The Blossoming of Service Work
I first began observing and writing about the trades more than 40 years ago. Changes during that span have been dramatic, encompassing many new technologies, tools and techniques. This is especially true for residential service firms – the companies you call to fix or install mechanical and electrical systems in your homes.
When I first started in the industry, most residential service firms were small, often a one-man or father & son (almost all male back then) shop, or perhaps with just a handful of employees. Most of them were competent mechanics but clueless when it came to customer care and convenience. You found out about them mainly through word-of-mouth or by reaching for a Yellow Pages telephone directory and searching a bunch of ads that all read pretty much the same. When you called, frequently you’d reach an answering machine or answering service. It could be hours, even days, before anyone would call you back.
The best among them tried to deliver good service to customers, but their tiny size limited what they could do. A caller could never be sure when a service technician might arrive and often might have to wait more than a day for someone to show up. That meant doing without use of a toilet, furnace or electricity in the meantime. When a technician did come, he often arrived in a battered old vehicle that might leak oil over a homeowner’s driveway while his shoes tracked dirt and debris from a previous job all over the floor. Few paid much attention to personal appearance and hygiene. The old cliché about plumbers with their butt cracks showing was too often factual. After he analyzed the problem, you might have to wait another hour or more while the service tech returned to the shop or visited a supply house to obtain the needed parts and equipment. Since he charged by the hour, he had no incentive to work quickly. The worst among them would drag out repairs simply to increase their billing.
Nowadays, if you live in a city or town of any size, you no doubt have seen large, colorfully decorated, sparkling clean trucks with service company names going to and from jobs while serving as roving billboards. Some can guarantee service within an hour, thanks to economies of scale that find the big players employing scores of service technicians. Their box van vehicles carry large quantities of parts and equipment, minimizing extra trips. Many no longer charge by the hour but will quote you a final price before the work begins, thanks to sophisticated computer calculations that tell them how long each task should take. If they miscalculate and take longer than anticipated, they absorb the cost, not the customer. You can see their advertisements everywhere around town, often on TV – something virtually unheard of with the small companies of yesteryear.
Their service technicians have become much more professional. They wear uniforms, carry business cards and are supplied with shoe coverings to avoid soiling customer homes. They not only are superb mechanics, but also are trained to respect customers and do everything they can to make them completely satisfied with their work. Many offer money-back guarantees. Customer-friendly technicians help generate repeat business and often are requested by name the next time a homeowner calls for service.
Along with added professionalism, top technicians are handsomely compensated for the value they provide. Top performers often earn six-figure annual incomes.