What are the pros and cons of dispatching service technicians to their first call directly from their homes each morning or asking service technicians to report to work first?

If you asked The NEWS' consultants, most would say it is more advantageous to dispatch techs directly from home –– and for several reasons. However, there is not unanimous agreement. In the HVAC trade, many contractors still require technicians to report to the office each morning. An Iowa contractor recently featured in The NEWS, Gabrilson Indoor Comfort Solutions, requires technicians to show up every day.

In the recent NEWS' 2005 Salary and Service Rates Editorial Study, only 37 percent of respondents said they require technicians to check into the office each morning. Most said technicians were given their schedule the previous day or contacted from dispatch before leaving their homes.

Let's take a look at some of the reasons why HVAC contractors want or don't want to see their techs each morning.

Hit The Road Jack

One consultant, Dave Dombrowski, said dispatching techs from home is a matter of simple math. His techs and installers go directly to the jobsite four days a week and stagger in a fifth day for training in the shop. He did the math. "Approximately 49 weeks per year at four days each week equals 196 direct-to-job days," he said. "If I use 30 minutes' travel time gained by not coming to the shop (very conservative) then I pick up an additional 98 work hours per year.

"At a rate of only $150 potential revenue per hour (again very conservative), I gain an additional $7,350 in revenue per tech per year with no additional labor since I would have paid him for being at the shop. At 30 techs, this represents $220,500 in free revenue for me each year. If I am honest, we waste one hour at the shop before we get to the customer, which now doubles my free revenue to $14,700 per tech and for 30 techs, $441,000.

"Easy choice for us."

The same is true north of the border where Canadian consultant Roger Grochmal said, "We let all of our trucks go home every night and weekend. We have always done this. Since we operate over such a large territory with growing traffic gridlock, it makes sense for us to schedule a route for each mechanic from their home to a series of calls and then back to their home. For the most part, it works very well.

"We also have a piece of property that is so constrained that it would be impossible to park any vehicles there with any degree of safety."

Ann Kahn said that sending techs from home has a couple of advantages and one possible disadvantage. "By following this procedure, we accomplish two goals: reduction of unbillable time while they gossip over a cup of morning coffee and savings on gasoline. The downside is that completed work orders can pile up and billing is slowed down a bit."

Fellow Texan and consultant Larry Taylor said, "We dispatch our service techs directly from home with the first call being given to them the day before and verified by the dispatcher with the customer at the end of the day before sending it out to the tech. Their first call is normally in the area they live. We also have the area divided up by zones and assign a tech or techs to that zone and try to keep them there all day.

"The more we can minimize drive time, the more calls we can run, the less vehicle accident liability we have, etc. In the Fort Worth market, our travel time will kill us. It is not always the mileage as we only serve about a 30-mile radius aound our shop, but we can sit for hours in the traffic burning gas and time.

"And by dispatching with this method, we feel we can pick up at least one additional call per day."

For Jim Hussey, a contractor in the San Francisco Bay area, travel time is crucial and he'd prefer to pay techs once they are at the jobsite.

"In exchange for the ability to take our vehicle home, our techs provide an hour of unpaid commute time each way," he said. "By driving our vehicle from home, our tech is on site at our clients' facility when they go on the clock. This re-duces paid windshield time. Given the constant need to maximize material-to-labor ratios, the less paid windshield time, the better."

Aaron York would prefer to have his technicians on the job and out of the office and supply house. "Most techs want to be on the job working rather than in the office according to what they tell us," he said. "We have materials delivered to them if at all possible. We prefer that they not even go to the supply house unless it is essential where they match or procure a suitable replacement part.

"They prefer to be doing what they do best and that is making mechanical devices function properly. They feel awkward wasting time talking to each other."

But Vince DiFillippo did give his service technicians a choice –– and they opted to stay home. "Taking a vehicle home is a perk," he said.

"The giveback is going direct to the first call. Now some say you have to pay for this time, but I asked the techs and told them if they want to get paid for that drive time in the morning, then they would have to start paying taxes on the perk of taking a truck back and forth to work.

"The result was that they wanted to drive to their first call."

Contractor Mary Marble stays in touch with her service technicians via e-mail and faxes. "All of our service techs and construction crews go directly to the jobsite each morning. They call the office after 3 p.m. with a status update and are dispatched out for the following day by 4:30 p.m.

"All complete paperwork is faxed in that evening. Payroll checks are mailed. Over the weekend the timecards are faxed in and then the techs mail the hard copy of the timecard."

But They Still Gotta Show Up

Even though most consultants agree that service technicians should go directly to their first stop from home, they still would like to see them at some point during the week. The reasons vary from "inspecting their appearance" to mandatory training sessions.

"Techs report every Monday only to the office so we can see, feel, and touch them," said Hank Bloom. "One time a week is good to go over paperwork and any job issues. You can tell a lot by just seeing them in person."

Arthur Pickett said he prefers not to see his technicians, but he knows they will show up once in a while. "The hope is we will only see them once a week, but we usually see them every third or fourth day," he said. "Ninety percent of our territory is within a 20-mile radius of the shop."

Larry Taylor knows that techs will show up for reasons other than training or to check their grooming. "Our techs will come by the office at different times during the week to pick up special order parts," he said.

"At one of these events we will obtain all invoices, time sheets, money, etc and drop off any supplies, etc. required.

"They will come in on Friday mornings for a service meeting, paperwork, parts, truck inspections, truck washing, oil changes, etc."

Jim Hussey wants technicians to bring in their vehicles and get some training, both ideas motivated by safety issues.

"Our techs visit our office only once a month and that is only so that we can conduct a safety meeting and inspect our vehicles and equipment," he said.

Jeff Somers said his technicians come in on an as-needed basis. "The only technicians that absolutely need to come to the office for materials or equipment come in and they are, usually, the technicians that live within a 15-mile radius of the office," he noted.

Seeing Their Smiling Faces

Two ofThe NEWS' consultants like to see their service technicians all of the time –– and for different reasons. Training, grooming, and demographics play key roles.

"The service techs come to the office four out of five days and then head out to their first call," said Kevin Comerford. "Monday is the only day they head straight to their first call.

"Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday is training, i.e. one day is communication training (role playing), another day is technical training, one day is logistical, and another is motivational.

"I do like to have the guys come in so we can see what they look like. When they come in it gives us an opportunity to communicate with them and get them focused if need be. I feel that if a tech goes straight to their call every day, you lose touch with them and they lose touch with what you want them to be doing daily."

Scott Getzschman said that geography plays a big role in why he asks service technicians to come to the office on most days. But he said his situation is different from bigger metropolitan areas.

"During our peak periods we will have our technicians paged from the office the night before their first call so they can actually begin their day leaving from their home," he noted.

"But that is only if we have something that logistically makes sense. Otherwise, we have them bring their invoices in and they start their day leaving the office.

"In a more rural setting like we have, where we may travel 75 miles one way for a call, it doesn't always make sense to dispatch them from their home. We want to make sure they can take everything possible with them to complete the call.

"I personally feel it is more efficient for the tech to be dispatched from their home. And if you were in a metro location I feel it would be the very best way to handle the call load."

From home to jobsite or home to office? If you have an opinion, contact John R. Hall at johnhall@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 10/24/2005