Featuring Joe Cunningham
Intro: Welcome to Profiles In Prosperity with your host David Heimer.
David Heimer: Hi, this is David Heimer. Welcome to Profiles In Prosperity. Joe Cunningham may be the best trainer and consultant in our industry. I’ve known Joe for many years now. When I first met Joe, I decided that one of the best things that I could do for Service Nation members was to give them as many opportunities to see Joe as possible. Years later, I still think that’s a great plan, and that’s why we continue to work with Joe as much as we do. By the way, I’m not the only person who thinks that. He’s won consultant of the year, not once, but twice and that’s very difficult to do. Joe’s amazingly experienced. He has a tremendous track record in our industry. He’s kind, he’s loyal, he has a heart of gold and he’s helped out so many people in and outside our industry. So Joe Cunningham, welcome to our podcast, Profiles In Prosperity. And I’ve got just one main question to ask you, but it’s kind of a complex one. You’ve been around the industry for a long time. You’ve seen successful companies. You’ve seen unsuccessful companies. What, in your opinion, are the two to three things that most contractors could do to improve their businesses?
Joe Cunningham: Well, David, I work with a lot of different kinds of companies like you said. Some do well, some do not so well. And I think if I was to narrow down the three primary things that a company could do to rapidly increase their profitability and productivity and move forward, it would be first of all, to review their pricing and make sure that they are in line with where they need to be. You know, recently, I was out with a company and I went through their pricing and I asked them how they came up with it. And they told me what they did was that they called their nearest five competitors and got their pricing, and then they tried to be somewhere in the middle. And then I asked them if their competitors were as successful as they’d like to be and they said, no. So I think if you’re basing your pricing on what other people charge, and then you expect to get more successful than your competitors, that you’re barking up the wrong tree. So review your pricing and make sure it’s commensurate with what you’re doing. Your pricing is your pricing. You know what it costs to do business. So price your pricing accordingly to what you need.
The second thing is to systemize their processes and procedures and utilize checklists. So that they have everyone doing the same thing. There’s so much inconsistency in service and maintenance calls in most companies, that it’s hard to really keep track of everything. And then it’s also hard to determine which tech you should have to go on what call. It’s hard to determine whether something is going to go wrong or right. And if something does go wrong, then it’s a big search to find out just what the process and procedures were that were left out. So creating a checklist to give all of your technicians the exact processes and procedures to follow on every single call will help you get your service department in alignment with where you want to be. And it’ll help you deliver a more consistent value in the field and have your customers happier every time you go.
David Heimer: Is that the first place where you would start with a checklist? I mean, you could start anywhere, but would you say the place that has the most impact would be with the technicians?
Joe Cunningham: Yes. Service has a huge impact on your bottom line. It can be good or it can be bad. And there’s a lot of people who run unprofitable service departments because they don’t have a checklist. There are a lot of checklists out there. In fact, on Service Roundtable Service Nation, on their downloads, there’s quite a few checklists that are very good. And the one thing you want to do is make sure that your technicians aren’t running single-task calls, and single-task calls are generally caused by technicians that don’t look at everything. And if they don’t look at everything, it’s caused by not having a checklist to go through. So probably the very first thing would be to make sure that you’re working on your checklist and getting that ready while you go. Now, a lot of people try and make sure that their checklist is perfect, and having a checklist that’s good and using it is better than trying to perfect your checklist and wait until you get it perfected to start. So getting a checklist up and going and using it and getting everybody used to doing those processes and procedures is probably very, very important. And one of the most critical things that you can do. When I talk to other guys that have gone from not doing so well to very well and you ask them, they said that the checklist is one of the most important things that they put in place.
And then following your checklist, I guess it would be to review your calls, to make sure what you want gets done and everybody is actually doing the checklist. Just because you give them a checklist, doesn’t necessarily mean that they use it. So you can’t be complacent and believe your techs do everything on that checklist. You have to actually take the checklist that goes on every job. And each job needs to have a separate checklist so that the technician can actually take it and use a pencil or a pen and mark off the tasks and procedures as he performs them so you can see that they’re really done. And techs are more likely to perform a task or procedure when they know that you’re going to check behind them. If you don’t check behind them and you ask them to do it, they’ll agree to do it, but oftentimes people in the field fall back on the fact that nobody’s checking so why go through the extra effort? And in their mind, if they were never trained to use a checklist, then using one is extra effort to them.
David Heimer: So I’m guessing on your checklist that it’s more than just a list of items and you check. My guess is that you have them fill in some information about different things so that it’s not one of those things where they just go and check, check, check, yeah, I did all those things. You’re actually asking them to fill in some information, is that right?
Joe Cunningham: Yes, you’re exactly right David. And I can use air conditioning as a good example. When you have things on your checklists, such as checking refrigerant pressures and temperatures, those numbers need to be recorded. When they check the capacitor, they need to check the readings from their gauges to make sure that this capacitor is within tolerance. And then if it’s not, they’re able to offer that to a customer as an option to perform while they’re there. They should be measuring the airflow, especially on the return side, even if they don’t check the supply side. They should always check the return side because we live in a country where the returns are notoriously small. So that’s another number that you can put in place. Anything that you can check with a gauge or a meter needs to have the numbers written down so you know they’ve actually done something.
The other thing that they check is the supply and return temperature. To me, that’s just as or even more important than your refrigerant pressures. Because it’s impossible to get the correct supply and return temperatures without the refrigerant pressures getting right. However, you can have the refrigerant pressures be perfect and your customer’s still uncomfortable. The difference between the supply and return temperature is going to tell you whether your customer is comfortable or not. So those are things that should be on your list. And, you know, if people are listening to this and if they’d like, I can send them a checklist which has worked pretty well for my company and several others as well.
David Heimer: At the end of this, I want to get your phone number or just how you want people to contact you. Alright. So pricing, checklist, what’s number three?
Joe Cunningham: Review your calls and checklists like I mentioned after that and make sure that your guys are compliant. But one place that really sticks out in most places is the dispatching techniques and procedures that are used. Most companies out there dispatch geographically. In other words, if I have a certain tech on the west side of town, and the next call that comes in is close to him, he automatically gets assigned that job just because he’s close regardless of whether his abilities fit the task or the description. In other words, I’ll have a technician who’s fairly new in the field, and he has some technical skills and he has rather limited customer service skills. And the call that comes in next could be, say, a service call on a 12 or 15-year-old system, well just because that tech is close is not the reason that you should send them because that inexperienced tech that’s not very communicative is going to go over there and probably fix a 15 or 20-year-old system that should be changed for the customer.
It’s a better practice to take your tech, even if he’s all the way across town, that’s got great communication skills and send him over at the greatest opportunity. Because that one 15-year-old system made your only opportunity for that week, or your greatest opportunity for that week, and you’ve just sent the wrong technician. So training your dispatchers to really categorize calls when they come in and ask the correct questions. How old is your system? Sometimes the customer will know, sometimes they won’t. An easy way to find out is to ask them how long they’ve lived in that house and if the equipment is the original equipment from when they moved in that’ll give you some kind of an idea of how old it might be. And then send the correct technician with the right skills and the right attitude and the right ability to the right call at the right time. And getting your dispatchers to do that after you’ve trained them for years to just send the closest person that can fog a mirror is sometimes a challenge. But once you get that done and they see the differences in the invoices, see the differences in the change out, see the differences in the customer’s satisfaction by having a new system rather than repairing a system that should have been replaced, once they see that happening, then they kind of make the switch pretty easily.
David Heimer: So I think I actually ended up getting four items out of you, didn’t I? Pricing, checklist, review your checklist and dispatch based on the opportunity. So thanks for the extra one. I had one other question for you, and I apologize for keeping you long on this, but what do you think the impact of appearance is? I was talking to one of my neighbors not too long ago and she said, “I called this heating and air conditioning company, the guy came out and he had on a shirt that had the name of the company on it, but otherwise, I would have sworn this guy was homeless.” And I said to her, well, did he do an okay job? And she said, “I think so, but I really was hesitant to let him into the house.”
Joe Cunningham: That’s another common issue in our industry. Appearance, like you said David, is really important. I don’t know anybody in the residential service business, whether it’s HVAC plumbing or electrical, that won’t agree that 80 or 85% of the time when we get to a customer’s home, it’s a woman that answers the door and she’s usually there by herself. And then if we take a look at the people that we serve and we see what they buy and where they buy it and why they buy certain things, it becomes pretty apparent that appearance is very important. And our trades, plumbing, electrical, HVAC, it doesn’t matter which one we’re in – we tend to have people that are less than attractive a lot of times. And it’s a detriment to your company, it’s a detriment to your customers because just like you said your friend mentioned, she was kind of concerned about letting him into the house. And it’s a detriment to the tech himself.
You know, not many business owners will tell their technicians to go home, cut their hair, shave every day, put on clean clothes and look like you stepped off the cover of contracting businesses to model tech. But here’s another point that you can almost always take to the bank. If you go to the most successful heating, air conditioning and plumbing companies in America, they will without a doubt have the most professional looking techs. They’re generally the highest-priced companies in town, and they have the highest numbers of four and five-star reviews. So yes, appearance really does make a difference. And it makes a difference for everybody concerned; the technician himself because customers are going to accept what he says and buy more things from him and believe him, the customer because they’re really going to accept the options that they should have to make your system work better and the company because they get to make more profit and provide a career for their employees rather than just a job.
David Heimer: Yep. Good stuff, Joe. I sure appreciate you taking the time to speak with me today. If somebody wants to get hold of you, what is a good way for them to do that?
Joe Cunningham: Okay, well, here’s how you reach me. They can always call me on my cell phone, that’s probably the easiest way, at area code 318-286-7742 or they can send me an email at Joe – that’s, J-O-E dot Cunningham three, that’s the numeral three, at G like George, T like Tom, E like edward.net. Joe.firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will be happy to help any of the Service Roundtable Service Nation members in any part of the business that I can and answer whatever questions that they would have for me. And I appreciate you giving me a call and letting me help you today.
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