Mobile Applications Case Study
Hiller Plumbing Keeps its Success Flowing with Mobility Application (Cont'd)
The quicker that we can get the information to the technicians the better we can serve our customers. That’s the biggest benefit we’ve seen.”
Jimmy Hiller, President and Owner, Hiller Plumbing, Heating & Cooling
About Hiller Plumbing
Hiller Plumbing, Heating & Cooling
Simplified dispatch and inter-office communications for multistate plumbing contractor
Mobility application simplifies management of large work force; converged voice and data network serves growing offices
Decreased costs, increased customer satisfaction and streamlined communications
Plumbing, heating and cooling
230 employees and $35 million in annual sales
Founded in 1990 by Jimmy Hiller, Hiller Plumbing, Heating & Cooling Company has grown from a small Nashville, TN plumbing operation to one of the region’s largest residential plumbing, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) contractors. The company has been recognized by Business Tennessee magazine as one of Tennessee's 50 most promising companies and named to the Inc. 5000 list as one of the fastest growing private companies in the U.S. Hiller has also taken top honors in many local polls and has been named “the Best in Business” by the Nashville Business Journal.
The acquisition of a number of small plumbing and HVAC companies has fueled Hiller’s rapid growth, but made managing its expanding workforce more of a challenge. The company didn’t have a way to efficiently dispatch plumbers and HVAC specialists in the field, which led to higher fuel costs and increased wait times for customers. Hiller was also challenged with managing the network requirements for its growing number of offices and streamlining interoffice communications.
Hiller now uses Xora® InVehicleTM from AT&T, a mobility application which provides real-time visibility into the location of its workforce for timelier dispatching. Workers are assigned jobs based on their geography and, as a result, are able to complete more jobs on each shift. Customers are pleased with the quicker responses to their requests. To simplify and standardize communications for its growing number of offices, the company implemented AT&T IP Flexible Reach and AT&T Managed Internet Service to provide cost-effective Voice over IP (VoIP) and data capabilities.
From One to Hundreds
When he started the company in 1990, Hiller Plumbing was “just Jimmy and a pickup truck,” said founder Jimmy Hiller. Upfront pricing, same day appointments, 24-hour emergency service and top quality led to steady growth. Today the company has 230 employees and annual sales of $35 million. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think that it would get to where it is today,” Hiller said.
With each step we took, we felt more and more comfortable with AT&T. And because AT&T covers all our markets it’s just easier to do business with them."
Jimmy Hiller, President and Owner, Hiller Plumbing, Heating & Cooling
Over the years Hiller added heating, ventilation and air conditioning services and shifted his focus from new construction to service and replacement. Strategic acquisitions and customer-friendly policies grew the business. Hiller now operates from six locations in the greater middle Tennessee region, the Knoxville area, and southern Kentucky. “We make sure our customers are satisfied with our services from the time they call us until our technician leaves their driveway,” Hiller said. “Whenever you have a problem we’ll get the job done as quickly as possible so that you can get back to your daily routine.” He also offers 100 percent refunds if customers aren’t satisfied. “It’s our guarantee,” he said. “Happy you'll be or the service is free!”
Hiller provides customers with special deals like the Happy Hiller Club, which gives members three maintenance visits for $99. His customer-friendly website makes it easy for people to schedule an appointment, take a satisfaction survey, order parts and print money-saving coupons.
The majority of its business comes from customers with an immediate demand and fully 99 percent of Hiller service calls are completed the same day. “It’s an emergency or at least a big inconvenience if you wake up in the morning without hot water, or without air conditioning when it’s 95 degrees,” Hiller said.
Although Hiller Plumbing has become much more than “just Jimmy and a pickup truck,” Hiller remains personally invested in the satisfaction of each of his thousands of customers. They can contact him directly by just clicking on the ‘Just Jimmy Now’ link on their website and will receive an answer from Hiller himself within 24 hours. “Even though we’re a fairly large company now, we want people to know there is a name and a face behind it that’s going to make everything right,” he said.
On any given day, 800 to 1,500 customer calls are received. Keeping track of the scores of specialists in the field was difficult for dispatchers at the company’s six locations. This meant that assignments were made based on which technicians were available without regard to their location, leading to longer dispatch times and higher fuel costs. To maintain customer satisfaction, the company needed a better way to assign jobs.
Hiller saw the benefits of streamlining dispatches and providing better accountability for his mobile workers. However, he was reluctant to make any changes that might negatively affect customer service. “How do we make sure that somebody in Knoxville is being taken care of when I spend the majority of my time in Nashville?” he asked.
The company’s geographic diversity made it difficult. All calls are answered in Nashville and distributed to a dispatcher in the appropriate satellite office. Dispatchers communicated assignments to workers by two-way radio, but the system was less than ideal. “When you have 60 or 70 people out in the field trying to tell three or four dispatchers they’ve completed a job and asking about their next call, there’s a lot of downtime,” Hiller said. Technicians often found themselves waiting for 20 minutes or more until dispatchers pushed the next call to them.
Hiller installed mobile phones equipped with GPS tracking in boxes in its trucks but experienced reliability problems. “They didn’t work 50 percent of the time. We often had to open the boxes and restart the phones so it was really useless to have them,” Hiller said. Keeping track of workers in the field was nearly impossible. “You might as well flip a coin to see where they were when you were trying to find somebody,” he said.
A Mobility Solution to the Rescue
To address the challenge, Hiller chose a comprehensive mobility solution, Xora InVehicle from AT&T, along with tablet computers and cell phones that help technicians more efficiently manage their work flow. The Xora application gives dispatchers real-time visibility into their HVAC fleet, enabling them to assign the nearest available technician when a customer calls. This improves response times and lets dispatchers provide more accurate technician arrival times to customers.
The Xora InVehicle solution also tracks if Hiller’s trucks are speeding or traveling outside assigned work areas, lets dispatchers confirm that employees are at job sites and shows how long they stayed at each assignment. Hiller supervisors use time-stamped location information to validate workers’ time on the clock when they dispatch from home.
Hiller was able to eliminate its two-way radios and dispatchers now email assignments and other relevant information to technicians, considerably increasing operational efficiency. “The quicker that we can get information to the technicians, the better we can serve our customers. That’s the biggest benefit we’ve seen. We’re also not paying them 15 to 20 minutes to wait for a clear line into the dispatch office.”
Equipping technicians in the field with tablet computers enables workers to access a customer’s history (which can greatly assist in diagnosing a problem) and deliver a sales presentation to a customer. The next area now being tested is the invoicing of customers. “The technicians previously filled out paper invoices at the job site and brought them back to the office, where they were entered into our computer system,” Hiller said. “Entering the invoice on the tablet in the field will eliminate duplication of work and reduce errors.” The tablets will also aid with ordering new parts and ensure that trucks are restocked in a timely manner to help tomorrow’s customers. Both the invoicing and parts ordering will be fully rolled out this year.
Simplifying Office Communications
While improving the reliability of mobile communications was a top priority for Hiller, so was simplifying the company’s corporate network. “With all our different locations we were dealing with multiple phone companies, so when there was a problem it was very complicated just figuring out whom we needed to call to get it resolved,” Hiller said.
There was also concern about operational continuity, since some of the phone companies that he used were sold or went out of business. “We were afraid that we were going to lose our phone numbers, and phones are the lifeblood of what we do,” he said. “I had to find one company that we could rely on.”
To handle the rapid growth and the communications requirements of its offices, Hiller now uses AT&T IP Flexible Reach. This converged voice and data solution provides a uniform platform for all locations. The associated calling plan provides a bundle of minutes of usage, based on the number of concurrent calls. This eliminates charges for local, regional and long distance, allowing the company to trim its phone bills. “We used to have to pay long distance charges to call our other locations and for our customers to call us. Now with AT&T IP Flexible Reach, those calls are included in the price,” Hiller said. And by consolidating voice and data traffic on the same network, the company has been able to further decrease its spend.
Technology Takes a Starring Role
Hiller’s relationship with AT&T has become increasingly important as his use of technology expands. The success of the Xora solution led Hiller to choose AT&T for its phone, wireless and Internet services.
“With each step we took, we felt more and more comfortable with AT&T. And because AT&T covers all our markets it’s just easier to do business with them,” he said. “As we continue to add locations and AT&T continues to develop technology, I’m sure that there will be a lot of deals on which we can work together.
“Technology is playing a key role in how we do things. I’m unaware of anybody else out there that is using it like we are.”