Al Levi
Editor's note:Consultant Al Levi helps contractors run their businesses with "less stress and more success." HVAC and plumbing contractors seek his advice regularly. Al has agreed to let us share with readers ofThe Newssome of the questions he gets and the answers he provides. The focus is strictly on problem solving and handling the day-to-day operations of a successful contracting business.

To send Al your own questions, which if selected will run anonymously, send him an e-mail at or fax him at 212-202-6275.

This column is meant to be a resource only. Please check with your own trusted business advisers, including your own attorney, to make certain that the advice here complies with all relevant laws, customs, and regulations in your area.

Dear Al,

I want to grow my average sales per job. Is there anything I should be doing to make that a reality?

Sales Seeker

Dear Sales Seeker,

The biggest things I find that keep companies from higher sales per job are:

1. They don't give their techs a reason to make more sales. You need to have a bonus program.

2. The managers aren't doing ride-alongs to help improve the techs' sales, operational, and technical skills.

3. They have little formalized sales training. A sales manual is every bit as important as a technical manual.

4. Little to nothing is done in role-playing (simulating real calls).

5. Not arming techs with the right questions to ask so they lead to ethical add-on selling.

6. Tracking and posting of the numbers is not being done. You need to keep score and tell them they'll be accountable.

7. Having too many calls for a tech to do in a day, so they spend their time rushing from call to call instead of serving the customer the right way.

Address each of these and watch your average ticket sales soar.

Al Levi

Dear Al,

"I can't hear you."

That's what I tell the CSR (customer service rep) and the dispatcher when they answer the phone.

They sound like the customer is bothering them when they're on the phone. Plus, it's so hard to hear them with the background noise.

They also have the annoying habit of writing down the information on paper first when they're on the phone instead of typing it into the very expensive computer software we bought and trained them on. After the call is over, they then type in the information, which is a waste of time they don't have.

I hope to hear a good idea from you.

Audibly Annoyed

Dear Audibly Annoyed,

It's tough to say without seeing your shop in action, but I'd be willing to bet they don't use headphone sets. That's why it's tough to hear them and that's also why you hear all the background noise. It's also probably the reason they write out the calls and then do double work by entering it in the computer when they're off the phone.

The reason why they do that is they're holding the phone with one hand so typing the data in the computer is going to be tough!

Here's what I suggest. Tell them they have to wear headphones, but instead of you buying a pair and making them wear the one you pick out, tell them to pick any one of three styles you have for them. Say that they should try them all but at the end of the day know that they're going to wear them. And, they're going to be entering the data in the computer live while speaking to customers because now their hands are free!

The tougher problem is when they sound like the customer is interrupting their day when a call comes in. That's a training issue. A customer service manual that explains how valuable that call is and what it costs for each call that comes in is indispensable in getting them to see the call as the reason we all have jobs.

If they can't see that, it's time to hire "willing" people and then train them on your phone scripts with role-plays of simulated calls. You'll be better off.

Did you hear that?

Al Levi

Al Levi of Appleseed Business specializes, as his Web site says, in "Making Contractors' Lives Less Stressful and More Successful." Through private workshops, on-site assessments, customized operating manuals, and staff training programs, Levi delivers the benefit of the experience he gained from years of operating a large family-run HVAC and plumbing business. Learn more by visiting You may also contact Levi by e-mail at or by fax at 212-202-6275.

Publication date: 04/04/2005