What to do if your customers are telling you "I'll wait until next spring."
Keeping your technicians and office personnel productive during a long, hot summer becomes increasingly difficult as the summer continues. By the end of the busy season, the telephone has stopped ringing off the hook, but it still is ringing. Your technicians may not be scheduled for overtime or even for all 40 weekly work hours. Most of the equipment that is going to break has broken and been fixed. Or if it breaks, many times the homeowner's response is: "What do I have to do to keep it running right now? I'll wait until next spring to replace it." He limps along for the remainder of the season.
To keep productivity high, you must plan some end-of-the-busy-season activities. Here are a few that I find most valuable:
- Maintain a complete tickler file. (It's critical that you start one, if you haven't already.) For each customer who tells you, "I'll wait until next year," place a reminder note in the tickler file. This will ensure that you call the customer next spring.
- On slower days, review the tickler files to see what work has been proposed but not completed. Call the customers to ask if they'd like the work done. While many may say, "I'll wait until spring," (see No. 1), others may agree to have the work done now.
- Also on slower days, review last year's heating tickler file to see if any of that work can be done now. Remind your customers that it is time to get ready for fall — even if the heating equipment is not needed yet.
- Watch staff timesheets closely. Service technicians and office personnel have become accustomed to overtime and large paychecks. As the season slows down and overtime is no longer necessary, make sure they get the work done in 40 hours rather than stretching it for an extra hour or two.
- Review all of the completed jobs. Make sure that the paperwork for all financed jobs was submitted and that all of the information that should be filed for all the closed jobs has been filed. If warranty paperwork hasn't been filed, file it. If sales people gave you the excuse that they were too busy selling more jobs to go back and get the financing paperwork signed, have them go back to the customer and get it signed. Also, make sure that all the necessary paperwork has been submitted to the finance company.
- Print out and review your customer list to get ready for fall. Identify customers who have done business with you but do not have a maintenance agreement, customers whose equipment's age is beyond its recommended life span, and customers who have maintenance agreements.
- Plan a marketing campaign to contact each of these customer groups. It's never too early to start. And if you start early, you may generate some maintenance work even though heating equipment is not needed yet.
- Go through your proposal files from last fall and winter. Call the customers who didn't buy heating systems from you. Perhaps they didn't buy anyone's system. If not, perhaps you'll get the job. If they did buy from someone else, ask whether the warranty period is up; if it is, offer a maintenance agreement on the system.
- Conduct a complete truck inventory to find out how much and what type of cooling equipment remains after the busy season. As you switch from cooling- to heating-system parts, you don't want too many cooling parts on the truck. Use what is on the trucks and replace only what you think you can sell before the season changes. Once heating season starts, those unsold parts will be sitting on the trucks or your warehouse shelves eating your hard earned cash.
- Watch your cash. You've been accustomed to a lot of money coming in the door, and this may slow down. Pay particular attention to your weekly cash-flow reports, as they will be critical to alerting you about cash for payroll and payables.
- Host a thank-you activity for your field and office personnel. One contractor I know cooks a lunch for each group at the end of the season to say "thank you" for their hard work over the busy times — and the owner cooks the hamburgers rather than ordering them from a restaurant. The employees really appreciate the personal touch.
- Send thank-you notes to your employees' spouses and significant others. They also sacrificed during the busy season and should be acknowledged, too.
As the busy season winds down, you'll also want to encourage everyone to take time to take a breath and enjoy some slower days. Take time for yourself too. Everyone has earned it.
Ruth King has over 25 years of experience in the hvacr industry and has worked with contractors, distributors, and manufacturers to help grow their companies and become more profitable. She is president of HVAC Channel TV and holds a Class II (unrestricted) contractors license in Georgia. Ruth has written two books: The Ugly Truth About Small Business and The Ugly Truth About Managing People. Contact Ruth at email@example.com or 770.729.0258.