Boost Productivity in Replacement and Dispatching

May 22, 2000
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Tightening up productivity in replacement work, as well as in the dispatching of technicians for service work, can make a substantial difference in an hvacr contractor’s bottom line.

Most of what I see with respect to productivity issues for replacement work is jobs taking longer than the hours that were bid. There are many reasons for this; I will discuss some solutions here.

First off, there is no such thing as a 2-hr replacement job.

When you bid work, bid it in a minimum of 4-hr increments. If you think a job is going to take 10 hrs, bid 12. If you think it is going to take 2 hrs, bid 4. There is always something that lengthens the amount of time you need.

The salesperson has a lot of impact on the productivity of the crews. By completing a sales form showing a diagram of the job location as well as details about the job, you can prevent a lot time from being wasted. The salesperson also should create the materials list for the job.

Review the job with the crew. Let them know what is expected to be done, the amount of time allotted, and any peculiarities (e.g., they are to go to the back door, landscaping issues that must be taken care of, or pets that must be noticed).

If you’ve taken a job at a lower gross margin than normal, tell them that you’ve bid only X hrs in the job. Most crews will appreciate this and complete the work in the allotted time.


The warehouse person should pull the materials for the job based on the list created by the salesperson.

The materials should be waiting for the crew, or loaded onto their truck(s), prior to the crew coming in; they will spend less time waiting in the warehouse.

Whenever possible, the materials should be delivered to the job so the crew can be there without having to come to the shop. Remember that with most replacement work, equipment must be removed so the crew can start removing the equipment and be ready when the materials arrive on the job.

Remind the crew that if they find something on a job that needs to be done that isn’t on the proposal, they must stop. Don’t do it without speaking with the customer. If necessary, get the salesperson involved. You can lose your entire profit on a job by doing things that your installers find that are not in the agreement.

Make sure that the crews don’t have to go back to the shop or the supply house for anything. Their trucks should carry a standard parts inventory.

Dispatcher’s Role In Service Profitability

Remember that in service departments, you are selling labor — period. Your dispatcher has a great impact on making sure that the service techs are productive. Here are some things that can help improve your productivity:

The dispatcher should be a matchmaker. This person needs to know your customers’ personalities and their equipment, as well as the capabilities of the technicians.

For new dispatchers, this can take time to learn. However, your computer systems can help with history and equipment lists. Your dispatcher should learn the different types of equipment and the approximate age of each of the pieces of that equipment.

By matching the right technician to the right job, you’ll have fewer callbacks and fewer unhappy customers. An expert in condensing units shouldn’t be sent to a heat pump call. An expert on 20-ton rooftops shouldn’t be sent on a chiller call.

You’ve all had situations where a newer tech didn’t fix the system right but took care of the customer. The customer calls and says, “The system still isn’t working but it’s OK,” in a nice tone of voice. There are other situations where your best technician who hates talking to customers fixes the system and the customer is still unhappy, not because the system is fixed, but because s/he was not treated right (from his/her perspective, which is the one that counts most).

Keep your techs in the same area whenever possible. And for residential calls, dispatch from home. You’ll save on travel time and get more billable hours per day.

Even if commercial customers are paying for the travel time, they appreciate that travel time being as short as possible.

Call your customers before you send out a tech. From a residential perspective, you want to make sure they are home. From a commercial perspective, you know that the customer will be there; however, this is a courtesy call that can separate you from the rest of your competition.

Leave the second call of the day open. This means there is enough time available for when “Murphy strikes” during busy times.

If you can’t fill the slot with an emergency (and you almost always can), you can always move someone up. I don’t know many people who wouldn’t like you to get to their home or office earlier than you had planned.

Debrief the technician before you send him on his next call. Get all the model and serial numbers, customer signatures, store stamps, etc., that you need before you give that person his next call.

This way you know that you have the best chance of getting everything you need so that you won’t have to go back.

By following these suggestions, you can build greater profitability into your service and replacement work.

Ruth King, of American Contractors Exchange, may be reached at 800-511-6844; 770-729-8028 (fax);

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