When McWilliams and Son Heating and Air Conditioning COO Trey McWilliams joined his family business as a technician in 2004, the Lufkin, Texas, company employed just 10 people. Fast forward to 100+ employees today, and McWilliams started to ask himself questions as his company continued to grow:
How do we maintain our family-owned culture as we scale the business?
How do we continue to offer high-quality service?
Where can I find technicians amid this trades shortage?
McWilliams visited other shops to gain inspiration and learn creative answers to those questions, and to fix a communication issue that had been caused by siloed departments across too many layers in the business.
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He discussed his solution, Call-by-Call Management, in a recent session at Pantheon 2022, ServiceTitan’s annual conference for the trades. Here are the top takeaways.
1. Call-by-Call Creates Accountability
“When it’s everybody’s problem, it’s nobody’s problem,” McWilliams explains.
With too many layers in his business, employees struggled to figure out the right person to call, or who should be held accountable when something went wrong. To solve the issue, he transformed his teams into a new hierarchy. Now, tech teams roll up to a single point of contact, their call-by-call manager.
“That particular person is responsible for the total customer experience throughout our company,” McWilliams says.
2. Customers Want a One-Stop Shop
With a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips, today’s customers are more informed consumers and they expect to spend less time with their service providers.
“When the technician came out, that's who they wanted to deal with,” McWilliams says. “They didn't want to wait for a retail salesperson.”
So his company eliminated the retail salesperson position. This required equipping the call-by-call managers with the resources they needed—pricing tools, ongoing training, and product education—to assist the technicians with any questions or concerns.
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3. Home-Grow Your Team
Like most companies in the trades, McWilliams struggled to find talent during a technician shortage. In addition, inflation led to applicants seeking higher wages.
“We needed to be able to bring on a lot more technicians, and we couldn't, because of the way we were structured pay-wise,” McWilliams notes.
He also believed the technicians deserved the wages they were asking for.
“The techs had the most disruptive schedule, the hardest job we had in our business, a very unpredictable schedule,” he says. “But there were a couple layers above them that were making way more money than they were.”
To pay techs more money and recruit faster, the company eliminated white-collar positions that accounted for much of its payroll.
Then, McWilliams re-examined his hiring qualifications list. Recognizing that younger generations aren’t as mechanically inclined as people used to be, he began hiring people who understood technology and were good communicators, and trained them on the rest. Having a single point of contact helped bring them up to speed faster.
“95% of our technicians who work for us today didn’t know what air conditioning and plumbing was until they came to work for us,” McWilliams says. “We were able to home-grow those people and support them through call-by-call management.”
McWilliams notes the new structure also helps technicians feel valued within his company, since they have a direct line to management.
4. Everyone Wins Together
Before switching to call-by-call management, McWilliams notes his company had a 58% close rate for service calls with equipment that was 12 years old or older.
“Our bread and butter is equipment, so I couldn't afford to let our closing rates drop,” McWilliams says. “We beta-tested it [call-by-call management] for about three months in a small market.”
After increasing to a 71% close rate, he rolled the structure out to all locations. With call managers supporting smaller tech teams, the techs receive individual attention and training when needed.
“It still takes a ton of energy, and you have to be very intentional about it,” McWilliams says.
“This was something that allowed us to have that small, intentional feel for those guys even as we began to scale. And again, we were able to have more boots on the ground.”
The call managers follow up on open estimates for their team. If an estimate remains open for seven days, the lead goes to a revenue-recovery agent, who gets a shot at selling it. The call-by-call manager and technician then forgo their commision.
“The reason we do that is I want them to follow up and make sure they're closing the deals that their team is quoting,” McWilliams says. “If they fail to do that, we have a mechanism in place that will do it for them and cut them out of commission. [They must] be a coach, mentor, cheerleader, teacher to their team. Maintaining culture takes a lot of energy.”
The call managers’ pay structure depends on their teams’ accomplishments, which incentivizes them to set up their techs for success and make those open estimate calls.
“Call-by-call success is really designed to make everybody go in the same direction,” McWilliams says. “When there’s a type of ‘if I win, you win’ mentality with technicians, they tend to work better and our sales go up.”
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