Technicians on Time

By Tom Shay

Regardless of which airline you fly in the United States, you know there is a key difference in how Southwest does it. We are not talking about the peanuts or the jokes the flight attendants tell. Instead we are looking at plane utilization.

When one of Southwest’s planes lands, the pilots seem to be in a big hurry to get to the gate. And as quick as passengers can be unloaded along with their luggage, the passengers and their luggage are loaded for the next destination. And with the same degree of hurriedness, the pilots are back on the runway and in the air. This entire exchange can be completed in approximately 30 minutes.

Look at any of the other airlines, and you will frequently see planes sitting at the gate for more than an hour. As the plane is the source of income, having the plane in the air with freight, luggage and passengers is key to the profitability of Southwest.

With our shops, the same could be said for our technicians. We are not making any money with them just standing there. Have you ever taken the time to measure how productive a technician is? We have. And we were not pleased with the answer we got when we performed this exercise.

It is quite simple to perform this analysis. You have a technician working for you full time. That is eight hours a day, seven days a week. Most shops are not paying their technician during their lunch break, but likely paying for a couple of 15 minute breaks each day. This means you are getting 7½ hours of work each day and 37½ hours each week.

Take the service tickets for several weeks and total the billed hours for each of the weeks. What is the total for each week? If you are like many of us, the billed hours are a lot different from that potential of 37½ hours. You likely are wondering what the technician is doing with all of that time that is not billed. And while we are not going to start counting the length of each break, or if they are grabbing an extra smoke break, we would like to look at making some changes.

Not only are you missing some billable time, but you likely have customers who, upon hearing how long it will be before their serviced equipment is ready for pick up, may consider looking for another shop to do their service.

We offer this as a methodology for eliminating that “dead time” that is a lot like the time some airlines have with their planes sitting on the ground. This will work whether your shop is using print or electronic tickets.

You need to make a small investment of two alarm clocks that are not battery powered. Connect inline with each of the alarm clocks a rotary switch so you can easily turn off and on each clock. Each of your technicians will need two alarm clocks with each of them having the hands set to 12:00.

When your technician first looks at a service ticket – electronic or print – the switch of one clock is turned on. Your technician proceeds as they have always done – looking at the equipment, determining what parts they need, gathering the parts, and making the necessary repairs. The parts and their prices are noted on the service ticket, and the piece of equipment is returned to your storage area.

Returning to the ticket, the technician looks at the alarm clock to determine how much time to enter on the service ticket. Now the work is done, and we have an accurate time to be billed. No more are technicians to guess when they started and finished a job. You are also billing the customer for all of the time spent with their equipment.

With only a few notes, how much time is spent on each ticket, your technician will get a good idea of just how much work they actually did each day.

If only all of their work could be that simple. There is the time needed to order and stock parts, as well as the time needed to assemble equipment for display in your store, and for customers having made a purchase. The technician can create a service ticket for a customer named, “store,” for each of these situations. If you take equipment on trade, using the same service tickets when your technician is prepping that used equipment for resale will give you a very good idea of where they are spending their time.

Then there is the situation where you or one of your salespeople bring a customer to the technician asking the technician to, “take a look at something right quick.” Perhaps your business has a policy of taking all of your commercial customers before the residential customers. Both of these situations represent an interruption to your technician who has some customer’s equipment on the bench – with the “clock running.”

This can be one of the most frequent occasions where billable time is lost, and the reason for each technician having a second clock. With either of these, the first clock is turned off. This is often the occasion when upon taking care of the second piece of equipment not requiring parts, a technician says, “Don’t worry about a ticket for this. It wasn’t that long. We’ll get you next time.”

Before that first piece of equipment is removed from the bench, the second clock is turned on (someone should be paying for this interruption). Now the technician puts the second piece of equipment on the bench and starts a service ticket for the second customer. The necessary work is performed, parts noted and entered on the service ticket, and then the two pieces of equipment are exchanged on the bench (again, the second customer is paying for the change out).

At this point, the technician notes the amount of time spent on the second piece of equipment and the two change outs. Enter the time on the ticket and second bill is correct.

Having shared this technique with other shop owners, we have heard some fantastic reports of the amount of hours now being billed each week as compared to before.

One other related addition to the shop: working with a local high school, we hired an outstanding student through the shop teacher. While displaying skills showing this youth would one day make a great technician, we put them to work in the shop.

With each piece of equipment received, this youth would take care of minor aspects with each piece of equipment. They changed spark plugs, air and oil filters, sharpened blades and chains. They pressure washed every piece of equipment and did a touch-up paint job using OEM spray paints. All of this was done before the technician got to touch the equipment.

With each service ticket, it was noted all the work this budding technician did for our customers. The ticket also noted there was no charge for the plugs, filters or sharpening. The rest of the changes this person made were very obvious to see. However, the time spent on this work was added to the service ticket at full shop rates. With the youngster earning a lower hourly rate and no commission, we know we made money on the items we took care of “for free.”

It was a lot of fun to be the person who brought a piece of serviced equipment to each customer, as the usual response was, “This can’t be my piece. Mine doesn’t look this good.”

Asking the customer to look at their claim ticket and the ticket hanging on the equipment, they quickly broke into a big smile and expressed their appreciation.

There was a double gain to these changes in the shop. Customers, both residential and commercial, got a piece of equipment in better shape than they expected; and we got a much more productive shop with billed hours more in line with the number of hours our technician spent with us.

Just like Southwest, you are maximizing your profits when you are maximizing your equipment and your staff.

Tom Shay of Profits Plus Solutions, Inc., is the fourth generation of his family to have owned a power equipment dealership. In addition to this column, he has written 12 books on business management, a book on vendor/dealer relations, and a college textbook on small business financials and business planning. He frequently speaks at trade shows and conferences for manufacturers and wholesalers. For more information, visit


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