If AV install companies stick around long enough, they reach a point where they have a large installed base of legacy systems out there. That’s great for a number of reasons: repeat upgrade business and new referral business from satisfied clients. Not to mention — you survived and prospered, while others may have not.
But, there are two sides to everything. A consequence of having a large number of legacy systems in operation is the greater likelihood of needing to answer service calls. Not that I want to frame service calls as a uniformly bad thing; it’s just that they are dictated by how you prepare for them — proactively or reactively.
If you’ve got service and monitoring contracts in place (and the recurring monthly revenue from that), then you’re off to a good start. Combine that with the amount of troubleshooting and fixing you can do via remote monitoring systems, and that drastically cuts down on the number of times you need to roll a truck. But, there will always be occasions where the need for a truck is inescapable. So at what point does it make sense to run a tech team that exclusively does service calls?
Before tackling that question, I’d like to point out that commercial installers (whether AV, security or telecom — or hybrids) routinely maintain service departments when you look outside of the residential AV channel. In those cases, installers install and service techs service. This is because specializations improve efficiency. Projects that are already moving don’t want to risk being delayed by pulling techs to deal with a crisis somewhere else. This cuts both ways, incidentally: If the service techs are idle, you can send them to a new project that is in the final stages to do the testing and troubleshooting (since that’s their forte). That frees up the installers to embark upon pulling wire for the next project. That sounds great in theory, but in practice, smaller firms face two issues that make dedicated service techs a challenge to implement.
The first is resources. Typical residential AV firms, even with long track records, are still small businesses with fewer than a dozen staff members. And if everyone is kept busy with new projects — which is a problem you want to have — it’s challenging to dedicate technicians to service.
The second point also boils down to resources, as great troubleshooters are hard to come by.
Typically, most technicians are hired and trained as an installer first and foremost — not as a service tech. That’s an entirely different job description that requires different skills and aptitudes. That’s not to say that one can’t become the other, obviously. But a gifted troubleshooter is something special. Electing to maintain a service team also requires finding a way to pay for them. That’s where recurring revenue from service contracts comes in — it supports their pay and materials. Without recurring revenue, a service team is a straight-up expense. While I’m amenable to the argument that a service tech’s contribution is indirect (improving the company’s efficiency by letting the installers focus on installing), it would be better still if they pay for themselves.
With all that said, the question remains: when does it make sense to maintain dedicated service techs? And while there’s no one-size-fits-all solution, as a general manager, you’ll probably recognize when the time is right.