It's All Business at Owners' Conference
December 3, 2007
ST. LOUIS - It was rather appropriate that International Service Leadership (ISL) held its 2007 Owners’ Conference in the Show Me State. ISL brass certainly had plenty to show, tell, and introduce - including many exclusive program offerings - to the nearly 200 members, owners, and general managers that came to the St. Louis Airport Marriott for three full days of learning, learning, and more learning.
It really was information overload. In fact, on the second day of the proceedings, the planned hour lunch break had to be shortened due to a morning session that went beyond noon. “We have a lot of programs to roll out,” assured Bob Wilkins - and ISL’s vice president-operations held true to his word.
From the introduction of the association’s new work order forms to presenting all the details concerning its Discount Club membership program, ISL kept members interested, excited, informed, and, what management believes, on the cutting edge.
“That’s what we are all about,” said president Milt Baum.
FULL DAY OF CLASSOn day one, attendees had the option of sitting in on one of two day-long classes. Wilkins presented “HVAC Business Management I: Implementing the HVAC Key Performance Indicators,” while trainer Todd Lavery taught “Customer Service Representative Level I: Introduction to Customer Service.”
Lavery discussed everything from encouraging owner members to have a proactive environment to the importance of nonverbal communication when it comes to providing quality service for customers. He even had a fairly long talk concerning phone etiquette and protocols.
When it comes to customers, Lavery said there is only one boss.
“And whether a person shines shoes for a living or heads up the biggest corporation in the world, the boss remains the same. It’s the customer,” said Lavery. “The customer is the person who pays everyone’s salary and who decides whether a business is going to succeed or fail. In fact, the customer can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, and he can do it simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
The trainer listed three fundamental elements that exist and need to be cultivated in order for good service to flourish:
2. Consider who one’s customers are; and
3. Develop customer-friendly service techniques and systems “that will wow your customer every time.”
To have a proactive environment in customer service, Lavery said a firm must “adopt a can-do attitude and a willingness to go the extra mile for the customer.”
“Research supports the theory that skills such as active listening, empathy, courtesy, and creating rapport are more important than technical skills in the career advancement of any employee,” he said. “This is especially true in the service industry, where most managers have realized that they must hire people who have a good attitude or approach to serving customers, plus an aptitude for technical knowledge.”
He added, “A positive attitude is the first step in building good proactive customer service skills.”
Before the class ended, Lavery spent some time discussing the importance of tending to the internal customer, too.
“Happy employees are productive, and customers notice it. Happy employees are also better team players,” he said, concluding, “The quality of service provided by the staff dealing directly with external customers is, to a large extent, dependent on the quality of the support provided to them internally.”
BAUM ENTERTAINS TROOPSBaum opened the second day of business entertaining the crowd for nearly two hours, interjecting some serious thanks to various members and vendors for their respective contributions. Baum joked with those in front of the stage and bantered a few fortunate contractors, and had a field day with “PODS,” ISL’s version of networking. PODS stands for Performance On Demand Sessions.
Baum introduced the ISL Vendor Contest, sponsored by preferred vendor HVAC Performance. He also had the first-, second-, and third-place finishers of the association’s “Summer Throw-Down Challenge” come to the stage to inform fellow members how each managed to get customers to sign new maintenance agreements.
Chapman’s Heating and Cooling, Columbia, Mo., operated by Ron and Beth Chapman, was the overall winner, with the team taking home $14,000. Second-place Jansen’s Heating and Air, Effingham, Ill., owned by Tom and Judy Jansen, received $8,400. General Air Conditioning, Thousand Palms, Calif., which is operated by Frank Harrison, took home $5,600 for placing third.
Special recognition was also given to Lane Lovett, co-owner of Airmasters, North Little Rock, Ark. Baum noted the affable owner is always there to volunteer and help out the ISL cause.
“Don’t be afraid to participate,” Lovett encouraged members from the stage. “Speak up and be counted. Who cares if you say something stupid? I say something stupid every time I open my mouth.”
WILKINS WALKS AND TALKSThe rest of the day and the following morning belonged to Wilkins, who discussed, in length and among other topics, the ISL business model. He noted that the association’s model revolves around its Discount Club membership, or maintenance agreement program, of each member’s company.
“Membership agreements are the heart and soul of the HVAC business, starting relationships with customers that will give your company the opportunity to develop trust and open the door to future opportunities,” said Wilkins. “The Discount Club memberships are an avenue to keep your technicians busy all year long, keeping your people in front of customers to build your business.”
Wilkins was well aware that a big part of the program’s success is in the presentation - the timing, the script, and the outline of benefits. It’s why he dug deep into each issue so that each member had a firm grasp of how the program works to everyone’s benefit.
Every one in attendance was given a booklet (“EZ-Pay Customer Tree: Discount Club Membership Program”), which broke down, in detail, ISL’s business plan. Wilkins had much to cover, including the association’s new work order forms, designed to be, as he put it, “the only form your company will need to process jobs and sell Discount Club maintenance agreements.”
“This form is the most comprehensive work order ever introduced in the HVAC industry,” said Wilkins, “covering all of the multiple forms your technicians previously had to keep up with to complete a job. The all-in-one form comes to you with direct input from contractor’s needs from all across the country.”
Other topics Wilkins explored included ISL certification, the need for technician checklists, and the ins and outs of Budget Manager, the association’s new program designed to help members establish a budget and begin to understand a company’s capacity based on personnel, equipment, and history.
“The program is set up to show the company’s capacity for revenue by department, how many calls are needed, how many leads are needed to get those calls, the number of agreements that can be expected from the calls, and the personnel needed to hit your company’s goals each month,” he said. “All of the goals provided are based on actual performance results and the ISL KPI [key performance indicators] benchmarks.”
Another large chunk of time was spent on zone dispatching, team management, managing scheduled agreements to maximize labor, tracking agreements, telemarketing, using warranties to retain customers for life, incentive programs, and marketing. Regarding the last issue, Wilkins said there is no silver bullet marketing item.
“In today’s world, it is becoming less important to have Yellow Page advertising than a good Website design. There are many new and exciting avenues of marketing just within the Internet and your Website,” he said. “Your Website provided through the ISL membership already has some of these advantages built into the structure.”
Rapport Leadership International will be hosting ISL’s next conference, to be held in Nashville on Jan. 24-26, 2008. For more regarding this event or membership information, contact ISL at 800-585-4452.
Publication Date: 12/03/2007