Eddie McFarlane, VP of Learning and Development for Haller Enterprises and co-founder of Schedule Engine returns for a second appearance on To The Point! If you haven’t heard Eddie’s first episode, be sure and check that out.
In addition to sharing about Toolshed, Schedule Engine’s completely free series of videos for contractors, Eddie provides more valuable training insight, explains how to deal with rising customer expectations, gives insight into the evolution of the role of a technician, and describes his vision of how to stay successful in the trades.
It’s one thing to focus on training, sales, and staffing, but if your culture isn’t correct, other things won’t fall into place. You have to implement a culture that not only creates a safe environment for people to learn and grow within your company, but also to have a similar mindset towards becoming better each and every day. To accomplish this, a simple way to think about it is to imagine teaching a child. They don’t listen to what you say, they look at what you do! Are you simply telling people how to act and then doing something different?
If you truly want to improve, you need to model the behavior and integrity you expect from others on your team. That will speak louder than any words you have to say. Culture is simply the behaviors we reward and punish. Look at what you are rewarding and what you are holding people accountable for. Is someone being a bully and you’re letting them get away with it? Are you telling your team members when they do something great that you noticed it and appreciate it? Start with your values, model those values, and then hold your team accountable for the same values to create a culture that will get you to the next level.
Unlike the “old days” the learning curve to hiring someone isn’t just making sure they don’t steal tools. It’s often many weeks of training and ride alongs, and that means more time and effort needs to be spent investing in your team to make good on the ever-rising level of customer expectations for service. Our industry is slowly realizing that the model for business needs to be tailored to not just what our customers expect, but what our team expects.
We don’t spend our marketing dollars and efforts trying to convince customers to read the yellow pages to get their business. You fish where the fish are swimming, right? If we’re changing our behaviors for our external customers; using the tools they use, why wouldn’t we do the same for our “internal customers”?
Just like you model your services to match the needs of your customers, you have to model your training based on their needs. This means having a no-bullshit conversation with your team about how they want to learn. There are so many resources available to you, it’s often just having that conversation and determining how to best proceed. Do certain members of your team prefer group learning? Do others need one-on-one, hands on training? Maybe some do better in a virtual setting, and others like to just watch you show them what to do. The tools are different today, and with a younger generation coming into the fold, it’s important that you are willing to utilize every tool at your disposal to provide the training that will best equip your team (and you!) for success.
In order to make training engaging is more than just understanding our role as the teacher. Remember, if the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught. It means understanding the role of the technician. 20 years ago, most technicians were just expected to fix things and maybe clean out the truck once in a while. Now, there’s so much more that your technicians are being held accountable for. Soft skills, inventory, inventory management, financing, software, and truck stock are all components of their job that just weren’t there when many of us were coming up. When you have to remember 400 things on a call, the chances of missing a few are pretty high.
Keeping this in mind, utilize training to consistently and repeatedly demonstrate what you expect from your team, and have some grace in understanding the rising expectations that weren’t always there. Most technicians would rather spend 6 hours chasing down a low-voltage short than ask for a customer’s credit history, but in today’s world, they have to be ready to do both. Be sure you’re equipping your team with the full set of tools they need to have at their disposal, and be ready to support them however they need it.
All of this leads up to what is really driving things forward, and that is the rising level of customer expectations. Our industry is sorely lacking in this department, and is just now waking up to designing services around the technology and experience that most customers expect in the modern age. The people that are going to win the game are the ones that ruthlessly put their customers at the center of everything they do, period. That goes for your team, too!
The technology to sell and experience services in the trades is rapidly evolving, and you have to be able to both train your team how to utilize it and talk about it. Part of the soft skill set your team needs is how to use this technology and talk about it in a way that makes people care. It’s one thing to have these incredible products and services, but if you can’t get people interested and convince them of the value, it’s all for naught. This is part of the process of building a team and story good enough to get people to care, and create an experience that justifies the cost and brings value to those you are serving.
The “we’ve always done it this way” thinkers are getting left behind. What got you here isn’t going to get you there. There is a massive success bias and collection of logical fallacies that are holding us back, and the only way forward is to embrace change. There is an unyielding evolution of customer expectations, and we must equip our team to communicate about all of the amazing things technology can do to make our lives better, or no one will care.
Eddie sees two clear paths forward. One is that our industry holds ourselves accountable to increasing customer joy and satisfaction about how they can experience our trades and services. This also means holding our stakeholders accountable to evolving with us, and that includes closing the skilled labor gap. The other path isn’t from the inside, it’s from the outside. This is where disruption happens most of the time, and allowing that to happen can close the door on opportunities for many inside. Cash will go where the customer goes, so keep that in mind as you plan ahead.
Those that are inside and are willing to get a bloody nose and perhaps some ridicule are the ones that are going to succeed. Eddie draws a comparison to the Fosbury Flop. The high jump used to be done by running and jumping straight over the bar until Dick Fosbury came along. Dick was the first to jump over backwards, and probably endured plenty of jeers along the way. Dick also broke tons of records and won an Olympic gold medal. Are you one of the people laughing at the guy jumping over the bar backwards, or are you willing to be a pioneer?
The average consumer doesn’t know much about things like 2-stage cooling, variable speed systems, variable capacity heating, and many of the other great technologies that we inside the industry know can really improve comfort. From making your home smart and quieter to much more comfortable, we aren’t doing a great job of telling the story in a way that people can recognize the importance of air conditioning and heating being a central component to their health and wellness. How do we get consumers to pull that demand from contractors, and how do we tell that story in the right way?
No one buys a drill because they want a drill, they buy a drill because they want a quarter-inch hole. We have to stop talking about the drill and explain the quarter-inch hole, and in this case that hole is the way that the technology and services we offer can make their lives better. This might mean talking about emotions and feelings. Channeling Charlie Greer, Eddie suggests that we have the conversation with our customers where we get them to imagine the comfort they will enjoy with that new two-stage system. They’ll sleep better and wake up more refreshed. Their wife will be happier, and they’ll feel more productive at work. That productivity can lead to a raise, and then a better car and house…all because they went with that two-stage system. Focusing on how people experience their air conditioner is how we get their attention and how we get them to care. Talk about the why, not just the what.
We should be thankful that Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos woke up caring about rockets and online shopping instead of the heating in their homes. We have to make things simpler and more plug-n-play for the consumer and our technicians. We have to embrace technology, and in a world where waiting four years for someone to be revenue-positive is impossible, we have to do it fast. It’s expensive to run a company, and between marketing to customers, keeping inventory, and hiring your team, we have to find ways to fill those gaps. Technology is how we get there. It’s how we’re going to enhance learning, make things mobile, improve retention, and improve the customer experience.
A lot of this goes back into our self-esteem issue in the trades as a whole. We are not just blue-collar workers; we have the ability to change lives. Just like Apple changed the way we live even though most people didn’t have computers and how Elon Musk is changing the way people shop for cars even before public EV charging stations were a thing, we need to look towards the future and how we disrupt the same old story. When a manufacturer or forward-thinking contractor figures this out, you’ll see dominoes falling into place right away.
Schedule Engine is focused on solving many of the issues that contractors are facing today, and is evolving into a full suite of services. Contractors spend a lot of money in marketing, and a lot of the stages in the marketing funnel have a leak. Schedule Engine exists to plug those up! Instead of putting more in the top, you’re getting more from the bottom. It’s a great example of the ways that technology is not just changing the game, it’s the solution to many of our problems!
As mentioned before, there are tons of tools out there at your disposal, and some of them are completely free. Eddie feels incredibly fortunate to be a byproduct of people pouring themselves into his life, and is in a position where now, underwritten by Schedule Engine as a way to give back to the trades, they created Toolshed, a series of free videos to help get your team in tip-top championship shape. It stemmed as an idea for sort of a spring training for the trades, as the summers are where many of us make our bones.
Toolshed is a series of lessons that are digestible, relatable, honest, and positive. It comes from a place of understanding that everyone struggles, and there are stories out there that can be used as a lesson for how to better things for all. It’s a love letter back to the trades to the people that knocked us into shape, passing on these stories and the wisdom therein.
There’s no excuses; it’s totally free. Be sure to check out Toolshed on Youtube!