“Sure thing, I’ll deal with it when I get back to the office” is a phrase used less and less these days. For many owners, estimators, IPM scouts, crew leaders and consultants, the office is, and always has been, their work vehicle. Laptops, tablets and smartphones have replaced the clipboard. The time crunch also has become a factor; you can expect phone calls if that proposal turnaround time is more than a few days.
With the pandemic, much more is being done from the home office/couch, so reliable mobile software is in high demand for communicating with clients and employees. You may not be able to have as many in-person meetings, so job-task and data visualization are critical to make sure nothing slips through the cracks. We’ve surveyed a handful of providers of tree care-specific smartphone applications that promote the ability to accomplish more out in the field while cutting down on the pile of work waiting for an operator at the end of the day.
We asked how their software can be helpful to tree care-company employees and managers who are in the field and not the office, and about any recent updates to their product lines for 2021.
Founded in 1994, Arborgold provides tree care companies with solutions for CRM (customer relationship management) and scheduling, workflow and cashflow management. Arborgold, a 25-year TCIA corporate member company based in Ellettsville, Indiana, released its first mobile application back in 1995, so it’s had some time to develop this. It now has three separate mobile apps for working in the field – MobileEstimator, MobileCrew and MobilCrewQR, all available on the Apple App and Google Play stores.
As you might expect, MobileEstimator is tailored for sales staff to be able to generate and track proposals, leads and job-site history. According to Donna Garner, Arborgold co-founder and vice president of sales and marketing, “With an AutoPrice Calculator built in, one of the goals of this app is to help estimators generate large estimates right in the field with the customer and get quicker approval.”
MobileCrew is used for routing crews, tracking the equipment necessary for jobs, monitoring chemical consumption and providing work-site information/maps, as well as tracking add-ons a client may have requested the day of the job. Crew members can digitally clock in and out and track break time, which can speed up the payroll process. GPS tracking also is included in this.
MobileCrewQR uses QR codes to track job times, inventory use and routing to further cut down on administrative work. This can provide more independence for crew leaders and can cut down on confusion and the number of phone calls once the job has started. Also, some companies have used this for snow operations and all the subcontractor tracking and billing headaches that that can entail.
“Their software links our sales department through the production schedulers all the way to the crews … all over Michigan and Indiana, where we’re working,” says Corey Parshall, co-owner of Parshall Tree Care Experts, a five-year TCIA member company based in Traverse City, Michigan. “We experienced an overall increase in revenue of 50 to 70% the last two years in a row. And that is a direct correlation … to how much we invested in using Arborgold.”
ServicePro, a six-year TCIA corporate member company based in Columbus, Ohio, offers ServSuite, an all-in-one solution designed to automate many day-to-day processes that companies encounter.
“Our mobile app streamlines the work-order management and communicates back to the office staff when jobs are completed, along with all necessary job notes, such as details of the completed jobs, other observations and chemical-usage information for PHC and compliance needs,” says Mike Triplett, ServicePro sales manager. “This speeds up many processes, including billing.”
ServicePro is always updating its product, according to Triplett. “In fact, we have monthly releases. One of the newest updates regarding our app is the ability to communicate via SMS (short message service) messaging to customers directly from our mobile app, which is compatible with any IOS/Android smartphone or tablet.”
“We’ve seen massive improvements with our operations and tremendous growth – over $1 million in new sales since we started using the software,” says Steve Martinko, co-owner of Contender’s Tree and Lawn Specialists, a three-year TCIA member company based in Waterford, Mich. “Our sales are through the roof, and we owe it all to ServSuite. In the past, managing 20% growth rates was a challenge – but not anymore!”
From the minute the estimate begins until the work is safely completed, tree care happens in the field, according to Hank Ortiz, president and CEO of Cognetive Systems, Inc., maker of ArborNote Software and a three-year TCIA corporate member company based in Irvine, California.
“ArborNote is used by the estimator to record all the critical information necessary for an accurate estimate, including photographs and any challenges associated with the scope of work. This information is saved to the ArborNote Cloud, where office staff can view and use the information as needed. All estimates are managed inside of ArborNote so that each salesperson’s pipeline is visible both in the office and in the field, using the mobile app,” says Ortiz.
“Proposals are emailed to clients, where they may be electronically approved. Once approved, ArborNote is used to create work orders from approved estimates and assign resources to each work order to complete the work,” says Ortiz. “Work orders may be printed or viewed through the app. Viewing work orders through the interactive mobile app allows work crews to view mapped tree locations, tree photographs and even ‘Street Views’ of trees when available. As work is completed, work crews are able to mark off completed trees and record the labor hours required to complete the work for job-costing purposes. Again, all of this information is available in the office or in the field, and can then be referenced for years to come.”
ArborNote recently released a PHC module that is part of ArborNote, but with features designed to address the specific needs of PHC sales and operations.
“PHC programs require periodic treatments throughout the year. The ArborNote PHC Proposal is a format that has been designed specifically for PHC in order to effectively communicate the entire scope of a year-long PHC treatment plan,” says Ortiz. “The market told us that ‘shoe-horning’ a PHC treatment plan into a general tree care proposal was not the best way for them to present their services to their clients. We listened and have released PHC 1.0. In addition, work-order generation and work flow have been adapted for the needs of PHC.”
One typical, if not unique, aspect of tree care is the amount of work that takes place out in the field, according to Ortiz. “Over the last several years, we have met with many prospective customers who have told us that their companies haven’t experienced the growth they expected. One reason for this could be the typically unique challenges of tree care.
“We have many customers who have steadily added estimators and crews to their organizations after they started using ArborNote. There is no magic at play here,” concludes Ortiz. “What we set out to do every day is to provide easy-to-use software that confronts the typically unique challenges of tree care and allows owners and managers to better visualize and understand work and resources, and to just be better organized – and we love doing it.”
The power of SingleOps’ cloud-based software is that you get access to their entire platform from any device, anywhere, says Ty Deemer, senior marketing manager with SingleOps, a five-year TCIA corporate member company based in Atlanta, Georgia. “This is vital to the modern-day tree care company that needs to see their business from the palm of their hand,” says Deemer.
“In SingleOps, digital proposals, word orders and invoices ensure that all client information is accessible from the field – and that no customer is left disappointed by something falling through the cracks,” says Deemer. “We all know each day presents a unique set of challenges and things shift. SingleOps’ adaptive, drag-and-drop scheduling software allows you to update your team’s calendar on the fly and automatically updates all necessary parties.”
SingleOps recently released Summary Data for business insights within the SingleOps app.
“The Summary Data feature enables users to take all the information in SingleOps’ reports and develop powerful insights for their business. Using a pivot-table-style report builder, you can slice and dice your data to develop the specific insights you are looking for. Views can be created and saved for reuse,” says Deemer. “This feature allows users to access meaningful business insights, whether they are out in the field or in the office.”
“I think our use of SingleOps contributes to clients choosing us,” says Kristine Crawford, office manager with Tree Huggers, LLC, based in King County, Washington. “Our proposals are professional and easy to understand, and clients appreciate the electronic communication and the ability to sign and pay online. It’s a driving factor in client decision making. Part of our client base is in Seattle, headquarters of tech giants such as Microsoft, so they’re highly technical and accustomed to sophisticated systems.”
PlanIT Geo (planitgeo.com)
Time to talk about geographic information systems (GIS). It’s been the burgeoning framework for tracking geospatial information for more than a decade. Does your office have a GIS team or dedicated inventory crew? Probably not, unless you work for an international company, a large municipality or a university. So, who do you turn to in this situation? Enter PlanIT Geo, a three-year TCIA corporate member company based in Arvada, Colorado.
Founded in 2012, PlanIT Geo lists its vision as “Mapping the world’s urban forest for a greener future.” PlanIT Geo offers two mobile applications for tree care companies to use for consulting and crew management: TreePlotter Inventory and TreePlotter Jobs.
TreePlotter Inventory is a browser-based application and is primarily a data-collection and data-management tool. This can be used to generate tree inventories and action plans for larger clients who may not have their own in-house staff to handle this. Data visualization can help explain management plans and future estimates as well. The off-line functionality is a nice bonus, as it can be frustrating to collect data when the tablet thinks you are several zip codes over. Also, the built-in tree-risk-assessment, appraisal and i-Tree Eco features can be great for dealing with the local city council or homeowners’ association. Municipalities, forestry commissions and nonprofits can get a lot of use out of this software as well.
Released in early 2020, TreePlotter Jobs is a map-centric, arborist estimating software that can integrate with QuickBooks for quicker invoicing.
“You can put together proposals, get client approval, map job sites for crews and assign work through a calendar feature as well,” says Elizabeth Schulte, PlanIT Geo’s director of marketing.
Mapping everything for the crews allows you to not worry about the wrong tree getting dropped or the wrong equipment leaving the shop. Multiple case studies and webinars can be viewed on their website.
Since 2011, Jobber, based in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, has offered CRM and scheduling support to small businesses. According to Elana Ziluk, Jobber’s public-relations manager, “Jobber’s mobile app is intended to assist tree care companies with the full customer lifecycle” and all the milestones this involves, i.e., generating proposals, scheduling, routing, invoicing and payment options. Record retrieval is a nice feature when you have client relationships that go back years. Every job, quote and attachment is there for review should there be any questions about how things were done the last time you were on the property, or if there were any screw-ups that need to not be repeated.
A recent update to their software enables users “the ability to take photos on your smartphone and put them alongside each of the line items as they appear on an estimate,” says Ziluk. This can help build trust, as the client has their memory refreshed about what each item refers to and doesn’t think you’re just drumming up extra work, she says. This is also particularly helpful if the client doesn’t really know the species of trees and shrubs on their property or has priority tree hazards that need to be budgeted for first.
In addition to this, the people at Jobber have been working toward optimizing text messaging with clients with a great deal of SMS support. This can be used for letting the client know crews are on the way or are delayed, or simply for sending before-and-after photos when the job is complete.
“I’ve been using Jobber for about four years, mostly to keep track of the crews,” says Gordon Field, owner of Field’s Tree Service, Inc., a Jobber client based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada. “The crews get their schedules on the app, track their work for the day and clock their hours. I attach all the info they need, including photos with arrows and instructions for each job, so they can access the info while they’re on site. Nothing is ever lost or missed.
“The crews often add photos and notes during their day to share things like existing damage to homes and yards for liability purposes. They use the mapping feature extensively, and it’s one touch to navigate to the next job. Jobber’s mobile app saves me six to eight hours of administrative work per week. The crews use it to document details for each job, such as whether the job was completed or if they did some extra work, so I can add the work to the invoice. They also track their hours in the app, which streamlines payroll. I’ve also started to use the mobile app for on-site quoting, which has been really useful.”
There are plenty of other options out there, with more starting up every month to research and choose from for your estimating and administrative needs. Just give it some thought as to what you really need. Is fleet management critical to your operation? Do you need every crewmember to have access to the software or just the crew leader?
All of the software companies mentioned here provide training as part of their subscriptions as well as demos or tours, so you aren’t getting tossed into the deep end learning a new system.
Richard Jones, an ISA Board Certified Master Arborist, is the campus arborist for the University of Maryland, College Park, and one of the founders of Maryland Sustainable Ecologies, a company that provides tree care training to municipalities and nonprofits.