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Chris Hunter: How to Get Out of The Truck and Drive Profits

Diana Lamirand
April 6th, 2021
12 Min Read

Building a successful HVAC, plumbing, electrical, or other home services business requires more than just you—despite your seemingly superhero powers as a service technician and company owner. Great service companies build success through teamwork, much like a NCAA basketball championship team plays to win by working together toward a shared goal.

“One is way too small a number for greatness,” says Chris Hunter, ServiceTitan’s Director of Customer Relations. “If you want to build something great, it's going to take a team. You're going to have to build a team, and you can't do that if you're still stuck in a truck.”

Hunter found himself “stuck in the truck” after starting Hunter Heat & Air in Oklahoma in 2009, with a majority of customers requesting him personally to respond to their service call or repair. As a result, he quickly learned one of the most important lessons for a business owner in the skilled trades: To work on the business, instead of in the business.

His game plan involved rebranding the company as Hunter Super Techs, developing a solid team of service technicians with great coaching, then selling the business in 2019. He then co-founded GoTime Success Group, a technician training school, with his mentor and trades consultant Ben Stark, before joining ServiceTitan in 2020.

“We need to make the transition from player to coach,” Hunter advises, in the second of ServiceTitan’s Growth Series webinars. “We may be the best technician, we may be the best salesperson, but we're going to have to remove this hat and become a coach if we want to build a team.”

Hunter says creating a successful service company involves the same process coaches follow to develop a winning sports team. Good coaches recruit players, structure practices, and execute a winning game plan. They also monitor performance during the game, give feedback for ways to improve following a win or loss, and huddle with the team’s other coaches to plan a strategy for the next game.

“That's exactly what we're doing as a business owner, as a manager, or as a leader in this business,” Hunter says.

In this webinar, Hunter explains exactly what it takes to transition from player to coach—or how to get out of the truck, build a team, and drive up profits.

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Start by making a commitment

Can you commit to giving things up in order to move up?

  • Control for Growth

  • Me for We

  • Personal Accolades for Team Wins

  • Fast for Far

  • Earnings for Wealth

“For me, this was tough, because my first instinct as a technician at heart, anytime something was wrong, I would want to run and get back in that truck,” Hunter says. “Even as the business started growing, that was my first tendency.”

Hunter decided to listen to his mentors instead, and started focusing on his people, systems, and processes. He also removed all of the tools from his truck, so he could be the coach instead of the player when his service techs requested assistance on a job site.

One of his mentors told him, “You can have control or you can have growth, but you can’t have both,” Hunter says. “That really hit home with me, because I wanted to control things. I wanted to control the outcome.

“But if we want to go up, we're going to have to learn how to give up that control for growth,” he adds. “You’ve got to give up ‘me for we.’ It's no longer about you being No. 1, it's about coaching other people to be No. 1.”

For many service company tech-turned-owners, ego may be the hardest thing to get over, especially when you’re the star of the game, with customers and other service techs requesting you by name. 

“It feels good, but we’re going to have to give that up,” Hunter explains. “We're going to have to make other people successful. We're going to have to trade our personal accolades for team wins. It's no longer about my average ticket, my closing rate, or my this or my that. It's about how well our team can play, if we all want to win together.”

You also need to give up going fast for going far. It may be easier and quicker to do a job yourself, rather than training someone new, but coaching and training everyone on the team to perform at a higher level pays off in the long run. 

“If you want to go fast, you go alone. But if you want to go far, you need to build a team—you need to bring a team with you,” Hunter says.

Working as a team also generates true wealth, rather than simple earnings, as you gain the freedom to spend more time with family, go on vacation, or take on a new job.

“None of that would have happened if I was still stuck in that truck, being that personal star and working like that,” Hunter says.

Five Steps to Get Out of the Truck

Model > Mentor > Monitor > Motivate > Multiply

  1. Model the behavior you want your technicians to follow. “You're the leader. They're going to follow your example,” Hunter says. “Show what that looks like in your character, in your work ethic, in your attitude, etc.”

  2. Mentor the behavior, but let techs do the work. “We're not going to just tell them how to do it, but we're going to ask them questions, because that's what a coach does. And we're going to try to unlock that potential,” he says.

  3. Monitor tech performance. “We can't just send them on their way and think they're going to be fine. We've got to monitor them,” Hunter says. “That's what a coach does, he's always watching the stats and making sure people are doing their duties.”

  4. Motivate techs, individually. “A great coach knows how to motivate each player differently,” he says. “Some of them need you to really kind of get in their face. And then others, it's all about encouragement. The point is, each player is totally different. You’ve got to learn that as the coach and help motivate them.”

  5. Multiply to grow. “We want to teach that person how to repeat the process, so we can just keep building these things,” Hunter says. “And really, if you think about it, your reach will be infinite.”

Recruit “A” Players to Build Your Team

Once you commit to becoming the coach, it’s time to go on offense to find the right players and build a winning team. Simply playing defense or waiting on new recruits to come to you, slows down the game pace and prevents your team from winning.

“Think about what a great coach does. They recruit players, they go out and find them,” Hunter says.

To recruit the best players, service companies must first define the “why.” 

Why should techs want to work for your company? Where are you going? How do you operate? What does your brand represent?

“If you ask yourself that and you can't really answer, you need to go to work and clearly define why they would want to come work for you,” Hunter says. “Because, let's face it, they can go work right down the street just as easy.”

To define the “why,” start by fully understanding your:

  • Company mission

  • Your vision for future growth

  • Core values

  • The business’ brand

“People now are drawn to purpose. It’s not all about money,” Hunter says. 

Just like the University of Oklahoma recruits new Sooners for its sports teams by inviting promising athletes to visit its facilities and share in its championship heritage and history, Hunter says service companies seeking new recruits must do the same.

“You don't need to have a lot of money or a big shop to make you great. … I'm just saying, make it very presentable. Your culture ought to be dripping off those walls,” he says. 

Go where new recruits are.

“A good college coach, they'll hop on a plane and go visit families, they'll sit in living rooms, they'll go wherever that player is,” Hunter says. 

In Oklahoma, for instance, companies can often find good service technicians by visiting 4-H programs to find hard-working farmhands, some of whom may be interested in exploring a different career. Or, you may find good recruits by hiring former auto mechanics or industrious restaurant workers willing to learn a new trade.

“Go on offense and go where they are, and start trying to recruit these people onto your team,” Hunter says.

Leverage your strengths.

Even small schools can recruit the best players, if they create the right opportunities. 

A big school might recruit a promising athlete, but keep them benched until their senior year. A smaller school might recruit the same player, promise to start them now as the star quarterback, and build a strong team around them for ultimate success.

A smaller service company can leverage its strengths by offering to mentor the new recruit with the knowledge and experience of its owner or lead service tech as they transition into their new role.

Build a bench.

“Everyone is talking about the labor shortage, and it's not going to get any easier, let's face it,” Hunter says. “We're going to have to start finding these people, painting our mission or vision, where we're going, how they fit in, what it means for them, and build the bench.”

Coaches of sports teams don’t worry about organizational charts, and most players never ask what steps they need to take to become an assistant coach. Instead, coaches work on building depth on their bench or grooming the next player to step in, and the players focus on honing better performance skills.

“When they do really well, they get paid really well—they get the accolades,” Hunter says. “Their teams win championships, and they take honor in their skill, in their profession, and in their job. That's almost what we should be breeding in our organizations, instead of one of tenure and promotion.”

Everyone is talking about the labor shortage, and it's not going to get any easier, let's face it. We're going to have to start finding these people, painting our mission, where we're going, how they fit in, what it means for them, and build the bench.”

Chris Hunter

Principal Industry Advisor

Empower the team to recruit.

“You don't have to do this all by yourself,” he says. “Your team can be an awesome recruiting force for you.”

For example, McWilliams & Son Heating and Air Conditioning in Texas offers its employees a $500 bonus for recruiting new technicians with no experience, as long as the new hire remains employed with the company for 60 days. If the new hire stays for one year, the recruiting employee receives a $1,000 bonus. If the new recruit remains at the company beyond one year, the employee receives a $2,000 bonus for each year thereafter.

“I guarantee you, anyone that's got 2,000 bucks a pop riding on someone they've recruited, they're not only going to become a recruiting force, they're going to become a retention force,” Hunter says. “They're going to try to make sure that person is successful and happy on the team.”

Schedule practices regularly

Any good team practices on a regular basis, including home service companies. Train your employees to know your exact processes for completing a service call, generating a new job lead, or installing a new system.

  • Start by identifying your company’s Top 10 repairs during busy seasons, then train techs to practice the basics forward and backward.

  • Know the best revenue-producing products at your company, then focus practice sessions on selling those particular services really well to turn training into profits.

  • Improve your techs’ communication skills through role play to show them how to become more comfortable with customers in the field.

  • Teach life skills to help employees improve their finances, their marriage, their parenting, etc. “If they’re winning at home, they’re going to be winning at work,” Hunter says.

  • Practice true leadership and teamwork. “If we’re going to have a great team, we definitely ought to figure out how to work on it together,” he says.

Execute the game plan

“Now, I've decided I'm going to recruit and I'm going to start building people. I'm going to try to multiply this model, so I can eventually get completely out of the truck and grow some other leaders,” Hunter says. “The first thing that needs to happen is leveraging the technology that ServiceTitan offers.”

Hunter relied on ServiceTitan software to receive alerts each time a tech sold a new job, to order parts when inventory got low, automate its marketing campaigns, and so much more. He even created service-call checklists for technicians within the mobile field management app and scheduled debriefings after a service call to help them improve.

He also used ServiceTitan to improve the following:

Manage the systems and coach the people. 

“What that means is, if something goes wrong, look at the system, too. Coach the people to perform to the system, but then manage the systems,” he says.

Utilize ServiceTitan’s Contractor Playbook to find automated checklists, helpful technician forms, and other templates to help coach all employees.

Sell more club memberships to guarantee future work.

“Every time we sold one club membership, that was four hours of guaranteed future work,” Hunter says. “I could bank on when I could take someone who was on the bench and put them into a permanent role as a maintenance technician, because we were guaranteeing future work.”

Take over your dispatch board.

Or, at least, coach your dispatchers to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. 

“As soon as you get two or three technicians and you can actually quit doing the calls yourself, you can take over the dispatch board, and then start coaching the actual dispatcher to make sure you're maximizing every opportunity you get,” Hunter says. “You don't have to do this for long, but you're going to need to do it for a time if you want to start to scale.”

Debrief techs after every service call.

What went right? What went wrong? What could they do better next time?

“Ask them questions, and they will start to unlock the potential for themselves,” Hunter says. “It's also a way to make sure your systems and processes get done.”

Use FaceTime or Zoom to introduce customers to their new “go-to guy.”

Customers may still ask for you, even after you step out of the truck. Simply introduce them to your new super tech in a virtual call, promise to review the services offered by your tech, and create a new personal connection within your company.

Master the scoreboard

The scoreboard ultimately tells the coach what he or she needs to do to stay competitive in the game, Hunter says.

“They know who's performing, who's playing well. What do we need to do to win? How much time is left? All of these things, it's just like our business,” he explains.

To master the scoreboard, monitor top key performance indicators (KPIs) for your company. 

Hunter identifies his top 10 KPIs as:

  1. Average ticket price

  2. Club memberships

  3. 5-star reviews

  4. Tech-generated leads

  5. Total revenue per truck

  6. Total revenue per employee

  7. Call-booking percentage

  8. Labor percentage

  9. Materials percentage

  10. Gross profit per division

Check out the ServiceTitan Contractor Playbook for more detailed explanations for all 10 KPIs.

» ALSO: Download our Ultimate Guide to KPIs now

Post-game reflections

Once the game ends, whether you won or lost, schedule time to reflect on how your team played the game. It might be during an all-company or department-team meeting, so everyone learns from the success or failure. It’s also a good time to reconnect with your company’s mission, vision, and core values.

Use your post-game discussions to:

  • Recognize the wins

  • Spotlight high performance

  • Identify areas for more coaching

  • Reward for extra-mile service

  • Modify the game plan

When you recognize, measure, and reward whatever behavior you want your team to repeat when performing services for your company, they often do, Hunter says.

“If you want to create something great, you're going to need to become a coach. You're going to have to put on the coaching hat and develop other coaches,” Hunter says. “Invest in your team, your people, and your culture, and truly you can find this uncommon wealth that so many set out to do.”

ServiceTitan is a comprehensive home and commercial services business software solution built specifically to help companies streamline their operations, boost revenue, and achieve growth. Our award-winning, cloud-based platform is trusted by more than 100,000+ contractors across the country.

Ready to learn more about what ServiceTitan can do for your business?  Contact our team to schedule a demo today.

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