The question of whether or not to utilize software programs to run your business is one that is not often asked in today’s day and age. At most companies, gone are the days of hand-recording customer calls and appointments or keeping manual records of inventory. The vast majority of dealers currently use some type of software to keep track of customer information, appointments and delivery routes and in-stock equipment.

Whether your software is currently the most bare-boned data entry model on the market or a high-tech system of multiple platforms, it is always important to stay ahead of the curve in terms of what’s out there. It is always smart to periodically ask employees if your software is meeting all your business needs and consider if you could take your business to the next level with greater software optimization.

Many software manufacturers we spoke with say that water industry businesses are often hesitant to accept the idea of switching from one software system to another or expanding their software packages, citing increased costs, lags in efficiency or difficult learning curves as common fears.

Although these difficulties are not unfounded, a systematic survey of your business’ day-to-day needs and long-term goals combined with thorough research into the software that is available can facilitate a seamless transition and quickly change efficiency and productivity for the better.

“Even [with] the late adopters of technology, it’s so invasive now in our culture that they all seem to realize there’s some tools out there that are readily available and inexpensive,” says Derek French, developer of the Wateropolis iPhone app for the water treatment industry.

Business software basics

When considering an update to software systems, first take a long look at your business and the most common problems you face or the goals that are most important to you in the next few years. Are you growing fast and need to find a way to see more customers in one day without necessarily hiring more people at this point? Are you constantly running out of products in your inventory before you’ve noticed you have to order more? Are customers complaining about the speed with which you answer emails and phone calls? All of these problems and many more can be updated with common software systems.

“Like a snowflake each and every business is unique,” says Nick Leibham, account representative at Watertight, adding that dealers can benefit from a customer relation management and enterprise resource planning software which helps customers service their customers more efficiently. Because each business will find unique issues after a needs analysis, Leibham emphasizes the need for software that is “completely customizable.”

Routing software is a great example of technology that has been around for a while, but is constantly evolving for the better. In addition to plotting out the fastest routes for drivers, the newest routing software manages all customer information, delivery dates, equipment ordered, contracts, letters, invoices and customer calls, offering route optimization, delivery calendars, customer call managing, driver monitoring and direct-messaging and more.

“All data is available in a spreadsheet type format so it can be sorted and filtered to find incorrect information for customers, equipment and recurring rentals. When managing thousands of customers it is easy to catch those mistakes made by employees,” says Lorna H. Schauseil, president at GBC Systems Inc. 

“Keeping up with customers, routing, prices and rentals are the biggest reasons for using software. Unless the customer base is extremely small there is no way to keep up with these changes in a manual system or a system [with simple spreadsheets],” says Schauseil. “Our main target is the company that is frustrated with the lack of reporting and accessibility of data.”

In addition to increasing productivity, sophisticated data management and efficiency software can help companies monitor for issues before they become expensive problems.

“Many companies spend a large sum of money to get new customers and rarely evaluate why customers leave,” says Schauseil. For this, software that can create detailed management reports can monitor churn by driver, salesman, area, industry, price list or any other item in the database.

The best software should “reduce labor, downtime, repetition and human error … while tracking and monitoring each and every aspect of your business,” Leibham adds.

Moving to the next level

While it’s always important to have customized, targeted software that fits your business’ day-to-day needs, the newest software offerings take that one step further by making information accessible to you, your employees and your customers at any time or in any circumstances. In today’s world, connectivity is number one and customers expect new levels of speed in communications.

“We’re all under increasing demand to do things more quickly,” says French. “Our customers and our coworkers expect responses and answers to things more quickly than ever before. And that’s because of the interconnectivity. People, I think, have become impatient compared to the old days when you could wait a few days for an answer. So I saw that as a challenge in the industry, people needing quick answers at their fingertips."

The newest software offers automatically emailed bills so customers don’t have to wait for paper bills, online payment options that also avoid snail mail and automatic delivery reminders for customers and drivers so everyone is prepared for a seamless day.

In addition, many companies offer software that is either mobile and tablet optimized or has its own web-based application so that information is available to employees wherever they are, any time of day. In a culture where smartphones and tablets are glued to our sides, it only makes sense that we should be moving in the same direction with our businesses.

“To provide the service customers expect you need to be constantly connected to their information, whether you are home, driving or in the office,” says Leibham, whose company recently began offering a new mobile app for sales and service. “Scheduling and dispatch needs to drive everything you do. This environment will help you grow and today's tech conscious consumers will appreciate and recommend your company. That is the primary reason [for utilizing the latest software], but of course efficiency and productivity come right behind.”

“In our ever changing world, everything is moving to online,” says Schauseil. “I encounter some hesitance to change their handhelds from the old Windows version to the new Android versions, even though the capabilities are so much greater and the cost per handheld is less than the old ones. So it is a slow process, as people do not like change until they see it in action.”

In addition to providing you with your customer and company data at any moment, mobile and tablet software can also give you other information, such as reference material or conversions. Many of these types of applications are not specifically designed for water treatment companies, according to French.

French emphasizes the need for an easy-to-use interface and intuitive design in any application you will be using often.

“It shouldn’t be too challenging,” he says. “It’s really designed for people who have a fundamental knowledge of water treatment, who just want to double check something or have a time sensitivity to getting an answer to a question and don’t have the relevant reference material in front of them — they don’t have Google in front of them, they don’t have their files in front of them. So, it really becomes about answering a question efficiently.”

While the world of software upgrades can seem too fast paced and hard to keep up with, it is a great idea to keep an eye on the newest offerings from software houses and even manufacturers. There is a software solution out there for virtually any problem a business could face and even small changes can deliver a huge return on investment.