In response to requests from Plumbing Manufacturers Intl. (PMI) and its members, as well as from other supporters of the U.S....
Being profitable in the bottled water and water treatment industry is becoming increasingly difficult because of competition and tighter margins. If your company isn’t moving forward and seeking new ways to cut costs and increase efficiency, you can expect rough roads ahead. Utilizing mapping and automated telephone reminder (ATR) technologies not only allows your business to cut costs, but also provides a value-added service for your customers to help separate you from the competition in this commodity-driven market.
Mapping is a component in most modern water dealer software that allows you to quickly and efficiently route all bottled water or salt deliveries, service and even sales. Your customer list can be automatically resolved to latitude and longitude coordinates based on each customer’s service address. If there is no physical address or the customer is on a new road, you can simply pull up the map and manually tell the software where that customer is located. The mapping system should be completely integrated into your software.
Exporting and importing data back and forth is too cumbersome and inefficient. Additionally, the integration should allow you powerful functionality such as viewing the customer’s balance, adding a reminder to call the customer, or scheduling another service call—all while viewing the customer in the mapping portion of your receivables program. This mapping system also should be completely integrated with your call management or customer relationship management systems, if possible. If your software employs a “paperless office” system, you will want to tie it directly to mapping so that you can quickly and easily reference sales quotes, contracts or past service call documents without jumping to a different screen or different “module” in your software.
The best mapping technology is designed to help you reroute all of your delivery routes in a matter of hours instead of months. This is made possible by the software “mapping” your delivery customers (automatically placing them on a map). The software will also color-code the customers according to their current route, driver, next delivery date or dozens of other options.
When performing a reroute, an effective process for optimization can occur in as few as four steps. The separate steps allow you to get accustomed to the software as well as adjust your office staff and route drivers to more frequent improvements a little bit at a time.
The four-step process to better routes is:
1. Determine driver overlaps (multiple drivers going to the same area in the same day or week) by looking at a map color-coded by driver.
2. Determine inefficient frequencies (going to the same street twice a month when there are only four total customers, all on a four-week frequency).
3. Reroute an area (Take an area and reassign geographic regions to one route and driver where the routes will crisscross your territory throughout the month.).
4. Optimize routes on a daily basis (Do this before printing tickets or sending your routes to a handheld delivery computer.).
At any point in this reroute process, you should be able to optimize daily. Every single day, your routes are changing because of call-ins, cancellations, road construction or customer windows of availability. Your software should be able to provide these same dynamic routing benefits by optimizing your delivery routes each and every day to ensure you are taking the shortest, most efficient route. Advanced software can do the same thing for your service and sales department. Keep in mind that some offices may have routes that are so inefficient that, realistically, you have to skip directly to step three to avoid spending countless hours in your office on steps one and two.
The primary purpose of an ATR system is to inform your customers of upcoming bottled water deliveries or services (filter changes or cooler swaps) by automatically calling all the customers on tomorrow’s route and playing a prerecorded message. If the customer will not be available or won’t be able to leave a door open or key out, your message will simply provide a number where he or she can contact you. More advanced ATRs will allow the customer to: “Press 1 to confirm delivery or press 2 to cancel and reschedule.” Dealers utilizing this technology have seen huge increases in efficiency by minimizing “not homes” and “doors locked.”
There are several ways to implement ATR technology. The older systems may utilize a modem and a standard phone line. This obviously can be expensive if you have long-distance calls to make within your territory. This can be minimized by running the ATR in the evening when rates are lower. More advanced technology has started utilizing Voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. This is the same technology promoted by Vonage for your home phone line. It provides unlimited outgoing and incoming calls every month for a flat fee because it utilizes the Internet to actually place the phone calls, so there are no long-distance charges. Just make sure your Internet connection is fast and reliable enough to provide a crisp, clear message. You may test the quality of your broadband connection through www.testyourvoip.com to determine if VoIP technology will work for you. A score of 3.8 or higher is preferred.
For some very odd reason, an alarming trend has started in the software industry called “modularization.” This trend makes your life as an end-user very difficult because a poorly designed interface makes one program, and all its modules, actually act like three or four or more separate programs. For instance, to access service records, you have to go to the “service module” and type in the customer’s name. Then, if you want to get information about the same customer’s balance, invoices or billing, you have to go to the “billing module” and retype the name to access the billing information.
Your ATR and mapping “modules” should not work this way. They need to be completely integrated to provide the benefits your business requires. For instance, one way to increase revenue is to provide more services to your customers, such as regular cooler swaps, filter changes, or general maintenance and clean-up. Using your mapping program, you can target a specific area of your territory, circle all the customers who need some sort of recurring service, and then automatically generate a list for your ATR to contact. When you need to contact customers because you performed an internal reroute to keep costs (and their prices) down, your ATR should tie directly to the mapping system you used for the reroute to help you more professionally notify customers.
Minimize costs, generate new revenue and improve efficiency—mapping and ATR may be the technologies your business can use to help accomplish all three.