March 25, 2014

What Does On-Time Mean in Your Company?

By Paul Bieber

Do you tell a customer your crew will be there at 9 a.m. and consider 9:20 to be okay? Do you set a meeting for 11 and it really starts at 11:10? Do you meet a customer for lunch at 12:30 p.m., but show up at 12:40 and consider it lucky you made it that close?

I recently read an article that said timliness was the single biggest turn-off from a tradesperson to a customer.  In our industry, most of our customers don’t have the knowledge base to know if we do just a very good job or a great job.  Is your low-E the one with the best numbers, or is it in the ballpark?  But wait, every one of our customers knows how to tell time and not surprisingly, how to count money.

When you are 10 minutes late, your customer has already created a negative impression in his mind.  At 20 minutes late you are unreliable and irresponsible.  It is fairly hard to overcome this in someone’s mind, even if you do the job you said you would.  It doesn’t matter nearly as much if you run long on the job.  You ran into unexpected trouble in their install or needed a new part or tool.  People understand that.  They don’t understand a late at the start of a job. 

How do you train your company to start on time?  It starts with you.  Always be on time.  Insist that meetings start on time and you be there right at the start.  If you keep 10  people waiting for just six minutes, that is a full hour of productivity that can never be recovered.  Sure, that sounds trite … but it sure is true.

Make sure your trucks leave for their job with plenty of time to spare.  If it looks at all like they will be more than a minute or two late, the foreman or job leader should call the customer, saying where they are, why they are late, and what their new ETA is.  This courtesy will go a long way in customer relations.  Every one can understand a traffic jam, they just can’t understand it when no one calls them.

What can you do to get to your jobs on time? 

  • Inspect all your glass and metal products at least by the day before you need them.  If something is not correct  you can call your customer a day ahead, which should be okay.
  • If you store your trucks indoors, load your truck in the afternoon or evening before the job, double checking everything.  If you can’t pre-load, lay everything out so you have quick and proper loading on the morning of the job.
  • The best way to make sure your trucks leave on time is to get your employees to come to work on time!  One person coming in late can hold up a three-man crew going to a storefront install.  Set a firm policy of what your start time is.  If it says 7 a.m. in your employee manual, what is late?  Is it 7:03?  Is it 7:05?  Anything later than this is definately late.  I don’t believe in bad weather excuses for coming in late.  If there is a forecast for rain/sleet/snow/whatever, people should get up early and leave for work early.  You didn’t hire someone to leave their home at 6:30 each morning and get to work when they can.  You hired them to be at work, ready to work at 7 a.m.
  • “Ready to work” is a strange phrase.  If an installer comes in the door at 7 a.m., but needs five minutes to gather his safety equipment, change his shoes and get a cup of coffee, he is not ready to work at 7 a.m. Set your policy stating that the shift begins at 7 a.m. and that means ready to begin working.
  • Yes, a flat tire can’t be predicted and yes, life happens.  But this should be the rare exception.  Your policy should include allowing three “late arrivals” per year.  After that, a note goes in the personnel file.  After three notes, a written warning takes place.  After two written warnings, a one-day suspension is needed to get someone’s attention.  After that, you have an employee who is unreliable, and that will hold up your entire crew and give you that unhappy customer.
  • Most people have their own cell phones today.  If an employee is going to be late, insist that they call and advise you so you can make the correct plans.  This allows you to send a different person on the job, or at least to call your customer and explain the situation.

It is your customer’s satisfaction that drives referrals and new business to your shop.  Don’t start your customer relationship on the wrong foot!