“We’ll get through this” — 10 Tips to Help Home Services Companies Operate Effectively During COVID-19 Outbreak

March 20th, 2020

In a ServiceTitan webinar attended by more than 400 participants on Friday, Jason Schlunt, CEO of Bellows Plumbing, Heating & Air in the San Francisco area, and Tom Howard, Vice President of Customer Experience at ServiceTitan and an owner at Lee’s Air, an HVAC company in Fresno, Calif., answered questions about operating a home services business during the outbreak. 

Here are the 10 tips they offered during the webinar for helping your business survive the Coronavirus outbreak:

1. Make sure you’re communicating with customers.

Your customers and potential customers are wondering if your company is open, and looking for reassurance that you can safely serve their needs. Schlunt’s company has a popup on its website to assure customers of just those things. That will reassure clients, and preserve the business and cash flow. 

“We’ve been utilizing every free channel we can right now — every social media channel we can, Facebook, Instagram, Next Door,” Schlunt said. “A big part is just notifying our customers that we really are open, notifying people that we can come help you. That’s been good. Stay on top of that immediately.”

2. Be as flexible as possible with employees, and keep them motivated.

Bellows has encouraged employees to stay home if they are sick, or even if they have issues with child care. That has left managers making day-to-day adjustments. 

“Our messaging to the technicians and the office has been to stay positive, we will get through this,” Schlunt said. “It’s going to be different and it’s going to be a challenge for what we hope is two weeks, but I don’t know. No one knows. But we’ll get through this. That’s been our messaging.” 

His employees have reacted well. 

“It’s really been emotional seeing everybody jump into this and know exactly what to do,” he said. “We hadn’t talked about it but they knew what to do — keep the team safe, take all the necessary precautions, but keep going. And we have.”

3. Keep social distancing but maintain business as usual.

It’s important to keep appropriate social distancing in the office and in the field while maintaining as much “business as usual” as possible. CSRs can work from home, as can marketing and accounting. Meetings and training should be canceled or done over Zoom, Facebook Workplace or a similar application. 

It’s even best to make sure technicians pick up parts and supplies from the warehouse in staggered shifts. And Schlunt has put a sign on the office door to keep vendors and delivery people from entering, instructing them instead to leave packages outside. 

The hope is that the moves keep the virus from spreading from employee to employee.  

4. Be a leader in the industry, not a spectator.

Think about the things you can do, not the things you can’t control, to keep your company on course. Hospitals and homes need electricity, when summer comes it will be necessary to fix air conditioners to keep people alive. It’s time to decide if your company will get out there and do that work, or stand to the side. 

“It’s going to be hard, and we’re going to have to recalibrate,” Howard said. “This is what is going to decide if this is a huge opportunity for us, or if it’s gonna stop us.”

5. Make exceptions to the way you quote.

Virtual quotes over the phone or by email will become more necessary if the pandemic worsens, or if it just hits your area as hard as it has hit California. Schlunt launched a program Thursday night to make virtual quotes happen through ServiceTitan, with a script written to help. Text messages with the customer solicit photos of the problem, which go directly into the app. 

ServiceTitan and the tablet are used to send quotes, just as if the technician were at the job site. 

“This goes against everything we’ve ever been taught about getting in the home to do a quote,” Schlunt said. “We’re making an exception to that right now.”

Approvals, too, will need to change. Signatures require close contact in the field, so if they can be done by email or by audio approval, recorded in ServiceTitan and attached to the job, that’s one way to go. 

“It does create extra CSR and dispatch workload, but at this time it’s worth the effort to make sure people are taken care of,” Howard said. 

6. Make sure your technicians have the right protection.

Some technicians are worried about contracting the virus while on the job, and Schlunt is listening. 

“I had a technician who had run some calls and was uneasy at the end of the day,” he said. “We’re doing this case-by-case. Anyone who is not comfortable working right now, we’re giving them time off.”

Schlunt is also working to minimize human contact when possible and making sure his employees have protective equipment.  

“We’re just minimizing contact with people,” he said. “If you don’t have to go in the home on the call, we’re avoiding it when possible. We’re doing everything we really can.” 

7. Focus on emergencies and other essential services as much as possible.

If a service call can be postponed, that might be for the greater good. Emergencies, repairs and essential services should take precedence. 

“We instructed the staff not to book maintenance right now,” Schlunt said, “unless it falls into a category that they really need it. We’re not reaching out to run those now, as much as possible.”

8. Reassure customers, but be careful how you treat them.

Some customers are concerned about letting technicians into their residence, and others might have someone in the residence who is ill. 

“We are running into issues,” Schlunt said. “We’ve had some cancellations, we’ve had people run appointments and the person doesn’t want them in the home.”

His company tries to address those issues on the initial call. 

“We’re asking them questions, if anyone’s sick, and setting expectations on how this is going to go,” Schlunt said. “We’re trying to give them information about what our safety process is. Customers are concerned and they’re asking, and you need to be able to answer them.” 

9. Don’t let fear stop you from doing what your business needs to do. 

If cancellations come, how you react to that situation could affect your company long-term. Do not, both Schlunt and Howard said, jump straight to layoffs. 

Schlunt has asked employees if they can take a day off when the load is lighter, to spread the burden through voluntary shifts off. His company hasn’t gotten to the point where layoffs, even temporary ones, would be necessary. 

“I’m hoping it doesn’t get to there, and I’m confident it won’t,” he said. 

Those employees will be needed when the weather warms and air conditioners need service. 

“We can’t go through this and get terrified,” Howard said. “When the heat hits in the summer and we really need to run those calls, if we don’t have the people then we can’t generate the revenue we need to hit our numbers for the year.”

He says his company is staying on track with hiring, for that reason. 

“We know to have people ready for May and June when it’s hot,” Howard said. “If you see after a couple of weeks that this is taking a turn, yeah, make those corrections. But if you’re relying on data and things are going (well), I’d highly recommend keeping people. If you hit the summer and you don’t have people, then you can’t get that revenue.”

Schlunt agreed. “We’re going to come out of this and we want to be ready,” he said. “We’ve put so much work into building these teams, it’s not time to start dismantling. I definitely would not recommend that.”

10. Stay positive and work hard. We’ll get through this. 

Leadership differentiates itself in times of crisis. Now is one of those times. 

“Just hang in there,” Schlunt said. “I think we’re all going through this and it’s an uncertain time. … Reach out to other contractors. We’re competing, but we’re all in this together. We’ve got to hang in there, and we will. We’re in the needed trades. Stay positive and work hard.

“It’s back to the fundamentals of business: Offer top-notch service, and take care of your neighbors.”


Resources for the trades

For the latest information on how the COVID-19 outbreak is impacting the trades, check out our Coronavirus blog, our Facebook group for customers and our Facebook group for the industry

If you have story ideas or questions, you can email us. We’d love to tell your story about how you’re helping in your community or dealing with these uncertain times, or just help answer your questions.

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