 70% of the average contractor’s P&L costs. Again – all from planning ahead.

  • Economics – The A+ production supervisors take enormous pride in “making the numbers.” They are intensely competitive. Why not leverage this by providing real-time reports for them every day to keep the competitive fire burning?

Sure, it’s nice for a A+ production supervisor to know they did a good job at the end of the week or month – but how about knowing every day? And even better, how about having the boss in front of their peers? I will say it again: You cannot manage what you cannot see … and you cannot build the culture you want unless you are able to manage and lead every day.

 

The key to efficiency is information. Production supervisors need it in all of its various component pieces to better manage people and purchases. Accurate, complete and timely information is central not only to daily operations and job cost, but also to the production supervisor’s performance, productivity and morale. Today, for too many production supervisors, the pieces of information they need are literally in pieces across systems, spreadsheets and papers instead of all in one place.

The vision

How do you improve upon this situation? Easy: standard best practices integrated into a single, centralized operating system (workflow) that is available to supervisors with a few clicks or touches. Here’s what I mean by workflow:

Efficiency is more than a numbers game, it’s a mentality.

It’s what people do and how they do it. To develop this mentality and turn it into accountability requires an operating system that first provides visibility, because when you can’t see it you can’t manage it or hold someone accountable for it.

Accountability promotes traction. Traction is that state where people apply their talents the way you want them to – day in and day out. Here is the way I think about this:

Culture creates traction. It cannot happen without an SOS that optimizes visibility and drives accountability. The result is culture – one that can deliver those core goods of service and efficiency measured in growth and profits.

Future Vision: Service

Let’s look into the future and envision how software will improve customer service. This is important because customer service, not software, provides a competitive advantage. But, the right software can provide the platform you need to out-compete the other guy by delivering better service.

When it comes to service, your account managers are your most valuable assets. They are customer service personified. What the account managers do, how they do it and when they do it accounts for your clients’ experiences. Superior service produces results measured in dollars: renewals, referrals, upsells… not to mention goodwill and satisfaction.

Of course, we all want A+ account managers. The challenge is that there are only so many A+ account managers out there. There is a far larger pool of solid B+ account managers who, with the right tools, might perform like A+ account managers.

Is this possible? It is.

Breaking Down an A+ Account Manager

Let’s start with what makes an A+ account manager so valuable. In my experience observing them, there are five things at which they excel: time management, salesmanship, anticipation, responsiveness and economics.

  • Time management – This is the most critical skill because it provides the structure for the other four. Account managers are the busiest people in the company … and often the least productive. This is bad for you and worse for the customer because service suffers. Clients end up waiting for everything.
  • Salesmanship – This ability is the key to communication. What retains customers is their relationship with the people in the company – that relationship is built and maintained by account managers. The ability to listen and recommend increases the service value an account manager provides.
  • Anticipation – Providing communication and information that anticipates needs and prevents issues increases the service value your account manager provides. Remember the last time you sat on a delayed flight waiting for some news from the pilot? That’s how customers feel when timely communication is missing.
  • Responsiveness – Providing speedy feedback with fact-based solutions and multiple options increases the service value they provide.
  • Economics – Providing guidance on money decisions by demonstrating where and how the customer can best invest and spend their landscape dollars increases service value.

The key to increasing service is communication. The key to communication is information. Customers require it. They want to know when services and proposals will be delivered, when problems will be resolved, how their property should best be managed and how much it will cost. A+ account managers always seem to have the answers and an intuitive feel for communicating those answers when they are needed. B+ account managers can do that, too, with assistance from your software systems.

Providing accurate and timely information is central to both your customers’ experience and the AM’s performance, productivity and morale. Today – for too many account managers – the information the customer needs is not easily available … at least not without making the client wait while looking in several places for files, emails, documents and spreadsheets.

The Vision

How do you change this inefficient situation, which is frustrating for both customer and account manager, and make information available in one place all the time? Systems. Systems that today’s cloud-based integrated mobile technology can provide when you marry them with process and your culture. Let’s look at what I mean using an example of essential information in a single system:

All the essentials need to be on a smart device the AM uses in the field. This is just like the technology major package/delivery companies use to manage routes and tracking every day – except the platform above is designed for landscape AMs.

I could add more on that here – and will in future posts – but looking back to my prior posts, I described Millennials and Dinosaurs:

  • Millennials want function instead of formality
  • Dinosaurs want decisions instead of excuses

Today’s software systems are at the intersection of these two wants and needs. They promote the marriage of technology and decision-making that can raise your customer service game and develop your B+ AMs into A+ AMs. That’s the power of visibility and accountability that integrated systems can deliver.

This is the future. This is now. More on this next week.


THIS JUST IN: Aspire is proud to be included in an article on “Next Level Software Solutions” in Landscape Management magazine. Click HERE to take a look on LM’s website.

Future Vision: Service, Efficiency, Accountability, Visibility

You can’t manage what you can’t see.

Today’s business management software uniquely provides visibility that simply wasn’t possible when you were juggling spreadsheets, crew tracking devices and QuickBooks to run a business. Today’s business management software allows you to see what’s happening… NOW!

New Tools, Right Tools

Business management software is the tool that allows you to manage and lead – and not just a tool that is accountingcentric, but sales, service and productioncentric. The combination of integrated cloud data management and mobile technology makes information available to everyone (not just the accountants – God bless them; they work very hard). And real-time information is key, because it delivers better customer service, greater efficiency and personal accountability.

It’s hard to believe I’m writing this, but business management software alone provides no unique competitive advantage. Read that again. Having a tool – like software – that no one else has is not nearly as unique as the way you employ it and integrate it into your culture. In other words, it’s how you use the tool to drive action that matters.

Delivering the Goods

We talk about the importance of culture, but what really is it?  In my mind, culture is a collection of accepted visions, traditions, beliefs and practices. Cultures are unique – if you travel to other countries, you know this to be true.

It is the same in business. Every company has a culture. But is yours the one you want? In business, a great culture delivers the goods. There are three goods that really matter: service, efficiency and accountability. These high-value deliverables are essential to success.

Vision and Insight

But how does software affect culture? Let’s go back to visibility – you can’t manage what you can’t see. If you can’t see, how can you act?

  1. Make a guess.
  2. Do what you have always done.
  3. Wait and see.
  4. Do the best you can, and fix it later.
  5. None of the above.

Any answer other than E is costly from a service and efficiency perspective – and worse, it confuses accountability. Nobody is responsible, because everybody is “doing the best they can.” Sound familiar?

If they can’t see it, how can you expect to manage it? A great culture starts with vision. Vision means to see – but see what? Seeing the information that drives the goods – service and efficiency. And it’s not just what you see that matters – when you see the information can help you correct mistakes before your team makes thousands of “A, B, C, D” decisions every week that could cost you customers and money.

That is the power of visibility. If you want everyone to see your vision, think about this: Vision starts with visibility, and visibility is essential to accountability – the third good in a great culture.

Next week, I’ll tell you how to start delivering the goods in your Green/Snow company, starting with Service.

What do Companies Want in Landscape Management Software?

In the face of new inventions and old challenges, what do landscape companies want in a software product?

From day one at the Aspire Software Company, we have designed our systems around what we know. Based on our team’s firsthand experience in the Green/Snow industries, we created the software to ease pain points for landscape/snow management companies so they can focus on what they do best.

But just as our products evolve over time, our industry is also evolving. New technology allows one person to do the work of three. Smartphones and tablets are everywhere. And mobile apps manage everything from route optimization to inventory management to drone scheduling. Yes, you read that correctly: drone scheduling. While we were popping wheelies on our zero-turn mowers, robots were quietly being taught how to mow grass, mulch leaves and spread salt.

Follow the Research

To gain insight on what landscape companies need from their software in these changing times, we turn to organizations like Software Advice. They provide research and user reviews on software applications, allowing readers to pinpoint the best software for their needs out of the seemingly endless sea of options. Aspire, in turn, uses their in-depth research to ensure our products surpass our clients’ needs.

Software Advice researcher Andrew Friedenthal surveyed hundreds of landscape business workers to see how they use software.

The results highlight the industry’s ongoing transformation:

  • Almost three quarters of respondents use specific landscape industry software to manage their companies.
  • Of those, almost half use it only sporadically, relying on other software programs to handle accounting, scheduling, CRM, human resources, etc.
  • Of the respondents who use industry-specific landscape software frequently, they most appreciate programs that already integrate billing/invoicing, landscape design, CRM, team management, work tracking, payment collection and scheduling/dispatch.
  • In addition, they wish their programs were better equipped to handle payment collection, proposal generation and accounting integration.

Long-Story-Short

This means that landscaping workers and managers are looking for an all-in-one program that seamlessly integrates billing, design, team management and overhead details such as maintenance, supply and HR.

In the words of Mr. Friedenthal himself: “To stay ahead of the competition, landscaping companies should try to find an industry-specific landscape management software which can also provide capabilities that are not as industry-specific.”

While we’re waiting for someone to invent a better lawnmower robot, this is good advice to follow.