Ruth King knows her you-know-what.

By the time the president of American Contractors Exchange is through advising and consulting Bowen Refrigeration, Heating, and Cooling, here’s betting the Muskegon, MI, contracting firm will be vastly improved by Sept-ember (if not earlier) — especially if the winner of The News’ first-ever “Do You Want to Grow Your Business?” contest listens and follows through on King’s words of wisdom.

King, in my eyes, provides healthy business advice. (And, yes, that’s why The News selected King to provide the six months of consulting for our contest winner.) She always makes sense. And, that includes common sense, too.

Only You Can Prevent Burnout

King recently addressed an issue of importance via one of her weekly e-newsletters. In this particular installment of “Contractor Cents,” King passed along some solid tips on ways to keep employees motivated during the hot summer months. As she noted, it’s a fact that most companies generate the most profits during the “dog days of summer” (not to mention the freezing temperatures of the winter). However, those profits can evaporate quickly.

“If your technicians and installers burn out, they will make more mistakes. This means callbacks, warranty calls, unhappy customers, and worker’s comp claims,” said King. “Motivating employees during extreme weather conditions is a delicate balancing act. You need them to take care of your customers. However, you need to watch them to make sure that they do take a break and get time off to rest.”

So, what is a contractor to do? In King’s estimation, the first thing is to make sure that warranty and service agreement customers are taken care of first.

“Dispatch has to be good at saying ‘no’ without saying ‘no,’” is how she put it. “Let everyone know that you are taking care of these customers first. Remind them that service agreement customers write their paychecks. Without them, the technicians wouldn’t have a job.”

If you’re the boss, King strongly recommends that you say thank you — frequently.

“Let them know that you appreciate their hard work,” she said. “There are many ways to say thank you. It could be said in meetings. Publicly thank everyone for their hard work and let them know you appreciate their taking care of your customers.

“When you get customer appreciation letters, read them during the meetings. Post them on a bulletin board where everyone can see them.”

Her Advice is king

Other quick King comments:

  • Put notes in paychecks. “A handwritten note from you means a lot to them. A simple, ‘I appreciate your hard work this week,’ or ‘Thanks for going the extra mile this week. I know our customers appreciate it,’ takes only a few seconds to write. It pays many dividends.”
  • The dispatcher should also say thank you. “When technicians take extra calls and work overtime, he/she should thank the technician for doing it. I know that it is part of their job when it gets busy. However, a thank you goes a long way in getting that technician to take the next emergency call when he is already tired.”
  • Give the on-call person a break. This means if it is hot and the technician has worked all weekend, let him come in late Monday morning, she explained. “As long as he has given dispatch all of the information needed to follow up with the weekend calls, then if he is tired, let him sleep in. He won’t miss much pay, since he’s worked all weekend on overtime. This gives him a chance to rest.”
  • Look into starting a daily rotation, rather than a weekly rotation for the on-call schedule. “The technicians that I’ve spoken with like it,” said King. “It doesn’t tie them up for a week at a time. In the busier times, they don’t get burned out working every night until midnight.”
  • Above all, says King, keep an eye on the technicians.

    “If they start looking tired, start making mistakes, etc., then you have to give them some rest,” she advised. “I know of one company that had no one on-call one weekend during one busy summer. Everyone was burned out and needed to take a rest. They told their customers who called in. Amazing to them, the customers understood. They did have a backup for a true emergency situation, though. They didn’t lose any of their customers.”

    Take it from a lady who knows.

    Skaer is editor-in-chief. He can be reached at 248-244-6446, 248-362-0317 (fax); (e-mail).

    Publication date: 06/18/2001