[Editor’s Note: This is the fourth of a five-part series explaining how to handle a recession.]

The first installment of this series featured ways for office workers to recession-proof their jobs. The second installment showed technicians how to avoid becoming the next HVAC layoff victim. Now, it’s time to go inside the service department to focus on the individual that manages the flow of service revenue - the service manager.

As a service manager, your success is evaluated by the performance of your technicians. For that reason, if you’re a service manager, you should start your recession-proofing with the technician installment in this series (May 25, 2009 edition). Make sure your technicians are following that action plan, and here are some service management strategies that you can use to make yourself layoff-proof:


• Keep the stats up: As the service manager, you’re responsible for your service team’s performance. Keep an eye on your technicians’ stats like average invoices and maintenance agreement sales. What gets measured gets improved, so be sure to track your team’s results daily.

• Keep the costs down: While you focus on keeping those stats up, be sure to keep your technicians’ labor percentage and callback totals down. As the service manager, you’re responsible for the revenue that your technicians generate and for the expenses that go out to produce that revenue. Keep your labor percentages in line, and you’ll have your biggest expense under control.

• Watch those invoices: In recessionary times, every call is more important than ever. To ensure your technicians maximize each call, review their invoices. Go over each invoice and make sure your technicians are pricing your services right and offering the homeowner options to solve the problem and upgrade their home. Providing those options to homeowners will give your technicians even more opportunities to serve.

• Go for a ride: If any of your technicians are struggling to hit their goals, hop in the truck and run service calls with them. That’s the only way that you’ll see what is really happening inside the home on a call. When you’re there, you’ll be able to coach the technician and train him on strategies to make the most of each call. Remember, when your technicians perform at a high level, you are performing at a high level.

• Be selective with cuts: If you need to adjust the number of technicians you employ to meet the number of service calls, be selective with your cuts. The easy move, but the wrong move, is to cut everyone’s hours so no one is laid off. The best move is to keep your best technicians busy. They are the ones bringing in the revenue that you need to survive. Make your cuts with underperforming technicians or those with poor attitudes. If you lower everyone’s hours, no one is going to be happy, and usually it’s your best techs that jump ship first because they can get a job anywhere. If they’re your best technicians, keep them running with full schedules.

• Get back out there: It might be a tough pill to swallow, but it may be time for you to get back in the truck. If your company is struggling to make a profit, volunteer to run some of the calls. This can be a temporary measure until your company is through the tough times, but it can bring in revenue when you need it most, while lowering overhead.

• Keep the recruits coming: It may not seem like the time to recruit new technicians to your team, but tough times can be the perfect time to upgrade your team. Other companies in your market may be struggling and their top performers may be looking for a new team. Plus, there are high achievers from other industries looking for a new opportunity, and with a little technical training, they could be your next superstar technician. Now is the time to find your next superstar, so be sure to keep recruiting.

• Volunteer to be on call: To help your company weather the storm, volunteer to be the on-call technician. Especially if you’re a salaried employee, that move alone can save your company on payroll and reduce overtime costs. Plus, you’ll be able to make the most of those emergency opportunities, which means increased revenue and gross margin dollars for your company.

• Look before you leap: Be sure to perform pre-installation surveys of homes where your team will be installing new systems. If the job appears to require additional time for the install, hop in and help the installation team. You’ll reduce the labor percentage on that job, and the customer will be happy that you got the job done in a timely manner.

• Take stock of stock: Review your stock levels. Now is not the time to have excess money tied up in inventory cluttering your shelves. However, make sure you have the proper level of stock on all of your trucks so that your technicians don’t waste any precious time running for parts. Take stock of your stock levels and make sure they are right where they need to be.

• Seasonal truck inventory adjustment: If you are in a heating and cooling market, the summer likely demands a different inventory than the winter. Make sure your trucks are properly stocked for the summer season so you don’t have an abundance of heating parts on your trucks that you won’t use for months. Unused parts get lost, damaged, and stolen. Plus, they take up extra space and weigh the truck down.

• If you don’t use it, sell it: If you’re tripping over unused equipment in your company, you’re tripping over cash that could be used to pay down debts or cover overhead. Now is the perfect time to look like a revenue hero by selling any unused or rarely used equipment sitting around your warehouse. If it’s equipment that is only occasionally used, perhaps it still may be more valuable today used to pay down debt and rented on those occasional calls when it’s needed.

• Train - Train - Train: You might have the impulse to cut back on training when times are tough, but it’s more important than ever to keep your team at the top of their game with the proper training. This doesn’t have to be expensive training, but even if you simply run a technical roundtable in your training room, be sure that you keep training your technicians.

• Maintain those trucks: One place not to trim your expenses is the maintenance of your trucks. The minimal investment of maintaining your trucks is going to be much less than the cost you’ll feel if your technician misses a call or two while they are stuck on the side of the road. Properly tuned trucks get better gas mileage, and balanced and rotated tires will last longer. Those regular oil changes will keep your engine running longer, too. If you skimp on maintenance, you’ll likely wind up with major repairs costing you big dollars.

• Let them know it’s not forever: One of the most important strategies is to keep the enthusiasm of your team up. Reinforce the idea that tough times never last and make sure your team stays positive as they head out on calls every day.

Implement that action plan, and not only will you avoid being an HVAC layoff victim, but your company will be making money every day.

Publication date: 06/29/2009