“In fiction: we find the predictable boring. In real life: we find the unpredictable terrifying.” ― Mokokoma Mokhonoana
I’m going to make the argument that the #1 reason why running a service business is difficult (especially for HVAC contractors) is unpredictability. Here’s my case:
As an industry we understand seasonality impacts our business. We know which months will typically be slow/busy based on the weather, but we still can’t tell exactly when the weather will throw us for a loop. Take a look at this chart:
These are temperatures for the first week of May in my hometown (Rochester NY) over the past 4 years. 2015 was warm, AC units were turned on, and AC service spiked. This year, not so much. Same week, different year, different results.
I didn’t need a chart to tell you what you live every day. I’m just driving home the obvious point that the weather, which drives service, is an unpredictable factor you will always have to contend with.
Professionally maintained or not, mechanical systems break down. Despite the promises of smart HVAC systems, neither homeowners nor contractors know when a breakdown will occur. Breakdowns are (for the most part) unpredictable. You never know when a rash of breakdowns might happen in your service area all at once, or worse yet, when few (or no) breakdowns happen in your service area for a period of time.
I had one contractor tell me there are days they can’t keep up with the phones and others he wonders if the phone company disconnected him because it was so so quiet (those are scary days, aren’t they?)
Unlike the weather, timing of breakdowns, and unforeseen circumstances, your techs’ behavior is (more so) in your control. You can gain predictability from consistency.
You’ve all experienced a service call that has gone sideways. One that seemed routine when you dispatched it but turned for the worse once your tech started the job. Does this sound familiar? Your tech repairs an expansion tank then finds the release valve is bad. They have to quote the homeowner an additional $200 and 30 minutes of work to replace the valve. Customer gets angry and asks to speak to the boss. You end up fighting the good fight only to give a discount to calm the customer. Who knew the call would end that way? It’s always a possibility, but knowing which calls will end like that is a crap shoot.
On top of all the unpredictability outlined above, add in your techs. Do they remember to offer a maintenance agreement on every call? Do they put on their booties before entering the house every time? Do they complete 100% of their paperwork? My guess is on occasion (maybe more often than that) they skip (or forget) steps. Their behavior is… unpredictable. But what if we could change this behavior?
Consistency = Predictability
Think about how much easier it would be if you knew on every service call, every tech was performing the actions you wanted. Sounds wonderful right? As you know, that’s no easy task.
Consistency Takes Effort
You and team have to decide to be consistent because it will take effort. First, you have to put in the effort to define the actions you want your team to take on every call. Then your team has to make the effort to take those actions every time. You can try motivating your team to take the desired actions, but motivation tends to wane over several weeks. What you really need to do is create habits.
There’s a lot of research on creating habits but it basically boils down to a trigger, action, and reward.
The trigger, also known as the cue, is the event that starts the action.
This is the behavior to be performed.
This is the benefit the person receives from completing the action.
All three elements are required for a habit or routine to be formed.
Let’s work through a simple example:
Let’s say you want your techs to put on booties before entering every customer’s house. This is the action you want to create a habit around. What should the trigger be? How about the front door? That would be a good trigger. Every time your tech sees a customer’s front door, that’s their signal to put on the booties. The reward in this case is the peace of mind the tech receives knowing that their customer won’t complain to you about stained or dirty floors.
Life is pretty unpredictable. Think Murphy’s Law. Many times things don’t go the way we want. Weather, equipment and unforeseen circumstances can add up to a lot of…challenges. One way to make things more predictable is to add consistency to the mix. It’s not an easy feat but can pay huge dividends for your service business. For more on consistency click here.