RER interviews Kara Longmire, co-president & CEO, Alert Management Systems about its new interfaces to SmartEquip & Rouse Analytics, its Job Costing Module, improved online options, automated communications, and reducing costs per touch.
RER: What are the new developments in your software during the past year?
We’ve had a busy year in development! At our clients’ direction, we’ve developed interfaces to SmartEquip & Rouse Analytics. We’ve also developed a Job Costing Module so our clients can track profitability on specific jobs, an interface to Zoho’s CRM product, and have released a kit substitution enhancement that allows users to add any rental item from their inventory as a kit item to an existing kit.
What new capabilities and functions have you added in regard to e-commerce?
We have had a fully operational e-Commerce module for years. Our clients have the ability to offer their clients all the conveniences of online shopping, in a way that meets their needs, from WebRequests that come into Alert and with one click can be turned into quotes, to full feature e-Commerce (real time reservations) with credit card online payments.
Can you give an example of how integration between telematics and your software have benefited your rental customers?
Alert quickly adapted our interface to the AEMP standard, which helps our clients know that they can shop for the best telematics solution for their business and that it will work with their Alert rental package. Any integration that helps automate processes (like checking meters) and reduces touch-costs is a win for our clients!
To your knowledge are online reservations and communication of a piece of equipment being called off-rent increasing among your rental customers? How is your software making it easier?
For the past 10+ years, Alert has recognized the need for more on-line options, so we tackled e-Signatures, and that led to adding payment request forms and count sheets being done electronically. WebRequests (funneling electronic website requests for pricing and information) transitioned into full e-Commerce (real time reservations) and credit card deposits for upcoming orders. And what started as Customer Portal years ago to simply allow clients to see, print and pay invoices has expanded to include off-rent functionality. The trend is definitely enabling customers to self-serve (they prefer it that way and often need to work from their phones). Our clients are becoming more and more comfortable with the technology making these features possible, but it is our job to stay ahead of the trends and educate them about what they can do with their system and why making themselves available to clients 24/7 (without increasing staff) is to their advantage.
What kind of support do you offer rental companies that use your software, i.e., call-in helpdesks, online chats, instruction for users, etc.
Alert has a Help Desk staffed with highly trained and experienced technicians which offers 24/7 call-in support, along with the ability to place calls via email. We have also enhanced our rental package to automatically log calls in our call tracking system overnight from a client’s server if the end of day processes receive a report of any EOD stoppage or database issue, so we can be working on the problem without the client evening having to report the issue.
With regard to training, we try to meet all of our clients’ needs from high-level advanced training/consulting at our clients’ businesses, group classes in our headquarters city of Colorado Springs, online web-based training, instruction manuals, a huge selection of pre-recorded training videos, and a knowledgebase available on our website. Our LinkedIn and Facebook user groups also offer additional ways for our clients to connect with each other to ask both Alert and industry questions. Our User Group, IAUA (International Alert User Association) meets annually for a three-day conference (2019 marks the 34th year!) and we offer training classes, presentations from our partners, networking opportunities, and sessions for our clients to give us feedback and suggestions on what they’d like to see included in the future revisions of Alert. There is a voting process at the end of the conference, so everyone’s voice is heard.
What kind of dashboards does your software have and what information do they offer?
Our Operator Dashboard is comprised of several role-specific dashboards, from Ticket which gives rental managers and operators a 10,000-foot view, to our popular drag-and-drop Dispatcher Dashboard, to dashboards specific to Job Costing, Fixed Assets, Customers, Purchase Orders, and Work Orders. Users are able to easily enter tickets, use hyperlinks to quickly view pertinent information, right-click to take action, and view reports anywhere throughout the Operator Dashboard. Data is neatly organized within each dashboard by tabs, and navigation is simple with filtering capabilities and sorting functions built in.
Our Document Center is a dashboard designed to make all client-facing communication easily accessible from one location. This graphical display allows Alert users to send statements, invoices, and tickets (including work orders) to their customers with the click of a button. The customer is sent communication based on their default (fax, email, print) and the Alert user can make transmission changes quickly and easily. As with all Alert dashboards, hyperlinks to other parts of the system are abundant, as are reporting capabilities.
What kind of automated notifications do your send to your customers, i.e., “reservation confirmed”, “the delivery is on its way”, “the equipment is due to be returned or you will be billed for another cycle”; “the machine is due for servicing”, billing notifications, etc.?
With Alert, clients are able to send automated text messages about upcoming reservations, pickups, overdue contracts, and various account statuses (i.e. overdue invoice, credit limit). Through our Document Center, they can proactively send upcoming reservations to request last minute changes and make clients aware of their change policies. The Document Center is used by clients to send statements along with copies of unpaid invoices, and those statements can reflect finance charges, even without posting them to the account unless paid – just another way we can reduce touch-costs! Alert also has the capability through our integration with Sign&Rent® to send quotes via email with hyperlinks to sign electronically, and those signed quotes can be returned to Alert and automatically converted to reservations, complete with deposit payments on them.
What would you say are the reports your customers use the most, that they find most beneficial?
Depending on their roles in the rental organization, our customers’ most popular reports vary, which is why there are more than 500 canned reports in Alert and we include a report generating tool to enable clients to modify those reports or write their own. Accounting and Back Office folks use vastly different reports than a Salesperson might. Although they both use Alert’s commission reports! Dashboards (which provide real-time data) and automated report sending have replaced the traditional “manual running of reports to screen or printer”, so Alert is pushing data to the end-user and they always have the information at their fingertips. Another very popular feature is that any report in Alert can be converted into an Excel spreadsheet with one click.
How can your software help a rental company determine a profitable rate structure?
Because Alert is driven by our users and their suggestions/annual voting items, we have always been very responsive to their needs with regard to how flexible our software is with regard to pricing, from the pro-rated and scaffold rates of 20 years ago, to the methods today of having dynamic kit pricing, customer specific rates and pricing, customer discounts, and group pricing for classes or categories of clients, pricing methodology is always changing as our clients continue to be creative in how the develop their B2B relationships. Alert is committed to improving our clients’ profitability and therefore while we provide flexibility on the front of the house, we also build in metrics (i.e. our Commission System measures not only discounts but how quickly a client pays) for the back office.
Are there any particular software features you are working on that you are planning [that you are comfortable talking about]?
Our upcoming version will include lots of focus on web functionality: a mobile check-in process, along with a web work order module that will include a tie-in to the already available mobile timecard feature. We’re also focusing on a dashboard specifically geared to the salespeople and sales managers, along with continuing to expand our offering for more bolt-on products with new business partners. These will include another choice for credit card processing, a different web interface to Gearflow, a company offering used equipment sales, expansion of our interface to Epicor, and more telematics interfaces.