Liftech Equipment’s Technological Makeover
By Steve Guglielmo
Liftech Equipment Companies is one of the northeast’s most successful and respected brands in the material handling industry. The company is a MHEDA Most Valuable Partner (MVP) and has had two of its executives serve on the MHEDA Board of Directors: Company President Joe Verzino served as MHEDA’s President in 1997 and CFO Mike Vaughan is a current Board Member. Founded in 1988, the company has a long and rich history in the upstate New York and Vermont markets filled with myriad benchmarks and milestones. 2014 may prove, in time, to be one of the most important years in Liftech’s history.
“Our customer service philosophy is to understand our customer’s needs and respond with product and service solutions that fit those needs.”
That quote represents Liftech’s promise to its customers and is the cornerstone of the company’s success. However, in late 2013 as Verzino and Vaughan surveyed the industry, they noticed that their service department was not running as efficiently as it could.
“A lot of the equipment in our industry is the same,” Vaughan says. “The only way you can differentiate yourself with customers is through your service department.”
Liftech has 70 technicians and 14 parts employees, which represent more than half of the company’s entire staff. With average employee tenure upwards of a decade and more than 1,000 years of cumulative experience, expertise is not an issue. What Vaughan and Verzino surmised was that technology, not skill, was holding the department back from reaching its full potential of over 100 technicians
And so, at the end of 2013, the company set out to revolutionize its service department through technology.
“We felt that the business environment was going to be healthy enough that we could reasonably expect revenue growth in the coming years,” Vaughan says. “We realized that we had to find ways to become more efficient so that we weren’t growing expenses to keep up with the revenues. We needed to find tools that were out there, technology tools, that could enable us to grow without experiencing the same level of growth in our infrastructure and people.”
This makeover didn’t happen overnight. A lot of thought and discussion went into the planning. First, the economic environment had to be right to make this investment. Second, the team had to be comfortable with what amounted to a complete reimagination of their business.
“Trying to do the same old thing faster isn’t good enough,” Vaughan says. “I think you need to look at what the technology is capable of and try to find ways of looking inside your dealership to try to find more efficient ways of doing things. It’s really starting with a fresh piece of paper and saying, ‘If I’m going to start this business today, let me start crafting how we can be as efficient and productive as we can.’”
For Liftech, the efficiencies boiled down to giving technicians and customers access to information relevant to their relationship without requiring the manual intervention of additional Liftech personnel. The field service and branch support personnel had to communicate more seamlessly, enabling the technician to complete the repair more quickly. This would not only improve the company’s service to its customer, it would enable the technicians to get to the next customer more quickly.
“We achieved this with three primary initiatives,” says Vaughan. “First was instituting ServiceMax. Second is using C-Tabs for our invoicing and the third was providing all of our technicians and outside salespeople iPads and iPhones.”
The first phase of Liftech’s technological revolution was borne almost by chance.
“I saw an article posted to the MHEDA LinkedIn page by Kevin Rusin from McKinley Equipment about their implementation of a product called ‘ServiceMax,’” Vaughan says. “The article, called, ‘How iPads and a Field Service App Transformed McKinley Equipment,’ really spoke to me. It was like Jerry Maguire, the first paragraph had me at hello. All the reasons why Kevin had implemented ServiceMax were exactly the things we had been talking about.”
Mike saw the article days before MHEDA’s 2013 Convention in Palm Desert, California. McKinley Equipment is located about two hours away in Irvine.
“I drove out to McKinley the day after Convention and Kevin was nice enough to host me and spent the better part of a day talking about it. We talked about what he’s seen and why we were thinking about making the change. I had ServiceMax come to Syracuse the next week and it opened our eyes even more. We began to see what was possible with this new system and how it compared to what we had been doing. Joe and I both agreed that this was something we needed to do.”
It wasn’t necessarily that Liftech’s existing ERP system was bad, it was just inefficient and caused a bit of a disconnect between technicians and parts employees because the relevant equipment/customer information wasn’t available in the field.
“Our legacy ERP system had a lot of great information, it was just difficult to pull it out and use it in any qualitative manner,” Vaughan says. “To a large degree our technicians were disconnected. They didn’t have the information they needed in a timely manner to be able to do their job in the most efficient way possible.”
Liftech implemented ServiceMax at the beginning of this year and has seen immediate results. A key to the initiative was assigning the integration tasks to one of its senior managers, Ken Eggert. His knowledge and tenure in the industry were key to redefining day-to-day processes and procedures to take advantage of the technology’s capabilities.
“Everything is electronic, so information travels much more quickly,” says Vaughan. “In a paper system, when a technician is working on equipment and needs to see the unit’s repair history, he has to call the branch and the branch has to go in and find it in our operating system and download it and read it back to them. It’s just a difficult and labor intensive process. Now everything is at the technician’s fingertips.”
This change has made Liftech’s technicians more self-sufficient and less reliant on the support of the branch to get critical information. And with cloud based storage, technicians don’t have to worry about the program taking up too much precious storage space or slowing their iPads down.
The system is so fast that in many cases the work order can be signed and the customer has a copy of it in their email before they even get back to their desks. The customer’s electronic copy also enables easy access and storage and eliminates their need to create paper files. The customer can access that information without being at their desks, provided they have the appropriate technology and network access. Most customers can see the benefits and are very pleased at what they have experienced so far.
Finally, ServiceMax offers up an internal note feature that any Liftech employee with a ServiceMax subscription can access.
“Whenever a technician makes a repair, they can make a note about what they did so that other technicians can identify and get ideas about what other people have experienced,” Vaughan says. “Eventually we want to get to the point where technicians Google our Liftech universe of knowledge and leverage that knowledge across our large geography and branches.”
Another area that Liftech dispensed with the traditional way of doing things is with its invoicing and processing.
“In the old days, preparing an invoice involved putting it in an envelope, licking the stamp and sending it out. That’s just not going to get it done anymore,” Vaughan says. “More and more customers are requiring the electronic delivery/upload of invoices and do not want a paper copy. In addition, we are receiving more and more requests for copies of invoices and backup. We needed to find a way that gives customers access to invoices and backup, whenever they need it”.
To streamline that process, Liftech began using Crown Technology Assisted Business Services or C-TABS in August of this year.
“One of the benefits that we see with C-TABS is that it’s going to help us streamline and reduce some of those manual processes. For customers that need copies of work orders or repair orders, we can set up a customer portal where the customer can access all open invoices and supporting documentation electronically. Not only is that more convenient for the customer, it’s also less of a burden on our administrative staff who won’t have to respond to the phone call request, make copies and fax or email anymore.”
iPhones and iPads
In addition to putting ServiceMax and C-TABS at employee’s fingertips, equipping everybody with iPhones and iPads has served another purpose.
“With iPhones and iPads, the technicians now have the ability to get to the manufacturer’s websites, look up parts and get the details that they really need instead of calling the branch,” Vaughan says. “That was consuming not only the technician’s time but also our parts employee’s time and ultimately the customer’s time. Finding parts, scanning and faxing information, it was inefficient. Now it’s all just a click away.”
And when the technician or outside salesperson does need to consult with a parts employee or technical trainer, the magic of FaceTime really brings the branch employee out into the field.
“We’ve had instances where important information can get lost in translation,” says Vaughan. “Either in writing it down on a work order or phoning it into the parts department, sometimes things can be missed. Now, the technician can get it all done without important dialogue being misinterpreted or omitted. It’s more efficient, but it’s also more accurate. It’s like they’re standing right next to each other having a conversation It really helps get things done more quickly.”
Though the makeover is less than a year old, Liftech is already realizing results from these changes and, more importantly, see the potential for more.
“We decided to start the implementation very simply,” says Vaughan. We want to make sure we’ve got everybody on board and everybody is mastering the core functionality that we have and then we’ll have the ability to be able to really advance the product to the next level.”
He adds, “I think it has increased our employees’ belief in the professionalism of Liftech. They see a lot of other companies in different industries that have touch pads and electronic signatures and things like that and they feel good about the fact that we’re invested in this and we’re trying to keep pace with the changing technology and get better. And customers are excited too. They’re excited about the current and potential benefits.”