ATLANTA — More than 200 contractors from three countries descended on the Peach Tree State April 6-8 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in the Buckhead neighborhood of Atlanta to attend Service Nation Inc.’s Atlanta International Roundtable meeting.
The first day was reserved for Service Nation Alliance members, and The Service Roundtable members joined for the following two days. The combined membership organization holds two International Roundtables each year.
Roundtable attendees have especially come to expect big information from two of the standard sessions: Consultant’s Roundtable and Idea Storm.
The Consultant’s Roundtable allows contractors to brainstorm with more than 10 leading consultants and contractors. Participants are invited to ask questions and are extended the opportunity test drive a consultant to see if they’re interested in hiring one in the future. Attendees are free to migrate from table to table, where consultants and contractors lead discussions on topics such as recruiting, performance pay, social media, and goal-setting strategies. Steve Miles, vice president and CEO of Jerry Kelly Heating and Air Conditioning in St. Charles, Missouri, emceed The Idea Storm event, which offered an exchange of ideas and cash.
Ben Stark, an independent business consultant, told his table to “Hire slow and fire quick. Talk to your managers, as they may see things that you don’t. Then, if you know it’s the right thing to do, don’t put it off.”
The discussion stemmed from an attending contractor, who asked, “How do you know it’s time to fire an employee?”
Stark suggested HVAC contracting business owners should strive to spend about 30 percent of their time recruiting, 30 percent on visionary planning, 20 percent on training, and 10 percent on daily operations.
Dr. Chip Bell, an internationally recognized authority on customer loyalty and service innovation, provided the opening keynote on April 7. His work has been featured in Fortune, Businessweek, Forbes, Wall Street Journal, and he has appeared on CNN, CBS, CNBC, Fox Business, and ABC television. Bell’s keynote was entitled “Strategies for Creating Growth and Profit.”
“The term value-added is facing a dead-end street,” he said. “As margins get more challenging, taking what customers expect and adding more is no longer the best path to growth and profit. Today’s winners focus on value-unique — creating those unexpected, inventive ways to take customers’ breath away.”
Bell told the audience that creating such remarkable service for today’s picky, fickle, and vocal customers requires a constant and deliberate pursuit of innovative ways to make the customers’ experiences truly memorable, but also profitable for the company.
Vicki and John LaPlant, owners of the Vital Learning Experiences Enterprises training program, have worked with contractors for more than 30 years and serve as business coaches for Service Nation Alliance. The LaPlants have admittedly worked with all kinds of contractors — large, small, organized, totally disorganized, profitable, and those who were out of business and didn’t even realize it. During their main stage presentation, “Memoirs of Success,” the pair shared true stories of anonymous contractors in order to help the audience learn how to address similar real-life occurrences.
Steve Mores, vice president of sales, Dynamic Air Quality Solutions in Aurora, Illinois, spoke to the large group about increasing accessory sales items during service and maintenance calls. Mores, who adheres to the square-peg, square-hole approach, introduced the audience to a forensic CSI approach to communicating that’s designed to increase technicians’ confidence.
Additional breakout sessions included “Working with Your TM,” by former Lennox territory manager Pete Danielson and “How to Run Your Company Remotely” by Jeff Gamblin, owner and CEO of Tiger Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning, and Electrical Services in Glen Carbon, Illinois.
Before a trip to a local restaurant and the Andretti Indoor Karting & Games racing venue, Terry Barrett, a trainer with Service Excellence Training, capped of the afternoon with his closing keynote focusing on “The Five Management Traps.”
“Management serves as a resource and advocate to the technician, sales people, and customer service representatives. In addition, a manager is the implementer of strategy for the business owner. With all the daily demands, it can be very easy to get caught in the trap of unproductive action.”
Barrett also shared, “The Five Levels of Authority” from Michael Hyatt that range from telling an employee exactly what to do with no variation to the more open-ended approach that encourages employees to make whatever decision they think best and not to worry about reporting back to the manager.
Dave Squires, founder and leader of Contractor’s Online Access, opened the International Roundtable’s second day from the main stage. He discussed technology trends, specifically the referral service threat arising from Internet referral sites and how contractors can maintain control of the flow of leads into their businesses. The discussion centered on Internet and other app-based referral services, such as Google’s recent acquisition of Home Advisor. Squires said it may sometimes be appropriate to use one of these services as a lead source, but also emphasized that these sites take lead flow control out of a contractor’s hands.
“Sites like this reduce economic friction just like the airline industry did years ago with its online reservation model,” he said. “Now, most people handle their own travel arrangements and that is, indeed, a convenience. It reduced friction in the service process and brought customers closer to the airline, but it also put many travel agents out of business. What sites like Home Advisor don’t want you to know is that they, too, eventually want to own the customer relationship.”
Squires suggested that contractors concerned with who controls the flow of leads and ultimately the customer relationship may attempt to place doubt in the minds of customers.
According to Squires, typical Internet middleman sites such as Home Advisor may provide a stellar selection process that vets contractors based upon a number of important criteria. However, he wondered if once a company like Google or Amazon takes over, would the selection process remain at such a high level?
He left the International Roundtable attendees with the thought that even though Google is certainly one of the most frequently used and trusted sites, the lead-generation process might still be better controlled at the local level.
Additional breakout sessions on the second day included the “Automate Your Income through the Connected Home” by Stephen Bolen, user experience leader, Emerson Climate Technologies Inc.; “Bolting Water Treatment onto Any Service Business” by Glen Blavet, owner of Halo Water Systems; and “Taking the Roundtable Digest to Atlanta” by Melanie Gentry, managing member, Comprehensive Employment Solution.
Matt Michel, CEO and chairman of Service Nation Inc., closed the International Roundtable with a conversation focused on the importance of having fun in the workplace. Michel cited examples of how contracting companies, companies outside the industry, and even the Service Roundtable use fun to boost morale, generate loyalty, and ultimately improve performance.
“Work is not something everyone loves to do, but what is the difference between work and play? Look at what it is costing us not to enjoy our work,” he asked. “It’s been said the typical company experiences about five months less productivity because of unhappy workers. What if we could create fun at work?”
He encouraged attendees to shut down the office for an afternoon to go on a picnic, which would more than be offset by the time that gets sapped away unproductively, anyhow.
For more information about the Service Nation Alliance or Service Roundtable teams, visit www.serviceroundtable.com.
SIDEBAR: Service World Expo Launches
Bob Miodonski, publisher of BNP Media’s Plumbing & Mechanical and Mike Murphy, publisher of The NEWS and Distribution Center magazines served as emcees during the International Roundtable event in Atlanta, April 7-8, for approximately 200 attendees who gathered from the U.S., Canada, and Australia. Miodonski announced that the two BNP publications, along with Reeves Journal, are cosponsoring the upcoming Service World Expo, scheduled for Oct. 26-27 at the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. Some exhibition space is still available. For more information or to register, visit www.serviceworldexpo.com.