It’s a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it. In this case, that somebody is DoodyCalls, a professional pet waste removal franchise for residential yards, apartment communities and homeowner associations. The company was founded in 2000 by Jacob D’Aniello and his wife, Susan. The two-person crew cleaned up neighborhoods in the Northern Virginia/Washington, D.C., area one yard at a time armed with a plastic-lined box. Soon, business was tooting along, and in 2004 they launched the first franchise of its kind.
Today, DoodyCalls has franchises in four states with approximately 10 mobile workers. The franchise launch prompted D’Aniello to find more efficient tools for conducting the business. “I had to figure out a way to monitor timesheets and payroll better to optimize routes,” he says. In addition, he and his wife moved farther away from the office, and they needed a better way to keep track of their team’s activities.
The company chose Gearworks’ etrace mobile workforce management software to improve invoicing and timekeeping processes as well as customer service. “Etrace is a Web application, so it’s easy for small and medium-size businesses to get up and running,” says Brian Edds, Gearworks’ product manager. DoodyCalls runs the software on Sprint Nextel i305 and i58 phones equipped with GPS, which allows visibility into field service activities, including the location, date and time of each worker’s shift.
Prior to using the software, workers kept track of their hours by hand. At the end of the day, they returned to the office and completed an electronic timesheet. If they needed mileage reimbursement, they would tell D’Aniello how many miles they had driven. “People are very busy,” says D’Aniello. “If you work a full day, and you forget to write down your hours or mileage at the end of the day, you end up estimating. That makes it harder to manage numbers from a business standpoint.”
Now, field workers simply log in to their phones at the start of their route, and etrace takes over from there. “The software uses the GPS chipset once every 60 seconds to figure out where that worker is,” explains Edds. If a worker does not move beyond a 100-foot radius within three minutes, the system designates that point a location. The system can also cross-reference latitude and longitude coordinates with customer addresses so D’Aniello can determine which account is being serviced. At the end of the day, he can print out reports that give him a clear picture of how much time each worker spent at a location and how many miles they drove. It may sound like Big Brother is watching you, but D’Aniello insists that it isn’t: “It’s more like Big Brother trying to help you,” he says. “I have a very good team, and I trust my employees. For me, the system is a way to prove that my employees are doing a good job, not a way to catch employees that are doing a bad job.”
Before etrace, there were instances when proof was just what D’Aniello needed. “Sometimes we’d have situations where customers would say no one cleaned their yard that week.” With no way to verify whether or not the yard was cleaned, the company might have to give them a week for free. “In a way, giving away a free week of services can be perceived as an admission of wrong-doing,” says D’Aniello.
Worse yet, D’Aniello had to question employees about their performance. On one occasion, a property manager complained that one of his pet waste stations was not being serviced, and as a result it was overflowing. D’Aniello confronted his employee and questioned his performance. “I needed a way to determine if my employee was doing a bad job, or if something else was going on,” he says. Soon thereafter, D’Aniello implemented etrace and was able to verify that the station was being serviced, but the damage had already been done. “Basically, the trust we had as an employer/employee had been ruined, and his performance deteriorated,” he says. “It really made me take note. If you’re working hard and someone’s telling you you’re not, that ruins morale faster than anything. In a job like this, it’s important that people like who they work for and feel like they’re trusted.”
Usually, people question service after they see a charge on their credit card. One of the reasons D’Aniello chose etrace is because it archives maps and locations. If someone complains that their location wasn’t serviced, D’Aniello can go back and access the relevant information in the archives. The software also allows him to bill more accurately. If an employee spends more time at a yard than usual, D’Aniello can pinpoint that location and compare it to time spent at other yards in the neighborhood. “Some yards take a really long time to clean. Maybe [the customer] put down pebbles or got more dogs—something that wasn’t conveyed to us at the time of signup.” Using etrace, D’Aniello can identify these types of issues and add a surcharge when necessary.
D’Aniello’s employees also benefit from the software. If someone is lost, he can access directions or recalculate his route through his phone. In the past, if D’Aniello hadn’t heard from an employee and was worried, he would call to make sure that person was OK. “I felt like I was bothering them,” he says. “With etrace, as long as the dots are moving, I know they’re OK.”
As a result of the software, DoodyCalls has realized $500 a month in savings due to more accurate billing and timesheets. New employees are sometimes resistant to the technology, says D’Aniello, but they soon realize that it works to their advantage as well. “When employees first start, they don’t want to use it, but then they see it as a tool to help them and the team as a whole to work more efficiently.”
Kassandra Kania is a freelance writer in Charlotte, N.C.