You've read many articles about the shortage of skilled technicians in our field. Did you know there is an easy way for a company to increase the number of skilled technician productive hours by between 6 percent and 10 percent - and improve the company's bottom line in the process?

When it finally turned hot here in St. Louis, I made it a point to drive by a few competitors' shops early in the morning. It was very interesting to see how many contractors still have their service techs come into the office before going to their first job. Some contractors are convinced that they have to personally say good morning to all of their service techs before they dispatch them to their first job.

Let me state my position on this practice right here. Service techs should be dispatched directly to their first call without coming into the office. To begin, when in so many households both people work, it can be a great convenience to your customers to be able to provide an early first call. (Our first call is at 7 a.m.) This cannot be done regularly if the service techs come into the office.

Besides the obvious benefit to the customer, the benefits to the company are numerous. Despite all of your efforts to the contrary, a service tech that comes into the shop will always end up wasting an extra 30 to 45 minutes of time for "legitimate" reasons - getting parts, checking on calls, etc. - and this time costs money.

If your charge-out rate is $80 per hour, 30 minutes of lost time costs the company $40. Now add in the additional miles on the truck and the additional gasoline, and you can see that in a short time a lot of money can be lost.

I am not just opposed to bringing the service techs in first thing, I am opposed to them coming in anytime. That's right, a service tech's time is too valuable to your company to come into the shop, go to parts houses, etc. This speaks to the need for parts runners. Our runners restock the tech's trucks in the field and pick up paperwork on a regular basis. Therefore, the need for the service tech to come into the shop is reduced to the monthly service meeting.

We've found, too, that utilizing parts runners is an excellent method to audition future service techs. We are able to determine, early on, the work ethic and reliability of an individual before we spend big money indenturing him/her into the apprentice program. In addition, it introduces them to our industry.

Get Involved

Dispatching the techs directly to the job requires a little effort on the part of the service manager and dispatchers. Some techs obviously need more one-on-one attention and hand-holding than others. It is up to the dispatcher and manager to recognize who these people are and give them a little more attention on the two-way radios. It's important that just because they are dispatched directly to a job, they are not made to feel they aren't part of the company. This is where the attention of the dispatcher, manager, and the owner is important.

We keep detailed statistics and monitor the performance aspects of all of our service techs. I review the results and send a personal note congratulating them on exceptional performance. This helps to let them know that even though we don't see them each day, they are an important part of our team.

If you are not already having your techs go directly to the job, it may be difficult for you to make the transition. If that's the case, then I suggest you put it into effect gradually by having them go directly to two or three jobs per week and gradually work up to the point when they don't need to come in at all. While this may be a drastic change in your routine, the results will make it worthwhile. The hardest part isn't changing the techs; the hardest part is convincing yourself of the need for the change.

Guest columnist Butch Welsch operates Welsch Heating & Cooling in St. Louis. He can be reached by e-mail at

Publication date: 08/09/2004