Fiber, wireless, broadband, Wi-Fi, 5G. Technology has rapidly evolved since the advent of the Internet of Things in 1999, and it is increasingly essential to completing everyday tasks for the world's 7.8 billion people.
Everything is connected, yet there still are communication breaks. QScend Technologies has developed a customer relationship technology (CRM) technology for waste management companies and municipalities to improve their performance when it comes to responding to service requests and logistical issues that could arise during the collection process.
Waste360 recently spoke with James Hartley, regional sales manager, about the idea behind QAlert, how the technology works and why seamless communication is important to the municipal collection process.
1. Can you please tell me about the idea behind QAlert?
Regardless of the industry you're in, whether it's local or county government or waste management, a system that allows you to track, manage and report on the date you've collected is vital to having happy citizens, happy customers and happy partners. Customer service is job No.1, and a best practice in customer service is one touch. QAlert helps local government entities, and other companies who need to provide top-notch customer service, such as waste haulers, provide one-touch customer service. One of the things that makes it great for the hauler to use is that it has operational functionality to actually help them run their operations in the field more effectively, while also receiving the information and sending it back to and from the original customer, whether it's the residential customer reporting a missed pickup or it's more involved requests such as cart requests and things like that.
We went into the frustrations that you have picking up the phone – having municipal departments have to field calls, and either email them or call them into the hauler. And then the hauler has no way of communicating that back. It's much more time-consuming. And this way, the technology really closes the gap gets rid of a lot of the frustrations that people have doing things, probably the way they do them now. And it gives local government entities and their companies the top-notch customer service that you get in the municipal environment. They can handle the barking dogs and the broken sidewalks and the potholes and field those issues and have them go to their appropriate department while the missed pickups and the different kinds of solid waste issues - cart requests, bulk, special pick up, - can seamlessly go to the field for follow up with the waste hauler. And because it's a full CRM, it already captures all of the necessary primary information - the customer information, the ability to communicate with them through text, voicemail, e-mail - and all of those preferences are built right into the system.
2. How does this technology work?
Think about all the things you must do in a day, in any job, in any industry. Many people will prep the night before or first thing in the morning about the most important things that need to get done in a day. That doesn't mean that's everything you have to do as a part of your job responsibilities; it just means there are some things that need to take precedence each day. And then, of course, you must accommodate all the things that come up during the day - the phone calls, the walk-in visitors, the meetings.
Although research in 2016 pointed out that our brains could probably store all the data on the Internet, some service calls for missed trash or new waste or recycling buckets would undoubtedly be forgotten. Just as not every link on the Internet always works, our memories are not always perfect. When you're a customer service organization like a waste management company, imagine all the emails, phone calls, pieces of paper and things that confuse or delay a response. Even if the company gets a phone call and responds to something, they may not have the vehicle to get that information back to the original customer. So, the number of people in the organization and the communities that they're serving are also very pivotal to how this functions, whether it's a small environment or a large county environment.
For organizations who have scores of employees who serve the public by fulfilling requests for service, there's QAlert. Members of the public or staff can submit a request for service - let's say missed trash pickup - to an organization by calling, using a smartphone app or filling out a webform, to name a few common ways. That information is processed by QAlert. It's stored in the system, timestamped and routed to the best person(s) or department to address that issue. When that missed trash is collected, the supervisor can add a comment and close the issue. QAlert's settings allow organizations to ping the person who submitted that missed trash pick-up with information about how the request has been resolved. The submitter, whether home or not, may receive a text message, e-mail and/or phone call about the issue's closure. '
Most service operations, whether they're municipal or private waste haulers have a fleet of trucks, but they're actually being managed by a smaller staff of field route manager supervisors that decide what asset, what truck, what piece of equipment is actually going to go back and pick up that issue that comes to them. So you can't just throw the information out to all the trucks and say, "Hey, somebody go take care of this." It still requires that management makes a decision and QAlert allows them to manage that The supervisor in the field has an iPad where they can see all the issues and they can then determine downstream what piece of equipment will go handle it. They themselves might just drive over with their supervisor pickup truck and pick up the item and call it a day or they may actually call for a larger piece of equipment to go pick up that mattress or that sofa. T
And so it's very helpful to have the technology that fills the gap, not to mention that a citizen could take a picture of their pile of bulky items for special pick-up before the waste management company even dispatches a trip. They actually know what they're dealing with - are they dealing with a sofa or are they dealing with the entire contents of somebody's basement after a flooding issue? Those are two totally different responses, and QAlert allows for that to be managed ahead of time, saving a lot of time and resources and hopefully speeding up the response. So that's how the technology allows for that to happen.
And the other thing is accountability. If a municipality requests due diligence in the contract, they may not have any idea until people are actually coming to the board meeting, complaining about the lack of a proper response. But how do you actually quantify that or measure really how many requests for service there were? How quickly did they respond? Did they respond thoroughly, which is all what leads to - a good customer service experience. And of course, you shouldn't have to wait until you have a city council meeting or a board meeting to have to hear about complaints when you could actually be monitoring them in real-time as they come in each day, accounting for the ones that aren't noticed maybe that particular day but can be handled the next day. So the technology allows for that full circle of seamless integration between when the call comes in, goes into the system.
3. What logistical issues does QAlert solve?
It's called QAlert or a reason. It alerts all levels of users as to what needs to be done and more importantly, what hasn't yet been done. So, if it's a missed pick up, that kind of has to be handled within 24 hours, whereas a cart delivery might not need to be done for a week or two, depending upon the ability to deliver. With QAlert, all issues are able to be prioritized, so that they're handled by the responsible party using GIS layers that allow for routing. And it'll take it literally to the hands of the responsible party.
QAlert acts as a running to-do list of open issues - those awaiting attention, and in-progress issue - those that are in the process of being addressed but may require more time. QAlert utilizes GIS technology to forward requests to not only the appropriate community response, but to the actual field route manager supervisor responsible for that geographic location, without wasting time consulting maps and lists. Unlike paper or electronic to-do lists, from which a person can cross something off without doing it because doesn't seem reasonable, it's too complicated, or the day's over, the platform doesn't allow requests to be deleted. If it's in the system, it will get addressed. There also is a built-in escalation system for requests for service that may be open a little longer than necessary. It will route the request to others so employees are always aware of unclosed items.
And it doesn't allow service requests to be deleted. So if I send an email out, saying, "Hey, missed this pickup e-mail does not beg a response." I mean, it does. And we would all like to have a response on it. So in that case, we would want to keep everyone in the loop. Because everyone who participates in that chain is involved, date and timestamp, we know exactly what they did. We know all the resources that were used. And so those things are very important to having that logistical understanding of what happened on a particular service issue. So it can't be deleted. It can't be forgotten about. Those are important functions of the system. So that's really like an electronic clipboard to-do.
Further, every issue, and every activity related to resolution, is stored in QAlert. This allows organizations to build a service history record with submitters and properties. That serves several purposes. One, if anyone needs to discuss an issue internally or with a member of the public, the information can be called onto a screen within a few keystrokes so all parties can have an informed conversation. Two, if anyone working on an issue is suddenly unavailable, other team members can take up the task and know at exactly what stage the resolution process is at by the notes attached to the issue.
And three, it provides a reporting tool to analyze all the issue data being collected to pinpoint trouble spots and recurring issues, to re-engineer processes, and to construct better budgets, to name a few.
4. How does this technology bridge the gap between customers, municipalities and haulers?
I worked in a municipal environment, and I worked in the hauler environment. And I think that very often the hauler doesn't get credit for a lot of the work that they do because no one knows they did. So, if everybody is on the same page and everybody's using the same tool, the hauler might actually be noticed for a lot of the work that they do and that they complete that today. It all leads up to that one squeaky wheel, who maybe didn't get the grease that that shines the wrong light on their overall services, and with QAlert that kind of goes away. And both the municipality and the hauling company have the data and can make it transparent about their performance.
With a fully functional citizen request management system, every stakeholder is included in the conversation, from the resident who requests service, to the municipal solid waste management company, to the call center/311 representatives. QAlert is a team tool, and the bigger your team, whether across your organization or across several organizations, it's meant to help everyone work together.
When a municipality has QAlert, and a trash hauler has QAlert, a citizen might expect to get better results from his or her own town, city, or county than a third-party vendor. When a municipality and a trash hauler each use QAlert, the installations are integrated so they communicate, and everybody wins. Both the municipality and the hauling company have data with which they can have transparent conversations about performance.
5. Why is seamless communication critical to the collection process?
One of the biggest challenges in servicing municipal customers can be the perception that our field supervisors are not responding to service requests in a timely manner. A fully-functional CRM such as QAlert makes sure that every request for service is documented, tracked and completed, and all stakeholders are included in the process. If everyone who's a stakeholder is using the same system, there's no mystery as to what's going on with any type of a request for service. Not only does this provide hauler operations and management to be aware of problems they can address in their operations, it provides evidence to the municipal management and elected officials that the hauler is performing at a level that meets their contractual obligations. Information at all levels results in satisfied customers and contracts.
And again, in defense of the hauling industry, a lot of times they hit home runs, and no one knows they hit a home run. I always like to tell people, when you hit a home run, you want to shout from the highest mountaintop that you took care of this. Imagine a cart being delivered 15 minutes after someone requested it. Just because the guy who responds to it, the supervisor in the field or the cart delivery team just happens to be right down the street delivering someone else's cart. So that's where seamless communication is a real-time tool. It not only provides the hauler operations and management to be aware of the problem to address in their operations, they then can improve the process. But it also provides evidence to the municipal management and elected officials that the hauler is performing at a level that meets their contractual obligations.
6. What’s next for QScend Technologies? Where do you see this technology going in the next 3-5 years?
As QAlert has adapted to new communication methods over the past 20 years (mobile apps, social media, etc.), QScend is already adapting to emerging technologies and artificial intelligence (AI) tools that enhance the customer service and operational performance experience.
Since QAlert is being used by hundreds of cities and counties throughout the U.S. to respond to every kind of municipal request, and solid waste issues are among the largest volume of citizen service requests, QAlert will become the standard for communication at all levels of residential solid waste delivery. QAlert already functions as a work order management for Public Works departments that use the municipal CRM to manage requests for service, so it makes sense for solid waste divisions to utilize this internal function to manage field route operations.
QScend Technologies has developed dozens of integrations with other related software solutions that enhance all aspects of service delivery in the government services sector and remains open to future partnerships that improve that experience. The future in our conversation is about making municipal leaders aware of the ability to do this seamless integration. But more importantly, the waste haulers themselves are very limited in the technology they have to service waste issues. And I would suggest that there are very limited resources in the residential hauling space. So a fully complete CRM is definitely something that we're going to be deploying in the next three to five years.
I would say that you'll start to see more municipalities put language in their RFPs to try to get bids from haulers that will fix a lot of these perceived performance problems using a system like Polk County, Fla. does that measures their performance, and it hopefully improves performance. Polk County has been using QAlert for about six or seven years now and has already renewed their contract. So, I'm seeing more and more language in municipalities specifically asking for technology that will allow the hauler and the municipality to be able to communicate with each other in real-time and close that gap.
The only additional technology we're looking at - you're probably aware of people using methods like WhatsApp. Obviously, social media has become big and in the past few years, QAlert has the ability to grow into that space where if people are talking about it, you can actually connect with them using the methods of communication that they choose to use. So instead of going to a website and finding a customer service email, maybe at that point, we'll actually make it so that you can input a request for service using all kinds of futuristic and artificial intelligence technologies that we're just seeing being developed today.