Did you know that more contractors go out of business as a result of the busy season than they do as a result of the slow season?

Incredible as it seems, it's true. Why is that?

I believe it's a result of tunnel vision, a condition your service techs get when your dispatcher says, "You have 16 calls to run today and no one goes home until they're all taken care of."

In essence, you're telling your techs to increase their average dollar amount per service call.

Rushing techs and long hours are the biggest causes of tunnel vision. It brings about a low average dollar amount per service call, mistakes, callbacks, accidents, unbillable time, high employee turnover rate, and results, ultimately, in some companies going out of business.

You don't make money by running calls. You make money only by maximizing your profitability on every call, one at a time. This means doing more work per call and, consequently, spending more time on every call. A consequence of this is that your techs will see fewer customers per day.

Will that hurt you? In the end, it should not. Not one bit.

Some might believe that if you can't get to the customer that day, they'll call someone else. Be advised, they already have. During the busy season, customers tend to call more than one company right off the bat, and the first to arrive takes the call. The rest of their service appointments are canceled.

So, what happens when one of your competitors reaches one of your previous customers before you do? Will you lose that customer permanently? It depends.

Provide Good Service And They Will Stay

Personally, when I was running a service company, I didn't worry about losing a call with one of my previous customers to a competitor. Why? Because the only bright side to most techs having tunnel vision is that your competitors' techs have it as well.

My competitor would go out there and do one task for "my" customer and turn a blind eye to everything else. The tech would do things like replace a contactor and leave the indoor and outdoor coils and blower wheel dirty. The tech would add refrigerant without repairing the leak. In the end, my competitor was not providing the ultimate service experience. It never even occurred to them to offer a service agreement.

Customers who have their entire system looked over and get everything that needs to be done completed on the same call are ultimately more satisfied than those getting the minimum amount of work done.

Look at your complaint records. You'll notice a pattern. As a rule, the most satisfied customers are those who spent the most money. Meanwhile, the least satisfied customers are those who spent the least. The ones that complain the loudest are usually the ones who paid your minimum charge only.

I knew that just because we couldn't get to a customer quickly enough, we didn't necessarily lose the customer permanently. All we lost was a call that we didn't have the time for anyway.

Customers tend to take the level of service they receive from top-notch contractors for granted. They think we're all alike. Sometimes a little taste of the real world brings the prodigal son home to stay.

Be Prepared

Now that we're coming up on the busy season, make sure you:

1. Don't rush your techs. Allow them to do everything that needs to be done in one call. You'll make more money and have more satisfied customers.

2. Don't overwork your techs. Most companies have a lower average dollar amount per service call during the busy season than they do during the slow season - late hours are the reason why.

3. Monitor your dispatcher. They're usually more concerned with not having to deal with irate customers who don't want to wait than they are with profitability. Their favorite tech tends to be the one who runs the most calls in a day, not the most profitable. Listen, and you'll hear threats - some veiled, some blatant - to get techs to either hustle or work late into the night.

4. Sell service agreements. Amen.

Guest columnist Charlie Greer is the creator of "Tec Daddy's Service Technician Survival School on DVD" and can be reached at 800-963-4822 or charlie@hvacprofitboosters.com.

Publication date: 04/19/2004