You can make "superstars" out of your existing team of technicians.

When you think of performance standards, the thought of evaluating your employees should come to mind. Not a favorite activity? You're not alone. Whether it's managers, accountants or technicians, filling out performance appraisal forms is often skipped or unwillingly done once a year, if at all. However, when I talk about performance standards, I want you to look at more than a few minutes of reluctantly scribbling some comments on a form and rating your people. Setting a standard for performance should be a priority. It should be done for every department, and it need not be drudgery.

Most service business owners know good performance when they see it, particularly from technicians. They know who is doing top quality work and who is just getting by. Naturally, we all wish we had more top performers, and if we could replace the "third-string" workers with "stars" we would. But since you can't accumulate a shop of all-stars, your next best alternative is to work with the team you have assembled - and turn them into stars.

I have found some techniques to help develop the average performers into stars. At the same time, it is important to determine who is not going to make it as a successful technician representing your company. The process begins by understanding what it takes for an employee - especially a technician - to do an exceptional job.

Defining Performance

I'm sure it may be more complicated than this, but I have identified two key ingredients to success for a technician. First, he needs the job skills. Not just the technical know-how and experience, but the other job skills that, like technical skills, must be taught. Selling skills, customer service skills and the other "people" skills are also required of a professional technician today. When you send technicians into customers' homes without those skills, you are sending them as unprepared as if they lacked the technical skills to perform the service and repair work requested.

The other half of the equation is to have the attitude, the desire, the motivation - call it "will" if you want to - that makes a technician want to do his best. Best meaning satisfying the customer and making your company look like the professional operation it is. It means taking the extra time and trouble to show the customer that his service and repair job is the most important job the technician will complete that month.

Customers can tell if that winning attitude is present in your technician. They know from his approach to his work and from his dealings with them that he:

  • wants to be there doing that job;

  • is concerned that the customer's home receives the attention it deserves; and

  • will do his best to fix whatever is wrong in the most professional way possible.

You and I have seen people work who we trust and feel confident they will do a top quality job - even if we don't know everything about what they are doing. And that's the important part, the feeling that everything is being done professionally.

That part of the technician's performance is, ironically, more important than the technician's expertise with a wrench or screwdriver. The reason is simple: Customers are usually not familiar enough with the work that needs to be done to determine whether professional standards were used or not. It seems backward but it's true. The appearance and manner in which the job was performed can affect the customer's perception of whether he received good value for his money.

Let's look at how we can take these two elements of performance, skills and attitude, and develop them, measure them and make them work for us.

The Right Stuff

The first step toward maximizing the performance of your technicians is to apply the same standards and concern for customer service skills as we do for technical knowledge and training. We can't skimp here and expect our customers to be satisfied and call us again.

The only way I know how to update technicians' customer service skills is through training. The training does not have to be expensive - there are audio and video courses. Nor does it have to take much time away from work. If you want to begin setting the tone in your company for top quality customer service, you could begin with some in-house training at company meetings. Technicians could role play their solutions to common customer situations - greeting the customer, looking up prices in the flat rate manual, selling add-on jobs or service agreements, etc.

These brief exposures to the latest customer service techniques will start the momentum to produce technicians who have the necessary skills to satisfy your customers. As time and budget permits, increase the level of training so your technicians become known for their professional practices.

Skills can be learned through training programs. But what can you do about making "adjustments" in your technicians' attitudes? Is there a magic trick to motivate them to do the best job? No magic, but some common sense.

Most of us do things we like or are interested in. And we do more if we get something out of the activity. I have always been surprised at how hard a "tired" employee will play softball or engage in some other sport or hobby they like. I guess when it's fun they have plenty of motivation and energy. Also, they get something back. For instance, in a ball game they enjoy the feeling of winning. They work hard for the team. Star players are recognized by their teammates for excellent plays; for a moment, they enjoy the "spotlight" of success. Given the chance, they would like to be in that spotlight again.

You can take an average "team" of technicians and turn them into stars if you give them a chance to be in that spotlight on the job. The same elements they enjoy in off-hours can be applied to the job. For example, public praise for good customer service in front of the team will encourage the "star" to repeat his extra effort at pleasing customers.

An incentive for winning also helps. It's not the amount of the incentive as much as the recognition technicians receive that propels them to excel. (You have probably seen businesses that have special parking places or company plaques or pictures on bulletin boards-whatever it takes.) But you, as the manager, have to take the first step to offer the incentives and recognition needed. Let me give you some tips.

Putting It All Together

By preparing your team of technicians with the skills they need through training and then motivating them with recognition and incentives, you have most of your system for high performance put together. It won't happen overnight, but you are ready to push the competition aside in your market area by demonstrating that your customers get the best service.

The final element in your system is being able to measure the performance. To put the measurement portion of your system in place, you need to complete the following steps:

  • Let people know the standards. Make the standards for excellent performance clear and share them with your team.

  • Meetings are a good occasion to let technicians know what is expected and to begin training them. It is also an excellent time to reward the high performers.

  • Keep track of performance. If technicians know customers will be contacted to determine their satisfaction with the repair work after the job, they recognize you are serious about measuring customer satisfaction. Consistently poor performers will soon stand out.

  • Consistently reward excellent performance. If your decisions to reward winning technicians are not based on an objective measurement of their performance, the system will fail. You don't want technicians to be recognized only because they are favorites or based on rumor. You want a fair system.

There are many winners to setting up this simple, effective performance system. Your technicians have pride and confidence from doing top quality work. Your customers win because they receive the best service. And you build your business, your reputation and, of course, your profits. By outperforming your competition with your own "superstars," you will maintain your leadership position in the community and secure your financial future.