Maytag, Safelite cite project ROI

Wireless technologies in use by field service workers at Maytag and Safelite AutoGlass are yielding a tremendous return on investment, according to the project leaders who spoke in Arizona yesterday at Mobile & Wireless World.

At Newton, Iowa-based Maytag, a US$6 million nationwide mobile service worker application called TechConnect has boosted the efficiency of 830 appliance repairmen across the country and brought in more business, said CIO Ernie Park. The result: about US$13 million annually in new revenue.

At Safelite, an application used by 200 safety-glass installers that was rolled out in 2003 at a cost of US$100,000 has yielded "millions" of dollars in annual revenue by allowing the installers to locate customers more quickly, said Rod Ghani, assistant vice president of business development. The program, which uses BlackBerry handhelds and printers to help installers find customers, has been so successful that Safelite plans to expand it to 2,000 workers by the end of this month, he said.

Maytag's TechConnect, installed last year, uses Internec handhelds that workers can dock each night to download jobs for the following day. During the day, workers use the device wirelessly for updates on service calls and mapping information, Park said. TechConnect can also track repair trucks using Global Positioning System technology, and it is being expanded this month so dispatchers in various cities can keep tabs on repairs taking place in the field, he said.

The system was developed after extensive research of the company's business processes, including drive-alongs by Park and other top executives who quickly realized that repair workers were wasting as much as 10 minutes per house call searching for addresses in paper documents. The mapping information, delivered wirelessly, helps cut down on the time needed to find customers. Combined with other efficiencies, workers have been able to increase the number of completed service calls to 6.4 per day, up from 5.8.

In addition, workers no longer have to spend nearly 45 minutes at the end of each day updating paper reports, Park said.

To help push adoption of the system, Maytag started a reward system that pays workers more if they reach a certain level of productivity -- and less if they fall below a certain level, Park said. That approach helped ensure that workers embraced the wireless technology.

"Some workers resisted," he said, and some actually quit, partly because of concerns that the system would track their movements. "The technicians originally saw it as a threat."

It ultimately took about six months after the rollout was finished last October for workers to finally accept the new system.

A year or so down the road, Park said, he hopes that wireless technology will evolve to enable wireless transfer of video streams and even videoconferencing between technicians and the home office.

At Safelite, technicians actually appreciate the GPS tracking technology they're using because they get wireless updates on their location and help in finding customers, Ghani said. "The technicians love GPS because they don't have to deal with the dispatcher," he said.

He attributed the company's rising revenue to an increase in total jobs its workers can take on and improved customer satisfaction. A survey of technicians found that 83 percent like the improved directions the technology provides and 90 percent appreciate the ability to get wireless updates on the status of jobs. "It's amazing, the impact the project has had on the business," Ghani said.

Both Ghani and Park said that field service applications can't depend on a single wireless service provider, since none of them provide complete wireless coverage nationwide. Companies looking to do something similar will have to find multiple providers, they said.

Companies also need to be prepared for wireless and mobile technologies that constantly evolve, Park said, as well as a system to review new hardware and software and to evaluate services.

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