The “now or never” service moment for Westmor Industries, a manufacturer and provider of products and parts to transport, store and handle fuel products, came when the company’s CEO said the service division had to up its game.

“Our products were already No. 1 or No. 2 in our market,” explains Beth Koehl, Westmor’s technology project manager. “As our CEO said, either we’re also world-class at service, or we’re exiting that part of the business.”

The problem was paper. Delivering world-class service to customers — typically convenience stores in the Midwest that needed assistance with petroleum storage equipment and point-of-sale systems — meant getting rid of the wall of manila folders in Westmor’s Morris, Minn., headquarters, that the service department used to track and manage maintenance requests.

Beth Koehl, Westmor Industries

“A customer would call us, we’d write down a work order on paper, and we’d put it on the wall,” Koehl says about the paper-based process. Remote technicians would pick up the orders when they came to the office once per week, and bring back their completed work orders several days later. The completed orders would get shuffled along to the parts department if parts were needed — and finally, sometimes weeks or months later, to the billing department.

The length of time between service and billing affected revenue, says Mark Kragenbring, Westmor’s field service operations manager. “If you send an invoice for service performed two months ago, there’s a good chance there might have been another breakdown,” he says. “It could be hard to get the customer to pay. Or they’d ask what the bill was for, since so much time had gone by, and we didn’t have the data to back up the bill.”

The Paper Trail Goes Digital on iPads

Changing long-established processes, even slow and inefficient ones, required not only new technology, but also a new mindset for technicians.

“We knew we needed a platform that was visible across sales and service teams,” Kragenbring says. “But we also needed to pick out a couple of technicians who would support the changes.”

Once technicians saw the benefits of switching out the wall of manila folders for an online system that was always up to date, Koehl and Kragenbring reasoned, they’d spread the word to their colleagues.

The technology piece of the puzzle came from Predix ServiceMax. Besides the benefits of shifting from manila folders to iPads and smartphones, technicians gained a more complete view into their workload, even when they were out of the office.

“Technicians used to be frustrated with scheduling,” Kragenbring says, adding that service staff often wouldn’t know the location of their next job until the last minute. Now that information is instantly available on a mobile device with the ServiceMax app, a time-saver for technicians and admin staff alike.

“We’re saving about 10 hours a week simply by not relying on paper anymore,” Koehl says. She and Kragenbring also calculated that technician utilization has risen by 20 percent.

Preventive Maintenance: A New Revenue Opportunity

Now that Westmor’s service organization is no longer dependent on paper files — and technicians have more time for service since they spend less time on admin tasks — managers can dream up new services that customers will value, including preventive maintenance.

“There are a lot of compliance regulations and inspections being implemented for convenience stores, which our customers need to keep up on,” Kragenbring says. “We can easily track these inspections and create a testing plan for each customer. They’re pretty grateful about that. They don’t want to miss an inspection and risk the pollution control agencies coming out.”

Customers aren’t the only ones happy about the possibility of preventive service. “We’re seeing work essentially fall from the sky,” Kragenbring says. “Preventive maintenance is great for filling time slots on a technician’s schedule, when they might not otherwise be productive.”

Four years after the company’s CEO’s challenge to improve its approach to service, Westmor’s service revenue has gone up by 10 percent. Says Kragenbring, “We gain a lot of business that we used to lose, and that’s increasing our profits and revenue. “

ABOUT Christine Kent

Avatar photoChristine Kent brings more than 20 years of writing and journalism expertise to her work for technology, consumer and corporate organizations.