Exterminating Handwritten Forms

By  By Teresa von Fuchs — June 10, 2009

Tom Plunkett opened his pest control service in 1915 hoping to provide the safest and most effective such operation in Minneapolis. When Plunkett passed away just eight years later, his only employee at the time was Bill O'Reilly. He bought the business, and the O'Reilly family has run Plunkett's ever since.

Today the family-run company has more than 20,000 clients in nine Midwestern states and offers national service through a partnership with Copesan. The company's customers range from residential homeowners and renters to commercial facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes, grocery stores, schools, farms and more.

With more than 200 field technicians working across the company's territory, Plunkett's understands the benefits of using mobile solutions to improve business processes and keep customers, managers and service technicians all in sync.

Five years ago, Plunkett's began using rugged Motorola handheld computers to manage work orders, keep track of pesticides used, and accommodate a whole host of other internal reporting functions.

By law, technicians need to keep a record of which services were performed and what pesticides and chemicals were used where. Techs also need to leave customers with a copy of those records. Even though techs had all that information on their handhelds, they had no easy way to transfer it to customers; typically techs would rewrite onto a piece of paper all the information they had just keyed into the handheld and leave that handwritten report with the customer.

Plunkett's had looked into mobile printers, but the company was using a homegrown mobile software solution and couldn't find a mobile printer that would easily plug into its system.

Three years ago, when the company partnered with national pest control service provider Copesan part of the partnership required Plunkett's to upgrade its backend system to Marathon Data Systems PestPac Software. This opened the gateway for Plunkett's  to upgrade its rugged handhelds to the Motorola MC70 and MC75 and test out mobile printers.

Plunkett's turned to Emkat, a local solution provider and systems integrator, for help finding a printing solution that would work with their new software and business processes. Becky Miller, Plunkett's Technical Support and Trainer, says the company tried a lot of different printers before settling on the Brother PocketJet 3 about two years ago.

Plunkett's didn't want to have to redesign their existing  forms for a small-format printer, so the PocketJet 3's full-size printing capabilities made it an easy choice. The PocketJet 3 is also a direct thermal printer, so techs don't have to worry about replacing ink or other printing supplies. And most importantly, for the printer to be of use, it has to be lightweight enough to easily carry around and stand up to the hard knocks of field work.

Though Miller says that she doesn't think mobile tools are ever as durable as they need to be, both the mobile printer and the Motorola rugged handhelds are surprisingly light, while still getting the job done.

Measuring just over an inch by 10 inches by 2 inches, the mobile printer weighs about a pound with battery. The Bluetooth-equipped PocketJet3 communicates wirelessly with the Motorola MC70s and MC75s used by Plunkett's technicians, eliminating  the need for them to carry extra cables or batteries.

Each of Plunkett's 219 service technicians is effectively operating a fully mobile office. Equipped with a handheld computer and mobile printer, technicians view work orders, clock start and stop times for each job, log services provided and chemicals used.

When the job is done they wirelessly connect the handheld to the printer to print a "leave behind" form for the customer, which includes all the relevant details of that job including: the location where the work was performed, the material that was used to treat the pests, comments about the location (sanitation issues or other problems that may help in getting rid of the pests), service order information,  pricing for the service, signatures and technician information.

"Handwritten forms are a thing of the past," says Miller. "The same information is now being printed by all our technicians on site. Customers don't have to wait to get invoices or other important information."

Plunkett's does all its training in house and Miller says that, "It is not a hard solution to learn, but troubleshooting for non-technical people can be a little difficult to have the printer talking to MC70 through the Bluetooth."

She adds that most techs appreciate the new tool, as it allows them to complete more jobs per day. "Some techs really aim for speed, trying to get done 13 or 14 jobs per day," says Miller. "Before the double data took a lot more time."

The company hasn't run any hard numbers on productivity gains of the solution. Goals were saving time and creating more connected, independent service techs, and Miller says the company has accomplished what it set out to do with the solution.

"Handhelds are capable of doing a lot more than we thought when we purchased them," says Miller.
"Being equipped with WiFi is great, the technicians are able to connect, do their syncing and get the office the information that they need pretty much from anywhere." 

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