I’m a trainer so you know right away where I sit on this topic. Of course I believe there is value in training. However, I’m not the one who buys it. So realistically we need to look at this from a service managers stand point, who needs to get the approval of the CFO, CEO and/or board to answer the question; can you justify the cost of service techs training?
Today’s world is about efficiencies and controlling costs. Prices on devices are dropping and end users are putting the squeeze on the price of service, working down pricing on contracts, looking for better pricing in those MPS, MNS and any other agreement. How do you grow the margin when the deals get tougher?
Control costs just like the businesses you work for or own.
MPS was born out of a research paper that pointed to the last bastion that business had not yet gained control over – printing and copying costs. Before MPS, service or supplies for an end user company were often coordinated by each department and not the company as a whole. A medium or large size company would often have multiple contracts for service, toner, paper, and other supplies. It all got recorded under the office supplies and outside services accounting codes thus mixing it in with the purchase of pens, paper clips, HVAC repair, and trash pickup.
MPS and MNS also created challenges for service providers in controlling their costs in order to improve margin. In the old days when service profit was fat and unit sales paid a good commission for a reason, there was room for fudging and errors. Today there is far less and errors can be costly. Many service companies have become more sophisticated or perhaps better put, corporate. It used to be the President/Owner, VP of sales, VP of service and some others ran the business. Now there are CEO’s, CFO’s, CIO’s, COO’s followed by VPs and directors, not to forget board of directors, who are seriously focused on a well run and functioning business to serve their customers AND make a good profit.
Controlling costs to increase profit takes on many forms. Most companies have learned how to control parts costs calculating for toner and parts, keeping a balance on quality by measuring how long the toner or part lasts which reduces callbacks or early maintenance. The fewer times a tech has to show up at a business under contract, the more profit the company is able to make.
After supplies and consumables, the next piece of the puzzle is the actual service call. Today’s world is challenging for techs; there are so many models from multiple OEM’s they now support. To be profitable the service tech needs to accurately trouble-shoot the device and repair it if they have the part. If not, it’s an incomplete call and the tech needs to return when the part arrives which is not uncommon. However, making a third or even fourth trip to the customer site due to wrong parts orders or misdiagnosis can be quite costly in excessive labor. For many companies, the cost of sending a tech out on a call is around $75. Return day 2 with part in hand and you’re now $150 into it – not including the part and shipping. If they have to return a third time, $225, or fourth time, $300 – plus more parts & shipping, not to mention the other parts ordered earlier you may or may not want to keep. You now have to start asking questions. Is the product old? Is it a known bad model (OEMs like to wait 10 years before admitting a unit was a dog). Is this a problem unit? If history shows it’s not a problem model and it eventually gets fixed you need to start looking at the service tech. I’m sure they’ll be unhappy already because it hurt their efficiencies for bonus or other incentive. Do they struggle with other service calls? Does it isolate down to a set of models or brand. Does it happen only on Mondays or Fridays – you laugh.
Sometimes the issue isn’t a problem unit or a problem tech, but ignorance. Ignorance according to the Merriam Dictionary is “a lack of knowledge, understanding or education” Thus ignorance isn’t stupid or being bad at something, it’s a matter of not knowing. When you don’t know because you haven’t been given the knowledge, the remedy is training. When doing training, do it right as those misdiagnosis costs start adding up real quick. Say it takes one of your techs 3 trips or $225 once a week to fix a problem instead of 2 on a unit they don’t really understand, that’s $300 a month. If you can reduce that to once a month you’ve paid for half a class. In two months, you’re at break even. In month 3 you’re gaining profit. For one tech you may argue it’s something we might be able to deal with, but for three, four or five techs doing this once or more a week? This doesn’t even address the cost of having a tech tied up on these incomplete calls and not being able to take other calls, nor does it consider the cost of the extra parts now sitting around or needing to be returned – what does that cost you? It all adds up.
I’ve worked with some service providers over the years who are religious about training. Every two to three years I get a call and they need training on newer equipment or have a new group of people. The techs speak highly about the company, work hard, enjoy what they do and they are confident. These companies are profitable and growing year after year, even through the great recession or with much less impact than others. Obviously training isn’t the sole factor in their success but they tell me it’s a major contributor.
What does a good training company do? They do these things:
- They teach the basics and fundamentals, or reinforce it for experienced techs
- They teach what techs need to know about the products, not everything there is to know
- They teach or reinforce trouble-shooting skills and techniques
- Their trainers allow techs hands-on experience while keeping their hands off – teaching, not showing
- Their trainers challenge the students and guide them to think logically, and use resources to truly learn rather than solving the problems for them
- Their trainers validate student learning all through the class and not just with a final exam at the end of the day
- They don’t have a clock to punch at 5PM where everyone needs to be done and out the door
One argument I hear about training is all the info is on the internet these days saying they just need basic training to understand in general how printers and copiers work and they can work on anything. I’ve been in class when students get an error code after reassembly. When I expect them to grab a service manual to look it up they instead grab their mobile device. Sometimes the answers they find are fairly accurate, more often they’re not. I’ve been to the tech forums for products I’m well versed in and seen responses only to find the response is totally wrong. We used to have some of our tech support people chime in on these forums. Often, when they corrected someone on an issue they got a response saying we are wrong and they’re right as they have 20 years experience and know what they’re talking about. We no longer participate in those open forums, but it drives home the point. I’d say at best maybe 50% of the answers are correct on forums and general info areas, do you really want your techs making time and parts purchase decisions based bad info or good info with sound trouble-shooting logic?
While it can be tough to justify the cost of training, training companies have also gotten wiser in delivery methods. Our company started adding online courses in 2005 and has trained thousands since then. We prefer prerecorded webinars based off our instructor led classes and strongly suggest students have a printer as we put labs in the training. This beats the click here, look there, floating hand or tool that comes in and goes like I’m supposed to learn from that. They’re techs, they need hands on to actually learn. Online greatly reduces the cost of travel as they don’t need to hop a flight, get a hotel, per diem, rental car, etc.
For training providers who don’t have a good online option, it’s common for training companies to travel about the country to cover the four corners of the US and Midwest; that is, go to you. This is costly to training companies but it’s important to take care of the customer who needs reasonably priced education. It’s definitely a balancing act. Most everyone I talk with agree that hands-on instructor led classes are the best way to train. It’s just making dollars and sense vs. benefit and reward – that cost control and profit thing again.
Internal trainers help reduce the cost by having one guru teach it all to all their service techs internally. They are very busy people teaching on copiers, faxes, printers, MFPs, connectivity, phones and more. They often do small classes internally on multiple models or subjects. These trainers are impressive, when they’re the right people. I’ve met many of them as they will come to our classes to learn new technologies and take the knowledge back with them to train others internally. This is another good way to control costs and keep your technical staff current on technology.
Tying this all together, it’s important to keep techs current with technology as it reduces errors which area costly in unnecessary service calls, extra parts ordered and now needing return or end up on the shelf, it also add costs in the number of calls you end up with vs. what can be done. If this happens often enough you may find you’re hiring another tech just to fill in the gaps because your others techs are busy taking care of incompletes on a regular basis, tell me that doesn’t affect your company’s profits? If you measure efficiencies, and most companies do these days, look for those gaps. Come up with some examples to show the numbers to your CEO, CFO, and board to give your techs the tools they need and make your service department more profitable.
Steve Geishirt is Director of Technical Services for LMI Solutions and has embraced and advanced the ever-evolving hard copy imaging industry since the company was founded in 1989. In addition to printer parts, aftermarket repair parts, copier parts and supplies, production printer parts and computer supplies, Parts Now, a division of LMI, is also the nation’s largest trainer of printer repair technicians, with classes available at our training center, online or on-site. In addition, our technical support team takes thousands of calls each month helping customers quickly and efficiently solve whatever problems they encounter. For info visit http://www.partsnow.com