They’re on your heels, running almost as fast as you are — it’s the competition, trying to snatch your customers. If you stop to catch your breath, they’ll catch you for sure. Isn’t that how you feel sometimes, that running your business is a race?

You have to do everything you can these days to outdistance the other service and repair businesses by running a more effective team of technicians who give the best customer service available. For example, if you’re still pricing jobs using time and materials charges, you’re inviting customers to price-shop the materials at DIY outlets. Worse, you’re subjecting yourself to the risk of dissatisfied customers if neighbors find one of them paid a higher price for a similar job.

And once you have a flat rate pricing system in place, the next logical progression is selling service agreements. The advantages are numerous: build customer loyalty; get an opportunity to inspect customers’ homes for necessary service and repair jobs; build cash reserves (several thousand service agreements at $49 each add up); and keep technicians busy during slow business periods, etc.

As soon as potential customers discover a company who can offer better value, friendlier service or more of the services they need, they’ll call that company, not yours. Customers determine who wins the race in the marketplace.

Not-So-Secret Weapon: What you need is a not-so-secret weapon — something that will give you the edge, without having to worry about beating the competition every day. You’ve probably heard me mention it before because I am a firm believer in it. Your competitive edge is training. Your team needs to move forward together. Any one part of the team — technicians, dispatchers, call takers in particular — who either doesn’t know or isn’t applying the most effective practices available can keep your company from winning in the marketplace.

However, there is one team member who needs to be both familiar with the training available for other members of the team and be thoroughly trained themselves. And that’s you — the boss. If you don’t know what works and what doesn’t, how can you lead your team to victory in the marketplace? So the first candidate for training is the person you see in the mirror.

Specialized Training: As an owner/manager of a service and repair company, the areas you will cover in your training will differ from the training your technicians get. For example, your technicians need to know about the best way to show your customers prices in a flat rate manual, one which encourages them to give their OK to the job and at the same time induces them to purchase a service agreement.

You need to understand that approach, and, in addition, you need to be able to explain to technicians how any transition will affect them and why it is important. Keep in mind they are probably looking at the idea from the perspective of “what’s in it for me?”

You’ll find it valuable to learn how to better motivate your technicians by implementing an incentive pay system, while at the same time learning how to avoid problems with minimum and overtime pay rates. Understanding how house brands can increase your margins on materials and eliminate price shopping on common appliances and household devices would also be a plus. Knowing what to stock on your trucks and how to simplify customer selection of brand name parts would save you money and time, too.

Once you and your technicians are trained, your call takers also need to be trained. If they are unaware of the modern methods you and your technicians will be applying to your business, they won’t maximize the effectiveness of the new ways of doing business. They play an integral part in the process. For example, they explain to callers how they save money with flat rate pricing and they encourage them to ask about your company’s service agreement program. All elements of the new and powerful techniques must be in place and work in unison.

Other Techniques: Since your largest investment in advertising (maybe your only one) is in the Yellow Pages, it only makes sense to learn how to, first, reduce your advertising expenses, then understand how to determine exactly how much business you get from each ad in each Yellow Pages book. That way you’ll know whether to renew (or maybe negotiate a lower price on) any ad. If you aren’t tracking responses, how do you know they are working for you?

Are you able to dispatch dozens of trucks with only one dispatcher, and avoid having all your technicians hear each dispatch assignment so they can second-guess it? You need a modern, easy-to-use computer system to do it. What about keeping track of technicians’ tools: do you issue technicians any tool anytime they request it? If you don’t have both a system and a policy, your tools could be walking out the door faster than you can buy them.

If you knew ways to reduce your uniform costs, you could keep the savings, plus eliminate a lot of headaches from ruined uniforms. Some other profit-making ideas would include ways to effectively handle jobs requested by renters; offer instant credit for most jobs and ways to arrange credit for large jobs; reduce complaints from customers’ spouses who return home and question repair invoices would be handy to know; and inspect your customers’ homes for needed service and repair work. It would be nice to enjoy average invoices that were twice the industry average, and at the same time have one of the industry’s lowest record of complaints.

Stick With Proven Methods: The above techniques are only a fraction of those that owners/managers of competitive service and repair businesses need to know and be able to implement in their businesses in the coming years. However, decision-makers sometimes hesitate to attend training programs. I guess it’s because they don’t know whether the information being presented is only theoretical or whether they will be able to apply the techniques to their business . . . and make them work.

Despite tangible proof that these techniques work (read that as more profit for your business), there are always skeptical business owners who resist change. They question whether such practices would work in their city. The fact is that there are thousands of businesses nationwide that are using the successful methods I’ve just outlined — maybe even your competition. You can’t afford to delay. More importantly, what do you have to lose? For whatever reason, you can always return to your former practices, though I have never encountered anyone who wanted to. If you commit to changing your business, these success techniques will work for you.