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Training & Technology Ramp Up Efficiency

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To increase your team’s efficiency, try using a winning combination of training and technology.  Employing both could boost your bottom line, says contractors in the know.

Magic Touch Mechanical, Inc., Mesa, AZ, recently joined a best practices group and began the process of cross-training team members so they all could work more symbiotically, and each would know what the other is doing—and why, explains Rich Morgan, president,

“Dispatch was our first department to receive training and to implement the newly learned best practices,” he says. “As a result, we implemented processes that allowed us to separate duties of our CSRs and our dispatchers—previously there was a lot of crossover that created inefficiency.”

The company, which was founded in 1997, provides HVAC, energy audits, and home improvement services to residential and light commercial clients throughout the greater Phoenix metro area.

“Ongoing training, while a significant financial and time investment, is worth every penny and every minute,” Morgan insists. “We’ve always made a significant investment in training and will continue to increase our investment year after year. The results are self-evident.”

Last January, the company implemented new software that takes better advantage of the new processes. “While it is still a work in progress, the improvements have been apparent and noticed by the entire team,” Morgan says.

Real-Time Information

CARJON Air Conditioning and Heating Inc., in Smithfield, RI, first handed out tablets to technicians in 2010 and moved to iPads in 2012, says Carissa DiMuccio-Haddad, operations manager.

“We’ve gone paperless, which enables the technicians to upload documentation in real time,” she says, “and we can see it instantaneously. Years ago, we used to have the technicians hand in their paper invoices and payments every day.  Now they may come into the office once a week. The rest of the time they leave from home and go straight to their first calls. We don’t need them to drop off all that paperwork.”

She cites two additional advantages of this system:

Replenishing materials. “The parts technicians use are automatically uploaded to the office,” DiMuccio-Haddad says. “Our warehouse manager fills the parts and sets them aside so, when technicians do come into the office, they can replenish their trucks.”

Dispatching. Once they finish a job, technicians automatically receive information about next jobs on their iPads. Previously, a dispatcher had to relay information, usually just explaining the problem. “Now technicians can see the customer’s information, where they are going, the last service call, and special notes, including where to access the equipment.  It’s all there,” she says.

According to DiMuccio-Haddad, technicians every Friday receive dashboards that list their billing efficiency for the week, which includes how many hours they took to complete a job. She indicates technicians respond pretty well to the subsequent conversations and can usually predict what topics will be covered.  They often respond with, “Yeah, I forgot to charge for that” or “That repair just didn’t go as planned; every hitch that I could run into, I ran into.”

The dashboard, which compares current billing efficiency to the last year, also details how many system enhancements they sold, their bonus for those enhancements, and how many WTGs they received. She explains WTGs or “way to go’s” are compliments a technician receives from customers through calls or emails.

“If someone has a low billing efficiency, I know they are probably forgetting to document repairs and charge for them—or they might be a really green tech,” DiMuccio-Haddad says. “What would take a really seasoned tech to wind up quickly might take an inexperienced tech longer.”

DiMuccio-Haddad likes to practice prevention at CARJON, which has 44 employees and primarily offers heating and air, installation and service, to Rhode Island residents. “Prevention is easier and more effective than fighting fires,” she emphasizes. “If you can prevent your daily hiccups, you will become more efficient than if you have to respond to daily hiccups as they happen. We try to put preventive procedures in place to make our days go smoothly.”

A Two-Way Street

At Hoff Heating & Air Conditioning in O’Fallon, MO, increasing efficiency is a joint effort, says Bryan Hoff, service manager/office manager.  “Improving our efficiency is part of our culture, because we’re all in this together. It’s a two-way street. I always tell technicians, ‘If there is something we can do better, let us know.’ And they do.”

A family business with 52 employees, the company was started 36 years ago by Bryan’s brother Henry and his wife. Today, five of the seven brothers are involved in the business, which is 75 percent residential. Of that, 50 percent is new construction, 25 percent replacement and 25 percent service. Sales total about $10 million annually.

Hoff believes one key to efficiency is finding the right people to begin with. “It starts with who you hire,” he emphasizes. “Hire people who take pride in what they do, because they want to be efficient.”

Implementing new technology is another time—and gas—saver, he says. “With our software, Fleetmatics by Verizon, we have GPS tracking. When a call comes in, the software pulls up the area where the call is and dispatch can see quickly how close it is to one of our technicians. If it’s five minutes away, we might do it next to save gas. If it’s in a different town, we might go to a different day.”

He explains the company, about 30 miles west of St. Louis, provides service to customers in a 50-mile radius from the office. “We have a huge service area,” he says. “When a call comes in, we can look at the dispatch board and quickly see when we will be in that area, so we can group our calls together.”

Improved technology offers scheduling flexibility, he says. “We can get more jobs done. When I first hired on, we figured an hour and a half a call so at most six calls a day.  Now if we have three calls within shouting distance, we can schedule anywhere from 8 to 10 calls a day during the summer. We can schedule more calls by having the ability to group them together.”

For contractors who would like to improve their team’s efficiency, Hoff offers this advice: “Figure our what area is your biggest challenge and what resources you need to dedicate to get the desired level,” he says. “Is it inventory? Scheduling? Paperwork? Once you identify the area, prioritize your resources.”

Time Wasters

To improve efficiency, Hoff Heating & Air Conditioning once tried scheduling an equipment delivery for new construction the day before installation was to begin. The reasoning, explains Bryan Hoff, service manager/office manager, was simple: “Our guys could drive straight from their homes to the job sites, do the work, and go home.

“In theory,” he continues, “that would have saved a lot of money except what we found is the houses were delayed at the last minute. Then we had to take all the equipment back. We ended up losing money with people driving back and forth delivering equipment.”

The company soon dropped that efficiency measure.

Carissa DiMuccio-Haddad, operations manager, CARJON Air Conditioning and Heating Inc., finds it frustrating when technicians must stop a repair job and fetch a part they should already have on their truck, either because they didn’t mark it for replenishing or because the office forgot to pull it. “If they have to go to the supply house for a simple, generic capacitor, they’re wasting probably a good hour. That gets my goat.”

Another time waster, according to Rich Morgan, president, Magic Touch Mechanical, Inc., is “lack of team cohesiveness, whether that involves double-entry of data or dropping the ball on a job site, because of a lack of communication. It stands out like a sore thumb after the fact when it happens,” he says, “and it stands out in a positive way when done properly, and we all see the results.”

Margo Vanover Porter
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Posted In: ACCA Now, Management

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