When I say “the lack of training and systems can be disastrous,” it might sound a bit dramatic to you. I can assure you, however, that the quality of your training and systems can truly make or break your business, your reputation, the level of service you offer, safety on the job and your overall profitability.

To illustrate this point, a specific event comes to my mind. If you don’t remember (or haven’t heard of) the 1987 King’s Cross London Underground fire, 31 people died in what should have been a small, easy to manage fire in the transit station. It was allegedly started by a careless passenger who discarded a match they were using to light a cigarette as they were leaving on the wooden escalator.

As it was investigated, authorities discovered the tragedy could’ve been greatly minimized with better training and systems in place to handle such an occurrence, along with an overall better understanding of preparedness and communication between departments. Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, but there are multiple lessons to be learned from this unfortunate event.

 

Systematize everything

Even though flexibility and adaptability are essential in the home service industry, systems are the real key to a successful, profitable company. This applies to all levels and positions within the business, from sales to reporting to internal and external communications. When systems are in place, they help hold people accountable to their responsibilities, and everyone knows their role in any given situation.

One of the factors that led to the King’s Cross fire becoming such a disaster was the lack of communication and a misunderstanding of “whose job it was” to handle aspects of the situation. If there had been clear methods for who reports to whom, as well as exact protocols in place, the outcome could’ve been very different.

Think about where your company is lacking proper systems. Do you have specific documentation for handling customer complaints? Does everyone understand their roles and expectations? Do you have an iron-clad inventory system? Examine each area of your company and identify places that could use some clarity and written specifics. Systems greatly minimize unnecessary emotion, finger-pointing and confusion, and improve consistency, service and profitability.

 

Know how to use all your tools properly with training

London Underground employees actually had the tools to minimize the fire, but only knew how to use the fire extinguishers, which weren’t effective enough. The employees were so poorly trained regarding how to use the water fog equipment, which would’ve had more of an impact putting out the fire, they had to rely solely on the fire department to arrive (who in turn had been instructed to call only in case of a major emergency, even though “major emergency” is a relative concept).

In our industry, we understand the importance of technical training. You wouldn’t send an individual with zero technical knowledge to a job; there is risk of causing a flood, fire or creating another small issue. That doesn’t even factor in the monetary cost or the possible reputation damage. There are different levels of technical knowledge, however. I can guarantee there are products and services you offer that your techs and salespeople don’t feel completely excited to offer because they don’t have the technical knowledge or complete understanding to properly sell them. Think about all your offerings and why certain products and services aren’t sold as much as the others; you will find lots of untapped sales opportunities in those areas. Never underestimate the power of technical training paired with professional sales training and the impact it has on your numbers. Those two types of training, when used together properly, will always provide the results you are looking for.

 

Enforce and re-enforce your training and systems

In the case of the King’s Cross fire, smoking had actually been banned recently, but the law wasn’t regularly enforced, so people still smoked without being reprimanded. Imagine if someone was there stopping people from smoking in the terminal?

In our industry, you can’t just have training meetings when it’s convenient. You can’t enforce systems when it’s convenient. Usually the least convenient times to do things are when they need to be done the most. Skipping training meetings when it’s busy is one of the worst things you can do. That’s when you really need to refocus on what’s important so crucial steps aren’t being missed and team members aren’t providing subpar service.

Many owners and managers also make the mistake of thinking that if they’ve trained a team member on something once, they don’t need to ever mention it again. Re-enforcement of training, while consistently upholding your standards and scheduled meetings, will set the bar high for your team members and leave little room for excuses and poor results. Equally, letting your systems help you effectively manage the business, while not making too many exceptions, will provide similar results.

 

Don't wait for disaster to be your change catalyst

Obviously, the King’s Cross fire changed the way employees of the London Underground were trained, communicated with each other and what systems were put in place to handle multiple types of situations. Since fires hadn’t been a huge problem in the past, the transit system had gotten complacent and they weren’t really prepared for such an occurrence.

Change can be a great thing, but it doesn’t have to come as the result of a negative event; it should ideally be the result of proactive thinking and strategic actions. Think about some areas you’ve become complacent. Just because something “hasn’t been an issue in the past,” doesn’t mean you don’t need to be prepared. What if you said “my marketing is working just fine” 10 years ago and never changed it because it wasn’t a problem? You’d be left in the dust because you didn’t stay proactive. I’m not saying to live in fear of something bad happening; I’m encouraging you to look at every aspect of your company where you’ve gotten complacent because something might need to be changed. Make the changes you need to make now. You don’t wait for a service truck to be totaled to sign up for an insurance policy, do you? I hope not. Treat all aspects of your company like that. Don’t wait for a crucial team member to leave to systematize their position. Don’t put a tech into the field without the proper sales training just because you “need” to fill a truck right away. You get the idea.

Your company doesn’t need to be difficult to run, but many owners and managers make it harder than it needs to be due to lack of effective training and systematization. It doesn’t mean a disaster will actually occur, like in the case of the London fire, but it’s something to think about as you structure your business to serve your life, your team members and your clients to the fullest.

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