By Alicia Hoisington
Service verification is critical for legal and payment protections in the snow management industry, but the process can often be daunting and time-consuming. Even so, the task is necessary and owners who haven’t made it part of their operations should consider the risks of not doing so.
A good rule of thumb is that if the service isn’t documented, it didn’t happen, says Tony Fisher, general manager for landscape maintenance at Senske Lawn & Tree Care in Idaho.
Every job at Senske is documented with the following information:
- Start and end time of the snow event
- Start and end time of each site serviced
- Conditions on each site, snow depth, drifts, etc.
- Any damage that may have taken place
- Special notes, such as parked cars that have not moved in some time
- What material was applied and how much
- If any of the management was talked to on-site
- Before and after pictures of the site
- Placement of all “caution slick condition” signs
“We have a snow dispatch team that reports in to monitor the work that is completed and makes sure each service performed has all the information reported correctly,” Fisher says, whose company operates in three states and works with national and local commercial clients. “If they see anything missing, they call the service driver and get the information while it is still fresh in their memory.
“It is imperative to get all the information you can. You can never document too much,” he says.
Aron Rodman, owner of Extra Mile Snow Plowing in Wisconsin, agrees that services never happened if they aren’t documented. Even more important, documentation offers protection.
“If you can’t provide records upon request, you will be found negligent. A slip and fall lawsuit with no documentation on my part is a sure win for the ‘injured’ party,” he says. His company serves primarily industrial commercial customers.
“You always want to make sure the client knows you were there and services were done. Otherwise it hurts your reputation and can hold up payments,” says Tim Key, president of LCU Properties in Illinois, whose clients range from big-box stores to city contracts and residential customers. Additionally, he says that laws require certain information is left for customers, especially when chemicals are applied.
Pros and cons
Although a big pro of service verification is so that clients know what work has been done, snow contractors can benefit, too, Key says.
“Knowing where my crews are and how long things are taking allows me to use the information for bidding purposes,” he says. “The more I know, the more I can grow.”
Scott McAdam Jr. of McAdam Landscaping in Illinois says documentation provides many benefits for operations, including:
- assists in confirming invoiced amounts;
- provides slip and fall security because the service verification establishes a paper trail to help protect in the event of an incident;
- verifies service in the instance of a continual snow event; and
- helps mitigate return service calls during a continual snow event.
Although service verification offers many upsides, the task comes with its own set of headaches. The process can be time-consuming, difficult to implement and costly.
“Most technology tools require, in addition to startup costs, a monthly cost and cost per app,” Rodman says. His company currently uses paper-based reporting methods and has been trying to go paperless for two years. “Everyone must have a smart phone. This is a problem with some of my older guys. They are not willing to learn.”
McAdam says general user-friendliness is a drawback, no matter what method of verification is used. For paper documentation, employees need to attain signatures from managers, which takes time. In addition, he says apps are often poorly designed on less-than-ideal platforms.
Fisher agrees that each type of verification has their own issues.
“If you are working off electronic verification, it does not always work in the outlying areas and properties. If you are working off paper and fax it just takes time, during a time when you are tired and just want to get some sleep,” he says.
However, Fisher says that he has found electronic methods to be faster, more efficient and easier for the client, worker and service partner. Paper verification is still available, should it be needed, he adds.
Whether to go completely paperless adds another layer to the issue. Many in the industry still rely solely on paper for verification purposes, but Rodman points out that can be risky.
“One lost paper timesheet could have thousands of dollars of billable work on it,” he says. “If a sheet of paper is lost, you may not even realize it if you are collecting 40 or more per night like we do.”
His team has been trying to make the shift from paper but has found it difficult to do without a dedicated staff member to spearhead and oversee the process.
McAdam uses apps for specific clients and paper verification for others. The company also has its own proprietary, cloud-based reporting platform.
“Our clients have the ability to log in and view each of the locations that we service and view what services have been completed, at what time and at what location, in real time,” he says.
A real-time reporting system has led to increased efficiencies and assisted clients in understanding the operation, McAdam says. It has also decreased labor for assisting with phone calls during an event.
Key’s preferred method of reporting is via technology - with the caveat that there needs to be a backup plan. He explains that electronic verification allows for an easier time tracking with fewer resources used. He has also noticed that clients are increasingly starting to prefer paperless options.
Additionally, he says that one of the biggest challenges to using paper is organization and storage. Technology allows for multiple tasks to be completed with the touch of a button, and physical storage space does not need to be used as it does for paper.
“Clients have various preferences for their verification processes. It is crucial that you and your employees are educated on what needs to be done and the most efficient way it can be done,” Key says. “An important rule to remember is to keep what you implement simple. The work being done is the No. 1 factor, with verification following along with it.”
State of the Industry 2017
Alicia Hoisington is a freelance journalist based in Cleveland and also serves as Snow Business Products Editor.