Because the ability to grow your cleaning business rests on your ability to deliver the customer service your client expects, and scheduling (or field services) software is a necessary component to knocking down barriers to growth.

JOIN ANY CLEANING INDUSTRY DISCUSSION board on LinkedIn, and chances are you’ll find scheduling software and cleaning job management programs among the top ten questions. Why? Because the ability to grow your cleaning business rests on your ability to deliver the customer service your client expects, and scheduling (or field services) software is a necessary component to knocking down barriers to growth.

Why Invest?

Pen-and-paper systems aren’t going to grow with your business or create efficiencies. They won’t help you drive growth and sustain the level of customer service you want to be known for. Most cleaning businesses seem to start off with simple, convenient and low-cost methods of scheduling jobs for clients. Even with the simplest calendar book, you might squeeze in three teams cleaning at the same time before you run out of room. Several online calendars, such as Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar, allow you to automatically schedule recurring clients, which is the ideal in establishing a regular and predictable cash flow.

But the ability to get a client on the calendar correctly is just one small piece of the massive responsibility of “scheduling.” When you’ve selected the best software for your business, you can:

  • Enable planned and sustained growth by expanding your capacity to service more clients
  • Enhance customer service by reducing scheduling mistakes, overbookings, missed jobs, changes in day/time of services and or scope of work
  • Improve efficiency and save time by tracking customer information and running standardized work orders

We all know that time is money. That’s why making the investment in a piece of software designed to improve customer service is a critical investment that every business owner must make. It’s a leap of faith and finances, but one with thorough internal evaluation and realistic projections. Let’s look at five areas of analysis you need to invest time in before buying new scheduling software.

1 Function: What do you need the program to do?
Let’s get the price question out of the way with a hard reality: If the program can’t do what you need it to do, then it doesn’t matter how cheap it is; you’ll get what you pay for it. As CBT columnist Marilou Butcher Roth wrote in the May issue, “Take some time and evaluate what you truly enjoy and/or want to get done”. That’s perhaps the most important thing you can do in the process of choosing any tool to help you grow your business.

Start out by listing all of your complaints about your current way of tracking jobs, scheduling customers and keeping track of the responses:

  • What can’t it do?
  • What is more difficult than it should be?
  • What parts take more time than others?

Set yourself a time limit so you don’t dwell too long in the negative, but usually this transitions pretty easily into the wish list – the things you want an ideal program to do for you.

Armed with both lists, step back and prioritize your needs and your wants. Start with deal-breakers – functions you can’t live without – and branch out into the ideal wants from there.

If you have employees who do any part of scheduling and customer service, it’s essential that you involve them in this process as well. Their perspective can show you other places a program falls short or excels and can illuminate possibilities. This step will set you up for a more efficient program review.

2 Features: What can this program do?

The key to comparing a huge list of features is to figure out which ones are standard and which are truly special. Place your priority needs side-by-side with the features offered. CBT invited twelve field services and scheduling software providers to respond to a survey about their programs, and six responded: MaidBooks, Maid Easy, ScheduleView, Service Autopilot, ServiceCEO, ServiceTask and Thoughtful Systems.

The trickiest part of evaluating the features based on a checklist or comparison is that you still don’t know how good a program is until you’ve seen it and used it. But it’s reasonable to narrow the field for deeper testing.

Tip: don’t let sales hype on standard features be your decision maker; don’t let them sell you on standard features. These are basics that all field services software should be expected to have.

Whenever possible, try out a free trial of a program. Without your own actual customer data in there, it’s still just a test. You want to confirm that essential features are both part of the program and that they operate in the way you need them to.

Tip: don’t forget to test the reporting capabilities of a program. Check how deeply the reports dig for information that is useful to tracking costs, verifying ROI, calculating payroll, and more!

3 Fit: Does it match your specific needs?
No industry has a true “all-in-one” system that meets both function and business needs. But then you might want a program that is just okay at everything instead of superb in its area of expertise. That’s why “Fit” is such an important area of analysis: how will this new system integrate with your other process and programs?

If you started out with a thorough examination of your own business activities and systems, then you’ve already made your “Fit” analysis a little bit easier. Ask the software representative very direct questions about integration with programs that assist with:

  • Sales/Marketing
  • Customer Records and CRM
  • Accounting
  • Inventory
  • Employee Records
  • Online Survey Tools

Probably the most requested and expected integration is that with Quickbooks or a similar true accounting system, but there are any number of other programs you may be using that could integrate to improve efficiency. If you don’t see something listed, ask if an integration exists or if one can be created. Knowing a provider’s ability to grow in that direction can jump start your analysis of the future possibilities of the software.

4 Future: Where is the industry going?
With the rapid rise of technology-enabled workflows and business growth, there are two main areas of the future of the cleaning industry that you cannot afford to ignore. In business today, we are seeing two major leaps enabling better customer service and service delivery.

The first area you should consider is the shift from installed desktop applications, where you have to be on a specific computer to operate the program, to cloud computing, where the program and the data are online. When a program offers both an on-site and a cloud version of their platform, try to test both. Look for differences in functionality and features between the two versions, and weigh that against ease of information access and cost (fees PLUS employees’ time using the programs).

Related to cloud computing, mobile technology is increasingly used in nearly every aspect of business operations. Consider programs that already have an operational mobile application for your smart phone or tablet, as they are also looking toward the future. This also serves as an indication that a program is in constant development and is responding to the needs of the industries they serve, but you still want to ask about what changes and updates they’ve got in queue for continuous development and improvement.

If you’ve made the decision to go “cloud,” then you’re setting yourself up for the new opportunities and applications enabled by mobile devices: smart phones, tablets and more. Be sure to think through the impact this will have on your total investment and budget accordingly.

5 Funds: Does it fit your budget?
While a few options offer a one-time fee to purchase the software, most are based on a monthly subscription, which may be friendlier to your cash flow and allow you to make the investment more easily. As you consider the financial cost, look beyond the advertised pricing for other regular or periodic costs, such as upgrades, service fees, support fees and early cancellation fees.

Your time should also be accounted for, so ask what set-up services and support is offered and at what price. Be realistic about your ability to invest time in learning and setting up the system. Document those processes . That way you will be able to train a leadership employee to help you when your business has grown so much that you can’t handle all of the calls and support by yourself. After all, that is the goal, right?

Final Thoughts
Though it’s tempting to ask the open question on LinkedIn, “What’s the best scheduling software for a cleaning business?” and to think you’ll select whatever the industry superstars are using, it’s ultimately the wrong question. Best can only be determined by looking through the lens of your business goals, which are unique.