Datamining isn’t just for Big Brother and big businesses

    By Adrienne Burke | Small Business

    Housekeepers, exterminators, landscapers, and other small enterprises that make house calls might not seem like candidates for sophisticated data gathering and analysis efforts. But Jeff Annis says he’s “leveraging the microchip” to run his pest control company, Advanced Services in Augusta, Ga., more efficiently than ever. Mining their own data is enabling Annis and other small business owners to serve more customers and generate more revenue with fewer staff.

    By employing software to analyze and re-direct the routes that his technicians drive, for instance, Annis says he saved about 1,000 gallons of gas in one quarter. It added up to far more than a $4-per-gallon savings: “Our average vehicle is getting 20 miles per gallon. That’s 20,000 miles we didn’t drive at 40 miles per hour. And that’s around 500 hours of labor driving around from house to house that we saved,” Annis says. “If you think about all the ramifications of that, it’s time, rubber, risk to the driver, and wear and tear on the vehicle.”

    Another sort of data analysis revealed that when his “bugstoppers” spent more time on a call, he was likely to get a repeat customer. It helped him decide that it was more valuable to ask technicians to take their time than get through their routes quickly. Now, he says, “We’re documented to be one of the top 10 companies in our industry at retaining customers.”

    Chris Sullens, CEO of Marathon Data Systems, says datamining capabilities that his company provides help small businesses benchmark their performance against their industry competitors on measures such as customer retention, email collection, and technician productivity. Aggregating and understanding data has helped his clients find ways to grow their business and revenue without growing their staff, he says.

    For instance, by using Marathon Data’s routing software, one company with field service staff was able to cut 60 minutes a day out of each worker’s appointment route. Sullens says, “So in that last hour of the day they had their people drop door hangers in the last neighborhood they served. The first month they did that they generated $80,000 in new sales.”

    Annis says he’s also used data management to make his employees happier: The same software that optimizes his drivers’ routes can be used to build in stops for a morning doctor’s appointment, a lunchtime tennis lesson, or a child’s baseball game at the end of the day.

    “Everybody thinks that when you spend a dollar it’s gone,” Annis says. “But when you spend your money on the right technology, you can vastly change what happens in your company.”

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