Automating manual tasks is a key pathway to sustainable growth for your business. We have to start thinking for the company long-term. What are the things we could do now to have a smooth flow of business? Join your host Josh Crouch as he talks with Billy Stevens on enhancing efficiency for technicians through automation. Billy shares his professional journey and how thinking outside the box changed his life. He shares the software solution he has for companies to succeed. Tune in to learn a lot of deep insights on a system to simplify operations for our businesses!
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Enhancing Efficiency Through Automation With Billy Stevens
I am super stoked. I have been promoting this a little bit in various Facebook Groups and things like that to be talking with Billy Stevens. Billy has an interesting journey through the trades, everything from getting into the trades, building and selling a company, getting into the service as a software space or SaaS.
If you are not familiar with that lingo, with his billyGO app, we are going to be talking about his latest foray into building systems with software that is going to help with automation efficiencies, enhancing field communication with your office, and a whole bunch of other stuff. We are super excited to have him on the show to broadcast this thing out there. It has been in Facebook Groups. I have seen it a bunch of times but this is a way for us to broadcast it and have Billy share his story. With that being said, welcome to the show, Billy.
Thanks for having me.
You have been in the trades a long time, so why don’t you start with your story, and let’s take it from there.
Back in the early ’90s, I’ve got into the trades quite by accident. I was working for a home builder, a plumber, asked them to come out and give us some proposals on three-day starts that we had. We had sold three new houses. He told me he couldn’t get there for three weeks and was going to raise my prices by 20%. I politely asked him to leave and thought I would get another plumber. Two weeks later, I’ve only got one plumber even to take my plans, and he never unrolled them.
I went with my tail between my legs back to that company named Berkeys and I said, “I will pay your 20%. Can you be here next week?” He says, “No way, it’s three weeks from the day we took you off the board,” and I’m like, “What is going on around here? I’m very interested in this.” Long story short, I had a gracious father-in-law that loaned me $10,000 and co-signed on loan, then we were off and running. This was in 1996.
Over the course of fifteen years, we 100X the company. I paid him back his $10,000 in less than a month with about $500 in interest and bought his dinner when I gave him the money, which was a first as well. We started innovating, trying to do things differently. We had a great platform for what was available back then and a lot of pen and paper. The email was new. We didn’t have an email. I don’t know the exact year.
We didn’t see email or Google probably until the 2000, if I remember it right. The email was going to change everything for us. It was a lot of fun in the beginning. It was like Facebook, I guess. In 2010, I met this guy that started a PE firm. He lived out in Seattle. He went to Stanford. He was smart enough to realize that the trades were underserved. Back in 2010, if you wanted to sell your company, you typically sold it to a competitor or maybe to your kids, or you closed it down.
The roll-up thing, and then had imploded by then in the ’90s, we had the roll-ups, and they all imploded. That was no longer a viable option. This was something that was totally new, and this PE firm is interested. What got them interested in our company was the fact that we had EBITDA that they had never seen before, pretty much any company, whether it was a car dealership, whatever the type of company was. Our EBITDA is what impressed them the most.
Back then, with the pen and paper, very little functionality on software, we were still able to attain a 24.4% EBITDA. We grew it every year while we were double-digit growth in the actual revenue, which is very hard. There’s a term for that. They call it a gazelle. At the time, we were a gazelle because we had done these numerous years in a row.
We were off to the races, formed a new company called Berkeys Holdings, and began buying companies. The first company we bought was an awesome guy, Alan O’Neill. We brought him on board, and he was very smart. I liked his story. After a while, my parents were getting sick, and I decided that I wanted to leave the organization so that I could take care of them. I had the ability to stop doing what I was doing. I left them, and they went on to do great things, and then I created the Wrench Group. They are off and running. I’m very proud of all the work they have done.
This was all before I entered the industry. Is that how the Wrench Group started?A lot of people's work can be reduced by automating manual tasks. Click To Tweet
Yes, it started at my business.
I had no idea.
It wasn’t called the Wrench Group back then but it was what it evolved into. Basically, we were the platform company, the first one. I don’t talk about it much.
Going back to the fact that you were able to get 24.4% or 24.5%, even now, with all of the digital tools at our fingertips, the routings, the software, and everything else, 24% is really good. You were doing this on pen and paper and with probably a phone that was connected to a wall. I think about that from my perspective. I use email all the time for my business, clients, and stuff like that.
As far as client retention, those ways of keeping clients were a lot more difficult back in the day. You had to fight for the mailbox or the Yellow Pages and spend a ton of money on the Yellow Pages. Whereas now, you get distracted every five seconds with something else, so you left. What made you want to start the next chapter of your life as far as billyGO?
I felt like I wasn’t finished. I didn’t want to start another Berkeys. I didn’t want to do that again. I have already been there, done that, and I did a good job at it. billyGO was created so that I could build a franchise and wanted to use software that I created for my own franchise. Franchises are very popular but one of the main things that keep people from the corporate world from getting into plumbing or an HVAC franchise is they don’t have any knowledge of the industry.
The concept was how do we do most of the work for them so they can go on and have the whole company work on the business instead of in it. Let Sera be in it, do most of the work, and let everyone in the company work on the business. We could do the things we always want to implement, like better rehashing and all these things that we never have time to do good unless we continue to add people to do all these jobs. Let’s reduce the load of work on everybody and focus on more revenue-generating type jobs.
billyGO was built primarily for a franchise. Did you use that for your own business at all or did you use that as you built the platform and introduced yourself to the service as a software space?
Basically, it was built for billyGO so that we could use it over and over again, and that was the whole premise of building it. By chance, a friend of a friend said, “I need to meet this guy and talk to him.” He has been in the software space for years and has done quite well. He was the CTO for Mark Cuban. When they took Broadcast.com and put it on the internet, convince them of that as the story, I was told. They ended up selling it to Yahoo for $5.6 billion or something like that.
All those guys were pioneers in their day. We had a one-hour meeting scheduled, and I had several meetings that day after that. He ended up not leaving until about 9:00 that night. We were at about ten markers on the whiteboard. He says, “You are doing this all wrong. You need to do this in SaaS and share it with everyone.” That’s when we made the flip. I spent a lot of money building that out. The next day I’m like, “Let’s throw that in the trash and start over.”
That’s business in life in general. You build something you think you are doing okay, and then someone comes along and shows you may be a different way, then all of a sudden, your light bulbs go off, and something new is born, and it’s better. Where is this on the timeline? When was this conversation? Was this a couple of years ago?
Yes, in 2018.
The beautiful thing about technology these days is things can be done a lot faster than they were back in the day, where you can put things together and develop a lot faster. When I edit my own videos, I have my thirteen-year-old help me sometimes. They know how to do it on the phone, and then it’s done and all set. I’m like, “Can you show me how to do that?” You had this meeting took you to 2018, and at least the concept of Sera was born. Correct me if I’m wrong. You’ve got back into the trades to essentially work this app and work it for yourself. Is that right?
Exactly. billyGO was created to be our beta tester from day one. I couldn’t figure out how I could build something that sounded great on paper. When you gave it to the techs or your administration, they came up with all these things that it didn’t do, and you thought you figured out everything. They were on board from the very beginning. I want to talk about that for a second.
We decided to start billyGO. We had no customers. We were not going to buy any companies and going to do it with no customers at all. For five months, all we did is we sit around in one room. I had two department managers, a dispatcher, a CSR, four technicians, and a warehouse manager. Every day we sat in there together for five months, and we said, “What’s your pain? Where’s your pain? How can we eliminate your pain?”
Everybody bought in. For five months, I was paying these people without even trying to open a business. We knew if we opened billyGO and started trying these new ideas and questioning everything. That’s what we did. By doing it like this, it enabled us to build a product that helps you run your business in a way that can grow your EBITDA, memberships and have technicians want to come to work for you.
I saw this story before. That’s why I wanted to get you on here. Software is developed by people wanting to come into the space and think they solve a problem and stuff like that. The problem is they haven’t run these types of businesses. The information they get is through someone else or someone else’s experience. They don’t have that inner knowledge of all of the troubles that a service business has.
It sounds like you took literally every main position and got feedback over and over again and hammered it home until you figured out all of the little details that can make an operation streamline. No offense to any software companies but if you are reading this, this is where having that inner knowledge of working within these businesses pays off. That took about five months. What about the development of the app? It could be something that you could put out in the market. How long did that take?
Basically, we started beta testing in January 2021 with other organizations. We weren’t going to launch publicly until after Victor Rancour’s Service Hero’s show. It got out there before that and has gone crazy since then. It’s like we thought it would be a hit, and it seems to be working out that way.
It’s one of those things. I have had several people do a demo with your team. I’m not sure if that’s you or someone else but someone with your team, and they are very impressed with what you have so far. Going into Sera and what it is, do you want to walk us through some highlights of things that you have figured out and the program a little bit?
I’m going to pick a few items and then talk about how we improved and made them a lot easier to deal with. One of the things we did in our round table discussions was we decided to see how many touches were in a single service call. What I mean by that is when a customer calls or books online. For instance, a customer calls in, and you have a CSR answer the phone. That’s one-touch with that customer. It’s a busy day. She put the customer on hold and asked the dispatcher if there was any availability for this person. That’s the second touch. We have disrupted the dispatcher’s job of what she’s trying to do by asking questions like this. The dispatcher then gets on the phone and calls around because it’s a great call.
We need to try to do it. She calls around to find out when guys are going to be done. Now she’s reaching out and touching these technicians. They are out there trying to do their job. At the end of the day, we came up with approximately 28 touches on an average service call. If you are doing 10, 20 or 100 calls a day, you can multiply that times 28. That’s how many redundant touches that happen in your organization every single day.
Sera’s job was, how do we reduce these? Our goal was to see if we could take 28 to 20 when we started. As we started messing with this, whiteboarding it like crazy, and getting through it, we were able to go from 28 touches to 3. We overdid it. We had no idea we could get down to three touches. This is one of the reasons why we get that efficiency going in the company. We have taken a lot of people’s work, reduced the amount of work and focus that it requires.
The dispatcher, the technician, CSRs as well with online booking has less than he has to do now. These are the things that did help us change what we were doing. Let’s say, for instance, when a dispatcher calls in sick, that’s the worst day in the world for any company. You basically hire them and say, “You can’t have a vacation.” They won’t ever say yes to that but you wish that would happen.Automation will allow you to reduce costs and know your costs so that you can manage your business. Therefore, you can sell more stuff and be more competitive. Click To Tweet
With Sera, anybody can walk over there and take over because about 70% of the dispatching work is done within our software. They need to take care of the one-offs. We will never eliminate that position but what we will do is make that position a lot easier. A good dispatcher can probably handle about 7 to 10 trucks. That’s quite a bit but with Sera, the same dispatcher can handle 20 or 30 trucks easily. It makes a big difference.
That’s incredible. This whole segment is not to bash anyone else. Automation and removing the touchpoints are so crucial because not only do CSRs, technicians, salespeople, and dispatchers have to learn softphone skills and good customer service. They have to try to remember all of these little things that they have to do inside of a software program. It’s a lot.
What happens is you end up giving this bloated office staff to try to manage all this stuff. You have people to manage the program. You’ve got one dispatcher per 5 to 10 technicians. If you are a bigger company, you’ve got 2, 3, 4, 5 dispatchers. They’ve all got to work together, optimize the schedule and the routing, and everything else. It becomes mass chaos.
When we talk to these folks and do demos for them, we consistently see anywhere from 2 to 1 all the way to a 3.4 to 1 ratio.
As far as technicians to the office?
Yes. The number is not 3.4 technicians. It’s 3.4 people supporting 1 technician. I have seen it as high as that. It seems like the bigger the companies are, the higher that number is, and that’s not sustainable. That’s one of the pricing of equipment. When you put your markup on, it has gotten as high as it has because you have to charge as much money to get some profit out of it. This will allow you to reduce those and know your costs so that you can manage your business and not always have to be super expensive to cover all your costs.
Therefore, you can sell more stuff and be more competitive. You could offer more tenure warranties. There are great warranty companies out there that it’s tough for them to offer those additional warranties but if you’ve got your numbers right, you can start doing that and separate yourself from your competition, things like that.
Outside of touchpoints from the time someone calls to the time an appointment is made, are there other things that you have focused on to streamline the operations of a service business?
Absolutely. As part of getting those touches reduced, we had to have an outstanding tech app and be linear. We call it a quarter pounder with cheese effect is basically what we need to do. What that means is that quarter pounder with cheese is built the same way everywhere in the United States. It’s exactly the same, the exact amount of mustard, onions, whatever, and the amount of time they spend cooking the burger. It’s replicated over and over for consistency.
We guide the technicians and help them be consistent. With consistency, we get a customer that’s not confused. They know what the experience is. They know what to expect from the experience. We are training your technicians. It’s a consistent way of flowing through the tech app. It allows them to do a much better job, much easier. We make it very easy for them to build quotes. You can build multiple quotes, 6, 7, 8 quotes, however many of you want to do in 2 to 3 minutes and following through a system. We want to be linear and practice this over and over again for consistency.
On that point, with the field technicians because this is also where a lot of balls get dropped in the service business, and I have seen this happen from my own personal experience. I have seen plenty of Facebook Group chats about this. As a job gets completed, how do you streamline the communications? In that way, something for that customer they were at the ball does not get dropped. Is there something that you do to help facilitate that? A certain customer has a certain need. Everyone is a little different. Is there something that you have built? How have you handled that issue?
That was the very first thing we built with our customer interface. We didn’t have any customers at all and weren’t going to buy a company. We had to do something different for Mrs. Jones. I call our customer Mrs. Jones. It’s an easy way to refer to them. It came out when we were doing these round table discussions. How do we make Mrs. Jones happy? Everybody has a limited amount of time on this Earth. Time is the most precious commodity that we have. How do we reduce the amount of time we disrupt someone’s life when they are having a crisis? It’s not fun to call the plumber or the AC guy because you get home after work and your AC is not working.
That’s a terrible day. Maybe you are going to go out for your anniversary that night, and now you can’t. The very first thing we built was an interface that the customer would like to have. We kept their time in mind. When we were building our algorithms, we decided that we could pull off one-hour appointment windows. We decided that would work and started building this concept.
Once we built this concept, business took off because now customers could go, “I’m going to schedule this appointment from 2 to 3 online. These guys are going to show up. I will see that this guy is on his way. He’s 37 minutes away. My son’s soccer practice is five minutes away. I’m going to go drop him off, come back, deal with the plumber instead of waiting all day.”
The technology will inform them of what the status is when we are leaving the house, the last job, and going to arrive. The other flip side to that is you have a technician, and he gets his next call, which he can’t see any of these calls, by the way. He can only see what he’s on at the time, and then he can’t see the next call until he accepts that call. What’s going on with this guy is he also sees on our app that he has 27 minutes, let’s say, before he even needs to leave where he’s at before he’s late.
Maybe it’s noon, and he wanted to go grab a burger quick because he hadn’t eaten yet. It’s 2:00. He’s starving. He knows he can go grab a burger, eat that, and then head on over there. It even gets him the time that he needs to have time to do things for himself if he needs to. Obviously, we would love to arrive at the beginning of the window or middle of the window but hitting the window is important. It’s a concept that blows everyone’s minds. How can we make a one-hour appointment when we struggle to make half-day appointments and communicate?
We will be there by midnight but we don’t know when. If we could give them a one-hour window, we give them the feeling that they are the ones that are booking the call. We start marketing this information and say, “You are the dispatcher. You tell us when we are coming.” Even though we control it, the appearances to Mrs. Jones, that it’s them making the decision, not only that, the technology can make the decision on whether it’s a priority call or not. For instance, it’s the beginning of the HVAC season. The board is full, and dispatchers were already yelling out, “We can’t take any more calls.”
On the board, you’ve got 15 or 20 tune-ups or maybe some equipment that’s not cooling but it’s only 3 to 5 years old, and you get a fifteen-year-old system coming in, and you have been told you can’t take any more calls. What do you do? You try to book them, “We can’t get you now. We will get you tomorrow.” They are going to call someone else.
Sera understands that the fifteen-year-old call was potential profit. It’s a big opportunity. It will gladly put a five-year-old system up and unassign and book that fifteen-year-old system right there where that five-year-old system was. At that point, that’s when we get the dispatcher involved. We have a policy at billyGO, and there are different policies at other places but at this time, we want that personal touch. We give that customer call and say, “We are going to reschedule you for later. We have had quite a few emergencies,” or whatever you want to tell them.
They will also get messaging about rescheduling as well. They can say, “You can reschedule me or not. I want you to come still.” You still have situations that you need to deal with. The main thing that we try to do is, “How do we serve up these better calls, so we can get the revenue up and manage the lesser calls to where folks are still not too unhappy about it.” We were like, “What can we do to turn a negative situation and being late into a positive? We decided to give $1 back for every minute we were late.
That’s going to cause us a lot of money. We haven’t perfected this yet or whatever. We kept working on it, and I will say in our second year that billyGO was on time, on the one-hour appointments, it’s 90.1%. We see the same thing across the board with all the folks that are on our service. The industry average is 72% on a 4-hour window. We were able to achieve 90% on a 1-hour window, do better, and have more intelligent thinking throughout the system. It’s not going to overbook you. That’s the key.
It’s going to know when a guy is off. It’s not going to be that panic when, “Why isn’t this guy here. We’ve got these calls.” Remember, he sent in an email or an ask for that day off, and you said he could have it. You’ve got so many off interoffice emails that you forgot about this. Sera won’t forget about it. Sera knows so that it won’t book calls for this guy.
That’s an important point to drive home to anyone reading this. The dispatcher is usually one of the most unsung heroes of your business because they make everything work. They are like the conductor of the symphony. They make it all work and come in harmony together for that day. They have to do it every single day and start over every single morning. I have done a lot of dispatching in my day. When it’s busy, I know how crazy it gets. Your pants are always on fire. You always have to be looking for the next way to move the board around. Any help that a dispatcher can get, I’m sure they would all be very welcome to that idea.
One question that I have that we didn’t talk about. When people think of new software, they get migraines immediately. Before they even are signing on the dotted line, they are like, “Software, and this is going to be a few months in my life.” Take us through what it looks like to onboard and start using your program.Everybody has a limited amount of time on this earth. Time is the most precious commodity that we have. Click To Tweet
Believe it or not, this topic was brought up in our round table discussions, how do we change, and how this works. We know there are long wait times, no training. You get the software and basically get dive in and start trying to figure it out. With Sera, we took a different approach. We were able to build bots. Those bots can go in and grab this information out of the software, and we can show you all your software inside of Sera in 24 hours.
At that point, we give you the software within a couple of days of you signing on the dotted line, so you can start playing with it. While we are going through the process of helping you set it up, which we do, we hold your hand through the whole process from start to finish. We have someone there guiding you on how to set things up, answer your questions on why you want to do it like this. We do this the whole way through. We don’t give it to you and say, “Good luck.” We will walk you through the process.
We can get you set up and pretty much get you onboarded in about 30 days from the time you sign. We want to take that goal and cut it in half. Hopefully, by some point in 2022, this is a two-week turnaround. We need to train your technicians for 2 one-hour meetings. That’s it, and they are doing the quarter pounders with cheese. It’s very simple. Your admin staff, we have 2 to 3 meetings with them, and they are usually about an hour long.
At that point, when you are ready to go live, you go live that Monday or whatever day you choose. You are up and running on the system. You have been playing with it for 30 days and checking it out. You are ready to go. You have been coached, and immediately things start happening. The effects of Sera happen immediately. Getting those calls is very important and what we built to get those calls in to get Mrs. Jones to pick us is very important. This technology understands the difference between shoppers and buyers. If you set it up properly with Google, Google is going to send you buyers. They are not going to send your shoppers.
Do you have something that helps with that? I’m in the marketing world and the SEO world, so getting calls and leads is literally what I do every day. If there’s something that can help contractors get more of that, that’s obviously something I’m super interested in. Can you go into that a little bit?
What we built was a portal like you have at your doctor, so your customers all have a portal where all their information is stored. We drive all of your customers to your website to book calls, and everything is booked through the website. These people are repeatedly going to your website, and they are spending time on your website.
We cooked up where Google can see it. Google can see the transaction all the way through completion. We are showing them the satisfaction that we are a trusted source. Your website becomes a source of authority for Google. All Google wants to do is make their customer happy. They want to give them a right choice. We help you confirm that you are the right choice.
Once you start raising to page 1 of Google or 2, or 1,000 is the same. It doesn’t matter. You have to be on page one. I know SEO is falling back a little bit but I can tell you it hasn’t because everyone follows Google. If you have a high ranking in SEO, you will get more Facebook, Instagram, and Yelp calls. They all follow their lead. You will get buyers that are ready to buy something. Google knows when they go to Home Depot and check out stuff. They know when they go online and look at an American Standard air conditioning system and start doing their research. They know that they are a buyer.
They are tracking us where we go. I don’t know if any of you ever see this but Google will send you a Google Maps timeline of where you have been. For some people, it’s cool. That made me remember where you went or something. I’ve got mine, and I look at them like they know every store I have gone to and what those stores are known for. There are so many things that these devices track that we will probably never completely know what they all track but it all ties together. It’s not separate. It all ties together somehow.
They are using that information to make sure you are served the best ads or search for your query. In regards to marketing, since we are talking about marketing and I absolutely love marketing, are there other things you have built to help with the efficiency, maybe some automation that helps on the marketing side after a service call is completed?
There are a lot of efficiencies built into our system. You cannot achieve a 24% EBITDA without efficiency. You have to have everything working in unison with each other. By doing this, we have done several things for that. We understand efficiency when it comes to technicians and what they sell. We understand efficiency when you are talking about looking at calls and when people book online. We know that they enter the widget. It’s about a 98% success rate. If they get in the widget, they are going to book it.
These are the things that we understand and try to keep it simple. That is our keyword here with Sera. It’s always about being simple. We want to make it easy for these guys and ladies to take control of their businesses and do it as efficiently as possible. We have a lot of efficiencies and things that we have built-in that you will have to experience once you get our software.
You are going to leave us with a cliffhanger.
I’m going to have to on this one. It’s too valuable.
Even though I am not officially in the trades and running a business now, I am probably going to bug your team for a demo request, so I can help facilitate some people that need some help. Is the best place for them to go book that demo is Sera.tech?
Yes. Go on in there and fill out the form. From there, you will get an email with a link to the schedule on the calendar. We are adding onboarding specialists every day. We are having great success with that and building a huge team for that. We’ve got to have that huge team to handle this onslaught that we are experiencing now.
Billy, it was truly privileged for me. I have been following some of your stuff for a while now. Getting ideas and some of the stuff you put out there is truly unique. I appreciate you coming to our show to share your experience and what you’ve got cooking here. It sounds like you are going to need some more onboarding specialists soon.
Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me.
Guys, if you want a demo, go to Sera.tech. As always, thank you for reading. It’s a show focused on business owners, managers, and technicians, hoping or striving one day to become owners themselves. Until next time.
About Billy Stevens
Attention Service-based Business Owner,
Are you losing business because of lost or missed appointments?