Associated Material Handling’s John Brown is a man of action.
The best thing about being a service manager, according to John Brown, service manager at the Indianapolis, Indiana, branch of Associated Material Handling Industries Inc. (Carol Stream, IL), is that each day is different. “There are a lot of variables on a daily basis,” says Brown, 36, who goes on to say that the worst thing about being a service manager is that each day is different. Scheduling things becomes a hassle because so many things pop up during the day.
The unpredictability energizes Brown, who oversees 28 field technicians, two shop technicians, two dispatchers, one service administrator and two field service managers who work together to service over 250 customers throughout the southern two-thirds of Indiana. Within that large footprint, techs are divided into territories and each customer within a given territory is assigned a primary technician and a secondary technician. “If everything is working smoothly, one of those two people takes care of that customer each time,” he explains. When that’s not possible, Brown devises a suitable solution.
Handling such situations is all part of Brown’s typical day, which begins when he arrives in the office at 6:30 a.m. The first thing he does is change the greeting on his voicemail so callers know exactly how to reach him. Then he checks his e-mail for any outstanding responses that need to be made to customers or to the Raymond factory. That’s where the fun starts. “It could go from an entire day of technical support on the phone to all day checking the numbers and running reports,” he says.
Jack of All Trades
A good service manager must have technical expertise, which Brown has acquired throughout his 14 years at Associated. He worked in the parts department for 18 months before becoming a road technician, a position he filled until he was promoted to his current role seven years ago. “In addition to my main duties of responding to customer requests and making the service department profitable, I also cover facility maintenance, vehicle repairs and whatever else springs up,” Brown says. Other issues may include fixing everything from the leaky tire press in the parts department to overhead doors in the shop. Brown calls these “value-added services to the company.” For the past year and a half, Brown has taught technical certification classes to company technicians at three of Associated’s six branches. Brown conducts training one week per month, plus once a month on a Saturday.
On non-training days, Brown spends most of his time offering technical support for customers and technicians. “If they have a problem troubleshooting a lift truck, they call me, explain the problem, and I try to walk them through a solution over the phone.” If it’s a major problem that is difficult to figure out, then sometimes Brown will work side by side with the mechanic. “That doesn’t happen as often as I’d like,” he admits. “I help in the shop or in the field maybe one day a month.”
Flexibility allows Brown to understand the customer’s needs. “Customer needs vary, but they are all pretty much common. If you don’t understand the customer’s needs, you will struggle as a service manager,” he says. By knowing the technical side, he knows if technicians complete repairs on time.
Devoted to the Customer
As a middle manager, Brown must keep communication between subordinates and upper management going in both directions. “I don’t get into the tug-of-war game, getting pulled on from both sides,” Brown says. “We try to manage by the rule, ‘Don’t bring us a problem unless you have a solution.’ That takes the complaining people out of the mix and we only deal with legitimate problems.”
Even after he heads home shortly after 5:00 p.m. on most days, Brown’s work is not done. “The service industry is 24/7, 365 days a year. The priority is servicing the customer in the way they need serviced. If they walk away and we lose that business, we won’t be profitable.”
Brown emphasizes the 24/7 mentality. Every road tech is on call at all times, and when paged, they must at least call back the dispatcher and say whether or not they can take the call.
With all these issues to manage, it’s no wonder that each day is different. For lift truck service managers like John Brown, it’s all part of a day’s work.