Canadian Rental Service

Features
Automate your walk-around

Software engineers are coming up with new apps for mobile devices daily. Some of these can save you and your customers valuable time if you put them to work in your yard.


September 23, 2011
By Doug Brown

Software engineers are coming up with new apps for mobile devices daily. Some of these can save you and your customers valuable time if you put them to work in your yard.

Mobile computing has fundamentally changed all of our daily lives. Devices such as smartphones, tablets and laptops have become nearly ubiquitous in every home or business. But the ability of operators to leverage this technology in the rental industry has been unclear, as the rapid evolution of technology has been far faster than the ability to adapt business processes. What rental business owners are now discovering is that there are tremendous business advantages to using mobile computers on the job.

Whether your business is small equipment, heavy equipment, or event materials, having a computer screen in hand when you and your prospective customer are in your yard or warehouse will dramatically improve your close rate and upsell success. This tactic is called “mobile point of sale,” and it allows your sales team to use a computer in hand to help your customer comparison shop, consider attachments, remember chemicals and supplies, and even complete the paperwork without long waits standing at your office counter or sitting at a desk.

Let’s take the example of a pressure washer rental.  The potential customer is quickly going to be faced with choices in pressure, wand and hose length, chemical needs and more. Your sales team can probably explain the choices in their sleep, but a quick 90-second video that demonstrates the value of the bigger, more powerful machine could be a more powerful selling tool. When the customer actually sees the higher-priced model doing the job in half the time, the value in the extra rate becomes clear. Once our hypothetical customer is sold on the pro model, the salesperson can talk about attachments. Another 60-second video can visually demonstrate attachments that make cleaning your driveway as easy as walking behind a mower. Demonstrations like this can allow a business to sell more value while discounting less.

Imagine our potential customer likes what he is seeing but is just not sure you have the best price. Do not let him leave to find out, because he likely will not be back. When you are forced to, use an Internet-connected mobile computer to let your customer comparison shop any of your competition right from your yard or warehouse. Do your research ahead of time so you can explain the advantages of your product and doing business with you, while the customer is standing in your yard.  Showing your willingness to let your customers compare shows your integrity and demonstrates you are trustworthy.

Another fantastic use of videos is for safety training so you can feel confident that novice users would not injure himself or damage your equipment. For certain products, completion of safety training is a legal and/or insurance requirement. In these cases, the mobile computer can be used to administer, attest and securely save results or acceptance of the training, as well as liability waivers.

Walk-around inspection and checkout are other areas of a rental business where mobile computers can lead to huge productivity gains. A growing number of new mobile computers have barcode readers, built-in cameras, and credit-card readers, making completing the rental paperwork virtually paper-free. Taking a quick set of photos with a mobile computer’s integrated camera during the checkout process can greatly simplify any damage issues later. Scanning the barcodes on the equipment, accessories and supplies being rented keeps your database instantly up to date.  If your yard or facilities are large and the location of your products changes from time to time, your mobile computer can instantly check the database for quantity and location. This real-time approach also gives you greater visibility of equipment in your service area that is ready for rental but just has not been moved to the yard.

Perhaps the most obvious use of a mobile computer is for completing the rental agreement. It is unnecessary to make your customers stand at your counter while you either have them handwrite their contact information or your salesman types it into a desktop computer as the customer dictates. Mobile computers today can capture most of this information by scanning a driver’s licence and reading a credit card. Making this transaction fast and easy improves your customer’s experience, while lowering the likelihood of data input errors that can cost you time and effort later.

Mobile computers can also go out to the point of delivery and use. Delivery drivers can take photos as the equipment is delivered, capture customers’ signatures and, if needed, allow them to watch a brief safety video. GPS allows your delivery drivers to get voice-activated, turn-by-turn directions to their delivery points, while providing managers with data to help them maximize productivity throughout the day.

It is worth taking a moment here to talk about the different mobile computer form factors that are available and what you will need to consider as you investigate your options. 

Hardware and software
Your first consideration needs to be software, and finding a mobile computer compatible with your countertop application is important. More than likely your countertop systems are PCs, which generally means you are running a version of Microsoft Windows such as XP Pro or Windows 7. If one of your goals is to take those same countertop screens out in the yard, then you must look for a Windows XP or Windows 7 compatible mobile computer. Most smaller mobile computers, smartphones, and PDAs (personal digital assistants) do not support the full Windows operating system and will likely not run your countertop application either.

Full Microsoft Windows mobile computers generally fall into three categories: laptops, tablets, and hybrids called ultra-mobile PCs (UMPC).

  • Laptops have big screens and big keyboards, but are cumbersome to carry and use while standing in a lot or yard outside. In general, laptops do not support built in barcode readers, credit card readers, GPS, or external-facing cameras.
  • Tablets are mobile computers that just have a display and no keyboard that look something like an Apple IPad. There are full Microsoft Windows tablets on the market today with nice sunlight readable displays, reasonable drop specs, and support for many of the features we discussed. Tablets generally utilize onscreen keyboard programs to allow entering information by typing on the touchscreen glass.
  • The hybrid UMPC takes the best features of a tablet and the best features of a laptop and packages them in lightweight handheld package. UMPCs are as fast and powerful as laptops and offer large displays and laptop-like keyboards. UMPCs are generally much lighter than laptops and tablets and feature touchscreens, barcode readers, cameras, credit readers, GPS, cellular and Wi-Fi radios. Because UMPCs are specifically designed for mobile applications, many come with special mounting docks for use in delivery trucks.

Go rugged
Once you have decided on a form factor, you may want to consider a rugged device. Rugged mobile computers come with sunlight readable displays, waterproof housings, and serious drop protection. Look for an IP (ingress protection) rating of 65, which denotes that is sealed from dust particles and can be sprayed with a garden hose without harming any internal circuitry. In most rental applications, the need to go outdoors into weather, and the likelihood of drops, bumps and vibration makes a rugged device a worthwhile investment.While consumer-grade devices are cheaper, the frequency with which they break will ultimately lead to a higher total cost of ownership.

Most importantly, take time to think about your business process and your customers when deploying a mobile computing solution. With the pace of technological change, it can be tempting to jump at the next trendy device, without understanding all of the ways that device can help your business processes. At the end of the day, the technology should serve your business – not the other way around.