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Northeast HVAC News Guest Column

Tracking Service Calls at an HVAC Company Can Be a Daunting Task.
By Thomas Persha

Tracking service calls at an HVAC company can be a daunting task. If the company has an extensive customer base and a large number of service technicians the volume of working being scheduled on the phones can be enormous. Especially during the fall when heating is turned on or in the spring when cooling becomes important. My client new that they had a problem keeping track of customer calls and desperately wanted to find a method that could track service calls efficiently.
The office situation was in great turmoil. The staff was constantly at odds with each other. There was screaming, swearing and general disarray because nobody really understood their job or what was required of them, it was very unsettling. My initial response to the problem was to try to inject some order into the chaos. I did this by writing an office operations manual that described each job position in great detail. Once people knew what their job entailed, what was required of them and what their responsibilities were the noise level receded long enough to realize that there was another very significant problem.

A service company is oriented around their customer. They needed instant access to equipment records, site information, warranty data, customer address, location and contact information at each desk where the person taking the phone call is sitting. Our current system was organized around the call. As the calls came in, work order tickets were written by the person taking the call. Customer information was not immediately available so each operator had to ask the caller for their contact information. Many of these callers had been clients for years and our phone operators heard the question "Why should I have to give you my name and phone number each time I call for service?" quite often.

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The single most import feature of the office was the dispatch board. This board was maintained by the owners of the company. Dispatch tickets taken throughout the day were recorded on 3 by 5 index cards of various colors by the phone operators. White for installations, green for warranty work, red for maintenance, and so on. Once the cards were created they were pinned to a large cork board that was the focal point of the office. They called this board "The Dispatch Board".
The Dispatch Board was very large. It had a number of columns each representing a particular technician. The rows of this board were essentially times. Starting with the first call of the day for that technician and going down to the last call of the day. People milled around the board in the morning receiving their days job assignments, the owners shifted the work load around by removing the index cards from one service technician and pinning them up under another service technician.

This technique might have served its purpose when there were only two or three technicians and maybe one or two installation crews, but my client had 19 trucks to schedule, three telephone operators and many other individuals that needed to deal with the days schedule and the customers call. Cards being prepared by the phone operators often ended up on the floor or under someone's cup of coffee. Hand written work orders where everywhere. They covered all open desktops at least two inches thick. Sometimes they even made it to the customer files never to be seen again.

It was obvious that we had to deal with the dispatch board first if we were going to get a handle on the problem. Using the previously written job procedure manual as a guide we converted the dispatch board and the procedures surrounding it to an electronic version that all office personnel with a computer terminal could access. Along with this goal it was apparent that the entire dispatching database had to be reoriented along the customer chain and not the dispatch ticket chain. This reorientation would mean that all customer data would be immediately available to our phone operators.

Today the office is quite, focused and oriented around the new database. Nobody needs to leave their desk because all of the information they need is at their finger tips and they all share the same stuff, customer phone numbers and location, equipment lists, warranty information, contract records and work order tickets. The owners can move the schedule around at will and everybody sees the results as if they were standing behind them at the old dispatch board.

The new company can handle 10 times the volume with less office staff more accurately and with greater effect. A change that was created by first identifying the problem - how do we track those calls? Then setting realistic goals so that we could work toward a common end - establishing an electronic database system. This new system insured that we could get a better handle on tracking those service calls and providing a much more satisfying response to our clients.




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