The Top 3 Takeaways
- Document - How many emergency calls you get per week? Keep track of the opportunity cost of having vs. not having people on call for emergencies.
- Plan & Schedule - Figure out how much time you should set aside so techs can go to the emergency calls.
- Re-Examine - After a few months, you’ll know if you want to set more or less time aside for emergency services. You might even notice times of the week/month that tend to be busier (perhaps weekends have more clogged drains) and you can schedule accordingly.
What’s the most stressful call you get? I bet something like “It’s 20 degrees outside and my furnace won’t turn on. Help!” You must drop everything and run and help; if you can’t go, who else is free right now? You heart goes out to the parent whose kids will turn blue (not to mention the pipes bursting). You think: “Why am I in business if I can’t take care of an urgent need?” It would hurt to tell them “No, call someone else.” If you say “yes”... what happens to the customers you were already committed to?
Companies are able to grow when their customers are delighted. Being able to be the hero to your customer on the most stressful day of their week or month can be revolutionary for your business. That’s why we believe you can be ready to be there for your customer when they need you the most.
It's an emergency.
That’s why you can’t plan for it.
Stress is part of the job and emergencies make your utilization look great, don’t they? You went from being booked solid for days or weeks at a time to expanding your capacity and utilization with overtime to run at the siren. That’s why you list different dispatch fees: standard $79, after-hours $99, and emergency $159. Most likely, you even charged overtime emergency labor rates. You and your staff love taking home a little extra money from overtime, and it’s covered.
Who loses? The customer, and your
Is it really true that you can’t plan for emergencies by definition? Let’s look at it a different way. You might go to bed thinking about the emergencies that happened today, but did you ever think about leaving space for them tomorrow? What would it take to turn an urgent call into the one your customer brags about on your Facebook page? You saved the day!
How big of a problem is this?
Let’s run an experiment. Get an envelope and write “Urgent calls” at the top of the back side. Write the starting date (tomorrow). Give it to your dispatcher (or keep it handy, if that’s you). Whenever an urgent call pops-up and you can’t get to it, write a tick mark on the paper. Even better, write down a guess as to how much money you’d have made each time. Do that for a week, write the ending date and then count the ticks. Sum up the dollars. That’s the grinding glass in your stomach every day.
Are urgent calls turned-away worth more than your average ticket? It’s missed revenue. Also, how many of the urgent calls were really emergencies? Be honest — which ones were safety issues and which ones just came in when your schedule was “full.” You might be turning away enough non-emergencies to hire another tech. But that won’t change the emergencies you turned-down or the scheduled customers you disrupted so let’s just continue to explore the true emergencies.
Run this experiment for a few more weeks and you’ll get a trend. Some weeks the emergencies go up, some they go down, but they’re always there. Whenever you say “no” or you bump a scheduled customer, you actually hurt your realization. You left money on the table. Let’s trade up to higher dollars (and less stress).
How to trade up?
Plan for it. How much time would a tech need each day to handle the emergency call? Take the average weekly count of emergencies and multiply them by the average time to resolve one. That gives you the total time you spend on emergencies each week. Divide that by 7 days and you get a amount of time each day that you could expect to get emergencies before they appear. Here’s the key: block out that time on at least one tech’s schedule in your dispatch software, even though you don’t know who’ll use it. Now, you’ve two tracks on your schedule: one for scheduled stuff and one for emergencies.
Now, play it out.
Day 1: An emergency call comes in.
- Give it to the tech on-call.
- Bang, you just became a hero to your customer.
Day 2: No urgent calls appear.
- That’s unlikely given your average, but it happens.
- Have your “emergency tech" work on tasks they can put down quickly, like tidying the shop, truck maintenance, refilling trucks, or helping with an install.
- Get ahead on stuff that increases your productivity.
- The premium you charge for emergencies may cover this.
Day 3: Too many urgent calls come in.
- Send the techs you’ve blocked out.
- You’re the hero on more jobs than you were before.
- For those urgent customers you can’t help, refer them to a contractor you trust. Setup a reciprocal referral arrangement with another shop (at edge of your territory?). Agree who owns the customer long term. They’ll send work your way too, filling Day 2’s.
Roll with the punches. I used to plan about 10% of my team's production time for emergencies. On any given day, I could assign that time to last-minute opportunities, "wowing" new customers, true emergencies, or to catch-up on jobs that got behind. It really reduced my whole team's stress, giving them more time to do a good job.
Flag emergency visits and scheduled visits separately. Watch demand and adjust your supply of techs. You might work emergency calls differently, too. What equipment and training would your tech need to clean up the emergency faster? Can you stabilize the situation on the emergency call, converting it into a second scheduled visit later?
You can’t get better without a plan.
At the end of each week, make a track for each kind of job next week. Start with two tracks: scheduled and emergency. Plan your upcoming week’s dispatch schedule by the dollars you expect to earn from each track. Each kind has a different expected rate. As they appear, slot the customers’ jobs into visits in the matching track. As days go by, roll with the punches and borrow time where you need it.
Again at the end of each week, compare your track plan to the actual week’s visits. The differences tell you a lot about your staff, your processes, and your customers. How would you adjust the size and placement of each track next week? Who should work them? Which jobs are the right fit for each track? What can dispatchers ask up front to better match jobs to tracks? What can you do to make more money from tracks? Can you lower the emergency premium (and get more business) by planning blocks better and promoting offers with customers? What conversations should I have with my team to make the plan go?
At the big picture level, you treated the emergency track like an insurance policy. You bank a little bit of your resources (time, training, equipment) for unplanned events. When you have enough customers, rare emergencies happen often enough to make them worth it.
Now, you stopped trading-off scheduled customers against emergency customers. (Believe me, your scheduled customers’ jaws used to drop to the floor when you left them for an emergency no matter your excuse. That’s gone now.) Your dispatcher and techs responded immediately to emergencies, with empathy and honesty. All your customers are happier for it. You’re the hero much more! Your company’s brand stands for something, and it’s different from what everyone else promises.