The Evolution of The KES Office

Jesse Kuhlman News

In an industry like ours, I can’t overstate the importance of a fully functional office.  Your office is your quarterback: It sets things up, calls the plays, and sees it all through.

KES started out like most service companies—with no office at all! When I took the company over in 2014, I became a one-person office. I would take all the calls on my cell while I was on jobs, answer all the emails, and book jobs at night. Undeniably, it was a grind, but I enjoyed the hustle and thought I could handle it all myself.

In 2015, I hired a very part-time office person named Krystle. She came on to help with QuickBooks entries and other basic tasks that could be handled off-hours. At that point, the office was in my house, so it was odd having someone come by on nights and weekends to complete these tasks. I’m sure it was awkward for Krystle as well.

Things pretty much stayed that way for another year—until we bought our office location in Lynn. Finally, we had a space with a desk and computer, and Krystle was able to go into the office to do her work, instead of going to my house.

At the time, it was a huge deal for me to buy this property for KES, and it felt quite risky. Would the business continue to operate well and support the new building? Fear started sneaking in, as it often does with big decisions. But we moved forward with it, and I now list it in the Top 10 Best Professional Decisions I’ve ever made.

Things kept chugging along. I kept taking calls on my cell, doing the nights-and-weekend thing in the office, and relying on Krystle for bookkeeping.  Then in 2017, I hired a business coach (Scott), who helped me understand business growth and strategies. Then after about eight months, he asked me, “Why in the world don’t you have a full-time office person?” Apparently, he’d kept this opinion to himself that whole time. At that point, the business had about eight techs in the field, which created A LOT of office work!

My answer to Scott? “Well, I can handle it. Why would I want to pay someone to do something I can do myself? And who’s going to be able to do everything as well as me?” Looking back, I can see that I was being very shortsighted and controlling. But at the time, it was hard for me to realize how I was so off-base.

After a lot of discussion with Scott, I decided it was time to find someone, just not full-time. “There’s no way we need a full-time person,” I said. “Let’s start with a part-time office person who can be there during our business hours a few times a week.”  This option felt good to me. I could test the waters without completely committing to it.

Krystle performed some phone interviews for me and gave me a few options to meet with. The first one candidate I met with was Nicole. She was impressive, had a ton of enthusiasm, and her dad had a service business. She was already familiar with customer service. During the interviews, Krystle and I both loved her, so I offered her the job right away.

Training Nicole

By that point, I’d trained numerous field electricians, as well as Krystle in QuickBooks. But I’d never taught anyone the ins and outs of the actual office. Where to begin? We started with the basics of what we do: invoicing, estimates, and customer service.

Here’s one of my favorite stories from those first few weeks…  I was teaching (or at least I thought I was teaching!) Nicole how to take calls from customers.  (I’ve already admitted that I was quite controlling in those days.) Nicole would listen to me take calls over and over. I would say, “You see how I handled that? That’s what I want you to do!” I thought I was a superstar customer service rep.

About three weeks in, I thought she could finally handle a call on her own.  The phone rang, and I turned to Nicole and said, “You’re up!” Nicole answered the call with such enthusiasm and kindness that I was beside myself. All that time, I thought I was teaching her. But in actuality, she should have been teaching me! Ever hear the expression “answer the phone with a smile?” Well, that is Nicole to a T.  During those first few weeks, she never once pushed me aside and told me how to do it. She patiently stayed quiet, listened to my advice, and waited her turn to show me how it was done.

Up until that point in my career, I really couldn’t imagine someone handling the office as well as I thought I could. But Nicole changed all of that for me. She could not only do everything I could do; she could do it much, much better.  Nicole was still in college, so she put in as many hours as she could.  During the summers, she was full-time. Then she’d go back to being part-time during school.  She really anchored KES and allowed it to grow.

I Messed Up… Twice

Creating and running these kinds of businesses involves a lot of trial and error. There isn’t a book with a step-by-step guide for how to do it. Simply put, I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way.  Three of my biggest mistakes occurred after I hired Nicole.

Nicole took on more and more responsibility. So what did I do? I gave her more and more work! I never once stepped back and wondered, “Can she actually handle all of this additional work while she’s still in college?” I even went so far as to let Krystle go. “Hey, Nicole can handle it all!” I told myself. Two big mistakes right there. Shame on me!

In December 2017, it became clear that Nicole couldn’t simultaneously handle KES and college, so she needed to take some time off from KES to wrap up her degree. I was devastated by her decision and had no one to fill in at the office until we found someone new.

Krystle Saves the Day

I’ll never forget the morning I texted Krystle and asked her to give me a call. I told her about the situation and asked if there was any way she’d come back to help right the ship. Fortunately, she agreed and returned to her old part-time position.  She bailed me out that winter, and I’ll always owe her for it.  What can you say about a person that will step up and do what you need them to do when you call them? She’s amazing. I’m so lucky to have her as part of KES.

So we were essentially back at square one. We began the search for office help again, and Krystle interviewed the options we had over the phone.  I remember meeting three options and loving one of them. Her name was Jenny.

My Third Mistake

Earlier, I said I’d made three big mistakes in the office: The first was putting way too much on Nicole’s plate, and the second was letting Krystle go.  The third was about to occur.

When Jenny started with us, she had a great attitude and a ton of enthusiasm. She was clearly a great fit. For some reason, I was expecting her to do what Nicole was doing—an inhuman amount of work. So I pushed her the same way I’d pushed Nicole. I was hard on Jenny for the next three months. But it turned out that no single person could accomplish what I was expecting in a 40-hour work week. You’d think I would have learned my lesson with Nicole, right? Nope, not me.

Everyone knows I’m stubborn. But to be quite honest, I was an asshole to Jenny. She soon put in her two weeks and said she was moving onto another office.  At that point, I needed to do some serious self-reflection.

“Why do I keep failing at this? Am I learning anything, or am I making the same bad decisions over and over?”  In times like these, you really need to be honest with yourself and self-reflect. When things aren’t going our way, we always want to blame our circumstances on those around us. But the truth is the problem is often US. And the truth hurts!

In this situation, I was clearly the problem. I kept screwing things up.

Nicole’s Return

As fate would have it, I received an email from Nicole right around the time Jenny was leaving. She asked how things were going, told me her college semester was almost over, and said she was interested in rejoining KES.  At that point, it was April 2018. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was to have Nicole come back. I swore to myself—and Nicole—that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes again. Things would be different this time.

And they were different. We started improving the office. At that point, we knew we needed more than one person in the office, so we hired another person. Then the business grew even more, and we needed yet another. So we had Nicole and two other people in the office. Things were going pretty well!

The two people under Nicole weren’t long-term KES employees, and we knew it. When we decided to replace them, guess who applied? Jenny!

Jenny’s Return

I couldn’t believe Jenny was willing to come back to KES after I was so rotten to her during her first stint. But she agreed. So I told her before she started, “Things are different now. I won’t ever treat you like I did before.”

Jenny is one of the best call-takers and schedulers I’ve ever seen. She can multitask, and she’s extremely organized.  We’re coming up on one year since she came back to KES. And what a year it’s been! With Nicole and Jenny in the office, we’ve made HUGE changes and advancements.

One of the biggest changes we made was in 2019. Nicole and Jenny (and Krystle!) switched to a customer relationship management (CRM) program called Fieldpulse. It gave us the ability to have all of our customer information in one place. Prior to Fieldpulse, we were relying on a combination of QuickBooks, Google Sheets, and Google Calendar.  Fieldpulse also brought a certain amount of automation and job-tracking, which was a tremendous improvement for us.

A Previous Customer Joined the Team

I never thought this situation would happen. We placed a job ad up for the office, and a previous customer applied. Nicole and Krystle conducted the interview, and I loved her from the get-go. We offered her the job, and she joined the team shortly afterward.

Kasey has taken over the operations position in the office. We’re coming up on three months with her, and she’s caught on to everything incredibly quickly. She’s already proven to be a huge asset—exactly what we needed to anchor the office.

A Complete Team

We really have the perfect office team now. I couldn’t ask for a better group.  It’s amazing how many improvements we’ve made and problems we’ve solved together! KES is bigger and better than ever, and we have our office team to thank for it.