In the first two parts of this series, I talked about the justification for labor management as the number one thing owners can do to set themselves up for success and handle variables that are within their control. I also outlined common installation, service, and inventory issues and how those can be managed in ways that affect the bottom line significantly.
In this third and final installment, I’m going to discuss how communication plays a role in labor management, and some considerations for the leaders in your company as it pertains to managing both employees and customers.
Customer Management Is Labor Management
Customers are a source of labor management. Why? Because if they’re unhappy and require lots of upkeep from your office staff and technicians, it’s more time that isn’t being spent generating new business. Happy customers are more profitable customers, and working to keeps your customers content also displays integrity as a business.
Mentality is one thing, but you need specific strategies to manage customers. Among others, these strategies could include:
- Building in a follow-up with customers after an installation. How many calls do you get about minor issues related to customer confusion? How could these be proactively prevented with a standardized follow-up?
- Automating your communications. You know the types of deals and campaigns you’ll be running year-round, so why not reach out to customers by email or phone at regular intervals? Strategies to reduce the manual work involved in these vary as well, but tools exist to help you scale your communications.
- Educate customers before the sale using the resources available to your team. A more informed potential customer is one that’s more likely to buy from you and trust you long-term.
All of these relate back to things like making the time of your sales team more efficient. If you can increase close rates by 5% and increase retention rates the same amount, how much more valuable is each hour of time that you’re paying technicians and sales reps?
Leading Labor Management
Nothing you do matters if there isn’t buy-in from leadership and an understanding of what it means to lead by example in labor management. If you can turn your employees into enthusiastic partners in these goals, you’ve won the whole ballgame. And that requires leadership.
Leadership in HVAC could be its own series of articles, but as it relates to labor management, a handful of ideas seem to crop up every time I go through training on the topic or listen to experts in the field.
Rewarding and praising employees matters. Not just monetarily (though that can work, too), but by showing them you see their progress and that it’s valued by the company and its leaders.
Communicate with your team. Have you talked to them about what one minute of their time costs the company? This may not be for newer employees, but you shouldn’t be scared to be honest with long-time employees about how the business functions and how they fit into that equation. The good ones will be spurred into action.
Related to this, show them a growth plan within the company and tie it to specific improvements in their productivity. If you push workers in the right way, they will respond positively.
To do this, you’ll need to establish those specific improvements and define what improvement looks like. Average revenue per truck? Average time spent on a job? Percentage of callbacks? These are a few, and I’m sure you can think of others. Point being, you need to know exactly what you’re tracking so that you can relay that to employees and monitor success.
Labor management is also related to labor retention. Are your benefits up to snuff? Are you losing workers to competitors? If so, the hidden costs of hiring and training are eating your company alive. It will also allow you to retain adequate staffing for the busy season, avoiding burnout and walkouts.
Barriers to Communication
Every company has its issues, but these are often similar because people act the same regardless of industry and company. Here are a few of the main barriers I’ve identified in labor management, which require ongoing monitoring to handle responsibly.
First is diffusion of responsibility. Whose job is it to ensure that trucks are properly stocked? Or that everyone gets out of the warehouse on time in the morning? If the answer is “everyone,” it might actually be “no one.” Hold someone accountable for these items and they will be done properly.
Another is that sometimes leaders think leadership means talking without listening. If you involve your employees, they’ll be more receptive to changing their time-wasting habits. Leverage their knowledge and be willing to listen. One-way communication is often fruitless.
Lastly, many companies have silos. By that, I mean that one department never talks to another department. Everyone needs to work together to manage productivity and productivity loss in a company. So if your communications manager never talks to the installation manager, or the sales team never meets with the service technicians, you’ll have multiple processes for the same problems, and nothing will be as streamlined as it could be.
Don’t allow this to happen. Creating a team environment in a workplace isn’t just about company morale, though it’s that, too. It relates directly to business practices that help everyone.
Piecing It Together
Labor management is a moving target because forces in the job market change, as well as elements of your company. You’re never “done” managing your employees well.But related to the point I made back at the start of this series, there’s nothing else that you can control as closely as your workforce. In a sea of variables that you don’t have direct control over, this is where you can make the biggest impact for your company. If you have other strategies, I’d love to hear them, and I hope you found a few things to work on as a result of this series. We’re in this together, and I look forward to learning more myself as the industry continues to move forward.