Workers Who Make House Calls

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

I think I may be perceiving a new trend in business: house calls. I don’t have any statistics to back up my conjecture, but I believe that we will see an increasing number of businesses that come to your house to perform various kinds of service. Businesses that adopt this practice will have a competitive edge over the services that require you to come to their shop or office. This business arrangement may also provide unique job satisfactions for the workers making the house calls.

I became conscious of this trend a couple of weeks ago, when a van pulled up in front of my next-door neighbor’s house. A man from the van wheeled my neighbor’s lawn tractor out of her garage, upended it, and proceeded to give it the kinds of service that are needed now that the grass is starting to sprout: changing the oil, spark plug, air filter, oil filter, and fuel filter, sharpening the blades, and lubricating where needed. Last year, she arranged for a shop to pick up the lawn tractor on a trailer and service it in their shop. It took this shop a whole month to return the tractor, and that business charged more than the man who made the house call this year. I was so impressed with my neighbor’s experience that I had the man with the van come back two days ago and to service my lawn tractor.

Several other industries are finding house calls a useful business model. You may have seen Geek Squad cars in your community or may know of a similar service that comes to people’s homes to fix computer problems. You may have seen a van-based worker replacing a cracked windshield. (They can also do that at the parking lot of the business where you work.) I know of a pet groomer who parks her van in your driveway so Fido can get a wash and a trim just a few steps from the front door. Some physicians are reviving a practice that was common in my childhood, the doctor’s house call.

House calls have always been standard for service technicians who work with appliances that are not portable, such as your furnace or washing machine, but several economic factors are converging to encourage more occupations to adopt this business model. One is the increasing number of retirees (like my neighbor) and people who work at home (like me). We appreciate the convenience of not having to leave home and have considerable flexibility about the times when the house call can happen. Computer technology, perhaps combined with a geographical database, is making it easier to schedule house calls and route the van to your door with maximum efficiency. Cell phones and wireless network capability allow the business to change the service professional’s appointments in mid-day, perhaps in response to emergencies, whether this is coordinated from some central office or from inside the van itself. Smart phones allow the service professional to consult online manuals, order parts, or consult records of past service (such as your medical records) from your driveway or bedside. Miniaturization is allowing increasingly complex tools to be taken on the road. Did you know that a doctor can now do a skin biopsy in your driveway?

Admittedly, this business model may remain uncommon in many service occupations that are capable of using it. But, besides giving a competitive edge to some businesses, it can offer workers some job satisfactions they would not get in a shop- or office-based setting. It provides a constant change of scene, a form of workday variety that many people enjoy. It allows the worker to interact with clients in a more casual and emotionally warm environment. It gives the worker greater autonomy. While traveling between calls, the worker may need to deal with the annoyances of traffic jams and adverse weather conditions, but this interval may also provide a chance for the worker to decompress between appointments.


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