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    April 1, 2006

    Ask any 20 service contractors what their worst headache is, and it's likely they'll all tell you the same thing: callbacks. They cost you money, time, stress, and hurt the morale of your technicians. From time to time, we all have had those headaches with our service departments. It's the same for contractors everywhere. We all may come from different parts of the country, with diverse economics and culture, but most of the time our problems are shared. Fortunately, that means the solutions can be shared, too.

    Let's look at three examples of callback-related headaches. If you think that these examples are based on actual mistakes that I have made (and learned from) since I opened my company in 1989, well, there's a Constitutional amendment to protect someone from self-incrimination. In other words, I "plead the fifth."

    Three Scenarios, Three Solutions

    1. When Mrs. Jones called your company to have you perform a tune-up on her air conditioning system last week, she trusted you to do the job correctly. One week later she is calling again, very upset that she now has water all over her basement floor. Your tech finds the condensate line is clogged.
    2. Mrs. Miller called for a noise in her indoor blower motor. The tech oiled the motor, measuredthe amperage and found all to be O.K. Two days later, the indoor motor failed — on the night that Mrs. Miller is having 23 people for dinner.
    3. Your company installed a brand new, highefficiency HVAC system for Mrs. Johnson last winter, and now she has no heat at 7:30 on a Saturday night. You find a bad circuit module board, and don't have a replacement board on your truck or in the shop.

    These are three moments of truth for your company. How you handle them will directly determine whether these three clients will ever call your company again. It will also determine how many of their friends and family they will complain to.

    How do I know this? Because I lost all three clients by not doing what was best for them. Here's what I learned.

    We billed Mrs. Jones for unclogging the drain that she paid us to clean a week earlier. During her dinner at 8:30 p.m., we replaced Mrs. Miller's motor — which should have been replaced two days earlier — and billed her at our after-hours rates. Mrs. Johnson had no heat until 9:30 Monday morning, after we drove to the distributor's warehouse to pick up a replacement board.

    We learned from these mistakes, and now have procedures in place so we don't repeat them.


    One way to prevent callbacks is to establish company policies. These should make your techs aware of the how, what, when, and where of the operations — including the thoroughness you expect from them when they run service calls. Make sure it also addresses sick days and notification; on-call responsibilities and procedures; auto accident procedure; invoicing and paperwork; uniforms; personal appearance and grooming; inventory procedures; shoe booties and client home preservation. It's your company's bible, and all companies should have one.

    SOLUTION #1: Own up to it. We're all human, and we all make mistakes. Training will teach us not to repeat it. Insurance will pay for any major damage incurred. Honesty will retain the client.

    Honesty is the part many contractors overlook. Clients don't want excuses. They'll understand if you're honest and own up to the mistake.

    Don't charge the customer for your mistakes. Empathy starts when angry Mrs. Jones called the office. Apologize for the trouble, assure the client that you have insurance to cover any damage, promise service as fast as possible. Send a different tech to the call (brief him on the situation first), and make sure he again assures the client that all will be taken care of. Assist in the clean-up as much as possible. Write up an invoice, clearly marked "no charge," and have the client sign it. Make a follow-up call to the client within 24 hours.

    SOLUTION #2: Be thorough. The tech that went out to Mrs. Miller's house found an enormous amount of play in the bearings of the motor. Now he was mad because he had to leave home to do a call that should have been done right two days ago, and also deal with an angry client.

    Experience will show your tech what to look for. Training will teach him not to repeat the mistake. Honesty will retain the client.

    Your techs must understand the consequences of a callback for themselves, fellow techs, the company, and the client. When you speak to the client, be honest about what you found. Explain that the tech involved will be notified of the mistake, receive training on it, and the event will be shared with the rest of the techs in a training session.

    If a callback occurs less than 30 days from the original call, no dispatch fee should be charged. Also, charge the customer your normal replacement rate, not an overtime rate.

    SOLUTION #3: Be prepared. We assumed that brand new HVAC equipment doesn't break, so we didn't stock parts for all of our new equipment. After the embarrassing event with Mrs. Johnson, we now stock all the OEM parts needed to get the heat or air conditioning operating on the same day.

    It's important to stock the parts to repair the equipment you service. Clients love it when your company is able to respond, diagnose, and repair their system on the same day. You'll love it because of the increased productivity and cash flow, and your techs will love it because they're a hero in the client's eyes. Company morale soars.

    You may be thinking that it's very expensive to stock that many parts, and you're right. At DiFilippo's Service Co., we stock many universal parts that can repair several different brands — especially igniters, motors, and capacitors. We also work with our local distributor to have thousands of dollars of parts on consignment, where we pay only as we use the inventory. If you sell a new system to a client, you'd better be able to fix it in one day or you'll lose them as a customer.

    Being prepared also includes equipping your service techs with the proper tools and diagnostic equipment. How can your techs diagnose, replace, test, and measure HVAC equipment without the proper tools? Remember, buying tools and test equipment isn't an expense, but an investment. Also, go look inside your trucks and inspect the condition and variety of tools your techs have. Make sure your techs are properly equipped, and that the tools they're using reflect the quality that you want your company to provide.

    We all have service headaches, but we can learn from them, and use them as an opportunity to teach our people. If we do, we'll have fewer callbacks, more fun, and make more money.


    If your company can show up when promised, look clean and neat, guarantee your work, and do high quality work with a good attitude, then you can make some serious profit and have fun doing it — with less headaches.

    Don't believe me? Let me say two words: Disney World. Where else would you spend so much money and smile doing it? The service is impeccable, the food is great, everywhere you go is spotless, and they're always evolving and adding new things. Basically, they make it very easy to do business with them, which is why they get repeat visitors year after year.

    There are theme parks all over the U.S., and we could go to any of them, most likely at a cheaper price. But I've chosen to take my family to Disney World six times. Remember, anyone can do it cheaper, but no one can do it better. That's what you want to be able to say about your company.

    Vince DiFilippo is president of DiFilippo's Service Co., Paoli, PA. He can be reached at 610/240-4789, e-mail [email protected]