Finding the Right People, Tools Can Be the Most Important Start for a Company

From back-office staff to software tools, finding ways to make the business run smoothly is important to you and the customers.

Finding the Right People, Tools Can Be the Most Important Start for a Company

Scenic City Plumbing co-owners Jeff and Jacqui Logan stand at their shop in Hixson, Tennessee. When Jeff Logan started his company in 1987, it was just him, but over time he learned he needed a dependable office staff and software to make his business even better. (Photography by Martin Cherry)

Jeff Logan describes his office staff as the heartbeat of his business. From making the pivotal first contact with a customer to arranging a work schedule, dispatching the fleet and handling the money, a smooth-operating office staff is essential to a plumbing company’s success.

“We couldn’t do it without them. We wouldn’t want to do it without them,” says Logan, owner of Scenic City Plumbing in Hixson, Tennessee.

Logan remembers his early years in the plumbing business, when he didn’t have the support of an office staff. “When I started out in 1987, it was just me and a checkbook and a book that kept my helper’s hours,” he says. “I was the one who was answering the calls, going on the calls, doing the jobs, paying the bills, sending out the invoices and doing all the paperwork. There wasn’t a lot starting out, but still, it was enough to keep me busy in the evenings.”

Trying to wear so many hats was a challenge. Logan remembers working under a house when the phone rang. He had to stop what he was doing, answer the phone, take notes and determine how to handle the job.

It was a headache, but it was the only arrangement he could afford. He set aside time in the evening or during the workday to catch up on paperwork. When the workload was too demanding, he hired a secretary part time. Scenic City Plumbing hired a full-time office manager a few years later.

“I didn’t just jump in and hire a bunch of people,” Logan says of his early years in the industry. “It was definitely a slow and gradual building process.”

FINDING THE GOOD PEOPLE

The inability to handle back-office operations is where most new businesses fail, says Dave Kaster, principal at Fidelis, a certified business advisory service in Green Bay, Wisconsin.

“It doesn’t mean a plumber can’t do that, but you have to have a system to handle it,” Kaster says.

To make it work, a plumber needs the right software plus the right training. Knowledge of accounting, finance and insurance are key. “More than anything else, you need some sales skills,” Kaster says. “You need to understand what a sales cycle is and how to spin off of a sale from one client to the next one.”

Before you hire an office assistant, Kaster recommends considering two things. First, are you good at administrative work? If not, then finding someone to handle these responsibilities makes sense. Second, are you maxing out your productive time to 30-35 hours a week in the field?

“Obviously, if you don’t want to work 80 hours a week, you need to hire someone,” Kaster says. When looking for an office employee, Kaster recommends hiring someone with good communication skills. “Someone may be a wizard on the computer … but they may turn people off if they’re talking to them on the phone.”

Scenic City Plumbing looks for office workers who are quick thinkers capable of working in a fast-paced and sometimes chaotic environment. “Sometimes the phones get so crazy,” Logan says. “You have four lines ringing at the same time.”

Being sympathetic to the customers’ concerns is a good starting point for phone conversations. “They’re not calling to say hi; they have problems,” Logan says. “We start out, ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’”

The office work at Scenic City Plumbing is managed by Logan’s wife, Jacqui Logan (company bookkeeper for 30 years); his sister, Susan; and niece, Joslyn. Jeff Logan trains each new hire, sharing information about water heaters, pressure-reducing valves, clogged drains and so on until the employee has a basic grasp of terminology for troubleshooting. Staff members watch YouTube instructional videos to learn more about what the plumbers are doing in the field. All of this training helps them diagnose problems and answer customers’ questions over the phone.

“Our goal for customer service is to respond as quickly as possible and to be sympathetic and attentive to their needs,” Jacqui Logan says. “And of course, to thank the customer for choosing us and trusting us to handle their problems.”

MORE THAN JUST PEOPLE

In addition to good people, you need good office equipment, including software, Jeff Logan says. Scenic City Plumbing uses Smart Service software for scheduling, dispatching and billing. The company also uses Fleetmatics software to track the location of the technicians.

“That’s a real help. That way we can see exactly where the guys are at and how long they’ve been there,” Logan says. The software also sends alerts for truck maintenance, like tire rotations and oil changes.

BRINGING IT TOGETHER

Customers are typically unaware of the behind-the-scenes, inner workings of a plumbing company. They just want to feel good about the plumbing job once it’s completed, Kaster says.

“For any business owner, the main question isn’t ‘How can I make more money?’ It should be customer-focused: ‘How can I make your life easier? How can I reduce your stress?’” Kaster says.

A competent and customer-focused office staff closes the loop to great service overall.

“You can be the greatest plumber in the world, but if you don’t have the service — the back office to make sure everything is functioning smoothly — then it’s going to be a constant stress for you,” Kaster says. 



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