Refrigeration Service Today: Service Call Efficiency, When Time is Money

Oct. 10, 2013
From urgent emergency calls to regular system check-ups, the best contractors know there can be little room for slip-ups in communication or jobsite performance.

Service calls are the “bread-and-butter” of the successful commercial refrigeration contracting firm. From urgent emergency calls to regular system check-ups, the best contractors know there can be little room for slip-ups. In today’s refrigeration world, getting the service technician to the store on time is based on clear communication between dispatcher and technician, and it must be software based for the utmost efficiency.

Memphis Mechanical Services, Inc. is a full service commercial refrigeration service firm based in Memphis, TN. It provides refrigeration service to locations ranging from the largest national chains, to the smallest locally-owned stores.

Lee Caulder: spreadsheets were a ‘garbage-in, garbage out’ proposition.

Lee Caulder, vice president of operations, has been with Memphis Mechanical for more than 10 years. At the time he joined the firm, the dispatching system being used was very basic, with information entered into a logbook. Some time later, an Excel spreadsheet option was tried.

“The spreadsheets just didn’t provide the accuracy that’s so important for a busy service business,” Caulder recalls. “It was always a one-sided, ‘garbage-in/garbage-out’ process. Sometimes we’d record the same call twice, as the technicians were on the phone describing the service they performed, while office personnel recorded it into the spreadsheet. It wasn’t an efficient method for juggling calls for service, parts requests, all types of calls.”

In search of a solution, company president Richard Luhm and the team turned to ESC field management software from dESCO, which Caulder says reduced the company’s land-line call volume between dispatch and service techs by half.

“It’s a two-way program. When the technician enters a note, we can see it in the office immediately,” Caulder says.

“dESCO turned it around. It made it much easier to keep up with service calls and parts needs, and track technician time more efficiently. The technician checks into a call, clocks out of the call, and tells us when he has to leave the site to obtain a part. And, there’s a dESCO app that helps us track customer expenditures per each piece of equipment. I can run numbers and show that there’s a dairy case that has had multiple leaks and is costing ‘X’ amount of dollars. We have to show customers hard facts, to pass the refrigerant savings onto them.” The company has also provided cell phone allowances and upgraded technicians to smart phones. “Now, they can download the dESCO app to their phones. This provides live, two-way communication between the technicians and dispatcher,” Caulder says. “It gave us some more flexibility with the way our calls were generated and dispatched.”

Smart Phones: Smart!
Phyl Marie Weister is office manager, and Phil Pittman is service manager for T&O Refrigeration, based in Fayetteville, GA. T&O rerigeration has grown into one of the largest independently-owned refrigeration contracting companies serving Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Tennesee.

Weister says smart phones are a recent addition to technician tool belts. “This allows us to dispatch using email, which gives the technician all the information he needs without having to write anything down. It’s proven to be much more efficient,” Weister says.

Communication, and catching problems in a timely manner can be lingering problems for any company with multiple technicians in the field and a busy office staff trying to keep everything organized. At T&O, these are addressed through continuous training for both office and field staff.

Preventive maintenance is a cornerstone of T&O’s service programs. “We dispatch a monthly preventive maintenance service call for each store site,” says Pittman. “This has been effective in cutting the cost on such items as refrigerant leaks, water leaks, humidity issues, and hardware repairs.”

T&O tracks the numbers, too, including the time it takes to complete a service call, the number of after-hours calls made, parts on order, and refrigerant usage. “This kind of data shows whether or not there’s been improvement,” Weister says.