Sears Canada will spend the rest of this year rolling out a set of mobile computing products to speed up the time it takes field technicians to reach customers.

The retailer has signed a managed services agreement with Mobile Computing Corp. that will include help desk, implementation, and change management consulting services, mobile devices and its flagship workforce management software system. The Web-based tools will allow them to exchange service information such as route sheets, service histories and warranties via a real-time connection to Sears Canada’s corporate systems. Sears Canada has been piloting the products at a 35-truck location in Vancouver for the last six months and will continue to deploy it to 625 technicians in 15 business units.

Jeff Miller, general manager of Sears Canada’s HomeCentral field support operation, said the company wanted to ensure it was leading the retail industry in mobilizing its technicians. A bigger driver, however, was company research that indicated Sears Canada has not been meeting customer expectations in terms of appointment times.

“In major markets customers prefer to have early morning service, and our business process didn’t allow us to meet the vast majority of customer requests,” he said. “We realized we were out of touch with what customers really wanted.”

Although Sears says it has a location within a 10-minute drive of 93 per cent of Canadians, the Mobile Computing Corp. software rollout will be limited to major markets, where 80 per cent of its fieldwork takes place, Miller said. Already, the company’s call centre has been getting two more calls in the morning during peak customer demand that it couldn’t get before, he added.

Corporate enterprises typically look at mobile workforce automation in order to save time, reduce errors and increase efficiencies, Mobile Computing Corp. senior vice-president Gary Jarosz said. There’s also less need for administration staff to manually key in data.

“Most organizations have great enterprise solutions within the four walls,” he said. “As soon as you get outside the four walls, it is a paper-laden world.”

Sears service technicians would typically stop by a depot each morning to get their work orders, and make another visit at the end of the day.

“Now in their trucks they’ll turn on their mobile computer and all of their orders, their routes are already on it,” Jarosz said. “They can drive out a minimum of two calls a day, displacing those trips into the depot at the end of the day.” 

The cultural challenge, Miller said, is figuring out how to coach technicians about customer service once they’re no longer checking in.

“It’s done by talking with people every day about the customer experience,” he said. “You lose that when you move to a mobile workforce.”

To ease the transition, Sears Canada has tried to mirror on mobile devices what technicians were used to on paper, Miller added, and has used menu-driven applications to guide the process.

Companies such as Sears Canada opt for the managed service model in part because they want to make sure they have the skills to support the application environment, Jarosz said. It can also make it easier from a financial perspective to make the business case.

“They’re getting hardware, software, implementation services, training, hosting, airtime, support and maintenance — all on a per-seat basis per month,” he said. “You can get (the costs) granularly right down to the individual.”

Mobile Computing Corp. will also be working with third parties to manage hardware, airtime, and hosting, the company said.

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