By Katie Raymond
As we approach 2020 as an industry, these three objectives still remain current: quality management, controlling cost and streamlined technology. How can snow contractors create a win/win scenario for the industry and the customers they serve?
Expect to find those answers in service verification and aligned expectations for scope of work and level of service. Our industry wants to perform beneficial services, be compensated appropriately and please the customer by accomplishing the scope of work. The obligation for every snow contractor is to perform according to scope and with integrity.
The difference between a snow contract and a snow partnership is the customer being like-minded and working with the snow contractor to achieve their common goal. Customers have the power to be our differentiator, and the most influential ways are using service verification policies and unifying expectations.
On the same page
When evaluating service verification, an industrywide observation is that customers who trust their contractors will allow more high-level employees to verify services. Why? Because they trust their snow contractor not to abuse the technology, and to only bill the services that were performed to specification.
When lower level, front line employees (e.g., cashiers, etc.) become authorized to approve or deny work orders, that is when the partnership between contractor and client is threatened. A person who doesn’t understand snow and ice management, or what it means to deliver consistent, reasonable care, should not be authorized to approve or deny services without first having been trained on the subject and on the contracted level of service.
To get ahead of this problem, I recommend conducting an in-person visit to each location. A preseason meeting in October to serve as a meet-and-greet and to set expectations can reap dividends during the first winter event because expectations on both sides have been outlined and questions and clarifications have been made on what may happen during a storm.
Explaining how you plan to service the site, when services generally start, how you approach ice management, hand shoveling expectations, and how out-of-scope service requests are managed are just some parameters that can be set and understood by all parties.
This visit and a second visit in late autumn with the same message, perhaps completed by the site supervisor or the subcontractor who will be servicing the site on your behalf, can provide positive reinforcement. The mirroring visits also send the message to the location staff that the service provider and management group are in agreement. This decreases the likelihood that the location personnel will be quick to deny a work order because there is already some rapport in the relationship.
Dig into the data
Another possible solution to help customers feel comfortable about service verification in situations when site visits are not realistic is to educate the customer on the cost savings involved with letting the contractor analyze the data, identify any concerning trends or patterns and then invoice for the event.
As a winter event occurs, the technology application being used generates work orders for services to be completed. When technology is used properly, it provides a story of how the event went, the approximate time it began, average time of pretreatments, average time elapsed between plowing services per location and other data points of interest. Even someone who doesn’t know snow and ice management should be able to review the data and get a sense of what happened.
With smartphone app-based invoicing, over-servicing is the No. 1 reason customers get upset, so the key to data scrubbing is to get to the root cause of questionable work orders and to identify outliers. For example, a pattern of over-service may be identified in a ZIP code where some locations have a pretreatment, three plow work orders, three shoveling work orders and two ice controls; but another location with the same ZIP code had work orders for five plowings and shovelings and four ice controls.
Another important activity during data scrubbing is reviewing under-serviced areas. Did some stores receive fewer work orders during the snow event than neighboring counterparts? If so, reach out to the assigned drivers to learn whether the app was working properly or why they only serviced twice in that storm, etc.
Detecting and addressing data anomalies is crucial. If the snow contractor invoices the customer without investigating, it can cause the customer to believe the contractor is either overcharging them or not providing the contracted level of service.
Earn your clients’ trust
As trust is earned, it gives customers peace of mind to allow the snow experts they have hired (and not the cashier) to decide which work orders should stick.
Discord between location managers having one expectation and the corporate level office having another can also be mitigated immediately after business is awarded. For example, in small box retail, there are generally multiple layers of management below the corporate office.
Geographically-based seminars that bring district level people together with their snow market managers can be beneficial. If the snow market manager can give the district manager expectations that he or she can funnel down to each location’s employees, the likelihood of a poor reaction going up the ladder on the first weather event decreases.
As we evolve as an industry, let’s position our relationships with our customers to thrive. Use this fall to get on the same page with clients. Build the infrastructure into your organizations to capture the data to enable clients to save money. The quality of the next winter is decided in how we spend this fall preparing, not during the first snowstorm.
Katie Raymond is Manager: Procurement, Compliance & Affiliate Contracts for Case Snow Management and a member of the Snow Business Editorial Advisory Committee. Contact her at Kraymond@casesnow.com.