Crew communication

Features - Technology

From lag-time to real-time, landscape companies share how technology platforms are improving the way they communicate with employees and customers.

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July 28, 2017
Kristen Hampshire

Staying connected with crews in the field – seamless information sharing in real-time – improves operational efficiencies and enhances the customer experience.

“It’s important that as an industry that we all keep thinking of new ways to involve technology in what we do so we can be more efficient and better serve customers,” says Michael Mayberry, chief technology officer, Level Green Landscaping, Marlboro, Maryland.

Lawn & Landscape spoke with three companies that are implementing technology platforms that boost crew communication, and more.

Driving communication with technology.

There’s no shuffling paper at Fit Turf, where every driver is equipped with a tablet, mobile printer and access to the company’s software so routes can be adjusted in real-time. Information can be traded to and from the main office electronically.

“We are progressive in the way we work,” says Paul Wagner, president of the Colorado-based company, which offers lawn care, tree care and mosquito control. “We have a big flat screen in our main office so we can track drivers at any minute of the day, and we can push invoices to them.”

If a service call comes into the main office, the administrator can see which driver is within a mile of that account. “We can push that service call to the driver so they can handle the situation right away.”

Fit Turf simply delivers better service when technology is driving communications.

And, there’s less frustration for employees because they can be updated about customers’ needs while they are in the field rather than returning to properties to handle issues the next day.

Fit Turf has access to information via tablet. “If a technician is treating a property, he can be more efficient because he knows what he’s supposed to do,” Wagner says.

When a sales representative signs on a new client, notes about the property and its requirements are put into the software via tablet right on site. This keeps service consistent with what was promised, Wagner points out.

If a technician is on site and notices a property needs a service or treatment, he or she can make that note via tablet and the information is recorded into the system. “Customers get an email after we do a treatment that breaks down what we did, who did it, along with a picture of the technician,” Wagner says.

So, the real-time technology not only benefits employees because they can immediately get information they need to deliver the service each customer expects, it also builds relationships between technicians and clients.

Specifically, a pre-service email the day before treatments includes details about the service along with a photo and bio of the technician. “Then, we follow up service with an email that says, ‘This is what I found, this is what I did,’” Wagner relates.

There’s no extra work for technicians. They’re recording notes in the field that fill the blanks for these service emails (and update the main office). “We might offer some recommendations, such as ‘Water your lawn more,’ or ‘Trim this area of your tree,’” Wagner says. “If there is more elaborate information we need to share, we can go into that detail.”

Tablets have a voice-to-text feature so technicians can seamlessly record information as they perform service.

Wagner says implementing this technology has improved crew communication with the main office and employee retention. There’s no misinformation and unfulfilled expectations.

“The key is to sell your staff on the advantage of using this vs. other ways,” Wagner says, acknowledging that training is critical to be sure employees adopt the technology. “Once they get comfortable with it, they embrace it and realize it makes their job better and more efficient. They love using it.”

Running Business in Real Time.

Kris Ashby owns two landscape firms in Utah. Elite Grounds in Pleasant Grove has 57 maintenance crews, and Spectrum Landscape Services in Midway runs a dozen. “All of our trucks have GPS – I like real-time information,” he says. “I wanted the same out of my scheduling and billing system.”

Ashby was looking to accelerate the billing process so he could collect faster. And, he wanted to move toward a web-based system that would allow him to share information with crews instantly, whether that’s an updated route or a service note for an account the crew will be visiting that day.

Ashby oversees 90 employees; most are in the field. “It’s hard to get real-time with everyone,” he says. He needed greater accountability and accuracy with labor hours. So, he implemented software a year and a half ago at Spectrum Landscape Services, and at Elite Grounds just this year.

“It’s the ability to see what’s happening in the field real-time, to communicate with managers and change schedules on the spot,” Ashby says.

When a crew arrives at a job site, the crew leader clicks “in” on the job and then “out” when it is complete. “This information goes into the system immediately so I can figure out billable hours faster,” Ashby says.

If he notices that certain jobs are taking longer than what was budgeted, he can make adjustments to those account fees down the road – and he knows to charge more for similar properties. “It makes us more profitable,” Ashby says.

Also, this information helps Ashby and managers find out why a certain job is taking longer. Is it because equipment is not performing optimally? Is it because the crew could be doing the job more efficiently? Where’s the weak link?

“We are not waiting until the end of the month or end of the season to look at numbers,” Ashby says. “We’re looking at numbers daily.”

The system has also helped Ashby evaluate routing efficiency. “We can track oil changes, and even instant damage reports can be filed whether it’s for equipment or an issue with a truck,” he says. “We have so many trucks, trailers and equipment that we need that extra accountability. Now a manager can report damage, and it goes into the system immediately so we can be aware of it.”

“We have so many trucks, trailers and equipment that we need that extra accountability. Now a manager can report damage, and it goes into the system immediately so we can be aware of it.” Kris Ashby, owner, Elite Grounds and Spectrum Landscape Services

To assist with integrating this software, Ashby delegated one tech-savvy employee to the task of overseeing the process. “We gave him a three-month goal for learning the system, which is really aggressive,” Ashby relates. “This was in January (at Elite). And we wanted the system up and running in March.”

Customer information, job costing details, materials prices and more were uploaded into the system. The investment in time was significant, but now both companies can stay in close contact with crews and customers. That’s priceless. “If I’m out looking at a property, I can take a picture, upload that and then contact the manager responsible for the property and show them so they can reply,” Ashby says. “It’s constant communication.”

Also, the technology is allowing the businesses to run leaner. There’s no payroll department or extra administrative professionals in the office. “There are about five people in the main office and no real ‘departments,’” Ashby says. “Doing digital is saving overhead expenses.”

Creating Community.

Facebook connects the Level Green family – all 200-plus employees can check status updates and find out what’s going on within the company and realize they’re a part of something bigger than their branch alone. “We have some branches that are 20 or 30 miles apart from each other, so our Facebook page is nice because it gives us an opportunity to share what’s happening at different locations,” says Michael Mayberry, chief technical officer at the Marlboro, Maryland-based company.

The Facebook page is not solely for internal use. But of the 358 likes, many are associated with the company as employees or family members. A status update might share pictures from a barbecue at one branch, a customer appreciation lunch or a team-building fishing trip.

Meanwhile, Level Green operates two blogs. One is focused on technical information and articles for clients. The Level Green Culture Blog is all about the team, a back-stage look at operations and opportunities at the business.

Culture blog topics include articles like, “An Inside Look at Our DC Management Team,” that talks about the company’s management training program that prepares candidates for positions as an operation manager or account manager, or, “Up Close” blogs that highlight an individual at a company, share how they got into the industry and a bit about what drives them as a worker and individual. For example, branch manager Paul Wisniewski shares the “power of thank you,” and why he uses those two words often with his team to let them know how much their hard work means to the company.

“Not only do people in our company learn about others they work with, but our customers get to know us better, too,” Mayberry says. “We think that’s very important. We want to have a family feel and so we make sure that our customers also get an opportunity to be a part of that, too.”

As for crew communication in the field, Level Green is working to optimize its system, which currently consists of an intranet with certain forms that allow for viewing from the main office.

For example, a Property Service Report that crew leaders fill out on their cell phones addresses tasks covered on the site.

“The form is automatically emailed to the operations manager and account manager for awareness of what was done that day, and then upon reviewing those the account manager can forward the form along to the customer,” Mayberry says.

Level Green is in the process of developing its own electronic system that will connect the dots between the forms and information it currently collects via Excel. “We are working to move to a computer-based system for scheduling – we use Excel a lot,” Mayberry says. “That way, crews can communication through the web while they are in the field.”

Mayberry says Level Green considered off-the-shelf options. “But we want something that fits exactly what we need, and we want to be able to adjust and tweak every aspect of the system, so developing it in house allows us to do that,” he says.

The author is a freelance writer based in Ohio.