When Marc DeLong was promoted to service operations manager at Albuquerque, New Mexico-based Yearout Service LLC at the beginning of this year, he figured he should probably attend the Synergy Solution Group Service Operations Forum, held Jan. 24-28 in Frisco, Texas, to learn from the best of the best.
“I had been to other Synergy forums, so I thought this one would be very beneficial,” DeLong said. “The best thing about it was being able to be around a peer group in the same industry and not have to worry about sharing best practices or any kind of information that you wouldn’t have shared had you been talking to a competitor. You can be open and honest about anything in that group setting and not have it affect day-to-day business.”
The Service Operations Forum, which is held annually by the Synergy Solution Group, featured 66 attendees, including owners and service executives, service and operations managers, and field supervisors and team leaders.
CONTENT THAT MATTERS
Synergy’s Founders Board, elected to the position by current group members, decides the curriculum each year. The board members are very involved in planning each session of the event.
“They’re really the ones who drive the agenda,” said Julie Bishop, executive director, Synergy Solution Group. “They talk about challenges, vet the speakers, and do a lot of work to make sure it’s a session that is beneficial to everyone.”
This year’s Service Operations Forum featured a guest speaker. Lisa Withers, workplace learning and leadership development consultant, ProActive Consulting, presented “Communicating Like a Leader,” a program that was very well received by attendees, according to Bishop.
“Communication is a challenge for everyone,” she said. “We all need to get better at it; we all know it’s important. None of it is rocket science, but sometimes you just hear something that resonates — it’s the right time for you to hear that message.”
Withers customized the topic by incorporating real-world examples of being in the service operations side of a commercial HVAC company, said Allison Rodgers, sales and marketing director for Synergy.
“When you can take a broad topic like communications, but apply it to the world you live in, and have tangible goals, that’s what resonates with a lot of attendees because they can automatically go home and use this information,” she said.
Ryan English, service operations manager, Baker Group, Ankeny, Iowa, said the communications presentation was one of the most helpful topics during the forum.
“The guest speaker went over our communication skills to each other, to our technicians, and to our clients,” he said. “Everybody knows right from wrong, and they know how they should be talking to people because of all the pointers and training we get on communication. But a lot of that gets forgotten, or it’s not always top of mind. I think the presentation and the communication discussion that related to technicians and customers was a huge success.”
The Baker Group is a founding member of Synergy, so the company is pretty active in the organization, and its employees try to attend any events that relate to their responsibilities.
“I enjoy them because we’re a group of people doing the same thing every day, and we all have the same struggles,” English said. “None of us compete with each other because we’re from all over the country, so you can be open and honest about your struggles and issues and what you’re seeing.”
Another session topic was “Dissecting Service Workflow,” which included discussions on receiving incoming requests from clients, communicating client information to the field, getting parts to the field, communicating back to the client, working with the sales team, making customer care calls, and providing technician feedback. This was the most beneficial topic for DeLong.
“One of the discussions brought up contractors assigning teams for technicians,” he said. “The teams would consist of anywhere from four to eight guys who are assigned to specific buildings or maintenance agreements. They are then responsible for those clients. It’s something we’re looking at doing at this office. The information that was shared was very helpful. It would benefit us because it gives us a consistency with the clients. One of the things we find — not only in our area, but across the country — is clients are really requiring consistency when it comes to the technicians who are on-site, simply because then the technician knows the building — there is no time lost or time being billed for the tech to figure out the building while on-site. It’s really a customer service piece that is currently missing from what we’re doing.”
DO YOUR HOMEWORK
According to Synergy, 96 percent of the attendees rated the Service Operations Forum as extraordinary or very good. Additionally, engagement skyrocketed with 17 ‘Ask a Peer’ questions submitted during the four-day event.
“We work them in as often as possible — it was tough to squeeze them all in this year, but it was great because it was information our members wanted to hear,” said Jim Bartolotta, executive vice president, Atomatic Mechanical Services Inc. in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and managing partner of the Synergy Solution Group.
One unique aspect of Synergy’s forums is the attendees are given homework to complete before attending each session.
“We’re really insistent on the homework because we really want them to be prepared,” said Bartolotta. “They grunt when they get it, but it makes for a better session. And at the very end, in addition to the homework, we always make sure they leave with an action plan. We give them time to work on that, write it down, and share it with the group, so they’re ready to go back and make some good things happen.”
One of DeLong’s action items centered on improving communication.
“Coming from the sales side of things, communication has always been very important to me,” he said. “However, communication between a potential client is different than communication between a manager and a technician or office employee. When I came back, I really started to concentrate on giving out praise on a constant basis. There’s a fine line when it comes to praise — it can look like you’re intentionally doing it as opposed to the praise being genuine and recognizing people for what they do. That’s something I’ve tried to institute and be more aware of inside the office. The action plans are extremely beneficial because it creates an accountability, and we all need to be held accountable.”
According to English, the best things about attending a Synergy forum are discovering that everyone has the same or similar struggles they are dealing with and getting the chance to look at what other people are doing. After hearing from attendees, English made one of his action plan items to completely change dispatch operations at his company.
“I’ve seen others’ success in that area and how streamlined the process has become,” he said. “Our action plan is to evolve our service dispatch from the time the call comes in to the time the call is approved for billing and sent to the customer. So, we’re working to expedite that process and then implement a follow-up call after the bills go out — not a collections call, but a call to ensure the bill is in the right place and the customer has what they need to get it paid in a timely fashion. I was discussing this at the forum with a couple of other companies that are doing the same thing. That is probably the No. 1 action plan item for us, and we’re in the process of developing the plan and working through it now.”
According to Bishop, one of the main concerns is for attendees to build a network with their industry peers. That way, when they go back, as they run into challenges in their everyday lives, they can pick up the phone or shoot an email to someone they met at the session.
“They can get some advice on how to handle a problem, or they can vent their frustrations, she said. “I think that’s pretty critical.”
For more information about the Synergy Solution Group, visit www.synergysolutiongroup.com
Publication date: 4/23/2018