Top-performing field service techs are hard to find — and even harder to keep. They have that rare blend of technical expertise, sales prowess, and top-notch professionalism. And with their uncanny ability to garner repeat business and referrals with each service call, “rock star” technicians are worth a lot of money to your company – or, potentially, to your rivals.

So, how do you keep them on board?

To find out, the SmartVan spoke with executives at Roto-Rooter Services Company, a 24-hour plumbing repair and drain-cleaning service provider headquartered in Cincinnati. Roto-Rooter has more than 110 company-owned locations and 500 independent franchise locations throughout North America. Here are some ideas they shared:

1. Encourage “Hands-On” Management

Katherine Harris, director of recruiting at Roto-Rooter, points to the company’s “80-20 Ride-Along” program as a key component to its employee retention efforts. Managers at each branch are required to spend 80 percent of their time in field activities, such as riding along with service technicians, and only 20 percent of their time in the office. According to Harris, this program has helped build stronger relationships between managers and their teams by allowing the manager to coach, observe, motivate, and provide immediate feedback to field techs.

“By the nature of their job, service techs can feel very isolated – like they’re left out on an island to fend for themselves,” Harris said. “So, the more we can establish a tight-knit relationship between managers and their technicians, a better chance we’ll have for building a longer term relationship, especially with our top performers.”

2. Create a Family-Friendly Environment

When spouses and families feel like they’re a part of the company, the employee is more inclined to stay, said Paul Abrams, the director of public relations for Roto-Rooter.

“When we put together our company newsletter, for instance, we could save a lot of money by emailing the newsletter directly to the service techs themselves or just hand them out at work. But instead, we mail the newsletters to the home because we want the spouse and children to read about what’s going on and all that’s available to them. We want the spouse to encourage the employee, ‘Hey, you might want to pursue that journeyman’s license they’re talking about in this newsletter.’”

Other ideas? “A lot of our branches do family cookouts, holiday parties, picnics – all sorts of fun events that the entire family can enjoy,” Harris said.

3. Celebrate Their Successes

As technicians meet certain sales goals, receive customer testimonials, or achieve other key performance metrics, look for ways to showcase their accomplishments.

“When we get a customer email or letter that is complimentary of the technician’s service, we like to post that on our social media sites,” Harris said. “We like to make that a big deal when we have a meeting. We want to bring that up and talk about it. It makes that employee feel good and it rallies the team around that employee.”

4. Pay Them Well!

A few dollars an hour extra may not sound like much, but to techs on the ground it can be huge. And losing a great employee because they’re looking for a modest pay increase ultimately leaves you dishing out a lot more money to find, hire, and train a replacement.

“Plumbers are in short supply right now, so we pay them well,” Davis said. “Our pay packages are very competitive because the last thing we need is to train someone in our systems and have them leave us after only a few months. We have money invested in those employees, so it’s definitely in our best interest to keep them. We pay union-scale wages because if you don’t, you’re going to lose these people.”

Offering top dollar isn’t a panacea for employee retention, Harris cautions. “There’s so much competition out there for top talent. So, it’s not just enough to pay them well. It’s truly about building relationships. People leave people; they don’t typically leave for money. Usually it has something to do with feeling unsupported or not being happy with their manager. The more we can cultivate a positive environment where they enjoy working, the better chance they’re going to stay.”

ABOUT Sean Lyden

Avatar photoSean is CEO of Lyden Communications LLC, a content strategy and editorial consulting firm, and also serves as editor for Utility Fleet Professional magazine. A nationally recognized feature writer on sales, marketing, technology and transportation topics, Sean is also a contributing author to "The Ultimate Small Business Marketing Guide” and “The Great Big Book of Business Lists,” both books published by Entrepreneur Press.