Last month, I shared tips for keeping your office team busy when the phones aren’t ringing. This month, let’s explore what to do with your field technicians when there aren’t any calls on the board.
Let me start by sharing a phenomenon I have witnessed over and over in my career. No matter how busy it has been, some, if not most of your techs may edge toward panic on the first slow day. At the “parking lot meeting,” there will be rumblings of, “If this keeps up, I’ll have to find another job.”
Note, too, that on the next full-out-too-busy day, you may get a knock on your door, “Boss, at this rate, we are going to burn out some people.”
It’s human nature. Don’t overreact. Do step into your role as the leader by reminding team members that this is a cyclical business. There is no magic number of trucks and techs that ensures a steady, balanced flow of calls to run.
Once upon a time, I asked a contractor who had 10 locations and more than 100 trucks, “Is that the right number? Do you keep your techs busy every day?” He laughed and replied, “Some days, there are 50 trucks sitting in our parking lots. Other days, I need 50 more.” This hot and cold issue never goes away.
“Everyone who achieves success in a great venture solves each problem as they come.” — W. Clement Stone, a businessman, philanthropist and self-help book author.
• Remind your team this is a “make hay while the sun shines” business; you want to capitalize on every opportunity to work.
• Share your vision and goals with your team so they know your long-term plans. If it’s slow and you hire someone, they may be confused, unless you regularly communicate your commitment to growth.
• Tell them what your marketing activities are and that you are cranking up the advertising to get enough calls on the board. Keep them in the loop about current offers, too. It is awkward for techs when you are running slow-day specials and they learn about them from the customer.
• Suggest that one way to ensure that they don’t get sent home is to be a tech with an expanded skill set, recurring maintenance agreements and frequent customer requests.
Last month, I offered suggestions for getting more calls on the board. The techs are in a unique position to round up work, too. To engage them:
• Figure out what jobs are scheduled for tomorrow or next week that techs can tackle today.
• Ask them which customers said, “No, thanks,” to work that is very much in their best interests, or that techs were going to get additional bids on. Roleplay phone calls or stop-by conversations before they make them.
• Remind your techs that slow days in the service business are a marketing issue, not an economic issue. Quiet days in the construction business may be a result of economic factors beyond your control. Hold a brainstorming session with your team to capture ideas that will help you discover new marketing methods or supplemental work that will smooth out the cycles.
• Call their best customers and telling them that they love them. Let clients know your techs have a free day and would love to come over and check the system/project/equipment. Would they be open to a selfie and testimonial? This activity so often leads to additional work. “You know, while you are here … ”
The great thing about a slow day is time to tackle projects and training that you have been too busy to do. Enthusiastically embrace the opportunity to:
• Get caught up on paperwork, job folders, and picture organization and storage. In your dispatch software, make sure all service calls are updated, the notes entered, serial numbers added and tickets properly closed.
• Build a training center. My pal and partner, Al Levi, has long been a proponent of the formal training center, one that is fully plumbed, wired, fire-able equipment on which your team can practice. It takes time to build it and it is soooo worth it in terms of immediate and long-term skill building.
• Maintain the trucks and equipment. Pull out the manuals, your own and the manufacturers. Take the drain machines apart and put them back together again. Pull out all the bins from the trucks, dump them out, clean them up and restock.
• Spend a half-day role-playing the most common price challenges or objections, by technician vote, and help each develop sales and communication skills.
• Do some goal setting and sharing. Business mogul Howard Partridge has his techs post their personal goals on the big, white board on which they report their sales goals. It’s super-inspiring to everyone as team members accomplish goals such as paying down debt, buying a home, taking a cool vacation or purchasing a fun vehicle.
• Clean! I loves me a powerwasher! A weedwhacker and blower, too. Gussy up the physical plant. Clean out the flowerbeds and mulch the trees. Trim up the ratty grass. Blast the gum and bird droppings off the sidewalks.
“Life is too complicated not to be orderly.” — Martha Stewart, businessman and television personality
I can almost hear you saying, “Yes, but all these projects take time, resources and money. When it’s slow, I am short on all three.”
I get it. If you are priced right, if your selling price calculation includes a generous amount of slow days, you can afford to pay team members to help with projects.
That said, labor is your most significant expense. The contractors I know who make money in good times and slow times are premium-priced service providers who also manage their labor expenses. They play defense as well as offense. So, you may have to:
• Send someone home. Ask for volunteers. I’ve spent much of my life as an employee and I always offered to go home if the work wasn’t there. I could get by on not much money, and I loved an unexpected free day to work out or go adventuring. You may have team members like that.
• Kick in on-call. You may offer the option for a tech take a truck and head home, and be at the ready to punch back in.
• Develop the bench. Yes, the most capable tech may be the last person to send home. However, this may be a good “Put me in, Coach!” moment. Send them all home except the rookie, and you will back him or her up.
Because this could happen: The slow day suddenly gets very interesting. Mrs. Fernwicky calls because her husband accidentally tore up the water line as he was winterizing their koi pond. She suggested he call the utility service to mark the lines and he wasn’t going to wait until next weekend … yada yada.
And you and the rookie load up and save the day and make a lot of money. Our businesses turn on a phone call or a text.
Even better, you and your new team member have an adventure. You work together and learn from each other, and survive a few tense moments, perhaps. You may even have some fun and share some laughs.
“The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.” — Tom Peters, business management author