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BigChange has become a Sage Developer Platinum Partner. The Leeds-based provider of mobile and office IT for paperless working becomes one of a very few UK companies to achieve this endorsement and accreditation from Sage.

Sage is the market leader for cloud based accounting software that is generally regarded as the de-facto standard worldwide. In awarding Platinum Partner status, Sage recognises that BigChange offers outstanding levels of training, knowledge and experience.

BigChange has been working closely with Sage for a number of years and this has culminated in the development of the JobWatch Sage 50 integration tool which allows exchanges of financial transactional data between the two systems.

Martin Port CEO and Founder of BigChange, says:

“Achieving Sage Platinum Partner Status represents an important milestone for BigChange and reinforces our position as a provider of business IT, but with a unique offering for businesses that rely on mobile workforces,”

“The integration between Sage and JobWatch is important as it enables organisations to introduce completely seamless, paperless business processes that will significantly reduce administration boosting productivity.”

The integration tool eliminates dual keying to improve invoicing speed and accuracy, reducing debtors and improving cash flow. The Sage-certified tool connects JobWatch and Sage 50 providing complete synchronisation of everything from invoices and credit notes, to nominal code lists, departments to customers and suppliers, account balances and account statuses, quotations and purchase orders.

BigChange is for companies that have a mobile workforce and enables managers and mobile workers to be connected in real-time to the office using their smartphones and tablets. BigChange offers a complete range of back-office software including CRM, job scheduling and invoicing with seamless interfaces to corporate accounting and ERP systems.

JobWatch allows important financial tasks such as raising and authorising purchase orders, quotations and invoices to be managed around the clock from anywhere. The system is already in wide use with businesses running mobile operations such a field services, plant hire and goods transport.

Port says:

“The BigChange Sage integration allows financial control and management to be extended beyond the office, seamlessly connecting those involved at the front end of the business to the back office as part of a fully digital, paper-free and real-time IT solution,”

“That ultimately means improved cash flow and profitability, backed by a complete digital audit trail.”

BigChange Sage duo

The BigChange Collaboration Network attracts many innovative and dynamic young professionals aiming to expand services to their customers.

Michael Cairns of Celsius Plumbers is one of the young) and creative individuals who has partnered with BigChange to simplify and centralise his business operations. We recently sat down with Michael to discuss his journey into the heating and plumbing industry, reflecting on some key advice to young business owners looking to expand their operations.

BigChange: Tell us a little bit about your background, how you got started in the industry and some of your most significant accomplishments?

Michael Cairns: I started my journey in 2003 as an apprentice plumbing and heating engineer. At the time finding an apprenticeship as someone over 16 was very difficult, but without a doubt it has had a major positive impact on my life and my families.

After completing my apprenticeship, I gained industry qualifications and started working for the McSence Group. I spent less than a year as a Heating Engineer for McSence before being made redundant from my position.

Following my time at the McSense Group, I decided to start my own business. That big jump happened at the end of 2007 and has grown into Celsius Plumbers.

BigChange: How did your experience as an apprentice plumbing and heating engineer shape your understanding of the value and importance of vocational apprenticeships in the service sectors?

While some things have change since my time served apprenticeship, many of the features and industry wide problems have remained in the heating and plumbing sectors. One of the biggest issues we are currently facing is a major shortage of qualified plumbing and heating engineers. Without skilled professionals giving over their years of experience, there could be significant concerns about the next generation of skilled labour in the UK.

There currently seems to be many independent trades people, way more than ever before. These small businesses are fantastic and take great pride in their work, but not necessarily interested in taking on apprentices due to time and financial constraints. This trend could prove to be a major issue, as older plumbing and heating engineers retire.

We really champion apprenticeships and have done so for many years. We have been training apprentices here at Celsius since 2007. We have proudly trained 7 apprentices so far, all of whom have gained their full industry qualifications. we currently have an apprentice in his 3rd year and are about to start a new 1st year apprentice, which is really exciting for us. The reason we feel so strongly about taking on apprentices, is because we recognise the value and importance of passing on the knowledge to the next generation. I suppose, I recognise personally how much an apprenticeship shaped my life, I wouldn’t be where I am today without one.

BigChange: How has the BigChange system enabled you to streamline operations?

Michael Cairns: After being frustrated with our previous software provider, we were contracted by BigChange and we immediately saw how the system could help our business. The BigChange system has allowed us to do everything we couldn’t do in the past. We used to face various challenges at every step, but with BigChange we have been able to significantly optimise and automate our operations.

With BigChange we have transformed the way we do business. The workflows, Alerts and system process automation have added so much value. When we are faced with an operational challenge, we look to the system to find a solution. The system breeds consistency which is fundamental in any business.

We run on the BigChange flag system, which has built major staff member accountability. It offers our staff a full understanding of what their responsibilities are. Each flag has its own procedure, which answers the fundamental ‘WHY’ question, especially amongst our millennium team members. This has also simplified how our line managers measure performance. As the saying goes, if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

BigChange: How has your time working at Celsius shaped your vision to be more globally aware and receptive to diverse customer needs?

Michael Cairns: We currently operate in England and Scotland and through the BigChange collaboration network, we are looking to expand nationwide, while also resolving workforce turnover. Having to delegate responsibility and having the systems to simplify how we do business, has enabled us to think about developing staff to better fulfil their roles. By having clear systems and processes our staff can operate more independently and work to the best of their abilities.

BigChange: What advice can you give over to small and medium sized businesses trying to scale up operations?

Michael Cairns: Surround yourself with a good team and Learn from making mistakes. You must be aware of the trends that are driving the market, it can really impact your overall success.

Your team is your biggest asset, having a company of engaged team members is challenging to achieve, it takes years to properly understand what makes people come to work. When your team know what is expected and have a clear vision of where the company wants to be, the business owners job becomes a whole lot easier. Set goals and reward success when you achieve your goals. How can any business properly grow, unless the team have clarity around the fundamentals? By doing this, we have built a team that are engaged, loyal and dedicated to helping our business grow.

Lastly read books, like the E- Myth Revisited by Michael E Gerber. This book changed my whole thought process around business.

BigChange: What major trends are most likely to make the most impact in the next 5-10 years, in your view?

Michael Cairns: Customers ability to obtain information quicker, as people’s lives become busier.

Additionally, of all the breakthroughs impacting the industry, Uber-style driver tracking features have made the most significant effect on improved customer satisfaction, driving increased transparency. With this and other methods to solidify communication, we’ve increased the tools and information our team can use to solve customer issues the first time.

Through massive and industry wide innovation and ease of access via the web, people will no longer be waiting for a price offered by a contractor. The customer journey will start earlier and the customer will want instant price quotes (much like how amazon operates). The customer is very educated, more than ever and you can’t cheat them. Customers want a polished website which is geared towards instant payment and connects directly with engineers. That said, with all the technical innovation, our customers still want a personal service.

Quality of service and accessibility to technology will shape the growth of businesses in the plumbing and electrical sectors. In the end people want a personal connection based on good service and quality customer service. We don’t make things complicated; we try to help them resolve their issues. We don’t over promise and under deliver.

We’ve taken a lot of inspiration with how BigChange does business, we see CEO Martin Port as an innovator and a mentor who is always happy to give advice. BigChange have helped us to better engage our staff. We feel the simple things are important. It’s not just technology or smoke and mirrors that drive business, its investing in your staff and building quality customer service.

New opportunities to gain work experience and college credit. The traditional path of vocational apprentices has involved a combination of on the job, and academic training with the eventual end goal of creating honed and qualified tradesmen.

Recent shifts in UK policy on vocational apprenticeships have created new hybrid programs which offer traditional vocational training with the additional opportunity to achieve a full Bachelors or Master’s degree upon the completion of the apprenticeship.

The new programs have been deemed ‘Degree apprenticeships’ and formed through partnerships between employers and universities or colleges. The Degree Apprenticeship programme was launched by HRM government in 2015, and lasts between 1-6 years.

Unlike traditional courses in college or university, participants in Degree Apprenticeships allows for greater flexible study method suits to accommodate their employer’s needs – whether that’s distance learning, blended learning or block mode learning.

The qualification for degree apprentices are similar to the higher apprenticeship, where apprentices are expected to hold full-time employment status rather than student status.

However, while higher apprentices have the option to gain a Bachelors-level qualification, university study is mandatory in degree apprenticeships. As well as holding employment status and receiving a wage throughout the course, an apprentice’s tuition fees and training costs are settled between their education institution and employer.”

England has made major strides in its commitment to develop and expand the quality of apprenticeship nationwide. Leading elements which are changing the face of British apprenticeships include; “a new funding arrangement in the form of an employer levy, and major reforms of the apprenticeship system including the development of new apprenticeship standards created in close consultation with employers, and an overall aim of increasing both the quality and quantity of apprenticeships.”

Earning potential of Apprentices in the UK

“In England an apprentice earns between 50% and 60% of the skilled worker wage but this average hides large variations. In 2011 apprentices under 19 earned approximately 32% of the fully qualified rate, while those aged 19-24 earned 49%. In England, according to the law, the minimum wage of apprentices aged under 19, and those aged 19 or over in the first year of their apprenticeships amounts to 47% of the national minimum wage.”

Factors which can trigger a wage increase:

  • Turning 19
  • Completion the first year of an apprenticeship
  • Completion of second year of an apprenticeship
  • Shifts in government regulations

These conditions can trigger a substantial increase in an apprentice’s wage potential, especially if the apprentice is paid the legal minimum. For example, the legal minimum wage of an apprentice who started on a programme at the age of 18 increases in the second year by 60%. As a direct result of the added year on year costs of apprenticeships, many employers limit the length of vocational apprenticeship to between 12-18 months.

Industries most active in supporting apprenticeships in England

BigChange top 5 sectors for apprenticeships graph

Impact of Vocational Apprenticeships on the BigChange Network

Within the BigChange collaborative network there are countless stories of innovative and dynamic individuals who have built upon their vocational apprenticeships to form companies leading the service sectors. Two of our most accomplished customers and members of the collaboration network are Jordan Woods & Michael Cairns.

You’ll have difficulty finding two more dedicated and hard-working young professionals than Jordan & Michael. They truly represent the core values of BigChange, i.e. tirelessly working to help every customer with top notch customer service, quality technical staff and seamless mobile workforce management systems to make a major impact in their collective sectors.

What brought these two young industry leaders to their current positions?

According to Jordan Woods, Founder of Woods Building Maintenance, “I left school at the age of 13 and joined a work-based Learning programme in Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC). After persuading Daniel Robinson, a Director at Industrial & Commercial Heating in Leeds, to let me work for free for a number of years I was finally they given an apprenticeship at 16. Without Daniel giving me that opportunity, I would never have got into the HVAC industry. It just wouldn’t have been a possibility.”

Michael Cairns, Director of Celsius Plumbing reflected frankly on his experiences as a vocational apprentice. “I began my apprenticeship as a plumbing and heating engineer in 2003. At the time, plumbing apprenticeships were dominated by 16-18 year olds but this doesn’t appear to be the case anymore. Do in no small part to the current significant shortage of domestic skilled labour many people are beginning apprenticeships later in life and becoming independent trades people, way more than ever before. This impacts the balance of skilled labour because people are not taking on apprentices’ which could really change the face of the future skilled labour force.”

As a direct result of Michael Cairns experience as a vocational apprentice Celsius Plumbing has championed apprenticeships. “We have been training apprentices here at Celsius since 2007. We have proudly trained 7 apprentices so far, all of whom have gained their full industry qualifications. we currently have an apprentice in his 3rd year and are about to start a new 1st year apprentice, which is really exciting for us. The reason we feel so strongly about taking on apprentices, is because we recognise the value and importance of passing on the knowledge to the next generation. I suppose, I recognise personally how much an apprenticeship shaped my life, I wouldn’t be where I am today without one.”

As a fundamental path to the service sectors, vocational apprenticeships provide hundreds of thousands of people in the UK each year with the technical, on the job and academic training essential for instilling skilled labour in the next generation of service technicians and operators. BigChange strongly believes in the importance of vocational apprenticeships and the skills they transmit to the next generation of service technicians.

As new legislation and government sponsored vocational programmes continue to grow, the opportunities of vocational apprentices to make a meaningful impact in the labour market appear significant.

With the rise of apprenticeships in the UK, BigChange looks forward to ushering in a new generation of service professionals and conveying the value mobile workforce platforms, such as BigChange’s JobWatch, can add in simplifying and centralising operations.

To read more about how the BigChange Mobile Workforce Management system can help your business go paperless click Here.

The Brexit vote divided young and old. People who had already made their money, bought property, and perhaps even retired, were much more likely to vote Leave, while students and those on the first rung of the career ladder wanted to Remain.

When I started reading articles about the backlash – young people saying they wanted to deny older Brits the vote, claiming they were out of touch and selfish, and older people calling Millennials “snowflakes” – it worried me.

We need to bridge the generation gap. I’m in my fifties, and I am in no doubt about the talent and contribution of young people. BigChange could not thrive without them.

My kids are young – they range in age from 18-33 – and they have given me some incredible ideas for the business. When I said I wanted to call my new product “The Marketplace”, my daughter said, “Don’t do it”. She works in digital marketing and she explained that “marketplace” sounds like a place to hawk products or advertise, whereas what I’m building is a place where like-minded entrepreneurs can team up and help one another. She convinced me to call it the BigChange Network instead. She may be young but her advice was sensible and I listened.

When my son was at school, he used to rave about a concept called Golden Time. When kids did great work, their teacher would reward them with an hour of fun activities that they really wanted to do. I was inspired by the idea and have offered Golden Time at my business. My colleagues get their BigChange birthdays off to celebrate the way they want, and we give them extra time off as a reward for great ideas or going the extra mile. I call it Golden Time.

It sounds like a cliché but young people are the future. They are more technologically minded, they have fresh ideas and they are more adaptable. Listening to them makes me more adaptable too. I may be at the Saga stage of life but I don’t want to turn into a dinosaur who can’t change or try new things.

And this is a two-way street. My kids listen to me (at least sometimes) and my colleagues at BigChange listen to my ideas and experience because I respect theirs.

The young and the mature should not be at war. We should be listening to each other and working together to build great businesses – and a world – that we can all enjoy.

Martin Port
Founder & CEO

Customer Experience is infinitely personal and continuously evolves from each service encounter to colour how customers view both the service event and the provider as a whole.

In part II of ‘What Drives Customer Experience in the Service Sectors’ we will take a look at how Customer Expectations, Technology & Personalisation influence Customer Experience as well as how mobile workforce management software, such as JobWatch from BigChange can revolutionise the Customer Experience.

Customer’s Expectations:

“The key reason why the customer experience is and will never be ‘in control’ is because customers are individuals and the core element in the customer experience equation is highly emotional, personal, contextual and diverse.”

The customer often sets the tone for the entire service relationship however, with mobile access to detailed transaction history and an integrated CRM system, such as JobWatch from BigChange, expectations can be reasonably met while providing a comprehensive service picture to your entire staff.

Part and parcel to understanding and exceeding customer expectations is forming a strong personal rapport with the customer. In addition to facilitating a better service experience, effective communication with clients can act as a second marketing department creating brand ambassadors while providing vital feedback on ways to improve the service interaction from the people who matter most.

To build a holistic, customer-centric approach each personalised interaction must be valued, recorded and used to improve future practices.

Technology & Skill Set of Technician:

In a time of dramatic technological advancements “Human interaction [still] matters now — and 82% of U.S. and 74% of non-U.S. consumers want more of it in the future. Regardless, the technology supporting human interaction must be seamless and unobtrusive across platforms.”

Customers expect real-time messaging and self-service tools to advance their service experience. The digitally savvy customer today demands a constant flow of up to date information narrating their broader service experience, from initial consultation to post service follow up and billing.

Concurrently, customers want these technological breakthroughs to still have a human touch, and (if needed) easy access to a person to help navigate supposedly intuitive systems.

Relying upon a range of digital touchpoints include websites, app interaction and use of online CRM systems; such as JobWatch by BigChange, technicians can better deliver specialised services on the click of a button.

As PwC astutely points out “The challenge [is]: how to use new technology with purpose to make the experience feel more human—without creating frustrations for customers and while empowering employees.” If technicians and service staff cannot apply the new methods to resolve the broader issues- regardless of the technology- customers will not be happy.

In a time where the service experience is strongly dictated by technical capability, the results are often projected for the world to see. Good experiences are shared on social media — and as are less than ideal ones, while surely horrible service experiences go viral — and can easily damage or destroy a company’s reputation globally.


The service experience is not limited to the physical service call or maintenance event. Increasingly customers are demanding optimized post-purchase experiences which include personalised service and support. As a result, “79% of customers are willing to share relevant information about themselves in exchange for contextualized interactions in which they’re immediately known and understood.”

Customers want to feel heard and catered to. They are willing to expand engagement and the information they share if it can significantly improve their broader customer experience.

“59% of customers say tailored engagement based on past interactions is very important to winning their business.”

In the past customers wanted a prompt response to their questions or complaints. Now customers expect every element of their service experience to be personalized. “61% of the people surveyed [by Forbes] felt they were treated like case numbers rather than people. That must stop. The survey found that 59% of customers said being treated as an individual was more important than how fast the issue was resolved (53%). The numbers are close, but the point is that customers want to be treated like people, not account numbers. And, if you can deliver both speed and personalisation, you have a winning combination.”

Customer Experience, Company Loyalty and Retention:

80% of companies believe they provide a superior proposition with only 8% of customers agreeing.” Bridging the gap between perception and reality, as the stats clearly show, can be difficult. The only way to make real improvements is to ask customers: What went right? What went wrong? Why did you choose our service? Did our services meet your expectations?

At the end of the day, no one is a mind reader and thus we all must lean on the recipient of the service experience to facilitate best practices and improve retention.

The resolution to this may be simpler then you may think. Auto messaging, standardised templates and surveys to gauge customer experience and satisfaction in real time. With fully integrated mobile workforce management software, like JobWatch from BigChange, your business can streamline operations and engage customers holistically.

The customer experience is more often than not a complicated formula which requires the balancing of technical skills and emotional awareness. If blended correctly the customer experience can provide the basis for a symbiotic relationship between the service provider and customer. Bringing these two parties together is the CRM element which can centralise and organise the entire service dynamic.

BigChange Mobile Workforce Management Revolutionising the Customer Experience:

BigChange’s 5-in-1 platform enables businesses of all sizes to better manage many of the most significant factors influencing the customer experience. With BigChange, your back office can easily monitor, schedule & dispatch service requests to optimise your field based teams’ strongest skills and prevent unnecessary travel.

With JobWatch, powered by BigChange, the point of contact staff can access complete customer history and ensure all service requests and customer expectations are met the first time, every time. Utilising BigChange’s innovative mobile workforce system, contractors are able to specialise service, workflow requirements and mandatory safety protocols with ease.

Through the use of an integrated platform, technicians can resolve any service request with the click of a button. Additionally, the use of preventative maintenance workflows directed via the Mobile workforce management system dramatically improves the rate in which service technicians resolve all issues fully, while also alerting the operator to any upcoming scheduled maintenance. By improving transparency and collaboration between all aspects of operations through the implementation of mobile workforce management software, such as BigChange, your business can drastically improve customer experience.

What to do from here?

Improving the overall quality of customer experience for service providers often is the determining factor driving customer relations and long term business performance.

Optimising the broader customer experience goes beyond fulfilling customer requirements to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. The ultimate objective in catering a comprehensive service experience is to maintain and cultivate a long-term customer relationship which continuously creates opportunities for business to profits via sustained service interactions and activities.

Balancing the complex dynamic of customer experience requires constant calibration and dedication to providing the best services, staff and technology all integrated to give real-time data and live quotes with ease.

A recent study of 15,000 consumers surveyed in 12 countries found that “60% of customers would stop doing business with a company due to unfriendly service, 46% said they would cease the business relationship because of employees lack of knowledge and 50% would end the relationship if they don’t trust the company. 32% of customers would walk away from a brand they have a strong affinity towards after just one bad experience.”

With customers increasingly willing to change service providers after the smallest inconvenience it is essential to be receptive to customer needs and ensure all elements of the customer experience are consciously monitored and improved daily.

To read Part I click Here.

Customer experience, simply put, is the most decisive factor driving a business’s success in the service sectors. Through the establishment of a fluid and adaptive customer experience, brand loyalty is created, customers are cultivated and long term relationships are formed.

Customer experience is infinitely personal and continuously evolves from each service encounter to colour how customers view both the service event and the provider as a whole.

In this blog, we will take a deep dive into what elements shape customer experience, from the initial point of contact to final billing. We will define the customer experience and the broad range of factors which, if properly balanced, can improve customer retention and the overall service dynamic across business operations.

Factors defining Customer Experience:

Customer experience is defined as the perception a client has of a business or service as influenced by:

  • An Employee or Point of Contact member of staff
  • Customer Expectations
  • Technology
  • Personalisation

With this ever-growing basket of factors influencing customer experience it can be exhausting to try and find that perfect balance point to satisfy customer needs. With fierce competition and an increasingly demanding customer base, many businesses are often faced with the question of where to focus their time and energy to improve customer retention and brand loyalty?

A recently conducted study of over 6,700 customers found that 80% of people agree that the experience your brand creates is just as important as the product or service you are selling. Long gone are the days when having quality service and a skilled workforce alone were enough to ensure customers use your product or service in the future.

Today’s marketplace is defined by; ease of accessibility and personalisation of services, as well as highly informed customers who demand transparency throughout the entire service experience. Customers expect technicians to be friendly and knowledgeable, well versed in cutting edge technology and quick on their feet to adapt to a request on a moment’s notice.

According to PwC “43% of all consumers would pay more for greater convenience; 42% would pay more for a friendly, welcoming experience. And, among U.S. customers, 65% find a positive experience with a service provider to be more influential than great advertising.”

In order to improve customer experience, it is critical to understand the role each component part plays in illustrating the broader relationship between service provider and customer. If correctly understood and integrated into a long term business strategy, these factors can vastly improve customer satisfaction and in turn, facilitate customer retention.

Point of Contact:

The customer experience is heavily influenced by the point of contact. As the person who facilitates the broader service experience, the service technician or staff member must “incorporate all of the aspects of the service firm with which customers may interact, including its personnel, physical facilities, and other tangible elements during a given period of time. It has been suggested that from the customer’s viewpoint, staff members provide the service and staff behaviour therefore, influences customer perceptions of the service.”

Staff competence, helpfulness, and responsiveness are vital factors which guide the evaluation of service. Unfortunately “only 46% of consumers outside the U.S. say the employees they interact with understand their needs.”

An organisation’s employees, or the salespeople representing it in retail channels, are a key channel for delivering superior Customer Experience. It’s no good saying you’re great if your staff don’t act like they believe it. Everyone in an organisation has to be aligned with corporate objectives and on-message. So teaching staff to understand their role within the organisation and how everyone contributes to outsiders’ perception of it is hugely important.”

It is essential that companies hire passionate staff and train them to love the product or service. Ensuring the point of contact is well versed and easy going helps customers have a positive experience and significantly impacts the perception of the brand overall.

In Part II we will discuss the impact of; Customer Expectations, Technology & Personalisation on Customer Experience.

To read more about how BigChange can help improve your Customer Experience click Here.

I have been in business since I was 11 years old. I started out working for my father, an auctioneer, before growing my own bakery business in my twenties.

Now, aged 56, I run technology start-up BigChange. I don’t know many entrepreneurs who have experience across such varied industries, so I thought it would be a good idea to share all the lessons I’ve learned over the years.

If I can help any other business owner avoid mistakes I’ve made, and help them build on strategies that have worked well for me, then it’s been worth all the hard work putting pen to paper – I’m dyslexic, so it’s not easy for me. The following book is a compilation of blogs I posted on LinkedIn over the past couple of years. They range from management advice to updates about my fast-growing firm to my take on topical issues.

If you take one thing away from this, it’s to place the needs of your people and customers above everything else in business. It is also to appreciate your family and understand the power of your network. I hope that you enjoy my posts – and my unusual take on the world. I truly believe that the best way to get ahead in business and in life is to help others. That’s the ethos behind BigChange, which succeeds only by making others successful.

Click here to download my Blog Book

Martin Port
Founder & CEO

The service sectors live and die on the success of vocational apprenticeships and the skills they impart on the growing domestic workforce.

Apprenticeships across the UK aim to train the next generation of skilled technicians, service contractors, and back office staff to meet the evolving needs of a massive range of jobs, many of which you might not think traditionally involve an apprenticeship component. In the 2016-17 academic year alone, 900,000 people received compensation to participate in an apprenticeship in the UK.

Historically, vocational apprenticeships have provided the prime avenue for young and novice individuals to gain the skills and industry-specific experience necessary to work in the service sectors, especially within; Electrical, HVAC, Plumbing and Service Maintenance.

In part I, we will examine the state of vocational apprenticeship in the UK. We’ll look at what is involved in a vocational apprenticeship in the UK, as well as some of the current trends influencing the potential growth of vocational apprenticeships in the coming years.

In part II, we will highlight some of the new higher education opportunities being provided through new and innovated vocational apprenticeship programmes.

What is a vocational apprenticeship?

In the UK, vocational apprenticeships are defined as training programs which include both academic study and hands-on or in-the-field element. Apprentices must complete a minimum of 30 hours’ paid work a week and 5 ½ hours of study towards a vocational qualification, which may vary depending on the specific field.

The general image most people have of vocational apprenticeships are young people (16-18) trying to gain their first skilled labour position, however, over 50% of those starting an apprenticeship in the UK are over 25.

While many technical and intricate mechanical fields, such as electrical repair and installation or plumbing have been heavily represented in UK based vocational apprenticeship programs the opportunities go far and beyond these sectors.

Vocational training is available across a wide range of subjects and industries, from engineering, construction and manufacturing to IT and communications, creative and digital media, health and social care, and more.”

Apprenticeships in the UK

English apprenticeships differ from those of other European countries as they are, on average less than 18 months, compared with 3-4 years typical in other countries.

As a result of the condensed training period, English vocational apprenticeship programs, compared to Austria, Germany and Switzerland, are more likely to be trained at a lower skill level, with 100-200 hours of training, compared to 300-400 of their European counterparts.

To evaluate the range of vocational training, and the skills imparted within the process the Qualifications and Credit Framework (QCF) was established in the UK. The QCF contains vocational or work-related qualifications which are recognised in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

The QCF also defines several levels of vocational training, from “entry level to level eight – but the focus is generally on levels two and three, which are pitched at GCSE A*-C level and A-Level respectively.”

Trends impacting apprenticeships in the UK: More opportunities and greater gender equality

Apprenticeship participation in England has significantly increased in the last two decades. Recent statistics state around 500 000 apprenticeships are started every year in England, with men and women roughly equally represented.

These figures represent dramatic increases from the late 1990’s, when the equivalent figure was less than 100 000 [a five-fold increase]. Most of the growth has been in older apprentices, with stats for those over 25 more than quadrupling from just under 50 000 in 2009/10 to more than 200 000 in 2015/16.”

While traditionally, British based apprenticeships have offered less training compared to their European neighbours, recent years have seen that “starts for higher-level apprenticeships have increased faster than for Level 2 apprenticeships, but Level 2 apprenticeships still represented nearly 60% of the total in 2015/16.”

Gender Equality?

In 2016-17, 54% of total apprenticeship started in England were by women (262,820), compared with 46% by men (228,520). This data is also reflective of broader trends in the past decade, showing the number of women starting apprenticeships in England has been higher than men every year since 2010-11.

While broader trends of vocational apprenticeships in the UK are shifting towards greater gender parity, the balance is still noticeably limited in some areas.

“In 2015-16, more than 72,000 male apprentices started programmes in engineering in England, compared with 6,260 women, according to the DfE. By contrast, more than 100,000, or 40% of all female apprentices, started programmes in the health and social care sector.”

To read more about the impact of vocational apprenticeships click Here.

Flow Free Drainage has deployed the latest mobile worker and cloud technology as part of a paperless system that connects mobile apps to back-office management software. With the JobWatch system from BigChange, Flow Free has achieved 40 percent annual growth with an actual reduction in office administration resources.

With the JobWatch system from BigChange, Flow Free has achieved 40 percent annual growth with an actual reduction in office administration resources.

The 5 in 1 BigChange solution combines customer service (CRM), job scheduling and invoicing software with real-time vehicle tracking and smartphone apps. With a fleet of 18 vehicles and a team of field service engineers covering mainly the South East of England, Flow Free maintain and repair drainage systems.

Flow Free are part of Property Consortium Drainage, a network of drainage specialists undertaking insurance-related work. Operating from new headquarters on the Hertfordshire-Essex border, the company also has national contracts with major retailers and land owners.

Steven Cornelius, Managing Director of Flow Free Drainage, says:

“BigChange provides us with a single system to manage the entire business digitally, from the initial call out to invoicing and management reporting. It really has revolutionised the way we work and had a very significant impact on our efficiency and productivity.”

“We started using JobWatch 18 months ago and last year we grew the business by 40 percent; even though we actually reduced numbers of staff in the office.”

Operating 24/7 year-round, Flow Free work to stringent Service Level Agreements with guaranteed fast response times dealing with burst pipes, blocked drains and leaks causing disruption and damage to premises. Flow Free has expanded into building services in order to undertake remedial and other maintenance work for clients.

Using the BigChange back-office Flow Free log incoming calls on the CRM for optimised scheduling of the most suitable resource by skill, equipment and location. Work is further complicated as different clients have different SLA’s.

Cornelius comments:

“JobWatch handles all this complexity brilliantly as we can easily set up different job sheets with the appropriate service conditions, certifications and other reports.”

JobWatch has also helped speed up quotations and invoicing. As Job Sheets are completed by engineers onsite, the office is immediately notified of any additional service requirements and quotations are raised with 24 hours; less if the material requirements are simple.

Cornelius says:

“Being real-time and paperless, JobWatch has dramatically reduced administrative work. Five or six people used to be tied up managing jobs, generating quotes and invoices manually. Now we can deal with typically 60 jobs a day with just two people involved. That frees up time for customer service and sales work and is central to our plans to grow the business,”

“Things are just better controlled and quicker; one client couldn’t believe we could actually send out an invoice within an hour of the job being completed!”

Flow Free is also using BigChange to improve its environmental and safety credentials. With vans clocking up 40.000 miles year, the BigChange tracking devices are providing valuable data to reduce fuel consumption – and the carbon footprint – through better job planning, route optimisation and better driving.

Cornelius explains:

“One major benefit of BigChange has been the notable improvements in driving,”

“The simple fact that our engineers do so many miles mean that the chances of damage to a vehicle – even if not our fault – is going to be higher. So to reduce risk we monitor driving performance with a reward for the best driver each month. We have seen a 25 per cent improvement in driving and less accidents, leading to lower insurance premiums.”

BigChange flow free drainage on tablet

Target Maintenance has rolled out a new generation mobile workforce system using tablets linked in real time to a central management software as part of a 5 in 1 cloud-based solution from BigChange.

Target Maintenance is a fast-expanding UK company that specialises – through its Target Fire team – in ensuring buildings are fire safe with retrospective building modifications involving fire compartmentation and the assessment and replacement/repairs of fire doors, alarms, smoke vent systems and emergency lighting. The company has recently expanded its operation into new build fire compartmentalisation works and expects rapid growth in this area.

BigChange has provided Target Maintenance with a completely paperless system that integrates the field operations with their central office IT system, which is all part of JobWatch, the cloud-based solution from BigChange. The system handles everything, from call logging to job schedulingjob management and invoicing, with live vehicle tracking to give Target Maintenance complete visibility of all jobs in progress and once completed.
Target Maintenance switched to BigChange from another service management system and a separate tracking system.

Dean Rochester, Managing Director of Target, says:

“We wanted to modernise our IT and invest in a solution for the future – something that could assist in what is proving rapid growth in the business,”

“BigChange was particularly appealing as it is a true end-to-end solution and we knew that would make things much easier; a single system with the seamless flow of data from start to finish, which will also aid our clients.”

Rochester adds:

“The fact that it is cloud based – and therefore accessible anywhere, anytime – was appealing and we like the fact that it is continually evolving. Every new feature is an improvement, adding functionality that helps us save time and reduce costs,”

“This ensures our clients are continually seeing improvement in our service.”

Target Maintenance provide both fast, reactive maintenance services as well as planned longer term contract services. As well as the FIRAS accredited fire safety work, Target provides facilities and maintenance services to the property sector including commercial, retail and leisure, social housing, insurance and lettings. From its headquarters in Bedfordshire and its field based operatives, Target Maintenance cover a wide geographical area from London and the South East, to the Midlands, East Anglia and west as far as Swindon.

Rochester explains:

“Previously we were getting overwhelmed with paper processes as the business grew. Paperwork was simply delaying invoicing for completed works and impacting on our customers and their budgets. We identified it as an area we needed to focus on and have through BigChange improved and reduced our processes. BigChange was the solution,”

“We feel we are quicker and more organised having eliminated much of the paper with digital records and now all the information our clients need is at our fingertips and readily available.”

The system is helping improve customer service as well by improving communication. Customers now get instant auto-alert emails when job requests are received, and work is scheduled. In addition, the electronic job sheets and progress photographs from site allow customers to be kept fully informed on work progress.

Rochester adds:

“Larger projects can take some months and therefore a digital record of progress, completed and to complete tasks ensure a smoother flowing project. From a quote through to invoicing and providing certification, each process and task has been adjusted to allow for automatic updating and reporting. The digital reporting process also ensures better checks are in place. That means there are less queries from our clients and transparency is improved.”

First established in 2005 the company re-formed in 2014 (under the group brand Target Maintenance) and Target Fire set up as a specialised team in 2017. Since 2014 Target has expanded from 30 staff to the current 80 staff and turnover of £3.5million. Target’s 35 field service engineers operate the JobWatch mobile app – which is coupled with BigChange vehicle tracking – to manage their work and report progress accordingly.

Daniel Rochester, Target Fires Operations Director, adds:

“BigChange allows us to capture the data we need and make it available when we need it. The bespoke reporting is very good and we now get daily reports so management and customer services have up to date visibility of all work in progress.”

BigChange Target lady using software on computer

I’m the guy that’s all about face-to-face communication. I am always telling my fellow business owners to get out from behind the screen and go talk to their customers and colleagues.

But I know also how hard it is to make time for those kinds of interactions. So imagine how happy I was when I held the first Network event for BigChange customers (find out more about the network here Join the BigChange Network) and found it to be every bit as useful as I’d hoped.

The event brought together 30 of our customers, and was facilitated by Kevin Keegan OBE, the former England football player manager. He is very business-focused, and did a stellar job creating a feel-good factor in the room. Everyone introduced themselves and their businesses and talked about how their sales have grown since adopting BigChange. It was so validating to hear these stories, and to hear what everyone loves – and what they would change – about our offering.

I can’t reveal the insights that our customers shared about their businesses, because the event took place under Chatham House rules, but I can tell you how these conversations have influenced the future strategy and direction for us. It was, honestly, one of the most valuable interactions I’ve had for a long while.

The new BigChange charter

One of the concerns that customers raised was around trust. How can they trust that if they collaborate with other businesses on our system, the contractor won’t steal that client. There is also the fear that the work might be inferior, or unprofessional. This is why we are looking to introduce a code of conduct, the BigChange charter, to hold users accountable. We are about to hire a Network Director, who will draw up this charter and make sure that all our customers understand the rules of play, in order to get the most out of BigChange and the JobWatch system. I am delighted to tell customers that they can now have absolute trust in our system, because any abuses will lead to special measures. This way, every individual and company on JobWatch can focus on collaborating and growing their revenues with confidence.

The mighty sole trader

To date, BigChange has been focused on working with companies and over the coming year, I was planning to target larger corporations too. But our network event has shown me that we also need to make sole traders a priority as well. The gig economy is enormous, and many of our customers use sole traders and freelancers, so we will be reaching out to more independents. For example, there are currently 150,000 gas engineers in the UK; 75,000 of them are one-man bands. We want them on our network. To help bring companies and sole traders together, our BigChange app – which will launch soon – will act like a modern Yellow Pages, helping businesses and users book jobs with registered and vetted engineers.

Boost the buying power

Procurement is a massive issue for any growing company. You want the best deals, and you want them now. We have 1,000 customers – with combined revenues of £59bn, 142,000 employees, and an average business age of 20 – on our system. That is a lot of buying power. We want to help our customers to club together for deals on everything from insurance to vehicle rental and fuel. It’s the next frontier for JobWatch and will be another major benefit of our collaborative system. It will also be another reason for customers to recommend BigChange to their suppliers, clients and contacts.

These three major changes to BigChange’s business plan have all come out of a single network event. I can’t wait for our future meet-ups. Who knows what I’ll learn next!

Martin Port
Founder & CEO

In the hyper-competitive field of service management any small mistake can be the difference between building customer retention and going out of business.

From enhancing brand visibility, offering competitive pricing and enlisting top quality technicians all aimed at providing the best service experience, there are clearly numerous formulas for improving broader customer satisfaction.

At BigChange we believe the best way to keep and build a customer base is to implement a system that consistently responds to the specific customer service request completely, the first time by attentive and polite technicians who are fast and communicative to any issues which may arise.

This is no small order. In truth, there are many issues which must be studied to better understand what drives the customer experience. In this blog, we will take a look at ‘How First-Time Fix Rate Impacts Customer Retention’ and review some key ways to improve FTFR exponentially.

What is First-Time Fix Rate (FTFR)?

First-Time Fix Rate is defined as the number of problems or service requests that are resolved during an engineer’s first visit.

First-Time Fix Rate, according to Aberdeen is impacted by:

  • Parts unavailability (i.e., incorrect or no part available) – 29%
  • Customer/asset not available for service – 28%
  • Improper diagnosis at time of dispatch – 19%
  • Technician did not have right skills – 15%
  • Resolution was only temporary – 8%

In turn, First-Time Fix Rate directly influences:

  • Customer satisfaction
  • Technician productivity
  • Profitability of service provider

Customer Satisfaction:

As a simple rule, first-time fix rates tend to have the most significant impact on overall customer satisfaction. Customers are satisfied (and continue to use a business) when their problems are resolved quickly and efficiently without complaint. If your technicians are unable to resolve the customer’s issue on the spot your customer satisfaction rates will suffer.

“For those businesses with a first-time fix rate of over 70%, customer retention was at 86%. Those with a first-time fix rate of under 70% saw their customer retention rate drop to 76% — a decrease of 10%.”

Technician Productivity:

Just as important as having happy customers is having a productive and efficient workforce. Enhancing productivity lies in optimising technician’s time management and consistently fulfilling tasks based on established workflow protocols to help as many customers resolve their service issues as possible at the highest level of service.

The process of improving First-Time Fix Rate goes hand in hand with decreasing technicians fuel costs & optimising technician scheduling. By ensuring a task has been completed correctly, the first time, fewer site visits are required and drives are thus capable of completing more jobs in the saved time.

A recent survey found that Best-in-Class companies experience a “First-Time Fix Rate of 98.3% compared to the industry average of 77.8%. With service calls ranging in cost from £150 to £1,000 per event, the expenses for making repeat visits can be astronomical.”

Profitability of Service Provider

A major factor driving the long term viability of any business is, and will always be: how staff manages their time and collective responsibilities. With a conscious push to improve First-Time Fix Rate, technicians are able to better manage their workflow, schedule more tasks and accomplish more on the worksite in less time.

Concurrently, with improved First-Time Fix Rate, back office staff is able to focus on invoicing and optimising dispatch of technicians rather than managing additional customer support requirements. “In terms of service revenue, those at the upper end of the first-time fix rate scale witnessed a 4% increase in revenue, while those with a less than 70% fix rate saw no change in revenue. Likewise, serviceable asset uptime increased by 1% for those with a +70% fix rate, while others experienced a 2% decline.”

If an organisation intends to stay profitable, it is critical that all resources- especially inventory and technician time- are being used efficiently. By improving First-Time Fix Rate, businesses can allocate less resources to complete a job, and invest in the next task without repeated service visits to resolve lingering service demands.

First-Time Fix Rate in the Service Sectors

Recent research from the Aberdeen Group has found that “companies in the top 20% have a first-time fix rate of 88%. At the other end of the scale, the bottom 30% of companies has a first-time fix rate of 63%. These figures illustrate a clear link between the efficiency and swiftness of repairs to the success of a business.”

Keys to improving First-Time Fix Rate

As we touched upon above, there are broad range of factors which can influence your business’s success in First-Time Fix Rate. With diverse needs and seemingly divergent methods to resolve them, it can often seem overwhelming to attempt to boost FTFR.

With recent technological advances, such as the development and noted market success of the BigChange mobile workforce management system, it is now possible to centralise the core services and customer relations interfaces which can significantly improve FTFR across numerous service sectors.

The use of mobile workforce management systems, such as BigChange, can promote company-wide collaboration and improved data visibility to best direct drivers and resources to job sites with ease. Additionally “remote monitoring of assets [through CRM mobile applications] helps capture service diagnostic information that can be provided to field technicians in advance. Giving call centre staff more guidance through question trees and full access to customer history data can help resolve more calls over the phone (without costly truck rolls), and provide better information to technicians when they do have to go on-site.”

BigChange can facilitate better FTFR:

BigChange’s 5-in-1 platform enables businesses of all sizes to better manage many of the most significant factors driving First-Time Fix Rate. With BigChange, your back office can easily monitor, schedule & dispatch service request to optimise your staffs strongest skills and prevent unneeded travel.

Through the use of an integrated platform, technicians have access to critical service data and can be supplied essential parts to resolve any service request with the click of a button.

Additionally, the use of preventative maintenance workflows directed via the Mobile workforce management system, dramatically improves the rate in which service technicians resolve all issues fully, while also alerting the operator to any upcoming scheduled maintenance. By improving transparency and collaboration between all aspects of operations through the implementation of mobile workforce management software, such as BigChange, your business can drastically improve First-Time Fix Rate.

To read more about how service management software can save you money click HereHere & Here

Just as important as driver and technician performance, the back office must be able to process all customer & technician data while generating invoices and inventory information without error.

With a comprehensive service management platform, the back office staff has access to live real-time data which fully reflects the service experience. Without having to wait for drivers to return to the office to provide service information, the back office can instantly produce invoices for customers.

Depending on the functionality of the system, you may be able to produce invoices within the platform itself, such as with the 5-in-1 functionality of JobWatch. Together with real-time alerts and visibility of progress against the work plan, mobile workforce management platforms can significantly improve back-office efficiency.

Within the BigChange platform, customers saved an average of 8 hours per mobile worker per month in back office time. On a small scale, these savings make a big impact, on the larger scale, service management software can save your organisation tens of thousands of pounds annually.

First-time fix rate & Improving Customer Satisfaction

The core element driving retention and customer satisfaction is the ability to solve the customer’s problem(s) during the first contractor or technician visit. Known in the industry as first-time fix rate (FTFR), this factor is often the make it or break it in building customer loyalty.

To improve FTFR, service providers and contractors must optimise:

  • Procurement of parts and consumables
  • Scheduling of technicians (based off skill set and proximity)
  • Management of workflow (to ensure protocols have been followed)
  • Parent-Child relationships (to ensure the best communication between back office and service contractors)
  • Client communication

Inventory Procurement & Preventing Overstock

You can’t solve a problem without the right tools for the job. Just as it is critical to have a technician with the right skill to resolve an issue, as well as all the specific items needed to fix the problem on the spot.

From smaller organisations with more limited resources to large companies with hundreds of employees and capital to back them, the ability to prevent overstocking can make a significant difference to your business’s bottom line. By ensuring that contractors don’t overstock parts and inventory, a business can reduce operating costs and ensure cash is not tied up in stock.

Real-time, cloud-based inventory ensures that contractors are always properly supplied with all parts and tools for each job. By minimising the number of required contractor visits, customer satisfaction drastically improves, while technicians can save, on average 10 hours of travel time per month.

BigChange meter productivity

Please read part III to learn about can Service Management Software can improve workflow compliance and save you Money!! To read Part I click Here.

Utilising a sleek and efficient workforce can improve service response times while decreasing the significant operational costs associated with running a fleet of vehicles, back office coordination & technician/service time.

In order to keep your team operating on top of their game, service technicians must have access to all the parts needed to resolve the problem at hand without the need for repeat visits and additional contractor related delays, known in the industry as the first-time fix rate.

How do you balance the need to have business-critical parts on hand, whilst avoiding having cash tied up in inventory?

The ability to minimise excess inventory while still proving service technicians all the critical tools to do their jobs and maintain a high first-time fix rate could be game-changing.

What is the potential relationship between 3D printing and improved first-time fix rate and customer satisfaction?

3D printers could offer a unique opportunity to remove inventory from the factors impacting first-time fix rate. By providing the possibility to print a broad range of specialised parts at the click of a button, contractors can prevent needless overstock of rarely used parts without risking the ire of disappointed customers.

DELOITTE Global predicts that “sales related to 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) by large public companies—including enterprise 3D printers, materials, and services—will surpass US$2.7 billion in 2019 and top US$3 billion in 2020. (For context, the global manufacturing sector’s revenue as a whole totals roughly US$12 trillion annually.1) This part of the 3D printing industry will grow at about 12.5 percent in each of those years, more than double its growth rate just a few years ago.”

As a direct result of this massive expansion, In some sectors, 3D printers are already beginning to make a serious impact on how business is done.

What are 3D printers typically used for and who uses them?

About 66 percent of industrial manufacturers are already using 3D printing, according to a 2014 PwC survey. Most commonly used to quickly create prototypes, this technology also enables maintenance professionals to significantly reduce inventory costs and extend the life spans of outdated assets.”

Removing the lag time between idea and physical prototype, 3D printing is already helping engineers and industrial manufacturers better turn concepts into reality.

In construction, 3D printing engineers are developing methods to form wall sections and plumbing and electrical hubs; potentially decreasing the future cost of home construction in orders of magnitude.

Novel types of printers are becoming available—those that exploit robotics more ingeniously, for instance, or are better adapted to compound materials—and are enabling new applications.”

In the medical sectors, 3D printing is being used to form new drug delivery systems to better distribute medicine to patients’ immune systems.

BigChange 3D printer equipment

How can 3D printing impact the service sectors?

In the service sectors, 3D printing could bring tangible changes in maintenance management via; inventory costs (a reoccurring and relevant theme across many sectors), assembly costs, and the replacement of discontinued parts.

Inventory Costs:

Maintaining an inventory of spare parts is expensive and not always viable depending on the size of your fleet and staff. Some parts are expensive and companies only need to keep a couple of spares on hand to avoid machine downtime. Through the implementation of 3D printing, businesses can send out technicians with common parts and the ability to print irregular parts on the spot if needed. This prevents overstock while ensuring it won’t negatively impact first-time fix rate.

Reduces Assembly Costs:

With a variance of methods to produce parts in real-time, e.g. CNC machining vs 3D printing, time and costs can make a major impact into which tool will be used to create specialised items.

Generally, a complex, 3D printed part is cheaper to produce than one that is traditionally tooled out of a CNC machine. This is because some parts are cut from metal and assembled after, while you create a 3D printed part in one solid piece.”

Replacement of Discontinued Parts:

If maintained properly machinery can operate for many years without major issue. But inevitably, a machine will become outdated and spare parts may be difficult to find or too expensive to source. Older assets can be kept running longer by outsourcing the 3D printing of discontinued, high-value parts, allowing these assets to be maintained at lower cost and for a longer duration.

What are the current obstacles preventing the widespread use of 3D printing in the service sector and what factors could change this?

There are a number of factors currently contributing to 3D printers/ printing being the method of choice to quickly acquire or produce a specialised part. However, some of the major obstacles include;

  • Cost of machinery (ranging for £4,500-£600,000)
  • Cost of materials to be formed in the 3D printer
  • Skill in operating the often complex software (see our recent blog on the impact of Millennials in the workforce to see how this is quickly becoming an issue of the past)
  • Simple to understand and standardised regulations in 3D printer construction
  • Patents and legal matters which are currently inflating the cost of producing high-quality 3D printers.
  • Lmitations in the pliability of materials and the resulting cost of easily printable materials
  • Timeline of total production on the 3D printer

How could a collaborative platform, such as JobWatch from BigChange help bring 3D printing into the toolbox of service contractors?

In some industries, 3-D printing has been considered or utilized for an extended period of time- on the scale of several decades. However, the use cases have been heavily dominated in the realms of prototyping and not to be effectively used for large scale manufacturing.

Industries that have gained a great deal of familiarity with 3D printing, primarily the aerospace and automotive industries, are beginning to unlock the capabilities so others can build working parts, elegantly designed fixtures, and models. Innovators and entrepreneurs are just beginning to scratch the surface of 3-D printing’s potential.

“To simplify tricky field logistics scenarios, field service professionals can set up on-demand printing stations in hard-to-reach or temporary field service job areas. The oil and gas, renewables, rail, and construction sectors all face the same challenge.

They must provide service in challenging locations and environments. Instead of delivering hundreds of parts on the back of a truck, why not deliver a handful of 3D printing machines that could custom print on-demand near the site? This could significantly reduce shipping costs and meet real-time parts replacement demands. And you’d only be manufacturing the parts you’ll use.”

And what better way to facilitate this collaboration than using the BigChange mobile workforce management Network? With the BigChange Collaboration Network, any active user can find and schedule subcontracting services with ease. As the field of 3D printing becomes more entrenched and mobile the BigChange team looks forward to welcoming relevant partners to join our network to best meet the needs of our dynamic customers and clients.

To read more on how the BigChange Collaboration Network can help your business better meet growing customer demands please see this link as well as this recent blog by Paul Skinner on the value of collaboration.

BigChange buy print deliver graphic

I don’t have to read the FT to know that M&S’ sales are in trouble. You can judge the health of any business from its shop floor.

I don’t have to read the FT to know that M&S’ sales are in trouble. You can judge the health of any business from its shop floor. So when I visited the M&S flagship store in Marble Arch and found myself in the dirtiest, dingiest changing room I have ever seen, I knew that the chain was struggling.

I had gone in to buy a suit and was shocked by the state of the place. I talked to a sales assistant and asked why the changing area was so filthy. She apologised but was clearly not too fussed about the issue. So I found a manager and asked him what was going on. He was appalled and promised the issue would be sorted.

There was a massive disconnect between the management and the shop floor staff at that branch – and the business has suffered for it. Lo and behold, when M&S published its annual results back in November, clothing sales were down.

When was the last time you spent some time on your shop floor? You don’t have to physically own shops – this just means spending time with your frontline employees. I run a clinic, where I spend 20 minutes with people from all over the business. Some days I’m with customer service, another day sales or software development.

There is absolutely no substitute for speaking to these colleagues. They will tell you things that your managers can’t or won’t. It’s the only way to truly judge what’s going on at the coal face and understand what your customers see when they interact with your company.

I have spent a lot of time in many departments sitting with team members and helping to identify bottle necks, improvement opportunities and also ways of streamline activities. You can have the best technology, but you must complement this with humans. Take everyone on the journey with you get everyone being leaders.

The key to generating insights – insights that could ultimately make or break your business – is to formalise the process. Host clinics like mine every Friday – that’s the day when most people like to unwind before the weekend, so they’re more chatty than usual. Be respectful of people’s opinions – hear them out. Most importantly, promise confidentiality. People won’t talk to you if they think you’ll reveal your conversations to their colleagues.

Do this, and believe me, you’ll save yourself hundreds of thousand in consultancy fees. As your business grows, this process will also help you keep your feet on the ground and your mind focused on what’s important. What are you waiting for?

Martin Port
Founder & CEO

There is an increasing need to harness our network of experts, thought leaders and industry experienced professionals to provide BigChange customers with invaluable insight into the trends and important industry related issues impacting their bottom line.

To start this series, we are particularly excited to introduce Steve Herbert. Steve is a seasoned and influential Field Operations & Logistics Director with extensive General Management and Programme Management skills gained within the UK and around the globe. In the coming weeks and months, Steve will be on hand to answer some of your commonly asked questions and give over his battle tested experience to the BigChange Network.

BigChange: Tell us a little bit about your background, how you got started in the industry and some of your most significant accomplishments?

I started my career as an apprentice electrical engineer in the TV rental industry. After 12 years on the road I wanted to move into management and was given the opportunity to run a small service centre in Barnsley.

I had watched those I worked for and learned how to get the best from people, how to interpret performance statistics and pay attention to detail. I got some good results and I was given a second site in Doncaster, followed by a third in Sheffield. I closed the first two and collapsed them into the Sheffield site which became one of the biggest service centres outside of London. In order to save cost the TV rental industry was consolidating and we were acquired by what was then an industry giant, Granada (now ITV).

It can be a challenge when you are on the wrong end of a takeover and this was no different. I went backwards for a short while but then gradually worked my way back to become second in command at a new Communications Centre in Wakefield. Here I reported to a great guy who taught me the value of recruiting the best you can and he built a high performing team. Between us we got some good results and as a consequence I was promoted to Regional Project Manager. Shortly afterwards I was invited to go to Boston to sort out a problem in the North American business.

I had never been to USA before so time zones, massive geography and a different culture were a shock to me. The US business had a contract with HBO to install laser disc players across North America but were months behind schedule. It was whilst in the US, I learned that being a project manager, tasked with getting things done when dependent upon the good will of others to give up valuable resource to a project that they are not involved in, can be a bit of a test. The art of persuasion was the key to getting the project back on schedule.

I worked closely with my new American colleagues and within a couple of months we were back on track. The client made me a job offer to join them in New York. I declined, HBO signed a contract extension and I returned home the following day to a new job as Area Operations Manager in Nottingham. I did that job for 2.5 years before being made redundant during a re-structure.

Within days I was approached by Dixons Carphone and joined them as Regional Support Manager (North). The company was doing well so I stayed with them for 11 years and loved every minute of it.

Shortly after joining, the HR Director asked me to transfer into their distribution operation. I worked hard (once working for 35 consecutive days!) and had various roles. The most difficult job I had was General Manager of their NDC in Stevenage where everything was wrong. It was eating GM’s at an alarming rate (I was the fourth in 3 years) but I stayed for 2.5 years and with the support of my team, achieved results we couldn’t have dreamed of when we first started. As well as increasing productivity and pick accuracy we also delivered annual operational savings of £1.5M and reduced annual stock loss by £1.8M. This success got me promoted to National Distribution Centre Director, selected for the Executive Development Programme at Henley Business School and appointed to the Board of Mastercare, the service, distribution and warranty provision arm of the business.

The business employed 46,000 people in UK and Europe and had ambitions to expand further east. A different HR Director asked me to go to Russia and things suddenly got rather difficult!

I became Logistics Director as part of a Mergers & Acquisition team considering a 1 billion US dollar acquisition of the huge Moscow based electrical retailer Eldorado. After 6 months of risking life and limb every day (I would advise you not to fly in a commercial aircraft called a Yak or travel without the correct document in your pocket), we decided not to buy the business so I returned to the UK 18 months earlier than planned.

I then left Dixons and accepted an Operations Director position with HomeServe to run a furniture repair operation in Weston super Mare. The business didn’t work very well and needed a lot of attention. There was no technology whatsoever and poor standards across the board. I brought in some good guys, we fixed it and I was appointed to the HomeServe Warranties Board. I was then asked to take responsibility for their plumbing and drainage business. Based in Norwich it was in poor shape and overspending against budget every month.

I moved the central operation to Banbury, implemented a new job management system and over time grew the employed headcount from 50 to 500. Here the big achievements were a 50% increase in engineer productivity and first visit fix uplift of 8.0%. The team built the largest employed Plumbing & Drainage business in Europe and I will always be proud of what we achieved.

During the following year I was appointed UK Service Operations Director, given more responsibility and a place on the Executive Committee of HomeServe Membership Ltd.

I stayed with HomeServe for 11 years and loved it there. Trouble was I was working ridiculous hours every day and the job had taken over my life. So I left and started my own consultancy business and called it Achieving Operational Excellence. I now use my knowledge and experience to help businesses large and small to get better results and to help the owners to fulfil their ambitions.

BigChange: How has your relationship with BigChange enabled you to give over your experience to young businesses and entrepreneurs?

I met Martin Port whist I was with HomeServe and we have been friends ever since. I am full of admiration for what he has achieved and it is clear that Martin and his team are building something very special.

During the last couple of years Martin has asked me to help a number of his clients and I really enjoy working with them and passing on my knowledge and experience. There isn’t much that I haven’t seen during my career so most of the time I can assist in finding solutions to operational problems.

BigChange: How has your time spent working in Russia, Europe & the US shaped your vision to think more globally and be aware and receptive to customer needs?

We live in a demanding world, with customer expectations rising each year as technology plays an increasingly influential part in our daily lives. The countries I have worked in are very different but customer service principles remain consistent. They want the best they can get for the most competitive price and they want it at a time that suits them.

The connected home was a pipe dream a few years ago but it’s worth taking a moment to consider the rate of technological change we are all experiencing. Technology can either be scary or exciting. On the basis that it’s not going away, I believe that it’s better to embrace technology and make it work for you.

BigChange: What advice can you give to small /medium size business owners trying to scale up operations?

Always have a plan, a Road Map which starts now and finishes where to aspire to be. It should detail by month what you want to do and how you will do it. It may have to be amended during the journey but it should form the basis of the actions you will take and the direction you will go.

Don’t be afraid to think radically and challenge conventional working practices. Problems are there to be overcome and I advise people to think their way through difficult situations using logic rather than emotion. Successfully dealing with challenging situations can be mentally draining but can also be a great opportunity to learn about yourself and the people around you.

When it comes to people, don’t be afraid to make changes and employ the best you can get. Someone who is good today may not be right for a bigger business so be prepared to make difficult decisions when needed.

As far as technology is concerned, let it do as much for you as possible. Try to stay abreast of change and take action when needed. If you don’t then you risk going the way of many others before you – history is littered with big brand names that got complacent, missed the warning signs and paid the price.



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