Managing Your Service Department: Great Tech, Lousy Training

There is nothing like an actual service call from the local plumber to open one’s eyes to the frustrations that customers face every day. In my case the tech actually did quality work, but somewhere along the way, management failed to provide adequate training that included a checklist of what to bring to each job.

It was a seemingly simple task. We ordered a new kitchen faucet. The company called on Friday to say the unit had arrived and that we were scheduled as the first call Monday morning. The dispatcher called at 8:15 AM Monday morning to tell us John Doe (not his real name, we need to protect the innocent) was on the way. That was good! John arrived and we spoke long enough to find out that John had been a plumber with this company for over 36 years. Wow, I thought. He must be good with that much experience and to have stayed with the same company that long, right?

Well it turns out John really was “technically” a very good plumber. He had some issues, not of his making, with the faucet that needed to be replaced and he had to customize a couple things to make the new one fit. However, he really did do a great job … technically. Oh by the way, this company is still on time and material so you pay for every minute!

Now you must understand my wife is an outstanding housekeeper. Our home always looks great, but what I am about to share with you would (or should) irritate any homeowner. To keep it simple, let me simply list a few of the irritating things that took place over the course of the entire day. Yes, it took him all day to replace the faucet. But there were issues he had to overcome so it wasn’t all his fault it took that long.

• Shoes – Plumbers work in lots of places so their shoes tend to be dirty with caked mud from past jobs and, in our case, the moist grass he walked across to get to the door. John did not have shoe covers nor did he take his dirty boots off prior to entering our home. Over the course of the next several hours John had been in the kitchen, the upstairs and main level bathrooms and downstairs to turn off the hot water. It was no problem tracking where John has been. Like Hansel and Gretel, there were bits of dirt and grass throughout our house where he had walked. My wife wasn’t happy.

• Drop Cloths – John showed up to work in my wife’s spotless kitchen without a drop cloth. My wife ended up providing not one, but five towels for the floor, the sink and under the sink. Granted, they were not new towels, but they still needed to laundered after John soaked some, wiped grease on others and, in general, messed them up. My wife really wasn’t happy!

• Tools – John was having trouble getting the old faucet off. After grunting and groaning a bit he asked me if I had any wrenches. We looked at my tools in the garage, but none would work. John then announced he would have to go back to the shop to get a deep socket wrench. After 36 years of work, I really thought he should have a tool like that on his truck. He didn’t, so he was gone for at least 15 minutes, which we were going to have to pay for. At this point, neither wife nor I were happy campers.

• Handling of Tools – By now John has returned and is back at work. Now I realize John may not have really nice, real tile, floors in his home. However after he “dropped” his tools on the tile, for the third time, I said, “John, could you be a bit more careful placing your tools on the floor. It is very easy to break a tile by dropping tools on it.” He was nice about it and did do a “bit” better from then on.

• Paper Towels – Guess what, while John was working he sometimes had wet hands. Sometimes he had gunk on him and other times he needed to simply wipe some water up. Apparently he did not bring rags or paper towels. However, he was sharp enough to notice there was a roll of paper towels next to the stove. If he used ten sheets during the day he used a half a roll. I might add he did not ask if could use them, he simply helped himself. At this point my wife is getting more upset. Paper towels cost money and she felt like John should have brought his own.

• Dust Pan and Broom – Midway through the process John had metal shavings and other debris collecting under the sink. Did John have a dust pan or broom on his truck? I assume not, as he asked my wife, “Mrs. Grandy, do you have a dust pan and broom I could borrow?” My wife, unhappily, got both for John.

• Cleaning Pad – The old faucet was finally off and it’s time to install the new one on our stainless steel sink. Again John says to my wife, “Do you have a cloth or pad I can clean the sink with before I install the new faucet?” This time my wife cleaned the area so John could do the work.

• Hold Pipe In Place – The faucet must have been twisting a bit. John asked me if I could hold the fixture while he tightened. Again, that is no big deal but what would he have done if I were not sitting in the kitchen watching him?

Now none of the above items were big deals. However, each one continued to say to the customer “I am sloppy; therefore my work is sloppy, too.” The sad part is that every one of the above items could have easily been avoided with a bit of training. The standard from management should say “Before you enter the customer’s home either remove your shoes or place shoe covers over your boots.” Also a standard tool inventory for each truck would have included a deep socket wrench. Clean drop cloths and clean rags should be standard for every call, and each truck should have a dust pan and broom on it. Better yet, really impress the customer and go back to the truck and get a vacuum and vacuum the area. It would have also been good to have some sort of cleaning pad on the truck as well to clean the sink with before installing new faucets or fixtures. Now dropping heavy tools on an expensive tile floor should be common sense…however common sense is nearly impossible to train!

Again, John’s work was outstanding. He was also a very friendly guy. However his sloppiness created a very negative impression with the customer, which in this case was my wife and me.

We have used this company for many years. They have 25 service techs and refuse to go on flat rate pricing. We continue to use them because they do the best work in town, but my wife cringes each time we have to call them because she knows it will take a minimum of an hour to clean up after they are gone.

A little training goes a long way. Take a look at your techs and think about the impression they are making with your customer. Remember, to the customer the tech IS the company.