Simple Techniques Bring Fast Results
A couple of years ago, I attended a technician customer service training class by Joe Cunningham, president at Successtrack Network. Joe talked about the importance of consistency in every aspect of the HVAC business. One example he used was McDonald’s, and their ability to remain the undisputed juggernaut of the fast food industry.

Joe made the case that it was the consistency of this organization that led to their success, above anything else. Consistency in everything they do, from dipping fries to hiring new employees, allows for McDonald’s customers to get the same experience regardless of which store they happen to be in. From Tallahassee to Sacramento, a Big Mac tastes like a Big Mac, and that’s what keeps them on top.

As for their hiring and training program, it’s quite simple; it takes less than two weeks to train an employee at McDonald’s. They can achieve such quick results because of the clarity of their procedures and processes. McDonald’s uses pictures and diagrams to show how to build a Big Mac. It’s that easy.

Joe’s story got me thinking about implementing a similar system within my HVAC company. Can we bring someone completely green in and have them running service within a couple of weeks? It’s not that easy, but we can come close.

One of the most important steps in this process is organizing our service vans. Why is it so important to have a well-stocked and organized service van? One reason is productivity. A service technician who has no problem finding parts, supplies, or tools is a productive worker. A service technician that stays out of the supply houses is less likely to engage in the normal supply house gossip, and is less likely to get recruited by other companies. The other reason is great customer service. Customers are always happy to hear, “Don’t worry; I’ve got the part right here on my van to get you up and comfortable, as soon as possible!”

TIP #1 – Just like in a restaurant, you should have a back of the house (back of your vans) and a front of the house (drivers section). The front of the house should only include items like: flat rate pricing guide, equipment pricing guide, invoices, service forms, manuals, laptop and/or ipad. A good shelving system is essential to keeping this area of your service van neat and orderly. It’s important to keep the front of the vans free of clutter and trash. A process where everything has its own place will ensure that this happens. See Figure 1.

The back of the house should be uniform throughout with the entire fleet of service vans. The shelving system should be the same for every van. If contactors are placed in the top right shelf of one van, then contactors should be placed in the same top right shelf on all the vans. If you run into a situation where one of your service vans has a breakdown, a technician can easily transfer his tools to another van and be on his way without having to train himself where all the parts and supplies are on the new van. This will make your vans very easy to restock as well. Another scenario where uniform organization in your fleet will come in handy would be when a new technician is training and riding along with another technician. The new technician can easily, within weeks, learn where everything is located in all of the vans.

TIP #2 – Use your software program to help with the organization of your vans or trucks. Make a map of your van, giving each shelf a code and then assign these codes to your inventory parts. This will allow easy restocking, even by a member of your staff who may not really know what they ‘re handling. Using this system, they’ll know where the parts are stored. Desco’s ESC software offers an aisle and bin assignment for stock part numbers in addition to min/max quantity levels. This makes restocking as simple as pulling one report that shows what to order, how much, and where on the van it should go.

TIP #3 – Leave plenty of room for the technician’s tools. Technicians love their tools, and they need room to organize and keep them safe. When we first implemented a uniform fleet, we had a little resistance for this very simple reason. Technicians are creatures of habit, and they may actually consider it a part of their life’s work getting their van exactly how they like it, so be careful in how you approach this. Giving them large swaths of open space near a door will probably alleviate their concerns. Also, remember to stress the positives of this change to your technicians.

1. Make a map: Front of the store and Back of the store.

2. Incorporate your software to assign parts a place on your map.

3. Be mindful of your technicians need to keep a part of his van his own.

Learning from McDonald’s and applying their approach to consistency can greatly improve our industry, if we would only give it a shot.

Neil Gerrald, service operations manager; and Jeremy Price, logistics manager, Aloha Aire Heating & Cooling, Texarkana, TX. 903/832-5642.

Be Organized, Be Creative
When I first started in the business 15 years ago, we didn’t need a lot of different parts. Parts were universal. Filters took up less space on a service truck, leaving more than adequate room for universal parts that work on any brand unit. Times have changed, and the amount of test equipment we use today requires additional space in a truck.

Today’s service and installation truck is different than in the past. It looks like a parts store that specializes only in filters. There are so many different types and brands of filters on the market today, that keeping an adequate supply requires most of the truck space. Some of the van and truck space is used for universal parts such as contactors, capacitors, rescue motors, and a few other parts. Tools and test equipment take up a large part of the work truck or van. There’s not much space to move around, so technicians need to be very organized and creative. Organizational bins are used tin the trucks for all of the small parts like pvc fittings, gas pipefittings, electrical connectors, and copper fittings.

One other problem that should be addressed is that most of the universal parts require some type of application and retrofit guide. The lack of space requires the technician to keep digital copies of product data and application materials to eliminate the need for literature racks, which creates another issue with keeping sales literature for customers. This is just another way the technician must become more organized and creative.

Glyn Strickland, technical manager, Estes Services., Atlanta, GA. 404/361/6560.