We’ve all heard the old proverb, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” With so much volatility, uncertainty, and shifts in today’s economy, contractors in the trades must learn to adapt to the tide and find ways to overcome the modern challenges of an unstable workforce, extreme weather, and changing consumer behaviors.
In a recent ServiceTitan webinar, Principal Industry Advisor Chris Hunter and ServiceTitan Senior Director of Product Deanna Kawasaki discuss the notable trends affecting businesses, outline practical steps for an effective counter-offensive strategy, and highlight tools contractors can leverage to succeed using their own company data.
Before taking a look at how workforce, weather, and consumer challenges affect your business, ServiceTitan Senior Product Marketing Manager Josh Lu suggests first downloading your company’s personalized ServiceTitan Benchmark Report to understand how your specific business ranks compared to other businesses like yours.
“ServiceTitan customers get this benchmark report for free,” says Lu, by simply clicking on the rocket ship icon in the top, right-hand corner of their account. The customized report shows key performance indicators (KPIs) such as monthly average ticket, install average ticket, service average ticket, install to service ratio, and completed revenue.
“It compares all of that to businesses that are similar to yours, so you can see where you stand in the market,” Lu says. “It will also show you personalized TitanAdvisor recommendations. What are the next steps in your ServiceTitan account that you can take advantage of that's going to move the biggest needle for you?”
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3 Notable Trends Affecting the Trades
In the following recap, Kawasaki outlines how each trend is affecting the trades, and Hunter offers advice for going on the offensive to prepare for 2024.
1. Workforce: How labor shortages put pressure on businesses
Kawasaki, an experienced statistician and the “data nerd” at ServiceTitan, says contractors all over the country struggle to hire more techs and techs with more experience, as well as find better ways to train techs to grow with the business.
“The workforce is something that we're seeing a lot of issues and challenges with right now.
And it's not just the workforce, it's actually because the population is changing,” Kawasaki says.
ServiceTitan’s October benchmark report highlights some important workforce trends, such as:
Older, more experienced techs exited the workforce in 2020.
The industry-expected, experienced-tech boomerang in 2021 and 2022 didn’t happen.
With still no tech boomerang in 2023, companies remain on the hunt to hire new techs.
Millennials now outnumber Baby Boomers, largely due to the volume of immigrants entering the country.
After experiencing the fallout from a global pandemic, more trades workers are willing to change jobs in search of higher pay.
The reality today, Hunter says, is any technician can choose to leave your shop, drive down the street to the next shop, and probably be hired on the spot. And a recent Gallup poll shows 51% of today’s current workforce is actively looking for another job.
“You look around your workforce and half of them are thinking about leaving? That ought to be a pretty good eye-opener,” Hunter says. “I think we need to figure out how we can prevent these workers from leaving as well as bringing in that new generation.”
And with so many immigrants pouring into states like Texas, Arizona, and Florida, Kawasaki says the demand for services will only skyrocket, as well as the need to hire more techs to meet those demands.
“That’s good news for more demand coming your way, but that could also mean challenges in the workforce,” Kawasaki says.
To keep experienced techs engaged, you first need to understand why they might leave. The graphic above, based on a ServiceTitan study, shows the No. 1 reason techs leave is because they’re working too much or not enough.
“They like to be steady,” Hunter says. “You overwork them, they can go somewhere else. You don't have enough for them, they can go somewhere else.” They also don’t like to drive far or spend their weekends on the job.
What can you do about it? Hunter suggests focusing on the following three areas:
Offering consistent technician training
Improving the CSR/dispatching process
Utilizing Dispatch Pro for automation and efficiency
Lower wages, lack of training, and no clear path forward are often cited as the reasons techs leave jobs and seek work elsewhere. To combat this, Hunter says companies must offer training programs that meet the goals of their employees.
“Ask them what they want,” Hunter says. “Once you can figure out what's important to them, now you can connect the dots. You can connect the dots all the way back to what the company needs, what the training needs, and how you can help develop them into achieving their goals.”
A SHRM study shows 69% of workers would stay at a company for three years or more if they had proper onboarding and training.
“If you're seeing all these people wanting to leave, invest in your training,” Hunter advises. “Have a development plan, so that way you can actually help them progress. They'll be less likely to leave you.”
“Do you know what the average call booking rate is?” Hunter asks. “I'm honestly embarrassed as someone from the industry to even say this, but it's 42%! So first things first, we have huge room for improvement in our CSR practice.”
By focusing on improving your call center’s training and goals, you not only solve the problem of increasing your call booking rates, but also prevent overbooking or underbooking your techs. Hunter suggests giving Phones Pro a try to automate the process of capturing more second-chance leads and missed opportunities.
“We’ve got to figure out how to keep that schedule full,” he says.
One way to do more with less when times are tough, Hunter says, is to deploy the power of Dispatch Pro, which he aptly compares to picking the right player with the right skills in the movie “Moneyball.”
“Dispatch Pro will pick the hot hand. It'll pick the right tech for the right job at the right time to get the maximum profits,” Hunter says. “And guess what happens when you make profits? You can actually reinvest those back into your team.”
Recent ServiceTitan data also shows a big culture change in how dispatchers view Dispatch Pro in the workplace, Lu says.
“Dispatchers, before, they really took a lot of pride in putting together a beautiful dispatch board and making it look just perfect,” Lu says. “But now, they let Dispatch Pro handle that. It's like a co-pilot. They'll make the adjustments they need to, but now they can really focus their attention on being a cheerleader for the technician and spending time talking to customers on the phone, making sure everybody's updated and really taking pride in their customer service.”
2. Weather: The impact of weather on regions across the country
Extreme weather conditions in many parts of the country can make it challenging for contractors to meet high demand. For instance, Kawasaki says Phoenix experienced 54 consecutive days of temperatures above 110 this year, and an October Mississippi drought lowered water levels in rivers to the point that residents are reporting salt intrusion in their water systems.
Weather events certainly affect the trades, and Kawasaki says ServiceTitan tries to monitor trends to help contractors be prepared to respond and stay ahead of the game. For example, NOAA is predicting a warmer than average winter this year for northern states in the U.S., so HVAC companies in that region may experience lower demand.
To handle any type of weather that comes your way, Hunter suggests investing heavily in your service department and equipping your team with the right tools.
Recent economic trends show consumers are choosing service and maintenance over total replacement and installation, especially for HVAC systems. Hunter says ServiceTitan follows the AHRI shipment data month-to-month to monitor trends for new equipment, and 2023 data shows furnaces down by 24% and air conditioning heat pumps down by 13%, as two examples.
“When the installs aren't there, guess what? The service department has to live on its own. It's got to be profitable,” Hunter says, so be sure to study your benchmark report to determine your business mix between install and service.
If your install department is basically subsidizing your service department, you’re going to experience some pain when the install jobs start dwindling.
“I encourage you to do whatever you can to get your service department as a standalone business unit that actually can make money without relying on the install,” Hunter says. “You’ve got to go on offense. Go back to training technicians.
“Take some time, crunch your numbers, see if your service department can withstand and be profitable on its own,” he emphasizes.
ServiceTitan’s Dynamic Pricing tool helps service departments remain profitable with automated features that adjust pricing when needed.
“Dynamic Pricing does an awesome job of keeping everything automated, and you can set rules for your gross margin or percentage markup, all these different ways to keep your price book dynamic,” Hunter says. “When things are changing quickly, it'll change quickly with it.”
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Lu says Dynamic Pricing is available to core ServiceTitan users as part of your pricebook, and it only requires five simple steps to set it up.
“You put in your service categories, define your billable rate, customize your markups, add surcharges, and add some adjustments for things like after-hours. And once that's all set up, you can just forget it,” Lu says. “The big thing with Dynamic Pricing is all about protecting your margins and just making sure you charge the right price on every job at the right time.”
The Scheduling Pro tool makes it easier to do more with less, and helps you book jobs around the clock, Hunter says.
“You’ve got to make it easy for consumers to do business with you. If not, they're going to find someone who does,” Hunter says. “Scheduling Pro is a phenomenal tool. It lets customers book right away at any time on your available capacity. Plus it's got integration with Google Reserve, which is really cool.”
3. Consumers: How shifting consumer behavior affects the trades
Consumers are definitely feeling a financial pinch, Kawasaki says, as many are turning to credit cards to pay for day-to-day expenses like gasoline, food, prescriptions, and other life necessities. That’s why they’re more often choosing service and maintenance over replacement.
“Consumers are very concerned about how to spend and where their money's going right now,” Kawasaki says. “They want to hold onto the cash they have. They don't want to have to worry that they don't have the money if an emergency were to happen.”
Here’s where home services companies that offer multiple financing options for consumers gain a potential advantage, she says. ServiceTitan data shows larger companies (24 or more managed techs) that offer financing options earn 30% more revenue, while smaller businesses gain 10-15% more revenue.
“Offering credit is huge because these are people who do not have the credit balance anymore to be able to sustain life's unexpected expenses,” she says.
Another way to adapt to changing consuming behavior, Hunter says, is to make sure to train your teams to offer multiple repair or replacement options (good-better-best) on every job, along with ServiceTitan’s integrated financing options. And don’t be afraid to double-down on your membership program offerings right now.
“In a tight economy, when repair versus replace is what’s happening, they’re good,” Hunter says. “Keep your customer engaged, serve them really, really well, and protect your herd. That’s guaranteed work.”
Leveraging technology, such as ServiceTitan’s Marketing Pro full suite of services, can also automate your marketing campaigns with features to send the right offer at the right time with the right message, whether following up on unsold estimates, scheduling membership appointments, or monitoring your online reputation.
“I don't know about y'all, but customers are cranky nowadays,” Hunter says. “You see it, they get stressed, they get a little more keyboard warrior-ish out there. Well, the Reputation tool in Marketing Pro uses Titan Intelligence to help respond in whatever tone that you want it to, and you can automate a lot of those follow-ups.”
Hunter says if your techs aren’t offering financing on every job, your company’s doing a disservice to your customers. “Offer it and let them decide what they want,” he says.
And one of the best things about ServiceTitan’s integrated financing partners, Hunter says, is that consumers can choose more than one if needed.
Time to Take Action
To sum it all up, Hunter says an uncertain labor market, unexpected weather swings, and iffy consumers all point in one direction for 2024—contractors must take action to prepare now.
“We see this a whole lot with companies on ServiceTitan that have gone on the offense,” Hunter says. “They're like, ‘Now's the time for us to get really strong in all these things.’ They invest in the right technology, they maximize how they're using it, and they put a lot of things on automation, so they're getting the best return on investment.
“My challenge to you is to not just sit there and complain about it. Let's get up and let's do something about it,” he adds. “Let's make something happen and go out there and utilize the tools we know are there to help you win.”
ServiceTitan is a comprehensive software solution built specifically to help service companies streamline their operations, boost revenue, and substantially elevate the trajectory of their business. Our comprehensive, cloud-based platform is used by thousands of electrical, HVAC, plumbing, garage door, and chimney sweep shops across the country—and has increased their revenue by an average of 25% in just their first year with us.