Proper Paperwork Practices: Design detailed reports to maximize job quality and efficiency

 Forms can record and grade the cleanliness of equipment and the appearance of staff members.

Forms can record and grade the cleanliness of equipment and the appearance of staff members.

By Ray Cooke | Green Media Online

June 16, 2006

During the years that I have worked in the irrigation end of our industry, I have come to appreciate the fact that no amount of knowledge, skill or experience can produce superior job results without having a system in place to keep track of the numerous aspects of our work.

This is such an obvious point that it is overlooked by many irrigation specialists. They lose sight of the big picture to the task at hand. Rather than having control over a project, the project takes control of them, their time, and, ultimately, their budgets. This results in unnecessary frustration, and, more often than not, dissatisfied customers.

So how do we take back control? For me, the solution was straightforward. Needing to report the progress of a certain job to others in our company, I designed a simple form that could be shared and updated by any member of our staff. That led to designing forms to manage virtually every aspect of our work and our customer relations.

Today, our forms comprise a comprehensive system for keeping all of our work on track and maximizing our efficiency, while at the same time improving the detail and presentation of our billing and the management of our records. Most importantly, they help deliver the peace of mind our customers deserve, knowing that their irrigation system is working properly and that their landscaping investment is secure.

The following is Crawford Landscaping Group’s Quality Operating System and the forms used to support it:

CLIENT INFORMATION FORM

Often taken for granted (and therefore overlooked) in our industry, the “Client Information Form” comprises the essential relationship we will have with an individual or homeowner’s association. In addition to the basic information (name, address, etc.), it details the scope of work, special client expectations and needs, frequency of service required, routing, budget — virtually everything needed to make a comprehensive proposal.

WRITTEN PROPOSAL

To us, “comprehensive” means far more than a simple work contract. Our proposals not only detail the objectives and needs of the customer, they act as our ongoing maintenance contract with that customer. We have found that if we personalize our proposal to each customer, we are most likely to earn the work. More importantly, once we earn it, we have a far greater likelihood of surpassing that customer’s expectations. Because, as written documents, our proposals comprise a record of those expectations that we can refer back to as often as necessary. This assures ongoing excellence in every aspect of our working relationship.

CONTACT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM (CMS)

To help us manage that relationship, we use CLIP software, a total suite designed specifically for the landscape industry. Through it, we are able to oversee every aspect of our relationship with our customers. A few keystrokes can access up-to-the-minute detail of work orders, inspections, routing and scheduling, billing, customer and employee comments — everything we need to maintain the best possible relationship. Every day, sometimes every hour, our field staff updates this information for our customer service manager, who reviews the documents, inputs any changes into CMS and generates a single comprehensive report for management to review on a weekly basis.

THE ROUTE SHEET

Our “Route Sheets,” generated through CLIP, help us improve our efficiency by indicating which customer is assigned to which maintenance route on a particular day of the week. Just by grouping customers by route, we are able to greatly improve our use of time, which results in our crews being able to thoroughly do their work in a timely manner. The “Route Sheet” also includes information specific to each customer — such as gate access codes, equipment needs and special instructions — so that everything needed to conduct that customer’s irrigation maintenance and possible repairs is included with that route’s vehicle.

MONTHLY INSPECTION SHEET

Every month, our irrigation crew leader inspects the customer’s entire irrigation system, checking for leaks in the lines, misdirected or broken sprinklers; verifying rain sensors are accurately detecting the amount of precipitation; ensuring proper activation time-on and time-off; as well as checking the amount of water flow to a given section. In addition to generating work orders, the “Monthly Inspection Sheet” acts as a report on the customer’s overall landscaping health, a valuable tool in assuring ongoing customer satisfaction.

BILLING

All financial information recorded on our forms is compiled into an itemized monthly statement for each customer in Quickbooks. Due to the depth of detail and the ability to support any line item through work order documentation, we rarely encounter questions from our customers as to why an additional charge may have been applied to their standard monthly maintenance amount. This accountability saves us time, because it eliminates the headache of having to track down the details of a job that has been completed. It also deepens the customer’s confidence in our abilities and professionalism.

PERSONAL/PROFESSIONAL

Like all businesses, we have an image to maintain, so we have even created a form that records and grades the cleanliness of our equipment, as well as the appearance of each member of our staff. This elementary evaluation not only leads to a greater sense of pride among our workers, but it also boosts our customer’s comfort level in having our clean crews on their property.

THE HUB TO ALL THE SPOKES

Whether you call it project manager or, as we do, customer service manager, it’s critical to have a person — or a department, depending on your size — act as the “hub” to manage and coordinate all the information pouring in from the field, the customer, management, vendors and any other sources. With that hub in place, and with the ongoing use of well-developed forms, a landscaping company can rest assured that the quality and efficiency of its work will noticeably improve, often within a very short period of time. Most importantly will be the significant positive effect it will have on customer satisfaction, and that is priceless.

Ray Cooke is an irrigation supervisor for Crawford Landscaping Group of Naples, Fla. During his career, he has created an array of forms to address pitfalls naturally occurring in the installation and maintenance of the industry’s increasingly complex irrigation systems and equipment. Supplementary information for this article was provided by Blake S. Crawford, president and CEO of Crawford Landscaping Group.