“Be elite and be a servant to all.”

That is our company motto and it guides everything we do. We’re always looking to develop ways that will improve the quality of our work, as well as our customer service.

To meet that goal, we have a hierarchy in place for our maintenance and service technicians. When new employees come in, they go through a four-week training course, then they’re put out on the road doing maintenance. From there they can be promoted to a maintenance supervisor. Or they can move into the service department, where they can progress from service technician to advanced technician to master technician.

This structure helps employees see what it takes to move from level to level. There’s a clear outline of what they need to do to progress.

To be promoted, employees need to learn certain technical and administrative skills, and demonstrate their dedication to quality. For a service tech to become an advanced technician, for instance, they must achieve Certified Service Technician status from APSP. They need to gain technical skills such as troubleshooting heaters, but they also must learn to work within our company’s systems by knowing how to type invoices and work the software program, as well as train maintenance crews and do warranty work.

They also must have a low rate of call-backs, zero days missed in the last 60-day period, and be on time everyday. As another requisite for advancement, we also make sure they communicate constantly with customers and our staff, and that they show a positive attitude.

It takes at least two years to progress to even the advanced technician level, so this structure also helps us see who to keep as long-term employees when the season ends. When techs have grown and matured, we try to keep them on.

This hierarchy brings clarity to our staff and helps them focus on what’s needed to move up the next step. Somebody who’s just coming on board in the maintenance department, for instance, doesn’t necessarily care what it takes to become a master technician, but they do want to know how to become a service tech, the next level. So they can see it. They’re not using time trying to educate themselves on subjects that are not going to help them achieve the next level, so it keeps them focused on the subject matter we need them to learn at that stage.

This year, we’re fine-tuning our hierarchical structure. We’re beginning a new internal certification program that more clearly outlines what employees need to learn and master before they move up to the next rung. There are certifications on pumps, heaters, electrical and other technical areas, as well as subjects such as safety. We will plug the certifications into our staff structure and specify which ones are needed for each level.

We believe this change will serve a few functions. First, it will give everybody in the company a goal, a vision and motivation to excel, because it further clarifies what is expected.

When employees earn certifications, it gives them a feeling of success. That feeling of accomplishment is especially important while they’re gaining experience and knowledge through the first year. So hopefully it will help us retain those employees longer.

It also can help offer assurance to our customers. If someone calls with an electrical problem, the staffer talking to them can say, “Our techs who are certified to do electrical repairs will be available on this day.” So we’re trying to instill into our customers’ minds that there is a level of experience that’s needed to perform this type of work.

The certification system also will provide our office staff with a clear definition of which technicians can perform which jobs, so they know who to schedule for each call. This isn’t always obvious to staff who don’t work in the field.

Keeping record

About a year and a half ago, we started another process that we find facilitates customer communication, improves the quality of our service, and streamlines our work.

Even when I worked for other companies, before opening mine in 2001, there’s always been the question: Are techs doing their job properly? Are they going to the job? We’ve had customers call in saying our technician wasn’t there, or maybe they were there for only 5 or 10 minutes. So that was our biggest problem — making sure that employees were doing what they were supposed to do, and that we have the ability to respond to a client who says we weren’t there or only there for a few minutes.

Of course, we’ve used GPS for several years to help. But what about those times when we completed the job, but the customer says we didn’t? Sometimes we would get those complaints even when we had made a complete call, because heavy winds or leaf drop undid some of our work.

Now we give each tech a tablet computer so they can take time-stamped before-and-after photos on each call. While still on the site, they send the photos to the customer and me. The homeowner can compare the pool before we cleaned it and after, so they know we’ve been there. I can do quality control from my computer: I see the problems that are diagnosed, and make sure everybody is doing what they’re supposed to.

The tablets are loaded with our business software, so techs can also process the invoicing before leaving each job. The information merges with our software program, so the invoicing gets transferred immediately.

We have had so much positive feedback from customers because of these emails and photos being sent to them. Complaints about technicians not showing up or being at a job for just a few minutes have virtually dropped to zero.

The tablets also help greatly with our invoicing and have taken a lot of the paperwork out of the system. This procedure has cleared up a lot of confusion about little things such as parts numbers.

And it makes quality control so much easier. I don’t have to make random trips to every house now. I can see every job everyday.

With new programs like this, we’re finding new ways to stay on top of our competition, better serve our customers, and make work easier for our staff. If we do those three things, then I think we’ll be a success.