Where do you spend?

To keep your business growing and prosperous, a financial review by professionals will reveal where you spend your money. This process, completed quarterly, or more often if your business is growing rapidly, helps you manage expenses and exercise better control over your finances. It's difficult to make effective management decisions without good data.

When you review the financial data, one of the primary considerations is the return on investment you receive for the money you spend. For example, if you purchase a new truck, you will want to determine its useful life and the capability it will add to your business - and for how long, at what cost, etc. If you are spending money on assets that don't give you a good return for your investment, you should re-examine your decisions.

Best Returns

The better the return for the money you spend, the more profitable your business will be. So what should you be investing in? Naturally, you need good equipment to service your customers' systems; you need what will make your technicians productive and efficient.

However, there are some assets in our business that we occasionally take for granted, and that is the technicians themselves. Think about it. These individuals can make all the difference between a business with satisfied customers, negligible call-backs and job redos with a high percentage of repeat business, and a business that suffers from too low a percentage of jobs booked and lots of call-backs for reworking a job. Those people are more than technicians.

These days, technicians have to be salespeople and public relations staff, plus be able to perform service and repair jobs competently and efficiently. They are the only people your customers see. They are certainly assets in your business, and important ones at that. Since they are significant assets, you should cautiously acquire them (good hiring practices), maintain them (provide motivation, incentives and rewards for excellence) and, the one thing that machines and equipment are rarely able to do, expand their capabilities (training in the latest successful and proven customer-service techniques).

I describe your company's most valuable assets in this manner to point out that some business owners and managers tend to take the technicians for granted and spend much more time and resources reviewing their return on investment in machinery or facilities, and not on the company's technicians. One of the reasons is easy to understand. It is often thought that it is difficult to measure productivity of technicians before and after any specific training program. If the technician was unable to perform certain work before training and is able to do the job after training, it is clear that the training paid off for technical training. However, this is not always as easy to see in customer service and sales training.

Customer Service

Training for better customer service, higher close rates for jobs quoted and more add-on business seems more difficult to track. It seems less tangible. But that doesn't mean you can afford to skimp on training technicians in the part of their job that can most affect your business' bottom-line profits. And it is possible to track the return directly by observing an increase in business, more repeat business and a higher level of customer satisfaction. It just requires a slightly longer-term perspective.

Without training in modern and proven customer-service methods, your business risks being left behind in your market while the competition builds its business by meeting and exceeding customer expectations.

For instance, technicians who are unfamiliar with properly quoting prices using a flat rate manual or selling service agreements are leaving money on the table at the customer's home - your money. I look at technicians as people who perform many functions: repair and technical work, of course, but also they are salespeople and ambassadors for your business. They, like any other salespeople or ambassadors, need training in the best way to handle a multitude of circumstances they encounter every day. Looking at experienced technicians' backgrounds, you are more likely to see they have far more technical training than they do training in dealing with customers. You can't be there, so they have to be prepared to handle these situations involving your customers.

What Kind Of Training?

A technician is less likely to have a technical challenge they need assistance with than a customer-service challenge. They may not even recognize the customer's concerns and miss opportunities to better serve them. Technical assistance is relatively easy to provide, but the customer interaction has to be successful the first time, on the spot, with no second chances. That's why the type of training they receive is so important - there are no second chances.

There is a lot more to training technicians than inviting a vendor in to talk about equipment and products while providing a box of doughnuts to the participants. The training that technicians receive should be much more comprehensive. Specifically, technician training should include exposure to the environment at trade shows where they can see vendors' products, seminar training in techniques that have been proven to work in other service and repair businesses, and training in specialized techniques, such as service agreements, flat rate pricing or looking for additional business on every call.

Some companies have recognized that coaching or private training is beneficial for technicians who need to grasp the concepts required to be successful on the job in front of the customer.

If there is one area I have found technicians continually weak, it is in sales techniques. After accompanying technicians on numerous calls, I discovered that many cannot even make a respectable sales presentation. It's not their fault, though; they were never given the training. And they don't have the proper materials in most cases. How can they be expected to produce results if they are not given the opportunity and are not prepared to maximize customer satisfaction and build business? Don't send your team out to the customers unable to do the job. It makes no difference how good the technician may be at service and repair work if they can't make the sale.

The Logistics

Often it works better if the technicians get away from the business to complete the training. Whether it is a seminar training program in your hometown, or if you need to send the technicians to another city, get them to a location where they concentrate on the training. If you are going to get a good return on your investment in training, they need to focus their energies on the training.

Topics that should be reviewed in technician training are wide-ranging. The technicians should see ways to handle objections, husband/wife interaction, landlord/tenant issues, even how to pull the truck up in front of the customer's home. All the things that we sometimes take for granted or assume all the technicians can handle need to be reviewed - with questions answered - before you can expect your technicians to be ready to help build your business.

Not surprising is the fact that the technicians both enjoy and absorb the training. Given a chance, they want to excel. They want to earn more and generate more business for your company.

One issue does surface, though. How do you scrape together the funds? Excellent return on investment or not, the investment needs to come from somewhere.

One of the techniques we used at Maio was to build training costs into the budget for the business. To make it simple to account for, we used a program where training funds are contributed from each job the technician completes. For example, we set aside $2.50 from each job for technician training. In fact, the technicians had their own training accounts - funds they could use for training. The more jobs completed, the greater the amount in the training fund. They had a part in the decision on which courses they attended, as long as the courses were related to their job. The company had an approved list, so they just applied and were given the funds from their training account to pay for the training.

Incidentally, if they left the company they did not get to keep the funds. Nor could they use the money for concerts or religious events, or anything other than training.

The simple plan set aside sufficient funds to provide for all the training needed for technicians. And it was relatively painless to apply. It all was automatically accounted for from each job.

When you have a high rate of return on an investment, stocks, bonds or other investment vehicles, you try to contribute the maximum amount available in that investment. The same analysis is available for investments in training technicians in your company. The training pays off, so don't overlook the returns available.