It’s a hard fact to accept, but your company’s service calls can be stolen by your employees. When I hear the pain in the voice of contractors who have fallen prey to their own staff stealing their calls, it’s sickening. Even if you haven’t been stung by it yourself, I’m sure you can understand the pain one feels when he’s been betrayed by an employee or employees stealing hard-earned calls away from the business.
It can be tough to detect but more times than not when I talk to the owner for a while he admits that he’s had a sinking feeling it’s been going on for a while. But he also admits he’s felt powerless, as if he were a hostage to his own staff. If he confirmed his fear, the consequences of finding out for sure might mean he, the owner, would have to climb back into the truck and run calls himself.
I want to make sure I contrast the stealing of calls from someone who is on your payroll vs. someone who leaves your company to set up his own shop. This is America and your employee is entitled to do the latter. If he does steal your customers, it’s because you haven’t built enough loyalty to you and your company. You can rightfully expect that the allegiance of the customers may go to the employee they’ve grown to know through the years. And there is a danger to that.
But at least it’s aboveboard. That is, unless the employee skipped out with your customer list, sensitive customer information or proprietary information, which is covered in your policy and procedures manual. This would mean he’s crossed the line. You are on solid ground to address what’s called “predatory practice,” meaning he’s targeting your customers alone. The same goes for getting relief if he’s violated copyright and intellectual property rights.
All bad things for sure, but what I believe is far worse is when employees still on your payroll are working in their own self-interest by pirating away calls that are rightfully the company’s so they can come back and do them on their own time.
Sometimes this unethical behavior is compounded by using the company’s vehicles and/or inventory to do this side work. The employees then pocket the money for themselves, denying the company the money it rightfully deserves from serving those who have called you seeking service or installation work from your company.
So, what can you do about it? Here are 10 suggestions:
- Set up mystery shoppers to confirm what your technicians are doing in the field. It’s the only true way to catch someone red-handed or at least put some fear into them by letting them know ahead of time these people exist. It helps to minimize the stealing of calls by techs.
- Set up mystery callers to call your office and find out what your inside staff is doing when it comes to who and how they give out service calls. It’s not uncommon for the inside staff to be working hand-in-hand with the techs to steal calls.
- Recording calls for training purposes is always a good thing. But it’s also a way to find out what is being said, and how many calls going through the office actually get directed and converted into calls run in the field.
- Fire the techs you have confirmed are stealing your calls. If you can’t find already experienced techs, you need to commit to hiring two willing apprentices you can build into the type of techs you can trust — and help them build a career. Make sure you hire two; then there’s built-in competition. When you only hire one tech at a time, the tendency is that he feels entitled and knows he has you over a barrel.
- Hire new office staff if you have confirmed that calls are being siphoned away by the office or are being directed to a tech or techs. Remember, they could be working together as a team to the detriment of the company. If necessary, hire two part-time office people who are appreciative of the opportunity. Remember to interview the candidates over the phone to make sure they sound upbeat because their first task will be answering the phones. Two people will once again keep you from being a hostage.
- Become an active sales coach by watching what techs are producing with each opportunity. If you have scorecards, it’s easier to spot trends. For example, if one of your techs is consistently bringing back minimal sales, it may be because he’s cutting special deals with the customers to come back during his off hours.
- Watch the conversion ratio of your techs. How many calls do they run where they get nothing more than the minimum service fee?
- Watch the conversion ratio of your CSRs. How many calls come in that they turn into calls run? How they are dispersing those calls? This is important, especially if you have a lot of techs. You will want to see if the potential big-ticket calls are always magically going to one or two techs yet the calls don’t seem to materialize into sales made. That’s a red flag!
- Have GPS tracking for trucks. Be disciplined enough to spot check where your trucks are, both when the employees are supposed to be on duty, and when they’re not and the truck is supposed to be sitting at their home. You’d think they’d be smarter but they’re counting on you being too busy, too gutless or too lazy to check.
- Engage the power of the manuals that contain your policies and procedures so you are always recruiting, hiring, orienting and training. By doing this, you’ll be promoting healthy competition to hold a place at your company and the staff will never feel indispensable.
It’s hard to trust again when you’ve been burned. But you must, for the survival of your company. Just commit to trusting and verifying.
This article was originally titled “Trust and verification” in the July 2015 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.
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