Suddenly, Carter could easily connect with his customers. Impressed with the phones, he bought cellular-enabled notebook computers for his techs to fully digitize what had been an analog business for 25 years.
“[The computers] really expanded our abilities,” Carter says. “The techs were able to work up estimates onsite, update our dispatch records with their location, plus look up customer histories.”
Today, Carter Services has 29 employees and handles the plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling needs of a sizeable chunk of the Southland. Every employee has an iPhone, which they rely on to do their jobs effectively.
“We use iPhones to update the status of repairs and to dispatch technicians,” says Carter. “We’ll even occasionally use Facetime if someone at the office needs to see the problem a technician is working to fix.”
But Carter isn’t stopping with smartphones.
“We have a few tablets that we’re testing and soon all of our technicians will have iPads,” he added. “At that point we’ll be entirely electronic – from the time the technicians get the service call to the time they write the invoices on their iPad.”
A lot has changed since 1974, when Carter Services was a one-truck operation and Facetime was the stuff of science fiction movies. But as Carter can attest, the speed at which mobile technology in business is evolving isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon. That’s fine by him, he says. It’s that technology, after all, that helped him grow his company into what it is today.
“Technology by itself is never going to make you grow,” Carter said. “But it certainly makes it easier to grow.”
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Scott Carter was in high school when he founded Carter Services in 1974. That was enough of a feat; however, not long after, the Torrance, Calif.-based company became one of Southern California’s top service providers for all things heating, cooling, refrigeration, electrical and more.
Back then, Carter would service appliances whenever he could schedule the time, mostly between classes and after school. Mobile phones were decades away, so he made do with the high-tech tools of the era: landline phones and word of mouth.
“When I first started, I just had an answering service,” said Carter. “If I wasn’t in the office, [customers] would sometimes have to reach out to [other] customers in their homes to try and find me. As you can imagine, it wasn’t the best system in the world.”
Soon pagers came onto the market, but while helpful, they still left Carter at the mercy of needing a nearby landline phone.
By the late 1990s, Carter’s business had grown substantially. He had several technicians in the field at any given time, plus additional office personnel – all of whom needed to keep in contact with one another. Carter was willing to try anything to keep his workers closely connected.
“We experimented with two-way radios, which supplemented the pagers,” he said. “We even tried pager watches for a time.”
Once mobile technology in business became affordable, Carter purchased a handful of what he calls “big, boxy Verizon flip phones” for himself and his crew.
“When we finally moved to cellphones, we paired them with handheld Palm devices,” he said. “That finally allowed our techs to stop lugging around big printed price sheets. Eventually we moved to Windows-based smartphones, which sort of combined the Palm and the cellphone into one device.”