Much like the title of this article, proper dispatching for HVAC/R service companies is often counter-intuitive. When asked, “What are the characteristics of great dispatchers,” most people respond that great dispatchers must have an excellent command of geography and understand local traffic patterns so they can minimize the travel time between service calls. That is the absolute correct answer and best way to describe a great dispatcher at a taxi-cab company, but not at an HVACR service company.

Efficiency does not necessarily equal profits in the service business; in fact, I would argue that dispatching for efficiency can be one of the single-largest killers of profitability to any service department.

Consider the following example:

It is Nov. 1 and its 15°F outside — the first truly cold day of the season. John is performing routine maintenance on a furnace at 1234 Main Street, which is the perfect call for John because he is relatively new to the industry and is not yet comfortable diagnosing systems that are not working. While John is cleaning the furnace, his dispatcher back at company headquarters receives a call from Mr. Smith, the homeowner right across the street at 1235 Main Street, who notices John’s truck in the driveway. Smith is frantic because the roll-out limit on his very old unit keeps tripping, his house is cold, and he cannot find a company who has a technician available to come out to his home right away. Everyone in town is busy, as it is the first cold morning of the season.

Mr. Smith pleads with the dispatcher, “Can’t you send your technician over as soon as he is done since he is right across the street?”

Most dispatchers in this situation would be tempted to send John over, even though he lacks service experience, to see if it is a simple problem that perhaps John could fix, but this is wrong for two very important reasons. First, John may misdiagnose the problem, which could ruin the system, or, worse still, he could potentially put the customer in harm’s way. Not understanding the possible consequences and feeling bad for the customer, is it possible that John might jump out the limit to get the customer heat? Granted, most technicians know not to do this, but carbon monoxide is nothing to mess around with, and no chances should be taken. Second, John will likely miss out on an opportunity to sell a new system if that is what is in the best interest of the customer.

John should be sent to the next maintenance call on the dispatch schedule, and a seasoned technician who is skilled in both furnace repair and sales should be sent to see Smith, even if that technician has to come from the other side of town. Dispatchers should not be afraid to make moves like this, even when they result in two company vehicles ending up right across the street from one another. Unfortunately, in situations like these, it would be entirely too likely that the technician that just fought traffic for an hour to come from the other side of town will complain and criticize the dispatcher for being inefficient, not knowing the whole story. This is a very important point: All technicians need to be trained to support their dispatcher and be made to understand that they do not have all of the pieces of the puzzle the dispatcher has to make informed decisions that are in the best interest of both the customer and the company. In order for this to be possible, all technicians need to understand that a properly run dispatch schedule is constantly being amended over the course of the day. Every time the phone rings, the priorities of the existing service calls for the day are subject to change. Once technicians come to understand these things, they become much less critical of their routes and driving times, which makes the dispatcher’s job infinitely easier.

Getting the right technician to the right call often makes or breaks the profitability of any service department. In order to send the right technician to the right call, there are a number of things the dispatcher needs to know, either by asking customers the right questions on the phone or making sure their telephone operators are asking the right questions.

Dispatchers must have answers to the following questions in order to effectively do their jobs:

• What type of system does the customer have? (Is it a furnace or a boiler? An air conditioner or a heat pump?);

• Did our company install the customer’s system? (If so, is it under warranty?);

• Does the customer have heat (or cooling)?; and

• How old is the system?

Only after all of these questions are answered should the customer begin to care where the customer lives and who the closest technician is to the job site. After all, it’s not the closest technician that matters — it is the closest qualified technician.

Would a good dispatcher send a brand-new technician right out of school to a steam boiler that is 25 years old, or should a seasoned veteran who has been a technician for 30 years get that call? Not only will it be less likely that the new technician will diagnose the problem correctly, but it will also be less likely that the new technician will be able to talk in the right terms to assist in the sale of a new boiler if that’s what’s in the best interest of the customer.

Not all calls are created equal. Not even close. The first priority always needs to be getting the right technician to the right call. The benefits to both the customer and the company far outweigh the savings in drive time and gas that are achieved by sending the closest technician, not to mention the negative consequences and opportunity costs that occur when the wrong technician is sent to the wrong call.

Publication date: 10/10/2016

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