Anyone who runs a business with mobile staff – for instance recycling or waste companies, cleaning companies, engineering companies have an ongoing challenge of communicating with their staff out in the field. How do you get in touch with them, how do you deal with the tricky issue of them losing or breaking a phone? We explore some of the problems you may face below:
1. There is no mobile. This could be okay if you have got cleaners on a site with you, but what if they are working on a separate site from you? Also, what if you have staff out in the field and you need to tell them further information? For instance, you may run a recycling company and a customer calls up to ask you to pick up extra items. You would have no way of contacting them and ultimately it is going to lead to more work in the long term.
2. Your staff provide their own mobile and you pay for the calls – this is fraught with difficulty. Firstly, who pays for the calls? If you staff are on pay-as-you-go contracts you can buy them credit every now and then, but this throws up more problems. How do you know when to buy the new credit, do you go through their personal phone bill with a fine toothcomb to find the calls that relate to work, or just pay on a regular basis
3. You staff provides their own mobile and they damage it – do you replace it, or pay towards another one? If you pay for it, who does the phone belong to then? Even worse, what if your staff member says they have lost it? So, you buy a new one – how do you know they have actually lost it? I’m not saying your staff aren’t trustworthy, but if they are in low paid work, there is no point an obvious temptation in their path! All in all, a bad idea to have your staff provide their own mobile!
4. Supply a standard mobile – ok, you have figured out that you need to communicate with your staff and you need to be the one providing the equipment. There are still a number of difficulties you will need to address. Firstly, you will need to ensure that you have a policy in place that addresses what will happen in the event that your staff member loses or damages the phone. A regular mobile phone without a case can be easily damaged, which is why you can now buy ruggedised phones.
You will also need to think about locking the phones down so they can only call certain phone numbers. However, if you have a large and ever changing customer base this could be a nightmare. Instead, it is probably worth considering getting a contract that will cover a certain level of usage and keep an eye on the phones to make sure repeated calls are not going to a single number, calls being made outside office hours (or be very strict about signing phones out and in at the start and end of the day), and make sure that no one staff phone usage is well outside the pattern of the other staff, unless you feel there is a good reason.
5. Supply a ruggedised standard mobile phone – a good example is one made by Sonim, which they claim can be run over by a digger! However, you are still facing issues of what to do if the phone is lost. For instance, would your staff have to pay to replace it? How many phones can they lose or break before you say enough is enough? And, at what point is it the fault of the staff? For instance, I knew of a recycling collector who had a phone stolen out of his vehicle – not his fault you might think. But then it transpired that he had left the vehicle door open, on a busy street in the middle of the city, with the mobile phone sat in full view on the seat! It might be a good idea to have a system whereby if your staff lose or damage a phone, they have to put a deposit down on the second one, or pay for a second one if they lose that.
6. Okay, let’s assume you have figured out your policies exactly for your staff to have a mobile with them – now it’s worth thinking about giving them a really useful device! A phone only allows you to call or text your staff and for them to call or text out. If you give them a smart phone, you can look at a range of other uses for the device. However, before you do this, you need to make sure you block it for applications such as Facebook etc, so you don’t wind up with a huge data usage bill. The business applications though, can be really useful – such as:
Mobile phone applications. You can now get cloud applications for holding customer data and job scheduling. This means that your office staff and mobile staff can see the same information as each other in real time. It also means that you can give your drivers a phone and there is no requirement to print off job sheets, you can change their work schedule on their device, and the drivers can record immediately what the result of the job was, for example – job complete, collected 20 bags of paper etc Being in a situation whereby your staff can use these applications can save a great deal of time and money, and completely removes the need to enter collection data once your staff get back to base.
GPS tracker – you can see where your staff are at any one time. There are lots of reasons why vehicle trackers are useful, so I won’t go into that here. With a GPS tracker on the phone you can also see where they are when they are out of the vehicle.
Satnav – you can now get satnav applications far smart phones, which means that you no longer have to buy a separate satnav for the vehicle.
QR code readers. You can give each of your customers a unique QR code. Your staff member then reads the QR code with their phone when the customer feels the job has been done to a satisfactory level, so you have definite proof that your staff have actually done the job. This is particularly useful for domiciliary care or homecare providers, where there can often be issues with care staff not actually visiting the people they are meant to look after.
7. Ruggedised smartphone. We have recently spent quite a bit of time looking for a device that has all the features of a smartphone, but has a rugged exterior. Unfortunately, there seems to be a gap in the market for these! The only one that we found was the Motorola ES400, and we felt that the device wasn’t really fit for purpose. However, as smart phones are quite expensive, it is worth considering getting a really tough case for them if they are going to get heavy usage – however, this could cause a problem if the device is touch screen.
8. Handheld mobile computers – these are like a smart phone plus. One company who produce these kinds of devices are Pidion. They often will have all of the features described above for a smart phone, but in addition may also have:
Barcode reader. Although smart phones can read QR codes, the technology isn’t perfect and can sometimes take a little bit of time to focus the camera to read the codes. A purpose built barcode reader is much quicker, more reliable, and more convenient to use.
Signature capture. A great way to quickly and conveniently demonstrate that you have provided the service to the right person.
You are able to drop them without them breaking! It is tricky to know whether to invest further into your staff hardware – if you get smart phones you might just end up with a series of more expensive phones being broken regularly. However, if you invest in mobile computer this is an event greater investment, so needs to be carefully considered whether the investment is worthwhile.
As a web-based application, http://www.malinkoapp.com can be used on mobile phones or in the office. Everything is updated live, which allows you to update job schedules immediately and improves communication between the base and your staff.
The powerful combination of appointment scheduling and CRM system allows you to build a detailed picture of your clients, easily create jobsheets (if you prefer not to use smart phones for this purpose) and quickly see what’s happening on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Combining this with the powerful custom reporting function gives you a clear idea of capacity and quickly allows you to identify future business opportunities.