Meet SGI Mentor of the Year, Member, & Learning Alliance Trainer: Kerry Adkins
Kerry is a 13-year member of our SGI family and Learning Alliance facilitator. He operates OnTime Services, which provides electrical, HVAC, and plumbing services to residential customers in the greater Birmingham, Alabama, area. OnTime Services’ offices are also a Learning Alliance training site for SGI members and their team members.
by Bob Houchin
Kerry Adkins is passionate about helping people. It’s no surprise that he won Success Group International’s “Mentor of the Year” award for 2016. He takes countless hours to talk with members and provide insight and direction. He’s also become one of Learning Alliance’s facilitators for classes like Service Essentials, which is the course meant for technicians to show them how to provide exceptional service. His office in Birmingham, Alabama, has become a regular training site for Learning Alliance courses.
With so much Kerry does for SGI members, it’s easy to forget that he has a highly successful company to operate. Kerry is a true SGI success story, having been one of the first contractors to join Electricians’ Success International in 2004. His family business had been steeped in new construction for much of its history. With Kerry’s foresight and guidance, he converted the company into what OnTime Services has become today. He projects the business should hit $5 Million this year at a very strong profitability.
I asked Kerry how he got involved with Learning Alliance. “My first contact was, I sent two guys to a Service Essentials course and I went with them. I wanted to see what had changed [from previous SGI training],” Kerry said. “[SGI President] Rebecca [Cassel] actually taught that class. I really liked the changes that were made. I enjoyed the new format.”
“Not long afterward, I was contacted by SGI. They were looking for a place to host training in the southeast, and the conversation started from there. Not only did we become a training site, I figured if I was hosting, I might as well go through the process to become a facilitator,” Kerry added. “I have to tell you, I really enjoy doing it. To see the lights come on in peoples’ heads when they get the material is really rewarding.”
Read what else Kerry had to say about training and why it’s critical to every service company. You should also note that Kerry shared his incredible training plan he’s implementing in his business. This is great information that I hope will help you. Here’s the rest of my conversation with Kerry…
As someone who attended a Learning Alliance class as a student before becoming a trainer, was there anything you found unique about how the course was structured?
You must keep people focused, and the way Learning Alliance structures the classes―with all the activities―it’s a really good model for keeping people engaged and focused. It’s not two days’ worth of lecture. Technicians don’t want to hear that.
How else is Learning Alliance better?
Success Academy was very instructor-driven. There were rows of tables, all facing the front, and you sat and listened. You would then write your scripts and role-play. Typically, you would role-play in front of the class, which terrified a lot of guys. I’ve been in classes where guys couldn’t even introduce themselves, they were so nervous. The whole class became, in a lot of guys’ minds, “When am I going to have to do that? And how can I get that done and over with as fast as possible?” I don’t think that’s the best way to learn—through fear.
Now, with Learning Alliance, there’s way more participation. Way less lecture. The way they do their role-play is far more comfortable; they’re doing it in little groups of two or three. You’re not up in front of everybody. The whole class isn’t staring at you. Instead, you have two or three people, and you’re working hard back and forth to get the material down. It lends itself to guys really soaking it up. It’s a good model.
What should an owner and/or technician do to prepare for class to get the most out of it?
If you have been running service already, you should have a good idea of what your average ticket is, what your conversion rate is, what your club-membership sales are―all those key metrics. You need to know that. If you don’t, have your owner/manager put that together from the last six months.
Techs, you should also bring your price guide, and bring your club-membership sign-up. The biggest thing is try and have an idea of where you want to be. If I’m at $500 now, where do I want to be at an average ticket? Do I want to be at $750? Do I want to double it? What do I want my conversion rate to be? Then, think about what do I struggle with the most? Is it with giving people options? Club-membership sales? So, when you come to the class, one of the things that we talk about is what do you want to get out of this? So, if you have an idea, all the facilitators are going to make sure you get that. When we get to that piece of the puzzle, we’ll work with you.
If a new member or old member who hasn’t committed to training even inhouse, what would you say to them? Why is training so important and why should you make time for it?
If you don’t train your people on how to provide service, they’re just going to do it whatever way they think it ought to be done, which may not align with what you believe. I will tell you this, as an owner, you can never take anything for granted. Here’s an example: We just built a new house. We’re having our guys come in to do some of the finish-up work. I keep a box of floor savers right by my door where you come in from the garage. I had a couple of guys over, and I reminded them, “Hey, if you don’t mind, when you come into the house, if you’d put these on, I’d really appreciate it.” They put them on, a half hour later, I go check on them, and one of the guys is walking around my driveway with those floor savers on. I went, okay… I wasn’t clear enough about when they should and shouldn’t be on your shoes. So, if you have a meeting, and you say, “Guys, wear your floor savers,” they might be wandering around someone’s yard with them on. It was a reminder to me, we must be very straightforward with what we want our guys to do, and we have to educate them through training.
Why is it valuable to send someone away for training?
Two things, sending people somewhere to training gets them out of their daily routine. I know when we do training here, our guys are thinking about what they’ll be doing as soon as our training is over. They can get distracted. When you send them somewhere, and they know this is their whole day, they tend to be more focused. The other thing guys get a lot out of is they get to be in a room with other techs from all over the country. They really start bouncing ideas off each other, and they get great ideas from each other. They tend to be more receptive of that, than owner/boss telling them to do it—because it’s coming from a peer. When your techs get back, customer satisfaction will go up, average tickets will go up, conversion rates will go up, and club-membership sales will go up. If your guys buy into it, these things will happen, and the training more than pays for itself.
How frequently do you train with your team today?
We meet twice a week with all our guys, all trades, because most of the training that we’re doing is communication-based, the service-call process—like the Service Essentials class. We’re talking about where do you park your truck, relationship-building, options, all that stuff. When we get into technical or product training, we typically are doing that somewhere else, at a vendor’s location or something like that. Occasionally, we’ll bring them in-house.
What days to you train?
We do it Tuesday and Thursday. Our busiest day of the week is Monday. Friday tends to be for stuff we need to wrap up or a customer we need to get to―that sort of thing. Because of that, I found that Monday and Friday aren’t great days for training because, at least for us, the guys tend to be distracted. On Monday, they know they have a lot of stuff to do. You can see them sitting in the training room and sort of staring at the door like a dog in a pen.
How long do you train?
Forty-five minutes. I try not to do any more than 45. I feel like you start losing guys after that. Bite-sized chunks in training are better with in-house training.
I’m guessing you weren’t this evolved when you started with ESI in 2004. How long did it take you to grow into this model?
I can’t give you a set date. I found that I’ve tweaked it year after year as I’ve gone along. I was always willing to try things. You find out that certain things don’t work. You ask yourself why, and you adjust. I will tell you, it’s still a work in progress. What I’m really working on right now—and I really should have done this years ago—is a set training schedule.
What’s this new training schedule look like?
It’s the service-call process. I’m breaking it into 12 training sessions. It’s a 12-week program. Here’s how I’m doing it:
- Week 1: Image & Appearance: That’s uniforms, trucks, tools, and how you look.
- Week 2: Preparation & Arrival: That’s getting your paperwork ready and making sure you have your floor savers, price guide, and that your uniform and hair looks right―and you clear your head and all that. It also includes where to park your truck, how do walk to the door and knock, and what to say when you get there.
- Week 3: DiSC–Profile Discussion: We talk about the DiSC program and personality types and how you respond to each.
- Week 4: Body Language: We talk about what you need to be doing with your body language and what you need to be looking for with your customer’s body language.
- Week 5: Relationship-Building: We just talked about DiSC, and we just talked about body language. So, you should be able to start reading your customer.
- Week 6: Communication with the Customer: We talk about questions, open-ended versus close-ended; we explain how you want to use questions with the customer to open up that call.
- Week 7: Value Statements: We discuss personal, company, and price guide value statements.
- Week 8: Presenting Value & Options Customers Understand: We talk about doing complete evaluations, presenting options, and using analogies and laymen’s terms.
- Week 9: Respecting Client Homes & Local Codes: We discuss protecting clients’ homes with floor savers, drop cloths, and all that. We’ll also talk about doing the work and being code compliant.
- Week 10: The Way to End the Service Call: We talk about the importance of clean-up and doing what we call a “goodie,” which is doing something extra for the client. We also talk about asking for reviews and collecting payment.
- Week 11: Paperwork Requirements: We show them what we want and what we expect.
- Week 12: We talk about SW Remote and inventory.
Once we’re through all 12 modules, we start all over again with week one. My thinking is, by the time we get to week 12, everyone needs a refresher on week one and so on. If we follow this schedule, we cover each of these important topics four time in a year. I’m hoping that maybe it sinks in.
What made you come up with this schedule?
Here’s the hard part about training―especially if you’re not big enough to have a full-time trainer―is you have 100 things to worry about and do in a day. Here’s what would happen to me. I’d be sitting here on Monday and it’s six o’clock in the evening, and I say to myself, “My gosh, we’re meeting tomorrow! What am I going to talk about?”
At that point, one of two things would happen. I decide I’m going to talk about this topic or that topic, and I’d walk in the next morning and sort of “wing it,” which is not effective. Or I’d sit in my office until 8:30 or 9 pm, putting something together for the next day. So, my thought process with this is, I’ll take the time to build each of those weeks out. I’ll put it together and have it ready. If I’m not here, whoever is can deliver the PowerPoint and handouts. They’re ready to go.
Do you have all 12 weeks developed completely yet?
No, this is the first time I’m rolling through this, and I’m developing each week as I go. I’m on week four right now. The first three, I have. I’m sure, when I do them again, I’ll change some stuff. That’s what I’m working on right now, developing that packaged-up stuff. So, it’s plug-and-play.
When are you going over all this content with your team?
These 12-steps will be conducted during our Tuesday meeting. I’m going to spend that whole block of time talking about each of these things. On our Thursday meeting, that’s when we go over numbers, how we’re doing relative to goals, etc. When we’re not meeting, my managers will have a daily huddle with the guys. So, that’s Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, just 15 minutes. These conversations usually center around, “Hey, we had this come up yesterday,” type of things.
So, you’re training daily. You or one of your managers is touching base with your techs every morning, helping them, constantly giving them feedback?
Yes. We just recently went to these huddles because of what you’re talking about. Before, we would wait for a problem to happen, then you’re putting out a fire. If you’re connecting with your guys daily, you can prevent big problems from flaring up.
What kind of things are discussed in huddles? What kind of feedback are you providing?
That’s when we’ll talk about if there was a customer concern. Recently, we had something come up with an inspector. Or if we’re having an inventory issue—say, we’re running out of a part a lot—we’ll discuss that. It’s that kind of stuff. Or, hey guys, no one is sending us before-and-after pictures of anything, be sure to do that. The point of the huddle is to help your guys consistently do what you need them to do. We try to keep these to 15 minutes.
Looking back over the past 13 years, what has training meant to you in your company’s evolution?
Looking back on it, we should have done more. We should have done more, sooner. I will tell you, the way I tend to operate—and I figure most contractors operate this way—as long as things are going okay, you feel like you have that piece of the business done, and you move onto something else. What I’ve had to relearn is that you’re never done with training. As business owners, maybe it’s just a guy thing, you feel like you’ve “done that.” You check that box and move onto something else. It doesn’t work that way in training. And I know guys will draft away from it, because it happened to me at one time. If you don’t have your people trained right, nothing works like it’s supposed to. But if you do have your guys trained right, you’ll see an amazing return on your time and investment.