I have three questions for you:

  • Is your business open more than eight hours per day?
  • Are you booking service calls scheduled for after your normal service hours?
  • Are your technicians working more than eight hours per day?

If you answered “yes” to all these questions, there’s no doubt about it: you’re losing your most important customers.

Confused? How could you be losing your most important customers if you’re bending over backwards to ensure people get service completed on their schedule?

Let’s think for a moment about who your most important customers are. Here’s an example of two people who are vital to your business:

  1. Mrs. Jones — she calls your company every year for service. She’s loyal, she pays on time and she doesn’t try to negotiate her quoted price.
  2. Your best technician­ — the technician that shows up every day and gives you eight solid hours of work. He performs well in the field and is willing to go to calls after his normal workday. He has come into work in the morning after working until 11 p.m. multiple times, and he doesn’t complain.

Now, imagine having to choose only one of these two people. Both people are obviously important to your business. But who’s more important? Who’s more valuable? Which would you choose?

Let’s say you choose Mrs. Jones as your company’s most important customer. You and those at your business decide to focus all your attention on attracting all the “Mrs. Joneses” in your market. Slowly, over time, this strategy works — your board is now full of service calls and you have plenty of work. Your dispatchers are ready to dispatch all those calls.

But wait! Your technicians can’t handle the workload. You’ve been booking as many service calls as you could get, and your techs have been scrambling (and working all hours) to keep up. The pace is frantic; everyone is stressed and exhausted. After a few weeks, absences start increasing. No-call, no-shows begin to pop up. Techs begin quitting — one doesn’t even give you notice. Your company has more work than it can deal with, and now there aren’t enough people to do the work.

Sure, you can hire new people, but it will take months to recruit, hire and train a new technician. Meanwhile, the calls are coming in now.

Not a pretty picture, right? More of a nightmare situation!

Now, let’s imagine that you choose your service technician as your most important customer. You focus entirely on attracting the best technicians in your marketplace. You provide the best training, offer top-notch pay and provide reasonable, regular, 40-hour-per-week scheduling. Your techs are producing eight hours every day, five days per week. When they’re at work, they’re expected to work hard, but when they’re not at work, they’re expected to relax. They have time away from their job to enjoy family life and personal activities. Your techs come into work rested — ready give the best company they’ve ever worked for their absolute best effort.

However, when the technicians arrive at your business, there isn’t enough work, because no one has been focusing much on booking and dispatching service calls. This feels like a game you can’t win. What do you do?

Years ago, in my business, I faced this conundrum. My technicians were working until midnight some nights and dragging their tails in the door in the morning to do more work. Techs only spent a short time working for my company, because no technician can keep up that pace for a long stretch of time. My system wasn’t working. I had to change my company’s structure. I had to choose who my most important customer was.

After a lot of thought, I decided my service technicians were my most important customer. But if my techs were going to be No. 1, a system focused around them would need some modifications. We needed balance — a way to keep up with our workload. Techs who were only going to work 40 hours per week, five days per week, and eight hours per day for the company would need to have scheduled shifts. Not rotating shifts, not floating shifts– they needed specific shift times.

We decided that our company’s hours of coverage would be from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Starting times would vary among techs. We would not be open for calls or service from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m. This was a cultural shift in our business that felt risky at the time. We worried that our customers would leave us in droves. However, after doing research to figure out how many customers we serviced, on average, from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m., we realized those hours brought in less than 1% of our calls.

Early on during the scheduling switch, Sunday was a booking-only day to help us get ready for service calls on Monday. But as we grew, we added a Sunday shift for technicians — we found we needed it. We were thriving!

This scheduling change was a huge paradigm shift for our company. One of the immediate benefits was we could advertise that our company had “no on-call” scheduling in our recruiting ads. You can bet that this increased our recruiting prospects! For our techs, the benefits of the scheduling transformation were immediate and obvious. On-call shifts, working after-hours, not knowing when they were going to get home, and crawling into work for morning meetings after they’d been on late-night service calls — these issues vanished.

We chose our most important customer: Our employees. That shift in perspective changed the culture of our company.

If you’re losing technicians to a 9-to-5 maintenance job for a hospital or industrial warehouse, you know what I’m talking about. If you find yourself in the same box that I was in… change.

Times change. People change. Your business needs to change; evolve. I encourage you to think about how to serve your most important customers: Your employees. Shifting your perspective on this issue can make a tremendous difference.

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Jim (Bone) is a business coach with Nexstar. He has spent more than 35 years in the PHCE service industry, and has purchased and transformed 28 underperforming companies into profitable businesses, each in less than a year.