Lately, interest in preparing service businesses for potential sale from consolidation efforts in the industry has increased. Many owners are paying attention to market trends and polishing up their businesses so they “shine” when potential buyers appear. They know you can't get a business ready to sell and receive that one shot for a significant payoff by waiting until the night before a meeting with buyers. They have been fine-tuning their businesses for months or years, and they are ready. The Maio team is busy assisting those who want help with the process.

What about the service business owners not interested in all this consolidation talk; those who do not want to consider selling? Surprisingly, they are working on their businesses, too.

What I have concluded is that it doesn't make any difference whether the fix-up efforts are in preparation to sell or as a strategy to increase both revenue and market share. In both cases, the preparation is the same and the results are similar: more cash, greater return on investment, more leisure time and more peace of mind. Fixing up the business, as I call it, is a no-lose strategy. Sell or not sell, make the business look and run like a million dollars.

I have been speaking and writing about various aspects of this fix-up process, usually in depth about different techniques to assure that the business runs with minimal management time spent on putting out fires. Now, I would like to approach making your business all the success you want it to be using a sweeping approach that allows you to identify weak areas (which you can then remedy).

I want to provide you with a checklist for many of the common activities in a service business that can, if updated, contribute directly and quickly to increased profits. Let's review the key areas one at a time.

Checklist For Call-Taking

The first contact your customers have with your business is on the telephone. First impressions are critical. If the caller gets a hint that the business may be less than professional in the way it is run, forget that business. He or she will hang up and not call back - a missed opportunity for a service appointment.

All the advertising, truck signage, customer referrals, goodwill and all your other company expenditures and assets are wasted if the customer calling with a problem is not convinced that your company is his or her best solution (within a matter of seconds). Let's go through the key elements of effective call-taking. Use the list to measure your company's effectiveness in taking calls.

  • Trained customer service representatives
  • A polished script
  • Strict adherence to the script (train and monitor)
  • Friendly, helpful voices
  • Customer data acquired quickly and courteously
  • NO PRICE QUOTATIONS on the telephone
  • Close the service appointment
  • Coordinate with dispatch
  • All necessary information to technician

By comparing what works best with what actually occurs in your company, then correcting any deviations from proven techniques, you will be able to make sure your call taking team is contributing its share to the success of the business.

Checklist For Trucks

Once the service call is booked, trucks roll. Are your trucks maximizing your investment? Do they make it easier for technicians to do their job, or does the technician have to work around barriers presented by the trucks? Look at your operation and compare it to the following checklist.
  • Efficient “rolling warehouse” trucks
  • Good condition, clean-looking
  • Full inventory; commonly used equipment and materials on board
  • Equipment arranged for easy access; matching warehouse labels and layout
  • Signage effective for building and maintaining company name recognition
  • Vehicle maintenance program to operate economically
  • Direction finding equipment - GPS
  • GPS tracking/coordination with dispatch
  • Effective communication/computer system

An efficient truck operation can cut costs, make the technician's job easier, build the image of the business and increase customer confidence in the company.

Checklist For Technicians

Regardless of the efficiency of the trucks, the technicians who operate them and interact with the customers at their home represent a key part of the equation for success. There are numerous areas we can discuss when identifying ways to improve customer service from the way technicians perform their jobs. Let's look at some of the fundamental elements of employing professional technicians.
  • Professional appearance: clean-cut, uniforms, document cases
  • Respects customer's property, doesn't track dirt inside
  • Trained to interact with customers courteously
  • Able to thoroughly diagnose the problem and explain it to customers
  • Experienced with sharing pricing information with customers from flat rate manual
  • Doesn't leave jobsite in the middle of the job
  • Looks for legitimate additional add-on work
  • Sells service agreements
  • Paid by incentive
  • Motivated to spend the time to do the job right, by the book
  • Encourages repeat business
  • Cleans work area when completed

Although not a comprehensive list, following this checklist will address most of the problem areas with technicians - the ones that cost the company business, now and in the future.

Checklist For Staff

We can supplement the technicians' checklist with a few other considerations for all employees.
  • Motivated by managers/owner to perform well
  • Familiar with latest efficient software and “paperless” processing of data
  • Incentive and bonus pay systems
  • Meetings to resolve problems and set direction
  • Recognition of excellence demonstrated
  • Performance appraisal and coaching
  • Opportunities for advancement and training
  • Professional work environment

Checklist For Accounting

Closely related to the staff checklist is the system for recordkeeping/accounting. So let's add a few items to the staff list for the accounting people.
  • Up-to-date software
  • Data accessible on a daily basis
  • Reports for management decisions available
  • Support for management planning, projections and budgeting
  • Cash flow analysis

Checklist For Advertising

No business would prosper without some source of generating customers. Advertising is especially important for service businesses. Customers can easily find some other company to solve their problem, so obtaining and keeping customers through customer loyalty is essential. Let's look at some guidelines for advertising to assure our advertising dollars are not wasted.
  • Track all ads for effectiveness, by ad and by Yellow Pages book
  • Drop ads that don't produce
  • Design, or have designed, customer-grabbing action ads that generate business
  • Avoid promises of “free estimates”
  • Avoid cluttered ads that mention every brand of appliance or home equipment
  • Use photos of a manager or owner
  • Promise - and deliver - fast service
  • Use trucks with reflective signs to spread the company name
  • Use stickers on appliances in the home so the customer can quickly call your company in the future
  • Remind customers of specials with mailers and fol low-up calls

By taking opportunities to generate business that are often cost-effective, such as mailers and service agreements, you can build business without dramatically increasing your advertising budget.

Overall Practices

One common thread that you may have noticed is the element of training personnel to assure professional work standards and performance. If the call- takers aren't trained, you don't get the opportunity to demonstrate the excellent standards upheld by your technicians. If the technicians aren't trained, you lose the opportunity to get repeat business or profitable (and valuable to the customer) add-on business.

Your people can make a big difference, a profitable difference. Despite superior systems and procedures, they can make the biggest difference. Combining trained personnel with modern, proven systems is a winning formula for success. Apply the checklists to your operations. See what you find that can be improved. The time spent will yield a strong return on investment.