By Cheryl Higley
There’s a saying that “the devil is in the details,” and nowhere is that more true than in the snow & ice management industry. Lack of attention to detail can put employees and the public in harm’s way, make for unorganized operations, and open companies up to financial risk and increased liability.
Jessica Braz, accounting administrator for Eastern Land Management (ELM), manages the administrative department and oversees accounting, payroll, contract management and human resources. It’s her job to make sure that the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed. Organization, she says, is essential.
“We maintain a lot of data and files. Being organized helps save time, which helps my department be more efficient and keeps me from being too stressed,” Braz says.
Following are some of her suggestions for preseason readiness from the administrative side:
Subcontractor agreements. “All subcontractors are required to have their contracts and certificates of insurance in before the season starts. If they don’t have them in, they aren’t allowed on the job site.”
Contract management. ELM’s contract administrators and area managers work together to facilitate the contract renewal process. Administrators generate the contract renewal lists, and the area managers review the contracts. Administrators then send renewal letters to the clients, and then they work with the managers to secure the renewal.
Make checklists. All of ELM’s administrative processes have checklists that ensure all steps are followed. Braz says the checklists are updated as the processes are revisited and improved.
Administrative tasks take center stage
- Review the season preparation process with each department so everyone knows what is expected of them.
- Begin the contract renewal process early, preferably right after the season ends and in the summer.
- Identify how many subcontractors and employees are needed as soon as possible. Begin recruiting and hiring. Make sure all subcontractor agreements and employee paperwork are signed and filed before the season begins.
- Update database with correct pricing for all contracts. Review the work order process and invoicing format.
- Provide training and review governmental and safety regulations.
- Review the payroll process.
- Set up job sites in the GPS system. Review the dispatching process with administration and the dispatcher.
Document crew communications process
Winter can be unforgiving for the unprepared snow service provider. One area that should be focused on prior to the season deals with your system for communicating with snow removal crews. Always make sure you have a written, tested process for how you will reach out to the people who will be in the field.
Create a written procedure that describes how crew communications will take place pre-storm, including:
- Who is responsible for initiating communications. Always have a backup in the event the primary communicator becomes unavailable.
- When crew communications will start.
- How communications will be conducted (phone tree, calls from central office, automated system, etc.).
- Launch a 24-hour alert call to crews to prepare them for a potential event.
- Create/update cellphone lists for all crew members.
- Have a mechanism in place where all operators check in physically or by phone (if they are traveling to the site directly), and make sure follow-up calls are placed to anyone who doesn’t check in within a defined amount of time.
- Provide timely and consistent reminders for operators to remember cellphone chargers.
Once you have some of the basic elements in place, consider doing a preseason dry run or at least a walk-through with key staff.
Call center protocols
The storm is raging and customers are calling. Before the season, give your clients peace of mind with these tips for effective client communication.
Update the phone system. Change your answering machine greetings, including any snow-specific instructions. Update prompts to more efficiently direct calls to the correct person.
Share the hotline. Make clients aware of your snow emergency hotline number. If the snow company and the client agree that direct contact with a site supervisor is required, make sure all parties have updated contact information.
Set alerts. Update your snow client email contacts so they receive weather alerts and service notifications.
Train the team. Make sure anyone answering the phone is trained on proper procedures for in-storm crisis management, including chain of command, type of information to provide, etc.