Build a World-Class Service Department to Increase Your Revenue
A service manager may or may not have prior management experience — in many cases, they were formerly a highly productive technician — and it’s almost certain they’ll need new skills to succeed in the new position.
Taking the time to coach your service manager may seem challenging, but it will pay dividends in the smooth operation of your business, and the increased revenue that a well-run service department brings.
The service department is the heart of your company, and should be run as a business. To do that, your service manager needs to have a global view of the organization as a whole, the company’s mission and strategy and how the service department fits into and supports that vision.
The service manager also needs to cultivate a tactical understanding of how each team member contributes to the company goals.
For many people, either the overall strategy or the more tactical approach, comes more naturally. To run the service department well, it’s important for the service manager to balance both ways of looking at the company.
A service manager needs to practice collaborative management. Encourage your service manager to hold regular meetings with the team, and to be more of a coach to the technicians and installers, rather than doing the job for them.
A highly competent and knowledgeable technician, upon reaching a management position, may struggle to delegate. It may seem easier to just do the job. As the service manager, it’s more important to coach and advise, and also to be available for consultation and to help diagnose technical issues for multiple technicians who are on service calls, versus getting too wrapped up in any one job.
This is where technology can be a great ally. Your service manager and technicians can use video apps via smartphone to discuss and diagnose issues remotely, rather than your service manager having to be onsite.
In the current technician shortage, it’s not always easy to be fully staffed. Make technology your friend, to help extend the service work that your team can handle.
Leaders need to know how to delegate. Successful delegation is neither dumping, nor micro-managing. Employees know when their superiors dump their own work on the team, and they will also resent being micro-managed.
Delegating the right tasks to the right people allows those people to grow in their own skills and careers, and helps to ensure that the work is done efficiently and well.
One vital purpose for regular team meetings is to let the team know exactly what is expected of them. No one can perform according to expectations, if they don’t know what those are. The service team should meet daily for training, updates and to maintain team cohesion.
Once per month, bring the whole organization together for a bigger huddle. Share the organization’s goals, “wins” from the previous month and core priorities for the coming month or season.
Successful managers have to be great planners. Work with your service manager to put together a plan for the coming year, including the key performance indicators (KPIs) you’ll use to measure success.
One of your goals should always be to improve the customer experience.
Your service department needs to make money. Often, technicians are dubious about the rates your company charges, because they compare what you charge the customer against their hourly wage.
Odds are, there’s quite a gap between the two figures, and your technicians may assume you’re just raking in the profits.
A service manager can redirect this thinking by making sure the technicians know what they’re worth.
The more your technicians understand about the service department’s overhead, the easier it will be for them to see why you charge what you charge, and how important their efforts are to the company’s financial wellness.
Another key aspect of a service manager’s job is training the team on how they’re going to treat customers. They have to take care of the customer, as much as the equipment.
Often, homeowners are not happy when they have a reason to see your technicians. They’re likely uncomfortable; either too hot or cold, and possibly worried about the cost of maintenance.
Your service manager should insist that technicians role-play each morning to practice customer interactions before they go out on calls.
When they get both the customer care and the equipment maintenance right the first time, it reduces callbacks, saving you those high costs.
It’s also important to use service to tie customers to the company. HVACR can be a feast-or-famine type of industry, but pre-sold maintenance agreements can help to fill the slowest months, and keep your technicians in front of customers all year.
Every time you sell new equipment, your people should be asking for a maintenance agreement, too.
Turn Over Leads
Technicians want to fix things. That’s what they do. For your company to work together as a cohesive organization, your service manager has to get the service team to turn over leads to the sales team, when it’s in the best interest of the customer.
Say a customer has a 20-year-old unit. Your technician can repair it, but is that necessarily in the homeowner’s best interest? They might be much better off with a newer, more efficient system.
Your technicians need to be trained in discussing the “repair or replace” question with homeowners, so you can offer the best service overall.
This can be challenging, and might be an area where an outside training partner can help to build your technicians’ customer communication skills.
Customer experience can’t just be a top-down priority. Rather than focusing on changing employees’ behavior, your service manager should work to influence the way the team thinks.
Along those lines, a service manager needs to get buy-in from the crew. Understanding why it’s important to offer after-hours and emergency service will go a long way toward helping technicians to take ownership of that, rather than resenting the long hours. They can create their own rotation, too.
Rather than dictating who will work longer hours and when, your service manager should give the team an opportunity to collaborate on that rotation.
Community involvement is part of being successful. As you are no doubt painfully aware, recruitment is vital if the industry is to keep up with demand.
That’s why your service manager needs to be out in the community, getting to know high school and community college students, meeting and talking with their parents, participating in career fairs and career-related events.
Making time doesn’t have to be a massive undertaking. If your service manager works 40-50 hours per week, spending 10 percent of that time on recruitment-related activities in the community would roughly equal an hour or so per workday.
Coaching your service manager in these areas is part of your success as a leader, too.
Lead your people to make better choices, and pull their best out of them, by influencing their thinking, not just their actions. HVACR is a people business.
When great people follow great processes to create great experiences, the business thrives. When everyone on the team understands the big picture, the plan, and their part in it, you’ve got a great thing going.